LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
I love masks in the appropriate locations. That is what President Trump told reporters yesterday when he left to visit Walter Reed Hospital. And when he was there, he did wear a face mask. And yes, this is news because it's a turnaround for a president who's known for doubling down, one of many changes in direction his aides and allies have been pleading for as the number of coronavirus cases has continued a steep, frightening climb. Joining me now to talk about this is NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he wore a face mask in public after saying many times that he wouldn't, after mocking others, including reporters, for wearing them and after refusing to wear one in settings where they were required. But then there has been this sort of steady softening of that stance leading up to this moment at Walter Reed, right?
SNELL: Yeah, the president has started talking about masks a little bit more. And as you said, he said that he loves masks in appropriate places when he was getting ready to leave for Walter Reed. And then he was photographed in that mask. It was kind of a dark-colored mask with a presidential seal on it. You know, he also told reporters that he's never been against masks, but he said that he believes that there's a time and a place.
You know, this all turned into a politicized saga. And White House officials have more or less said that they're tested frequently, and they know their status, so they don't need to wear a mask to protect other people from them. And the president referenced that and the testing in an appearance on Fox News this week, saying that he didn't think you need to wear a mask when you're tested all the time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But the hope is that the president's followers will also start wearing them, that they will follow his example - because masks are one of the tools to stop this huge spread of the coronavirus in this country. Do you think off the back of this we're going to see Republicans on Capitol Hill who haven't worn masks now start wearing them?
SNELL: You know, there's a really interesting dynamic with Republicans on Capitol Hill, where over in the Senate, you are mostly seeing Republicans wearing masks. You're seeing just about everybody in the Senate wearing masks. But over in the House is where you're seeing a little bit more conflict about whether or not they'll be worn. In fact, you see lawmakers - Republican lawmakers going on to the House floor, which is - you know, they're trying to social distance, but you can't keep people completely away - just standing right next to each other, not wearing masks. We saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wearing his consistently and talking about the importance of mask-wearing on a regular basis. And some other senators have bemoaned this becoming a political issue.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because it's a health issue.
SNELL: Right. I mean, you saw Senator Lamar Alexander, who is one of the most senior Republicans, saying that he was upset that this was political. Over in the House, Democrats have started requiring masks in some committee settings. So the hope is, among lawmakers at large, that the mask-wearing will become just the way things go.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kelsey, another development late last week - as anticipated, the president commuted the sentence of his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone. Stone was convicted of seven felonies, including lying to federal investigators and impeding a congressional inquiry. What was the reaction from lawmakers to the president's action?
SNELL: Well, as you can imagine, Democrats were quick to criticize it. We didn't hear from a lot of Republicans, but we did hear from Mitt Romney from Utah, saying that it was unprecedented and historic corruption. We did hear from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well, who said that they were going to take action. And Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, said Trump has, quote, "once again abused his power." And he criticized the timing in particular of when this commutation was announced, saying that doing it on a Friday night is an attempt to kind of hide what happened.
I also want to point out - and I think it's really interesting - that we heard from Robert Mueller. He spoke up in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, and he said that he felt compelled to respond because there were claims that the investigation was illegitimate and that Roger Stone was somehow a victim of Mueller's office's investigation. You know, he said Russia's actions were a threat to America's democracy. And he specifically said that when a witness lies, it strikes at the core of the government's efforts to find truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, Congress comes back to Washington July 20, and the priority is hammering out the details of another coronavirus relief package. Kelsey, how is this playing out so far?
SNELL: Well, the real question here is unemployment benefits. That extra $600 from the federal government runs out at the end of July. Republicans want the entire package to be about a trillion dollars. Democrats want it to be about $3 trillion. And they just kind of have to find the way to reach the middle.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you so much.
SNELL: Thanks for having me.
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