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Week in politics: Hawaii fires; Hunter Biden case; Iowa State Fair

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And we turn now to White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: You were in the press corps that accompanied President Biden on a trip through a few Western states when these devastating fires broke out in Maui, weren't you?

KEITH: Yeah. He was out West to promote his economic and climate agenda, but also ended up working the phones to Hawaii, declaring a major disaster and surging federal resources to help. And this week, the White House sent up a request to Congress for $12 billion in funding to replenish the FEMA disaster relief fund. These fires come on the heels of record-setting heat in the Southwest. And as concerns ramp up about an active Atlantic hurricane season, President Biden sees addressing climate change as a winning issue, as does his White House. And the president is working hard to get credit for all the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that Democrats passed a year ago.

SIMON: Attorney General Garland announced yesterday that the U.S. attorney who has investigated criminal allegations against Hunter Biden, the president's son, has now been named a special counsel. There's been a range of reactions.

KEITH: Indeed. President Biden and the White House have studiously avoided commenting on the Hunter Biden situation. And as you say, it did take a major turn yesterday. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like this years-long investigation was ending with a plea agreement with misdemeanor tax charges. At that time, the president said he was proud of his son, who has had some very rough years but has found sobriety. Now, the U.S. attorney on that case, David Weiss, who did start his work as a Trump appointee, has been given more independence, more power to investigate. And that plea agreement has blown up with a very real risk that the president's son could face trial. Republican reaction has not been positive. They charge that corruption goes all the way up to the president, and they object to Weiss being named special counsel. They say it's all part of a cover-up. Though, to be clear, they have been making a lot of claims that they haven't been able to back up yet with conclusive evidence.

This is a pretty remarkable moment. There are three active special counsel investigations now. There's the Hunter Biden investigation. Folks might not even remember that there's also a President Biden documents investigation and then special counsel Jack Smith investigating former President Trump. Also, for Trump, he's widely expected to face another indictment, this time from the Fulton County DA in Georgia related to his pressure campaign to change the presidential election outcome there. This is not a normal election cycle.

SIMON: Ah, but there's still a butter cow at the Iowa State Fair.

KEITH: Yes.

SIMON: And Republican candidates are showing up at the fair. Tell us about those appearances, if you can.

KEITH: Yeah, I mean, they're definitely there just for the butter cow or maybe it's for the Iowa voters. Seriously, the Republican primary in Iowa is quite possibly more important than ever. Former President Trump is dominating in national polls, and he has a strong grip on the GOP base. But if anyone is going to pierce his inevitability, Iowa would be the place to do it because it goes first. And some typically influential Iowa leaders have either rejected him or distanced themselves. He's been in a bit of a spat with the governor, who's a Republican and quite popular. You know, this is a state where retail politics do still matter, and the Iowa State Fair is a major destination for that sort of campaigning. Former President Trump will be there today. The other candidates who are there begging for relevance are out there earnestly flipping pork chops on the grill and carefully inspecting the butter cow. And just as a reminder, this is all playing out when we're not even two weeks away from the first Republican debate. And the big question there - will Donald Trump show up or won't he?

SIMON: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. 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.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.