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Week In Politics: Spicer Resigns, Trump Looks At Pardons, Health Care


Spicey resigns. The Mooch moves in. The president asked his lawyers if he can pardon his family and sideline Robert Mueller and tells Republican senators to repeal the Affordable Care Act or face presidential retribution. 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: Firstly, Mr. Spicer's resignation and Mr. Scaramucci moving in - what's the swap say about what's going on in the White House?

ELVING: It says fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy flight. The change here is not the elevation of Sarah Sanders. As you know, she had already kind of replaced Sean Spicer as the day-to-day press secretary to a large degree. The change is Scaramucci. This is the kind of stand-in or surrogate Donald Trump that Donald Trump wanted. He is very much like his boss - brash, he's self-assured, world-class talker, highly skilled at self-promotion and full of confidence and fealty. You know, yesterday, he told us how much he loves Donald Trump four times in his initial appearance at the podium.

SIMON: Well, it might have been more if he had more time. The Washington Post reported this week that President Trump is asking his lawyers about his power to pardon. Pardon me, if you please, but it doesn't sound like the president's confident investigators will find nothing.

ELVING: You know, we have gone from this is a media hoax and fake news to calling it a witch hunt to saying that it was business as usual to meet with Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton to saying that maybe we need to get out that pardoning power. The president is tweeting about this just this morning. He says he has complete and total pardon power but the only crimes that have been committed so far have been those of the leakers.

And of course, the background here is that Robert Mueller's investigating team - he's the special counsel looking into the Russia connection - may be looking to the larger reality of the Trump world's financial relationships with various Russians. And that may be what's prompting all this talk about investigating the investigators or pushing back on some of Mueller's hires or even using the pardon power.

SIMON: I'll bet that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has had better weeks.

ELVING: Oh, you know, indeed. We've had an overnight report, again from The Washington Post, that is based again on leaks from the U.S. intelligence agencies. Apparently, there are intercepts of former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak reporting back to Moscow about his conversations with Jeff Sessions. We knew they had had conversations, but he has always said that they had nothing to do with the campaign. He was, of course, important to the Trump campaign for a senator who endorsed him. And he continues to stand by that statement this morning that he and Kislyak never talked about the campaign. But the Post says these intercepts show that Kislyak says differently.

SIMON: The fate of the Affordable Care Act - still in question. The Senate has failed to repeal and replace it. This week, senators say they'll vote. I'm not sure for what. For the umpteenth time, what seems to be the difficulty with the Republican majority in getting some legislation?

ELVING: The majority is having a little trouble mustering its majority in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is their leader. He has to decide where the votes are on this bill. He needs either 50 for the straight repeal with no replacement or for the latest iteration of the Senate's own replacement plan which was out just late this week. And the CBO score on that - the Congressional Budget Office - is not significantly better for, say, Medicaid coverage or pre-existing conditions.

So Mitch McConnell is begging his colleagues just to bring the bill to the floor for debate and amendment. But even that vote may well fail. A lot of the senators feel politically exposed on even that much. And one more problem for Mitch is that we don't know where or when, rather, Senator John McCain will return. We just learned this week he has an aggressive form of brain cancer, and his return to the Senate is uncertain at this time. We all wish him well.

SIMON: Yeah, a truly great American. NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.