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Trump's Top Aide Tests Positive For The Coronavirus

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Yet another one of President Trump's key aides has now tested positive for the coronavirus - White House senior adviser Stephen Miller. This news adds more chaos to a White House already dealing with the president's illness. Trump himself is still recovering and working at home. And earlier today in a series of tweets, he abruptly halted negotiations over another coronavirus relief package. Joining us for more on all of this is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right, so what do we know about Stephen Miller's health at this point?

KEITH: So he released a statement saying that over the last five days, he's been working remotely and self-isolating, that he tested negative every day through yesterday but that today he tested positive for COVID-19. He is a White House speechwriter and top aide, architect of the president's immigration policies and also travels regularly with President Trump. Interestingly, his wife, Katie Miller, also works in the administration. She's a spokesperson for Vice President Pence. And according to a Pence aide, she flew back from Utah, where they were preparing for tomorrow night's debate, out of an abundance of caution, though she has tested negative twice in two days and had actually had COVID-19 earlier this year.

CHANG: Right. OK, so at this point, how widespread is the coronavirus at the White House and among Trump's contacts? I mean, do we even know?

KEITH: It is very widespread. We don't know exactly because the White House won't release a list of people or even the number of people who have tested positive, but they are under a lot of pressure. There are more reports today in addition to Stephen Miller of other people testing positive. We know of at least 10 key Trump contacts who were involved in debate preparations and other things at the White House who have tested positive. And just - I was there yesterday. There's almost no one there now. And those who are there are wearing masks, which is a major change...

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: ...From previous practice.

CHANG: Well, let's turn to the coronavirus relief package. I mean, hopes for a new round of aid were already pretty low, but those hopes pretty much evaporated today. Can you just tell us what happened? How did things collapse?

KEITH: Yeah. So over the weekend, President Trump had tweeted in all caps that they needed to work on this and get something. But then today he tweeted a series of tweets saying that he was rejecting what Democrats wanted. They wanted more than $2 trillion in stimulus funds. And he was instructing Republicans to walk away from negotiations and wait to resume talks after the election. Now, this came on the same day that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned that more stimulus is needed to keep the economy going. He said a lack of more stimulus could lead to more unemployment and bankruptcies. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat who was in ongoing talks with Trump administration officials, said the president showed his true colors by walking away, though Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said he supported the president's decision. Politically, though, it doesn't make a lot of sense for President Trump to own this failure. But by tweeting those tweets, that's exactly what he did.

CHANG: Huh (ph). Well, finally, the vice presidential debate is tomorrow night, and then the next presidential debate is supposed to be next week. But how does all of this affect that?

KEITH: The vice presidential debate is going forward, though they've been having something of a debate about plexiglass barriers - though an aide to Pence tells me that they will not let the barrier be a barrier to the debate happening. President Trump says he wants to debate. He plans to debate. But former Vice President Joe Biden says, I think if he still has COVID, we shouldn't have a debate.

CHANG: That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.