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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the Biden transition, pandemic polarization

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump’s continued resistance to conceding the election, what his refusal to authorize the transition means for the incoming Biden administration, the pandemic’s effect on voters and the outlook for additional federal coronavirus relief.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we remain in this contentious transition period between two administrations, Amna Nawaz has today's analysis with our Politics Monday duo — Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

    And here they are, our Politics Monday duo. They are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Welcome to you both. It's good to see you.

    Amy, I don't think you need reminding, but tomorrow marks two weeks since Election Day. It's been more than a week since the election was called for Joe Biden. And, as we have been reporting, President Trump is still refusing to let the transition begin.

    I know you have been looking into this. So, lay this out for us. The shorter the runway gets, how does that complicate how and if the Biden team can hit the ground running?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right, Amna.

    I mean we're hitting this point where it's not just about whether Donald Trump concedes and whether he's magnanimous. The issue really is that the General Services Administration allows these funds to be disbursed and allows the actual bodies of government, which are now the Trump administration, to talk to the incoming Biden administration.

    And we know that this is also happening at a time when we're in the middle of a pandemic. So you could argue there are some things right now that it's not such a big deal if folks get that within a week or two weeks from now or closer to January, but the fact that president-elect Biden is going to have to tackle this pandemic, the possibility of trying to distribute, hopefully, a vaccine in — within weeks of taking office, getting all of this prepared in time is really, really, really important.

    And when I was talking to some scholars last week about this transition process, what they reminded me was that the 9/11 report, after, obviously, the attacks on September 11, what it pointed out was the fact that, in 2000, the very short transition time between the then Clinton administration going into the Bush administration was certainly a weak point.

    And while they didn't blame that for not being prepared for the attacks, they did say having that shortened window of time was a real security threat. And I think we have to take that very seriously right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we're even seeing some Republican lawmakers stepping forward now, saying there could be national security implications, and they don't think there is any reason that president-elect Biden shouldn't have intelligence briefings now.

    But, Tam, I want to ask you about the president and what you're hearing from your inside White House sources. I don't want to get into parsing his Twitter feed, because it's sort of rife with misinformation, but he does continue to perpetuate the lie that he won the election.

    His legal challenges are dissolving. The math really isn't there. Is there anyone inside his orbit close to the president who is delivering that message to him?

  • Tamara Keith:

    He talks to a lot of people, so he is getting a lot of messages.

    And, of course, he picks the messages he wants to receive at any given moment.

    I will note that, in his Twitter feed, there have been moments, there have been glimmers of him acknowledging that he may not be president much longer. There was a tweet today about the vaccines where he said, remember, this happened on my watch.

    But in talking to people who are in the president's orbit and who are at the White House, what you hear is that they really just have to let this play out. They have to let all of these lawsuits get to the end of the road and states certify, and that, eventually, maybe, well, they don't really know what will happen or what the president will do.

    And there may never be a speech or a handshake or anything that resembles what is traditional for a transition, but that, eventually, Joe Biden will get the keys. The question, though, is, as Amy pointed out, how problematic is this lag?

    Biden today essentially said lives are on the line. I was talking to someone who represents governors, who said that having this sort of question of who — you know, there can't be two presidents, and one of them could get really upset if governors start working with the future president.

    And so they're in this really challenging position right now, kind of walking on eggshells, not wanting to go public or publicly say, hey, Biden's going to be president, we need to work on vaccine rollout plans.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, as we have been noting throughout the program, the pandemic in the U.S. continues to get worse.

    And, Amy, I want to ask you about some analysis we're getting, as more and more election results around the country, people are taking a closer look at them.

    One thing that my high was that, in some states where the virus has been really badly surging, Republicans, many of whom have actually argued against steps to curb virus spread, many of those lawmakers actually won their races. They won big in a lot of those areas.

    What do you make of that?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, as did the president, right?

    We saw these surges in the Upper Midwest right near election time, places like Iowa, South Dakota, even Wisconsin. The president won two of those handily, came close to winning in Wisconsin.

    And I think this goes back to something, Amna, that we have been talking about sort of ad nauseam for the last four years, but it actually preceded Trump, too, is, everything now is politicized.

    When I was asked before, in the old days, in the before time, I guess, what would it take to break the gridlock in Washington, I would say, unfortunately, I think it's going to take something really dramatic, really horrible that can unite us together as one during a crisis.

    Well, we're in the middle of a crisis, and yet, at this point, we still have two very different countries when it comes to both taking the seriousness of it, thinking it's serious, and, two, how to deal with it.

    And that's not something that president-elect Biden is going to be able to fix overnight. And so that's a challenge that is still very much in front of us.

    The other thing, Amna, is, I think we all really hoped that maybe the election would give us some guidance. We're always looking for voters' say in these things, right? What mandate, what kind of message are they sending?

    But they sent, as you pointed out, a very mixed message, which is, in some places, where the pandemic theoretically could have been the most important issue working against the president, it actually — he actually won rather handily.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Tam, pick up where Amy left off there.

    You have been talking to leaders at the state level, right? When it comes to the fact they're in the middle of a crisis, voters are sending mixed messages. What are they saying about how they could or will be working with an incoming Biden administration?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and there has been something interesting emerging, as Amy talks about the politicization of the coronavirus.

    You have Democratic governors saying things like, I want my opponents to live long enough to vote against me, or, sure, say that your governor is a dummy on the mask, I don't care, just wear the mask.

    And maybe some of those governors are finding a way to attempt to get the results that they want without conceding to the politics. You know, I think that the real challenge that Biden faces and others is that, when we're talking about coronavirus and we're talking about politics, there's not a lot of nuance.

    And so it's either shut down or open up. But, in reality, it's not a switch, it's a dial. And politics — as we have said many times on this program, politics does not live well in the realm of nuance, particularly during campaigns.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, in just a few seconds we have, any chance in this next coming session — Congress is back in session now — is there any chance of any COVID relief funding coming out of Congress?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, never a bet on a lame-duck, because you never know what will happen in these weird times, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of momentum and energy.

    And, certainly, you don't have the president at this point focused on it or seeing it as part of his legacy to push through a COVID relief package. And you need someone like the president to push for that to make it happen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, we're at a time where millions of Americans could use that help more than ever.

    That is Tamara Keith and Amy Walter, our Politics Monday team.

    Always good to start the week with you two. Thank you so much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I always learn so much from Politics Monday.

    Thank you, all three.

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