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Week In Politics: Americans Will See Coronavirus Aid Money As Early As Today

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The White House says that many Americans may see money from President Biden's American Rescue Plan in their bank accounts as soon as today. The $1.9 trillion aid package also includes money for schools, small businesses, unemployment and health care. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Glad to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: We speak with Bernie Sanders elsewhere in this program, and he says - he calls the coronavirus relief bill - he says, quote, "it will restore faith in the United States government." Why do you think Senator Sanders and a few other people expressed that thought?

ELVING: This far-reaching relief bill puts the federal government to work on the virus and all its consequences at a level we have not seen this past year, Scott. That means picking up costs and responsibilities that had been left to the states and local governments. It means addressing the damage, economic and otherwise, committing the resources that only the national government can bring to bear and bailing out the areas that have been hardest hit.

SIMON: Republicans were unified in their opposition. There wasn't a single Republican vote in favor of that final $1.9 trillion package. But criticism has been kind of muted. Do you think that indicates anything about the Republican approach on future debates for infrastructure, immigration?

ELVING: Well, they're keeping plenty of powder dry, Scott. We assume it will be used especially against Joe Biden's handling of immigration, which is surging, and against the House's gun control bill and especially the House's voting rights bill. Republicans are not holding back on those issues. There may, however, be something of a blueprint here for infrastructure. You're not going to get anywhere near a majority of Republicans on that bill either, but you might get enough to defeat a filibuster.

SIMON: Speaking of the filibuster, the debate's been going on, obviously, for a generation. Is it on borrowed time? Might it be overturned?

ELVING: It's possible. We've seen the filibuster restricted in recent years. It's not allowed on reconciliation bills like the big $1.9 trillion package this past week. It's not allowed on presidential appointments in, like, the Cabinet or judges. But we still have it on legislation, and we have to expect at least some of the Senate Republicans will use it on pretty much every big bill that comes from here on out.

So the question of doing away with it once and for all comes down to getting all the Democrats to be willing to eliminate it, and that means giving up a senator's single greatest individual power. So we will be watching to see if they're willing to do that.

SIMON: The individual power to halt debate and to make people consider another path.

ELVING: Correct.

SIMON: A quick question and, of course, I'm afraid not a small one - what does seem to be the center of Republican opposition to the plans of the Biden administration right now?

ELVING: The central objection seems to be that it's government overreach, that they're doing too much, that they're spending too much, that the economy would recover on its own and that the Democrats are using this as an opportunity to simply make government more powerful.

SIMON: And, of course, we have to ask about Andrew Cuomo, still in power after mounting calls for his resignation, including from the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, Senator Schumer, and New York's other senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. He has refused to resign. He points out there has not been an investigation, and he says he will not bow to cancel culture.

ELVING: Oh, yes, cancel culture, borrowing the rhetoric more associated with the right these days. That may be a sign of desperation, Scott. The governor finds himself with few friends on any side, and his hopes of finishing his term or running for other offices are fast disappearing.

You know, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia survived a bad incident with a blackface offense. It was well in the past. And while it was outrageous, it was not, strictly speaking, a crime and because he maintained support from within the specifically offended community of African Americans. There's little of that on any of those counts for Cuomo at this point.

SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.