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The Week In Politics: Millions Of Jobs Lost, Small Businesses Flounder Amid Pandemic


Most of America remains shut down this weekend as infections and deaths from the coronavirus still rise. Over 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in just the last three weeks. Many Americans still wait to receive relief from congressional aid packages. Meanwhile, President Trump seems of many minds as to when America can be, as he puts it, open for business. 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: Good to be with you. Congress was supposed to pass another $250 billion aid package for small businesses this week, but the parties seem at loggerheads, don't they?

ELVING: Yes, they are back at loggerheads again for the moment. The Republicans came in with a big bill and said everyone had to be for it because small businesses' need is so great. Democrats said, hey, wait a minute. What about all those hospitals and state governments and their needs? Why not do both? So nothing happened. But in recent hours, we're told that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are speaking. So something may be negotiated that could pass by unanimous consent so that Congress doesn't have to come back to the Capitol to vote.

SIMON: And what about the $2.2 trillion relief bill Congress passed a couple of weeks ago? When are those checks going to be in the mail?

ELVING: The very first checks to go out won't be in the mail at all, Scott. They're going to come by direct deposit to people's bank accounts, and that's supposed to happen this coming week. Then the IRS will turn to paper checks, and there's a limit on how many they can process in a week. So some people will be waiting months for theirs. Meanwhile, the banks are overwhelmed with businesses coming in for government loans. So the big cash infusion that was supposed to sustain the economy has been delayed somewhat, and some people think it may be too small to have the desired effect.

SIMON: Meanwhile, President Trump, who describes himself as America's cheerleader, seems sometimes to be cheering. He was saying this week businesses can begin to reopen about May. That's a bit later than the earlier target date he had of this weekend. But health officials on his own task force disagree with May.

ELVING: This particular cheerleader spends a lot of time cheering for himself, Scott, and for his team, talking about light at the end of the tunnel and urging a return to business as usual. But his top medical professionals keep saying, no, we have not reached the peak yet, and we need several weeks after the peak before we let up. So the president is right about one thing. He's right about making the biggest decision of his life in the weeks ahead. Do you reopen everything to revive the economy and risk another spike in cases and deaths? Some reports say it could double the number of people who die. But if we don't reopen, this recession may become severe and prolonged, and the election is just months away.

SIMON: Some of the president's own supporters are saying publicly he just ought to stop showing up at these daily briefings, haven't they?

ELVING: The Wall Street Journal editorial page has said that the president is making the briefings all about himself, and that's wrong. So twice this week, the president has tweeted about The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is, of course, one of his staunchest allies. He's even called it fake news, but it's hard to deny that the briefings fulfill his need to be at the center of the storm, the center of the response. That's part of what The Wall Street Journal was questioning. What do these hour-long rants and performances say about him and his readiness to deal with all of this for months to come?

SIMON: Bernie Sanders - we'll note in the half-minute we have left - suspended his presidential campaign this week. He will still have obviously some role in events, but will there even be conventions this summer?

ELVING: Bernie Sanders will still have a role in events, and his ideas will go on. As for the conventions, we still expect them to happen in some form in August, but it may not be the familiar scene of thousands of people partying and balloons dropping. They may be much reduced in size, and they may even move online like so much of American life already has.

SIMON: Well, a remote but intense thanks to you, Ron. 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 NPR.org.