STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This evening, President-elect Biden is expected to address the nation in a primetime address. It will be his first speech since winning the presidency, which happened earlier today – after the (unintelligible) was confirmed, we really should say, earlier today, after the Associated Press called the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada for him.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The AP has President-elect Biden at 290 electoral votes to Trump’s 214. Still, President Trump has not conceded the election. To hear more about how the president is responding, we’re joined now by Franco Ordoñez, NPR White House correspondent, who’s been covering the Trump campaign. He’s traveled with President Trump across the Midwest and Florida and has been at the White House for much of this presidency.
Franco, thank you so much for staying with us.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thank you.
MARTIN: So you’ve met a lot of Trump supporters in your travels. What message are they getting from the president today?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, they’re – I mean, they’re definitely hearing from him, and they’re definitely hearing from him in very Trumpian fashion. I mean, just an hour ago, the president published a very long, fiery tweet claiming more fraud. All of it was in caps. He noted that he had received more than 70 million legal votes, which was the most for a sitting president. That is true. Of course, Biden got more than 74 million votes.
Trump is also pledging to take more legal action despite, you know, several cases that he’s already launched or his campaign has already launched have been thrown out by the courts. His rapid response team is asking for donations and calling for more examples of voter fraud. But the reality is, as we’ve reported, he has yet to show any actual evidence of systematic wrongdoing.
MARTIN: And as we have all said, that – the president makes his views clear. He doesn’t need or – he doesn’t need an intermediary, nor does he use one. So he makes it very clear what he feels and how he feels at any particular moment. But behind the scenes, is there any evidence that a different message is being delivered or taking hold?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. He was at his golf course today where he issued some of these fiery statements. But it’s interesting because the public comments – there’s a contrast between those and the private conversations that are happening behind the scenes. I’ve been talking with a former campaign aide who tells me that the president is being advised that his legal options are limited. But it’s been hard for him.
You know, no politician likes to lose. And the president, you know, really doesn’t like to lose. He said that on Tuesday when he was at his headquarters, his reelection headquarters. The president really believed that he couldn’t lose. And frankly, many people in Trump world also didn’t think that he could lose. The president had overcome so many challenges, you know, over the last four years.
And, you know, he does want to continue to fight for the people who voted for him, I’m told. But it is also dawning on him that if – even if he were to win some of these legal challenges that he’s still likely not to get the 270 electoral votes that he needs to win reelection.
MARTIN: So let’s look ahead to the transition now. Before we turn to Mara Liasson, our colleague, is there any sign of how that will go? I have to note that this is news that may not have gotten quite a lot of attention in recent days because of all the drama surrounding the election, but three officials who led agencies were fired or replaced in just the past two days. And the chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who ostensibly runs things at the White House, has been diagnosed with coronavirus. We just learned that.
So do we have any sense of what a transition could look like? Is there a sense that the Trump administration will cooperate? Has any planning been going on?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, from the Trump side, you know, they have been saying that they do not – they were not thinking about a transition, that they planned to be reelected. President Trump also himself said repeatedly that he, you know, raised questions about whether he would hand over power easily. He argued that, you know, it wasn’t handed over to him very well.
And, you know, he also argued many times that considering, you know, mail-in voting, which he considered fraudulent, that it would not be a legal transfer – pardon me, a legal election. So he had been setting this up for so long. But as you noted, we’re already seeing these very challenging signs of people leaving under questionable circumstances, the chief of staff getting the coronavirus. It’s really – it’s a – you know, we’ll see.
MARTIN: That’s NPR White House correspondent Frank Ordonez.
We want to go now to Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent. Mara, why don’t you pick up the thread there? And I know this is a situation where I might have to ask you to speculate a bit, but what is next for President Trump, assuming that he does leave office, as all signs indicate he now should?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yeah. I think that it’s going to be a very subtle kind of pressure campaign, in a way. You already hear his supporters on Fox News talking about his incredible legacy and that he would keep his legacy more burnished if he did step down in a dignified manner. You’re not really hearing Republicans say out loud, please don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out. But there aren’t a lot of prominent Republican voices saying the election was stolen. You’re the real winner. Dig your heels in. Don’t leave. You’re not hearing that.
So I think that over time, Trump is going to have to try to figure out a way to leave office but with his brand as someone who never loses and always wins intact. If he’s going to continue to be the most important person in the Republican Party – and I think he will remain that for as long as he has a Twitter account – I think that he has to figure out a rationale. You know, I don’t know if he says it was stolen from me, I’m the real president in exile, or I accomplished so much in four years – as much as any president could accomplish in 12.
I don’t know what he says, but he has to keep his brand intact because that’s how he makes a living. He’s monetized the brand. And the brand is his personality as a winner, somebody who’s extremely successful.
LIASSON: So that’s going to take some time.
MARTIN: And before we turn to Scott Detrow, I want to ask you, Mara Liasson, about the president-elect, Joe Biden. And what are what are his big challenges? We know he sent messaging around…
MARTIN: …Wanting to lower the temperature and so forth. But beyond that, tell us more.
LIASSON: Yeah, I think that his challenges are so big they’re mind-boggling. I mean, he and Barack Obama came into office in 2008 in the midst of a financial crisis. Now he’s coming into office in the midst of a pandemic, a recession, a huge debate about racial justice.
But as he said yesterday – he said, quote, “they have given us a mandate for action on COVID and the economy and climate change and systemic racism.” And they made it clear – they, the voters, made it clear they want the country to come together, not pull apart. So that is what he wants to communicate every day after January 20…
LIASSON: …And maybe even before.
MARTIN: But – and how are – say, let’s assume just for the sake of argument – I know it’s not decided yet – that the Senate – that the Republicans retain control of the Senate. How are they likely to interpret that mandate?
LIASSON: How are the Republicans?
LIASSON: Well, that’s…
LIASSON: That’s the big question. What does Mitch McConnell see in his political interest? Is it compromising with Joe Biden on certain things, or is it obstructing him at every step of the way, which he has the power to do? And we’ve seen him do it very effectively in the past.
We don’t know the answer to that question. But Joe Biden is going to have to figure out how to take popular Democratic policies, whether it’s a $15 an hour minimum wage, public option to Obamacare, something big on climate change, some kind of a big relief bill for people who are still suffering from the pandemic – how to sell those policies even if Republicans in the Senate don’t want any part of them.
MARTIN: That was NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
Let’s go to Scott Detrow now, NPR correspondent Scott Detrow, who has been following the Biden campaign. Scott Detrow, what do we expect to hear from President-elect Biden tonight?
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: You know, I think, as Mara was saying, you’re going to hear him start to set his agenda out, talk again about the idea that he feels like he has a mandate. And even though he certainly had a very decisive win in the presidential race, Republicans gained seats in the House, and Democrats really did not meet expectations in the Senate. So I think it’s important for Biden to make that case early and often.
I think we’re going to expect to hear a lot of a constant theme from the Biden campaign – the idea of unifying the nation. One thing he said last night in that I-think-I’ve-quite-won-but-I-won’t-quite-say-it-yet appearance – he said, the purpose of our politics, the work of this nation, is not to fan the flames of conflict but to solve problems. And lastly, I think we’ll expect him to continue to talk about that No. 1 priority, getting this coronavirus pandemic under control. We have blown past previous daily records over the last week as we’ve counted these votes.
One thing in Biden’s favor – a lot of the things he wants to do can be done in the executive branch. A lot of it is centralizing decision-making, not leaving it up to states, trying to push for more mask usage, getting more plans in place for this eventual vaccine. Those – that’s work that Biden and his transition team can start right away.
MARTIN: And just briefly, if you can, Scott, you know, this man has such a compelling personal story, which I think is well known at this point. I mean, having been sworn into his Senate seat from the hospital room where his boys were recovering after his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash – I mean, this is his third run over 30 years – a lot of, you know, losing his son Beau, who was a political star, a rising political star in his own right.
I mean, what is likely to be his North Star in setting his course in the next couple of months and years as he addresses all these issues that Mara just outlined for us?
DETROW: I think empathy, I think understanding a lot of Americans are in pain, whether it’s financial pain or physical pain or losing loved ones to due to a pandemic. On Tuesday, he started the day visiting the grave of his son Beau. He later went to his childhood home, the home that he often talks about, his dad coming up the stairs to tell him he had lost his job and had to move.
There were a lot of sentimental journeys for Biden on Tuesday, but a lot of them came back to moments of real struggle that he overcame and something he always comes back to saying, I understand how that feels, and I understand how you feel right now. I think that will be a theme tonight, on January 20 and throughout the Biden administration.
MARTIN: That was NPR correspondent Scott Detrow. We also heard from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.
Thank you all so much for staying with us. And we know you’ll stay with us throughout the evening. Thank you so much.
DETROW: Thank you.
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