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Politics Chat: Trump's Response To COVID-19 Surge And Plans For Reelection


While in much of the developed world the pandemic is waning, here in the United States, it is surging. Florida, Texas and Arizona are among states seeing a staggering number of infections even as the White House tries to put a positive spin on its coronavirus response. Joining us this week, as she does most, is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So before we get to the pandemic, I'd like to talk to you a little bit about this. The president retweeted a clip of his supporters this morning driving around in golf carts in this area of Florida called The Villages. They had Trump 2020 signs - one of them repeatedly chanting, white power. He deleted it 4 hours later after a huge outcry. You reached out to the White House about this. What did they say?

LIASSON: The White House said that the president didn't hear the statement on the video. And I leave it to our listeners to go watch the video themselves and see how hard it would be to miss that. But that is what the White House said.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This, obviously, is very inflammatory at a time when we are seeing protests for racial justice all across the country, at a time when the polls say that most Americans see President Trump as divisive on the issue of race in this country.

LIASSON: This is exactly the kind of thing that Trump supporters have been begging him to stop doing. Senator Tim Scott, who's the only African American Republican senator, said he thought the tweet was indefensible. He wanted it take down. Of course, later, the White House did take it down. This has become a real problem. The president's supporters would prefer that he focus on policy and Joe Biden, and he keeps on doing things like this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After a couple of indoor rallies, these high rates of infection - what is the Trump administration saying about what they're going to do to curb this pandemic.

LIASSON: They're not saying they're going to do anything differently to curb the pandemic, but they have made some adjustments. Vice President Pence, for example, is going to go to a campaign event in Texas this week, but he has canceled campaign events in Arizona and Florida. Instead, he's going to go down there and meet with the governors. The White House has been trying to put the best spin they can on these spikes in places like Florida and Arizona and Texas, saying, mostly, it's younger people getting infected. Their death rates tend to be lower. But, of course, younger people can infect older people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So here we have a president who's grappling with a pandemic, who - supporters see him as divisive on race, which brings us to the future, beyond sort of the next fiscal quarter. What do we know about President Trump's plans for his second term, his agenda? What is he trying to tell the American people about why he should be reelected?

LIASSON: We know very little about his agenda for a second term. He doesn't even appear to have one. He was asked by Sean Hannity, one of his biggest supporters, on Fox the other night, what are your top priorities for a second term? And here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, one of the things that will be really great - you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I've always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It's an important meaning. I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times. All of a sudden, I'm president of the United States. You know the story.

LIASSON: And it went on and on. No plans for a second term - what even the president's allies have been urging him to do - lay out a positive vision. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, allies of his like Lindsey Graham - they want him to focus on concrete things that he wants to accomplish, not on personal grievances. But so far, that's not how the president wants to campaign.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, one plan that he has come up with is reengaging again with the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic. What's going on there?

LIASSON: On Thursday night, the White House filed a brief in support of a bunch of Republican state attorneys general who are trying to get the Supreme Court to say the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional - this at a time when millions of people are losing their health insurance 'cause they're losing their job - some of those people are infected with coronavirus - and also at a time when President Trump has still not managed to get Republicans to coalesce behind a single alternative. He keeps on promising he's going to come up with a better, cheaper alternative to the ACA or to Obamacare. But he hasn't done that yet. And, of course, Joe Biden is going to make the president's attacks on Obamacare one of his top issues because every month, the ACA gets more popular.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.