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Week In Politics: Congress Can't Agree On Coronavirus Aid, But There's Still Hope


It is a sad and sobering week. The number of deaths from COVID-19 has never been higher in the United States. On Thursday alone, 2,753 people died here. For context, 540 people have died in South Korea from COVID since January. And public health officials say the situation will grow worse. NPR's Ron Elving, senior Washington editor and correspondent, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Millions of Americans are sick. Too many are dead. Millions more are out of work. Food lines are long. Why can't a U.S. Congress - Congress, which yesterday in the House with bipartisan support voted to decriminalize marijuana, not able to agree on an aid bill when Americans need it most?

ELVING: You know, Congress has a House and a Senate. They share a building. But sometimes they don't seem to share much else. There are a few reasons to be more hopeful about a new relief package. But you mentioned the marijuana bill that passed in the House. They're not going to pay any attention to it in the Senate. The House passed a big relief bill last spring. The Senate didn't want to have anything to do with the bill that the House passed.

So we look for change, and we have seen some change in the last month. No. 1, as you say, the pandemic, it's worse than ever - really throwing shade on the holidays at this point. No. 2 is the economy. The jobs number this week was really disappointing. And that's all on the virus, too. Plus, one big hang-up on the earlier efforts at a bill last summer and fall was the aid to states and localities that were hurting the most. Well, now the states and localities that are hurting are - well, include places like the Dakotas. And that's making at least some Republicans more willing to the deal.

SIMON: Speaker Pelosi said the Democrats are willing to settle for a limited relief bill because the Biden administration will work quickly on more aid. But does that just kick the can down the road?

ELVING: Could be, and the Republicans may not go for that. Right now, you have roughly half of the Senate Republicans still on that page where they say they don't want to do anything more. They just think enough has been done, too much of it has been done on the cuff. And they just don't see any need for that much further commitment. But we also see Wall Street expecting some fresh stimulus because of the factors that we just mentioned a moment ago, particularly the softening of the economy. And there is that special election coming up in a few weeks in Georgia where two of the Republican senators, incumbents, are in jeopardy. So all of that means that Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, has a little bit different calculus than he had a month ago.

SIMON: As we note, the virus grows. Many parts of California - intensive care units are approaching capacity, new stay-at-home orders and restrictions. I raise a question because there are - three prominent Democratic politicians have had - two of them Californians - have had to apologize in recent days for urging their constituents to stay at home, then going out to Michelin star restaurants - Governor Newsom of California, mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, and then the mayor of Austin, Texas, took a private plane to a Mexican resort. We have a woman on our show today, unemployed worker who lives in Arizona, who said to us, the people who make the rules don't have to live by them.

ELVING: Scott, there is no excuse for that kind of hypocrisy, no matter who is guilty of it. And it's the kind of thing that voters remember regardless of party.

SIMON: Donald Trump has reportedly raised more than $200 million since Election Day. For what?

ELVING: Two hundred million and counting - no end in sight. The fundraising appeals keep coming, several every day if you're on the right lists. So that money is ostensibly to fight legal battles against the election result and against its certification. But that fight is largely over. Something like 50 different legal actions have been dismissed and even ridiculed by the courts, including by conservative justices - or judges, I should say - some of them appointed by Donald Trump. But, you know, $200 million is an awful lot of money. The Trump campaign has been fighting this largely with a ragtag little band of ultra-loyalists that keeps getting smaller. The big-league law firms that were on board at first had been involved. They all bailed out weeks ago. So where does most of that $200 million go? To a political action committee that Trump can use for a later campaign or convert to other uses once he's out of office. You can expect there to be more stories and more legal wrangling about that in the months to come.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
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