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The Week In Politics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Another week of volatile news, and I'm running out of adjectives. President Trump, recovering from COVID, insisted that he wasn't so sick after all before saying he was really sick. He pulled out of a virtual debate with Joe Biden, which was canceled last night in any case, and said he wouldn't support a new coronavirus stimulus bill before saying that he would.

We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Ron, there is a growing list of people concerned about the president's health right now in all ways, isn't there?

ELVING: Concerned - yes. And it should be a concern for all of us. But among those expressing worry this week was Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She's proposing a commission of health professionals and others to assess future presidents' fitness.

Also, Rick Bright, the former director of government work on a coronavirus vaccine - he told CNN this week that someone who's undergone these therapies - the steroid, the cocktail of experimental drugs that the president has had - would normally still be in the hospital, Scott. He said if the president is, quote, "not in the right sound mind to make decisions rationally, then he could be very reckless for the country and the world."

And yesterday, the president had time to call into Rush Limbaugh's show and, shall we say, stretched the rules on broadcast language when he was talking about Iran.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And Iran knows that. And they've been put on notice. If you [expletive] around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before.

ELVING: And, Scott, that was just nine seconds. The call went on for two hours.

SIMON: And, you know, we shouldn't let amazing events fatigue our outlook too much 'cause it's remarkable to hear a president set off an F-bomb on a broadcast show, talking about a volatile international situation. And it raises questions about his health. What do we know about any rallies planned and, for that matter, movement on a coronavirus relief bill, which the president, at this hour, seemed to support?

ELVING: We expect the president to address a crowd from the Truman Balcony of the White House this afternoon and then to deliver a speech at a rally in Sanford, Fla., on Monday. That'll mean he'll have to travel with other people, and we don't know what kind of risk that poses for those other people.

As for the relief bill, the president said one day this week he was cutting off all negotiations until after the election. Then he said he might sign piecemeal efforts. Then on Friday, he said suddenly he wanted a $1.8 trillion bill, tweeting that the Republicans should, quote, "go big," unquote. But, of course, when people asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about it, he had his usual pitcher of ice water ready, saying there wasn't enough time to do a deal and pass a bill in just three weeks.

SIMON: But they're still rushing ahead with Supreme Court nomination hearings for Amy Coney Barrett.

ELVING: Yes, McConnell has another plan for those three weeks. It's all a matter of priorities. The House passed its most recent relief bill for COVID and the economy in May. It has never had a vote in the Senate. But lots of judicial appointments have had votes in the Senate. Barrett is the crowning jewel in that campaign, Trump's third pick for the Supreme Court, with an eye toward overturning the Affordable Care Act in the months ahead, and perhaps Roe v. Wade in the years ahead.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the canceled debate because Joe Biden is apparently going to use that - that was set aside for a town hall debate - as a town hall.

ELVING: That's right. President Trump has actually struggled with the town hall format when he's used it. And let's face it. After the first debate, there were even some Republicans who were relieved not to have two more. Biden may get some mileage from doing a town hall solo. And right now, the debate commission is going ahead with plans for just one more debate on October 22 in Nashville.

SIMON: Quick question - do debates count for what they used to anymore?

ELVING: You know, it was good to see a civil debate between the vice presidential candidates last week, but it was largely a performance by surrogates intended to please their bosses and the party faithful. And those are the people, perhaps, who care most about the debates at this point. We'll see about that last one, though, Scott, on October 22.

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

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