Week In Review
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.
It's time now for a look back at the week's biggest news stories. NPR's senior news analyst is out this week, so I'm joined by NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.
RON ELVING: Good morning, Jacki.
LYDEN: Let's start with health care. What were the major developments this week in Congress?
ELVING: One big development was the president delayed his trip to South Asia by several days. He wants to be here in Washington to press - both in public and in private - for the final votes the Democrats need in the House to get this done.
Now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week has laid out a plan for a two-stage process. First they've got to approve the Senate bill that was passed last year, and then they have to approve a set of changes to that bill that they want in the House, changes that the House would then have to trust the Senate to approve, and we expect those final votes to come next Friday or Saturday.
And there's a great deal of suspense about them. That's why the president is sticking around, suspense on the abortion issue and others. But the House seems resolved to go forward, despite all distractions.
LYDEN: Well, one of the distractions was New York Democrat Eric Massa, who resigned this week, of course, from Congress under threat of a House ethics investigation.
ELVING: Eric Massa was a first - remember - a freshman from the western part of New York State, and he resigned amid allegations of improper advances made toward male staff members. And he painted quite a picture, even himself, of his life in office on Fox News and elsewhere.
And while the ethics investigation into his own behavior has now been closed, the House voted on Thursday to have the ethics committee find out who in the Democratic leadership knew about these allegations against the former congressman and when they knew it.
LYDEN: Gosh, Ron, this storyline seems awfully familiar.
ELVING: Takes you back, doesn't it? Yeah, it harks back to the scandal over Mark Foley, a Republican member who resigned in late 2006 after his overtures to teenaged pages were made public. Then, of course, the shoe was on the other partisan foot. And if you look back at the stories from that fall in the newspaper, you can read paragraphs that could've been written this week if you just swapped the name Pelosi for the name of Republican leader John Boehner. Their roles were reversed.
LYDEN: Ron, is there any evidence that the White House actually pushed him out because of health care?
ELVING: Massa himself and some Republicans have suggested he was confronted by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or someone else at some point because of his past votes on the health care bill. But there's been no evidence brought forward linking this allegation to the material that came out and to Massa's decision to resign.
LYDEN: The House also took up the issue of earmarks this week, with House Democrats promising to ban earmarks for for-profit companies. What's the problem with earmarks?
ELVING: Earmarks look bad. It's a long established practice of members writing the appropriations bill so that government spending gets directed to specific towns or schools or even private businesses, and it's really not that big a part of the overall spending, but it gives the appearance of corruption, especially if those private businesses turn around and give you campaign contributions.
Now, the timing of this particular proposal is prompted to some degree by the recent death of John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman who was chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and he was well known for his earmarking.
LYDEN: And how do the Republicans feel about this effort?
ELVING: They're not crazy about the idea as proposed, so they came out and said, well, look, if you're going to ban it for profit companies, let's ban it for everybody. Let's just get rid of it entirely - for-profit, non-profit, governmental entities. And the Democrats aren't so excited about that idea, so it hasn't been resolved yet, and at some part we'll need to hear from the Senate on this.
LYDEN: Ron, another distraction - at least for the president - was the ongoing war of words between the administration and some Supreme Court justices over the court's controversial ruling about campaign financing.
ELVING: Yes. This goes back to the State of the Union address earlier this year when the president gave the, oh, Supreme Court justices who were there a little bit of a critique of that decision on campaign financing that said that corporations had the same First Amendment free expression rights that individuals do.
At the time, Justice Sam Alito mouthed visibly that's just not rue. And this past week, Chief Justice John Roberts said it was troubling to sit there and listen to the president criticize that decision. I think there's a long history of there being real differences between presidents and the Supreme Court, particularly the chief justice or the people from the opposition party.
But in the past, traditionalists will tell you, those kinds of conflicts were not so much brought into the public sphere, and now it seems to be getting caught up in a more generally brackish and partisan atmosphere here in Washington that a lot of people bemoan.
LYDEN: Moving on to foreign news, Ron, Vice President Biden visited Israel this week and arrived to find out that Israel had just approved a new batch of settlements in East Jerusalem, something the Obama administration has been pushing them to halt. There was quite an intense reaction to this.
ELVING: Absolutely. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday and gave him an unusually long and strongly worded dressing down - I don't know what else to call it - for 45 minutes about this.
You know, the immediate cause, the immediate prompt, was the embarrassment of the vice president in Jerusalem this past week. He arrived for a kind of make-nice visit, and the Israelis announced they were adding 1,600 new housing units in disputed East Jerusalem. This is an area the Palestinians hope to make their new capital, if there ever is a two-state solution there.
The United States has been importuning the Israelis to freeze housing in disputed areas for a long time. And the administration thought it had at least a moratorium on new construction until this week.
LYDEN: There's been a lot of reaction to this, of course, in Israel.
ELVING: That's right. The Israeli media have noted that blowing this all up in Biden's face on the day that he arrived is either a deliberate slap in the face of the United States or it's remarkably poor coordination of policy. So both the media and the opposition have been unsparing in their criticism there. They're just stressed at seeing the relations between these two historic allies fall to a low point at a time when they need to be united against the challenges posed by Iran.
LYDEN: Finally, Ron, taking it back to Washington - your colleagues in the Washington press corps were a little peeved this week because the president's staff announced he'd be delaying the trip to Indonesia on Twitter. Why is that such a big deal?
ELVING: Because it seemed to be bypassing at least some of the White House correspondents who might not have been on Twitter at that particular time and deviating from the usual way of making announcements. We live in times under an administration that believes in change and that change has a lot of destabilizing effects. And I think some of those destabilizing effects apply to us in the media too.
LYDEN: That may be one high school student got the news first before you did on Twitter?
ELVING: That's right. You'd have to learn it from your son or daughter.
LYDEN: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks for being with us, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Jacki.
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