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Week In Politics: Dramatic Rise In U.S. COVID-19 Cases Continues

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many Americans look at the dramatic rise of COVID cases in the U.S. and wonder, as they have since mid-March, when things will get better. Millions are unemployed. Those who do still have jobs worry how long those jobs will last. Meanwhile, the White House response this week to these interlocked crises has been, well - what? - confused, contradictory, counterfactual. NPR's Ron Elving will help us search for the right adjective. Thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: What words do you have to describe it?

ELVING: Denial comes to mind, but how about delusional? The president still seems to think this disease is going to dissipate on its own. The CDC says if people wore masks, we could get the virus under control in four to six weeks. But the president rejects that, flies to Atlanta, defies a mask requirement there. He says he wants people to have, quote, "a certain freedom." And certainly, people have that. We're seeing where it's gotten us - 75,000 new cases on Thursday alone, a new high, 15,000 just in Texas. Fatal cases have nearly doubled since early July, back to almost a thousand deaths a day. So one final word for all this, Scott - tragic.

SIMON: Dr. Anthony Fauci is still on the job despite some pretty high-placed efforts to undermine him.

ELVING: Fauci lives and Fauci works and Fauci holds his ground with amazing resilience. First, the White House handed out a hit piece this week saying Fauci was wrong on some things early this year. Then the president's trade adviser writes a USA Today piece saying Fauci was often wrong. And yet, Fauci did not take the bait. He did not resign. He said, stop this nonsense. And at week's end, the White House seemed to have done so.

SIMON: Congress returns next week. Ron, what's in front of them? What can they do to help Americans survive this pandemic?

ELVING: They could do a lot, maybe not to defeat the virus but to deal with the economic shock of it. Reopening too fast brought the virus back, and that's going to bring back business closings as well. We're already seeing some terrible numbers for the second quarter, and people are going to need relief checks to get them through to when their jobs come back. So the Democrats' bottom line is half a trillion dollars for states and localities. The Senate Republicans want liability protection for businesses. And the president wants a payroll tax cut. So it's either a three-way compromise or a three-way standoff, and time is running out fast.

SIMON: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for cancer once again.

ELVING: Yes. She's already a survivor of several other cancers, and she revealed yesterday that she's been undergoing chemotherapy in recent months since lesions were found on her liver. But she added that they had responded to the treatment and she intends to stay on the court. And if there were not enough already riding on this election, Scott, now we have this reminder of a president's Supreme Court appointment power.

SIMON: Finally, Ron, your thoughts for John Lewis, whom we just remembered with Representative Sewell.

ELVING: We overuse the word icon, but in this case, it's barely adequate. Let's listen to some of John Lewis right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LEWIS: My philosophy is very simple. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something, do something. Get in trouble - good trouble, necessary trouble.

ELVING: Necessary trouble. Lewis was known as the conscience of Congress. He served 17 terms. He became a living bridge from the civil rights era to Black Lives Matter, and he died on the same day as another Georgian who was a key member of Martin Luther King's inner circle, the Reverend C. T. Vivian. He was 95.

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

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.