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Week in politics: Dueling border visits, immigration reform, Biden on Gaza

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Dueling border visits, the Supreme Court, the Senate minority leader, Super Tuesday - lots to chew over with Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: President Biden began the week by saying he hoped for a cease-fire in Gaza by Monday. He has ended the week without that prospect and instead ordered air drops of aid to hungry people there, air drops which have already begun today. Now, what does this say about U.S. influence in the current conflict?

ELVING: It says our power to bring even a temporary pause in this war is quite limited. We can try to bring the warring parties together, and we have. But both sides still seem determined to achieve something they want by force of arms. Talks are expected to resume on Monday in Cairo, and Ramadan begins a week after that. There's hope, but we also have the fallout from what happened this week when a crowd came to meet an aid convoy. Accounts differ, but at some point, Israeli soldiers started shooting. There are reports of more than a hundred dead and hundreds wounded or injured. The U.N. secretary-general is calling for an independent investigation.

SIMON: U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in April about Donald Trump's claims that, as former president, he's immune from prosecution. What are the implications?

ELVING: Enormous. With this added delay, the case may not be resolved before November, and that would leave an unprecedented question hanging over the election. That's why special counsel Jack Smith asked the high court to take the case last year, assuming that the justices would want to have the last word sooner or later. But the court said no then. The circuit court of appeals should rule first, they said. Now the appeals court has ruled unanimously and resoundingly rejecting Trump's claim of immunity. The Supremes could just let that ruling stand, but instead, they're going to hear the case themselves seven weeks from now and rule on it sometime after that, maybe by June.

SIMON: Both President Biden and Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday. Ron, what do you make of the fact that, according to Gallup, the No. 1 campaign issue for 2024 is not the economy, inflation, crime, racism, the war in Ukraine, abortion rights or the budget deficit - it's immigration?

ELVING: The percentage saying immigration went up from 20% to 28% in one month. That's a lot. That suggests the economy must be doing better; inflation must be coming down. And all those other issues are just a little less salient at the moment because immigration seems to be a worsening problem or certainly a more prominent one in the news. It's also the issue generating the most visual sense of crisis. So we are all seeing lots of video depicting a difficult situation as out of control.

SIMON: How naive does it sound for me to ask you, Ron, what are the prospects for a bipartisan deal on immigration enforcement?

ELVING: In one sense, it is not naive at all, Scott. The Senate has, in fact, reached just such a deal thanks to a 50-50 bipartisan group of senators who worked on it for weeks - months, really - this winter. It embodies compromise, and yet it could create the toughest border regime in generations. But, of course, actually doing something about the border would take the edge off the issue politically this year. So Trump has made it clear he's against it. And Republicans in both the House and Senate have now blocked further consideration.

SIMON: Mitch McConnell stepping down as Senate Republican leader in November. What do you think he'll be remembered for?

ELVING: He'll be known as the longest-serving leader in either party in Senate history. But he himself says his greatest accomplishment was keeping President Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2016. McConnell would not even allow hearings on that nominee. That not only allowed Trump to fill that seat. It also allowed him to campaign on filling that seat. And it gave religious conservatives a reason to vote for him. The three justices he was able to appoint as a result have since overturned Roe v. Wade and half a century of abortion rights.

SIMON: Super Tuesday Tuesday. What are you watching?

ELVING: Just the delegate totals. These 15 states voting on Tuesday will do what the early voting states did - pile up delegates for Biden and for Trump. The only real suspense concerns what Trump's last challenger, Nikki Haley, will do next.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us on a busy week.

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.
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