SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Most schoolchildren are back to school by now. You've probably seen a lot of reluctant smiles and big backpacks. But a reluctant Congress doesn't make its way back to work until next week. Sounds like they didn't do much homework over the summer, either. In their absence, devastating hurricane roamed the East Coast, there were multiple mass shootings and calls for action on gun control, and the House returned to the debate over impeachment.
Ron Elving, our NPR political (unintelligible) - forgive me, politics correspondent and editor has never left our side. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to still be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Got your Sharpie ready?
SIMON: Let me go on. Congress is coming back to a debate that has raged over firearms. There were a number of mass shootings, and it doesn't seem to have much impact on the debate, has it?
ELVING: The House is going to pass something that broadens background checks, probably also strengthening red flag laws that let authorities take the guns of demonstrably dangerous individuals. That House bill could also have some renewed restraint on military-style weapons as we had from 1994 to 2004.
But as for the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has said he will only consider a bill that has the president's support. And the president seems to be moving further away from making that sort of commitment.
SIMON: And I have to ask, of course, the House is going to take up, or not, the impeachment conundrum once again. What do you see? Is this a period called pre-impeachment, prologue to an impeachment?
ELVING: Let's call it a prelude to impeachment, Scott. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants overwhelming and bipartisan support before letting impeachment become the agenda, which it would. That kind of support still isn't there, and we have reached and passed the point where more than half the Democrats in the House want to go there. They still need to get more of their colleagues onboard, more of their Republican colleagues in particular, and more of the public, too, if you want this to be more than just a fool's errand, if you want to really put pressure on the Senate that doesn't seem likely to convict the President even if he is impeached.
And so you have several committees all investigating on a wide front, many issues, all trying to cobble together a critical mass of impeachable offenses.
SIMON: I expect all of these issues are going to make prominent appearance in the Democratic debate this Thursday. What are you looking for in that lineup?
ELVING: We'll be down to 10 candidates for this one, and this is the first time all of the top candidates will have been on the same stage, not split between two nights. And they will have three hours to have at it. So it's a chance for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to gang up on frontrunner Joe Biden, even as they compete with each other to be his leading challenger and the champion of the left. We're also looking for what Kamala Harris can do to restore some of the momentum she had after the first round of debates.
And for a few second-tier candidates, it might be their best chance to make their move - thinking here about Beto O'Rourke, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. It's not their last chance, but with the Iowa caucuses now just five months away, the hour is getting late.
SIMON: Is President Trump and are the Republicans on the verge of losing the economy as a campaign issue?
ELVING: The report we got yesterday on jobs was not the greatest, but it wasn't bad. Unemployment rate still at 3.7%; that's historically low. The numbers were a little soft. We also heard the Federal Reserve Board chairman say he doesn't foresee a recession right away. And yet, the markets closed mixed, and the sentiment is still that the overhanging shadow of the trade war is the main issue on the mind of the markets and of businesses looking forward.
SIMON: And finally, the president's self-inflicted controversy over whether he was told Alabama was threatened by a hurricane - and he used his own Sharpie to alter a map - seems to be lasting longer than the storm.
ELVING: Oh, I wish it would. This began as a simple mistake, with the president warning and frightening people who were not in danger. So it was corrected right away by the weather service and could have been forgotten by now. Instead, the president has insisted on reviving it and doing so daily.
The latest is a statement from the parent agency of the National Weather Service saying the forecasters in Alabama were wrong to reassure the people of that state and correct the president last weekend. Weather forecasters in and out of government, in and out of Alabama, all rallying to the defense of the weather service forecasters there. All the data and the videotape confirm that. The parent agency in the White House have not responded to questions about this latest twist in the ongoing saga.
SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.