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Week In Politics: The COVID-19 Pandemic And The State Of The Presidential Race


On this Sunday morning, when many churchgoers are staying home, President Trump is demanding that states allow houses of worship to reopen. But even the president's own health experts are saying it may not yet be safe. The politics of reopening are where we begin our conversation with NPR's Domenico Montanaro, our senior political editor and correspondent.

Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president is very eager for the country to get back to normal, even though the coronavirus pandemic has not abated. Why has he taken such a hard line on houses of worship in particular?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, it's hard not to see politics in this. I mean, white evangelicals are a strong part of the president's base. He made this false comparison between houses of worship and liquor stores and abortion clinics, saying that one side essentially wants those open and deems those essential and doesn't believe churches, synagogues and mosques are essential.

I mean, these are really apples and oranges. His own administration has warned against gatherings of 10 or more people because of the respiratory spread of the virus. You know, and Trump also said he'd override states that don't allow houses of worship to reopen. This is just trying to create a political fight, centering, you know, once again, really, on this president, you know, wanting to ramp up the culture war. And we're going to see way more of it as the election gets nearer and is now almost five months away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump also took in a round of golf yesterday - something he hadn't done since March - on a day when we're approaching a hundred thousand deaths in this country...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Because of COVID-19. I guess the question is, why is it so important to the president to demonstrate his own ability to get back to normal, even though things are so far from it? It seems like he's trying to almost shape a different reality.

MONTANARO: Well, I'm sure he, like others, frustrated, you know, staying inside, not being able to do recreational activities we all enjoy. He was in Virginia where his golf club is, and golf courses are allowed to be open there. But for the president, he also really desperately wants to show the country as a whole getting back to normal. It helps him politically.

Part of looking like things are normal for him is also his refusal to wear a mask in public. He said last week that he doesn't want to give the media the satisfaction of seeing him with one on. That really doesn't make much sense to me because his own administration's guidelines are to wear a mask in public when you're within six feet of other people.

And the country is at a perilous stage, as you noted. The - with the virus, we're approaching a hundred thousand deaths from it. And as, you know, he's the one who's in charge, he shaped the narrative on this in the first place. It wasn't that long ago, remember, that his administration was recommending against people wearing masks or trying to get them so first responders didn't have their supplies cut short. And then you had Trump telling people that they should wear face coverings and scarves and that that could make a big difference.

So this idea now that we're seeing wearing a mask as somehow as a virtue signal for which party you belong to is just really not helpful to stopping the spread of the virus. But it's not surprising when you see scenes of people this Memorial Day weekend on beach boardwalks in close proximity to others, not wearing masks, because you have a leader not demonstrating the thing his administration wants others to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, let's talk about Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate. He's been trying to highlight the president's mistakes on the pandemic, but he got into some trouble of his own, making some controversial comments about black voters. He said if African American voters can't decide between him and Trump, then they, quote, "ain't black."

MONTANARO: Yeah. Well...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did that reveal?

MONTANARO: It's another example of Biden stepping in it and making an unforced error. He walked it back quickly the other day, saying that he was being too much of a wise guy and shouldn't have been so cavalier. But it's exactly the kind of thing that had Democratic veteran strategists worried about Biden being the nominee because it gave fuel to conservatives in an area they didn't have much before.

And you know, look. Trump, of course, has his own history of inflaming racial tensions and divides. And at the end of the day, one of two people's going to be elected president, Trump or Biden. And African Americans are going to have a decision to make on who represents them best. But Biden doesn't want to offend younger African Americans in particular, who haven't been totally sold by his candidacy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much.

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

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.