LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Thirty million Americans are struggling, and it's probably going to get worse. They're out of work, and the extra $600 a week they were getting in unemployment benefits - well, so far, those haven't been extended. House Democrats passed a new coronavirus relief bill more than two months ago. Senate Republicans offered a proposal just this week. The White House sent its people to the table. There's not a lot of overlap, and negotiations continue this weekend.
Joining us now to talk about this and the week in politics is NPR's Ron Elving. Good morning.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Leila.
FADEL: So, Ron, how would you characterize where negotiations are right now?
ELVING: Right now, it passes for progress if the two sides are not bashing each other in public, as they have been most of this week. As they seem to be worlds apart now, the White House wants a short-term extension to buy time. That's because the Democrats feel this is their one chance to get a long-term commitment from both parties, a commitment to help those people you just mentioned who are most affected.
This is a dual crisis of pandemic and recession. We have lost jobs. We're facing evictions - many millions of Americans this weekend. And Democrats in the House did pass a $3 trillion package in May, but the Senate, where the Republican majority said, let's pause; let's see where we are in a few weeks, hoping the virus would recede - well, of course, the virus did not recede. In fact, it exploded. And now we've got a bigger health crisis and a bigger economic crisis than ever.
FADEL: So it seems like there's a very different sense about the coronavirus crisis right now compared to what was going on when the first bill was negotiated back in the spring.
ELVING: That's right. There seemed to be a certain consensus about the crisis. Where we are right now is that the number of deaths passed 150,000 this past week.
ELVING: Dr. Anthony Fauci said we could pass 180,000 in the next three weeks - three weeks from now. And yet, there does not seem to be that shared perception of reality or common ground. On Capitol Hill yesterday, the day before, we saw House committee listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci very respectfully for the most part, although there were people on the committee who were absolutely angry with him. And meanwhile, the president's retweeting videos of a fringe character who says we don't need to wear masks at all and hydrochloroquine (ph) is a cure. And in the Senate, half the Republican majority has signaled that it doesn't want to vote for any kind of relief package and won't vote for one. So the traditional sense that in a crisis there's an achievable consensus - that's largely lacking at this point.
FADEL: And then, Ron, there was some pretty stunning news about the state of the U.S. economy this week. It contracted faster in the second quarter of this year than it's ever contracted in a three-month time period. What does this mean?
ELVING: First of all, it means we're now officially in a recession, two quarters in a row of negative growth and, as you say, the most drastic pullback in one quarter in the history of economic measurements. And if it continues to shrink at this rate over the course of a year, we'll have an economy that's only two-thirds the size that it was in March of 2019. That seems almost unthinkable.
FADEL: Yeah. So this can't be good news for President Trump. He's touted a good economy as the underpinning of his presidency, calling the start of this year, the greatest economy we've ever had. Then, after this terrible economic news, we all saw that tweet he put out calling for the election to be postponed.
ELVING: This is surely the area in which this president excels the most. You could call it a genius for using the media to change the terms of debate or just to change the subject. And this, at this point, was perhaps also a test. We've often asked over the last few years, can Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, ever say no to this president? And this week, we heard an answer. Here it is.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: We'll cope with whatever the situation is and have the election on November 3 as already scheduled.
ELVING: That was Mitch McConnell speaking during an interview with WNKY in his home state of Kentucky. And so to simply join in the chorus, let us say, in our system, the president does not call elections. He does not schedule them. That is not in his power. And that's that.
FADEL: So we're also expecting a big announcement from Joe Biden's campaign next week, the name of the woman he wants to be his vice president. What's he looking for in the person he chooses for that role?
ELVING: Last night, there was some suggestion from a couple of people in the Biden camp that the announcement may slip a week. But whether it's this week or next, Biden is striking several balances here. He wants someone who is simpatico, of course, but he also needs someone who's ready to be president. And in this moment, he must also look to balance the ticket in terms of gender, race, age. And that last one is worth remembering, given that if Biden gets elected, he will be the oldest president ever the day he takes the oath.
FADEL: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Leila.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.