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Week in politics: Haley's gaffe, Trump on primary ballots, Biden and southern border


The race for the Republican presidential nominee got a little murky this week. Former President Donald Trump had both a victory and a defeat. And former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whose campaign was gaining some steam, dealt herself a very public blow. To hear more about it, we have NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving on the line. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Alina.

NIKKI HALEY: So, Ron, things went sideways for Nikki Haley at a campaign event in New Hampshire this week. She was answering audience questions about the American Civil War. Tell us more about what happened.

ELVING: A voter asked Haley what caused the Civil War at a campaign event. It was in Berlin, N.H., on Wednesday.


HALEY: Well, don't come with an easy question, right? I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.

ELVING: When the stunned voter raised the issue of slavery, here was Haley's response.


HALEY: What do you want me to say about slavery?

ELVING: Well, the backlash was immediate. And by Thursday, Haley, who blamed a Democratic plant for the question, seemed to remember more about the Civil War. Here she is at a town hall in North Conway, N.H.


HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery.

ELVING: And, of course, we do know that. We know when South Carolina, Haley's home state, seceded - the first state to do so - they said it was to protect slavery. We also know some people don't like to say that out loud and prefer talking about states' rights or states' freedoms or free enterprise. Well, the whole incident serves to remind us that Haley has never run for anything outside her home state.

SELYUKH: How are Haley's competitors responding to all this?

ELVING: Well, everyone got to dunk on Nikki Haley this week. A couple of her opponents for the Republican nomination, Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis, mocked her for it. DeSantis said she wasn't ready for prime time. Even President Joe Biden sent out a four-word message, just saying, quote, "it was about slavery." And, you know, it all came at an awful time for Haley. She had been gaining ground in New Hampshire. Two state polls there showed her within hailing distance of Trump if she could consolidate some of the anti-Trump vote in that state. She had the support of its popular governor. Now she's fighting just to get back to where she was. And all those rivals she had recently surpassed are gleefully welcoming her back into the pack.

SELYUKH: Now, former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, scored a bit of a win in Michigan, where the state Supreme Court decided this week to keep him on the ballot. But then Maine's secretary of state decided to take him off the primary ballot there. How many more states can we expect to make these calls?

ELVING: There may be quite a few. We should note these conflicts all pertain to primaries at this point, but they could also affect Trump's eligibility to be on the ballot in November. Now, the Supreme Court - the U.S. Supreme Court - could step in at this point and clear the air. It could dismiss these ballot challenges for the primaries and possibly for November, too. But the court seems less than eager to get involved in all this presidential campaigning. The court tends to wait. They would rather this cup pass from them, rather that the case got resolved in some other way. But just as they will have to decide whether Trump is immune from prosecution, they will probably have to decide if he is fit to be on the ballot. Right now, it seems highly unlikely they would deny the voters the right to decide. You don't have to be radically pro-Trump to think the voters have a right to decide.

SELYUKH: OK. So let's turn to the border now and President Biden. President Biden is under growing pressure to increase security on the southern border. Agents there have encountered roughly 2.5 million migrants so far this year, which is a record high. But Biden is also under the gun to provide more funding for the war in Ukraine. How is he going to square that budget circle?

ELVING: These two issues, Ukraine and the southern border, were yoked together in the Senate in an effort to win over Republicans. Democrats seemed willing to bend much further than they have before on immigration restrictions in order to get that aid for Ukraine. But thus far, it's been slow going. Without Republican help, it is quite possible Biden will be stuck with the defeat of Ukraine and a border crisis, despite his best efforts to compromise and his willingness to anger some of his Democratic constituencies in the process.

SELYUKH: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you. 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.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
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.

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