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‘Frustrated and fractured’ Congress remains at an impasse on COVID relief

There was a swirl of activity in Washington, D.C. Friday from the U.S. Capitol to the Supreme Court. Congress remains at a stalemate over a bipartisan relief bill, while the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit brought by Texas that challenged the validity of election results in four states won by President-elect Joe Biden. Judy Woodruff spoke with John Yang and Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is a swirl of activity in Washington, D.C., today, from the Capitol to the Supreme Court, and there is a lot on the line.

    Here to help us understand the latest, our Lisa Desjardins and our John Yang.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, John, I'm going to start with you first.

    Tell us what the state of Texas is trying to do in filing a suit before the Supreme Court.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, Texas wants the court to say that the elections in four states that Joe Biden flipped from Republican to Democrat, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, that those elections were unconstitutional, and bar the states from using the outcomes, the results, to decide their electoral votes.

    Instead, they want the state legislatures, they want the court to order the state legislators in those states, all controlled by Republicans, to decide the electoral votes. This is because the argument here is not one about fraud. It's about how the rules were changed.

    They say that, because the Constitution says that state legislatures control presidential elections, that the state law — the state administrators' changing to election law because of the COVID pandemic are unconstitutional.

    Now, the Constitution also says that, in order to file a suit in federal court, you have to have suffered a real injury. And the four states say that their election laws have not injured Texas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, they have a pretty considerable support now from, what, 16, 17 others states, plus a lot of support from Washington, from the Congress.

  • John Yang:

    That's right. They have got two-third — about two-thirds of the House Republicans, including the two top Republican leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.

    But the Republican support is not universal. The Republican governor of Utah criticized his own attorney general's role in the case, saying that it is a waste of taxpayer money. And the attorney general of Ohio, Dave Yost, a Republican, filed a brief saying that what Texas wants "would undermine a foundational premise of our federalist system, the idea that states are sovereigns, free to govern themselves."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, we had the lieutenant governor of Georgia on the program last night saying Georgia also officially opposes this lawsuit.

    So, John, given all this, what is next? What are we looking for the Supreme Court to do and when?

  • John Yang:

    Well, it would take five justices to give Texas what it wants. The Supreme Court could rule at any time.

    Of course, they give a — they march to their own rhythm, but I suspect they are aware that the Electoral College meets in the various states on Monday.

    We are expecting, and court observers expect, a resolution to this before Monday. And the longer we wait, the more it seems likely that at least one of the justices is writing an opinion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Yang on this very important story.

    And now, Lisa, I want to turn to you.

    We just heard John say two-thirds of the Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed on, they are supporting this lawsuit. What does that say that they are doing this, and how are they justifying it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That is 126 House Republicans signing on to that lawsuit. And there are two main arguments you hear from them. One is on substance, what John talked about.

    You hear — and I spoke to some offices saying that they believe that the election officials in these states overrode the will of the state legislature, which they say should be in charge of the election process. The other argument is not as substantive. It's more about clarity.

    These Republicans say they want the Supreme Court to rule to clarify the results of the 2020 election, more or less once and for all, sort of a final look to make sure that there isn't something that's missing in the process. But, of course, as John has pointed out, those who signed on to this lawsuit signed on specifically in support of what the plaintiffs, the states, are arguing, which is overriding the vote of the people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, Lisa, with regard to congressional business, we did report that Congress has voted to fund the government for another week.

    But does that mean a shutdown is entirely off the table here?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I wish I could say it were.

    No, Judy. Those who had threatened a shutdown, including Senator Bernie Sanders, said they will do so again next week when this deadline runs out, so we could be talking about this again, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Lisa, we know the thing that so many Americans are waiting to see is whether Congress is going to do anything about COVID relief. What do you see there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have to say, it's a frustrated and fractured Congress.

    Now both the House and Senate have left town, even though they know that money for food aid, money for unemployment, those extensions are running out within weeks.

    Now, here's the thing. There are a lot of places where we know that both sides agree. Let's look at where lawmakers agree, first of all. And you can see House and Senate leaders, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, they all agree on a few things, unemployment benefit extensions, small business payments — that's the payment — Paycheck Protection Program extension — and money for vaccines, along with many other things.

    But there are big disagreements that are the problems here. Those are over money for states, which is something that Democrats think there needs to be more of, and then money to protect businesses, thus the liability question that Mitch McConnell himself has really stuck to.

    And, Judy, that liability question is probably the biggest one here. It's an issue of, how do you protect businesses vs. how do you protect workers who may suffer harm from working on the job? An example of where they have tried to find compromise, maybe they could come up with something like a protection for 2020, a different standard for this year, or a freeze in lawsuits for the first six months of next year.

    They have been trying to figure out a deal, and they cannot get there. It is a real problem for overall COVID relief.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of people asking why they cannot compromise after all these months, and when the need is so great out there.

    Lisa Desjardins, John Yang, we thank you both. Appreciate it.

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