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Week in politics: Border immigration; debt ceiling talks; Trump's CNN town hall

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're going to begin at the U.S.-Mexico border, where it's back to rules put in place before March of 2020, the government no longer strictly limiting asylum seekers. Thousands of migrants are waiting to be processed. In a moment, we'll hear from the border about how an app rolled out to help the process just isn't working. Right now, NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: So far, a big rush did not happen. But that doesn't matter when it comes to political implications of this issue, does it?

ELVING: Well, you know, it could if it suggests that the magnitude of this problem might be more manageable than feared. That's a big if, of course. But in a political sense, as you suggest, the actual numbers are less important than the images projected because the political fallout will be defined not by what's actually happening on the border, but largely by those seeking ways to exploit it. And over the weeks and months to come, every ebb and flow at the border, every tragic incident, it's going to make people uneasy. And that will reflect badly on the Biden administration, fairly or not. And you have people on one side telling Biden, oh, you waited too long to get tougher on the border - other people saying, you know, you're betraying your promises. There is no safe ground for him, and there won't be any going forward.

SIMON: Congressional leaders met at the White House this week on the debt ceiling nation's about to reach. Another meeting set for next week. Are these signs of progress?

ELVING: This week's meeting was largely for show, but you need a first meeting like that just to turn the key in the ignition. It was also needed to reassure the public and the markets and to fully engage the staff people who will be doing most of the work, looking for potential areas of agreement as they have in the past. Postponing Friday's meeting might have been an indication that progress was happening. That's the hopeful read. But the staff have to work fast because neither Biden or the Congress is expected to be in town much for the rest of May. And we've been told June 1 brings us to the brink of default.

So up to now, all parties have been rooted in their positions. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is especially talking tough, but everyone understands that he has to. He's got the hardest job of all, getting the House Republicans to vote for something they've said they won't. And he can't pick up a few votes from Democrats because that might well make his tenure as speaker the shortest in history.

SIMON: Former President Trump spoke to what was billed as a town hall meeting on CNN this week. What was your impression?

ELVING: Trump gave a preview of his 2024 campaign or a reprise of his previous campaigns. Take your pick. He clung to his insistence that the 2020 election was rigged, once again offering no evidence. He praised the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, promising pardons for at least some of them if he returns to office. He continued to defame E. Jean Carroll, the woman who was awarded $5 million in court in New York last week for previous defamations and a sexual assault by Trump. He wildly exaggerated the numbers of migrants at the southern border, as he has countless times before. And, you know, Scott, a few of us still remember when a guy named Richard Nixon ran for president as, quote, "the new Nixon." Well, don't look for the new Trump. That's not happening.

SIMON: There's been a lot of criticism of CNN for presenting that event. What do you make of their response and how they presented it?

ELVING: The CNN CEO says it was just an interview with a front-running candidate, but that paints a different picture from what we saw. What CNN called a town hall was largely a Trump rally compressed into a small auditorium. Let me pause to salute CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins. She did everything she could to bring Trump back to planet reality. He rewarded her by calling her a nasty person on the air.

It all recalled the coverage of Trump in 2015 and '16 when CNN and others discovered they could boost ratings by ignoring the rest of the Republican field, featuring Trump rallies from start to finish. There was criticism then, too, but there was also profit. People watched - some in fascination, some in horror, but people watched. And here we are again.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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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