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Week In Politics: Daily Doses Of Contradiction And Confusion

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

To put it mildly, the president was reluctant to embrace the kind of mitigation measures public health experts said were needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But eventually, he did and even extended his initial two-week recommendation to a month. But judging from his comments yesterday in the White House briefing room, his resolve is wavering again. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's an old refrain coming from the lectern at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. What is Donald Trump saying again that sounds so familiar?

LIASSON: He's saying we have to open up. We have to get back. Even as Dr. Fauci at the same lectern in the briefing room talked about keeping our foot on the gas pedal, continuing social distancing, yesterday, Trump was going back to the argument that, as he puts it, the cure can't be worse than the problem. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were having the greatest period in our country's history from an economic standpoint and many other ways. We cannot let this continue. So at a certain point, some hard decisions are going to have to be made.

LIASSON: He's really chomping at the bit. But he's still in a box because you can't take the economy out of its medically induced coma until it's safe to stop social distancing. You know, Bill Gates, who's the founder of Microsoft and a big infectious disease philanthropist, said, you can't say to people, hey, go out to your restaurant, but ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. I mean, the economy can't get going until the virus is solved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So again, I guess we're seeing this awkward split screen at the briefing with the president saying everything is better than it is and endorsing this or that course of action, while the experts say something different, except there's no split screen. We have to sift through it ourselves and try and figure out what's going on.

LIASSON: That's right - a lot of confusion, a lot of contradictions. The CDC says everyone should wear masks. Donald Trump says, I don't want to wear a mask. I'm not going to. It's voluntary. He says there's enough ventilators. Everyone who needs one can get one. Meanwhile, you hear the governors saying, we're desperate for more ventilators. So the mixed messages could account for why the president has only seen a small bump in his approval rating - smaller than other presidents have gotten in past crises - because you hear one message from the White House. And then people are listening to their local health officials, doctors, nurses on the frontlines who are telling a different story.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what the president says is really important, right? Because, specifically, Republicans and Republican-leaning governors are really listening to his statements and taking his cue on this.

LIASSON: Absolutely. No one has a bigger bully pulpit or a more important megaphone than the president of the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's voting going on in Wisconsin Tuesday. I want to switch course here a little bit because it's really interesting. We've seen lots of primaries get delayed during this current crisis. Why is Wisconsin going forward with Tuesday's vote?

LIASSON: Tuesday's vote is in Wisconsin legislation. In other words, it's up to the state legislator - legislature to change it. The legislature is Republican. The governor there is Democratic. He wanted a delay in the primary. But the state legislature wouldn't do that. He did get - the governor there did get a federal judge to order the state to expand absentee voting rules. But he needed an actual piece of legislation to delay the primary. And he didn't get one because Republicans don't want to increase absentee voting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.