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The Week In Politics: Nevada, Trump's Pardons And Commutations


Michael Bloomberg got his chance onstage alongside other Democratic candidates for president this week and might regret it. Nevada voters caucus today in a more diverse state. NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: Was Mike Bloomberg quite ready for his close-up?

ELVING: More like not ready for primetime, Scott. He seemed to be the only person in America who didn't know that the other candidates would be coming after him with a baseball bat. So he's dropped a few points in the polls, and his favorable-to-unfavorable ratio went down a lot. But it turns out having all the money in the world buys you time, among other things. He is not included in the caucuses today in Nevada or next week in the primary in South Carolina. And he doesn't really face the music until Super Tuesday, March 3, so we shouldn't say Bloomberg's condition is terminal at this point.

SIMON: Senator Elizabeth Warren really wielded a saber and persuaded or maybe embarrassed the mayor into letting women who'd signed nondisclosure agreements in his company speak freely, if they now choose, about their complaints. Did her generally judged to be fabulous performance pick up her poll numbers?

ELVING: Not the poll month numbers so much, although she did gain a little bit. Much more important was the sudden infusion of cash. Her campaign had been taking out a loan to stay alive after Iowa and New Hampshire. She picked up a fast 5 million this week to keep her going past Nevada and South Carolina. But one irony is that while she was the one who really cut up the mayor in that debate, the prime beneficiary may well have been Bernie Sanders.

SIMON: And today the Nevada caucuses - if Bernie Sanders wins - and he's several points ahead in the polls - does it leave other candidates essentially inhaling his dust?

ELVING: Well, eating his dust, perhaps, but not quit buried in it yet. Bernie Sanders does well among Hispanic voters. At least he did in Iowa, particularly in those caucuses. And for the other candidates, you know, Biden is still - Joe Biden, that is - is still banking on a comeback a week from today in South Carolina. Buttigieg - Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, Ind., needs another close second like he had in New Hampshire and Iowa, where he basically tied, to revitalize his campaign. And Amy Klobuchar could really use a great showing in the next debate this week.

SIMON: But if there is a strong Bernie Sanders performance, could he end up with a clear path to the nomination after tonight or at least a brokered convention?

ELVING: That largely depends on Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote, including California and Texas. That's where candidate momentum from February comes up against the enormous force of Bloomberg's money, what's on track at this point to be half a billion dollars soon. If Sanders stalls in some of these states and the delegates get distributed among multiple candidates, it's possible that we get to Milwaukee in July for the convention with no candidate having a majority of the delegates. And then it's a question of how close anyone is to 50%. Sanders looks to be in the best position to be closest. And then the question becomes whether the leader can consolidate enough votes or whether an alternative has to emerge, and we haven't had a situation like that since the 1950s. But the size of this field and the questions about Bernie Sanders' viability in November against President Trump do make it a possibility.

SIMON: President Trump - lots of pardons and commutations this week, including, Ron, our own beloved Illinois former governor - tried to sell a Senate seat and shake down a children's hospital. What do these pardons and commutations say about the president's approach to office following impeachment? And is it some kind of big, fat signal flare?

ELVING: Big, fat signal flare, indeed. It would be hard to miss that if you were Roger Stone, and that's the longtime associate of President Trump who was sentenced to three years, four months this week for lying to Congress, among other things, and two others who were persecuted - or prosecuted, I should say - in Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference. The president says they were persecuted. And they are going to be able to perhaps rest a little easier seeing how willing the president is to pardon people who have been convicted of pretty serious crimes.

SIMON: He - and he seemed to make the point. He said, I am the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, didn't he?

ELVING: And he has asserted a number of times that he has, in his mind, the right to get involved in anything the Justice Department is doing.

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

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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