TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
President-elect Joe Biden is calling for nearly $2 trillion in new spending to help an economy battered by this pandemic. The massive relief package includes hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments. It also includes additional direct payments to qualifying Americans, money for schools to reopen and billions for vaccination efforts. The plan's unveiling comes days before he and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris take office. Harris spoke to NPR's political correspondent Scott Detrow about what she called the new administration's top priority.
And Scott joins us now. Good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
MOSLEY: So Joe Biden wants to start off his administration with this big stimulus plan. But of course, this is not happening in a vacuum. He and Harris will be sworn in in just two weeks after this attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists. What did Harris say about what happened last week?
DETROW: You know, she called it horrific. She called it an attack on democracy. Harris is, of course, about to become the first woman of color to serve as vice president, so I asked her what went through her mind when she saw racist symbols, like the Confederate flag, being paraded through the Capitol hallways where she has served for the past four years.
KAMALA HARRIS: I mean, it was the same thing that went through my mind when I saw Charlottesville. I mean, it's the same thing that went through my mind when I, you know, saw a picture of Emmett Till, you know? You know, sadly, it is not the first time I have seen a demonstration like what you are describing in the history of our country. And it is a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do.
DETROW: And that stood out to me. Amid so much talk of how could this happen in America, Harris is emphasizing here that elements of this have happened before and happened repeatedly.
MOSLEY: Yes, we've been hearing a lot of that this week. Harris and Biden, though, have made clear they're still pushing forward with this agenda, as I mentioned, this $2 trillion plan. Tell us more about what's included in it.
DETROW: Well, there is a lot in it. There are things that Biden and Harris campaigned on and have talked about for months, things like expanding those direct payments - another $1,400 check to Americans - things like expanding unemployment benefits and emergency paid sick sick leave; also some big Democratic priorities in this measure, including a longtime goal of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Democrats have very narrow majorities. The Senate will be tied. Harris is going to be casting a lot of tie-breaking votes. But she said she's confident this can pass the House and Senate quickly, even with everything else going on. And let's listen to part of this conversation.
It's your top priority, but there is going to be so much else going on, including now a Senate impeachment trial. So you have not only this bill, you have to confirm the Cabinet through the Senate, there is an impeachment trial. How does that affect everything you're trying to do beyond legislation and confirmations, just the simple fact that so much of the Biden-Harris campaign was about turning the page on Donald Trump and now he's going to be on trial on the first month of your administration?
HARRIS: We know how to multitask (laughter). There's a reason that word exists in the English language. That's what's going to be required. We have to multitask, which means, as with anyone, we have a lot of priorities, and we need to see them through.
DETROW: I think a lot of people have a lot of questions about the vaccine right now. This proposal has billions of dollars to fund vaccine distribution. But it's not just funding. There's distribution problems. There's information-sharing problems. There are trust problems, supply problems. What can the federal government do immediately in the coming weeks to start to fix these?
HARRIS: Well, part of it is pass our plan because we are, for example, putting $50 billion into increased testing and tracing, as you mentioned earlier. The PPE supply - we need to increase the supply of PPEs, and so that is a big part of what we're doing and - including using the Defense Production Act, knowing that that's one of the great tools in the tool belt of a president in times of crisis - in national crisis. And so these are the things that we can do immediately. And I will tell you, the president-elect - I have spent a lot of time on the phone and talking with mayors and governors - bipartisan, by the way, Republicans and Democrats, mayors and governors - to make sure that we get them relief as quickly as possible so that it gets to the people of their cities and states.
DETROW: And what are you specifically going to be focusing on in all of this? Of course, when Joe Biden was vice president, he took the lead on that first stimulus package. This is a major stimulus package coming through. Are you going to be a point person in getting it passed or in any of these areas once it starts going to effect if he does sign it into law?
HARRIS: Let me tell you something. On every decision that we have made as an incoming administration, we're in the room together, Joe and I, the president-elect and I. And on every - you know, I can't even tell you how many meetings we've been in together that range from this to many other topics that are priorities for us, and we're full partners in this process.
DETROW: There's a lot of incredibly serious things going on right now. There's a pandemic. There is this attack on the U.S. Capitol. What are you going to be thinking about next week when you take the oath of office and you take the oath of office in an incredibly strange Capitol ceremony ringed by thousands and thousands of soldiers?
HARRIS: There will be a lot of thoughts going through my mind and head at that moment. I will be thinking about my mother, who is looking down from heaven. I will be thinking about all of the people who are counting on us to lead and are counting on us to see them and to address their needs and the things that keep them up at night. And I'll be thinking about the fact that we have to hit the ground running immediately.
MOSLEY: So many things to consider, even for any administration taking over during a time of transition. It's a big deal, but right now especially with so much happening. Scott, even with all of these other precautions, Biden and Harris are making it clear they want to keep that ceremony outside on the Capitol's West Front like it always has been. Why is that?
DETROW: Yeah, Harris said the thinking is pretty straightforward, that it is important to, as she put it, not yield to those who would try to make us afraid of who we are and what we fought for and also just that the peaceful transfer of power is a critical part of a democracy. So she and Biden are planning to move forward on the West Front, even if many other aspects of this inauguration are going to look very different next week.
MOSLEY: Did she talk at all about the power of being able to start office right away? And I have about 30 seconds with you. Their agenda, it's being jammed up.
DETROW: It is. But what you're seeing this week is the typical way that an administration makes a case, builds consensus for its agenda. Biden is giving speeches. Harris is giving interviews. They are lobbying.
DETROW: That is not something the Trump administration has done, and they're going to push hard on it.
MOSLEY: NPR's Scott Detrow, thank you.
DETROW: Thank you.
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