Politics Chat: Trump Is Preoccupied With Election Results While Relief Bill Stalls

Dec 20, 2020
Originally published on December 20, 2020 7:23 pm

Progress on the COVID-19 relief bill, as a lame duck President Trump continues to spread falsehoods about the election amid the continuing COVID-19 crisis and now an alleged Russian cyberattack.

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Here we are. It is exactly one month until President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office. And the outgoing administration of Donald Trump is going out much as it came in - chaotically and with many, many angry tweets, President Trump is still pushing debunked conspiracy theories about election fraud. And there are reports that he's now trying to overturn the legitimate election results in ways outside the court system. And meanwhile, he has been absent in the coronavirus relief negotiations on Capitol Hill. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi. What is the latest on this COVID relief bill?

LIASSON: The COVID relief bill seems to be moving forward. Lawmakers have very few hours left before eviction relief runs out. Unemployment benefits run out. Foreclosure relief runs out. And, of course, Christmas is around the corner. But they are now trying to work out the details of how to - what would be the criteria for sending out more individual checks to people. Six hundred dollars is the number that they've settled on, but the president has been tweeting that the checks should be bigger. He still hasn't asserted himself or inserted himself in these talks. He's kind of tweeting from the peanut gallery. But that is one last sticking point. We also know that one of the reasons, possibly, that Republicans started moving on this after resisting is that Mitch McConnell wants to help the two Republican senators who are in runoff elections in Georgia. Those runoffs are on January 5, and a relief bill might help them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Mara, you know, meanwhile, we also learned this past week that the U.S. has been the victim of a mega hack - a cyberattack on government agencies and some tech companies. The secretary of state said Russia is behind it, but not everyone's on board with that.

LIASSON: Not everyone, as in the president of the United States, yes. Intelligence experts say this is the worst cyberattack ever, breached the systems of at least five government agencies. As you said, the secretary of state says the perpetrator is Russia, but the president tweeted that the attack isn't as bad as the media describes. He deflected blame from Russia, saying without evidence that it could have been China instead. And this is consistent with President Trump's refusal to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ever since he came into office, he has repeatedly trusted the word of Putin over his own intelligence community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should say even experts on this show have said they believe it is Russia. So he's not focused on the massive cyberattack or the congressional deal. Well, then what is he doing?

LIASSON: He's focused on the election and on this false narrative that he's pushing that, somehow, he was robbed, that the - that he really was the true winner of the election. Although, as time goes on, we do have more and more Republicans acknowledging that Biden will be the next president. Trump has pinned tweets from people who have been calling for martial law. There was even reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post that there was a meeting in the White House where martial law to overturn the results of the election was discussed. Some supporters wanted it. Some presidential aides pushed back against it. The President tweeted last night, "martial law equals fake news." But even if that might not happen, it shows you the lengths to which the president will consider going to undermine a free and fair democratic election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess we got to throw it forward now because Joe Biden's coming in. What do you think it's going to take to get legislation through in 2021 after such a divisive time?

LIASSON: Well, that's a really good question. We don't know if any legislation will go - get through. It - a lot will depend on how Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans - we don't know if he'll still have a majority after January 5 in the Senate. but does he consider it to be in his political interest to undermine Biden and make him look like a failed president? Or does he see some value in coming to an agreement on some bipartisan policies with Biden? There are things that Biden wants that have broad bipartisan support, like infrastructure, a minimum wage hike, debt-free college. We'll see what he chooses to. But the big task for Biden is how to turn a no-coattails election into political capital.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you, as always.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.