Week In Politics: Trump Exercises Veto, Clemency Powers On His Way Out Of Office

Dec 26, 2020
Originally published on December 27, 2020 11:55 pm

President Trump is ending his presidency with a flurry of chaos.

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We're learning more about the Christmas Day explosion in Nashville, and we'll have the latest in a few minutes, also the new strain of the coronavirus and the continuing vaccine rollout. First, though, more chaos from a chaotic president.

President Trump is throwing into doubt badly needed pandemic aid, and he's flirting with a government shutdown. He's also raining clemency down on his associates, whether they're remorseful or not. For more on that, let's turn to Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent. Good morning, Ron.

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

PFEIFFER: Ron, let's start with that curveball that the president threw into the COVID relief package. We know why he said he has done it. Do you think there are additional motivations?

ELVING: Let's call it a combination of political impulses and personal grievances. The president seems especially obsessed with those personal grievances in his last weeks in office. He probably does want the bill to give people more money upfront. He's eager to be associated with that payout. Remember when the first stimulus was passed last spring and he got his name on every check that went out. But on top of that, there's his bitter resentment that more Republicans are not joining his campaign to overturn the election results. He's going after his party's leaders almost every day on Twitter, and he sees the whole situation as disrespectful of him as leader of the party.

PFEIFFER: And the things that - some things he says he's upset with in this bill - money for Belize, for the Kennedy Center, for the Smithsonian - they mainly involved budget request from his own administration. But do you think, Ron, that his main argument, which is that Americans need more aid than Congress is providing, actually resonates with the general public? And if it does, why does Congress seem to be going so small?

ELVING: You make a good point about those side issues, the lesser budget items. Some of them are actually smaller amounts than his own budget had asked for back last February and March. But on the $2,000, of course people would rather have 2,000 than 600. And for some Americans, the difference is critical. Millions of Americans are seeing their unemployment benefits expire today, December 26, in the midst of this pandemic winter.

So you saw the Democrats in Congress glad to embrace that $2,000 number last week. They held an immediate vote in the House, but that vote was blocked by Republicans. And it's no secret that many Republicans in both House and Senate don't think we need another relief bill at all, or at least that we don't need any stimulus checks to individuals. So the $600 was a compromise, Sacha. It was go small or no checks at all.

PFEIFFER: Ron, on the clemency that Donald Trump is giving out, there's no question he has the power to grant pardons to people convicted of federal crimes or to commute sentences. But give us a sense of whether Trump's clemency decisions stand out.

ELVING: They stand out because so many of the people benefitting have personal or political ties directly to the president. They're typically people who got in trouble working for Trump, either as president or as a candidate in 2016.

PFEIFFER: And then more broadly, Ron, what are your thoughts on whether presidents should have this kind of clemency power?

ELVING: This has been called the single most absolute power that the framers of the Constitution permitted the president. They were adopting what was seen as a benevolent aspect of the king's power in the English monarchy, a means for the king to show mercy or solve disputes or lessen tensions in the country and not as a deck of get out of free - Get Out of Jail Free cards for the president's pals. It seems out of date in our time precisely because it violates the idea of checks and balances. It's just an absolute power, and that is just an invitation for abuse.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thank you.

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