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Biden Debuts His Economic Team

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As the coronavirus pandemic is raging, the U.S. economy is sputtering. President-elect Joe Biden spoke about that today in Wilmington, Del. He says his top economic priority is getting relief to struggling workers and families. He also introduced six key members of his economic team. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid was there and joins us now.

Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I want to start with Biden's thoughts on COVID relief because as he presented his economic team today, there was suddenly some action in Congress on these relief talks that had been stalled for months, this new bipartisan proposal. So where does Biden stand on these negotiations?

KHALID: Well, he was asked after the event, actually, specifically about this $900 billion package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and he said he had not yet reviewed that deal. He was going to take a look at it. But, you know, broadly, I will say even in the public remarks that he gave today in Delaware, there was this insistence, as we've been hearing from him for a while, that there needs to be some immediate relief for people who have been struggling. And today, I will say, I felt like I heard a little bit more nuance from him specifically about what he wants to see from Congress.

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JOE BIDEN: Right now the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs. But any package passed in a lame duck session is likely to be, at best, just a start.

KHALID: And, Ari, you know, I hadn't heard him specifically refer to that last part, which is the idea that - he seems to be suggesting that regardless of what Congress decides to do now during the lame duck session, it sounds like he thinks that they will need to do more, the incoming administration. And he did say that he's instructed his transition team to begin to put forward some plans for what they will put to the next Congress both sort of on handling COVID as well as an economic relief package. And he specifically outlined a lot of concerns that he thinks need to be addressed - things like rent relief, student loan relief, affordable health care, child care assistance. And so, you know, he outlined what he'd like to see in some eventual stimulus package.

SHAPIRO: Now let's talk about the team that he introduced, starting with Janet Yellen, his choice for Treasury secretary, who is a high-profile pick, a history-making choice, former Federal Reserve chair. What did she say in her remarks?

KHALID: Well, you know, she talked about the Great Recession. She has experience dealing with economic crises before. And as some of the other members of the economic team also pointed out, you know, they are dealing with a pretty severe crisis that they'll be inheriting come January. She referred to this as an American tragedy. She also emphasized the need, like Biden had insisted, to move with urgency. In fact, at one point, she said that inaction would produce a self-reinforcing downturn, causing yet even more devastation.

You know, she talked, though, not just about the need to push back to where the economy was before the pandemic hit but something that we've been hearing a lot from Biden, which is this idea that you need to address some of the structural inequities, issues of stagnant wages and push the economy to deal with some of those issues that they feel have not been dealt with for years at this point.

SHAPIRO: When Biden announced these names yesterday, we heard about the diversity of the team. What else stood out to you as they were introduced today?

KHALID: You know, Ari, it was so striking to hear sort of, you know, member after member of the economic team come up and speak because there was this uniform vision that they were speaking with. And, you know, my colleague Mara Liasson has made this point. She says that this is not a team of rivals, and I think that is such an accurate way of depicting who these people are. I mean, there's a lot of consensus around the need to address systemic inequality, around the need to address issues of racial and gender disparity. And many of them spoke about, you know, their own modest roots, their own upbringing. Biden's nominee for the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden - you heard her address this when she was speaking about her own mother and her own childhood.

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NEERA TANDEN: We relied on food stamps to eat. We relied on Section 8 housing vouchers to pay the rent. We relied on the social safety net to get back on our feet. This country gave her a fair shot to reach the middle class, and she made it work.

KHALID: And, Ari, you know, this is something we often hear from Biden himself - this idea of referencing family members or your personal history and roots as being instrumental in shaping your own political views. And I will say, you know, this is something we heard from Neera Tanden. But, you know, it's worth remembering that while a lot of Biden's picks haven't been getting a lot of dissent, Tanden is one of the exceptions. She has...

SHAPIRO: OK.

KHALID: ...Angered some folks both on the left and the right, so we'll have to see if she gets through.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Asma Khalid, thank you.

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