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Week in politics: Trump owes E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million, aims to tanks border deal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A New York jury has told Donald Trump to pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll for defamation. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: The jury barely had time to get to know each other. They deliberated for three hours. What can we infer from that?

ELVING: You know, maybe not a record but also not really a surprise - not when you consider the facts and evidence at trial, including the behavior of the defendant. Trump muttered and fumed out loud in the courtroom and even stormed out during the summary by the plaintiff's attorney. Now, there will be an appeal, and who knows how much money Trump will actually have to pay? But there's much more to this than money. This is the first verdict of what will be a season of trials. And you can only imagine the significance that Trump would attach to this case if the verdict had gone the other way.

SIMON: Ron, how has Donald Trump managed so far to face multiple serious prosecutions and now this judgment and still be the front-runner for the Republican nomination?

ELVING: That is an enduring mystery for many. But for those who have found a champion in Donald Trump, it seems nothing that has happened disturbs their faith. He is their defender. They believe he is on their side. So Trump simply dismisses all these cases as Biden's skullduggery, even in the case of New York that began before Biden was even president.

SIMON: There's been a deal brewing for months in the U.S. Senate that ties aid to Ukraine and Israel to a plan for action at the U.S.-Mexico border. This week, Donald Trump urged Republicans to reject whatever that plan ends up being. And this angered Senator Mitt Romney.

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MITT ROMNEY: The fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and Congress people that he doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.

ELVING: Yes, but that seems to be what's going on. Here, again, if you think Trump should legally still be president, maybe you want him to step in on big national problems. And you remember how when he was first nominated in 2016, he told the GOP convention, I alone can fix it. That's essential to his brand now.

SIMON: Trump is also calling on states to send troops to Texas to, quote, "prevent the entry of illegals and remove them back across the border." Would that be unconstitutional?

ELVING: Just this past week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Biden administration in its dispute with Texas over who should be enforcing immigration laws. The court focused on the Constitution's division of state and federal authority, and we'll hear about that again if other states begin sending their National Guard to the border with Trump's encouragement. The high court seems to have settled the debate in constitutional terms, but that has not ended the debate in political terms.

SIMON: South Carolina Republican presidential primary - February 24. Nikki Haley of South Carolina says she looks forward to it and will stay in the race. But does she have a path to actually winning the Republican nomination?

ELVING: It is hard to imagine a path to the nomination for Nikki Haley so long as Trump is in the race and continues to dominate. But former Congresswoman Liz Cheney and a number of others who remember the old Grand Old Party want Haley to stick it out. They want to signal that the party will have a life to live after Trump and his era have passed.

SIMON: President Biden's in South Carolina this weekend - primary there. First for the Democrats is a week from today. What would victory for the president look like there?

ELVING: It would look like a replay of the extraordinary turnaround Biden's campaign achieved there four years ago. South Carolina was where Joe Biden went from loser to winner - from also-ran in the first three events that winter to leading contender. So victory here for Biden would serve as confirmation that his coalition from 2020 is substantially intact and his renomination is virtually assured.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.