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Week in politics: Jan. 6 hearings are revealing, but Americans are split on outcome

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

There was some skepticism before they began whether the January 6 committee hearings would have much news in them since reporters had been digging around on the story for a year and a half. But these first three hearings have produced a good number of revelations after all. To go over some of them, we're joined by NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: It's a pleasure to be with you, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, you, too. So one thing we learned this week from Thursday's hearing was just how physically close the attackers got to then-Vice President Mike Pence when they stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Tell us about Mike Pence's day back then.

ELVING: It was a harrowing day in a heart-stopping week. Pence got a series of harassing phone calls from Trump and Twitter messages that were increasingly visible to the world at large. Trump was calling him out, exhorting him to reject the legitimate election results and send them back to the states to be disputed. Now, we learned that Pence resisted. He turned to renowned conservative judges and legal scholars. They told him Trump was simply wrong. And then on January 6, when Pence followed the law, Trump denounced him directly in messages to the rioters. That prompted the mob to seek Pence out actively and by name. And the vice president escaped the Senate chamber with less than a minute to spare. At one point, the testimony was that the mob was within 40 feet of Pence and his family as they fled.

KURTZLEBEN: That's already a lot, but there was so much in this week's hearings. What else did we learn?

ELVING: We learned that Trump had been told repeatedly that he had lost. He had been told there was no meaningful evidence of fraud. He was told this by his own attorney general and by his own campaign manager, Bill Stepien. Trump was intrigued, though, with a scheme to overturn the result in Congress, concocted in part by a California lawyer named John Eastman.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, with the country so deeply divided, how are these revelations falling on the American public? Do we have any sense of if these hearings are changing anyone's mind about who or what was behind the attempted insurrection?

ELVING: The polls have found some rallying around Trump on the right. This past week, polls showed support firming up for the committee and its investigation. And polls are split on what should come out of all this. Some show a little more than 50% of Americans believe Trump should be indicted - so a majority, but barely a majority. And the breakdown could scarcely be more partisan. There was a Washington Post-ABC News poll that found 88% of Democrats saying Trump should be indicted, but only 11% of Republicans, so - with most independents somewhere in the middle. If we look back 50 years to the Watergate hearings, they too began with only 1 in 5 Americans thinking that Nixon should be removed from office. In the long run, the country came to see the overwhelming evidence of Nixon's guilt and turned against him.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, we know that other things are happening than these hearings that people have their minds on, like economics, especially this week. The stock market fell into bear territory. The Federal Reserve jolted interest rates. But President Biden says a recession is not inevitable. So what can he do?

ELVING: Well, the Federal Reserve has far more power to juice the economy or hurt the brakes than a president does. The president can try to stimulate the economy with tax cuts or big spending programs. But he needs the Congress to get it done, and the Senate is more committed to fighting inflation. And on that front, Biden can try to embarrass private companies that are making windfall profits right now. He can do what he can to end the war in Ukraine. That would ease the pressure on energy prices and food prices. But Biden and other Western leaders are committed to helping Ukraine resist the Russian takeover. So that war is unlikely to end soon, and that means the inflationary pressures and shortages are unlikely to end soon.

KURTZLEBEN: That was NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thank you so much for joining us.

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