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Time Is Of The Essence As Coronavirus Relief Is Set To Expire

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

There were arrests in several cities last night as protesters squared off with police. They were marching in solidarity with their counterparts in Portland, Ore., who've been clashing with federal agents sent by the Trump administration against the wishes of local officials. Meanwhile, the coronavirus relief package signed months ago is about to expire. Senate Republicans hope to have their proposal ready tomorrow, so they can start negotiating with House Democrats on a new relief bill. Time is of the essence. Millions of Americans are out of work, and infection numbers continue to grow, with the November election just 100 days away. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Eviction protections for some renters have already run out, and enhanced unemployment benefits end Friday. How is the current state of the pandemic affecting this latest relief bill?

LIASSON: Well, I think without it, the relief bill wouldn't be happening at all. Remember, it wasn't long ago that Republicans thought maybe they wouldn't need another relief bill. But just like President Trump has been bowing to reality, canceling the Jacksonville Republican convention, changing his tune on masks, acknowledging that in some hot spots, schools may not be able to open in person, Republicans on Capitol Hill are agreeing now there is a need for another relief bill. As you said, House Democrats have already passed their own version. Now Republican senators have to figure out what they want. There's been a lot of internal dissent inside the Republican Party - how big should unemployment benefits be, et cetera. But Mitch McConnell did say on Friday - he's the Republican leader in the Senate - that, hopefully, we'll be able to pass something in the next two or three weeks. That's not soon enough for a lot of people.

MCCAMMON: President Trump has conceded that the pandemic will get worse before it gets better. He scrapped plans for a convention speech in Jacksonville, Fla. But he's finding other ways to make his pitch to voters, especially suburban voters, right?

LIASSON: That's right. Suburban voters are really important. They're 50% of the electorate, so they're a target audience for the president. He has said Democrats will, quote, "abolish the suburbs." He tweeted recently to, quote, "suburban housewives of America," Biden will destroy your neighborhood. And if you watch the president's ads, they feature crime and rioting. They - one of them shows an elderly woman dialing 911, but 911 is not available, presumably because the Democrats have defunded the police, something they actually don't support. But the big question now is, what if suburban voters are more afraid of COVID and losing their jobs than they are of rioters and inner-city crime?

MCCAMMON: And, Mara, does this strategy seem to be working for him as he runs for reelection?

LIASSON: It isn't working yet. Polls show that the president is trailing Joe Biden by about 11 points in the suburbs. Remember, last time, in 2016, he won suburban voters 49 to 45% over Hillary Clinton. And every day, polls bring fresh bad news for the president. Polls are only snapshots, but recently, NPR, along with other news organizations, moved Florida into the lean D column - lean Democrat. And of course, Florida is the biggest, most important swing state.

MCCAMMON: Right.

LIASSON: Two new polls in Florida showed Biden ahead substantially there - and not just ahead. He was breaking 50% in those polls, and that shows you there is not - there are not a lot of people up for grabs in this election.

MCCAMMON: That is NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.