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The Week In Politics: Kanye West At The White House, The Jamal Khashoggi Case

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And while the hurricane raged in Florida, President Trump invited Hurricane Kanye into the Oval Office and dealt with the vicissitudes of the stock market. NPR's Ron Elving joins us from Washington, D.C. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: A major disaster like Hurricane Michael often focuses politicians, which it did in Florida. But President Trump chose that moment to receive Kanye West at the White House. Now, this wasn't a private meeting like Nixon and Elvis, but a big event with cameras and questions. Why?

ELVING: You know, in the post-Katrina era, Scott, the assumption has been that when a hurricane comes, you focus on that and set other things aside. So it was jarring when the president went ahead with his summit with Kanye West. And as you say, it was a major full-media presence in the Oval Office.

But the president's theme all week has been to keep the focus on the president. He's had a flurry of news availabilities - way more than usual. In fact, in the last month, he's had more than in all the time previously in his presidency - very flashy events, campaign rallies around the country, night after night.

And that happens just as the cable operations - television, news - has - well, they've begun to lose interest in some of those rallies. They're not covering them from beginning to end anymore, sometimes not covering them all - at all, perhaps because they do seem to be news-free campaign events, and maybe because they've become so frequent.

SIMON: Does this week's sudden stock sell-off raise questions about what had seemed to be so much good news about the economy, including that historically low unemployment rate?

ELVING: Yes, and it is historically low. There was a steep and sudden sell-off, though, in the middle of the week - 800 points on the Dow one day, another 500 the next. The Dow did recover, and the other indices recovered on Friday. But there was a chill that went through investors, thinking about all the times in the past when everything seemed to be going just right until everything seemed to go completely wrong. So yes, we have been in the middle of rosy scenario or Goldilocks economy, whichever you prefer.

The striking thing, from a political standpoint, was the president's reaction. He does have his own way of dealing with crises, even temporary ones. And he generally denies that there's a problem and then uses the appearance of a problem as a cudgel against someone else. And in this case, that was Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell, who is, of course, the president's own appointee.

SIMON: I feel we have to get to the disappearance and the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist. There's been bipartisan outrage and calls for action on Capitol Hill. What can Congress actually do?

ELVING: Congress can cut off a lot of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We have enormous arms deals with Saudi Arabia. We have an enormous amount of trade with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia spent about $27 million in the last year just on lobbying, just in Washington, D.C. So this is an intense relationship. And all the money has to go through Congress. And even if Jared Kushner is handling the main negotiations and really being our main contact point with Saudi Arabia, it's still Congress that has to write the checks.

So Congress has real power here, and this is a bipartisan issue. It's not just Democrats like Chris Coons. It's also Republicans, like Marco Rubio, who are incensed over what appears to have happened to a Washington Post columnist in the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ankara, Turkey.

SIMON: And the question has to be raised. With his support - outspoken support - for Vladimir Putin, for Kim Jong Un, for President Duterte - forgive me - the president of the Philippines - not working well today - does the president send the message that dictators can do as they please?

ELVING: The president - let's be frank - came to power promising to disrupt official Washington and the way things have been done, including in terms of our relationships with just about every other country. And that is a promise on which the president has delivered. And his base voters are delighted with it, even if it gives pause to members of Congress and people in the media and other observers.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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