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Week in politics: House issues more subpoenas to Trump allies in Jan. 6 investigation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Washington, D.C., where a House committee continues its investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Of course, we just heard there's the new COVID variant for everyone to worry about. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: And let's begin with the - that Democratic-led House select committee investigating the events of January 6. More subpoenas of Trump allies - Roger Stone and Infowars founder Alex Jones.

ELVING: They are continuing to widen the circle of those who were involved, going after some rather notorious individuals, people with checkered pasts and court histories. You mentioned Alex Jones, the radio provocateur. This is the guy who said the school massacre at Sandy Hook was a media hoax. He was in the mix on January 6. And Roger Stone, convicted of lying to the FBI but then pardoned by Trump as he left office. They're also going deep inside the inner White House circle, pursuing Mark Meadows, who was Trump's last chief of staff. So that serves to connect one cast of characters with the other. It also signals just how lengthy and extensive these hearings are likely to be.

SIMON: At the same time, NPR/Marist poll out on Wednesday showed President Biden at his lowest approval rating to date - 42%. Now, much of this is essentially blamed on the economy, notably inflation. He did get an infrastructure bill passed, and jobless claims are at a 52-year low.

ELVING: We should note there are also polls with Biden still lower, even under 40%. But this is the lowest we've seen him in the NPR/Marist poll, and that's a useful benchmark. Bear in mind, though, 42% was the average for former President Trump over his four years in office. So let's wait and see where Biden might go from here.

And you mentioned the jobless claims number, other good economic news - way more than the president's detractors want to admit and perhaps more than most news consumers are even aware of. But scary headlines, bad news are stronger clickbait. And when you are the president, you are target No. 1.

It's also, I think, fair to say that in the last dozen years, we've become accustomed to presidents with strong, dynamic personalities - Trump, Barack Obama. Biden does not dominate the national stage or even the political scene in Washington as those two people did. So maybe he needs better messaging. But a lot of the message comes from his own approach to his job, his remarkably low-key, low-profile approach to his job.

SIMON: Yesterday, the administration announced some steps to try to safeguard against omicron, the new COVID variant. New travel restrictions start on Monday for a number of African countries. Could this rekindle the debate in this country about mask and vaccine mandates?

ELVING: Well, restrictions have become political flashpoints in the U.S., even where people are unvaccinated and getting seriously sick and numbers are going up. We're also seeing Republicans in some states trying to make it easier to skirt vaccination requirements. That's going to be highly counterproductive if we're facing new threats from new variants on new fronts.

SIMON: And let me ask, Republicans are in control of many state legislatures, almost equal numbers in the U.S. Congress. What solutions are they offering?

ELVING: In Congress, we don't expect that from the party that's not in power. But given how closely the parties are divided and how close Republicans are to being in power, people are going to be asking what they'd do if they got the chance. That would probably include a pullback on mask and vaccine mandates, the canceling of Biden's spending plans for social programs, climate change, more restrictions on immigration and on voting access and a lot of talk on getting Trump back in the White House.

SIMON: Finally, three white men who chased and killed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man jogging through their neighborhood last year, were all found guilty of murder charges by a jury in Georgia.

ELVING: A nearly all-white jury in Georgia, Scott. And that verdict just added a note of relief to a lot of people's Thanksgiving.

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

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. We must believe in spring. 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.