Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 executive action is an important demonstrative and a political marker, but the substance is limited, and the legislation is the way to make lasting change.
Finally, we’re talking about GameStop. Why are populists on the Right and Left sticking up for retail investors who sent GameStop stock soaring? Won’t this end in tears and pain? The panel closes with a triple Rant dunk on California.
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?