Biden Economic Plan? "Build Back Better" : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast Joe Biden has received detailed policy proposals from the joint committees he formed with Bernie Sanders, part of an effort to bring progressives into his campaign's fold. But, with Biden up by double-digits over President Trump, progressive votes seem less essential to his path to victory. And, he's released a new economic policy plan he calls "Build Back Better," an explicit counter to President Trump's economical nationalism.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and campaign correspondents Scott Detrow and Asma Khalid.

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Make America Great Again? No, Biden Says He'll "Build Back Better."

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Make America Great Again? No, Biden Says He'll "Build Back Better."

Make America Great Again? No, Biden Says He'll "Build Back Better."

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT JOHNSON: Hi, my name is Scott Johnson (ph). I'm currently sitting outside an orthodontics office, where my youngest daughter is having her braces put in. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Oh, best of luck.


Yeah - 12:45 p.m. on Friday, July 10.

JOHNSON: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. One thing that'll definitely change is that I'll have two daughters in braces and much less money in my pocket. OK. Here's the show.


ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: To me, like, putting on my braces is just a classic milestone of life.

KEITH: Did you guys have braces?

DETROW: Oh, I had so many different things.

KHALID: Yeah, contraptions.

DETROW: One day, they will come off. Your teeth will be straight, and you'll be able to eat corn on the cob again.

KEITH: (Laughter) OK. Hey there, it's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the campaign.

KEITH: So we are going to talk about the campaign today. One thing to note, President Trump was supposed to have a rally tomorrow. It's canceled or postponed because of a tropical storm. And on the Democratic side - which is where we're going to focus today - former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't had a lot of events. He certainly hasn't had anything resembling a rally. But there has been a lot going on behind the scenes, especially this week. There've been some big policy pronouncements, the vice presidential search. And also, this week marks the conclusion of these joint task forces that he had formed with his former primary opponent, Bernie Sanders. Scott, you have been covering this. First, remind us what these task forces are.

DETROW: These were six different groups made up half of people appointed by Sanders, half of people appointed by Biden. And the idea was to get everybody on the same policy page to maybe pull Joe Biden as much as possible to the left a little bit and, bottom line, to give progressives some sort of stake in the Joe Biden candidacy and the Joe Biden platform. Bernie Sanders did not want to repeat 2016, where there was a lot of lukewarm feeling - to put it mildly - toward Hillary Clinton from progressives, from people who had backed him in the primary. So this was a result to try and say, look, we're all on the same page and, no, Joe Biden is not suddenly going to be running on my platform. But I'm excited about a lot of the things that he will now be running on and maybe governing on.

KHALID: What I found so interesting about these task forces is that this was kind of just a wish list of what progressives have wanted. And, certainly, you didn't have everything on there, right? We know "Medicare for All" was a humongous campaign issue on the Democratic side this election cycle. And there was no Medicare for All in there but I don't think anyone expected there to be. What I did see, though, that were interesting were there were all sorts of other progressive ideas that we've heard a lot about, you know. For example, 12 weeks of paid family leave in the case of having a, you know, a child or adopting a child. There was paid sick time off, universal pre-K.

I mean, these are ideas that we've heard a lot about from Democrats over the past couple of years but a lot because it's been pushed by some of these progressive activists. And to see this all in there, to me, was really interesting. And, in part, because I spoke with a former adviser to Joe Biden - he's kind of informally advising his campaign this year - and he said he was on the task force, that they were told nothing is off the table, that Biden wanted them to really be as ambitious as they could when they address this all. And he feels like most of these ideas Biden will take seriously.

DETROW: And just to add one more specific - almost all of the big parts of the Green New Deal are in this report - not under that name. That name had become kind of not politically controversial but something that Joe Biden had said he wasn't fully onboard with as much as other candidates were in the primaries. But a really aggressive timeline to get the country to carbon neutral, a lot of investment in clean energy and a commitment to create a lot of jobs in almost, like, a climate job corps in the green energy field.

KEITH: So is this like something that could become a reality? Or was this just like...

DETROW: Great question.

KEITH: ...Like they just played policy and now it's this thing and it's not really a living document?

DETROW: Great question. And it kind of depends on who you talk to. What was interesting to me was that the Biden campaign was really involved on this. They had to sign off on everything. And yet, at the end of the day, their statement said, great, thanks for all of this. We'll take a look. And, like, that was it. But I talked to a lot of people in the progressive field who worked on these task forces - including Bernie Sanders - and they all said, no, this is going to be in the platform. We were told this is a serious policy proposal that is going to have a future.

KEITH: So you say you talked to Bernie Sanders. What did the senator have to say?

DETROW: Well, as listeners of this podcast will want to know, he did start off our interview - as he often does - with some commentary on the ambient noise in the background.

BERNIE SANDERS: And by the way, if you hear some strange sounds, I'm outside. I think it's going to stop raining soon. Looks like it's getting windy, so let's do it before there's a tornado here.

DETROW: We were on the phone. The tornadoes did not come. We were able to have a conversation. Sanders said that he did feel like this process pulled Biden to the left. And I also asked him about something that I've been really interested in and we've been hearing a lot from Joe Biden. Obviously, he ran as kind of the moderate for most of the Democratic primary. That's used in relative terms because - as we've talked about 15,000 times on this podcast - he had a platform a lot more progressive than, like, Barack Obama's presidency. Right? We've talked about that, moving on.

But Joe Biden has really changed the way that he views his potential presidents. And he started to say, over and over lately, he wants to have a Franklin-Roosevelt style, transformative presidency. Now, Bernie Sanders, when he was running for president, name-checked FDR all the time. So I asked him if he thinks that's possible and if he thinks this document could be a tool for Biden to get there.

SANDERS: You know, when I talked to Joe a while back, he said that he wants to be the most progressive president since FDR, and I think he's been saying that publicly as well. And I think given the crises that we are facing today - the unprecedented crises in terms of a pandemic, you know, the 130,000 Americans dying, and that number is getting worse in many states - given the economic meltdown, and tens of millions of people now having applied for unemployment, people going hungry, people worried about being evicted from their apartment, do I believe that believes that now is the time for bold action to protect the working class and the middle class or lower-income people in this country? Yes, I do believe that's the case.

DETROW: And Tam, you covered 2016. I don't think we ever heard Bernie Sanders really making that ringing of an endorsement in the potential presidency of Hillary Clinton, other than saying that she could beat Donald Trump. Like, this seems like a big difference, and that was part of the point of these task forces.

KEITH: So I want to jump to something else that happened this week, which was a big policy rollout from Biden, and a platform he's calling Build Back Better. Asma, can you describe what this is?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, I would kind of for shorthand describe it almost as a counter to the America First message that we've heard from President Trump. So Build Back Better is this, like, big economic agenda that he has. But within it, what he announced this week was kind of like a competing vision of economic nationalism. He was essentially focusing on manufacturing and innovation and the need to buy American goods and boost American manufacturing. And we know this is such a tenet of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. And so to me, it was just fascinating to hear the Democratic candidate this cycle offer this competing version of what nationalism and patriotism means when we talk about the economy.


JOE BIDEN: Let's use this opportunity to take bold investments in American industry and innovation so the future is made in America, all in America. I do not accept a defeatist view that forecasts that automation and globalization means we can't keep well-paid jobs here in America and create more of them.

KHALID: And so this was the kind of the first plank of his economic agenda. It includes a $700 billion investment in procurement and research and development for new technologies. And he talked about the fact that he envisions this plan could potentially create 5 million new jobs. You know, this isn't the only piece of his economic agenda. He talked about the fact that he'll be discussing more ideas on infrastructure and clean energy as well as child care in the coming weeks. But to me, what's notable that he chose to start the economic conversation around manufacturing and buy American.

KEITH: So President Trump did respond to this. He said that basically Joe Biden is plagiarizing him, that he is ripping off his economic plan.

DETROW: Yeah, and the idea of keeping manufacturing in the United States I don't think is something that President Trump came up with. And in fact, for much of the last few decades, it was something that populist Democrats really embraced, and President Trump was initially going against the Republican Party, the party of free trade, in so many recent years. So I mean, this is something that Biden and senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have been talking about for a very long time.

KEITH: Yeah. It's not a trademarked idea, if you will. Well, we are going to take a quick break, and when we get back, more on the coalition that the Biden campaign is trying to build.


KEITH: And we're back. And earlier in the pod, we were talking about how the Biden team and the Sanders team had come together to talk about policy, and in part, this was about sort of bringing progressives into the tent. The question I have is, how much does that really matter? How much is that necessary? I mean, if I'm sitting here covering the White House, looking at polls where the president is completely and totally underwater, and in so many ways this whole campaign feels like a referendum on him and not even really a choice sort of election. I don't know. Well, where do you guys see this?

DETROW: Well, I mean, I think we've talked a lot about how Joe Biden has very large leads, double-digit leads, leads where he has more than 50%, all reasons that it's much more durable than any leads that Hillary Clinton had at any point in 2016. We have talked a lot about how a lot of independent voters are leaning Joe Biden. They just seem exasperated by the Trump era, and they feel like he's not handling these crises well.

And there was an interesting data point this week that showed that, mostly out of excitement of the chance to beat Donald Trump, progressives - former Sanders backers, former Elizabeth Warren backers - are almost 100% onboard with Joe Biden's candidacy. So going back to those task forces, I think there had been a lot of thought for the last couple of years that if Biden was the nominee, he would have to really work hard to excite and court progressives. He might not necessarily need to do that anymore, if you just think about it in terms of getting the votes he needs to win.

KHALID: I think that the question I still have - and this is a question that's come up time and again when I've spoken to progressive voters - is, you know, they're not going to vote for Donald Trump. But if you look at some of the most recent polling that we saw, 87% of Sanders supporters say that they intend to vote for Joe Biden in November, and very few said that they were going to vote for Donald Trump. But the question is 87% still means that there's a chunk of people who suggest that they're not going to participate and they're not going to vote. You know, when I've talked to voters, when I've talked to activists, that's not a common feature.

But just yesterday I was interviewing a young, very progressive voter about something in this kind of - it wasn't even about this conversation. And he, of his own accord, mentioned that at this point in time he does not think he's going to participate in the system. So, I mean, I think that there's nowhere near the type of, you know, concern that Democrats had around what would happen when Hillary Clinton was the nominee, but is there full-fledged enthusiasm amongst progressive voters? No, I don't think that there is 100% full-fledged enthusiasm because if that was the case, we would just see higher numbers of Sanders supporters backing him at this point than we are.

KEITH: Part of this reminds me of this yard sign that I keep seeing, the Any Functioning Adult 2020 yard sign, where, you know, the Trump campaign frequently points to a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats for Biden, or a deficit between the amount of enthusiasm Republicans have for Trump and the amount of enthusiasm Democrats have for Biden. But the negative energy towards Trump from Democrats is, you know, off the charts.

DETROW: And you know what? We're in a global environment right now where, I mean, if you look at the right-track, wrong-track questions - do you think the country's going in the right direction? It's just, like, astronomically people think it's in the wrong direction. Of course they think that. There is a raging pandemic that has killed, you know, 130,000 people and more, unemployment is so high. So, like, I think actually the basic Biden message that got panned for a while of any functioning adult, if you want to put it that way, is actually appealing to a lot of voters right now. They're just like, I just want something calm and competent, and there's somebody who's happy to give them that.

KEITH: So, Asma, you have been reporting on some efforts out there to try to get squishy Republicans - Republicans who are not happy with President Trump - to maybe consider voting for Joe Biden, which in some ways almost seems like it's at conflict with this effort to court progressives. There's, like, two different tracks. What can you tell us about this effort to reach Republicans?

KHALID: So Tam, this is, to me, sort of a multifaceted effort, right? You've got independent groups, whether you're thinking of the Lincoln Project, which is this super PAC, and some folks might have seen their ads. These are, like, these snazzy, flashy ads that kind of troll President Trump on the regular. They have a bunch of Mitt Romney campaign alums who recently have joined forces to try to get different campaign alums to say that they're going to support Joe Biden. And then there's this group called 43 Alumni for Biden. That's a reference to George W. Bush campaign staffers, since Bush was the 43rd president. They have, you know, a couple hundred people that they say together at this point that they've organized to come out and support Joe Biden.

You've also got Republican Voters Against Trump. I mean, just sort of on and on there are these groups of what I would describe as more traditional Republicans, largely college educated Republicans who have said, I mean, they were not on board with Donald Trump's presidency, many of them, even in 2016. But some of them, you know, told me that they abstained in 2016, they just chose not to participate at all. And now, three and a half years later, they feel this urgency because of - largely because of the pandemic and the economy and the way the president has handled that situation, and just seeing how he's governed, that they need to pick a side this time, that it's not enough, they say, this year, just to abstain.

KEITH: So how big a group of people is this? Like, because if you look at the polling, the universe of Republicans is overwhelmingly, you know, 90-something-percent believe the president is doing a great job.

KHALID: And that is essentially the question I was trying to figure out with some of the reporting I did this week, which is that, you know, this is a Republican Party that is largely Trump's party. And so really, are these Republican for Biden efforts going to mean much of anything? So two things on that. One is that, you know, there have been some Republicans who have left the Republican Party since 2016. In fact, we've seen white college-educated voters especially in the last few years shift away from the Republican Party. So when you poll on Donald Trump questions within the Republican Party, people like that are no longer getting picked up.

DETROW: And that's probably the reason why the House of Representatives slipped by such a large margin in 2018.

KHALID: Totally. That's very true. And the second reason I would point out is that these Republicans for Biden folks say that they don't need that many defections, right? The election, they say, could come down to this really, really small sliver of voters in swing states. And recent New York Times/Siena College polling showed that there's, like, 6% of voters in six crucial battleground states who backed Trump in 2016 who say there's not really any chance they'll back him again this November. I mean, that's a really small - but I would say it's like microtargeting, right? You don't need lots of those people, if that polling is accurate, right? And so you don't need to have hundreds of thousands of people all across the country. You just kind of need to focus on the few people in these key battleground states.

KEITH: All right. Well, we are going to take a quick break, and when we come back, Can't Let It Go.

And we are back, and let's end the week with Can't Let It Go, the part of the show where we talk about the things we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Asma, you're up.

KHALID: So you all may have heard that this week one of the oldest clothing stores in the country has declared bankruptcy. That store is Brooks Brothers. Now, I think you all may be wondering, like, OK, Asma, do you really shop at Brooks Brothers on the regular? I do not. That is not particularly my style of fashion choice. But the reason this news so interested me is because you all may know Brooks Brothers has outfitted, like, pretty much every president that we've ever had. I think it's, like, 41 out of 45 presidents have worn suits, you know, coats. Oftentimes they make the inauguration suits for different presidents. I think it was both - like, in the last inauguration for Trump, I think Obama and Trump both had coats or jackets or et cetera from Brooks Brothers. Anyhow, so this all led me to wonder, OK, so if Brooks Brothers goes under before January, who will the next president wear?


DETROW: (Laughter).


KHALID: I can't imagine them going from Brooks Brothers to H&M.

KEITH: (Laughter).

DETROW: My two-suits-ago suit was Brooks Brothers. I wore a Brooks Brothers suit getting my NPR job interview successfully.


DETROW: Then I made a shift to Suit Supply, which is a solid suit. So maybe Suit Supply is the answer.

KEITH: There you go.

DETROW: Not that I ever wear even a collared shirt anymore these days.

KEITH: (Laughter) Fair point. That could be part of their problem (laughter). So I'm going to go next. What I cannot let go of is - so there's this video game, this, like, app. I don't know what it is. It's called Roblox. If you have a child of a certain age, you know what Roblox is. It's a gaming platform - lots of different things inside of it like SharkBite and other games that I don't know anything about.

Anyway, it turns out some pro-Trump hackers got into the game and started hacking people's accounts, putting what looked like a MAGA hat on their characters and, like, an eagle on the chest of their avatars. And I don't know if this is related to that or not. But one day, I looked over, and my son Davis was playing a game that just had these, like, giant Donald Trump heads, like, all over the game. And I was like, what are you doing? He's like, I don't know why Donald Trump just showed up in my game.


KEITH: Yeah.

KHALID: Was this the same game he was playing?

KEITH: Well, I mean, yeah. It was in this platform called Roblox. I don't know if this was part of the hacking or not, but apparently, part of it was that people's avatars were changed to have their profile read, ask your parents to vote for Trump this year - MAGA 2020.


KEITH: New platforms. Scott, what can you not let go of?

DETROW: So John Roberts had a pretty stressful year. We have talked a lot about how he was at the center of all of these recent opinions and how lots of conservatives are mad at him and liberals aren't exactly praising him, right? We all forget that John Roberts began the year presiding over an impeachment trial. So I think in this last opinion - in the opinion saying that presidents don't have absolute immunity, I think that John Roberts was letting off some creative steam because I was reading through this ruling. He walks through all the different times that the Supreme Court weighed in on whether or not presidents have to, you know, comply to subpoenas.

And he wrote about the first case involving Thomas Jefferson. And maybe it is because I just re-watched "Hamilton" on Disney+ for the first time and the actors were in my mind. But he goes through the circumstances of Thomas Jefferson being subpoenaed, and it was by Aaron Burr, sir. And to me, the way that Roberts writes it reads exactly like he's, like, in the pitch room pitching a sequel to "Hamilton." And I would like to read a little bit from it because it was really vivid.

KHALID: Oh, yes. Please do.

KEITH: Can you rap it?


KEITH: Rap-sing it?



DETROW: Because this is - in my mind, John - this is John Roberts' writing. In the summer of 1807, all eyes were on Richmond, Va. Aaron Burr, the former vice president, was on trial for treason. Fallen from political grace after his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton and with a murder charge pending in New Jersey, Burr followed the path of many down-and-out Americans of his day. He headed West in search of new opportunity. But Burr, as we know from "Hamilton," was a man of outside ambitions. I added the "Hamilton" part. He did not. Together...

KHALID: Wait. Did - he did not say the "Hamilton" line.

DETROW: He did not say the "Hamilton" - Burr was a man of outsized ambitions. And if you don't know this stretch of history, this next sentence is bananas. Together with Gen. James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana territory, he hatched a plan to establish a new territory in Mexico, then controlled by Spain. So then people think that Aaron Burr is trying to break away from the United States. This coconspirator writes Thomas Jefferson a letter. And that leads to Thomas Jefferson - back to Roberts.

Jefferson, who despised his former running mate Burr for trying to steal the 1800 presidential election from him, goes on to accuse Burr of treason. And that sets up the subpoena fight, but I was like, I want to know more about this. I want to read about this. I want to watch a musical about this. I love Leslie Odom. I love Daveed Diggs. I feel like this could happen.

KEITH: Like, a three-hour sequel.

DETROW: Let's do it. Give John Roberts production.

KEITH: (Laughter) Yeah.

KHALID: Seems like he has potential there.


KEITH: (Laughter) All right. Well, that is a wrap for today, but you can check out all the ways to continue connecting with us by looking at the links in the episode description. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producer is Barton Girdwood. Our production assistant is Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Elena Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the presidential campaign.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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