SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Joe Biden emphatically denied he sexually assaulted a staff member 27 years ago. In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" yesterday, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president also took questions on how he'd try to lead the country in the event of a second coronavirus spike and how he'd handle a shattered economy. NPR senior editor and correspondent on the Washington Desk Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: It was Mr. Biden's time to make an impression. How did he come across?
ELVING: There's been a range of largely predictable reactions, Scott, but this was probably not quite the TV appearance Biden's people would've liked. He made the categorical denial, as you said and as he had to, but there were moments he seemed evasive and moments he seemed a bit befuddled, not a good look in either case. He should've been better prepared for the questions about the old Senate records he's donated to the University of Delaware.
But, look; the next shoe to drop here is Tara Reade's TV appearance - maybe on Fox, maybe this weekend. What kind of case will she present? So Friday's Biden appearance was not an endpoint but an inflection point in a story that's probably going to be around for a while.
SIMON: Of course, Joe Biden was going on the air at a time when 30 million people are now claiming unemployment.
ELVING: Yes, and how eager was the former vice president to pivot to that topic. Look; we've never seen so sharp a drop in jobs - not ever. And, sure, it's due to a virus, an external noneconomic factor, but the pain is quite real, and the damage is quite real. We're in a month that's already in the second quarter, and our employment and our economic growth are in freefall. When does the recovery begin? When does it really gather steam, restore confidence? By historical standards, this kind of an economy would be lights out for who is ever in the White House. But in this extraordinarily volatile pandemic election year, even a nightmare economy in the second quarter doesn't necessarily mean that Trump loses in the fourth.
SIMON: President Trump this week ordered meatpacking plants to stay open despite the fact that roughly 5,000 workers at plants across the country have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 30 have died. Why has the administration made meatpacking such an overriding national interest?
ELVING: Well, apart from his personal interest in meat, there are a lot of carnivores left in this country, Scott, and especially in the president's support base. And this particular order really highlights the inequities of this shutdown regime overall. We saw some ministrikes yesterday among people who have not had the luxury to stay at home this spring, people who are deemed essential, not just in health care, but in food production and food service and delivery. Many of them are recent immigrants. Many of them are people of color, people without a lot of savings, in some cases, drafted into a war on behalf of the rest of us.
SIMON: And, of course, last night, the administration indicated that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has sometimes contradicted the president on some facts, will not be allowed to testify next week before a House Appropriations Committee. He will testify before a committee in the Republican-led Senate on May 12. Is this a signal?
ELVING: Dr. Fauci has been on a different page from the White House, from Donald Trump on the level of testing that we need and even how much, ultimately, the White House is willing to push for. The White House did say Fauci is too busy to go up to the Hill, but he has, as you said, been scheduled to appear May 12 at a Senate hearing chaired by a Republican. So apparently, he's not too busy if the Senate calls, but he is too busy for House calls.
SIMON: Ron, on Thursday, the president described over 60,000 deaths as a death total that is very, very strong. And that was after what his son-in-law Jared Kushner said on Fox Wednesday morning.
ELVING: We have seen a great deal of this positive thinking from the White House, and particularly from the president and his family. Presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is the president's son-in-law, went on Fox News to tell us how he thought we'd ought to be giving the White House a lot of credit for what's going on in the country today, even for the number of deaths.
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JARED KUSHNER: The government - federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story. And I think that that's really, you know, what needs to be told.
SIMON: Ron, what does this say about how this administration views the losses, the stress and the suffering of these times?
ELVING: Scott, there are issues of public health and issues of political health. Sometimes they coincide; sometimes they conflict. And when they do, I leave it to our listeners to decide which seem to prevail in the White House.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.