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Week in politics: U.S. Treasury predicts extended leeway for debt ceiling default

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Negotiations continue on raising the federal debt ceiling so the U.S. government can continue to pay its expenses and the interest on bonds. President Biden left for Camp David last night, sounded optimistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I hope we'll have some clearer evidence tonight before the clock strikes 12 that we have a deal, but it's very close.

SIMON: Then moments later, the White House put out a statement that sounded downright dire, charging Republicans were, quote, "threatening to trigger an unprecedented recession." Let's turn to NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: This just doesn't add up. What do you make of two conflicting statements?

ELVING: Believe it or not, both can be true. The two sides are far apart, especially on the work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps. On the other hand, they are talking. There seems to be a new serious about getting a deal. And at this point, the tough part of the exercise is going to be selling some of the members on the right and the left on the parts of the deal that they have sworn they will never vote for, and yet they must.

SIMON: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this week pushed back the ex-date that the country will default if there's not an agreement. It was June 1, or as early as June 1. Now it's June 5, a whole other four days until a potential economic catastrophe. Let me put it this bluntly. Why are members of Congress going home for a holiday weekend?

ELVING: It's fair to say the optics are less than optimal, Scott, but going home for a holiday, while it undercuts any sense of urgency, it's where the members want to be, telling their constituents what a great job they're doing and also telling them how unbending they are in the negotiations with the other party, the bad guys. And, of course, that may be good politics, but it's not the best way to actually get a deal. There is a school of thought that says when the stakes are high, it's best to get the elected members out of town so that the staffs of the various offices, legislative and executive, can find the language and work the numbers and get a deal that the members can approve when they get back to town, and we can hope for that.

SIMON: Also this week, Twitter, I think it's fair to say, bungled Governor DeSantis's presidential campaign announcement. But his aides say he still raised $8.2 million in the first 24 hours. What does that tell us?

ELVING: There was a lot of glee in the media this week because the Twitter launch that was supposed to help both DeSantis and Twitter, which is to say Elon Musk, was a mess. But that may well have been a short-term story, which is to say it won't matter in a few months. Money, on the other hand, will, and it appears that money will not be a problem for Ron DeSantis. His backers include people with some of the deepest pockets in the GOP. He should have more than enough money to have saturation TV as well as on-the-ground campaign staff in all the important primary and caucus states. Trump's money, by the way, is coming in in largely small amounts from small donors who keep giving in response to his ongoing pleas for help.

SIMON: What seems to be the strategy for Governor DeSantis to try and win the Republican nomination? Does he just wait for Donald Trump to be indicted or to stumble or some new allegations of misconduct?

ELVING: Sometimes people challenge a front-runner like Trump, seeing it as a chance to get on the ticket. And there are people running for president right now who might be glad to be the running mate for either Trump or DeSantis or even someone else. But that's not the scenario for DeSantis. Trump may be leading him by 2 to 1 in the polls right now, but DeSantis is the second choice of Republicans far more than any other candidate now in the race. He is the official Republican Plan B, the fallback if the party needs someone other than Trump or decides it wants someone other than Trump. And I point out here this week, The Washington Post reported new developments in the case of Trump's classified documents, the ones that were found in an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate last year. William Barr, Trump's last attorney general, has said he thinks the documents case is the one Trump should be worried about the most.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us. Talk to you soon.

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.