The Week In Politics: White House Pushes To Restart U.S. Economy Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Apr 18, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump has announced a phased plan to reopen America, telling reporters that as many as 29 states can ease safety restrictions, quote, "relatively soon." But more than 32,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19. And there are nearly 700,000 confirmed cases - still no vaccine, no proven treatment. 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: Lots of histrionics this week in Washington, D.C. - is there a national strategy though?

ELVING: Well, yes, in a sense. There are two, Scott. One is to flatten the curve with social distancing and listen to the scientists. The other strategy is to reopen the economy as quickly as possible, as soon as even remotely justifiable because restarting the economy is the No. 1 priority for this White House. You know, the concern is to keep the recession from lasting too long. And one definition of too long would have to be November 3, election day.

So these two strategies come in conflict. And they clash when we get to testing. The scientists say we have to do lots more than we have done, exponentially more. The president said, last night, we had done 3.7 million tests. That is a little more than 1% of the U.S. population. And there are medical experts who say we should be doing millions of tests a day if we really want to get on top of this virus. So given all of that, the president says governors should take responsibility for testing.

SIMON: What could another month or two of shutdown mean, Ron, in terms of lives and, yes, livelihoods?

ELVING: We don't know how to begin to measure that, Scott, in terms of the hardship in lives. We have no metrics for that the way we do for infections and death. But we do know quarantine is far harder for some than for others. If you have small children, you know that. If you have more people in your apartment than rooms, you know that. And if you are among the 22 million Americans who have lost their jobs since mid-March, you surely know that. And in some parts of the country, if you haven't seen the effects of all this in the same way as people have in the big cities, you may simply not understand the justification.

SIMON: The president, of course, also tweeted he wanted people in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to, quote, "liberate their states." And here's what he said last night when NPR's Franco OrdoƱez asked him about those tweets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In Virginia, I'm going above and beyond what we're talking about with this horrible plague. They want to take their guns away, OK? They want to take their guns away. That's the Second Amendment. That's Virginia. You have a governor who really - I guess he should be under siege. He seems not to be. If he were a Republican, he'd be under siege.

SIMON: Ron, I don't think this is a time to hide behind any euphemisms. So let me ask you directly. Is this a call for armed insurrection in the United States?

ELVING: When you say one night, the governors are going to call their own shots, and then, the next night, you encourage people to resist their governor, put him under siege and the legislature, and you associate that resistance with guns through talk of the Second Amendment, you surely risk inflaming those who are most combustible. Does Trump actually want there to be bloodshed? No, I don't think so. But does he want the show of support he is getting from these groups? Well, why else would he be goading them on?

SIMON: Let's move on to job losses, which, indeed, are staggering. Over 5 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. And this follows the 17 million Americans who've already lost their jobs.

ELVING: Yes - an average of 7 million every week for the last several weeks, Scott. That's like we're adding a whole 'nother recessions level of job loss every week. But it's not a normal recession with demand petering out over a cycle. This is a case of demand evaporating overnight. We have not seen this before. So confidence numbers are also down. But given the sudden nature of this crisis, maybe it could be dispelled in relatively rapid fashion, as well. That's what they call a V-shaped recession. And, you know, that's why the president and many of his backers want to get businesses going again - to stave off that deeper downturn that would be harder to recover from.

SIMON: And we learned this week the money earmarked for small business loans and that $2.2 trillion relief package has run out already.

ELVING: Shocking but true - the spectacular amounts of money appropriated are proving insufficient, even as we learn much of the money went not to small business as advertised but to bigger businesses and well-connected businesses. The Senate Democrats and Republicans are talking about another round of funding at this point. But there are competing urgencies, as well. The Republicans want to help business and help business now and help business only. And the Democrats are insisting that businesses are not the only ones. And we need to help the hospitals, cities and states, as well.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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