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Week in politics: Congress averts partial government shutdown, Blinken in Israel


The U.S. Congress passed a $1.2 trillion spending bill early this morning after months of debate, but it will last only for six months. Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Congress needs to begin right now on a budget for the next fiscal year that begins October 1. Is this becoming a way of life? A lot of people are asking, is this any way to run the country?

ELVING: You know, that's a question a lot of people in Congress are asking right now, including people who've been around a while and know how to work divided government, how to find common ground, give a little to get big things done. Of course, it's been bad before, and occasionally, it's been even worse. But this business of running six months behind all through the year fouls up many federal functions, and it's a big reason that public approval of Congress was measured last month at just 12%.

SIMON: What does $1.2 trillion get you these days?

ELVING: This particular package combines the last six of the appropriations bills and completes the annual process for all federal spending that Congress has any control over. Now, this last package is about 70% for Defense. So there's most of your 1.2 trillion right there. There's also additional money for Homeland Security - not as much as many would like. But as we've seen, there are some in Congress who are resisting spending more money on the border between now and the November election.

Then, of course, as you break down the trillion into billions and then mere millions, you get into more specific items, including things called earmarks. These are tucked in here and there to secure the support of certain members, and they allow individual members and senators to sweeten the package for their specific constituencies.

SIMON: Ron, is Congress going to have to change speakers of the House every time a budget bill is passed?

ELVING: It may seem that way, and I suppose it's possible, but it's not likely. Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene got some attention by filing a motion to remove Mike Johnson as speaker. This would repeat the process by which former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was shown the door six months ago. And Greene and her colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus think Johnson has betrayed them by passing these spending packages this month with Democratic votes. But Greene does not appear to have too much support. She is not forcing an immediate vote on it, so Congress has gone home, and we will see where things stand when the House returns from Easter recess on April 9.

SIMON: And events, of course, continue in Gaza. The U.N. Security Council failed to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire. The secretary of state visited Israel. Any change as we head into a new week of war?

ELVING: Not really, at least not that we can see on the surface. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu insists on crushing the last Hamas stronghold in Rafah, even as the population of Gaza is on the brink of starvation. The U.S. has tried a new cease-fire resolution, as you say, in the U.N. this week, but it included language condemning Hamas and other militant elements. It was vetoed by Russia and China. Late in the week, it was reported Netanyahu might actually come to the United States and address Congress himself, trying to make the case for Israel and to resist all the people who are calling on him to step down. So dramatic developments could be just ahead.

SIMON: Ron, The Economist magazine, that venerable British institution, shows President Biden inching ahead of former President Trump in an opinion poll. How much do you make of that?

ELVING: You know, it's early, and there are many polls out there showing Trump ahead by several points. There are some that, besides this one, have shown Biden pulling even, at least statistically, or a point ahead. The Economist, as you suggest, and its polling outfit, YouGov, are serious folks. And certainly, these numbers would be heartening to the Biden people and Democrats generally.

We are in a new phase of the campaign now, no longer having meaningful primaries each week, no more headlines about what Donald Trump has won or how many rivals have dropped out. The big stories now are coming out of courtrooms, including one this coming Monday in New York. The court there is requiring Trump to post about a half a billion dollars in bond to cover the fraud judgment against him and his businesses. Trump's lawyers say they haven't been able to find anyone to front that money, so Trump's going to have to come up with it himself. He is taking his social media company public, as I'm sure you've heard, and he may potentially raise billions from that on paper, eventually. But that money won't be available for some time. And on Monday, we will see what other maneuvers he may have in mind.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.