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Politics Chat: Senate Approves COVID-19 Relief Bill

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There is one thing you can say about the massive coronavirus bill that passed in the Senate yesterday. It is aimed squarely at millions of broke and anxious Americans. There were compromises after a whole day of negotiation and suspense that saw no Republicans support the bill. Elsewhere in the show, we will hear from the Democratic chief deputy whip in the House about what we can expect there in the coming days. Now we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Senate Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package yesterday. What made it in, and what was left out?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, what's in it are $1,400 direct payments and extension of extra unemployment benefits and an increase to the child tax credit. The House still needs to vote on this version, but that is supposed to happen on Tuesday. President Biden said yesterday that he is ready to sign, and he promised checks will go out the door starting this month. The $15 minimum wage did not make it in, but this plan is a major victory for progressive priorities. It includes a very aggressive effort to reduce child poverty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Despite zero GOP senators voting for the relief bill, a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll showed that 40% of Republicans surveyed support Biden's pandemic response. That, I mean, seems significant. Biden now has 70% approval.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it really gave the White House a lot of confidence. President Biden emphasized the polls yesterday when he celebrated the vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Quite frankly, without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, I do think it's important to be careful not to make too much out of these kinds of polls for various reasons, but I will note that they're - a big part of the GOP strategy is to not support the bill - seems to be to make the Democrats really own it and look for problems with how it's implemented. But really, everything depends on how the pandemic goes and how the economy looks to voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I'd like to move on to something you've been covering, Franco, that is already causing the administration problems, and that is the southern border. President Biden reversed former President Trump's Remain in Mexico policy. That was a policy which kept migrants there indefinitely while waiting for an asylum hearing inside the United States. Biden is now allowing families to come into the U.S. to be processed. What is happening at the border now?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, all this is having an impact. Our colleague John Burnett has been on the border, and he reported that those stuck in the Remain in Mexico program are being allowed across. I reported on the changes at the family detention centers. You know, Lulu, obviously, the devil is in the details, but lawyers representing these families say they're cautiously optimistic about the changes. But Biden, as you note, is also facing some pushback from the right and even among some allies that some of these steps may actually inadvertently be fueling another rush at the border.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And one more thing. The New York Times reported this past week that the Biden administration has put the drone program under review, at least temporarily, narrowing the use of strikes and increasing the transparency of the counterterrorism program. I mean, we should remember that the use of drones was expanded under former President Obama, where Biden was the vice president. What elements of the program are under review and why?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. The military and the CIA must now get permission from the White House before launching these strikes in - you know, in places like Somalia and Yemen, where there are not many U.S. troops. National Security Council Spokeswoman Emily Horne told me that the purpose was to ensure that the president has, quote, "full visibility" on proposed strikes, you know, while the NSC leads an interagency review. You know, they're looking at things like how the Trump administration did it. And what they want to do is develop their own system to justify these drone strikes, which are very sensitive. And you want to minimize civilian casualties.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Thank you very much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.