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Politics chat: Hot issues see developments this week


It's going to be a week full of developments on the moment's biggest stories - the ongoing investigation and litigation over the attempts to overturn the 2020 election, more states restricting abortion, guns and more. So it's a great time to turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Glad to have you with us, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

RASCOE: So South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham doesn't want to, but he is nevertheless scheduled to testify Tuesday in Fulton County, Ga.'s criminal case over the last presidential election. Do you think he'll follow through?

LIASSON: That's a very good question. You know, a federal judge has ruled that Graham must appear before the Fulton County, Ga., grand jury that's investigating these Republican efforts by Trump and by Graham to pressure Secretary of State - Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. Graham has asked the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to put his subpoena on hold while he appeals, so we don't know what that court will rule. Graham's argument is that he shouldn't have to testify before the grand jury because his phone calls to Raffensperger were part of his official role as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and that that is protected by the speech and debate clause of the Constitution.

RASCOE: On Capitol Hill, the congressional investigation into the other attempt to overturn the 2020 election, the storming of the Capitol on January 6, is still in progress, and former Vice President Mike Pence made some comments about it. Is he going to testify?

LIASSON: That is another good question. Pence said he would consider testifying before the committee if he were to receive an invitation. He hasn't gotten one yet, but Pence's top aides have already testified to the committee. This is not unprecedented that a president or a vice president, former or current, would testify before Congress. Remember, Pence refused Donald Trump's request to decertify the election, and for that he got death threats. The insurrectionist rioters on January 6 chanted hang Mike Pence. They erected a gallows outside the Capitol. But Mike Pence is also running for president in the Republican Party. So he has political considerations, too. So we're waiting to see if the committee will issue him an invitation and what he will say in response.

RASCOE: Is he officially running for president or we think he is (laughter)?

LIASSON: Not officially. He's doing all the things a person would do who's thinking about running for president.

LIASSON: You were making some news there. I just wanted to make sure. But, you know, turning to another issue that could likely have an effect on the midterms, trigger laws are taking effect in some states this week to restrict abortion. It's kind of like a slow rollout of the Supreme Court's June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. What's going on there?

LIASSON: That's right. These trigger laws have been on the books for some time in a lot of states. Basically, they said if and when Roe is overturned, which now it has been, the state - say Michigan - would either revert to a 19th century law that bans all abortions or maybe a new law would go into effect. And, you know, the big majority of Americans are pro-choice with restrictions. Over 60% of Americans think abortion should be legal up to a certain number of weeks, or it should include exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother. This was Roe. Roe was the middle ground on abortion. So now the big political battle is about which party will be seen by voters as extreme on abortion because most voters are moderate on abortion. Republicans want to paint Democrats as the party of abortion on demand. That's hard to do if the Democrat says they support Roe because Roe has restrictions. Democrats want to paint Republicans as supporting laws that would criminalize abortion, prosecute women for using abortion pills, supporting laws to ban abortion in all cases. And so that's why these trigger laws are intensifying what is already a pretty pitched political battle.

RASCOE: In the minute we have left, you have a Parkland survivor and now a gun restriction advocate, David Hogg, trying to drum up support for a march in support of Uvalde parents in Austin on Saturday. Is gun control still top of mind for people three - now, three months after Uvalde?

LIASSON: For some voters, yes. Democrats certainly hope it is. This is another culture war issue like abortion, which for a change might actually favor Democrats. You know, in the past, the gun issue motivated Republicans more than Democrats. But after Uvalde, after Buffalo, after these increasing number of mass shootings, you have 80 - 90% of Americans say they favor universal background checks. They favor raising the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. Big majorities even favor a ban on assault weapons. These are popular positions. They are the Democratic positions. And Democrats are hoping they will motivate some voters to come out.

RASCOE: Quick question for you - your colleague, NPR's own Ron Elving, said he thinks that the Democrats will lose a lot of seats in the House, but they will hold steady in the Senate. Do you feel that way?

LIASSON: Well, Republicans are worried that they have nominated a whole bunch of candidates for Senate that are going to be too extreme. And you see this everywhere - in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, in - even in red state Ohio. The list is pretty long. And Republicans are worried that because their candidate quality isn't good enough, even though they have the big trends in their favor, they might be just about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, even though they only need one net seat pickup to take back control of the Senate.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.

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