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Week In Politics: Coronavirus Cases Surge, Dominate Political Atmosphere

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And this week, coronavirus continued to dominate life in America, not just the news, despite the end of the Supreme Court session and, late last night, a presidential reprieve for Roger Stone, who won't go to prison. Ron Elving is our senior political correspondent. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: This commutation of Mr. Stone's sentence, the president's longtime political operative and friend - well, what was it, 9 o'clock Friday night? What do you see in this?

ELVING: If you're a public figure and you're proud of something you're doing, do you do it at 9 o'clock on a Friday night in the sleepiest news cycle of the week? Probably not. But with all the other options exhausted, the president had to make this move or watch another old friend go to prison in connection with what he did for the 2016 Trump campaign and the investigation that followed. Now, Trump has long made it clear he would not let what happened to some other people happen to Stone. The two just share too many long decades of association in New York and beyond. So last night, against the urgings of his own Justice Department, which called it a righteous prosecution - and while they did push for a smaller sentence, did not object to him serving 40 months in prison. The president commuted the sentence.

SIMON: Of course, the virus continues to be the dominating story in the country, not - infections are not just up, but a three-month downward trend of death seems now to have also turned around. In the midst of all that, what has been the president's response?

ELVING: Until yesterday, the president was eager to talk about the rate of fatalities, as you said, the one comparative positive in the data. But after 90 days of downward trend, the number of deaths is rising again and at an alarming rate. In several Sun Belt states, that rate has doubled over the last four weeks. Health officials are saying it's anything but a surprise. More deaths follow on increased numbers of infections as night follows day. So now the U.S. as a nation is leading the world in new infections, setting new single-day records on seven of the last 11 days.

SIMON: And, of course, this happens during debate over reopening U.S. schools, which seemed to get politicized this week and pitted the president against the CDC.

ELVING: The president's team of health officials continue to battle him. They're battling to get the word out. They're battling to get the word in. Anthony Fauci, for example, the epidemiologist of great renown, says he hasn't had a chance to brief the president - a chance to brief the president in two months. They're trying to tell the world how serious the pandemic is, how important it is to respond aggressively, despite that wall of resistance in the Oval Office. And this week, the president told his own CDC their guidelines for school openings were too tough, and he made them loosen them. So parents may well hope that their own local schools take a look at the original recommendations.

SIMON: America goes to the polls or, maybe this year, sends in their ballots in just four months. Does this overwhelming crisis make it hard for political campaigns to strike up their own themes?

ELVING: It's become the background noise you can't ignore. It's the static that overwhelms the signal. Tonight's big rally for the president in New Hampshire has been canceled by the White House officially because there's a storm out in the Atlantic that could cause some bad weather inland. The Biden campaign, for its part, let the candidate out to do a live campaign event at a factory in Pennsylvania this week, talking about how he'd restore the economy and blue-collar prosperity by building back better. You know, not a bad message, Scott, but it's hard to find any space to rent in the mind of the public just now.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

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