Electors Seal Biden's Win, Sanders Pushes For Direct Cash Payments


A little after 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, California put over the top.


SHIRLEY WEBER: Ayes 55, noes zero.


CORNISH: California’s 55 Electoral College votes officially cast, sealed Biden’s presidential victory, taking him over the 270-vote threshold. He eventually wound up with 306. Electors from every state voted Monday. And as that was happening, there was applause in some of those states for a very different reason.


CORNISH: The first coronaviruses vaccinations were given to frontline health care workers in New York…


CORNISH: …Florida…


CORNISH: …California and other states.


CORNISH: The votes and the vaccinations – two historic events that took place on the same day, both of which gave America a clearer picture of the future and the challenges ahead.


JOE BIDEN: There’s urgent work in front of us.

CORNISH: spoke in Delaware on Monday night.


BIDEN: Getting this pandemic under control and getting the nation vaccinated against this virus, delivering immediate economic help so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS – immediate economic help is being negotiated in Congress. And if they can’t make a deal, President Biden will have other options. Coming up, what those options are, and Senator tells NPR why he’s pushing Democrats to demand more in an emerging coronavirus aid package.

From NPR, I’m Audie Cornish. It’s Tuesday, December 15.


CORNISH: It’s CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. President-elect hadn’t spent a lot of time talking about President Trump until Monday night.


BIDEN: In America, politicians don’t take power. People grant power to them.

CORNISH: Hours after the Electoral College made his victory official, Biden pointed out that his 306 electoral votes are the same number won by Trump himself in 2016.


BIDEN: At the time, President Trump called his Electoral College tally a landslide. By his own standards, these numbers represent a clear victory then, and I respectfully suggest they do so now.

CORNISH: In his most direct comments yet on the issue, Biden painstakingly addressed each avenue Trump has taken to contest the election.


CORNISH: With Republican secretaries of state, Republican-appointed judges and Republican-controlled state legislatures, all rejecting Trump’s efforts to overturn the results, Biden notably called those efforts, quote, “an abuse of power.”


BIDEN: The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame.

CORNISH: Even if the president has still not accepted the results, the Electoral College vote seemed to shift the rhetoric from other Republicans…


MITCH MCCONNELL: Yesterday, electors met in all 50 states.

CORNISH: …Including Mitch McConnell.


MCCONNELL: So as of this morning, our country has officially a president-elect and a vice-president-elect.

CORNISH: The Senate majority leader and the man who, on January 20, could be the most powerful Republican in Washington, D.C., spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday.


MCCONNELL: So today I want to congratulate President-elect . The president-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He’s devoted himself to public service for many years. I also want to congratulate the vice-president-elect, our colleague from California, Senator Harris. Beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president-elect for the very first time.


MCCONNELL: I look forward to finishing out the next 36 days strong with President Trump.

CORNISH: Just 36 days from Tuesday until and Kamala Harris will be sworn in at noon Eastern Time on January 20. But with each of those days, the crisis waiting for them is growing. And yet Congress has still not reached a deal on a new COVID relief package. The current bipartisan version, which is actually two bills, would deliver enhanced unemployment benefits, protection from eviction and small business support. A second bill would offer liability protections for firms and aid for state and local governments, both of which have been tough issues for Democrats and Republicans to agree on. What’s not on the table in either bill is direct payments to individuals.


BERNIE SANDERS: We have right now probably the worst set of crises in this country since the Great Depression.

CORNISH: Today, Senator told NPR why he’s trying to get direct cash payments included in any coronavirus relief package and why he’s calling on Democrats to reject a deal without those payments. He spoke to Ailsa Chang.


SANDERS: We have millions and millions of people who cannot afford to pay their rent. We have people who cannot afford to go to a doctor in the midst of a pandemic. And we have millions of families who are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their kids. They need help. And Congress must provide help. And I do not believe that it is appropriate for members of Congress to go back to their families for the Christmas holidays while so many millions of families in this country are struggling just to stay alive.

AILSA CHANG: Well, just as you say it, people are struggling. Congress has been debating this for seven months. I do have to push you on this. People are losing their homes now. They don’t have enough to eat now. Democrats do not have the majority in the Senate. So isn’t passing some aid now better than passing no aid at this point?

SANDERS: Well, it’s – that’s – Democrats do not have the majority in the Senate. That is correct. They do have the majority in the House. And again, the question…

CHANG: Right, and it takes two chambers to pass legislation.

SANDERS: And you have a president of the United States, you know, Trump, who I agree with on absolutely nothing. You know what? Donald Trump says we should have direct payments. says we should have direct payments. Why is direct payments not in the bill right now? That’s the question we should be asking. This is what…


SANDERS: …The American people want.

CHANG: I do have to ask again. I mean, it is good to stand on principle, but what do you say to people who are going to be evicted at the end of the month or people who are visiting food banks right now? How do you explain to them why Congress has not been able to pass any legislation, why they just have to sit tight?

SANDERS: Well, Ailsa, unfortunately, what you say is this bill is not going to do what has to be done to protect those people. You talk about hunger. You’re right. You want to address hunger? Then you provide the help that people need for our kids. There’s nothing in here for senior citizens who are trying to get by on 13, $14,000, nothing in here for workers who are putting their lives on the line every day in grocery stores, in public transportation, workers who are doing the critical work that keeps this country going – nothing for them.

CHANG: But how optimistic are you that a compromise will be reached that you are happy with? I mean, President-elect Biden is saying that he believes Democrats and Republicans can work together. He has even put someone in charge of conservative outreach – Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond. Do you share Biden’s optimism that Republicans and Democrats can really work together going forward?

SANDERS: Well, on this issue, what I will tell you is Democrats and Republicans – they know something about politics by definition. And if they look at the polling, they will find out that over 70% of Democrats, over 70% of Republicans understand that we need direct payments. So I think no matter what your moral vision may be for the world or if you’re a good politician and you look at polls, you know what you have to do. And I believe we can get this done.


CORNISH: Senator of Vermont. Cash payments or not, lawmakers don’t have much time left to get any deal done. The plan right now is to attach coronavirus relief to an annual government funding bill, which has to be passed by this Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

If Congress can’t agree to a relief package this year, there will be even more urgency for to act as soon as he’s sworn in on January 20. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to work quickly with Congress. Even if Democrats win both seats in Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff elections, they would control the Senate by a very small margin. Some economic experts close to Biden’s team have advice for what the next president can do on his own. Here’s NPR’s Asma Khalid.


ASMA KHALID: One thing most economists agree on is that the best way the president can stimulate the economy is by tackling the public health crisis.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: The No. 1 rule of virus economics, I always say, is that if you want to help the economy, you need to get control of the spread of the virus.

KHALID: Austan Goolsbee was a top economic adviser to former President Barack Obama. He also informally advised Biden’s campaign. He says congressional spending would be the best solution right now. But if that’s not going to happen…

GOOLSBEE: There are many areas where the federal government might get some relief out the door of one of the more obvious spaces being that of student loans.

KHALID: The Trump administration has deferred student loan payments until the end of January. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is urging Biden to go further.


CHUCK SCHUMER: It is my belief that the new president, President Biden, within the first few weeks of becoming president can simply sign an executive order and eliminate – end – $50,000 of student debt from every student.

KHALID: Felicia Wong agrees. She’s a member of Biden’s transition advisory board but spoke to me, she said, wearing her other hat. She’s also president of the Roosevelt Institute.

FELICIA WONG: Ninety-five percent of all student debt is actually held by the government. And so the secretary of education would have it within her or his authority to cancel a lot of that debt.

KHALID: She says there’s another thing the president could do to move money into the pockets of people right away.

WONG: Federal government’s a really big employer, and had promised on the campaign trail a $15 an hour federal minimum wage. Well, that would require Congress, but his administration could take an executive action that says that all federal contractors have to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.

KHALID: Biden could try to tackle parts of his economic agenda on his own. He could modify Trump’s trade tariffs, for example, or change regulations around the Affordable Care Act. These ideas might be helpful in the long run, says Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute, but they don’t tackle the financial problems people are facing right now. The economy needs a stimulus and…

HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: The president just doesn’t have those tools.

KHALID: The tools, for example, to offer more money to state and local governments so they can keep firefighters on the job. And so the biggest economic test for Biden isn’t how much he can do on his own, but how good he is at cutting deals.

SHIERHOLZ: The thing he’ll have to resort to is trying to lean on his nearly 50 years of experience in Washington. That is what it will come down to. Can President Biden convince Mitch McConnell to move on some of this stuff? Because that is what it will take to get the stimulus that is needed.


KHALID: Shierholz says there’s this assumption that a new president can waltz into the Oval Office and immediately change the course of the economy. But really, she says, the most viable path for economic recovery requires buy-in from Congress.

CORNISH: NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.

It’s CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I’m Audie Cornish.

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