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Week In Politics: Primaries During The Coronavirus Crisis


We've just heard about the new lockdown orders in New York and other states. We're living through a national - an international emergency, and the president's Coronavirus Task Force has been holding daily press briefings, presided over by the president himself. Have these briefings been informing the nation or misinforming the American people?

At yesterday's briefing, President Trump berated reporters. He was contradicted by medical authorities and spoke over a reporter who asked about the, well, reported shortage of test kits.


YAMICHE ALCINDOR: There are Americans, though, who say that they have symptoms, and they can't get tested.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Which doesn't surprise me. Yeah, well, OK.

ALCINDOR: What do you say to the Americans who are scared that they have symptoms...

TRUMP: I'm not hearing it.

SIMON: A lot to talk about with NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIMON: Watching these press briefings - not just Friday's - what do you make of the president's conduct, which, after all, should deliver solid information and tell the truth to the American people?

ELVING: Americans are getting some solid information from these briefings, Scott, but also a lot of attitude. The information is mostly coming from people with Dr. in their name - Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others. The attitude is coming from the president. Yesterday, he responded to a respectful question about reassuring people who are scared by saying, you're a terrible reporter. That's a nasty question. The president seems to come to these events primed to assault the questioners.

But we should say that this week, the president was at least acknowledging the dimensions of the challenge after weeks of downplaying and denial.

SIMON: Of course, there's the obvious deterioration of the U.S. economy in a country where so much has just come to a standstill, and thousands of Americans have already been laid off.

ELVING: It would say - maybe a cynic would say it took a plunging stock market and the certainty of mass layoffs to get Washington to get serious about this disease. We knew in January that people would sicken and die. Some people in Congress knew in February there would be enormous economic consequences, in time for some of them to get their money out of the stock market and privately warn their friends. But it took another two months for the White House and Congress to swing into action.

And even now, the president wants to paint a rosy picture about how great America will be when this cloud passes.


TRUMP: Once we get the economy back once this enemy is defeated - the invisible enemy, as I call it - once it's defeated, we get the economy back, it's going to all come back to us very quickly. It comes back very - we have a tremendous economy. We do numbers like no other country has ever done before.

ELVING: That is the language and tone of a man desperate to sound confident, Scott. But he knows that even after that news conference yesterday, the Dow Jones went down to another 900-point loss in one of its worst weeks in history. He knows the markets are back to where we were when he took the oath of office three years ago.

SIMON: And, of course, the election season marches on, if slowly and without rallies and really conspicuous campaigning. After this week's primaries - all right, I'll state the obvious. Joe Biden has a clearer lead. Bernie Sanders has no path.

ELVING: Right. And we've gone from Super Tuesday to Big Tuesday to big delay. There won't be any more voting in March. There may be precious little in April. Biden may not be able to go over the top in delegates now until June. But the real question now is what does Bernie Sanders want? What do his supporters want? What is the price of their support in November?

SIMON: Let me ask you about the - I think we can fairly call it an angry, even snappish response this week when he was asked if he would end his campaign.

ELVING: Yes, he said he was busy dealing with the coronavirus epidemic. But that crisis is not Bernie Sanders' to resolve. He does have to deal with his own candidacy crisis, you know? You said earlier Ohio didn't vote last week, and that was the only good news for Sanders. He lost the three states that did vote by breathtaking margins - almost 40 points in Florida. What Sanders was calling a revolution a few weeks ago has now become more of a protest vote. And he has to decide how long to keep the protest going in the midst of everything else that's going on.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us today.

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