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5593 Pages: Congress Strikes Spending/COVID Deal : The NPR Politics Podcast – NPR

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From direct payments for American households to mass transit, the Congressional relief package contains money for individuals and institutions affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

This episode: political correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, and health reporter Pien Huang.

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Donald Trump may not be done disrupting American politics, only this time it could actually end up being an improvement – Salt Lake Tribune

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President Joe Biden set the tone for his new administration last week seeking to reunite a divided country.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” he said, “and unity is the path forward and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
It was a noble, aspirational inauguration speech and a message this divided country needed to hear. But it won’t be easy, not in a political environment where for years Americans have been pushed into clans and fed resentment and mistrust.
Sen. Ben Sasse from Nebraska wrote a piece in The Atlantic last week about the reckoning the Republican Party is facing and the soul-searching and house-cleaning that needs to take place to set it in the right direction.
This assumes the Republican Party can be salvaged. It may be too late for that, and there’s another guy who shares that view: Recently unemployed Florida man Donald Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump had discussed creating a new political party — the Patriot Party — as a refuge for his true believers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he’s out of office he comes up with an idea that makes sense. I say that not because it might blow up the Republican Party. I say it because the two-party system is the worst feature of modern American politics.
Our government is so hopelessly dysfunctional that facing a crisis of historic proportions, it took months to pass a COVID relief bill — and that’s just one example. But the larger problem is that the current party structure isn’t about governing at all. It’s about power and holding onto that power by creating a big enough tent.
It has reached a point, however, that in this push to be everything to everybody, the parties have lost any philosophical cohesion.
In what world can you have a Republican Party going forward that includes both Mitt Romney and the people who rampaged through the Capitol looking to take members of Congress hostage? And how does the average Republican feel represented by that party?
The Democrats have an identity crisis of their own, trying to hold together people like Ben McAdams and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
Trying to find a way for everyone to fit means nobody fits well, like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to cram their feet into ill-fitting slippers. It makes sense that nearly a third of Utah voters choose to not affiliate with either party. That number will continue to grow.
That’s because, as humans, we all have different experiences that inform different world views and beliefs. Things aren’t black-and-white, purely Democratic or Republican.
Maybe you are pro-life but believe in a liberal immigration policy and are a dyed-in-the-wool union member. Or you are devoutly religious, love your guns and think the threat of climate change is dire and everyone deserves a guaranteed income. Or you’re a Black entrepreneur who opposes government regulation but believes Black Lives Matter and police should stop shooting people.
None of that matters in our current system. Donkey or elephant, blue or red — those are your choices. Don’t like it? Feel free to throw away your vote.
If your grocery store gave you two choices of toilet paper — both of them bad, like mesh vs. extra coarse — you’d probably find another store, but this is the only store we have.
Hillary Stirling, the newly minted chairwoman of the United Utah Party would like to give people more choices. Both nationally and in Utah, she said, the two major party agendas are driven by the fringes.
“The people on the extremes are the people who are most active, most interested in politics, so they’re the ones who show up and are most vocal,” she said. That leaves those in the middle dissatisfied with their voices, but the United Utah Party has struggled, like all third-parties, to make much headway.
The inevitable result of these two combatant parties trying to remain in power is we end up with pure bloodsport. The incentives are on obstruction and demonization, not collaboration and compromise. It partly explains why we’ve seen the fierce polarization — fueled by media and online outlets that drive the wedge deeper, which in turn are exploited by opportunistic, ambitious politicians.
We’ve seen other parties rise and fade and we have a handful of third parties in place now, but they aren’t viable because the two parties that make the rules have created a system that perpetuates their power. And because they’re the only viable options, they get all the money.
Without money, minor parties can’t put their candidates in front of people, they can’t get on the ballot, they can’t get into the debates, they can’t win — and when they can’t win donors won’t give money.
“Especially the way our current system is set up, it’s either/or. The question that is currently asked is: Who do you want out of these two people?” Stirling said. “There are better ways to do it, so let’s try those better ways.”
Those better ways, though, will take serious structural changes like public campaign financing, ranked-choice voting or electing members of Congress proportionately, rather than from districts gerrymandered to benefit one party or the other.
The other possibility is the rise of a viable third, and maybe fourth, parties, something Theodore Roosevelt’s popularity couldn’t do and that Ross Perot’s money couldn’t do. It’s possible Trump could use both money and a cult-like following to disrupt the two-party system.
Or, perhaps, Biden is right and, despite a track record to the contrary, Democrats and Republicans can come together and chart a new course and we don’t need major reforms to our system. I hope he is right.
Given our recent history, however, it seems more likely that we’ll see more of the same, with the two parties, left to their own self-serving devices, continuing to pull Americans further and further apart until there is a rift that can’t be healed.

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Politics Chat: Biden To Sign More Executive Orders In First Full Week As President – NPR

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President Biden will begin his first full week in the White House. Many of the executive orders he’s been signing and will sign this week are part of a plan he laid out for his first 10 days.

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Why Biden's vaccine goals are likely too modest and good politics – CNN

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That’s generally in line with other polling (such as last week’s CNN/SSRS survey) that showed that most Americans were displeased with how Donald Trump’s administration handled the coronavirus pandemic.
What’s the point: President Joe Biden’s administration has come under some criticism for its goal to deliver 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine in its first 100 days. Some people believe it is too modest a goal. The Biden administration has pushed back on that claim.
A look at the statistics reveal that it may very well be too modest, but it’s likely good politics.
Let’s start with the basic fact that humans developing multiple Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year was a scientific achievement for the ages.
The Trump administration then completely botched the expectations game on the vaccine rollout. They set an initial goal of getting 20 million vaccine doses into the arms of Americans by the end of 2020.
As I noted last week, we simply didn’t come close to reaching that milestone in December.
We’re very likely to hit 20 million total doses administered? in the next few days, however, as more than 19 million doses have been administered as of early Friday.
Overall, as Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out, “less than 500,000 shots a day” were administered during Trump’s time in office once the first shots were given on December 14.
It’s a true statement, but I must admit that it feels like it doesn’t encapsulate all the facts. You can’t just look at the entirety of the Trump run to determine whether Biden’s setting a low goal.
After all, it takes time for the states and the federal government to figure out how to coordinate with each other and themselves to distribute the vaccines.
Moreover, a number of states were very strict with who could get the vaccines at first. There were reports of doses getting thrown out.
States have since opened up the eligibility. Combined with more practice in actually delivering the vaccine, the number of people getting doses each state has gone up dramatically.
Since January 13, we have averaged greater than 800,000 doses administered every day. On three days since that date, we’ve had more than a million people get the vaccine. This includes on Friday, when the CDC reported an increase of more than 1.5 million doses administered from the day before.
We’ve done a better job of administering the doses we have than we used to. We used to only administer less than a third of the doses distributed. Only once before January 12 had we administered more than 33%. It’s been above that every day since. In fact, it’s been greater than 45% each of the last four days reported.
This is before the Biden administration has had any real opportunity to change anything from the Trump administration.
Of course, the past isn’t always prologue. We could run out of vaccines, but that doesn’t seem likely at this point.
We know that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have pledged to deliver 200 million doses of their vaccine combined in the first quarter of this year (i.e. through March). This doesn’t even count the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which, if approved, could deliver tens of millions more doses by the beginning of April.
The bottom line is that it’s very easy to see how the Biden administration hits 100 million doses in 100 days. We’re basically already doing it, and we should have the doses available to keep doing it.
Indeed, America may end up doing considerably better than 100 million doses in 100 days.
Now, it’s possible that things go awry in vaccine production or distribution. That’s why it’s usually best to keep expectations low.
Biden’s team, if anything, wants to do the exact opposite of what Trump did. They don’t want to set a bar that can easily prove impossible to beat. They want a bar that can be met and can potentially be exceeded.
In other words, they may end up under-promising and over-delivering.
Usually, voters reward politicians who do what Biden’s team could do. They clearly punished Trump for the opposite.
To be clear, Americans expect Biden to fulfill his promise. The vast majority (70%) of Americans told CNN pollsters that the Biden administration is at least somewhat likely to reach its goal of 100 million does in 100 days.
If we don’t, there could be a heavy political price to pay.
Before we bid adieu: The theme song of the week is Scrubs.

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