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Week In Politics: Millions May Remain Unemployed, COVID-19 Cases Spike

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The coronavirus returns to the forefront of national concerns as infections spike in several states, now more than 2 million cases in just five months. The Federal Reserve warns that millions of people will continue to be out of work for possibly years as Congress works to address that and other urgent issues like police reform. 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: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held its first public briefing in several months yesterday, and it was sobering, wasn't it?

ELVING: Truly sobering. The CDC said the COVID death toll in the U.S. could be as high as 140,000 by the Fourth of July. And another eye-opener was the news that daily infection numbers hit new highs this week in the nation's three most populous states, Florida, Texas and California. And the CDC also issued additional guidelines on holding gatherings with crowds of people, especially where large events might attract people from outside the local area.

This came just a week before President Trump is going to break his drought and start having rallies again. This first one is going to be in just a week in Tulsa, Okla. And that rally has been moved from June 19 to the following day to avoid conflict with Juneteenth Day, which is honored as the day the news of emancipation finally reached the last enslaved people in what had been the Confederacy. So that's an important holiday in the black community. And people who sign up to attend the president's rally in Tulsa are being asked to check a box indicating that they voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold the campaign liable.

SIMON: The CDC briefing happened just hours after Larry Kudlow at the White House downplayed any continuing danger for COVID-19. I want to quote him. He said, "the health people are all over it." Was this a signal to Wall Street?

ELVING: Seemed to be. And no surprise, given that a day earlier, the Dow had dropped 1,800 points, more than 6%, in a day. And while it recovered some of that on Friday, it is safe to say that volatility is back in the equity markets.

This week, as you mentioned, the Federal Reserve predicted that the unemployment rate was likely to remain around 10% even late into the year and that some impact on the U.S. economy from the pandemic could linger for years with - you know, we've still got tens of millions of people out of work right now, and the extra aid is set to expire at the end of July. So the old argument has broken out again on Capitol Hill. The Democrats are pushing to extend what they call enhanced unemployment benefits and direct aid to cities and states, and Republicans are saying, no, we need a pause in this spending until we see how the other money worked out, and we need liability protection for business owners.

SIMON: And another urgent issue, of course, police reform. How's that seem to be taking shape between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate?

ELVING: The House has relied on the Congressional Black Caucus to fashion their bill, and the Senate majority - but Senate majority Republicans have relied on their lone black member, Tim Scott of South Carolina, to lead in the drafting of their alternative. Now, there has been some sign of bipartisanship on this in the House, where Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has actually shown some willingness to embrace reforms. But with the Democrats pushing a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, this is going to be a difficult negotiation, and it might not be resolved here in this election year. Might take a little longer.

SIMON: President Trump didn't want to or didn't envision going into this election year with historic job losses and questions to his response about a pandemic and, of course, now where the country finds itself after the death of George Floyd and questions in police custody and questions about his own conduct. All major polls show the president well behind. Is he palpably worried?

ELVING: He's worried enough to start attacking the pollsters. And there were some last week who had him lagging Democrat Joe Biden nationwide by double figures and in some of the key states. So this week, he threatened to sue, or at least asked for a cease-and-desist order, against CNN broadcasting its poll. But, look; in fairness, he is seeing his approval number drop below 40 in some polls, which is a red-alert number. The last seven presidents who won a new term were all at least 10 points higher in their approval score five months before they won it.

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

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