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Week In Politics


It's the end of December. Congress is out of town, President Trump is in Florida. But politics never takes a holiday. Washington is still buzzing about impeachment and looking toward a Senate trial next month. There's also a Democratic presidential race that will see its first votes cast in just over five weeks. Here to talk with us about all of this is senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Hi, Ron.

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

FADEL: So let's jump right in. The last time we heard from leaders of the House and Senate they were locked in a dispute over the rules for the Senate impeachment trial. Do you think that will be resolved anytime soon?

ELVING: Sometime soon, yes. But not this weekend or next week up, more like before mid-January. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants to see a fair set of rules for the Senate trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's working closely with the White House. So far, that's meant an impasse between McConnell and his Senate Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer. And how long it's going to take to sort that out is anyone's guess. It'll be at least 10 days to two weeks before we start the Senate trial.

FADEL: So it might seem like impeachment's the only thing going on. But Congress has other things on its agenda, right? What are they?

ELVING: The Senate has yet to approve that big trade deal with Canada and Mexico. The House has said yes to the USMCA, which some people are calling NAFTA 2.0. But the Senate has yet to take it up. There's also legislation to lower drug prices and a lot of other things the Senate and House could do if they want to work together and get the president on board.

FADEL: Oh, that's the big question. Democrats have been in control of the House of Representatives for almost a year now. So looking back, how did the year go? Did they accomplish what they set out to do?

ELVING: The news was all about Trump. First, the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the ongoing Russian interference into the 2020 election. And then the whistleblower emerged. And the impeachment machinery got going. But along the way, the Democrats in the House passed more than 400 bills, Leila, including on election reform and election security, health care, universal background, checks on gun purchases.

Most people didn't hear too much about those bills because thus far they've been ignored in the Senate where the big emphasis, of course, has been on approving Trump's judicial appointees - more than 150 of them. But we could see some heightened cooperation yet in 2020 once we get past impeachment. They say nothing gets done in an election year, but there have been times, such as in 1996 when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, when the parties saw it in their interests to work together and look productive to the voters.

FADEL: So moving gone to the Democratic presidential primary, the latest polls show Senator Bernie Sanders is maintaining that second place spot behind former Vice President Joe Biden. And Sanders hasn't gotten a lot of attention from his rivals or the media. Is that changing now?

ELVING: So it would seem. You can expect to see more scrutiny and criticism as a consequence of that attention. Sanders has been gaining at least a little steam lately because a lot of steam has gone out of Elizabeth Warren's campaign. And she had been contesting Sanders' claim to the party's progressive wing.

But bouncing back from his heart attack last fall, Sanders has been very much his old self. And voters are looking for alternatives. They're looking for alternatives to Joe Biden, and they've been moving around among his various rivals - Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, even the billionaire, latecomer Mike Bloomberg. So as the new year dawns, we watch those polls in those Iowa caucuses.

FADEL: Wow. That's NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Thank you so much for being here.

ELVING: Thank you, Leila. 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.