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Week in politics: Health report for President Biden; Nikki Haley announces presidential run

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Recovery operations have finished fishing out the remnants of the Chinese balloon shot down over the coast of South Carolina last month. The FBI is now analyzing the remnants. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: President Biden publicly addressed the balloon Thursday, saying that he would speak with President Xi of China about it. What's behind him making that statement this week, do you think?

ELVING: Caution, in a word. The Chinese still say it wasn't a spy balloon. It just blew off course. Now, no one's buying that in this country. But we know there is more analysis to come. You know, we've shot down everything in sight in response to that first balloon that floated all the way across the country. And President Biden this week said that the later aerial objects we have shot down did not appear to be related to the first. And now we're not even looking for the remnants anymore.

It was probably important for the president to address this issue in this moment even if he did not seem to have much to add. The frenzy of the last couple of weeks may settle down, but the issue is not going away. There's going to be much more focus on what's called liminal space and the competition to use it for what ultimately would be military purposes.

SIMON: White House released results of the president's annual medical exam this week. This is a strong and vigorous man.

ELVING: Yes. Low cholesterol, decent blood pressure, good BMI - something we could all envy. There is talk of the nerve problems in his feet. You could see some evidence of that as he walked away from the briefing room stage on Thursday. This was, of course, a physical exam, not a test of cognitive or mental abilities.

SIMON: And it's the week that, of course, Donald Trump's former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, openly played the age card when she made her announcements for president.

ELVING: Yeah, she seemed to be tweaking both Biden and her former boss. America is not past our prime, Haley said, it's just that our politicians are past theirs. Well, OK. She proposed mental competency tests for politicians over 75, and she has a point. Of course, you don't have to look too far to find examples of office holders past their sell-by date. But any kind of dissing of old folks is a risky strategy and likely to backfire. Take, for example, those suggestions that budget balancing this year might entail new restraints on Social Security and Medicare. That issue - that came up in the State of the Union earlier this month when everybody got up and cheered and stood. You know, that issue's just gone, Scott. The idea's principal sponsor in the Senate, Rick Scott of Florida, officially backed off that idea yesterday.

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: So score one for Biden and his aggressive use of that speech.

SIMON: Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman admitted himself to a hospital to receive treatment for clinical depression. Some of us remember when politicians would be reluctant to reveal that. Is the political climate wiser now about mental health?

ELVING: Yes, let's hope so. A lot is still not known about Fetterman's condition, but we are told that something like 1 stroke victim in 3 will experience significant depression in the aftermath. Fetterman's family has said he has had depressive episodes in the past. So the medical people involved here say Fetterman can, quote, "return to himself" with medication and therapy, and that is to be hoped. And if that is not the case and he needs to step aside and focus on his recovery, he could conceivably resign and have Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro name a replacement. But we're a long way from that.

SIMON: Got a look this week in what Fox News hosts and executives really thought about Trump's claims of voter fraud in the 2020 elections. Did it surprise you, Ron, that they just deliberately lied to their own viewers?

ELVING: You know, we had hints of this in the evidence unearthed by the January 6 Committee last year, emails and other internal correspondence that emerged from a lawsuit against the network brought by the people who made the election machines that Fox was suggesting had been hacked. Now we're learning just how little faith some of the Fox hosts had in what they were reporting.

People such as prime-time show host Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson - the biggest stars at Fox - they did not seem to take the claims of election rigging seriously themselves. They were sharing their skepticism with each other even as they reported those claims on air and stoked the sense of outrage from Trump and some of his supporters after the election. Some of these conversations among the Fox Stars suggest they knew better, but thought it was their job to play to the sentiments of the people they perceived to be their audience.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thank you.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.