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Politics chat: Trump and Biden's policy agendas will take center stage at the debate


On the campaign trail, and this week on the debate stage - different visions for the country.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For those wives or husbands and their children who have lived in America for a decade or more but are undocumented, this action will allow them to file a paperwork for legal status in the United States, allow them to work while they remain with their families in the United States.


DONALD TRUMP: We have probably close to 20 million people. They came in from all parts of the world, and they're gonna have to be gone. They came in illegally, many, many people coming in from prisons and mental institutions.

RASCOE: That was President Biden at the White House Tuesday and former President Trump speaking here in Washington yesterday. And with us now, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So those two men will face each other on Thursday in Georgia, as far as we know. What do each of them need to do at that debate? What are their individual goals going into it?

LIASSON: They need to - Biden, at least, needs to shake up the race. This is why he proposed this debate. This is the earliest debate ever in a presidential campaign. And President Biden has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to remind people what they didn't like about Donald Trump, and it hasn't worked. So he's hoping that in the debate, he can get Trump to appear extreme, chaotic, out for himself and his billionaire friends, bent on revenge. Of course, he's not in complete control of that.

On Trump's part, his whole campaign has been based, you could say, on lowering expectations for Biden. He's said, he's senile. He can't find his way off the stage, and that certainly is how Trump hopes Biden will come off on Thursday. Again, he's not in complete control of that, either.

But I think this debate is a huge opportunity and offers huge risks for both candidates. They're trying to reach people who haven't yet tuned into the race, low-information voters. So far, those voters have seemed open to Trump, but President Biden hopes that Thursday changes that dynamic.

RASCOE: Well, you know, Trump likes to attack Biden as old. Biden often says Democracy is on the ballot. But just like we heard at the top, they're also presenting extremely different policy agendas.

LIASSON: Absolutely. This is not just a race between the guy that most voters think is too old versus the guy that most voters think is too dangerous. Recently, as you heard in that tape, President Biden used the anniversary of DACA, which is the program that allows people who are brought here as children or infants to work legally and have a path to citizenship. On that anniversary, he announced a new executive order allowing spouses - people that are married to U.S. citizens but don't have documentation themselves - to stay in the U.S. and work while they apply for legal status. And the Biden campaign is hoping that that move is very popular with his base. He - recently, he issued another executive order cracking down on the border, but he hopes this one actually moves votes.

Donald Trump has had a very base-focused campaign, but he has actually tried to move to the center on several issues recently. He said he wouldn't sign a national abortion ban. That's something that some of his anti-abortion supporters might not like. He said that foreign students who graduate from American universities or junior colleges should get green cards, and that's also a departure from the degrading and dehumanizing rhetoric that he usually uses when talking about immigrants. You heard a little bit about that earlier. And he's also said that he wants to get rid of taxes on tipped wages. That's a clear play for blue-collar votes.

RASCOE: So we've got this debate on Thursday that could very well have an outsized impact on the campaign. We'll know, you know, yes or no by the next time you and I speak on next Sunday, but for now, where does this race actually stand?

LIASSON: I think this race is tied. Since the conviction, since Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts, almost every poll has Biden moving up a little bit. Trump still leads in a handful of swing states. He's also managed to close the fundraising gap between him and the president.

But I would say that these are two unpopular candidates trying to get their bases out by relying on negative partisanship, by trying to get their voters to go to the polls so that they can stop the other guy from winning. So two candidates with dramatically different visions of governance, presidential power and America's role in the world and a very, very tight race.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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