SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The April jobs report came out yesterday. It is devastating; 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs in a month; 33 million people have lost their jobs in the two months since the coronavirus shutdown began. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: These numbers are historic, worse than the 2008 economic crisis when the unemployment rate went from 3.5% in February to 14.7%. We have not seen this kind of loss since the Great Depression.
ELVING: A decade ago, as you say, when unemployment hit 10%, we were calling it the Great Recession. And, you know, that was bad. It was the worst it had been since the early 1980s, which was about 10%, and at that time, we were saying it was the worst since the Great Depression.
But now the jobless rate is way past 10%, Scott, and no one knows how to even talk about these numbers except to ask scary questions. Three out of four of these workers tell the government surveyors they expect their time out of work to be short, and maybe for most of them it will be. But a lot of these businesses, including some iconic names, are not coming back, and neither will those jobs. And let's remember at the same time, some of these workers may not want to come back if their workplace isn't safe.
Trump may think he can survive 100,000 deaths and be reelected, but he clearly fears facing the voters with double-digit unemployment.
SIMON: All of these numbers represent stories of hardship and stress, which raises the question, what makes the president still intent on overturning the Affordable Care Act when Americans need medical coverage more than ever? And is there support to that even in his own cabinet and party?
ELVING: The president demands support within his own team and to a great degree from his own party. And he has been getting it. But you've called out another rather large gamble that's going on right now. If the court should rule for the administration on Obamacare and bring more chaos to the health insurance market and uncertainty to providers and patients, that's going to be rough for a lot of Republican incumbents this fall. Health care is already the one issue on which voters are most likely to trust the Democrats.
SIMON: And the coronavirus came to the White House this week. We heard yesterday that Katie Miller, who is an aide to Vice President Pence and is married to Stephen Miller, President Trump's adviser, tested positive for COVID. And this is after one of the president's personal valets - he was in the U.S. Navy - also tested positive. Will the president begin to wear a mask in public or at public events? A lot of people noticed he didn't before very elderly World War II veterans.
ELVING: There was a palpable sense of alarm around this announcement yesterday at the White House, where they are now testing people who are in contact with the president of the United States and the vice president. And, of course, those individuals are being tested every day practically now.
The president said people around him were going to start wearing masks, including these valets, but not the president himself so far. He has said he doesn't think he needs to or should. You know, we've talked a lot about how presidents are role models, whether they want to be or not. You know, so you've had Obama struggling to quit smoking and JFK hiding all of his medical problems, but sometimes a president leads by example even when he refuses to do so. It just means he's leading in the other direction, sending the opposite signal, if you will.
SIMON: Finally, Justice Department this week dropped its charges against President Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who, however, pleaded guilty twice to lying to FBI investigators. What's the explanation the attorney general gives, and how is he handling the reaction?
ELVING: You know, you have to say he's been remarkably consistent. He sent a letter years ago critical of the whole investigation into what happened with the Russians in 2016. And 16 months ago, when he took over the Justice Department, he started going systematically about reversing a lot of what the Justice Department had done and all that Robert Mueller had done in investigating that Russian interference - dismantling cases, overturning recommendations, overruling his underlings. And while he's also doing all of that, he's been putting every manner of roadblock in the way of congressional oversight. But this week, he told CBS News none of it has been done for Trump, only in service of the law.
SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.