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Left, Right & Center
Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
5 days ago
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 approach (checks and vaccine money) could be enough. And is the Biden administration really at square one, with no vaccine rollout plan they can work with? Finally: in President Biden, the United States has an internationalist leader again, and the world is watching. Do we just carry on as things were before President Trump and America First, or will there be persistent changes to our foreign relations, either because of damage that is difficult to undo or because President Trump rightly pointed out necessary departures? And as there is more bipartisan agreement about countering China, what will the Biden administration’s strategy be?
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 races, giving Democrats control of both houses of Congress by the narrowest of margins. That means Republicans won’t be able to block Biden’s nominees from coming to the floor, and with the Republican delegation on the hill split over President Trump, does that create more opportunities for bipartisanship in the Biden policy agenda?
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 package. Others see a K-shaped recovery that has devastated certain industries and sectors of the population, which might point to the need for even more aid. Aid to state and local governments is another sticking point in the negotiations, right as they have a major logistical task in front of them: distributing the coronavirus vaccine. Juliette Kayyem joins the panel to talk about those logistics and a challenging split-screen reality ahead. For the next few months, there will be a lot of optimism and good news about the vaccine and a return-to-normal, while thousands of Americans continue to die of COVID-19 everyday.
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 administration. Is there reason for the Left to celebrate gains for Republican women representatives? The Biden transition team announced an all-woman communications team. How much does that choice matter? And how should that team restore the relationship between the White House and the press? Keli Goff hosts this episode of Left, Right & Center with Margaret Hoover, host of Firing Line With Margaret Hoover, and Christine Emba, columnist at the Washington Post.
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 to “We Are Family” (which he co-wrote) and talk about how certain songs have moved the world. Award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau talks with Goff about the power of live performance (something we’re missing right now), why theater is still closed off to many people of color, the role of critics and the canon, “Hamilton,” and more. And to wrap it up, Goff talks with Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights organization Color of Change. Rashad talks about the impacts of celebrity on social movements, the power of icons, and why Hollywood and the arts matter to those who dream of and work toward a more equitable future.
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 Friday morning.
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…
Oct 2, 2020
President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus. Just days ago at the presidential debate, he mocked Joe Biden for wearing masks too much. After learning Hope Hicks, a top aide, had the virus, he still attended an in-person fundraiser with dozens of supporters. Does the president bear moral responsibility for taking excessive risks, contracting the virus and exposing others to it? Tuesday’s debate was a bit of a mess. Josh Barro empathizes with moderator Chris Wallace, and the panel considers what viewers learned in the debate. In his attempt to dominate the debate, Trump took heat for his unwillingness to condemn the Proud Boys, and his sinister take on voting and election legitimacy. Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders if the president has lost the ability to make a populist case for his presidency, or even tell a story about the corruption in Washington and why voters would still want him to be president? Jamelle Bouie says that if Trump had populist instincts, he wouldn’…
Sep 25, 2020
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the future of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead at 87. She leaves a legacy as a liberal icon, from her time litigating for equal rights before the court and from her 27 years serving on the bench. In the midst of fierce objections from Democrats in Congress, Republicans intend to replace her with a conservative, which will shift the Supreme Court firmly to the right. How would this affect American law in the long run, and more immediately, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act that the justices intend to hear right after the election? Should the Supreme Court — and its individual justices — have this much power? Josh Barro talks with Michael Brendan Dougherty, Jamelle Bouie and Emily Bazelon to talk about Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, what happens when the Supreme Court moves away from American public opinion, and how the Supreme Court’s power could be limited, and if it should be. Then: one of the Louisville police officers involved in the fatal raid on Breonna Taylor’s…
Sep 18, 2020
One Billion Americans
***Hi Left, Right & Center listeners: this week’s episode was recorded Friday morning before news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 of pancreatic cancer. President Trump is fighting with his CDC director. Dr. Robert Redfield says we won’t likely have wide enough distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine to return to normal life until the second or third quarter of next year. Anthony Fauci agrees with that rough timeline. But that’s not the full story: it will take months to get all those doses in people’s bodies and fighting the coronavirus. Josh Barro talks with Michael Brendan Dougherty and Jamelle Bouie about how Democrats can express concerns about Trump’s role in the vaccine process without scaring people away from an effective vaccine when it does come. Then, Matt Yglesias joins the panel to talk about his argument that the United States should have population one billion: how we could achieve it, and why America needs to be bigge…
1 hr 6 min
Sep 11, 2020
Wildfires are raging in the west. The pandemic is still raging, with nearly 200,000 Americans dead. What is the government doing? Congress still cannot agree on additional aid for Americans. President Trump has resorted to using disaster relief funds to pay for additional jobless benefits and is eyeing more executive action, but is there a bigger response coming for any of these crises? President Trump took a lot of heat for statements he made to journalist Bob Woodward, detailed in Woodward’s new book Rage, about how he knew how bad the coronavirus was and downplayed it on purpose to avert panic. Ariel Edwards-Levy (senior reporter and polling editor at the Huff Post) tells the panel about the state of the presidential race and sticks up for polling: why you should believe it more than a lot of people say they do.
Sep 10, 2020
Left, Right and Center Presents: Diaries of a Divided Nation 2020
Diaries of a Divided Nation: 2020 is a people’s history of the United States recorded in real time. Over the past year, a team of audio journalists have documented the lives of seven ordinary people with different views, living in different places, and with different stakes in politics. Each participant has recorded their thoughts and experiences as the extraordinary events of 2020 have unfolded. We hear from Americans in Texas, Iowa, Virginia, Washington, Alabama, Michigan and Kentucky among others.
Sep 4, 2020
Two trips to Kenosha
Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin this week, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake and subsequent protests, riots and looting. President Trump warned putting Democrats in power will lead to more of this sort of unrest. Joe Biden spoke in Pittsburgh to say riots are bad — which has been his position all along — and that Trump has fomented unrest with his divisiveness. A new wave of polls showed the presidential race little changed, not due to this news story, and not due to the conventions either. Then: Since students returned to campus at the University of Illinois one week ago, the university is processing more than 15,000 tests a day, accounting for as much as two percent of daily nationwide tests. This is part of the university’s plan for in-person instruction while preventing outbreaks. Dr. Rebecca Smith, a researcher and epidemiologist at the university, talks about how the program works, how it’s working so far, and where else this tes…
Aug 28, 2020
Is triggering the libs a policy platform?
President Trump accepted his party’s renomination to be president on the White House lawn, despite rules about not using government property for political purposes. He says he wants to unify the country and that Joe Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism who will demolish the suburbs and govern in thrall to Bernie Sanders. Josh Barro says that seems a little over the top. He recaps the GOP convention, President Trump’s nomination acceptance speech and the party’s overall message with new Right and Left panelists Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review and Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times Tim Alberta says the GOP’s “we’re not that evil” message was directed at one class of persuadable voters the party cannot afford to lose en masse: college educated suburban voters, i.e. voters who aren’t running away from the Republican Party so much as they are sprinting away. According to public opinion, Americans say the most important issue facing the country is the corona…
Aug 21, 2020
One convention done, one to go
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are officially the presidential ticket for the Democratic Party. The virtual convention was a little awkward, but was it any more awkward than conventions usually are? Josh Barro, Megan McArdle and Dorian Warren talk about the case Democrats made for themselves this week and why some progressives felt they got short shrift. The panel also discusses Steve Bannon’s legal troubles and why his alleged scheme to rip off conseervative donors worked so well. Then: Rick Hasen joins for a conversation about trouble at the post office, and real election risks and a plan for preserving election legitimacy. He says some of the biggest risks are known, they’re not new and they have to do with election management. He makes case for flattening the ballot curve, being realistic about the timeline of ballot distribution and return in a pandemic, and not seeing every instance of incompetence as dysfunction on purpose. Then: with every passing week without a federal aid…
Aug 14, 2020
Biden / Harris
This week, Joe Biden announced California Senator Kamala Harris will be his running mate. The Left, Right & Center panel interprets the choice. Dorian Warren says this shows how the party has changed since 2016, she may mobilize more voters (especially as President Trump and the GOP attack her) and it says a lot about Biden’s leadership that he chose someone with whom he disagrees. Megan McArdle says she doesn’t see Harris bringing much to the ticket in terms of her policy stances or her legislative record, but this pick matters more than a normal presidency because she may succeed Biden if he runs for a second term. Congress has settled into a stalemate over coronavirus aid so President Trump signed some executive orders in an attempt to support the economy. What will they do, and what will they not do? And is it even legal? And is it good politics? Indivar Dutta-Gupta (co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Poverty & Inequality) joins to talk about the mechanics and…
Aug 7, 2020
Left in the lurch
It’s August, the enhanced unemployment air ran out in July, and lawmakers in Washington don’t seem much closer to extending that and other aspects of the coronavirus aid. How long will be left in the lurch? And what do we make of the report that shows employment kept growing even as the epidemic got worse around the county? In July, about 1.8 million jobs were added and economist Betsy Stevenson has mixed feelings about it. She says economic recovery is very closely tied to virus control, which is not going very well, but we should also see this jobs report as proof that the first coronavirus aid packages have worked. Speaking of that, Republicans and Democrats are in a stalemate (as of this taping) over the next aid package. President Trump is getting frustrated and is threatening to act via executive order. Can he do that? Should he do that if Congress can’t break the stalemate? Josh Barro, Dorian Warren, Megan McCardle talk with Betsey Stevenson about the childcare crisis th…
Jul 31, 2020
What do we do now?
The US economy shrank at a record pace in the second quarter, contracting nearly ten percent. In the real world, that means tens of millions of Americans lost jobs and so many businesses were closed. We knew it wasn’t going to be good, but what’s worse is the recovery we were seeing in the late spring appears to have stalled. On top of that Congress isn’t even close to a solution for the expiring enhanced unemployment benefits that so many Americans are relying on through this crisis. So we wait. On today’s show Josh Barro, Dorian Warren, Megan McArdle and special guest Shai Akabas of the Bipartisan Policy Center talk about the state of the next relief package — is it a stimulus or not? — and the big missing piece of coronavirus economic policy: actually beating the virus. Then: pro sports are back, sort of. Pablo Torre of ESPN talks about the strategies that are working and what’s definitely not working as leagues resume or begin their seasons in our new reality.