Trump $400 Unemployment Benefit : The NPR Politics Podcast President Trump announced an executive action last weekend to grant an additional $400 in employment benefits after the White House and Congress failed to strike a deal. But, like the three other pronouncements that came at the same time, it is unclear how the order will be implemented and what the president actually has the power to do.

READ: In Executive Actions, Trump Extends Some Unemployment Benefits, Defers Payroll Taxes

This episode: campaign correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, and chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley.

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Trump's Executive Actions Are Less Than Meets The Eye

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Trump's Executive Actions Are Less Than Meets The Eye

Trump's Executive Actions Are Less Than Meets The Eye

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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Hey there. Before we start the show, this podcast was originally taped on Tuesday. We had a good conversation. It was an interesting topic, and we were just about to post it, and then we found out that Joe Biden had tapped Kamala Harris as his running mate. So, of course, we did a podcast on that that day. But it's still an important topic. So what we've done is drop in some small updates and we're posting it in the feed today. All right. Here's the show.

RON: Welcome aboard. My name is Ron (ph) and I'm a flight attendant with a major U.S. airline. Flight attendants are recognized by Homeland Security as first responders and essential employees, so I've just finished conducting my pre-flight cabin safety checks on this Airbus A321 and am ready to welcome aboard 162 passengers. This NPR POLITICS PODCAST was recorded at...

DETROW: That is always a tough job. It is a tougher job this year. It is 2:06 Eastern on Tuesday, August 11.

RON: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, and I'll likely be safely cruising at an altitude of 34,000 feet. Enjoy the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Wow. I thought the - that the whole plane was going to, like, say and now start the show. Like, I thought he was going to have them join in, but that was cool anyway.

DETROW: Yeah, everybody with their masks on like, (unintelligible).

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the campaign.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

DETROW: And we're joined by economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with y'all.

DETROW: So lately, you come on the podcast to talk about horrific economic news. There is no new horrific economic news, and we should just make that clear at the beginning of the podcast.

HORSLEY: Just the same old background horrific economic news.

DETROW: Instead, we are here to talk about President Trump going it alone on coronavirus relief measures. Congressional negotiations over another round of coronavirus relief, including those expanded unemployment benefits that expired on August 1, are stalled. So over the weekend, the president announced he was signing a series of executive actions. Ayesha, walk us through what they do.

RASCOE: So there were three memorandum and one executive order, but whatever comes from the president is an executive action, so it really doesn't matter, but that's the technical stuff. So one of the things that he signed which was a big deal is it's supposed to be $400 in additional unemployment benefits coming from the federal government. This would be a cut from the $600 additional unemployment funds that people were getting. But what President Trump said was that $300 will come from the federal government and $100 will come from states. Governors, though, they pushed back on this because state budgets are really already stretched thin because of the coronavirus. And so now it's unclear how much money people will be getting or even when they will be getting it and how all of this will even be implemented.

DETROW: So, Scott, I think one of the most important moments of the Trump presidency was that press conference he had in 2017 after the House had voted to repeal Obamacare - this big celebration, we did it. Of course, the Senate never voted to repeal Obamacare, and it became the law of the land. But that really set the tone of a lot of times that the president holds a big event celebrating something and then it turns out to not have done anything or not done as much as he said. So with that in mind, these orders over the weekend, how many of them will actually do something and how many of them just seem to be for effect?

HORSLEY: Some will do something, although, in many cases, less than the president said they would. And some will do probably very little. The president has only identified enough money to cover this for about five weeks. So this is really the definition of a stopgap measure. It's not at all a replacement for the more sweeping relief bill that would take an act of Congress.

RASCOE: And that money, Scott, would come from the disaster relief fund, which is what you use, like, when there are, like, hurricanes and stuff. And it is hurricane season.

HORSLEY: That's right.

DETROW: And this is one of the big pushbacks from members of both parties in Congress, that Congress is the branch that has the authority to say where money is going to be spent. Scott, what do we know about this order on evictions and what the president has the power to do here?

HORSLEY: Well, you might remember that under the CARES Act, Congress had imposed a moratorium on evictions, at least in apartments that carried a federally backed mortgage where Congress had some leverage. But that expired at the end of July. And so the president wanted to make it seem as if he was doing something to protect folks who were facing eviction. All he really did was tell the government agencies, hey, take a look and see if there's anything you can do to help people who might be evicted. There's no real teeth to the president's action on this score. So this was more, I think, a window dressing than a concrete plan to help people who might be facing eviction. And there's a real concern that as supplemental unemployment benefits go away, as the people's savings have gone away, as the recession drags on, we could see a whole lot more renters facing eviction.

DETROW: So one other action that's worth talking about here, Ayesha, this idea of a payroll tax holiday. This is something that President Trump wanted to see in the bill. And even before negotiations broke down, it's something that top Democrats and top Republicans, neither of them really wanted to put it in the measure. What is he doing here?

RASCOE: What the president has done is he's deferred the collection of payroll taxes for - you know, for a short period of time. It's kind of like what he did when he delayed the collection of your income taxes from, like, April 15 to July 15. The president can delay the collection of taxes, but he cannot forgive the taxes. So the problem being is that these payroll taxes will still be do eventually. What President Trump is arguing is that he will forgive them if he's reelected, but the president cannot do that on his own. And he's explicitly tying it to his reelection. But it doesn't matter. He doesn't have that power either way.

HORSLEY: This has been called a payroll tax holiday, and it's kind of like one of those Monday holidays we get on Presidents Day or Veterans Day or something where your trash collection might be delayed for a day, but eventually the trash guy still comes around and picks up your trash. And in the same way, workers are still going to have to pay these payroll taxes sometime in 2021.

DETROW: You know what, Scott? I've been very attuned to how holidays shift garbage and recycling pickup here because especially early in quarantine, this was peak excitement for my toddler seeing the garbage truck come down the street and waving at the garbage men. So we are very up to speed on when it is delayed or not.

HORSLEY: (Laughter) Where is he, Dad? Where is he? Don't worry. He'll still be here.

DETROW: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll talk more about these orders and how they are being received in Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: And we're back. So, Ayesha, President Obama signed a lot of executive orders, particularly toward the end of his time in office. There were a lot of legal challenges to them. There were certainly a lot of Republicans who thought he was overstepping his authority. What's different here?

RASCOE: You know, in recent history, when you had a president and Congress has not been able to get certain things done, they have moved to take executive actions and to use their executive authority to try to get around that. I would say when it comes to President Trump, like we said earlier, a lot of what he has done for executive orders has really been about having that moment and being able to have a press conference and to sign something because we know that he's done orders that don't even need to be orders. They can just be like - he could have just called up the head of the department and said, hey, do this. You don't have to have an order. But he likes to have something to sign and the pictures and the photo ops. And so not all of it is really necessarily substantive. Some of it is.

HORSLEY: And it's a little unclear in this situation whether this was really designed as a bargaining chip to force Democrats back to the table or if this was just a way for the president to suggest to voters, look, if Congress is not going to take action, I will.

DETROW: But I feel like this is the case with a lot of the political storylines in this pandemic. It is such an enormous story, and it is affecting people's lives in so many ways - whether they're sick, whether they have a job, whether they can pay the rent - that it seems like there's a real limit to theatrics politics. Like, you know if you got the check. You know if you've been evicted or not, right?

RASCOE: There's absolutely a limitation because at some point, people are going to wonder, well, what happens? If Congress doesn't act and if these actions don't materialize an actual, you know, additional funding for unemployment, if employers don't really, you know, suspend collection of payroll taxes because they're going to have to pay it later, people will be affected, and they will legitimately ask like, well, why didn't these things happen? This is also something that even with these actions like this, they can be easily reversed. And that happened so much with what happened with President Obama that - where Trump was able to come in and just reverse a lot of what he had done through executive orders.

HORSLEY: Yeah. One thing to keep in mind is as rough as this recession has been for the United States, it would have been even worse were it not for the very aggressive actions that Congress and the administration took together early on pumping trillions of dollars out into the economy to keep small businesses afloat and workers and those who were out of work afloat. We would have been looking at an even deeper recession and even larger loss of employment without those measures. Many of those measures have now come to an end. And there is a real hole that's left to be filled. These executive actions go only a little way towards filling that hole. And they are in no way a substitute for the kind of comprehensive legislative relief that's really needed here to keep the economy from sinking even further.

DETROW: All right. That's it for today. Scott, thanks a lot for joining us.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

DETROW: And some good news - we have uploaded a whole bunch of new songs to our daily workout playlist on Spotify. It's a playlist that has each day's episode but also workout music that we all run to or exercise to. So you can listen to the pod. You can listen to that, you know - helps you get through the incredibly hot weather running right now. You can go to Spotify and search the NPR Politics Daily Workout or click on the link in the description of this episode. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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