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Politics Chat: Unpacking Biden's First Month As President

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So the Gulf Coast winter storm is the first new crisis for President Joe Biden since he took office just one month ago. Joining me now to talk about how the Biden administration has been handling the other national crises - COVID, the economy, reopening schools - is NPR correspondent Scott Detrow. Good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let us start with Biden's Economic Rescue Plan. That is all in capitals. What is the latest?

DETROW: He is really leaning into making the case for it. The Biden administration clearly is confident that this is a measure that's seen as widely popular with voters. And because of that, you've seen a shift in how they approach. Biden initially did reach out to Republicans. Remember, he had that two-hour-long meeting with Senate Republicans in the Oval Office. But it's becoming clear there is little, if any, Republican support for this measure in Congress. And he seems increasingly comfortable moving forward with only Democratic votes, using that Senate reconciliation process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Now, critics say my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion - that's too much. Let me ask them, what would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation?

DETROW: You can hear him there - instead of trying to compromise, he's almost daring Republicans to vote against this measure. It is likely going to move through the House this week, and Democrats are confident it'll be a law by mid-March.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is the takeaway from one month in, unity - it doesn't mean what we think it means to Joe Biden?

DETROW: I mean, a little bit. He has repeatedly said, if an idea is popular - and again, most of the items in this measure are expensive but popular - he's going to push forward, even if it's just with Democrats. A big part of this is tone, too. You know, we've seen, in recent days, the former president, Donald Trump, start to reemerge and lead with personal attacks on Mitch McConnell and everybody else. Biden is making it clear he's going to keep trying to lower the temperature, to treat other politicians with humanity. Just one example - yesterday, he visited with Bob Dole, who's the former Republican Senate Leader, who has just been diagnosed with advanced cancer. Biden went to his house and sat with him for a while. I think I would expect Biden to still try and reach deals with Republicans. That's just in his DNA. That's the type of politician he's been for decades.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, COVID infection rates are finally falling. More people are getting vaccinated, though there is still frustration over the number of available doses. And we've heard officials in the Biden administration put the blame for problems with the vaccine supply squarely on the Trump administration. But at this point, we're one month in. Are Americans accepting that excuse?

DETROW: You know, a month in is kind of a murky area. It is long enough that it gets harder to blame the last administration, but it's not quite long enough that all of the changes the new administration has put in have taken effect. This is messy. Everybody knows an older friend or family member who has been stuck online or on hold. There's been a lot of confusion. But the country is seeing steady progress on vaccination, and the administration has been able to get more and more vaccines out into the country each week. Now more than 1.7 million doses a day on average are being delivered, and we are seeing the effect in new cases. It's going down.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's also been a lot of confusion, Scott - right? - over when it's safe to open schools for in-person instruction and what exactly open means. And Biden's been weighing into that.

DETROW: Yeah, I think this is probably the biggest stumbling block so far in an administration that has had a pretty drama-free first month, especially compared to the last time around - the first month.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed.

DETROW: Yep. But, you know, a week ago, the White House got a lot of criticism for CDC recommendations that made it just seem like it would be impossible to get back to school. And you saw a big change in tone this week - Biden saying no, he thinks five days a week is possible. The director of the CDC said, even in these so-called red zones, there are ways to get back in the classroom if you do it safely, with masks and ventilation and distancing. But Republicans see this as a possible vulnerability, and they are trying to really hone in on schools saying, get kids back in the classroom right away. They think that's a winning argument for Republicans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you very much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.