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Week In Politics: House Approves $1.9 Trillion Pandemic Relief Package


A few acronyms to chew over this morning - hope it doesn't make breakfast taste flat - MBS, CPAC, OMB, if we have the time. Joining us now to spell it all out, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning. Hope things are A-OK with you, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, I walked into that, didn't I? Of course, MBS is what they call Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. U.S. officials say that he approved the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 - approved it, lied about it afterwards. Not clear if President Biden will do anything in response to this finding.

ELVING: You know, the role of MBS in this murder has been widely known, both inside and outside the intel community, for roughly two years. But the Trump administration was pursuing an ever-closer relationship with the Saudis, and especially and particularly MBS. And that had a lot to do with arms sales and Israel. So the report was not released, and there was a general refusal to acknowledge the known facts.

Now, the new administration is making more of the reports public but still not doing much about it, at least not yet. The White House says we should stay tuned but suggesting only that the Saudis are on some sort of probation now. And that seems to be the best judgment within Biden's security team. It's not good enough for a lot of Biden's own voters who were expecting much more severe consequences for MBS and for the Saudi regime.

SIMON: It's irresistible to point out - first military action of the Biden administration launched this week, an airstrike against Syria because Iranian-backed militias there had attacked American assets in the region. That gets an airstrike. Saudi Arabia gets a summary.

ELVING: Yes, President Biden said that strike was a message to Iran to, quote, "be careful. You can't act with impunity," unquote. And in substance, it was a far more consequential response than Biden made to the Saudis, a contrast that, as you suggest, made the slap on the wrist for MBS all the more troubling.

SIMON: Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, this weekend in Orlando, the largest gathering of conservative activists. Apparently, it includes an inflatable golden bust of Donald Trump. Any room for Republicans like Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois?

ELVING: Well, what's the opposite of a welcome mat, Scott? Maybe skull and crossbones on the door? The obvious question is how big a tent the Republicans want. Will it be Reagan's or Bush's or Trump's tent? And will those people who were not welcome at CPAC be part of the party's campaigns in 2022 and 2024? We'll stay tuned.

SIMON: A $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has passed the House, and President Biden spoke about that today at the White House.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans. We are one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who were shortly going to lose them. We are one step closer to helping millions of Americans feed their families and keep a roof over their head. We are one step closer to getting our kids safely back in school.

SIMON: But, Ron, Senate rules won't allow another thing that the president wanted, which is a hike in the minimum wage.

ELVING: The good news for the White House is that the rest of this relief bill seems remarkably popular, even with some Trump voters. So with the minimum wage issue set aside to be dealt with separately later this year possibly, the overall bill seems increasingly likely to be law.

SIMON: Finally, Neera Tanden is President Biden's pick to lead OMB, the Office of Management and Budget. As a partisan political figure, she made some colorful observations about some U.S. senators whose votes she may not get now.

ELVING: One lesson here is that a 50-50 Senate truly empowers the individual senator. So losing one or two can cost you your power to act. And that's a lesson we're likely to learn over and over. And another lesson is that even in the age of Trump Twitter, what others say on social media can still come back to haunt them.

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

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

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.