SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It was like a record-scratch moment at the White House Press Briefing Room. President and his - the - President Trump and his allies have insisted for weeks there was no quid pro quo in holding up military aid to Ukraine. But Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said at the podium, the White House seal behind him, cameras rolling that there was. Mr. Mulvaney immediately attempted to re-characterize his statements. Speaker Pelosi called them a confession. Ron Elving joins us. Ron, good morning.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: What do you make of that moment? Florida Republican Congressman Francis Rooney tells NPR it was like a bolt out of the sky.
ELVING: Just imagine how that bolt stunned the president's most loyal defenders on Capitol Hill, guys like Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, suddenly confronted with what Mulvaney had said. They were dumbfounded, Scott. And who can blame them? Weeks and weeks of their strategy and messaging had been blown away in seconds. And many of them are still struggling to find a new place to stand.
SIMON: Let me ask you about how the president has defended that decision to abandon the Kurds and his language. He said this week of the Kurds, they're not angels - of the fighting after withdrawal. It's not our problem. They've got a lot of sand over there, a lot of sand they can play with. He also said it's sort of natural for them, they fight. Has the way President Trump's recent phraseology and the letter to President Erdogan, where he said, don't be a fool, shaken up people?
ELVING: It's shaken people on all sides of this crisis. Think of how it sounds to people in the region - not just the president's comment about sand but the language used in that letter to Erdogan you mentioned. It may have been tough by American standards but beyond insulting by Turkish standards. The word fool being explosive in particular. So now the Kurds have been abandoned. And the Turks are having their way with them. President Trump is speaking of them being cleaned out, perhaps not remembering how the term cleansing has been applied in ethnic conflicts in the past. And so longtime allies of the U.S. elsewhere are forced to re-evaluate the life insurance they thought they had as allies of the U.S.
SIMON: Two-thirds of House Republicans voted for that resolution against troop withdrawal. Resolution didn't make it through the Senate. But Senator Mitt Romney of Utah called the abandonment of the Kurds a bloodstain. Is Trump shredding his congressional support just as impeachment's at hand?
ELVING: You know, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did block that House resolution you speak of, as he usually blocks whatever the House sends over. But the surprise in this case was that he said he wanted to substitute something tougher, something more harsh in its place.
SIMON: But will this Congress ever or even vote to prevent President Trump from holding the G7 meeting at his own resort in Florida?
ELVING: You know, now, that's a curve ball that breaks the other way. On that issue and on impeachment at this point, the Republicans in Congress may feel safer reflecting the attitude of their constituents. And polls still tell us that Republicans are still supportive of the president.
SIMON: Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland died this week at the age of 68. He will lie in state this week - a man of character and conviction beyond dispute, I think. Trey Gowdy Republican, a Trump Republican from South Carolina said, quote, "Elijah Cummings was one of the most powerful, beautiful and compelling voices in American politics. The power and the beauty came from his authenticity, his conviction, the sincerity with which he held his beliefs."
ELVING: Yes, a man who will be remembered as a friend to his congressional colleagues, transcending their politics, a relentless fighter, though, Scott, for his district and his people, a civil rights figure, a man who never forgot to connect with others even his greatest adversaries as people, fellow humans, one to one.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.