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Politics Chat: The 2020 Election Is Over, But Issues Remain

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

George Floyd's death was a flashpoint for a summer of unrest, calls for racial equity and an end to police brutality. Defund the police became a shorthand for an array of police-reform proposals and, in an election year, a political football. That election has come and gone, but the issues remain, so we'll turn now to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we don't know the outcome, of course, of Derek Chauvin's trial, but we have had some time to digest sort of the political implications of police reform. Donald Trump, the former president, said he wanted to look at policing and, quote, "how we can do it better and how we can do it, if possible, in a much more gentle fashion." Joe Biden called for more funding for police reform. Where does the public stand on this?

LIASSON: In polling, the public has repeatedly shown support for police reform and opposition to the idea of, quote, "defunding the police." This is a very fraught issue for Democrats. Republicans were able to take that slogan, defund the police, which only a handful of Democratic candidates, mostly in safe blue districts, actually supported - Joe Biden did not - and Republicans were able to attach it to Democrats in general. And since the election, there's been this raging debate among Democrats about whether and how much defund the police hurt frontline Democrats in swing districts.

But since the election, as you said, we're not hearing from Democrats talking about defunding the police. What we're hearing a lot about is how best to do police reform. That seems to be the focus for now, at least until the next election season.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This weekend, a gathering of Republican leaders and big donors in Florida, including a stop at Mar-a-Lago, where we know a former president may live. Is that a sentimental visit or proof that Donald Trump is still wearing the ring to kiss if you want to be a who's who in the Republican Party?

LIASSON: No. It's - Donald Trump has a firm grip on the Republican Party. According to reports, his remarks at Mar-a-Lago to those big funders were all about his enemies, his Republican enemies. He called Mitch McConnell a dumb son of a bitch and a stone-cold loser. He attacked McConnell for not voting to overturn the election results. He said he was very disappointed in Mike Pence, his vice president, who also refused to decertify the Electoral College results.

So this just shows you how difficult it's going to be for Republicans to move beyond Trump and how what the Republican Party stands for is still defined almost exclusively by what Trump wants. And it's not just that you have to go and kiss the ring to be in his good graces; you have to kiss the ring to avoid Trump endorsing your primary opponent if you're a Republican.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should note that some of that language was not very family friendly.

LIASSON: No.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. Trump was one of a kind, wrote his own rules. So then what do you make of his two home-state politicians who really want to inherit his mantle, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the now embattled Congressman Matt Gaetz?

LIASSON: Well, Ron DeSantis is doing a little bit better at positioning himself to inherit the Trump mantle, although he'll get a lot of competition from people like Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz. But Matt Gaetz, who's embroiled in a sex scandal, has been trying to use a pretty brash Trumpian strategy to deal with it. He went to Mar-a-Lago this weekend. He gave a speech to a group called Trump Women for America First. He attacked the lying media. He said he'd been smeared. The big question is, will this kind of strategy work for him the way it worked for Trump? In other words, is Trump the only Republican politician who can bluster his way through a sex scandal?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about infrastructure because, actually, Biden wants Republican votes on Capitol Hill, if he can get them. So how much do you think that's going to work out?

LIASSON: Well, I think there will be infrastructure investment in the end, maybe not as much as Biden is asking for. Biden and the cabinet secretaries that he has tasked to push his infrastructure plans have all said repeatedly they want bipartisan support. They want to compromise with Republicans.

Biden has invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House tomorrow to talk about this, even though Democrats are also continuing to make plans to pass infrastructure bills with Democrats' votes only in the Senate if necessary, under something called reconciliation. But you also have moderate Democrats, including Joe Manchin, who's the key to passing anything Biden wants with 50 Democratic votes in the Senate. They've said they want to scale back some of Biden's pay-fors, the tax hikes he wants to use to pay for infrastructure investment.

And Republicans right now seem almost universally opposed to this. And remember; Biden needs 10 Republican votes in the Senate to pass the bill under regular order. That's a very, very heavy lift. So we don't know how long and hard he'll try to look for bipartisan support or whether Republicans will work with him.

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

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 11, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier version of this conversation, we said, "In Maryland, the Democratic legislature and Republican governor just signed — passed and signed into law a package of police reform bills. Not every one the Democrats had passed." Gov. Larry Hogan allowed part of the package to become law without his signature and vetoed other provisions. The legislature overrode his vetoes.