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Politics Chat: Biden's Transition As President-Elect Off To A Rocky Start


A Herculean effort, says Vivek Murthy, and he points to the persuasiveness of data in getting local authorities to cooperate with commonsense precautions like wearing masks. Meanwhile, the president's lawyers are suffering defeat after defeat in their attempts to overturn the election results. And a federal judge says Trump's DHS secretary is in his position unlawfully. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does that posture we heard from Vivek Murthy and the incoming Biden administration strike you? Sounds like convince who you can. Work around who you can't. And let's not forget executive orders.

LIASSON: Well, if they can't get legislation through the Senate, they're going to have to rely on executive orders, just as President Trump has. But I think that there is a tremendous amount that President-elect Biden can do just by using the bully pulpit. It's going to be a huge change from a president who pooh-poohed the wearing of masks, at some point said that they were a sign of political correctness, to Joe Biden, who is now sending the message that masks are not a political issue. It doesn't matter what party you are. This is something that you can do to keep yourself and your fellow citizens safe.

So I think that there is a lot that they can do. But, yes, it's a Herculean effort because President Trump has focused almost totally on the vaccine and not on public health. He hasn't attended a coronavirus task force meeting in months. And so the Biden administration - incoming Biden administration will be inheriting a huge, huge problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Say hi to Buster for me (laughter).

LIASSON: Sorry about that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not at all. We always love to have your dog on air. Nancy Pelosi also pooh-poohed the notion that her smaller majority in the House would have an effect on the Democratic agenda or her ability to keep the caucus in line. Do you think that's true?

LIASSON: I think that she is very optimistic about that. First of all, we don't know exactly how small her majority will be. The votes are still being counted in many races, but we know that it will be historically small. We know that Republicans in the House are emboldened. They are extremely confident when you talk to them about getting the House majority back in 2022. And although Nancy Pelosi does control the floor of the House, there are many ways that Republicans in the House, especially a large minority, can obstruct and make her life difficult.

And don't forget - there's still a huge debate inside the Democratic Party in the House, which has not been resolved about why this happened. Everyone, Republicans included, thought Democrats would gain seats. Was it the fault of moderate members who didn't use Facebook enough, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, or is it what moderates say was the problem, which is that defund the police was something that Republicans were able to hang around the neck of every moderate member? Was that the problem?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of bare faces on display around the White House this weekend as thousands of Trump supporters gathered to urge him to continue to deny he has lost reelection. How much staying power do you think this falsehood has among the public? How powerful do you think it will be months or years from now?

LIASSON: That is a very good question. But we do know that Trump needs to keep this narrative going. He is not going to just exit the stage, as former presidents have done when they lose reelection or finish their term. This is probably the last presidential norm that he'll break.

And in order for him to keep a very firm grip on his ardent base, he needs this false narrative that he really won. He actually tweeted last night, quote, "He won because the election was rigged." That's the closest that Trump has come to actually acknowledging that Joe Biden won the election. But if Trump wants to run again in 2024, if he wants to continue to monetize his brand, which is about never, ever losing, he needs to continue to push this narrative. Maybe the election-is-rigged narrative becomes the new lost cause.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does it mean for Washington, though, Mara? Lawmakers who want to get something done now and potential candidates who may be eyeing 2024 might have Donald Trump clinging to a fallacy and - who may even run again.

LIASSON: That is a huge question because we've never had a president who - ex-president who seems to be determined to stay on the scene. Will he weigh in on policy fights? Probably not. But on 2024, he's a huge factor in the Republican Party. If you are Mike Pence or Mike Pompeo or Nikki Haley or any of the numerous Republicans who want to run in 2024, how do you go out there and raise money if the former president is saying, I might run, too? And for Republicans who want to debate the future identity of the party post-Trump, how can you do that when there's not even Trump post-Trump?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and her dog Buster. Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. 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.