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Week in politics: Developments in gerrymandering cases; McCarthy's debt ceiling win

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The North Carolina Supreme Court yesterday overruled one of its own previous decisions that had struck down the state's Republican-drawn voting maps. The vote found that the claims of gerrymandering are political and therefore can't be resolved by courts. The decision also dismisses the underlying lawsuit, meaning that the fight over election laws now before the U.S. Supreme Court could fizzle. NPR senior editor and Washington correspondent Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: And what are the implications of this decision, especially for groups who are trying to go to state courts?

ELVING: Voting rights groups have had some success in some states, challenging the really egregious gerrymanders. That's the kind where one party gets half the vote but draws the map to get a supermajority of the seats. Now, state courts have at times stepped in to correct these extreme imbalances that happened in North Carolina last year. The state Supreme Court struck down that Republican gerrymander you referred to. But Republicans have now taken back control of that court and promptly reversed that ruling. That has the effect of preserving the Republican gerrymander in just that one state.

But there is a twist here, as you mentioned already. The previous year's ruling had been awaiting review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and some legal observers thought the U.S. Supreme Court just might use that case to issue a broad ruling that could empower state legislators to make far-reaching, even radical changes in the way we elect the president and the Congress.

And, Scott, we should note that all this comes just as the court faces more pressure on abortion and as it's enmeshed in an ethics controversy of its own. Recent revelations of undisclosed gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas have really caused approval of the court to plummet. But it's also about the court's long-standing lack of an ethics code, a set of rules like those applied to other federal judges and federal employees generally. And this past week, Chief Justice John Roberts flatly refused an invitation to a Senate committee hearing to discuss the issue of an ethics code.

SIMON: Speaker McCarthy managed to get a debt ceiling bill passed. Necessary victory for him, wasn't it?

ELVING: Yes, absolutely. It was his finest hour as speaker, at least to date. And had he failed, it might have been the end of his hours as speaker. And like most of McCarthy's wins, this win went right down to the wire. Here he is on Wednesday speaking to reporters flush with victory right after the vote, 217 to 215.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: The president can no longer ignore by not negotiating. Senator Schumer, if he thinks he's got a plan, put it on the floor. See if you can pass it, and then we can go to conference.

ELVING: And that was all it was about. McCarthy needed to show he's earned a seat at the table with the Senate and with the president. It is not to say that the cuts in his budget are popular. They are not. But now he's at the table.

SIMON: Ron, Florida's governor, DeSantis, all over the news this week, being sued by Disney. He's traveling to the U.K., Japan, South Korea, Israel. He's been accused by a former Guantanamo detainee of witnessing his torture. But where is Governor DeSantis in terms of potentially posing any kind of real challenge to Donald Trump for the Republican Party's nomination?

ELVING: We can say this much. The bloom is off of DeSantis big reelection win last fall. Since then, it's been one negative story after another. You mentioned feuding with Disney, then signing a near-total abortion ban in the dark of night. Now he's losing his cool with reporters who ask a legitimate question about his time in the Navy, when he was a lawyer monitoring the interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo.

DeSantis is not a threat right now to take the nomination away from Donald Trump. Trump's got a big lead on him in polls of Republicans, and the only Republican probably who's ever going to beat Donald Trump among Republicans is Trump himself. He has to lose that grip he's got on being the party's champion, its identity. And what could make that happen if nothing has so far? Maybe the pile up of charges and trials.

Right now he's on trial in New York and a civil case about rape and defamation. There's the Georgia case from the 2020 election aftermath, the Mar-a-Lago documents. And, Scott, the big one, the January 6 case, the riot at the Capitol and the overturning of the election, the effort to overturn the election that day. This week, former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a grand jury in that case for most of a day. He said he was planning to tell the truth and follow the law. That could be the worst news yet for Pence's former boss.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.