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Politics Chat: Biden Pushes For New Coronavirus Aid Package


The new president says he wants pandemic aid for hurting Americans, but he may spend this week talking more about immigration. The old president has just been abandoned by his legal team days before his Senate impeachment trial. It's the start of another busy week in Washington. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us this morning with a look at what we can expect in the coming days.

Hi, Tam.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. President Biden wants his COVID relief package passed quickly - as he put it Friday, no ifs, ands or buts. How are the negotiations going?

KEITH: This morning, 10 Republican senators, which notably is the number that would be needed to break a filibuster, sent a letter to Biden offering a scaled-back proposal they say can get bipartisan support. They're asking for a meeting with him, and they say they'll put out more details tomorrow. This is movement, certainly, but it's not clear at this point, given the lack of detail, whether it could lead to a breakthrough. And this comes as congressional Democrats have amped up their threat to pass this measure using a parliamentary procedure known as budget reconciliation that would allow Democrats to do it without having a filibuster-proof majority or any Republican votes, necessarily. Press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about that on Friday.


JEN PSAKI: The president's focus is on the end goal of delivering relief to the American people, not the parliamentary procedures, as we've said. And we can't imagine that the 1 in 7 families who are hungry or the thousands who've lost a loved one to COVID care much about the procedure either.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's the timing looking like for this?

KEITH: The House is beginning the budget process this week, which would be the first step in that budget reconciliation procedure if they needed to go that way. But there's not a lot of feeling of momentum at this point. And in part, that's because the temporary extension of expanded unemployment benefits doesn't run out until March, and Congress doesn't tend to do much ahead of deadline.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It does not.

KEITH: No, to be clear. Biden is set to take executive action this week - early in the week on immigration. And then next week, President Trump's impeachment trial is set to begin, which has the potential to consume a lot of oxygen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And so speaking of that, you know, what happened with Trump's legal team, exactly?

KEITH: You know, I've been saying for a while that it's a lot easier to figure out who isn't helping him this time than to figure out who is on his impeachment defense team. So 10 days ago, an aide working with the former president tweeted that South Carolina-based ethics attorney Butch Bowers was on the team and was going to do an excellent job of defending the president. Another lawyer from South Carolina, Deborah Barbier, was said to be on the team as well.

That same aide last night tweeted that, quote, they "haven't made a final decision" on their legal team. A source familiar with the decision tells NPR's Domenico Montanaro that it was a mutual decision to separate. There was no explanation given. And there is just a long list of lawyers who have worked with Trump in the past who won't come anywhere near this this time. The timing isn't great because Trump's lawyers are supposed to file pretrial documents Tuesday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, Tam, some of the details in the conspiracy charges just filed by the Department of Justice against the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group that was involved in the insurrection, are just chilling - the planning, the coordination, how carefully they timed the assault on the Capitol. And yet we are seeing congressional Republicans, with only very few exceptions, still downplaying the insurrection, even as this impeachment, you know, nears.

KEITH: Yeah. As you say, with a few exceptions, they seem to be desperately trying to move on or erase it like any number of Trump tweets or controversies over the years where they pretended it hadn't happened and hoped everyone would eventually forget or the sting of the controversy would fade. That's a bit harder to do this time, since it seems like almost every day, new indictments come down. But Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the House are now being targeted by members of their own party. So, you know, it certainly seems like for Republicans, backing Trump is still the easier path.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.