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Week in politics: Mike Pence served a subpoena; State of the Union makes an impact

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks very much.

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

SIMON: The tragic earthquake in Syria and Turkey dominates the news. There's an urgent need for help, an outpouring from the world. Will the real test be in coming weeks, though, when the news cycle moves on?

ELVING: Yes, indeed. We have much to be grateful for in this country in any season. But when we see this kind of tragedy, and coming in such waves, battering one of the most long-suffering regions in the world, it is humbling.

SIMON: Let's move to domestic affairs here - single classified document that the FBI turned up at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana. What do you make of it?

ELVING: Probably not much, not at this point. You know, the spasm of national anger and angst over stray and missing classified documents has weakened over the many months. A consensual search at Mike Pence's just doesn't have the same impact as a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago or at the private home of President Biden. Sure, Pence had said he didn't have any documents, and then an aide found some. But there's just no comparison here to the battle that Pence's old boss has mounted to hide classified documents in far greater numbers, denying having them at all, going to court to keep them. But the more we hear about Pence and Biden having this material, the more the story loses focus and people ask why so many documents were classified in the first place.

SIMON: Of course, Mike Pence also received a subpoena from the special counsel investigating the January 6 riots and the classified documents found at former President Trump's resort.

ELVING: Pence's testimony about Jan. 6 is another matter, entirely. We're told that Trump pressured him for days, perhaps weeks, to take part in this scheme to invalidate the 2020 election. Now, you remember, this was about setting aside the Electoral College vote and having the House, just one chamber of Congress, pick the president instead. And we've heard this from many sources over time. And, obviously, the special counsel would like to have it on the record, directly from Pence. It would be key testimony against Trump.

And that's why this call to testify puts Pence in such an awkward and difficult position. He's still talking about being a candidate for president himself. He does not want to testify against Trump and alienate every remaining Trump supporter by doing so. There are questions here about executive privilege. We're going to hear that argument. There will also be questions of whether any kind of privilege applies to a conversation that's essentially a proposed conspiracy to commit a crime.

SIMON: President Biden got a lot of good reviews for his State of the Union address. Any sign you see of political impact?

ELVING: It looks like about 27 million people watched live. That's down from last year. But tens of millions more have seen news reports about it since, and social media reactions. Now, far more people see the coverage than see the events, Scott. And the coverage has been pretty consistently positive for Biden. He had a good night. And he needed one because polls have been showing that much of the country doesn't know what he's done so far.

But he got his message across Tuesday night. He was helped by the boorish behavior of a few of the House Republicans. And he was even able at one point to get the whole Congress on its feet by asking them to stand up for seniors. And when they were all on their feet and cheering, he said, let's all agree to protect Social Security and Medicare, and there they all were. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So tonight, let's all agree, and we apparently are, let's stand up for seniors.

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security, we will not cut Medicare.

SIMON: Of course, got to ask - another high-altitude object came into U.S. airspace just yesterday. And this time, President Biden doesn't hesitate to order the military to have it shot down.

ELVING: That's right. The balloon had - that crossed the country last week - the popular obsession, not just in the media - we're still analyzing the wreckage from that episode. So this new intruder, much smaller, less compelling, and of course, you couldn't see it from your backyard. But coming when it did, and being as remote from population senators - centers, rather - as it was, there was little hesitation to bringing it down. We still don't know where it came from, but we're left to wonder, will all this surveillance lead to a major confrontation with China or another foreign power? Will the world's two largest economies confine their rivalry to market competition, or are we drifting to more of a military confrontation?

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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 NPR.org.