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Week in politics: Congress on recess; new charges against Trump; economy looks up

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Congress is in recess. Don't they have work to do? Questions abound about if and when that third indictment of former President Donald Trump will be handed down. NPR senior Washington 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: Let me put it this directly. Is it irresponsible for Congress to leave town with so much left to do in the appropriations process to avoid a government shutdown?

ELVING: You know, the August recess is not in the Constitution, Scott, but it might as well be as far as Congress is concerned. It was 98 and humid here yesterday. You have to wonder how Congress met in the summer at all before air conditioning. But the truth is the spending bills do not suffer for lack of time, but for a lack of common purpose. In the Senate, they've had bipartisan cooperation. They've gotten all 12 spending bills ready for floor debate. In the House, not so much. The House's hardcore conservatives want some of these must-pass bills to become vehicles for social policy. That's not an original idea. It has happened before. In this case, they want to use them for weapons for the culture wars. These provisions will not pass the Senate. So some sort of compromise will be needed in September or a government shutdown will loom once again.

SIMON: And on the Senate side, I have to ask you about what - an alarming moment. Senator Mitch McConnell abruptly stopped speaking during a news conference. What are the implications here?

ELVING: It was an eerie moment, to be sure.

SIMON: He later came back and said he was fine.

ELVING: Yes. He came back, said he was fine. But it was an eerie moment, to be sure, disturbing, and the more so the more times you watched it. We know McConnell has had a couple of falls this year, one concussion, three weeks of rehab. We know he says he's fine. His office says he's fine. He's been the Republican leader, majority or minority, back to 2007, longer than anyone in history on the Republican side. And like him or not, he's been among the most effective leaders either party has had in a long time. He's got a better shot at holding Republicans together and negotiating with the Democrats than most anyone who might replace him.

But uncertainty about leadership is never good, and we see that on the House side as well. Speaker McCarthy has spent the last week talking about impeaching President Biden, talking about expunging former President Trump's two impeachments. Yes, that would please the former president, and it would please his most ardent supporters in the House. And, yes, McCarthy needs those same House members to remain as speaker. But I can imagine him behaving quite differently if he had a larger majority to work with in getting the necessary business of Congress done.

SIMON: And, of course, let me ask you about the possible repercussions of a likely third indictment of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump said on social media his attorneys met with federal prosecutors Thursday at the Justice Department.

ELVING: We don't know exactly what went on in that meeting, but it may have bought Trump and his defense team a little more time in the indictment process related to the January 6 insurrection. But what we got instead was a new superseding indictment in the Mar-a-Lago documents case down in Florida. It's important there because this includes a charge that Trump ordered recordings from a surveillance camera to be deleted. Now, if proven, that would be willful destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice. And it also speaks to Trump's awareness that his possession and concealment of the documents was unlawful. That could be crucial at trial.

SIMON: I have to ask you - some striking new numbers, good numbers about the economy this week. What do they mean in people's everyday lives?

ELVING: What's going on in the economy is that it's growing and inflation is moderating. The economy grew 2.4% second quarter, top of 2% of the first quarter. Those aren't barnburner numbers, but they're not the recession so many of us were expecting. We also learned yesterday that consumer prices this past month were up a relatively mild 3% - slowest inflation in almost two years. And it carried with it some indications that the current trend would continue. And, you know, Scott, consumers are beginning to feel it as well. Some of the consumer confidence numbers we've seen lately are the best in quite a while.

SIMON: NPR's 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.