AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Just 55 days before Americans go to the polls, a new book by longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward is revealing new information about President Trump's handling of the pandemic. The book is called "Rage." And we are learning that weeks before he would acknowledge it publicly, President Trump told Woodward in early February that the virus was airborne and deadly. That's one of several on-the-record interviews that Woodward conducted with the president. Woodward's colleague, Washington Post national political reporter and PBS "Washington Week" host Robert Costa, has read the book and joins us now.
ROBERT COSTA: Good to be with you.
CHANG: All right. So as we just said, we know that President Trump was saying these things about the virus privately back in February. He sat down with Woodward for the last time in July. Tell us what he told Woodward at that point about how he thought he was handling the pandemic.
COSTA: He told Woodward then and in several other points in the book that he does not believe he's responsible for the pandemic and that it's his - his whole MO is to be the cheerleader for the country, the confidence person, to truly try to will the country through this pandemic. But the whole book tells you the president was well aware, starting in January, going into February, about the scope and gravity of this pandemic.
CHANG: Now, Woodward did more than a dozen on-the-record taped interviews. And one of the interviews that took place was conducted as racial justice protests were happening across the country. And at that point, Woodward asked the president about this concept of white privilege, and what did the president think of these protests, he asked. Tell us what Woodward says about that exchange.
COSTA: Well, Woodward is the same generation as President Trump. They're two white men in their 70s. And Woodward said, as someone of our age, we have to have an appreciation for this racial reckoning in the country, for our own white privilege and to understand the experience of Black Americans in a serious way and how they're dealing with this issue of police brutality. And the president, in a flippant way, Woodward writes, says that Woodward is drinking the, quote, "Kool-Aid," and is way too down the path of political correctness. And it shows that the president was not grappling with the questions Woodward asked him repeatedly about systemic racism in any in-depth way.
He also says at one point that President Obama is overrated. He says of Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's running mate, that she is full of hate - quote, "hate," about President Trump, even though she's doing nothing but looking at him in one of these clips - a video clip Woodward watches along with President Trump.
CHANG: Let's talk a little bit more about those remarks about President Obama. President Trump had said several things about Barack Obama. Can you elaborate on how he described the man?
COSTA: Well, he uses the president's first and middle name - Barack Hussein - in a way that's not in a complimentary way, according to Woodward's telling. And he says that he uses curse words to describe how others see President Obama. He is dismissive to the point of being - it's beyond mean. Woodward writes about it almost as if President Trump's being deliberately cruel when speaking about President Obama, Sen. Harris. And on the racial - the broader racial issues in this country, the president just doesn't engage with Woodward, who tries to have this back and forth.
CHANG: And very quickly, Woodward reports on some remarks that President Trump had made about some Democratic lawmakers of color, like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Can you tell us about those remarks in the very short time we have left?
COSTA: They're dismissive. And he is someone who does not take them seriously at all. And the book - it's notable. It's about race. It's about North Korea. But it's really about the pandemic, and it's about a president who had knowledge from the highest levels of the government about the severity of the virus and he chose publicly to say other things.
CHANG: That is Washington Post national political reporter and PBS "Washington Week" host Robert Costa.
COSTA: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.