Despite Rising Coronavirus Cases, Trump's Focus Is Elsewhere The president has focused on the economy and the culture wars, but these days he says little about the pandemic that has killed 130,000 Americans.
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Despite Rising Coronavirus Cases, Trump's Focus Appears To Be Elsewhere

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Despite Rising Coronavirus Cases, Trump's Focus Appears To Be Elsewhere

Despite Rising Coronavirus Cases, Trump's Focus Appears To Be Elsewhere

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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Now to the pandemic and the continually rising cases of the coronavirus in the United States. At least 120,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Governors in some states are closing bars and gyms, re-closing bars and gyms and requiring people to wear masks in public.

Back in the early days of the outbreak, the White House coronavirus task force was meeting daily with President Trump, holding long televised briefings. But the president now increasingly downplays the seriousness of the virus. And the task force is meeting only sporadically, with decisions being made locally while the president is increasingly silent about the raging pandemic. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: For the first time since late April, on Thursday, President Trump returned to the White House briefing room. But he wasn't there to talk about surging coronavirus cases as he had in that room so many times in March and April. He was there to talk about the jobs report showing millions of people back at work.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're going to have a fantastic third quarter. It'll be a third quarter the likes of which nobody has ever seen before, in my opinion. And the good thing is the numbers will be coming out just prior to the election, so people will be able to see those numbers.

KEITH: Reelection is at center stage.

STEPHEN MOORE: Trump wants to focus on jobs and the economy.

KEITH: Stephen Moore, who advises Trump on economic issues, says there's a reason the president isn't spending a lot of time talking about the pandemic.

MOORE: I think most people in the president's campaign and the president himself believe that the economy is what he needs to focus on if he's going to beat Joe Biden.

KEITH: When it comes to the economy, Trump accentuates the positive. And when it comes to coronavirus, when he talks about it at all, Trump downplays the negatives.

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TRUMP: We have some areas where we're putting out the flames or the fires, and that's working out well. We're working very closely with governors, and I think it's working out very well. I think you'll see that shortly.

KEITH: This at a moment when public health experts are sounding alarms about cases in Arizona, Texas, Florida, California and beyond.

TOM FRIEDEN: We are heading in the wrong direction, and we're heading there quickly.

KEITH: Tom Frieden is a former CDC director who now heads Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, a global health nonprofit.

FRIEDEN: What we're seeing in the U.S. today is that the virus has the upper hand. And what we're not seeing is systematic regular information given to Americans about what's happening with the virus and where, what's happening with our response and how can we all make it better.

KEITH: In recent weeks, Trump has left the delivery of public health messages about the virus to others, including Vice President Mike Pence, who brought back coronavirus task force briefings after more than two months without them. A task force official tells NPR that while the group isn't meeting as frequently as it did in the early days of the pandemic, it isn't necessary because there are fewer urgent and immediate decisions to be made than when it all began. On Thursday, Pence met with Florida's governor in Tampa, a hot spot within a hot spot state.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Governor, President Trump and I are absolutely committed to supporting your efforts to respond to this outbreak in Florida - to slow the spread, to protect the vulnerable.

KEITH: Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, took umbrage with the idea that Trump isn't doing enough on coronavirus, saying in a statement any suggestion that Trump isn't working around the clock to protect the health and safety of Americans is utterly false. During remarks Thursday about the jobs numbers, Trump did briefly come about as close as he ever has to encouraging people to wear masks, something more and more health experts and Republican politicians have been urging in recent days. Trump made news simply by mentioning masks in a list of best practices.

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TRUMP: That includes face coverings, social distancing, testing and personal hygiene. Wash your hands.

KEITH: And just to make sure everyone noticed after Trump left without taking questions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pointed to the president's remarks.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN: The president specifically put in his speech encouraging Americans to wear masks, social distance and hygiene. Because he's the president of the United States and people are not around him close, and the people who are around are tested, I don't think he needs to wear a mask.

KEITH: The question is, if Trump's supporters don't see him wearing a mask, will they believe others who say it's important to slow the spread of the virus?

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKER T & THE MG'S "GREEN ONIONS")

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