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Week In Politics: Bob Woodward's Book Alleges Trump Downplayed Coronavirus Threat

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A week of another bombshell - Bob Woodward's forthcoming book uses the president's own words to certify that he knew in February of this year how lethal the coronavirus is but told the American public something else repeatedly for months. Even now, after nearly 200,000 Americans have died, millions are infected, millions filing for unemployment and thousands waiting in food back lines, the president says he did nothing wrong.

NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The revelations in the book, and I'm going to say revelations because, in fact, they're not allegations, are grave. Thousands of people have died while the president has ridiculed wearing masks and other preventive measures. How has he responded to these revelations?

ELVING: He may have decided he's just better off with the "Wizard Of Oz" defense, Scott - you know, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. But for those with ears to hear, the statements he made to Bob Woodward in nearly a score of on-the-record interviews on tape over the course of eight months make it perfectly clear what the president knew and when he knew it. And the Woodward book has lots more, too, such as, example, the president saying his generals are stupid, they're suckers and using terms for them we can't use on the air.

SIMON: And, of course, Bob Woodward brought up the matter of Black Lives Matter protests, too.

ELVING: Woodward says, look; you and I, Mr. President, we're both products of affluence. We went to Ivy League schools. We had every advantage. Shouldn't we make some effort to understand the anger and the pain of people with different life stories, especially Black people in this country? And Trump responds, oh, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don't feel that at all. And then Trump pivots to his often repeated claim of having done more for African Americans than any president in history, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.

SIMON: Ron, I have to ask you a question about our business, too, because it's been raised by a few commentators and much of the public this week. Did Bob Woodward have an ethical obligation - I'll even put it this way, a human obligation - to report what the president really knew about the coronavirus back in February or March as lives were being lost every day instead of waiting for his book to come out now?

ELVING: That is a trenchant question, Scott. And how clean are Bob Woodward's hands here knowing what he did and knowing it when he knew it? His explanation is that he didn't, in fact, know whether the president was telling him about the virus was, in fact, true - certainly not in February when the CDC official line was something quite different, as you recall. Woodward says he didn't know which to believe or, in fact, have the information that was the source of Trump's information until May. So then he might have been out there reporting what he knew in May and not waiting to finish his interviews in July. But on the other hand, he wasn't the one on TV night after night telling the American people the virus was going away or that we'd turned the corner one more time.

SIMON: And let's turn to the ways in which millions of Americans continue to suffer from the coronavirus and its effect. The Senate, once again, failed to pass even the - what's called the skinny coronavirus bill. Any prospect for relief in the future?

ELVING: The Senate couldn't pass even one-tenth of what the House had passed all the way back in May. You know, yesterday, Friday, was the 19th anniversary of 9/11, Scott. And among the many memories of that time that we have are the members of Congress who came out on the Capitol steps and sang "God Bless America" together, Republicans and Democrats. They also worked together in the days and weeks that followed that. And whether what they did at that time was all good, it was at least bipartisan and expeditious. We saw some of that again in the spring of this year. But since then, that spirit has surely been lost.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.