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USA Votes 2020

On Plugged In…

The political conventions are over …

and the U.S. 20-20 …

presidential campaign …

kicks into high gear.

President Donald Trump …

and former Vice President …

Joe Biden …

ask Americans for their votes …

amid a coronavirus pandemic …

that has caused …

an economic recession …

and amid protests for racial justice …

Political insiders …

from both parties …

share their insights …

about how each candidate …

can convince American Voters …

he can lead the country …

out of a difficult period.

Plus …

a historic choice …

for vice president …

On Plugged In…

“2020 - USA Votes”

(Greta Van Susteren)

Hello and welcome to Plugged In.

I’m Greta Van Susteren reporting from Washington, DC.

The campaign for president of the United States is now in a new phase.

With the political conventions now behind them President Donald Trump and his opponent - former Vice President Joe Biden are out making campaign speeches in key states.

Both are presenting competing visions of how he would handle domestic issues of racial justice, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession triggered by the pandemic.

There are also stark differences in how the presidential candidates view foreign policy.

Here is VOA Senior White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara.

(Trump vs. Biden by Patsy Widakuswara)

In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump argued that his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, is a weak leader who will destroy the country.

((President Donald Trump))

“Joe Biden spent his entire career outsourcing the dreams of American workers, offshoring their jobs, opening their borders and sending their sons and daughters to fight in endless foreign wars.”


During the Democratic National Convention, Biden, vice president during the Obama administration, portrayed Trump as a dangerous leader who has ruined America’s standing in the world.

((Joe Biden, Democratic presidential nominee))
"I'll be a president who will stand with our allies and friends and make it clear to our adversaries, the days of cozying up to dictators is over. Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers."


The Democrats’ foreign policy platform opposes “forever wars,” proposes less spending on national defense, and criticizes China’s trade practices.

The Republican Party continues to rally around President Trump’s foreign policy agenda, which he sums up as “America First,” a slogan he made famous during his 2016 campaign. Other foreign policy goals: “bring American troops home” and “end reliance on China.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded Trump’s “America First” policies.

((Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State))

"It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it's worked."


The Democrats featured Republican Colin Powell, former secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration, who said Biden will take care of American troops.

((Colin Powell, Former U.S. Secretary of State))

“It comes from the experience he shares with millions of military families, sending his beloved son off to war and praying to God he would come home safe."


Trump’s speech focused mainly on China in the context of the pandemic, trade relations and outsourced jobs, claiming that Beijing would own the U.S. if Biden got elected.

((Robert Daly, Wilson Center))

“The Republicans are talking about who is more hard line and who can be tougher on China. The Democrats are speaking about who can be more effective in competing with China. This isn't just about poking the dragon through bellicose speeches, insults and accusations. This is about leveraging American strength, increasing our competitiveness, working with allies, and using diplomacy to manage competition effectively in the service of American interests, what is going to be a long-term, high-stakes, high-cost competition with China.”


While the two candidates present starkly different views, foreign policy is not a deciding factor in the election.

((William Howell, University of Chicago))

“It is rare for it to be a top one, two or three considerations among voters except during times of war. And now the big concerns have to do with COVID, they have to do with the economy, and concerns about character, about the kind of leadership that we're going to observe going forward either under a Trump administration or Biden administration.”


Still, the candidates are expected to discuss it during the debates in September, including the issue of foreign interference in the November election.

Patsy Widakuswara, VOA News.


Haley Barbour is the former governor of the southern US state of Mississippi.

From 1993 to 1997, before he was governor of Mississippi, he was chairman of the Republican National Committee.

For more than 40 years, he has served in state and federal leadership positions.

We talked about the remarkable chain of events we are experiencing now and their impact on the election ahead.

(Governor Haley Barbour Interview)

GVS: this summer we've seen on tape police officers, one kneeling on a man saying he couldn't breathe for about nine minutes. then recently we saw a police officer shoot someone leaving seven times in the back, and then both of these incidents are followed by a lot of unrest with looting and fires, some peaceful protests indeed but a lot but what gets highlighted, of course, is the violence. What do you say to people watching that?

HB: well first of all, law enforcement is very important to our country. we are and we are a country with the rule of law. And that has paid gigantic dividends on every kind of level in our country for, for not just decades, for centuries. However, a law enforcement officer got to be held to standards, just like everybody else. And, you know, I wasn't there. But what appears obvious with the man in Minneapolis, is the policeman was trying, if not to kill him, to hurt him.

And for no good cause, I think there were four policemen standing around there. That's just not acceptable period, and it needs to and it needs to be handled by the rule of law. That policeman needs to be put through our system of government’s rule of law. The same thing about, I haven't seen the video of the young man who was shot several times and paralyzed, but if the facts are as talked about in the press and I have no reason to believe they're not, then those people need to be looked at, investigated, held to the system and the rule of law that says how they are supposed to act.

GVS: What's the impact do you think of the coronavirus on this election?

HB: If you go back six months, Greta, to the end of February, President Trump was ahead in most polls. His job approval was at its highest that it has ever been, now his jobs approval has never been much above 50, but it was right there. Why? the economy was great, record employment and as we said it wasn't just the higher income people that were making money, working class people were making money. So, yes, Trump was very much helped by that and he's been hurt by COVID.

GVS: What's the strategy to get out the base to vote, and to get the independents and the undecideds this November?

HB: Well in a typical presidential election, the issues and the solutions and the results of what the incumbent have done, you know would be playing out very plainly. Coronavirus is a very different bird. And in this election: You have two guys, one of whom President Trump, who's got a whole lot of opposition from the other side, opposition to him from the other side. And you got Biden, who's kind of their compromise candidate because they wanted to unite their party, but he's run for president twice before and hasn't turned out very good.

GVS: if you're overseas and you're not an American and you're looking at the US election, you might wonder why the politicians are so much at each other's throats, saying the worst things about each other. What do you say to those people as they watch our election?

HB: That for a lot of Americans it’s just as disgusting to us, that people act like that than it is to somebody who lives in a different country. But Americans would much rather politicians talk about policy, and the results of policy and deal with, with issues - say what they're for and not trying to say that the other person is an awful person. Maybe some of them are awful person, but I can tell you I was a Republican national chairman and I've had democratic friends before I came to Washington, while I was in Washington and some of them to this day remain very close friends for my wife and me. And I have a high opinion. But increasingly, and it's been going on for a little while now, increasingly, this terrible rhetoric and cussing the other guy and claiming everybody is a terrible this that or the other is relatively new, though not unheard of. And it's really bad for outcomes, it’s the bad for the body politic, in that it tends to make it harder to govern.


Democrats held their convention first – a week ahead of the Republican convention.

Because the coronavirus pandemic forced conventions to be scaled back, former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the Democrats presidential nomination in his home state of Delaware.

Democrats used their convention to criticize President Trump’s pandemic response and to portray Biden as empathetic to the difficulties Americans are experiencing.

Democrats portrayed themselves as a diverse party evidenced by Biden’s choice to be his vice president.

Senator Kamala Harris is the first African American and South Asian woman on a major U.S. political party ticket. VOA’s Brian Padden has more.

(The Biden Harris Ticket by Brian Padden)

Kamala Harris had long been seen as the frontrunner in presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential search.

(Kamala Harris, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee)

“This is a moment of real consequence for America.”


The California senator met his criteria for a highly qualified woman. Biden also faced pressure from within his party to choose an African American at a time when much of the country is focused on racial justice.

((Jared Leopold, Democratic Strategist, Evergreen Mission))

“I think it's a great choice by Biden. Look, it's up to him right now to run a safe smart campaign. Kamala Harris is a known entity. She's trusted. She's someone who has been vetted on the national stage and she's a smart pick for him.”


The selection of Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, should energize key Democratic constituencies.

((Daniella Gibbs Léger, Strategist, Center for American Progress))

“I'm really happy that it's her and obviously, as a black woman, it's, it's just remarkable to see, you know, (someone like) myself represented on a national ticket in my lifetime. So I'm really excited about it.”


Harris boasts experience as California’s former top prosecutor, and in the Senate where she gained prominence for her tough questioning of President Donald Trump’s nominees, including Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his 2018 confirmation hearing. A dynamic speaker, the one-time rival of Biden for the nomination is expected to be a formidable opponent to Republican Vice President Mike Pence on the debate stage.

The choice of Harris - a relative political moderate in a party trending leftward - could solidify Biden’s support among pro-business independents. But she may disappoint the most progressive elements of the party demanding radical government intervention in the economy.

Harris is seen as a safe choice for a campaign that is already ahead in public opinion polls, challenging a president whose leadership is being put to the test by the pandemic and an economic crisis.

Brian Padden, VOA News Washington.


Debbie Dingell is a Democratic Congresswoman from the midwestern U.S. state of Michigan.

She has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2015.

Before being elected to Congress she was chair of the Board of Governors at Wayne State University and worked for General Motors.

We discussed the country’s political divisions and its impact on the presidential campaign.

(Rep. Debbi Dingell Interview)

GVS: What would you say for someone who's watching this for instance, from Africa and the person says what is going on in United States?

DD: We're seeing it across the world, people are on edge COVID turned the world upside down. So we're already suffering from much anxiety, stress, economic worry. And in many countries, we're seeing ourselves pitted against each other. We all have to take deep breaths. In my country. We are very lucky. our democracy is one of the greatest forms of government. Community is the strength of democracy. And we need to support each other. That's how we're all going to get through COVID. So I'm deeply distressed by what I've seen, but I believe in the hope of America, I believe in our future.

GVS: There's a lot of unrest in some major cities in this country right now. There's talk about racism, there are people being shot for whether it's a police officer on an African American citizen, then you've got people's lighting fires, and we've got a lot of looting. What are we gonna do about this violence in the cities?

DD: It is very clear in this country that we're at a crossroads. And we do need to talk about racism in this country. During the month of August, we saw two videotapes, after all of us, not only in this country, but around the world saw the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota by a policeman with a chokehold. We, as you just said, watched a man in Wisconsin be shot in the back seven times in front of his three children, and we're still really waiting to even understand why that happened. But at the same time, we saw a 17-year old, young white man or down the street with a semi automatic weapon, be given water by the police people saying he had just shot someone. It turns out that he killed two people and wasn't stopped. We need to have a conversation. Black people are treated differently than white people. But we need to not throw kerosene on the fire. We need to have uncomfortable conversations.

GVS: If you just pay attention to social media and read the headlines, you would think that Democrats and Republicans hate each other that it's that's war. But as a practical matter in this country, there's much legislation where Republicans and Democrats actually work together. It isn't always what we see in the headlines right?

DD: Social media was something that was founded to connect us. And I think that is singularly lending itself to the destruction of civil society. Because of people the anomaly in which people are able to say anything they want that they are able to bully each other. The hate rhetoric, the vitriolic rhetoric is unacceptable. And I think people aren't developing relationships the way that they need to. And there are people that you take the time to develop the relationship, to respect each other, that that's the foundation of a civil society.

I think that in this country, I'm an American, and I'm American first. And then Republicans or Democrats, not everybody believes that. But our phrase and time that has stood the test of time is united we stand divided, we fall. And there are moments after 911, September 11, in this country, there was a time of great patriotism. And we all remembered that we were Americans, I always reach across the aisle, you can't get a good piece of legislation that the public is going to support if you're not working together on both sides of the aisle.

GVS: You've got the Republican base, Republicans can depend on, the democratic base that the democrats can depend on. And the country seems evenly divided. So it seems to me that what both parties are trying to do or get the undecided, so the independent vote, so that's really sort of the prize going into this election, am I right?

DD: I think that you're right but I would, I would add something to that. So people are targeting what they call independents. There are many independents who have already made up their mind, which is unusual at this point. But it's also about getting your voters that do support you to turn out. I think many people have become disillusioned with the political system or think that their vote doesn't matter. You know your individual vote matters wherever you are. You can't take any vote for granted. And as we saw four years ago, in the election of Hillary Clinton, where everybody said she had it in the bag, she didn't, every person's vote matters.

GVS: You know what, one of my favorite scene in American politics is when it's a switch of parties like Republican, the democrat or Democratic Party Republican in the White House, and the day that we do that the exchange of power is that the to the two get into a car and go up together to Capitol Hill, and we have that peaceful exchange of power.

DD: Elections are tough times. I don't like it when people attack each other. Unfortunately, that's becoming a way of life. But the peaceful and orderly transition of government has been one of the most fundamental symbols of our democracy over the two centuries, nearing three that we've had this democracy. And I hope that that always continues. When we elect a new administration the person that's elected is our president. And we need to remember that and we need to work together for the good of the American people.


The coronavirus pandemic will force candidates to re-think how to effectively campaign.

With large political rallies discouraged due to social distancing, connecting with voters takes on new meaning.

Frank Sesno is the former director of the school of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

He was also a White House Correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief for CNN.

We discussed how media is playing a larger role in American elections.

(Frank Sesno Interview)

FS: so as people who watch American politics from around the world know and they scratch their heads a lot, So do we by the way, we have this sort of endless presidential campaign. And, you know, many countries, you know time their presidential campaign or their you know their parliamentary campaigns for six weeks before the election or something like that. Ours goes on for two years. So we have this, you know, primary and caucus process where states go state by state and they select. So based on the votes and and the the rules vary state to state. But basically, the voters of the state vote and then the delegates are apportioned based on who wins how much in a particular state contests to go to the convention. They can vote and they carry that vote to the convention. And getting this, you know, the designated number of delegates gets the candidate over the top.

GVS: And then all the delegates and all the media and all the party faithful as they descend upon a particular city that has been determined to be the where the convention is going to be held. And that of course the cities love that because it's a lot of money and it's a big arena and people gather. We didn't have that this year. It was different.

FS: No. I mean, as I say, been to many of these and they're big parties slash television commercials slash conventions where the party faithful from all over the country really around the world, because the American territories Guam and things like that come into --everybody wears silly hats and buttons and they hang around their state or territory flag and banner.
And it's a party. But it's also a very important organizing event for the parties. Often I think the media dismiss these a little bit too out of hand. because the real impact or one of the impacts anyway is to energize all these people to go back out to their states, to work very hard on behalf of the party and the candidate. This year that gathering didn't happen. The cities are chosen very strategically because the parties are trying to use their influence in those locations to tip a vote come election day. It was supposed to be this year where they were getting together and as they would normally and because of covid, these were virtual conventions or largely virtual conventions. The president convened some people rather controversially, on the lawn of the White House. But these were virtual. And so a very, very, very different kind of gathering.

GVS: It confuses people I think around the world that 2016 is the best example of this, is that the candidates were Secretary State Hillary Clinton and then businessmen. Now President Trump and Secretary State Hillary Clinton got more votes than President Trump. But President Trump won.
How come?

FS: Well it's what we call our electoral system, and our electoral system was designed so that every state has a say in this. and it was actually designed to reflect the very problem that we're experiencing now in many other countries are which is a big urban rural divide. Our founders did not want just the cities running, you know, and just making these decisions. They put a federal system in place. So we have the states. And so the states have a formula for their electors. And the electors are the ones who reflect the votes of those states. So we don't have a popular vote, national popular vote in the United States, which is why Hillary had 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. But Donald Trump won the Electoral College as it's called, reflecting the different states. And it's you know this is a this has been a big problem and it's an accelerating problem as we urbanize. And I expect it will continue to be so.

GVS: Your thoughts on these debates that are coming up between now and November 3rd?

FS: Well I again, I tracked the debates very closely. I've covered many of them. You know, these are not, generally speaking, not debates in the truest sense that candidates come out. They have their talking points. They know what they want to do to engage one another. The impact on the public is usually from a moment. You know, there was the famous moment way back when and when Gerald Ford was running where he tried to suggest that Poland was not part of the Soviet empire when the Soviet Union was completely dominating and Poland was well behind the Iron Curtain. There was Ronald Reagan when he looked at the camera and said, you know, in the middle of the energy crisis and the hostage crisis are you better off America than you were four years ago? And then the country resoundingly said no. Or when Reagan was on the defensive over his age and he made a joke about his opponent. I'm not going to use his inexperience, his age and inexperience against him. So moments come out of that. I think this year is going to be different. I think this year is going to be different. I've never seen the country this divided. I've never seen the country this mobilized. I've never seen the country this angry. Except maybe if we were to go back to the Vietnam era where people were in the streets and, you know, there were there were violent demonstrations around the country. So I think the debates are going to really matter, Greta. And people are going to be really watching to see whether Biden can take Trump on, how Trump goes back after Biden. It's going to be. And I think the viewership for the debates this year will be off the charts.


The coronavirus pandemic is forcing Republicans and Democrats to find ways to bring their message to American voters without endangering public health or breaking social distancing guidelines.

Their first challenge was adapting their nominating conventions.

Plugged In’s Steve Redisch examines the effectiveness of virtual conventions.

(A Tale of Two Conventions by Steve Redisch)

“We as a state want to bring forth our delegates, 172, for Donald Trump.”


Republicans started their convention with a sharp contrast to Democrats, conducting the roll call vote of states to re-nominate President Trump during the day, away from prime-time viewers and with a fraction of the 25-hundred delegates attending.

Democrats used their roll call as a virtual cross-country journey, with delegations showing off a bit of their state while casting votes by video.

((Matthew Continetti, American Enterprise Institute))

“I actually think the virtual convention has been a boon to both parties. For one thing, the virtual convention allowed the DNC to really skirt the real intra-party differences among Democrats. You didn't have any huge protests or loud calls of support for Bernie Sanders, say, when his nomination was put into play. And you also didn't have those chants of lock her up, which kind of were interspersed with among all the speeches at the RNC four years ago.”

While Democrats made generous use of low-tech videos to deliver short speeches, Republicans tried to replicate the staging of a live convention using a mix of recorded and live speeches from a grand auditorium.

Only a handful of sitting elected Republican officials spoke. Former President George W. Bush did not.

((Vanessa Beasley, Vanderbilt University))

“The absence of the old guard of the Republican Party is definitely meaningful. You want to show the continuity of the party itself, you want to show the party’s behind you, and the absence of key figures signals of this year that that's not necessarily the case.”


Instead, many of the featured speakers for Republicans have been members of the President’s family and their significant others.

((Matthew Continetti, American Enterprise Institute))

“If the goal of the convention is to enthuse his voter base, maybe remind them of why they voted for Donald Trump four years ago, a family member is just as likely to do that as a Republican, elected official, and perhaps even more likely, since one thing we know about the front base is that they are extremely suspicious of politics as usual.”


First Lady Melania Trump expressed sympathies for those who have been affected by COVID-19. Other convention speakers praised the president for his handling of the crisis.

While Democrats spent much of their convention criticizing Trump for not doing enough about the pandemic, the politics of it played out in some more subtle ways:

((Matthew Continetti, American Enterprise Institute))

“Joe Biden, of course, talked to his guests via zoom remotely. And whenever Biden was in proximity with other people, he always was sure to model the use of a mask. Donald Trump, on the other hand, conducted his panels in person in the White House, and there were no masks involved. And I think that speaks to larger differences between the two parties, not only on how to approach the coronavirus but also the future of America in general.”


And both parties claim the other is painting a dark picture of the American future if the opposing candidate wins.

((Vanessa Beasley, Vanderbilt University))

“I think what's interesting about this moment is that that optimism as a claim is being manifest quite differently. In the Democratic National Convention, it was almost a more somber and intimate tone, some sense of even some mourning, especially when they showed pictures of people whose lives have been lost to COVID-19. And the optimism in the Republican case was manifest in terms of a higher volume, a tone of what will happen if the future is left in the hands of the Democrats.”


Without a live audience to react and applaud, speeches have been shorter at both conventions. But fewer people watched either convention on television than did four years ago.

Steve Redisch, VOA News, Washington.


That’s all the time we have. Thank you for watching.

And thank you to my guests Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Governor Haley Barbour and Frank Sesno.

Follow the 2020 election at

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @Greta.

Thank you for being Plugged In.