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The Week In Politics


President Trump may have finally been convinced he's doing more harm than good in his nightly briefings. On Thursday, the president suggested that doctors test whether UV light or disinfectant could kill the coronavirus if taken internally. Swift corrections followed from scientists, from public health officials, from cleaning products companies warning Americans, as they do on their bottles, not to inject or drink disinfectants.

NPR senior editor and correspondent on the Washington Desk, Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Ron, what does it say about the president's leadership and judgment when from a White House podium, he openly speculates about people injecting disinfectant into their lungs, which - let me say it again - is deadly, as a possible treatment for the coronavirus?

ELVING: It surely speaks to the nature of these nightly briefings. Scott, the freewheeling style - the way the president likes to say, hey, what about this - maybe this could be a game changer. So you might more readily call it showmanship than leadership. And then last night, as you were saying, the president shut down the briefing after just 22 minutes, the shortest since the crisis began. And, you know, some of these briefings have been over two hours - mostly featuring his battles with reporters. And last night, he took no questions at all.

SIMON: And the president scoffed at the suggestion that it was a serious suggestion. He said his remarks about disinfectants and UV light had just been sarcasm. What's your reaction?

ELVING: I don't think my mom would have bought that story for me, Scott. How about yours?

SIMON: (Laughter) Certainly not. The president has also been at odds with various governors around the country, telling them they should provide the testing for the coronavirus - while those tests have been hard to get and suggesting they could reopen for business. But when the governor of Georgia has moved to do that this weekend, the president said he totally disagreed. How do you read this?

ELVING: Midweek, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp might very well have thought that he had Trump's blessing to open up. He might have seen Georgia as one of the 29 states Trump said were almost ready to go. So it was a shock to all of us to hear that same president on Wednesday night say that he, quote, "totally disagreed," unquote, with what Kemp was doing. And yet the governor stuck to his guns, persisted - opened the barbershops and the bowling alleys and the tattoo shops on Friday.

SIMON: Rest of government was also in motion - albeit much of it wearing face masks. The House and Senate approved nearly half trillion dollars more in aid to small businesses and hospitals. Some of that money is earmarked for testing, yes?

ELVING: Yes. And the testing is sorely needed. It may be the crux of this whole business. We have finally gotten to 5 million tests. Medical experts say we should be doing that and more every week. But after two weeks, Congress finally got a new bill done for funding. The House brought back just enough members to get it done with social distancing. And the Senate acted by what they call unanimous consent. And that spirit, however, has been pretty much exhausted. Now there is far less hope that there will be future bills done in this fashion.

SIMON: Did states and cities get anything here? Because they're facing huge deficits from lost income, tax revenue and the added expense of caring for these very sick American citizens.

ELVING: No, they didn't get anything by the way of money, but they did get a lecture from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He suggested some of the states should just declare bankruptcy rather than ask for any more money from the federal government, even as the president was telling the governors that they should be leading the way in delivering on his promises.

SIMON: Couple of remarkable developments in the midst of all this. Top-line vaccine expert forced out of his job and reassigned. And the Navy captain may be on his way back to the bridge of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

ELVING: Dr. Rick Bright says he was moved out because he wanted rigorous testing on the high-risk drug therapies that the president wanted, like hydroxychloroquine, while Captain Brett Crozier had been relieved for writing a letter about how many cases of coronavirus there were among his crew of 5,000. The captain now has the support of the Navy's top admiral, who may have been in his corner all along. And so Captain Crozier may be on his way back to the ship they call the TR. And if that happens, Scott, I think we can expect quite a cheer from that crew.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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