AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The battle that erupted between President Trump and House Democrats yesterday shows no sign of cooling down. In case you missed it, President Trump says he has no intention of doing anything with congressional Democrats while they continue to investigate his taxes, business dealings and the findings in the Mueller report. Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called it a temper tantrum and said the White House and Congress should be able to walk and chew gum.
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NANCY PELOSI: I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.
CORNISH: Confrontations between the president and Congress are not new, but rarely has a president declared a work stoppage because of one. Let's talk about that now with NPR's Ron Elving. He joins me now in the studio. Welcome back, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Audie.
CORNISH: How seriously are people taking this tactic by the president?
ELVING: Let's pose the question the other way. How serious is the president about this tactic? Because on one hand, it's terribly serious. We have a shared power system. So if he stops working with Congress, we can't have a big push on infrastructure - roads and bridges - or on the cost of prescription drugs. We'd be likely to see another government shutdown with no deal on the debt limit, which we're hitting. And that would mean the first default on U.S. debt in history. That's as serious as it gets.
But on the other hand, this may be more theatrics, or as the speaker called it, a stunt. And the speaker, as we know, for her part, needs to hang tough and talk tough so as to keep her caucus together in the House and keep the impeachment train from leaving the station too early.
CORNISH: We've talked a lot on this program about the last time there were impeachment proceedings back in the '90s, but can you talk about how Congress proceeded during that time?
ELVING: And that was 1998, Bill Clinton in his second term, a Democratic president facing strong Republican opposition in the House and Senate. And Clinton fought that impeachment every way he could, but while doing so, he also kept working with elements of Congress on separate tracks on other matters, including the general budget agreement he had struck with House Speaker Newt Gingrich - we remember him - the year before the impeachment began.
CORNISH: Right. And President Bill Clinton tangled with Congress during his impeachment. He also compartmentalized - right? - and was able to get things done. But did that actually work in his favor?
ELVING: Compartmentalizing, yes, remember that. He always assumed he would survive impeachment and need Congress on the other side. So he had to give up on some of his grander plans that he and Gingrich had talked about, but he stayed in the governing game throughout, achieved a balanced budget on paper at least and saw some of the highest approval numbers of his presidency after impeachment ended.
CORNISH: And then there's Richard Nixon - right? - the one President who actually resigned in the face of imminent impeachment. Did he continue working with Congress before he left office?
ELVING: Yes. He did everything he could to resist impeachment and to squelch the Watergate investigation and - including that fracas over the tape recordings made in the Oval Office. But Nixon also saw his presidency outside of his confrontation with Congress. So he continued to deal on the long list of domestic and international crises of his time.
And he used his veto pen, but he also used his signing pen. And among other things, he signed a new law Congress wanted to create, a new federal budget process, even as the House was moving to impeach him in the month before he resigned.
CORNISH: In the end, does this moment feel significant or unusual?
ELVING: It feels as though this entire process is escalating into territory we have not seen before, and we really have no idea where it might end.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent on the Washington desk. Ron, thank you.
ELVING: Thank you, Audie.
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