SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump once again calls hoax, this time over an article in The Atlantic that reports he called fallen soldiers losers and suckers. Trump also says the U.S. has turned the corner on the coronavirus despite a dire prediction from experts at the University of Washington. Joining us now, as he does most Saturdays, is NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Let's start there. The president started his press conference last night by citing some positive economic numbers. Then he painted a rosy scenario of the administration's response to the pandemic, saying the U.S. has turned a corner.
ELVING: You know, if you do a computer search on that phrase, Scott, you'll see it's been in heavy rotation back as far as April. Some governors have used it, some in the media, suggesting it was time to get back to normal.
And since we first heard that phrase in early April, the number of deaths from the virus in the U.S. has gone from 20,000 to nine times as many. And at the current rate, we'll reach 200,000 in the next two weeks. And far from turning a corner, the virus may be accelerating in its infection rates. And not just cases, but fatal cases are increasing as well.
And that report that you mentioned from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, it says we're going to reach 400,000, again doubling the current level, by January or even sooner unless more people get serious about masking and social distancing.
SIMON: Now about that Atlantic article, the president's denied he ever made disparaging remarks about those killed in action, and then he made disparaging remarks about his former chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan. How do you understand or explain the president's vitriol?
ELVING: This story seems to have hit the president where he lives in more ways than one. He's long touted what he calls his devotion to the military and to veterans, as his complaints about the Veterans Administration hospitals were among the first issues of his political life. And he repeatedly claims to have passed the Veterans Choice legislation that gives them paid options to treatment in the VA. And that - it was an act sponsored years ago by John McCain and signed into law by President Obama.
And now we hear from the respected editor of the venerable Atlantic magazine, at the zenith of its influence as a publication, accusing the president of saying these things about American soldiers who were killed or captured or wounded in action or missing in action, questioning why they would choose to do this with their lives. It's explosive stuff, Scott. It relies on unnamed sources, which allows the president to deny saying any of it and to use words like hoax and witch hunt.
Interesting, though, to see the president pounce on former Chief of Staff John Kelly so hard just because Kelly refused to join with other White House officials who were defending the president.
SIMON: And the president again savaged the media for even posing the question. And he contrasted that with how he hears the questions the press has for Joe Biden.
ELVING: Yeah, the president took umbrage that reporters would even ask about that Atlantic story, saying they should be ashamed of themselves and that they didn't apply the same rigor to former Vice President Joe Biden when asking him questions. Here's the president.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They were, like, meant for a child. Those questions were meant for a child. Smiles on faces of reporters, not like you and you. There were smiles on the reporters. What do you think? Take a look at those questions that they ask him. They were not meant for a grown-up. They were meant for a child.
ELVING: Yeah, the president thinks reporters are nicer to Biden than to him. They smile at Biden. They ask him baby questions. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower saying such things in a press briefing?
SIMON: The president and Joe Biden were both in Kenosha this week. How do those visits compare?
ELVING: Hard to compare them, to be honest. The president was photographed in front of damaged stores, burned-out stores. Joe Biden went and met with the family of Jacob Blake, the man who was shot in the back by a Kenosha police officer and began all that unrest in Kenosha two weeks ago.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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