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Week in politics: Biden holds debt ceiling meeting; another Clarence Thomas revelation


Now back to events in the former North American colonies. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: (Impersonating British accent) We are pleased to have the privilege of joining you, Scott.

SIMON: Gosh, that was a bad British accent.

ELVING: (Laughter).

SIMON: But in any event, mine can be even worse. Listen, maybe it's all the crowns and jewels, but I'm reminded of the U.S. national debt. And this week we learned the U.S. could default on its bonds as soon as June 1. President Biden has called a meeting for next week with both party leaders of the House and Senate. What's behind this?

ELVING: The Republican strategy had been to make this a mano-a-mano match between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. That would elevate McCarthy and highlight the bill the House has narrowly already approved. And that bill, as we know, would raise the debt limit but make it contingent on certain cuts to the federal budget that please Republicans. So what we saw in this Biden invitation to all four is a little bit of the power of the White House to stack the deck a bit in the president's favor. By including the two Democratic leaders and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has made statements about the importance of the debt limit even though he does support Kevin McCarthy, Biden gets three people in that meeting who agree with him on the urgent need to raise the limit.

So McCarthy sees the world differently. He has to, otherwise he wouldn't be speaker. There's a hardcore element in his caucus that's less interested in the debt limit than in rewriting the federal budget, slashing social spending and highlighting these issues in 2024. And judging by the email I'm getting these days, Scott, they're also interested in all of those things for their potential as fundraising tools.

SIMON: Now, the revelation this week about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. ProPublica reports a real estate magnate paid the private school tuition for a youngster that the justice was raising like a son. How much worse does this look like other favors that Thomas received from Harlan Crow?

ELVING: It's not so much that it's worse, it's that it's just another instance of Thomas getting something of impressive value and choosing not to disclose. So this story, says a friend of Thomas, confirmed that Crow paid for a year at one boarding school and another year and another. Previous reports were that Thomas had traveled on Crow's yacht and his jet, with none of it disclosed on the court's annual disclosure forms. So Thomas said Crow is a friend, and those trips didn't need to be disclosed. This time, Thomas hasn't responded directly, but a friend of his said the boy wasn't Thomas's dependent child and didn't need to be disclosed.

SIMON: And also on the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, liberal and conservative respectively, have together received millions of dollars from Penguin Random House, which has published their books and which has had important business before the court.

ELVING: The justices in both those cases disclosed that income, unlike Thomas, but the two of them did not recuse themselves, and - from decisions affecting their publisher. So in that sense, they are suspect as Thomas is suspect. And these examples fuel the fire that's burning under Chief Justice John Roberts and the entire court. The Senate is now considering putting its weight behind having the court adopt an ethics code comparable to that of other courts and federal employees.

SIMON: And Ron, four members of the group Proud Boys, including the former leader, have just been found guilty of sedition for the part they played in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It has been 28 months since that day. How effective has the Justice Department been in holding rioters accountable?

ELVING: There have been a lot of people charged so far. More than 450 have been sentenced. About half of those getting some time behind bars in their sentence. It's all gone very slowly, but that is Attorney General Merrick Garland's style. It's the old wheels of justice grind slowly motif. And one suspects that had all this gone much faster, it would have strengthened claims that the entire investigation was partisan. It is notable that some of those convicted, like Enrique Tarrio or the Proud Boys, were not even present at the Capitol on January 6. That suggests prosecutors are looking for instigators as well as people caught in the act. That could be a bad precedent for some people in Trump's inner circle, possibly including the man at the epicenter of that circle.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. All right, I'll try my own. (Impersonating British accent) Right, thank you, Ron, so much.

ELVING: (Impersonating British accent) Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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