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Will A Stimulus Deal Be Reached Before Election Day?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You would think the politics of coronavirus relief would be simple. Millions of voters need economic help. Lawmakers in both parties say they want to provide it. And Election Day is looming. But the politics have not proven simple. House Democrats want to spend a lot more money than Senate Republicans do. President Trump veered from calling off talks to demanding small steps, to telling Congress to go big. Now the Washington Post and New York Times say the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is not so eager to go anywhere. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering this story. Hey there, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello. How are you?

INSKEEP: OK. What is the logic of saying no in this situation?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the Republicans, they say, as you noted, they want a smaller deal. And there's concern about the political impacts. It's very interesting because the White House and Democrats appear to be closer than ever. But, you know, we've been reporting for months on the progress - or, frankly, lack of progress - and the big role that McConnell would have. Trump has said that Republicans would follow him. But, you know, this just throws a lot of cold water on hopes that help is soon coming for, you know, when millions of Americans are really hurting.

INSKEEP: And millions of Americans are already voting. We are less than two weeks from the formal election day in what is really an election season. It's already happening. And I want to note that you, Franco, were in one of the vital states yesterday, Pennsylvania, which Trump won very narrowly in 2016. Biden appears to be leading now. And Trump talked about how important he thinks Pennsylvania is going to be.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pennsylvania, you got to get out and vote. You know, if we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Which has been the analysis of some people at some times. What was the rest of his message?

ORDOÑEZ: It was largely a standard campaign speech. Trump attacked Biden personally, charging the former vice president would shut down the economy and lead the country into another depression. But also, in a revealing moment about his own electoral prospects, Trump kind of lamented the impacts that coronavirus had had on his campaign. He even told the crowd that he didn't plan on visiting the city this campaign season.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We were so far up. We had the greatest economy ever, greatest jobs, greatest everything. And then we got hit with the plague. And I had to go back to work. Hello, Erie. May I please have your vote?

(LAUGHTER)

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Trump also emphasized his priorities on energy and warned that Biden would end fracking, a claim that Biden has continuously denied. In another first for Trump, he even played a video to the crowd showing Biden making some confusing statements about the practice.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So confusing statements - trying, again, to suggest that Biden is out of it, a line of attack...

ORDOÑEZ: Sure.

INSKEEP: ...The president has tried all year. I guess people will see for themselves in the debate on Thursday. They're not going to see the first lady, though, who was going to try to help Trump appeal to suburban women in Pennsylvania.

ORDOÑEZ: That's right. She scrapped those plans at the last minute because of a, quote, "lingering cough" that her spokeswoman said, you know, related to her own recovery. Melania Trump has been a key part of the campaign's efforts to kind of show a more compassionate side of the president, you know, directed at suburban women particularly. Let's just remember that it was the first lady who, at the Republican National Convention, expressed sympathy for victims of the coronavirus and their families when the president was still, really, talking about overpowering the pandemic.

INSKEEP: Now, the president was not the only - is not the only president who's visiting Pennsylvania.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It's going to be - President Obama will be in Philadelphia today. It's going to be one of those drive-in rallies at night. It's actually the first time Obama has campaigned in-person for Biden. Though, he did speak at the Democratic National Convention. He'll talk about early voting and highlight this historic state's election. But, you know, this is all right before, as you noted, that very crucial debate in Nashville.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks.

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