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Politics Chat: Trump Trying To Return To Campaign Amid Coronavirus Diagnosis

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Oblivion and chicanery - let's see if we can wring some wisdom out of all that with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Heated rhetoric. What are your plans for Thursday, I'm wondering, because the debate we were all going to watch is off now that the president is refusing to debate Joe Biden if they're not on the same stage.

LIASSON: Right. Well, Biden is going to hold a town hall on Thursday in place of the debate. That debate was going to be a town hall format. Trump is going to hold a rally in Florida tomorrow. And, of course, Vice President Pence is also on the campaign trail. So is Kamala Harris.

This will be the president's first rally outside the White House since he contracted coronavirus. And the president's health status is still unclear. His doctor issued a statement that said he is, quote, "no longer considered a transmission risk to others," but he did not say whether or not the president has tested negative. You'd think if he had, they would say that. He also said that the president's, quote, "all symptoms" have improved. He didn't say the president has no symptoms. So once again, raising more questions than it answers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pattern. And meanwhile, Trump did have that event at the White House yesterday. It was his first public appearance since returning there from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He spoke from the Blue Room balcony to a few hundred guests, maskless. That came after he said he was going to hold more traditional campaign rallies this weekend. Then he didn't. And earlier - let's remind our listeners - he returned to the Oval Office, even though it was all but certain he was still contagious.

LIASSON: Right. This was a wild week, even for the president. He originally pulled out of a relief bill, then decided he wanted negotiations again. That was - you would think he would want this relief bill, and he wouldn't want to take the blame for stopping it. Pulled out of the debate - that's something he also needs if he's going to change the dynamic of this campaign.

He criticized Gretchen Whitmer after she - it was revealed that she was the target of a kidnapping and perhaps murder plot. He called on his attorney general to indict Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He called on his secretary of state to declassify thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails. This is really causing a lot of angst among Republicans who are starting to ask, does the president want to lose? And, oh, I didn't even mention that he called Kamala Harris a monster.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's hard to keep track.

LIASSON: So the throughline is a lot of confusion. Pardon?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's hard to keep - I said it's hard to keep track.

LIASSON: It's hard to keep track.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk a little bit about the coronavirus relief bill because it seems as though even if you do catch the president at a moment when he's willing to strike a deal - like when he tweeted, go big - that deal then may not appeal to Republicans in the Senate. He doesn't seem to be speaking to his own party, and at least a few of them would need to sign on.

LIASSON: Yes. You have House Democrats who want a 2-plus trillion-dollar bill. The president has now apparently settled on 1.8 trillion. Sounds like they're pretty close, but Senate Republicans don't like the details of the bill. There's disagreement over the extension of Obamacare benefits, unemployment benefits, whether a second - another round of checks should be sent to individuals and families.

So he seems to be at odds with his own Republicans in the Senate. It sounds unlikely that a package will be passed even though negotiations are going on. And the problem is that it's possible Senate Republicans are looking past President Trump and looking to the time when they're going to try to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility and being against big deficits after he goes. Of course, the president raised the deficits to historic levels.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Looking ahead to this week, confirming Amy Coney Barrett has been a consistent party priority shared by the White House. Her confirmation hearings begin tomorrow.

LIASSON: Her confirmation hearings begin. Republicans appear to have the votes, and they have decided that whatever political backlash they might engender is worth it to cement conservative control of the Supreme Court, perhaps for generations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, and some Democrats call that court packing. And then Republicans want Joe Biden to answer what they call court packing - if he will add justices to the Supreme Court to counteract what would be a 6-3 conservative majority.

LIASSON: That's right, but it's unclear whether this - the idea of court packing, otherwise known as expanding the number of justices on the court, could even happen. Joe Biden has been ambivalent about it. He hasn't said whether he wants it or not. But, you know, if Democrats can expand the courts, so can Republicans. So this is almost like a nuclear arms race here. But that's definitely an issue that Republicans have been pushing on the campaign trail - that somehow, Joe Biden wants to do something to break norms around the Supreme Court, even though they have also done the same thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.