CHRIS HAMIK: Hey, y'all. This is Chris Hamik (ph) from Fort Worth, Texas, and I'm...
(SOUNDBITE OF BEATER SPINNING)
HAMIK: ...Making macarons - specifically, since it's Filipino American History Month, they are mango, ube (ph) and buko pandan. I would send y'all some, but I don't think they'll last in the mail. Anyway, this podcast was recorded at...
ASMA KHALID, HOST:
1:08 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, October 9.
HAMIK: Let's face it - things will change by the time I finish this bake. All right. Enjoy the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
KHALID: That's really impressive. I feel like macarons are one of those things I always aspire to make but never have actually tried.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: It's not going to happen. Not this lifetime - another one.
KHALID: (Laughter) Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.
KHALID: And joining the show today, we've got our old friend back, Scott Horsley, chief economics correspondent.
Scott, it is always good to have you on the show.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
KHALID: So, Scott, we have brought you on to talk about economics because the Federal Reserve's job, in short, is to alleviate financial crises. And the man who runs the Fed believes Congress needs to pass another economic relief package. Jerome Powell said in a speech this week that too much stimulus in response to the pandemic is better than too little. But it has been months since the Republican-controlled Senate passed any coronavirus aid bills. And this week, the Trump administration sent a lot of mixed signals about this all.
So, Scott, let's begin with why Jerome Powell is sounding alarm bells.
HORSLEY: Well, the Fed chairman has actually been saying for some months now that Congress would probably have to do more to cushion the fallout from the pandemic recession. But he's sounding those bells more loudly as time goes by because each passing month brings us more data, more evidence that this is not going to be a quick V-shaped recovery.
In some ways, the economy has bounced back more quickly from the spring downturn than a lot of people expected. But it's - that rebound has been losing air for - we've had three straight months now of declining job growth. Credit card spending has declined. We're coming now into the fall, and the winter is looming ahead. And that - there are worries that that's going to perhaps lead to another increase in coronavirus infections.
And Jerome Powell has said for the 11 million or so people whose jobs were eliminated in the spring and who have not yet gone back to work, it could be a long time before they are back to work, so they're going to need some additional help.
KHALID: So, given this, you know, pretty dire situation, I would say it sounds like the Fed chairman is outlining around the state of the economy, the health of the economy, I guess I'm left wondering, Claudia, like, what are the roadblocks for Congress? Why have they not been able to reach a deal?
GRISALES: These are the same roadblocks they've been facing for several months now. Democrats have tried to push through another wave of aid - had a very big price tag attached to it, $3.4 trillion. And Republicans have said, no way. They finally put forth their own proposal many months later, closer to the $1 trillion mark, and it's been the same struggle ever since.
They're very far apart on the numbers. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, even to this day, they haven't reached a deal on state and local funding. That's one of the big-ticket items. And Republicans haven't shown much of an appetite to go there.
So this has been one of the big struggles, is trying to meet in the middle. Democrats have pitched the idea of, OK, let's do a smaller proposal here. Let's drop it down to $2.2 trillion. They approved a plan along those lines recently. But Senate Republicans have balked again. They don't want to get near that $2 trillion mark. And it's not clear that Democrats are willing to bend below it.
KHALID: And do we know where the president stands?
HORSLEY: I mean, he's gone back and forth and back and forth. The president abruptly pulled the plug on negotiations earlier this week. Just as his treasury secretary was supposed to sit down with the House speaker and continue their negotiations, Trump said, no. Talks are off until after the November election. He did that about an hour and 15 minutes before the stock market closed, and stocks swooned.
Then the president apparently thought better of it. And that night, he said, OK, he would be open to just a real targeted relief package. And Nancy Pelosi kind of put the kibosh on that. Here's what she had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NANCY PELOSI: The only point about negotiations is, ain't going to be no standalone bill unless there's a bigger bill. And it could be part of that, or it could be in addition to that.
HORSLEY: So Pelosi's, you know, kind of playing hardball here. And the president has gone back and forth. The last time I checked, the president was tweeting, go big, and encouraging his side to do more in the way of relief. He may have some trouble persuading Senate Republicans that that's the right path. But there's no question that the president's own reelection chances depend on a stronger economy, so you'd sort of think Trump would want to have money going into people's pockets as they're thinking about going to the polls.
GRISALES: And another member that's playing hardball is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's been giving interviews in recent days in Kentucky, telling reporters over and over and again today that at best, the picture to allow new relief for coronavirus aid is murky, that this is a very murky picture right now, and part of the problem is we are so close to an election that he doesn't see any potential for a deal in the coming weeks, especially before an election.
So you're really seeing some pessimism among the leaders of Congress, and the pessimism is going to get in the way of any potential deal in such a tight window.
KHALID: So, Scott, I mean, I feel like we have just spent the past few minutes going through all the back-and-forth of these negotiations happening in Washington, D.C. But obviously, I mean, there are many people who are being affected by this economic fallout from the pandemic. You know, I hear Joe Biden refer to this all as possibly a K-shaped recovery. Explain, you know, what that means. Explain what's going on.
HORSLEY: Yeah. You know, I said it's not looking so much like a V because we're not going to have a rebound that brings us back to where we were. But we really are sort of seeing this two-speed recovery. For folks who have good jobs that they're able to do from home and for which there is still demand, they may be more or less OK. They may still be getting a paycheck that's equal to or at least close to what they were getting before then. You have people in the lower leg of the K who have seen their fortunes really decline and are really hurting here. That would be either people who have lost work because their work depends on large face-to-face gatherings of the kind that we're just not going to see for a while to come. Or maybe they're in front-line jobs where they are working and still being paid, but their own health is at risk because of that in-person work that they're doing. So people are feeling different levels of pressure from this recession right now and this two-speed recovery. And that may influence the way they think of slow-moving negotiations here in Washington.
KHALID: You know, I'm also struck by some news nuggets I've seen this week that highlight how much more, I would say rather disproportionately, women, particularly married women, have been affected by this fallout than men. And it feels like there are so many more, frankly, working moms who are really having to reevaluate whether or not they should stay in the workforce.
HORSLEY: Yeah, that's been really stark in just the recent weeks, especially as a new academic year has begun. And so many young people are doing their schooling from home, which puts a lot of responsibility on working parents and especially working moms, I'm afraid. When the jobs numbers came out a week ago, it was a nice headline that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.9%, which is a lot better than a lot of people thought we'd be at this stage in the recovery. But a lot of that was because people were dropping out of the workforce. In fact, the Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, said if you took away the people that are leaving the workforce as well as some people who've been misclassified, the real unemployment rate is probably closer to 11%.
KHALID: Oh, wow.
HORSLEY: And among those people leaving the workforce - and people have been leaving really throughout the recession here - but we saw a sharp difference in September, when four times as many women left the workforce as men. And that was - a lot of people were chalking that up to, you know, a new school year and the stress of trying to hold down a job and watch after your kids as they're trying to do their schooling from home. And a lot of women just said we can't do it and dropped out of the workforce. Now, of course, a lot depends on how long this pandemic lasts, but the loss of anybody from the workforce, but especially those large numbers of women in the workforce, is a blow, first of all, for their families - I mean, we're seeing families go from a two income to a one-income household or in some cases no-income household - but it's also a drag on the broader economy. We need the productive capacity of all those folks, and if they're leaving the workforce, that could do long-term damage to our economy.
KHALID: All right. Well, not a particularly optimistic picture for the weekend, but thank you nonetheless for sharing that with us all, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with y'all.
KHALID: And we're going to take a quick. When we get back, we'll talk about next week's Supreme Court confirmation fight.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KHALID: And we're back. And we're joined now by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there.
KHALID: Well, the hearings for President Trump's new Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, are set to begin on Monday. We should point out that that will take place as the rest of the Senate's return is delayed because of a coronavirus outbreak that appears linked to Amy Coney Barrett's official nomination celebration at the White House. So let's start with the outbreak. You know, Claudia, a couple of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are positive for the virus. And we know that at least two more - Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, the chair of the committee - have declined to be tested. So where does that leave us?
GRISALES: So that was the real wild card. For now, they are holding steady in terms of their positive cases. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah both tested positive. They say they are doing well at this time. So it appears that they could be back to the Capitol perhaps sometime this week after they decide to leave their quarantines. For example, it's under the 14 days, but the understanding is they may get tested to make sure they're cleared, they're negative. So they're able to proceed.
Also in the Senate, they're able to hold these hearings virtually. So some may check in by camera initially on those first few days. And the rest of the members have been impacted by that Rose Garden ceremony. For example, Ben Sasse of Nebraska have quarantined. They've also said they are negative at this time. They see themselves returning in time for this hearing. So for now, they're holding steady. And the hope is they're going to be wearing masks and they won't have any more outbreaks among their members.
KHALID: So I do feel, Claudia, like we just had this conversation where we heard that Republicans are insisting there's not enough time to pass a coronavirus relief bill. And yet here we are talking about how tightly it feels like Republicans want to ensure that these hearings can occur.
GRISALES: Exactly. This is a very big point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats say, wait a second, we don't have time to address coronavirus relief, but we do to confirm Amy Coney Barrett? And the argument for Republicans is, basically, we have the votes. We can move forward with this. And when it comes to coronavirus relief, they're still dealing with these very tight margins, 53 Republicans in the Senate. And they don't think they have enough support to proceed with the relief like they do with Barrett, even though in both cases we're talking about a tight margin here.
JOHNSON: You know, one thing that really struck me was a comment by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who said that if he has to show up for the final vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett in a moon suit on the Senate floor, he'll do it. That's just really a big statement about how important this nomination is to conservatives and how it means so much, not just for this year, but, you know, potentially for the next 30 or 40 years since she's only 48 years old.
KHALID: So, Carrie, remind us what this process will actually look like. How many days of hearings are we expecting?
JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. If past is prologue, it'll be about four days of hearings, starting with introductions by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and the top Democrat on the panel, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the other lawmakers. And then, of course, Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit will introduce herself. Then we get into questions from all the members, which takes up the better part of two days. At some point, likely on Wednesday, they'll go into a short closed session with the nominee for a while. We won't be able to hear or watch that, but that's totally normal. And then on Thursday, finally, it's going to end up with testimony from outside witnesses, people selected by the Republicans on the committee and by the Democrats on the committee to try to highlight different political elements of this judge's record and what it might mean for the Supreme Court moving forward.
KHALID: You know, and, Carrie, do we expect to hear a lot of questions actually about her legal reasoning?
JOHNSON: You know, this is the trick, Asma. In the recent past, nominees have not wanted to talk much or make predictions about how they'll vote on individual cases. Instead, there's this kind of high-minded argument about the ways they go about making decisions and they're judging philosophies. And we know already from her introduction in the Rose Garden that Amy Coney Barrett very much considers herself a mentee of Justice Scalia. She believes in originalism, looking to history at the time of the founding and textualism, the words on the page. And she's likely going to try to run around a whole bunch of questions about hot-button political and social issues by talking about those high-minded principles instead of answering direct questions.
KHALID: You know, Claudia, one thing I'm left really curious about is it seems, you know, essentially certain that Democrats do not have the numbers to do anything to block this nomination. So what is their strategy going into this week? You know, are they planning to participate in the hearings? Have you heard much about that?
GRISALES: Yes. Senate Judiciary Democrats were facing pressure not to attend these hearings, to boycott. And they're not submitting to that. They're saying we need to be a part of this process. We need to question Amy Coney Barrett on her philosophy and the concerns they have about the Affordable Care Act and whether that could be put into jeopardy with an Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court, as well as any kind of involvement with cases tied to Roe v. Wade and concerns there when it comes to abortion rights. So Democrats are really trying to highlight this as an opportunity to talk to voters about the campaign issues that they're trying to point out that matter right now and what's at stake. Meanwhile, Republicans are going to want to highlight that judicial record and what they see is going to be a promising addition to the Supreme Court.
JOHNSON: There are any number of issues that Democrats are going to want answers on, in part because if she is ultimately confirmed, Amy Coney Barrett will cement a conservative majority on the court, a 6-3 conservative majority in replacing liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And so one of the main highlights the Democrats have been pitching so far is her past statements and writings on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. She's been critical of Chief Justice John Roberts and his maneuver to save the whole of the ACA in recent past. And she also, very interestingly, according to the LA Times, participated in, like, an experimental moot court before Justice Ginsburg's death that heard this ACA case at William and Mary Law School.
KHALID: That's so interesting.
JOHNSON: And we don't know - yeah - we don't know exactly how Judge Barrett voted, but we do know that none of the judges on the panel on this experimental moot court panel would have thrown out the entirety of the law altogether. So that's certain to come up. And then, of course, we've got a bunch of questions about her respect for precedent and how that would fit into the landmark abortion rights law, Roe v. Wade. It came out that Barrett did not disclose in her Senate questionnaire that she had signed on to an advertisement, a very strong anti-abortion advertisement in 2006. And she has a record of saying at Notre Dame, where she taught for many years, that human life begins at conception. So those are just two of the issues that are really going to feature in her hearing next week.
GRISALES: Yeah. Democrats have raised those issues of what was left out of her questionnaire. And those are a couple of cases that they're hoping to highlight. They're saying we don't have a full picture of Barrett. This has been rushed through. We've had a week to prepare for this one. Previously, with previous nominees, we've had many weeks, months to prepare. And so this is part of their argument that this is being rushed through, and it will also be highlighted next week.
JOHNSON: And, you know, one of the reasons for the rush potentially is that President Trump has actually come out and said that he expects central questions about this election to end up before the Supreme Court. And he wants a full complement of justices to hear that case. Democrats are really likely to press Judge Barrett about whether she will recuse herself from any voting in election-related disputes. So far, she has refused to pledge that in her interviews with Republican and Democratic senators in the run up to these hearings.
KHALID: Carrie, last point to me is so interesting because I actually went out to places in Michigan specifically to hear from, you know, kind of Democratic suburban voters recently about the issues around the courts and how much, if at all, frankly, this is a motivating factor for Democrats. And there seem to be this resignation amongst many of the people I talked to that this seat is likely to get filled. There was really, frankly, they felt like nothing Democrats could do about it. But what they did say to me is this point about Trump saying that he wants a full bench before the election makes them really nervous. And so in some, like, weird, indirect way, they feel like it's motivating Democrats to come out in really big numbers, so that hopefully the election doesn't end up in the courts.
GRISALES: Yes. And this featured into conversations with Barrett this week among Democrats. Several Democrats visited from the judiciary committee, several Democrats visited with Barrett by phone. And this was one of the key questions they wanted to get to. Will you recuse yourself if, for example, an election case comes before the court? And she demurred. That was according to Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. He was very detailed about his question-and-answer conversation with her and was hoping to get more enlightened in that area if she's willing to do that. And he said multiple times she refused.
KHALID: Well, so many more questions. And we will, of course, be back in your feeds to cover the hearings next week. Our timing might be a bit odd next week, just given when the hearings are happening. But trust me, we will be podcasting. For now, let's take a quick break, and when we come back, it's time for Can't Let it Go.
And we're back. And let's end the show like we do every week - with Can't Let it Go. That's the part of the podcast where we talk about the things from the week that we just cannot stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Carrie, why don't you start?
JOHNSON: Well, I was minding my own business on Twitter yesterday when I was supposed to be writing a script...
JOHNSON: ...And I happened upon a public service video about voting that features a number of famous comedians like Sarah Silverman and others. And they were naked - naked...
JOHNSON: ...Sarah Silverman, Tiffany Haddish, Chris Rock and, my personal favorite actor, Mark Ruffalo - naked.
(SOUNDBITE OF PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
CHRIS ROCK: I'm naked. I'm, like, naked.
KHALID: I presume that this had to have been, like, a somewhat filtered video.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Like...
GRISALES: It was.
KHALID: (Laughter) OK.
JOHNSON: It was a filtered video. And if you remember the famous Janet Jackson album cover from back when I was in college - you were...
GRISALES: Oh, yes.
JOHNSON: ...Not yet born, probably.
JOHNSON: She was covering her own self as opposed to somebody behind her covering her. In any event, there was a method to this madness. And the method was, it was a PSA about voting and about something called naked ballots. In something like...
JOHNSON: ...Sixteen states, you have to use a secrecy envelope and then put that secrecy envelope into the other envelope and then mail in your ballot. And if you don't put your ballot in the secrecy envelope, then maybe it won't count in a lot of places, including places where the election might be close, like Pennsylvania. And so these comedians really wanted people to know, to follow the rules, get out there, make a plan and vote. And they really captured my attention, I'll say.
KHALID: I suppose that is a very clever way to get people's attention.
GRISALES: It is. I love that Silverman afterwards tweeted that everybody filmed from the shoulders up, and she had missed the memo there and went from the waist up.
JOHNSON: It's true. It's true. She was the only one. Right.
KHALID: OK, why don't I go next? So I have been very fascinated by the fact that Taylor Swift, who I know our podcast producer Barton adores...
JOHNSON: Oh, oh.
KHALID: ...She has been, you know, I think, over the years, remarkably coy about where her own politics stand. And in the last couple of years, she's been kind of outspoken. I mean, she's certainly said things about President Trump and white supremacy. But this week was the first time she came out and officially endorsed a candidate for president. And she came out to say that she was going to be backing Biden and Harris. She had this, like, Instagram post with a platter of Biden-Harris cookies, et cetera.
But I guess I was just, to be blunt, sort of, like, more amazed with the fact that here is this person who for so long, I guess, clearly felt like she wasn't supposed to be engaged in politics and never said anything, and this election cycle, she has clearly found her voice.
JOHNSON: And she has a lot of viewers and listeners, right? I mean, her social media is in the millions?
KHALID: She has loads and loads of fans. And I will say, like, I was looking through to get a sense of how people felt about this and what their responses were. And, you know, like most people - it seemed like, obviously, her fans were supportive of this. But I definitely saw a couple of sharp critiques from some backers of President Trump who were saying that, you know, she has a history of writing songs about her ruined relationships with men. So take that for what it is.
JOHNSON: Ooh, that's rough. That's rough.
GRISALES: OK, I'm ready to go next with my Can't Let it Go. Mine has been happening now for about two weeks. It started with a TikTok video by a Nathan Apodaca. This is a longboarder, and he did a video with the song "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac. This is an older song. And he's on a longboard. He's chugging Ocean Spray cranberry juice from a big bottle and filming himself - so a lot of multitasking. It's hilarious.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMS")
FLEETWOOD MAC: (Singing) Well, who am I to keep you down?
GRISALES: Since then, the song has picked up on iTunes charts. People have been downloading it, including me, and I've had it on a loop now for two weeks. And it's just such an iconic song and such a perfect time to listen to a song that kind of talks about loss and the moment that we're in.
KHALID: Sorry, I don't know the song, so I'm like - (laughter).
GRISALES: Oh, it's so good. It's so good. You must. You must. It talks about loss and remembering.
KHALID: What era are we talking about, Claudia?
GRISALES: We might be talking about the '70s. Let's see (laughter).
JOHNSON: Well, I thought that Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac would always be relevant, but it does surprise me to see that this song is taking on new life on TikTok of all places.
KHALID: All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. 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. Our intern is Kalyani Saxena. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.
JOHNSON: And I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.
KHALID: And 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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