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Nation & World

Week In Politics: Trump Acknowledges Transition Of Power, But Stops Short Of Conceding

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump signaled this week he would accept the results of the election once the Electoral College declares Joe Biden the winner after weeks of mounting failed legal challenges and making unfounded allegations of voter fraud. But after that moment of lucidity on Thursday, the president returned to calling the elections, quote, a "massive fraud" and a "big scam." He tweeted more of the same yesterday.

NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, good morning.

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

SIMON: Is this as close as we might come to hearing a concession, if not the word?

ELVING: You know, it's all over, perhaps, but for the tongue-lashing the president's lawyers keep getting in the courts. Yesterday, it was a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania saying that, quote, "calling an election unfair does not make it so." This in the same week the president called in to a Republican event - it was in Gettysburg, as it happens - and he then ranted about how he just needed to get, quote, "some judge" to listen to him.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the recount the Trump campaign sought and paid for is actually enlarging Biden's lead, at least in the largest county. So as states continue to certify results, we're moving toward a vote on the Electoral College in two weeks and two days. That will set up the situation the president said would cause him to leave the building.

So we can expect the president and his most devoted course of supporters will continue to deny it not necessarily because they think they can stop the train, but because there are other reasons to resist the inevitable.

SIMON: And those reasons are?

ELVING: Well, the president has always been interested in controlling the narrative, and he's not eager to be cast with those other one-term presidents, like the first George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover. He's not willing to be one of the losers. So even in defense - even in defeat, he may want to remain in denial. And he can do that. He just needs friendly media venues where he's a victim of injustice.

SIMON: Earlier this week, we saw the implications of an expanded conservative majority that President Trump put on the Supreme Court when they delivered the decision upholding challenges to pandemic restrictions on the size of crowds gathered for worship at religious services. Those restrictions had already been lifted. Does this decision look like what amounts to President Trump's legacy?

ELVING: You're right to say this decision was of limited effect in an immediate sense in New York or elsewhere, but it was clearly a signal that the court has a new majority, five justices willing to vote to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts, five justices eager to be seen as champions of religious liberty and willing to defend that principle even in the face of public health advisories. Three of these five are Trump appointees. So, yes, this is indeed a singular achievement for the president and a salient feature of Donald Trump's legacy.

SIMON: President pardoned Michael Flynn this week, which may not have been so surprising. But what else do you believe the president can do between now and January 20, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn into office?

ELVING: There is a great deal the president can do. The question is how much of it can be undone and what permanent effect will be left after January 20. We're also seeing a flurry of orders from Cabinet members governing their various jurisdictions. Some of those are draconian and may be swiftly reversed, and others may remain on the books for some time.

As for pardons, that is a presidential power with very few restraints. And the pardons he grants for federal offenses are permanent and not reviewable.

SIMON: And we must ask this weekend, what about prospects for military action? It was reported that the president was quite recently talked out of bombing an Iranian nuclear facility. And, of course, he has recently ordered the withdrawal of more U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

ELVING: There's real concern about what Trump could do as commander in chief, anxiety about him deciding to make a mark on his way out the door. So when we see a key figure assassinated in Iran, we wonder whether that shows the hand of the U.S. in any way.

But right now, it seems the president is preoccupied with projects closer to home, things that have always interested him more than foreign affairs, including his challenges to the election and pardons for former associates in criminal difficulty and measures he may take to insulate himself or his family against legal or financial consequences down the road.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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