❌ No Stimulus Package Deal : The NPR Politics Podcast Coronavirus stimulus package negotiations are stuck at "no deal."

Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans remain jobless.

Trump may accept the nomination at the White House, a violation of norms and maybe laws.

And in a rare big interview, Joe Biden talked China and put his foot in his mouth.

On Consider This from NPR: Trump signs TikTok Executive Order

This episode: campaign correspondent Asma Khalid, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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There's Still No Deal On Coronavirus Stimulus Package

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There's Still No Deal On Coronavirus Stimulus Package

There's Still No Deal On Coronavirus Stimulus Package

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ANNE: Hello.


ANNE: This is Anne (ph) in Blandon, Pa.


ANNE: I am busy slicing up 25 pounds of cucumbers. This podcast was recorded at...


1:12 p.m. on Friday, August 7.


ANNE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this.


ANNE: Hopefully, I'll have a couple dozen jars of home-canned dill pickles to admire on my counter.


ANNE: Here's the show.



KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: That's a wild number of cucumbers, and I'm very impressed (laughter).

KEITH: This has got to be, like, a year's worth of pickles, right? Where do you find so many cucumbers? Amazing.

KHALID: Who knows? But I love hearing from listeners as they're doing, like, the same things that I do when I listen to a podcast - not that I make pickles, but cooking.

KEITH: Yeah.

KHALID: Right? Like, I feel like that's the most frequent time that I actually listen to podcasts.

KEITH: Indeed.

KHALID: Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.

KHALID: So, Kelsey, you were on the show earlier this week to give us the latest on the negotiations - or I should say lack of negotiations - on another round of coronavirus economic aid. There are millions of people who are out of work because of the pandemic. And, you know, yet it sounded like when you were last on the podcast that any hope of a congressional plan was essentially stuck. Is that still the case? What's the latest?

SNELL: Well, they are stuck but I guess sort of differently stuck than they were earlier this week. We have now seen them meet 10 times, and as we are taping right now, they are about to go in for their 11th meeting. The they in that is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, who's the Democratic leader in the Senate, Mark Meadows, who's the White House chief of staff, and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin. That's 10 meetings, which is an extraordinary number of meetings for a small group of people on something like this.

KHALID: Does that mean that they're making progress - I mean, the frequency of those meetings?


SNELL: Well, Tam can speak to the White House side of this. But on the Hill side, it does not appear that way.

KEITH: Yeah. Based on my conversations with a top White House official who would know, they say negotiations have stalled. They're still putting in a good-faith effort. But, like, this meeting, they think, is not going to - you know, the latest meeting isn't going to be any better than the last meeting, in their minds.

SNELL: One of the complicating things here is the two sides are coming out of these meetings and talking to reporters almost every single time. And they come out and kind of report different things. For a while, it was, oh, we had a productive meeting. But now they're kind of bickering about what progress they've made.

Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer had a press conference just a little bit ago where they claimed that they offered yesterday to change the amount of money that they were asking for. They said that, you know, Republicans were asking for one trillion. Democrats were asking for in the neighborhood of 3.4 to 3.7 trillion. And Pelosi offered to come down and meet somewhere in the middle, and the White House rejected that. But that is not how the White House has characterized things.

KEITH: Yeah. The White House says that they are trillions of dollars apart, that Democrats haven't moved at all, that they're not willing to play ball on a number of issues, and they don't expect any progress. So, like, they are just in completely different places.

KHALID: And, Tam, it's worth pointing out that the background of all of this is an economy that still doesn't look great. I mean, the unemployment rate is above 10%. It's higher than it ever was during the Great Recession. And so there are people who are depending on some sort of economic relief. And that relief, you guys sound like you're saying, isn't coming really soon.

KEITH: Yeah. And let's just be clear that these things can move quickly. You know, deals can come together very quickly. You never know. But yeah. I mean, there was a new jobs report out today. The unemployment rate actually improved to 10.2%. That is a frighteningly high unemployment rate. The job gains that came were in leisure and hospitality, government, retail, professional and business services and health care.

But you were talking about something in the neighborhood of 16 million people unemployed. And, you know, if you get under the hood for that unemployment rate, certain groups are in much worse shape. African Americans have almost 15% unemployment.

KHALID: So I guess this is a question for both of you, but maybe, Kelsey, you could start. I'd like to understand better why it feels so difficult for Congress to pass an economic package this time than it did last time with the last CARES Act. I mean, it feels like there's an urgency right now from the public.

It also feels like, you know, there are some Republicans you would presume are in kind of a precarious political position that you would think would push them to negotiate perhaps more than they might have been willing to negotiate a couple months ago. And yet, we are not seeing a deal.

SNELL: Yeah. There are a couple layers of things happening that are kind of coming together for a perfect storm of not very good deal-making. One is that Democrats passed their bill, $3 trillion bill, months and months and months ago. And they say that they have been asking for Republicans to come to the table for all of that time.

And part of why Republicans didn't come to the table was many did not believe that it was time to pass any more aid, that they didn't believe it was needed. You know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has explicitly said that he has about 15 to 20 members who don't think there needs to be more federal spending on this. That creates a balance of power that is very difficult for them to navigate.

Democrats think that they have the upper hand, that they have passed something, that they are on the record trying to get benefits out to people, and Republicans are stalling. On the other hand, Republicans are saying that Democrats have been unwilling to deal since they did come to the table.

And part of the dynamic that is complicating things even further is that this is the first negotiation where White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is seriously, seriously driving the train. And he spent his entire congressional career being somebody who was trying to prevent spending. He stood in the way of many spending bills. And it was part of, you know, his entire identity as a congressman.

KEITH: And the other thing just to point out here is, we're talking about the treasury secretary and the chief of staff. We are not talking about the president of the United States because President Trump has been incredibly hands-off with all of these negotiations throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And at this point, President Trump is - he's not really focused on the deal, as far as we can tell. He's more focused on signing executive orders or threatening to sign executive orders.

KHALID: Yeah, Tam, I want to ask you more about that because when the president says that, you know, he essentially could carve out aspects of some sort of economic relief and do this all by executive order, is there - I mean, I guess I have a lot of questions there, but one is, A, can he do that? And, B, what aspects of economic relief is he talking about? Is he talking about, like, emergency unemployment aid or cash checks to people?

KEITH: He thinks he can do much - almost anything. And what he's specifically talking about doing is continuing, for some period of time, some amount of unemployment benefits for people that - those unemployment benefits expired. And that's the thing that's the real pressure point in all of this, is that people are not getting these additive unemployment benefits right now.

And, also, he's talking about doing an executive order to continue a moratorium on evictions and, potentially, also to create the payroll tax holiday that he wants that the Republicans don't want and Democrats don't want. And what I've been told is, yeah, he probably can do that. You know, there most certainly would be legal challenges. But, you know, I actually sent an email - subject line, can he do that? - to a professor who is an expert on executive orders. And he said, yeah, he can see a path for a legal justification for the president to try to do some of these things.

KHALID: So, Kelsey, I do have a question about the politics of all this, specifically from the vantage point of Democrats, right? Because if you have a situation where people are hurting financially and you have a president who comes in, hypothetically, over the weekend, signs this executive action that saves a whole lot of people from being evicted from their homes, and it's not Democrats who've done anything to actually solve that problem; it's the president, by an executive action - does he come away as the hero in all of this?

SNELL: So one of the things that Democrats say to me is that they look at this in the totality of the way people have viewed the handling of the coronavirus crisis and, in particular, coronavirus aid. They say that they put out a bill, and they passed a bill in the House, and there is near unanimous support for it in among Senate Democrats. They say that there - they have done the things, and it's been Republicans who have been unwilling to participate, and they don't believe that core Democratic voters will ever give the president credit for doing anything.

The question, then, comes down to, how do the people who are not necessarily core Democratic voters but are people who, you know, might be a little swingy - how do they feel about it? And that is definitely where the political risk comes in. But, again, they say that the question is, how do people view the overall handling of this? They say that will color people's perception of any executive orders.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's leave it there for now. Kelsey, we'll let you go do some reporting. Take care.

SNELL: Thanks so much, guys. Good luck.

KHALID: And when we get back, we'll talk about the strange things that need to be worked out in a world without in-person political conventions.

And we're back. And we're joined now by Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.


KHALID: So let's start with a conversation about political conventions because it is now August, and they are allegedly happening in the month of August. They are still happening, but they're not going to be in the same traditional, recognizable form, right? Like, they're not these big parties that happen in person. So, Tam, why don't you start by just explaining to us what the RNC is going to look like. What's the Republican convention going to be?

KEITH: Well, OK. So here's what we know about the Republican convention - is that President Trump was really set on a big, bold, in-person rally-type acceptance speech.


KEITH: And it is now clear that that is not happening. In fact, it's going to basically be a virtual convention, even though that's not what they wanted and they worked really hard to avoid. And so what they have planned sounds, in a lot of ways, like the Democratic convention - you know, a mix of produced videos and live speeches from not-yet-named locations.

But we know that we're going to hear from President Trump. We're going to hear from first lady Melania Trump. We're going to hear from the vice president, Mike Pence, and President Trump has said some of the warrior congressmen who helped him battle back impeachment. And where they will do these speeches, that is the big mystery. But President Trump has even talked about the idea of maybe just doing it from the White House.

KHALID: That's fascinating. Is that legally allowed as well? (Laughter).

KEITH: Part 2 of - can he do that?


KEITH: You know, there are definitely some challenges with doing something like that. There's something called the Hatch Act. It doesn't apply to the president, but it would apply to other staff who would be involved in pulling off this event. You know, there would just be no question - it would pull down whatever veil or firewall or whatever you want to call it between the official business happening at the people's house and pure electoral politics. But, you know, what they're trying to do is avoid having it be just super flat. Like, you don't want your convention to be like every Zoom call we've all been on for the last six months.

KHALID: I mean, that's a question, though, that I have for the Biden campaign as well because...

KEITH: Yeah.

KHALID: ...We got word this week that he is not going to be traveling to Milwaukee to accept the nomination in person, as had been expected for months and months - we'd been hearing. Instead, he's going to give a speech in Delaware. And look - most of the recent in-person speeches that he's been doing have either been in Pennsylvania or in Delaware. So, I mean, I have questions, too, about how he will actually be able to deliver his speech, will there be an audience, how big will that audience be, and how will it feel any different than one of the other recent, random, small-pool outings that he's been doing.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and these conventions matter because they're, really, one of the only opportunities - aside from the debates - where these candidates have direct access to a large viewing audience of voters. You know, so will there be a bounce-out of these conventions? It's probably less likely than past years because you don't have all the pomp and circumstance and - probably not going to see the same sort of flood of media coverage, as media organizations pull back the numbers of people who are allowed to go or who can even travel because of the pandemic.

I think the one difference here to past years is Trump and Biden are just so well known. And, you know, Trump in particular, people have very strong opinions of. So whether it's going to change any minds one way or the other - I'm not that convinced that the conventions or the debates are going to change many minds, as opposed to, you know, where things are with coronavirus, the economy and race relations.

KHALID: You know, this pandemic hasn't just affected the conventions. I mean, it's affected pretty much every aspect of campaigning. When you talk about Joe Biden, you know, he has really not done many events, many interviews at all recently that have not been virtual. And just this week, he sat down for a virtual interview with our own Lulu Garcia-Navarro and a couple of other journalists from the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

And, you know, to me, it was such an interesting interview because honestly, there was news that came out of this (laughter). It sounds funny, but for a while, really, we've been seeing Joe Biden do these local TV interviews or maybe an interview with a MSNBC host who's friendly towards him and towards his campaign. And so we haven't really had newsworthy, meaty interviews with him in a really long time. And this one was. And we actually got some interesting information about policy that I hadn't heard in a while. I mean, one thing, for example, he talked about was the fact that he wouldn't necessarily tear down President Trump's border fencing wall, but he would stop construction on building any more of it.


JOE BIDEN: There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration, No. 1. No. 2, we're not going to focus on in the - and you're - the fact is that somebody in this group has written a lot about the border. I'm going to make sure that we have border protection, but it's going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: What about the land confiscations? What about the land confiscations?

BIDEN: End. End. Stop. Done. Over. Not going to do it. Withdraw the lawsuits. We're out. We are not going to confiscate the land.

KHALID: To me, this, you know, raised a much bigger, important issue about how, if Joe Biden wins, he can or cannot necessarily reverse aspects of President Trump's presidency and just how difficult that may be to do in action.

KEITH: Well, and if you think about it, President Trump has spent his entire presidency with a focus on reversing the Obama administration's work. And he's not done. He has not fully succeeded. It's not an easy thing to do. It's not like you just flip a switch and say, oh, well, now there's a new president, and all the policy goes away. The U.S. government is like an aircraft carrier. It's not a speedboat.

MONTANARO: And it's different than President Trump trying to sort of roll back some of the orders and environmental regulations that President Obama had put into place because a lot of those things were - you know, when - it's a lot easier to roll back kind of regulations than it is to, you know, tear down walls and use all the kind of money that it would take to have to actually go and do that because it would take some manpower to actually have to do a - you know, another kind of construction or deconstruction.

KHALID: You know, another policy of President Trump's that he says that he intends to reverse are the China tariffs. And when he was pressed on whether China would actually have to meet any specific conditions for reversing these tariffs, he deflected. He didn't really exactly get into the specifics of how this would work, just saying that it would be some sort of multilateral approach to get China to change its behavior. So to your point, Domenico, I mean, it's going to be tough.

KEITH: Yeah. And on the China tariffs, you know, that one's somewhat easier to reverse because it really is just done through executive action. And the bigger question is, how do you offset - as you say, how do you get China to improve its behavior on the world stage? And if you start talking about a multilateral approach, it doesn't take long to get back to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, something like that - the trade deal that was so unpopular that President Trump on his first day signed an order to pull America out of it.

KHALID: You know, I was mentioning earlier that Joe Biden hasn't done a whole lot of substantive interviews. And in part, this is because of the pandemic reality that we're living in. He's just not out there as rigorously campaigning as you traditionally might see somebody in the last couple of months before the election. And I think one of the things that this interview highlighted for me was just his potential to put his foot in his mouth and make gaffes. And there were a couple of gaffes that he made that ended up going quite viral.


BIDEN: What you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things.

KEITH: It seems like the mistake there was comparing Latinos to African Americans. You know, like, the point he's making about Latino voters not being a monolith is...

KHALID: It is a...

KEITH: ...Valid.

KHALID: ...True statement. Yeah.


KEITH: Yeah. It is a true statement. The first half of the sentence is problematic, which, Asma, I guess is why he later walked it back or clarified.

KHALID: Yes, exactly. And this wasn't the only moment during this interview where he ended up kind of saying something that, you know, folks online didn't take too kindly to. I mean, there was a moment where Biden was asked by CBS's Errol Barnett - he's a Black journalist - whether he had taken a cognitive test.


ERROL BARNETT: Please clarify specifically - have you taken a cognitive test?

BIDEN: No, I haven't taken a test. Why the hell would I take a test? Come on, man. That's like saying to you before you got in this program, did you take a test where you're taking cocaine or not. What do you think, huh? Are you a junkie?

BARNETT: What do you say to President Trump?

KHALID: And that didn't go over too well, calling the journalist a junkie.

MONTANARO: You guys are right. That - it does highlight the sort of undiscipline (ph) that Joe Biden can tend to have at times, where he's not the most careful speaker. It's why a lot of Democratic strategists were concerned about whether he could hold up during this campaign. And in some ways, the pandemic has helped him because he hasn't had to be out there more and, you know, get the opportunity for some of those gaffes to develop. And that's why the Trump campaign wants to try to bait him and get him out there and do more events.

KHALID: All right. Well, it is almost time for Can't Let It Go. But first, you may have seen President Trump signed an executive order that impacts TikTok and WeChat. We don't have time to get into all of that today, but NPR is covering it on the Consider This podcast. I'll put a link to that in our episode description. All right. Let's take a break.

And we're back. And let's end the week with Can't Let It Go. That's the part of the show where we talk about the things from the week that we just cannot stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Domenico, why don't you start?

MONTANARO: Well, the thing I can't let go of is this interview that President Trump did with Jonathan Swan of Axios. And it's not because of all of the, you know, kind of headlines that came out of it, but because of this one section where the president was asked about mail-in voting, and he talked about his friend from Westchester, N.Y., whose son had gotten a mail-in voting application who died seven years ago. And then he said, he died seven years ago. Somebody got a ballot for a dog. Somebody got a ballot for something else. And that just stopped me and said, a dog? Like, what dog is getting absentee ballots?

KEITH: Aren't some dogs running for office?

MONTANARO: Well, there are some dogs who are actually mayor in some places.

KEITH: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: When I tweeted about this, people sent me pictures of that. But apparently, there's actually some truth to what Trump is talking about. There was a Washington Post story that talked about this cat named Cody from Atlanta who died 12 years ago. And his owners said that they actually got a voter application for Cody Tims in the mail. And they said, how did this happen? And they held up his ashes and said, I mean, it's not reality. He's a cat. Here he is (laughter).

KEITH: Aww. That took a dark turn, Domenico.

KHALID: I know. That...

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

KEITH: I mean, was it a real ballot application, or was it, like, something sent by one of the parties or something that was based off of, you know, like, the PetSmart account that the cat had?

MONTANARO: A spokesman for the Georgia secretary of state's office said that it was likely the result of a third-party mailing list error not involving the state. Now, look; this is the kind of thing where somebody has to apply for it, and then you have to prove that they're that person. But Republicans took this as a harbinger of voter fraud. They talked about Senator Elizabeth Warren who was joking with the Biden campaign that her pup, Bailey - that her dog, Bailey, was going to vote for Biden. And they said this is election chaos and mischief that the Democrats want. And look; I mean, the fact is there is not much evidence for this kind of voter fraud. The Post quoted Elaine Kamarck from the Brookings Institution, which studied this and found very few instances of voter fraud. They found just eight cases of mail-in-related voter fraud out of nearly 16 million in Colorado, which does mostly vote by mail, over a 13-year period.

KHALID: Oh, man. OK, Tam, what can't you let go of?

KEITH: So mine is also related to the president. Earlier this week, he was signing a bill related to national parks and public lands, and he was talking about various national parks.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When they gaze upon Yosemight's (ph) - Yosemight's towering...

KEITH: Yosemight's (ph)?

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

KHALID: This is honestly my favorite thing I have seen - heard in, like, a really long time.

KEITH: (Laughter).

KHALID: I just...

KEITH: I feel like we can have all kinds of great, like, you know, Catskills humor about, like, is that what you say when you show up to Rosh Hashanah services?

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

KEITH: But - and for the record, even though my last name is Keith, I am Jewish. But - so this is not actually fully my Can't Let It Go. What I really can't let go of is the National Museum of American Jewish History museum store actually has a "Yo Semite" shirt that is...

KHALID: Wait, prior to - prior to this moment?


MONTANARO: But does it have to do with the National Park?

KEITH: So get this. It is - I'm going to read from their website. It's a sort of beige shirt with log font writing out "Yo Semite" and a couple of little trees. The designer created the "Yo Semite" shirt after being inspired by her day job at a Jewish summer camp near Yosemite National Park. This humorous, 100% cotton shirt is reminiscent of the shirts your own beloved summer camp provided. Wear it with pride. But now there's a very large note on the page that says, while this shirt has been a mainstay of our museum store since 2011, it has received unprecedented attention recently.


KEITH: We will be filling orders as quickly as humanly possible, but expedited shipping is not available (laughter).


KEITH: (Laughter) I just can't believe that the shirt already existed, and that, you know, this museum store was there to jump into the gap, you know, to meet the demand of this...

KHALID: To sell the merchandise, yeah.

KEITH: ...Amazing, hilarious moment of reading. Asma, what can't you let go of?

KHALID: So mine does not have to do with President Trump, but it does have to do with another Republican president. And that is George W. Bush. Remember him?

KEITH: Ah, yes.

KHALID: Well, he...


KHALID: Yes. So this isn't really funny. I just actually thought it was kind of cool and quirky. He is a painter. I'm not sure if you all know, but he loves to paint. And he's known - he does actually have some pretty good paintings, I will say, if you, like, ever look up some of his work. It's pretty good. He has - is putting out this book where he's going to paint 43 immigrants - you know, him being the 43rd president of the United States - and it's coming out next...

KEITH: Subtle. Subtle.

KHALID: Yes. It's coming out next year. And I just thought it was a really heartwarming story. I mean, look; we're in this moment where it feels like any talk of having immigration reform seems highly unlikely, right? Immigration as a policy is just an extremely polarizing issue. And yet, there was this time not that long ago where the Republican president did sit down with Democrats and was trying to push comprehensive immigration reform. And anyhow, so now - there you have it. He's going to have this book out called "Out Of Many, One," which are his own paintings and portraits of various immigrants that he's met over the years.

MONTANARO: Well, he's a pretty good painter. And he's, you know...

KHALID: He's quite good, yeah.

MONTANARO: ...Had a couple of things that got some attention. You know, at first, after his presidency, he started painting his dog, Barney. And that got some attention. And there was, like, one of him with his back in the shower or something. Remember that one? That kind of went viral a little bit. He started getting lessons.

KEITH: Old presidents, what do they do if they're - you know, it's like, you know - the high-pressure job is over. What do you do to soothe your soul? He has found oil paint.

KHALID: All right. Well, that is a wrap for this week. You can check out the links in the description of this episode for all the ways to stay connected with us. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Elena Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential election.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And as always, thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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