Joe Biden Projects Calm As Trump And GOP Allies Spread Disinformation : The NPR Politics Podcast President-elect Joe Biden is attempting to lower the temperature on transition uncertainty and Donald Trump and his Republican allies continue to spread disinformation about election results. As election officials in both parties have maintained, the election was conducted fairly and transparently across the country.

This episode: correspondent Scott Detrow, correspondent Asma Khalid, and voting reporter Miles Parks.

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Joe Biden Projects Calm As Trump And GOP Allies Spread Disinformation

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Joe Biden Projects Calm As Trump And GOP Allies Spread Disinformation

Joe Biden Projects Calm As Trump And GOP Allies Spread Disinformation

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  • Transcript

BRIAN: Hello. This is Brian (ph). I am kayaking at beautiful Smith Mountain Lake, Va., filming location of the 1991 classic "What About Bob?" This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's 2:04 Eastern on - is it Tuesday or Wednesday?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I think it's Wednesday.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Great question.

KHALID: Yeah, it's Wednesday. It's Wednesday.

DETROW: I'm being told it's Wednesday, November 11.

KHALID: Veterans Day.

BRIAN: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I hope we can all find time to take a vacation from our problems. OK, here's the show.

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

PARKS: Yeah, I rewatched "What About Bob?" recently. I'm - jury's still out on whether that's a good movie. But very, very nice timestamp.

DETROW: It's right before the Bill Murray turn, you know, to, like, serious Bill Murray.

PARKS: Yeah, "Lost In Translation" Bill Murray.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: Oh.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Joe Biden.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover Joe Biden.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

DETROW: Can we just, instead of this super-serious topic, just talk about Bill Murray's film career for 15 minutes? Does that work or no?

PARKS: I feel like that would be throwing away my entire last couple years of reporting.

DETROW: That's true. Miles, you are one of the national experts on this topic, so you're right. We will plow forward. We will talk about Bill Murray later, and we will talk about this election and the disinformation that's out there and the fact that President Trump and Republican allies continue to push this disinformation about election fraud, continue to not acknowledge that Joe Biden won the presidential election and is the president-elect. And, Asma, we're going to talk at length about how Biden is handling all of this. But, Miles, just to start, is there any change in the messaging and the tone from President Trump and his top Republican allies in the last day or so?

PARKS: Not at this point. I mean, he's still tweeting things that seem to allude that he thinks he won the presidency and that he thinks that there was a massive fraud scheme against him. I will say the big change from last week is we haven't seen President Trump in person in a few days to take questions or give any statement. It has been mostly via the Internet that he's continued to make these accusations.

DETROW: Yeah, that's so interesting. He had that press conference filled with disinformation and falsehoods on Thursday. And between Thursday and earlier today, when he didn't speak but went to a Veterans Day ceremony, that's the first time we saw him in public. Asma, Joe Biden - very different on a lot of different fronts, including having regular events to get out in front of cameras and out in front of the press. But I think it's been really interesting. He sounded pretty chill about all of this.

KHALID: Yeah. You know, he had this really nonchalant attitude when he was speaking to reporters yesterday. He delivered a speech along with Kamala Harris about protecting the Affordable Care Act and then opened it up to some questions from reporters. And, you know, notably, none of the questions really were about health care. They were actually all about the transition process and his thinking about, you know, the fact that the president hasn't yet officially conceded or that Republicans within Congress are not even necessarily acknowledging his win. And I was struck by the fact that, you know, more than even the substance of what Biden had to say, his tone was just this very kind of, like, carefree attitude. He tried to essentially largely downplay the fact that the Trump administration is not playing ball with this transition process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: We are already beginning the transition. We're well underway. And the ability for the administration in any way by failure to recognize this - our win does not change the dynamic at all and what we're able to do.

DETROW: But, Asma, let's real-talk this a little bit. This is affecting Biden's transition. And, as you have pointed out, Biden's staffers are acting a little bit differently than Biden himself.

KHALID: Totally, right? I mean, the fact that the General Services Administration has not officially ascertained - I believe that that is the right verb we use - ascertained this victory means that a lot of the normal transition processes between the current president and the president-elect are not going on right now. So, you know, what does that mean? That means, for example, like, transition funding - money hasn't been freed up to go to the Biden team. It means, you know, that security clearances aren't happening, and even Biden himself acknowledged yesterday during this Q&A he's not getting the daily intelligence briefings that the normal president-elect would be getting. You know, he tried to, again, downplay this all and say that there's only one president at a time, and so, you know, that's OK. And he doesn't feel like it is largely affecting the dynamic of what they're able to do.

But what I'm struck by is that's not the exact same narrative we're hearing, you know, from folks around Joe Biden himself. A transition official had a call with reporters the other day and said that there are a number of options on the table, that they are looking at multiple avenues to ascertain Biden and Harris as the official winners. And they actually said legal action is certainly a possibility, but there are other options that they're also considering. That, to me, seemed to suggest that they think this is actually quite a holdup.

DETROW: Yeah.

PARKS: Yeah. And in terms of context, I think I've been kind of searching for, is there any precedent for this sort of kind of mushy situation that the GSA and the Biden campaign has been put in here? And, you know, our colleague Brian Naylor did talk to former President Barack Obama's transition director, who was in charge in 2008. And he said that they had gotten - the GSA had gotten in touch within two hours after the Associated Press had called the election on that election night in 2008. So I think that's a little bit of context there that this isn't necessarily completely normal for, you know, the GSA to say, basically, we're just going to wait for the court process and for the certifications. You know, it sometimes comes a lot earlier than that.

DETROW: And, Miles, we're going to spend the whole second half of this podcast talking through the various fountains of disinformation right now, but let me ask you this. You spent a year preparing to cover this moment, right? You covered a lot of really important developments along the way, such as how the whole country got ready to vote in this unprecedented situation. But is there anything happening right now, a week out from the election, that surprises you, that didn't - that you didn't expect could happen?

PARKS: I would say nothing - no language from the president specifically has surprised me so far. I mean, this has been a situation where, as you mentioned, as voting has changed, as voting behaviors changed over the last year and even after the 2016 election when President Trump lost the popular vote, he gave false reasons about why that was, saying that there were millions of illegal votes. But that aspect of it hasn't been surprising. I will say, considering the rhetoric from some of the Republicans in Congress, which we'll get into, I've been maybe a little bit surprised that there hasn't been more pushback from other Republicans, but there has been pushback from Republican election officials. So - but I think the Republicans in Congress have kind of surprised me by not coming out harder in favor of the election results at this point.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to walk through some of these specific claims of fraud that have not been proven.

And we're back. And, Miles, I think it's fair to say a lot of voters are in a strange position here right now. Do you trust the press? Do you trust news outlets that have called this race? Do you trust vote tallies, election officials from both parties who say that this has been a well-run election? Or do you trust the president of the United States, who says, despite the fact that he is behind in enough states to give Biden well more than 270 votes in the Electoral College, it was President Trump who actually won this race, that there's widespread fraud that just happened to be on the Democratic side?

PARKS: Yeah, I mean, it's hard, especially if you have been a supporter of the president for years. Let's say you're a voter who voted for him in 2016, and you voted for him in 2020 again. This is not - it would be one thing if President Trump came out of nowhere and was saying that the election system was rigged in some sort of way or that election administrators don't know what they're doing. But to be fair to President Trump, this has been - he has been very inconsistent on why the election system is broken, but he has consistently said the election system is broken. So it makes sense at this point that, after an election where, you know, if you are a Trump voter, that you would be suspect about the results at this point.

I remember calling a voter after the 2018 midterms, after we had just done a poll talking to voters. And a Trump voter told me, basically, I think that they are going to rig the elections against President Trump in 2020 because they're tired of him. So President Trump has set up the game plan to make it so a lot of his supporters were kind of ready for these sorts of claims, and he's kind of jumping on it.

KHALID: But, Miles, my question is that, you know, when you look at the state margins in some of these places - you know, I'm thinking of a place like Michigan. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like Joe Biden currently leads by close to - is it 150,000 votes?

PARKS: Yeah.

KHALID: I mean, this is much larger than Donald Trump's own victory in 2016, so I don't really understand what the logic and the thinking is behind what the president is declaring right now because he's, I guess, essentially saying that there would have to be tens of thousands of fraudulent ballots in order for this race, in a state like Michigan, to have actually gone his way.

PARKS: And it's like that in a number of other states, right? I mean, Pennsylvania is - we're now, I think, well over 40,000 votes. Arizona, Nevada, Georgia - all of those are over 10,000 votes at this point - the margins. And when you talk to legal experts and election experts, they talk about this phrase the margin of litigation. This is kind of - if it's outside of the margin of litigation situation where - whether it's a lawsuit or a recount, just won't realistically change the results in a meaningful way. And at this point, there's no expert who says this election is not outside the margin of litigation.

That being said, I just got off the phone with a former election official in Michigan who ran the elections there for over 30 years. And he said what makes him so sad at this point is that even in situations where there is misinformation coming from the president, in situations where a lot of this stuff has been debunked, what he's finding is that the people he's talking to on the ground, voters are not swayed by the debunking or the evidence that is then put forth...

DETROW: Yeah.

PARKS: ...That they are just kind of sticking to their guns.

DETROW: Well, let's talk about those lawsuits for a moment because the president is out there claiming fraud, fraud, fraud on social media. Some Republicans are picking up that exactly. But you're hearing a lot of other Republicans - and I think Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is the best example - not signing along for that but saying the president has every right to challenge these results in court, to raise questions in court. There is a process for this. You did a great story walking through a lot of the lawsuits that have been filed so far in these key states. Has his legal team provided any specific and credible examples in the lawsuits that they filed?

PARKS: Of fraud, no. I mean, all of the examples that they've given - most of them have been kind of deemed dead on arrival by the courts almost immediately upon filing, so that should be made very clear. That being said, I think the Republicans in Congress are correct in the sense that President Trump is not doing anything outside of the legal bounds of how elections work in this country. These elections have not been certified yet. And the - there are all of these situations where the Trump campaign is within their power to do all of these things. They're just finding that - no success in doing that. And so until they've had some success or until they've brought some evidence, legal experts say that the reason that they're continuing to push is pushing a narrative or pushing - trying to undermine the legitimacy of the future Biden administration, as opposed to actually trying to win this election through the courts 'cause that just does not seem likely.

DETROW: Yeah.

KHALID: You know, Miles, even though you mention a number of these assertions that the president has made are not finding any sort of grounding within the courts, it is worth pointing out - right? - that the Republican secretary of state in Georgia has decided to move ahead with the hand recount just given, I guess, the tightness of the margins there. Is that right?

PARKS: Yeah. It's a little complicated. Basically, Georgia was already set to do this auditing process - try out a new auditing process this election cycle. And, basically, the secretary of state decided to do this audit on the presidential race. He says this will help build confidence. And so they are going to hand-count the nearly 5 million ballots that were cast in the presidential race. Again, the margin here is more than 10,000 votes. You just almost never see recounts have an effect anywhere close to that, so it seems very doubtful at this point that a recount here will change the result. That being said, secretary Brad Raffensperger in Georgia seems to think it will help voters have more confidence.

DETROW: All right. Two big stories right now - the Biden transition effort and the Trump administration's refusal to acknowledge that that is happening and that President Trump won the election, even though he did not. We will be covering both of these stories all week.

I'm Scott Detrow. I'm covering Joe Biden.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover Biden.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

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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