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Left, Right & Center
Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
6 days ago
Carrots over sticks
Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan has stretched the definition of infrastructure. One component is over $200 billion for housing. Home prices are rising around the country and affordability is a bigger issue than ever, but will incentivizing local governments to make zoning less restrictive and build more housing actually get more Americans into the homes they want? Then: Josh Barro and panelists Jamelle Bouie and Lanhee Chen discuss how governors have handled the pandemic and how they’ve fared politically. For all the national criticism Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantis, has gotten, Florida’s been an average performer at fighting the spread of Covid-19. Did Governor DeSantis get a bad rap? And how did Governor Cuomo in New York get so overrated? Can all of this be explained by our hyper-partisan times? Georgia’s new voting law might be explained by that too — the panel analyzes critiques of this law and its projected effects on future elections.
Apr 2, 2021
Infrastructure Week, maybe for real this time
It’s finally Infrastructure Week! Maybe for real this time? Josh Barro and panelists Christine Emba and Lanhee Chen discuss President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure package that includes funding for more traditional infrastructure, like transportation, water and utilities and more. But there’s also something Biden’s calling “infrastructure at home”: affordable housing, school upgrades, broadband and more. Is this a Democrat’s wishlist, or are there aspects of this bill that can gain Republican support? Is it really an infrastructure bill or a big spending bill? Is it the right political strategy to put all of these priorities in one proposal? President Biden wants to increase the corporate tax rate to pay for this major 8-year spending project, taking aim at the centerpiece of President Trump’s 2017 tax package. The panel agrees that might be a broadly popular move that could be challenging for Republicans to oppose.
Mar 26, 2021
Biden meets the press
Joe Biden gave the first press conference of his presidency this week. He took a bit of a victory lap, saying we’ll actually get 200 million shots in his first hundred days and noting that about half of schools are fully open and over 100 million Americans have gotten their $1400 payments. Okay, so what’s next? What about the non-covid agenda items for the Biden administration, which may actually prove more politically challenging. Biden did not seem bullish on gun legislation. He noted we’re sending away the vast majority of migrants who show up at the US-Mexico border, but with a policy change, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors are poised to set a record. Biden also didn’t want to get into specifics on his response to China after a frosty summit in Anchorage. Kaiser Kuo will tell us what to expect going forward in that relationship.
Mar 19, 2021
Tragedy in Georgia
Congress is debating how to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. House Democrats passed their version this week, but Republicans in the Senate have concerns about guns and other issues. As the nation reacts to a horrific attack aimed at Asian American women in Atlanta, what is the prospect for federal action? Josh Barro speaks with Christine Emba and Megan McArdle about objections to the bill — are Democrats arguing against a more progressive position on policing? Are Republicans just objecting to restrictions on guns? Alec MacGillis of ProPublica joins the panel to discuss his reporting on the toll of the pandemic on children and teens, including academic losses, social isolation, mental health and suicide. Then, the panel discusses Alec’s new book Fulfillment: Winning And Losing In One-Click America that examines economic inequality and disparities in the United States through the lens of Amazon. The company has intensified the trend of ‘winning’ cities with unaffordable housing and ‘losing’ cities with a rusted-out economic base. How much of that is Amazon’s fault, and would a union for Amazon workers ameliorate it? If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Mar 12, 2021
Joe Biden’s BFD
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act is now law, and to quote then-Vice President Biden, it’s a “big f***ing deal.” President Biden signed it Thursday and addresssed the national about the return to normal. He announced he’s directing states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1. What’s actually in this giant law? Where will all that money go? There’s a big extension of unemployment that will help workers get through the summer. Direct payments will be distributed to Americans starting as soon as this weekend. There’s also a lot of spending that seems maybe only tangentially related to the pandemic. The panel talks with Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center about the big new payments to American parents that some may be surprised start getting as soon as July. The payments will significantly reduce child poverty, but for now, the payments are in effect for one year. President Biden would like to make it permanent. Should he?
Mar 5, 2021
Not now, but soon?
Texas is done with Covid, but is Covid done with Texas? Some states are rushing to lift restrictions while others are being more deliberate, saying they’ll do so in late March or April. Is this return to normal coming too soon or not soon enough? Meanwhile, lawmakers are making changes to the Covid relief package. Some upper-middle earners won’t get relief checks, but that’s less than a one-percent cut from the $1.9 trillion package. Is the money going to the right places? And is it too much in an economy that’s already propelled by the return of social activity? Finally, this week featured controversies about Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potatohead, and whether it’s okay to call people “neanderthals.” Is the uptick in silly news stories a sign that nature is healing?
Feb 26, 2021
A third vaccine
We’re getting a third covid vaccine. Johnson & Johnson is set to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, and this vaccine only requires one dose per person. Vaccine rollout in the US is accelerating and is faster than most other rich countries. Are we doing a good job with this? When can we go back to normal, and has Anthony Fauci become a bit of a wet blanket? Plus: Donald Trump’s planning to continue steering the Republican Party, a setback for a Democratic minimum wage increase proposal and Renuka Rayasam talks with the panel about what happened in Texas: why the state’s electrical system was so vulnerable to cold weather and political fallout from the disaster.
Feb 19, 2021
Left, Right & Center & Independent
Former President Trump has been acquitted in his second impeachment trial and now we are officially out of the Trump era… for now. Congress can now turn its attention to passing another round of covid relief and Democrats are prepared to do this with no Republican votes, if necessary. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine joins the panel for an update on those negotiations, why a bipartisan deal isn’t in the cards and how Democrats are deciding how much money to spend and on what. Then economics and housing reporter Conor Dougherty talks with the panel about the housing crisis in Califorrnia and nationally, and how the pandemic has changed it for the better and for the worse.
Feb 12, 2021
Former President Trump is on trial in the senate. Democrats showed dramatic video presentations with previously unseen footage of the Capitol riot showing how close some lawmakers came to danger. Trump’s lawyers say the trial is unconstitutional — and besides, the riot was not his fault — and they appear to be taking most Republican senators along with them. Meanwhile, the White House has been mostly ignoring the impeachment trial and making plans to go bigger on deficit spending with better economic projections convincing them they have more room to borrow and spend on relief and infrastructure. Anya Kamenetz joins the panel to talk about schools reopening, as the Biden administration seeks to balance the interests of parents and teachers. A hacker recently tried to put dangerous levelss of lye in a Florida wter systeem. It didn’t work this time, but how much should we worry in the aftermath of the massive Solarwinds hack that affected untold numbers of government agencies? Nicole Perlroth talks about cybersecurity and major risks facing the United States and what we should be afraid of.
Feb 5, 2021
Closer to $2 trillion
Democrats are much closer to passing the nearly $2 trillion relief package President Joe Biden has proposed. A Republican pitch for a much smaller package doesn’t look to be going anywhere. The White House says doing too little is way riskier than doing too much, but economist Larry Summers is worried the package is too big and will endanger efforts to spend later on infrastructure. Who is right? Josh Barro talks with Megan McArdle and David Dayen about that, Senator Romney’s proposal for a child benefits package, and special guest Helen Andrews makes the conservative anti-Boomer case.
Jan 29, 2021
More vaccines, more executive orders and... GameStop
One week later, the Biden administration is getting more aggressive with vaccine distribution. More doses will be sent to states and they will use the Defense Production Act to speed up manufacturing. On top of that, there is promising data on two new Covid vaccines. How big a shift is this from the Trump administration and is the Biden team moving fast enough? The panel discusses executive action from President Biden on health care and immigration. Immigration wasn’t one of the four top priorities President Biden designated for the start of his turn, but as he was taking office, Biden surprised with a major comprehensive plan for immigration reform. Is that possible, or is it fated to be broken up into pieces that result in some reform? Priscilla Alvarez talks with the panel about President Biden’s immigration strategy in his executive orders and this proposed plan: how much of it has a chance of becoming policy? How much will be tied up in the courts? Lanhee Chen says using exec…
Jan 22, 2021
President Biden calls for unity. Will he get it?
America has a new president. Joe Biden called for unity in his inaugural address, but he enters office with the country facing huge challenges and with the slimmest of majorities in Congress, making it harder for him to move the agenda he wants. Can he get unity in Congress to support his agenda, or will the fate of the filibuster make or break his agenda? How much could it slow down priorities, and should Democrats just get rid of it now? Lanhee Chen says there’s a good reason for Republicans to fight for the filibuster: it’s an important and meaningful way for the party to have an impact and build messaging into the 2022 midterms. David Dayen says Democrats might need to see a big, important piece of policy — like Biden’s proposed coronavirus relief package — fail because of the filibuster in order for Democrats to support getting rid of it. On that coronavirus relief bill, moderates aren’t thrilled about everything in it. The panel discusses whether a slimmed down appro…
Jan 15, 2021
President Trump is the first president to be impeached twice. What does it mean to hold him accountable? And what should be done about the Republicans who voted to throw out the results of the election? Some Republicans are saying impeachment is divisive and the country needs to move on, but what about the lies the party has tolerated and fomented about the election for months and months. Weren’t those divisive too? Josh Barro talks with panelists K. Sabeel Rahman and Lanhee Chen and special guest Zeynep Tufekci about the role social media played in spreading conspiracy theories that led to the riot. Do recent actions by Amazon and Facebook and Twitter reduce the risk of future unrest? And should we worry about the role these large private firms play in shaping the rules of our discourse? President-elect Biden is preparing to take office as his predecessor’s impeachment trial begins. He wants another $1.9 billion relief package — and bipartisan support for it. Can he get that?
Jan 8, 2021
The pro-Trump mob at the Capitol
On Wednesday, supporters of President Trump ransacked the Capitol after he urged them to march there. The mob entered the Capitol as Congress was working to certify Joe Biden’s election win. Five people are dead. Tensions are very high in Congress. Members of the Trump administration are resigning. Will the president be impeached again, just as his term is up? With less than two weeks until the inauguration, is that timeline even possible? Josh Barro talks with panelists K. Sabeel Rahman and Lanhee Chen and special guest Anna Palmer about whether impeachment is appropriate or even possible, and what accountability would look like for this crisis. In a week of crises — President Trump encouraging the mob at the Capitol, his call to the Georgia secretary of state insisting he won the state and asking to “find” enough votes to support that falsehood — weirdly, there are positive signs this week for the functioning of the Biden administration. Democrats won both Georgia Senate…
Dec 18, 2020
Uh, deal or no deal?
Joe Biden announced his picks to lead transportation, climate, energy and environmental policy this week and it’s making progressives pretty happy. But what will they be able to get done in a closely divided Congress? Josh Barro talks with panelists K. Sabeel Rahman and Lanhee Chen about the choices and the hope for a big bipartisan infrastructure initiative. Do Republicans want to make good on that? Will Mitch McConnell be open to bringing legislation to the floor for a vote, regardless of the outcomes in the two Georgia senate runoffs? And how good is the COVID relief package that’s getting closer to the finish line this week? Plus: the panel discusses initial details about the SolarWinds hack and cybersecurity concerns, and Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Institute joins the panel to talk about pandemic shaming, which isn’t stopping people from gathering at the holidays and might be undermining virus containment.
Dec 11, 2020
Looking under the hood
Joe Biden’s cabinet is taking shape. The names are predictable, but the positions they’re attached to is raising some eyebrows on the Right and Left. Josh Barro discusses the Biden economic team and Janet Yellen as his choice for Treasury Secretary, and his choice of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services with new panelists Lanhee Chen and K. Sabeel Rahman. Sabeel Rahman says that even if the cabinet head choices are a little confusing, you have to look under the hood to the No. 2’s, the assistant and deputy secretaries to get a better picture of the administration’s priorities and policy direction. Why have congressional negotiations over more coronavirus relief stalled yet again? One major challenge is that lawmakers are seeing different crises within the bigger crisis. Some see a V-shaped recovery with household balance sheets faring pretty well, and that is leading some representatives to advocate for a smaller packa…
Dec 4, 2020
Caught with their masks down
In a dark week for new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, a few high-profile politicians — mostly Democrats — have gotten a lot of attention for disobeying their own pandemic orders and restrictions. Of course, Republican leaders have been far from compliant (up to and including the White House), but is it especially egregious for Democratic leaders caught with their masks down? Are some Republicans unfairly getting a free pass because they have largely ignored the virus in the first place? There was some better news this week: states are planning for imminent vaccine distribution. It’s a major task, and there are deep trust issues at play. In Washington, it looks like there’s bipartisan agreement on another coronavirus aid bill. The panel is hopeful that this is the beginning of more bipartisan action and a government that is more responsive to national crises. Finally: more women than ever will take their seats in a new Congress and hold posts in the Biden-Harris…
Nov 27, 2020
Politics of culture
2020 has been a difficult year. Keli Goff hosts this special episode of Left, Right & Center about how art gets us through tough times, and how it can move us politically too. You’ll hear from four creators and thinkers on the persuasive power of the arts and what pieces they’ve turned to for inspiration and comfort. You might walk away with a new favorite song or play. Stan Zimmerman wrote one of 2020’s favorite TV series: “The Golden Girls.” In April, Hulu viewers watched nearly 11 million hours of the show. Zimmerman talks about why the show was ahead of its time, and why so many shows are seeing a resurgence during a stressful year. Musician Nile Rodgers might be the reason some of your favorite songs exist. Rodgers is one of the most successful songwriters and musicians ever. He co-founded Chic, and he has producing and songwriting credits with David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Madonna, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, and more. He and Goff jam out…
Nov 20, 2020
One week later, not much has changed. President Trump has not conceded to Joe Biden and continues to fight the election result and national Republicans are largely not acknowledging Joe Biden as the president-elect. As this wears on, is there real damage to American democracy and citizens’ faith in elections? What is the president’s end game? And what about the end game for the Republican party? Keli Goff hosts this episode of Left, Right & Center with Tim Carney, Christine Emba and it includes a special interview with Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights organization Color of Change.
Nov 13, 2020
The election is over but President Trump doesn’t want to admit it. Does that matter? Why are Republicans going along with this? Is it because they really need him to play an important role after he does leave office? President-elect Joe Biden is moving forward with his transition, whether it’s officially recognized by the Trump administration or not. He named Ron Klain, who managed the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola crisis, to be his chief of staff. This week brought excellent and terrible news on the coronavirus pandemic. Early results for Pfizer’s vaccine look very promising and it could be widely distributed as soon as the spring. But in the meantime, it’s looking like a dark winter. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are spiking. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but how do we get there from here?
Nov 6, 2020
Winning ugly is still winning
Remember last week, when Josh Barro, Tim Carney, Christine Emba and special guest Gustavo Arellano made some predictions about the election outcome? With votes still being counted in the critical states — with Joe Biden leading the popular vote and the electoral college — the LRC panel revisits its predictions. Why wasn’t this a landslide for the Democrats? Why are we still watching for results on Friday? Why isn’t the Left happier about this outcome? What happened in Florida and South Texas? How did congressional Republicans improve so much over their performance in the 2018 midterms? What do we know about what motivated voters this cycle? How much did the pandemic matter in the end? Steven Shepard, Politico’s chief polling analyst and senior campaign and elections editor, joins the panel to answer questions about the polls. How wrong were the polls and why were they wrong, and why was it so hard for polling to reflect support for Donald Trump? *This episode was recorded F…
1 hr 3 min
Oct 30, 2020
We'll see what happens
There are just days left in the 2020 presidential campaign and Joe Biden and Donald Trump are making their final pitches to voters around the country, but really mostly in Pennsylvania. The poll averages have Biden up five points in the state that should put him over the top, so can Democrats be confident? And what is President Trump’s last pitch for voters to give him four more years? This is your last Left, Right & Center before the election! On today’s show, Josh Barro talks with Tim Carney, Christine Emba and special guest Gustavo Arellano the president’s falling support with white voters is making it hard for him to replicate his win from 2016, and how he’s making surprising inroads with some Hispanic voters. Then: the panel makes predictions: who will win and by how much? What will happen with the senate? What will be the surprise of the night? And will one of the candidates have conceded by the time we meet back here for next week’s episode? We’ll see what happens.
Oct 23, 2020
Once more, with policy
It was the last debate of the campaign, and it was less crazy than the last one. NBC’s Kristen Welker kept it on lockdown with some help from a mute button. There was also a lot more policy discussion in this debate than the last. Josh Barro talks with Tim Carney and Christine Emba about President Trump and Joe Biden’s exchanges on schools and the coronavirus, immigration policy, a major hike to the minimum wage, race, criminal justice and corruption. By the time the debate aired Thursday night, more than 50 million people have already voted. Jessica Huseman of ProPublica talks about whether the long lines and technical issues from the early days of voting have persisted, the litigation over voting practices in Texas and Pennsylvania, and what to expect and when to expect it on election night.
Oct 16, 2020
This town hall ain’t big enough for the two of us
It was the week of dueling town halls. President Trump did not want to do a virtual debate but he’s trailing in the polls. Did his combative town hall with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie make the case that voters should change their minds and re-elect him? Christine Emba says the more people see of Trump being combative, it helps Biden. Or, as Tim Carney puts it, is Joe Biden rising in the polls because there’s been no effective critique of him from the right, the left, or the media? Josh Barro says Republicans appear to be preparing to lose the election and their last move — instead of working on another coronavirus relief package that might actually help them in this election — is to solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court as a bulwark to an impending Democratic majority in government. Tim Carney says that’s not really the whole story: this has always been Mitch McConnell’s aim. What did we learn from Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing? And have both the right and lef…
1 hr 1 min
Oct 9, 2020
Is the president a super spreader? President Trump’s doctors say he can resume public events soon — certainly what President Trump prefers, as he trails Joe Biden in the polls less than a month before Election Day — but is that really safe? Should Americans consider and judge Trump’s diagnosis and the fact that the virus spread among his staff and close contacts? Michael Brendan Dougherty says that’s fair. This week, President Trump appeared trapped between doing things to please his base and doing the right thing — largely viewed as favorable by the public — about the pandemic. Jamelle Bouie says the president has set himself up to be in this position: unable to do the politically smart thing, and that includes responding to the cluster of cases and his own illness in a smart way. Science journalist Christie Aschwanden discusses the cluster of cases at the White House and the treatments the president says cured him (though he also says he would have gotten better on hi…