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Week In Politics: AG Barr Rebukes Trump; Senate Approves New War Powers Limits


The attorney general of the United States tells the president of the United States to butt out, stop tweeting. But today, Attorney General William Barr still has his job. And President Trump is still tweeting. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Morning, Ron.

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

SIMON: Attorney General Barr, in interview with ABC, seemed to admonish the president pretty bluntly and publicly - stop tweeting, makes it hard for me to do my job. A surprising rebuke or was it?

ELVING: Hard to be sure what it was, Scott - a rather showy gesture of defiance that the president did not seem to mind until he did. And then the tweeting started up again. All week, we saw Barr trying to corral the president one minute and placate him the next. First you had the blow up over the sentencing of longtime Trump crony Roger Stone. And then we had more tweets from Trump about the judge in the case and one of the jurors in what he called his legal right to interfere with criminal prosecutions. But this week, the Justice Department also dropped the two-year investigation of Andrew McCabe, the former FBI chief that Trump's been railing against for two years. And then we learned that Barr wants to review all the political department cases, including the one against Michael Flynn - way back to the first Trump national security adviser. So independence on one hand and what looks like fealty on the other.

SIMON: I have to ask you, yesterday The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported that U.S. Border Patrol was going to send in tactical teams to assist ICE operating in sanctuary cities. These are essentially, as they've been described, SWAT teams.

ELVING: Yes. This conjures visions of SWAT teams storming through San Francisco - don't know if it's going to come to that, but it is the image the president wants because he's made an issue of cities refusing to cooperate with his immigration policy. It's a centerpiece of his rally speeches. And it's going to play big in his campaign.

SIMON: And he's also asked - is asking to divert almost $4 billion from Pentagon projects. These are, after all, U.S. defense projects to that wall.

ELVING: Congress is going to push back on this one. But we have seen smaller amounts of defense money diverted for this very purpose before. It's the only way the president can say he's building his wall when Congress has explicitly refused to pay for it. So we expect more court action on this front. But again - great campaign fodder for the president.

SIMON: There was an effort this week to rein in some presidential powers. And several Republicans crossed party lines to limit any president's - but President Trump's ability to take military action against Iran without congressional authorization. Could this become law?

ELVING: It's hard to see how. Although there were eight Republicans forward in the Senate, and the House wants to restrain the president, as well. But the House has its own version of the measure. And even if the differences can be resolved, the president can use his veto on the final product. And there's no chance of there being enough Republicans in either chamber voting to override.

SIMON: Let's turn to the contest for the Democratic nomination. New Hampshire voted this week. Who can crow? Who should be concerned?

ELVING: Two candidates can crow. Bernie Sanders has had two narrow wins in what he calls the popular vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. But in terms of delegates committed so far, the narrow lead belongs to Pete Buttigieg. At the same time, we've seen the rapid deflation of two formerly first-tier campaigns. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden both need something of a miracle in Nevada or South Carolina later this month to get back in this thing and bolster their fundraising before Super Tuesday.

SIMON: I have to ask about this rise of interest - and I don't think it's just the media - in Mike Bloomberg - all the ads, slew of endorsements, including from African American officeholders. Does it necessarily translate into votes to win delegates?

ELVING: Bloomberg's got a lot to answer for in terms of his policing policies in New York - other things, as well. But he has the money and the time to do it and to trumpet his ability to compete with Trump. The super billionaire is on a collision course with democratic socialist Sanders and the party's progressives in general.

SIMON: Well, NPR's Ron Elving, Washington editor and correspondent, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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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