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Democratic Campaign Veteran Describes 'An American Celebration'


And Jen Palmieri is with us next. She was a senior adviser, director of communications in the White House and also for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. She is not with the Biden campaign, but is very near the Biden campaign, I'm told, outside the Chase Center where the Biden campaign is located. Is that right?

JEN PALMIERI: That is correct. I'm at the Chase Center parking lot, where I've been for the last five nights, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is it like to be there in or near the Biden camp?

PALMIERI: It's a really exciting, a thrilling setting. I mean, I have to say - it's Friday night - or is it Saturday night? Right. Yeah. Saturday night feels very different than Tuesday night.

INSKEEP: Whatever night it is, yeah.

PALMIERI: Yeah. They did have some supporters here then. But, you know, and obviously he didn't give the speech he wanted to get on Tuesday night. But this is just - there's a lot of joy and relief, not just in the parking lot here, but just sort of all over Wilmington. A lot of people have converged here. And it's a very organic celebration. And it feels not partisan. You know, it feels like an American celebration.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking, if I can, about Tuesday night, which, at the very beginning, seemed very much like the Tuesday night that your candidate had in 2016. People were expecting Hillary Clinton to do well. People were looking early for results out of Florida, which they thought Hillary Clinton could win. Suddenly, she lost and then began losing everywhere that mattered. And this past Tuesday night began that same way. What were those moments like for you before the later results came in?

PALMIERI: I told myself in the moment that this is not 2016. But if I'm honest with you now, it felt like 2016. And it's just - I think we have - people have unrealistic expectations in some of the public polling. I'm not sure that the campaign pulling was off. But I think the public polling was off. And it did have that same sort of sinking feeling. But you did see that Biden was over-performing relative to Hillary almost across the board, even as - even though races were close. And so you had a sense, like, it didn't - Biden did not need to do that much better than our campaign did in order to win. But we - I also - I spent a lot of time on the road now covering this campaign, and I see the real breadth of support that Trump has. So I certainly knew it was possible he could win again and sure had that sinking feeling Tuesday.

INSKEEP: Well, now that Biden has won, you mentioned unrealistic or realistic expectations. What is realistic to expect out of the president-elect in the next few months, given the fact that he'll have divided government?

PALMIERI: I think that - I imagine that - I know Joe Biden relatively well. You know, I've worked with him when I worked for President Obama. I think he has a sense that this is not a normal time in America. And I think when we immediately default to, well, what's he going to get done legislatively in a short amount of time, it's sort of missing the forest for the trees. I think Joe Biden understands a lot of people voted for him who are not Democrats. A lot of people voted for him who are independents. That even outside of what Congress does, you see that what a president says, how the president leads, his words matter so much and we're going to have, you know, that - a different leader and just empathetically dealing with a pandemic, as well as bringing some - bringing more confidence to it. I think that there are things like that that Biden can do in the immediate term that will go a long way to healing the country. You know, there's a lot of policy problems that need to be solved, but there's also a lot of healing that needs to be done. And I imagine he's looking at that as his first charge.

INSKEEP: Do you anticipate or do you think Biden needs to be prepared for the possibility that Republicans will look at their interests and see them just as they did under President Obama, that their best strategy is to oppose everything, even things that they'd previously been in favor of?

PALMIERI: Yes, I do. Sadly, I do. I hope that's not what happens. And I can see it. I can see a reason why the Republicans would want to work with him. President Trump being gone, it makes sense that they would be concerned about wanting to show that they can get things done with a Democratic president that they're going to be dealing with in the midterms. And I would hope that that's what happens. I think Biden has to be - and as much as he says he can work with McConnell, I think he also, you know, he lived through the Obama administration too. He knows that they're capable of trying to stonewall. And that's where I think, you know, if Republicans are insisting on government being dysfunctional, they can get that. We've seen what that wreaks in this country. And even outside of Congress, I do think there will be relief at having a president that's going to look at his job as trying to bring people together. And I know there's a lot of disappointed Republicans, but I hope that they will see in President Biden someone who wants to be a president for them as well and that'll be enough.

INSKEEP: Jen Palmieri was an adviser to President Obama and to Hillary Clinton. Thanks so much.

PALMIERI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I'll mention that she's been covering the 2020 campaign for Showtime's "The Circus." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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