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Sunday Politics: Coronavirus And The Democratic Presidential Campaign


You may vaguely remember this. There's a presidential election in about six months. But all the spectacles we'd ordinarily be seeing at this point - the campaign fundraisers, the rallies, the big, grinning handshakes from podiums across the country - have been canceled by the pandemic. But make no mistake. The race is still very much on. And we have NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joining us on the line now to talk about it.

Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Mara, our chats have been pretty Trump-centric since the pandemic started, and that's largely because the president has made himself the center of attention with these long daily briefings - until Friday, when the briefing ended after 22 minutes, and we heard that the president might be scaling them back. What happened?

LIASSON: What happened was that for quite some time, many Republicans have been worrying that the president was actually hurting himself with these briefings. They were self-inflicted wounds. He was underminding (ph) his standing. And he was saying bizarre things, like on Thursday, suggesting that doctors should look into maybe having people inject themselves with disinfectants and see if that helped.

So then lo and behold, on Friday, as you said, he made this brief appearance, left without taking any questions. There's some talk that maybe he finally understands that less can be more sometimes. But he also tweeted his unhappiness about cutting back. He said, what's the purpose of having White House news conferences when the lamestream (ph) media asks nothing but hostile questions? He went on to say, they get record ratings, and the American people get nothing but fake news - not worth the time and effort. So we'll see what happens.

But sometimes, you know, news does get made at these briefings. And the next one, he will get questions about Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary. Several news organizations are reporting that he is about to be fired, that the White House is very unhappy with him for, among other things, the way he handled Rick Bright's reassignment. That's the government scientist who said he was reassigned because he spoke out against spending a lot of money on research into hydroxychloroquine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's talk about Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee. How has the pandemic impacted his campaign?

LIASSON: It's really curtailed it. He has been disadvantaged. He doesn't get a lot of airtime. He can't hold rallies. He's a tactile politician who gets energy from interacting with human voters. He can't do that. Fundraising has been hurt. It's hard to raise money in a recession or remotely. He does go on television and give interviews from his basement TV studio at home. But people don't want to hear from him as much as they want to hear from Democratic governors right now who are on the front lines. But that being said, it's not as if he doesn't have a lot of things to do that he can do from his basement and with teleconferences.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So when he's not on the air and if he can't get on the road to campaign, what's he doing?

LIASSON: He is setting up his own pandemic task force. He's thinking a lot about how he can govern in a pandemic and a deep recession if he should become the president. The most important thing he is trying to do is make use of the opportunity that the pandemic has given him to update his message so he's not just the candidate of restoration, not just the candidate who's saying, I'll take you back to the good old days before Donald Trump. He's trying to figure out how to show he has a vision for the future now that the pandemic has been a kind of X-ray for all the things that are already wrong and that Biden feels he needs to address, like income inequality and a devastated public health system. And that's - those are some of the things he's working on. And, most urgently, he says he's going to announce his vice presidential search committee on May 1.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly in the few seconds we have left, who might he pick as his running mate?

LIASSON: Well, originally, the consensus seemed to be it would be a female African American. But now there's talk that maybe he should consider someone who's a governor who's been on the front lines. The most important thing is that Joe Biden would be 78 years old if he became president, the oldest president ever. He's called himself a bridge to a new generation, and that makes the vice presidential pick extremely important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thank you.

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.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.