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Week In Politics: EPA, Supreme Court, Trade


President Trump is in New Jersey where he'll be thinking over his pick for the Supreme Court. We'll get to that and the week's other big political developments. We're joined now by NPR's Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So first, someone we've been talking about for a while - Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency this week, the subject of multiple ethics investigations for multiple months. But somehow, he had the president's confidence. What changed?

ELVING: The president says nothing changed but rather that Pruitt decided he had become a distraction. Now, of course, he had been quite a major distraction for months, dozens and more. Legal and ethical investigations can be distracting. So the latest round, including charges of falsifying records of his meetings at the EPA - those came from some of Pruitt's own people, some of his own deputies, testifying to Congress it was all finally just too much.

WERTHEIMER: Now, he's going to be replaced at least for a while by Andrew Wheeler, his deputy. What can we expect from Wheeler. Is he going to do as Scott would have done with possibly some ethical revisions?

ELVING: That is what most people expect. He had been a coal industry lobbyist. He'd worked for a well-known Oklahoma senator who is a well-known denier of climate change. And so there is some continuity there. But he is - Wheeler is - more of an inside Washington player, more sophisticated than Pruitt about how to get things done - so, perhaps, a much lower profile for the EPA but much the same agenda.

WERTHEIMER: President Trump has narrowed his list of Supreme Court candidates to just a handful. And he says he will announce his decision Monday. Do you have any speculation for us?

ELVING: Can't resist - frontrunner Brett Kavanaugh, is 53 years old from Maryland - circuit court of appeals judge. Twenty years ago, he was working for Ken Starr. Remember him? He was building a case that became the impeachment of President Clinton. Now, since then, Kavanaugh has said and written some things casting doubt on the idea of investigating presidents or prosecuting presidents. So that could be of some interest to any sitting president, including this one. And I still like the chances of Amy Coney Barrett, former law professor from University of Notre Dame. She's from Indiana. She's also an appeals court judge - far shorter tenure there though than Kavanaugh. She was appointed by Trump. And she's only 46, which is a plus, because she could serve for two, three or four decades on the court. She's a hero to religious conservatives who see her as a kindred spirit and a fighter as well. And the no. 3 guy appears to be Raymond Kethledge. But don't count him out because he was considered to be on the shortlist behind Neil Gorsuch just one year ago.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the United States is officially in a trade war with China. We imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, and the Chinese retaliated. They slapped tariffs on soybeans. What's the likely outcome, do you think?

ELVING: There is some chance that both sides will back down. And this could cool off, possibly even blow over. But right now, the signs are pointing to a more protracted conflict months or more with escalating retaliation on both sides and President Trump determined to break the pattern of the last half-century, 75 years.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that this is going to affect the economy, which is chugging along in a very healthy way?

ELVING: Yes. Most of the indicators from the economy are excellent. But it's hard to imagine that a full-blown trade war would not affect the economy, especially those sectors most exposed to it - soybean farmers, in particular, and various manufacturers. And it would have long-term effects on our allies as well.

WERTHEIMER: Ron Elving is NPR's senior editor and correspondent. Thank you very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Linda. Stay cool. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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