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Week In Politics


The impeachment trial of President Trump began for real this week with the swearing in of the U.S. Senate, which will hear the case, and some startling new charges. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: Here we are, my friend. The Senate trial just begun. It'll take a few weeks. NPR will cover it all. We expect many dramatic moments. But do we pretty much already know the ending?

ELVING: We pretty much think we do. There would need to be 67 votes to remove the president - 67. Right now, we're not sure there are even 47. So for Democrats, this may be a little like going to the opera. They know there are going to be high notes and low notes and not much chance for a happy ending. Nonetheless, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party, while they know the odds are against them, came to believe that they had no choice.

SIMON: Lots of talk about a couple developments - a number of interviews given by Lev Parnas, former associate of Rudy Giuliani, in which he presents a portrayal of President Trump as being thoroughly involved in the pressure against Ukraine, aware of it every step. Can you remind us about who Lev Parnas is and how he gets a place in this drama?

ELVING: He's a rather murky figure who's been in Florida real estate and involved with some shadowy figures in international business, born in the old Soviet Union - what's now Ukraine - and now, as you say, an associate of Rudy Giuliani. He's been telling anyone who would listen, on television and elsewhere, about the effort to make Ukraine an ally in the Trump reelection campaign of 2020.

Parnas says he and former NSA John Bolton - that's the national security adviser John Bolton - could elaborate and fill in the gaps in what's already known about this if they were called and allowed to testify in the Senate. Bolton, too, has said he would testify in the Senate after resisting calls to do so in the House. But the question of whether the Senate will hear any witnesses at all is still up in the air.

SIMON: And also this week, the Government Accountability Office determined that President Trump had broken the law by withholding aid to Ukraine. This - such a - sounds like such a dramatic development. Does it change minds?

ELVING: One might hope that an alarm bell as clear as this report from the GAO, firm judgment from one of the least partisan agencies of the federal government - one might hope that would matter. But here they are, saying that the holding up of this aid to Ukraine was simply illegal, outside the law, the wrong thing to do. So it's another log in the fire, another weight on the scale.

But if you're asking how many Republicans have suddenly changed positions because of it, that number is apparently nil at this point. So it's not the game-changer one might have thought at some juncture in the past. Instead, it just drives the division within the country that much deeper.

SIMON: And let's note, as all this is happening, we have to cite the fact that unemployment numbers are at a record low. Stock market numbers are at a record high. The Senate has just joined the House in approving a new North American trade agreement. By many of the usual measures, the United States is doing pretty well, isn't it?

ELVING: Yes, by the measures you mention. We also have a homeless problem, among other problems, the looming disaster of climate change. But the economy seems to be in a Goldilocks phase right now - not too hot, not too cold. And the only real crisis confronting the day-to-day business of the nation is the deep divide over the actions of our president.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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.