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Presidential election won’t be ‘a popularity contest,’ says Blunt

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt is a member of the GOP’s Senate leadership team. He’s currently in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Republican National Convention. Blunt joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the approach he wants to see from President Trump during the RNC, how Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic and what to do about the threats presented by Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, right now, we want to turn to Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He is a member of the Republican Party's Senate leadership team. I spoke with him a little earlier today. He was in Charlotte for the Republican Convention.

    I started by asking him what he thinks President Trump needs to do for the next four days.

    Senator Blunt, thank you very much for joining us.

    Where do you think this contest stands right now between President Trump and former Vice President Biden? What — and what does the president need to do during this convention?

  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.:

    You know, I think what the president needs to do is talk about the decisions to be made and what is going to be on the ballot.

    The vice president, Vice President Biden, did an effective job of saying that character is on the ballot. And I think the president is going to do an effective job of pointing out that there are a lot of other things on the ballot.

    The future of the economy is on the ballot. Our security is on the ballot. And it is not going to wind up, I don't think, to be a popularity contest. I think this is an election that the American people are going to take real seriously, because of both the COVID events we have gone through and then looking back at the incredible economic successes that the president had the first three years.

    If you asked the question, Judy, were you better off in January of this year than were you three years earlier or four years earlier, I think almost all Americans would say, well, we certainly thought we were.

    And then, of course, this virus comes along in a way that impacted the economy and our lifestyles in ways that nobody would have anticipated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I think there — as you know, there is a debate about the economy, because the economy also did well under President Obama. And it is pointed out that the growth rate under President Trump has not been as high as it was under President Obama.

    But I want to ask you about the pandemic, because the president frequently says that he was the one who shut it down, shut down what he calls the China virus coming into this country.

    And yet there is reporting, Senator Blunt — The Wall Street Journal has reported that, twice in January, the president rejected advice to push China for more transparency. He praised China's handling of the pandemic until early March.

    So, how much of that record should be on the line?

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    Well, you know, the president wants to talk about stopping travel, when nobody thought that it was time to stop travel. And, later, everybody decided it was.

    No matter what you call the virus, I think we all should agree it started in China, and they didn't share the information in ways that they should have. The president knows that now. What he or anybody knew about that in January, I don't know.

    And, in many ways, Judy, we're sort of building the airplane as we fly the airplane. And if things like Warp Speed on vaccines or "Shank Tank" on tests work, if more therapeutics come along, I think the president and the administration will have helped the next president that has to deal with this in a significant way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I know everybody is hoping for a vaccine and for the best possible treatment for COVID.

    But I just want to — you said, we're building this — the airplane as we fly the airplane.

    At the same time, the United States today has one of the highest death rates from COVID per capita of any country in the world, compared to advanced industrialized countries like Germany and South Korea, the United States, again, deaths per capita cases, per capita much more serious, much worse.

    So, to what extent is the president responsible for that?

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    Well, I don't know that the president is responsible for that.

    I do think that what the president has done, again, in terms of trying to develop a vaccine, and have it available at an early time, is a significant reach beyond anywhere we have ever been before. It looks like that's going to work.

    And I think that's the kind of record that the president is going to be — be judged on.

    This is a problem like nobody has seen in 100 years. And I hope we don't see it in 100 years again, and that, when these things do arrive, we can take advantage of what we have learned.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other things I want to ask you about, Senator Blunt.

    You're a member, of course, of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And so you follow so many of these developments, including the credible reporting that the Russians paid a bounty to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

    Did it give you pause when it's reported President Trump, over his phone calls — and there have been more than one of them — with Vladimir Putin since that information came out has not raised it with President Putin?

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    Well, it's been reported. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if it's true.

    Whether we have determined the total truthfulness of that, I don't know. But I think we should understand that the Russians are bad actors. They want bad things to happen in our country. And whether that's achieved by interfering with our elections or encouraging our adversaries or in any other way, they're going to do it, as long as somebody like Putin is in charge.

    And so this is something that I hope, once we have the case to be made, that the president, that the secretary of state and others are aggressively pushing back that this is unacceptable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Should the president have raised it with President Putin?

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    Don't know the context of those discussions. I don't know that it would do any good to raise it with President Putin.

    But I think, if the president was confident in the facts, that he should raise it with President Putin. And I hope that that's what happens when those facts all are available to the president.

    And then, if you raise it, what are you going to do about it, is the second question. And I don't hear anything from the other side about what they would do about it. In fact, I didn't hear much from the other side at all about any foreign policy and not much at their convention about domestic policies.

    Quite a bit in their platform about domestic policy. And while the vice president doesn't appear to want to — Vice President Biden doesn't want to seem to embrace all the things in the platform, they are there. And they're going to have to be responsible for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Roy Blunt:

    Nice to be with you.

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