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Politics Chat: Republicans Gear Up For National Convention

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Tomorrow, it will be the Republicans' turn to put on their national convention in what so far has been an unorthodox but remarkably smooth experiment in virtual conventions. Joining us in real life is national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi there.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we talk about the conventions, I want to mention yesterday's quite rare session vote in the House because it happened on a Saturday. Lawmakers approved a plan to basically rescue the U.S. Postal Service. What is this bill's fate in the Senate, though, that is controlled by Republicans?

LIASSON: It's expected to die in the Senate. But what was interesting about the vote is that 26 Republicans voted with the Democrats. They defied the president. And it really shows you how sensitive an issue the post office is. The post office - postmaster general has now said he won't make any further changes until after the election but also said he wasn't going to restore those mail-sorting machines that were pulled out of service.

Some Democrats say the mail still will be compromised. The purpose of the bill, of course, Democrats say, is to stop the president from preventing the post office from processing mail-in ballots on time. Republicans say this is just a made-up problem. But the bill itself is not going anywhere in the Senate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I mentioned, tomorrow is the start of the Republican convention, and it will almost certainly be, at least in part, a response to the Democrats' event. How are Democrats feeling about the case they made to American voters?

LIASSON: They're feeling pretty good. All the things that could have gone wrong didn't go wrong. They put together what they think is a very fast-paced infomercial. They got out their message of diversity, of being unified, of saying that Joe Biden was the antidote to Donald Trump's chaos and incompetence. They told the story of Biden as a decent, compassionate, empathetic person. And Biden himself really surpassed expectations.

Of course, the president had lowered those expectations for Biden by saying repeatedly that he was senile, that he couldn't string a sentence together. But Biden looked pretty presidential on Thursday night. It looked like he was giving an Oval Office address. So Democrats, for the most part - pretty happy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think Democrats left anything on the table, though, as an opening for Trump?

LIASSON: Yes. You're hearing Democrats complain that there weren't enough young people talking. There weren't enough Latinos. But more important, there weren't enough white, working-class voters.

And the biggest worry I'm hearing from Democrats is that there just wasn't enough talk about the economy, about Joe Biden's plans, specific plans to make the economic lives of ordinary people better. Even though he has laid out his plans on that, they just weren't prominently featured at the convention. And the economy is still one area where Trump has polled better than Biden, so that is a potential opening for Trump.

LIASSON: OK. So now it is Donald Trump's turn. This past week, we got a taste of the kind of attacks he'll be leveling at Biden. Here's what he said on Thursday while campaigning in Pennsylvania, not far from where Biden grew up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you want a vision of your life under Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, Mara, we can safely say the gloves are off.

LIASSON: Yes. He went on to say, this mayhem is coming your way, suburban America. That is the message from Trump. But he also tweeted that the Republican convention will be, quote, "uplifting and positive." I think, however, you can expect a blistering assault on Biden and Harris from Trump this week, starting tomorrow. We know when an incumbent is this far behind in the polls, a positive message alone is not enough.

The Trump campaign says it will lay out his forward-looking vision, that he believes he brought the economy to its best point ever, and he's the guy to bring it back. But the other thing that we are hearing he might do is change tradition and appear at the convention every single night to speak.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But on the eve of this big week for him, The Washington Post says they have transcripts and recordings of Trump's sister calling him cruel and a liar. Do you think that'll have an impact?

LIASSON: It's hard to tell because there was nothing in these tapes that we haven't heard before from others about Trump, including people who have worked with him before he was president. But the significance of these tapes is, this is not a disgruntled family member. This is someone who was recorded without their knowledge - his sister. And she says - in addition to saying that Donald Trump is cruel and a liar, she says he's a phony, that he had someone else take his SATs. Of course, all of this was reported in Mary Trump's book. But now there are tapes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Finally, Mara, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, tweeted last night that the president will announce a major therapeutic breakthrough on the "China virus" - that's a quote. That's on the eve of the convention, this after Trump accused his own FDA of being in the grips of the deep state. What's going on?

LIASSON: I think you can expect a lot of dramatic announcements from Donald Trump. That's one of his stock in trades. He - remember, he touted hydroxychloroquine. He likes to present good news. And he also is looking for a game-changing thing like a vaccine or a cure that can help him - kind of like saying, I'm going to have an amazing health care plan in two weeks. Not everything comes to pass. And I think everything that he does announce will be examined and vetted carefully.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

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