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Week in politics: Congress passes temporary funding bill to avoid shutdown

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown this week after passing a temporary spending bill on Thursday. That means government agencies will run until February 18, when we're likely to see another showdown over a larger funding bill.

NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: The holdup on the funding, of course, was that Republicans did not support President Biden's vaccine or testing requirement for government employees and contractors. Is this a fight just postponed until February?

ELVING: In a word, yes. Each side hopes to have more leverage in a couple of months, and neither side wants a shutdown in a pandemic or in the midst of the holiday season. The holdup this week, as you say, was a small cadre of Senate Republicans wanting to show just how opposed they are to mandates for masks and vaccines. But most of their Republican colleagues said, at least for the time being, that was not the hill they wanted to die on.

SIMON: What happens in a month and a half?

ELVING: February could see us right back where we are now, but frankly, we first need to get past December and the 15. That's the deadline for raising or suspending the limit on the national debt. Without that, you get a worse kind of government shutdown in a way, with government checks bouncing and countless other consequences.

SIMON: Ron, what's your read on the job numbers for November, which were considered to be disappointing?

ELVING: Oh, that's right - less than half the job creation we saw in October. Still, the unemployment rate - the percentage of people actually out of work - fell to just 4.2%. And that's the lowest that's been since before COVID began. So the jobs picture remains mixed, and everyone's waiting to see what omicron may have in store for us.

SIMON: Former President Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows has agreed to cooperate with the House Committee that is investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

ELVING: Yes. He says he's going to engage with the committee, whatever that may mean. You can find a lot of stuff on the internet about how Meadows has turned against his old boss, but it's not that cut-and-dried. Meadows has several competing motives here, so we need to hear his actual testimony first.

SIMON: And then, a former career attorney in the Justice Department named Jeffrey Clark.

ELVING: Jeffrey Clark was a career attorney. After the election, he told a member of Congress that he thought Trump was right about the election, and this got back to Trump, who called him in and reportedly talked about making Clark the newest acting attorney general. That's all in ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl's book. There's a big confrontation then after this in the Oval Office that went on for several hours on January 3, just three days before the insurrection. So the House committee has been trying to question Mr. Clark, who now says he intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

SIMON: Three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard Trump's lawyers argue to keep documents in the National Archives from becoming part of the House investigation. What did you hear in those arguments?

ELVING: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges who heard those arguments - by chance, all three were Democratic appointees - they did not seem impressed with the idea that a former president could claim executive privilege without support from the current president. So we await their ruling. If they deny Trump's request, as we expect, it may be reviewed by a larger panel of appeals judges and then perhaps by the Supreme Court. And that could take weeks. It could take months. And Republicans are hoping it may take many months.

SIMON: And on Friday, President Biden says that he has a set of - what he called a set as - a set of initiatives to make it more difficult for Russia to invade Ukraine. Russian troops reportedly have amassed along the border. Realistically, what options does U.S. policy have?

ELVING: There are always economic sanctions. We do also still have considerable armed forces in Central Europe. So Ukraine is not yet part of NATO. That seems to be what Mr. Putin wants to prevent. So it may be a question of how much of a war Mr. Putin wants to ask for and how much Mr. Biden is willing to give him.

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

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This report mistakenly referred to Jeffrey Clark as a career attorney in the Justice Department. In fact, Clark was a political appointee.] 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.