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Week in politics: Biden holds back weapons from Israel, Trump gets gag order warning

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden warns Israel about a ground invasion of Gaza. Judge Merchan warns Trump about violating his gag order again. And many of us feel suitably warned about the dangers of parasitic worms in the brain. You learn new things every day. Joining us now, NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let me ask first about President Biden's comments made on CNN that he might withhold some weapons from Israel if it goes ahead with the ground invasion of Rafah. What do you make of this, Ron?

ELVING: This is what U.S. presidents have to do when dealing with problems in other parts of the world. They have to seek a balance between interests with the American interest and the president's own political interest among them.

But this is not like any other problem, Scott, foreign or domestic. This is the Middle East. And here, no matter which way a president jumps, he lands right back in the Middle East, where problems seem uniquely resistant to solution. And Gaza is perhaps the most resistant of all. Right now, Biden is damned if he aids Israel and damned if he doesn't, and even a cease-fire seems out of reach, yet that has to remain the goal.

SIMON: Moving on to Congress, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced her motion to vacate the chair - that would be the House Speaker Mike Johnson - which she's threatened for weeks and got booed - a surprise or not?

ELVING: You know, it was a surprise that she was booed by her own team. And you could see the distress on her face in the moment as she looked to her own side of the aisle. And her motion to vacate was swiftly stuffed. The vote to table it was more than 8 to 1. Even the Republican tally was lopsided against her, only 10 of her own party colleagues backing her with nearly 200 going the other way.

It's hard to remember a time when the Republican Party, in particular, has rebuked one of its own in such stark terms. So the question now is whether Greene will remain as compelling a subject as she has been up to now for cable TV and social media and others. And here's a contrarian thought. Perhaps we should all be grateful to Greene. She has managed to produce the single most bipartisan moment of consensus we have seen in this Congress, and that alone is a kind of contribution.

SIMON: The Trump trial this week - vivid and pointed testimony from Stormy Daniels, a rejected request for a mistrial, and Judge Merchan sounds increasingly sharp over more violations of his gag order. What did you notice?

ELVING: This was the week the Trump trial in New York veered fully into soap opera - salacious and tawdry, perhaps, but essential to the charges of serial business fraud to cover the payment of hush money. But the sex talk about the former president took a backseat, in a sense, to the warning Trump got from the trial judge, Juan Merchan. The judge has been trying to restrain Trump's public statements about the trial and about participants in it.

This week, he made it clear he would be willing to send Trump to jail if his violations of the gag order continue. There are those who have said Trump actually wants a brief sentence for contempt for the sympathy factor it might get him, as well as a goad to his supporters. We shall see how that sorts out next week when former attorney Michael Cohen, the president's own former attorney, appears as the key witness against him.

SIMON: Ron, let's talk about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the brainworm. Seems like everybody is.

ELVING: Last week, you know, Scott, we were talking about shooting puppies, and it's hard to imagine anything a national candidate would less like to be talking about than that. But here we have Robert Kennedy Jr. talking about a medical incident, more than a dozen years ago, in which he contracted a worm that reached his brain and caused what he has called cognitive difficulties.

Now, this capped a week of stories about his campaign difficulties with petition signatures in New York and sudden announcements about his abortion position. And yet both the Trump and Biden campaigns are taking the Kennedy threat seriously because he's a total wild card, and the election is that close.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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 NPR.org.