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Week in politics: Congress halts a government shutdown

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

U.S. military aid to Israel and to Ukraine remains unresolved. It's been a contentious few weeks on Capitol Hill. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: But the government didn't shut down, thanks to the passage of another stopgap spending bill with Democratic support. But wasn't that what got Kevin McCarthy booted as speaker?

ELVING: Yes, or so it would seem. But the cases are not exactly the same. They were certain far-right members of the House Republican majority who had just had enough of Kevin McCarthy. They didn't like his track record. They didn't like the way he attacked back and forth. They thought that Mike Johnson would be more their kind of guy. But at least in this first showdown, the speaker Johnson did not follow his far-right faction. He did what had to be done to get the government funded temporarily, and that was to bring the stopgap spending bill to the floor with no added issues. That way, it could pass with the support of the Democrats, along with most of the Republicans.

And the hard-liners have been critical of Johnson, but they seem to be accepting his approach for now, given that no one wanted a shutdown just before Thanksgiving or just before Christmas. So the crisis has now been postponed into January. But the aid to Israel and Ukraine is looking less than certain, a surprise, given all the earlier responses to those wars. But more of the country is expressing frustration with the wars now, Scott, and particularly in the Republican ranks, there are stirrings of isolationism in Congress.

SIMON: Seeing this week some lawmakers may have had too much Red Bull. A Republican congressman said his Democratic colleague looked like a Smurf. Then there was a collision, an elbowing in a hallway between two Republican members. And then, in a Senate hearing, a senator, the Teamsters leader - let's get ready to rumble.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARKWAYNE MULLIN: You want to run your mouth? We can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here.

SEAN O'BRIEN: OK. That's fine. Perfect.

MULLIN: You want to do it now?

O'BRIEN: I'd love to do it right now.

MULLIN: Well, stand your butt up, then.

O'BRIEN: You stand your butt up.

BERNIE SANDERS: Hold it.

O'BRIEN: Big guy.

SANDERS: Stop it.

O'BRIEN: Is that your solution to every problem?

SANDERS: No, no. Sit down.

MULLIN: That's right. You're a clown.

SANDERS: Sit down.

MULLIN: Look at you.

SANDERS: You know, you're a United States senator actively.

MULLIN: Oh, OK. OK.

SANDERS: Sit down please.

SIMON: Let's get a grip. Ron, your thoughts?

ELVING: Well, who knew that Senator Bernie Sanders had this hidden talent as a referee? That's his voice that you hear breaking in there at the end. That exchange happened when Oklahoma's Markwayne Mullin confronted Sean O'Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, over some social media posts that O'Brien had put up about Mullin. And yes, it did seem there was something in the air on Capitol Hill this week. Former House Speaker McCarthy was accused of elbowing another Republican in the kidneys. He denies doing that, but the wounded party insists that this was just McCarthy's way of getting back at him for voting to oust him earlier this fall.

Meanwhile, Chip Roy, another outspoken member of the House Republican majority, was on TV complaining vehemently that Republicans have failed to do anything he can go back to his district and campaign on in Texas. And then, to add to the GOP fractiousness, the House Ethics Committee released an extraordinarily damning report on New York Congressman George Santos, who has already been indicted on charges of fraud and announced he's not running for reelection. Usually, the House waits for a court conviction before moving to expel anyone, but some of Santos's New York colleagues are especially interested in seeing him go, lest he throw any more shade on the rest of that state's Republicans.

SIMON: And in the midst of all this, President Biden was having a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in San Francisco. Seems to be some success.

ELVING: Yes. Some people think all summits are cosmetic, and certainly they're almost always declared a success, but there did appear to be at least some progress on the issue of fentanyl getting into Chinese products sold in the U.S. There may even have been some progress on Chinese contributions to greenhouse gases and thus to climate change.

SIMON: And what at least sounds like some encouraging economic news for the president a week ahead of his 81st birthday.

ELVING: Yes, some very good news for the economy overall, Scott. But of course, the average family waits to see how it affects their own circumstances. Still, it is encouraging for everyone to see inflation cooling, gas prices falling. There is a stronger case for the Federal Reserve to stop raising interest rates and move toward a reduction in rates early next year. So happy birthday to the president. When things go wrong, he will get the blame, fairly or not, so he deserves to enjoy it when there's good news too.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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.

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.