Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Deputy White House Press Secretary On Relief Talks, Pandemic


There are a lot of numbers swirling around the news today. Ninety-two - that's the number of days Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and House Democrats have been in talks about a stimulus bill. More than 8 million is the number of Americans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. And 545 - that's the number of children who still have not been reunited with their parents after being separated at the Southern border. All of this is happening 13 days before Election Day. And we're going to talk about all of this with Brian Morgenstern, deputy White House press secretary. He's on the line now.


BRIAN MORGENSTERN: Well, thank you very much for having me. Pleasure to be with you.

MOSLEY: Well, Brian, let's start with the stimulus negotiations. President Trump has been saying he wants to go big. Speaker Pelosi has said she and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are making progress. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told the White House not to make a deal. Will there be a deal before Election Day?

MORGENSTERN: Well, I appreciate the question. And we remain optimistic but cautiously. Talks have seemed to move a little bit over the last day or so. And I think we'll know a lot more over the next, say, 48 hours or so. That's the guidance we've gotten from the chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And the fact remains there are a number of areas of agreement. That includes PPP, small business loans to keep employees connected to their jobs, perhaps stimulus checks for hardworking Americans, unemployment insurance assistance, getting schools reopened, so that parents can stop doing double duty - hopefully - in a safe way.

So there are a large number of issues where there is agreement. Unfortunately, over the course of this process, the speaker has been moving the goalposts quite a bit. She's now expressing optimism. That gives us optimism that perhaps we'll have some good-faith negotiations where we can actually move the ball forward over the next day or two because we know there are people out there who are hurting, and we want to get them that support.


MORGENSTERN: At some point, our friends across the aisle, we want them to take yes for an answer. We've moved quite a bit. We've gone from 300 billion to 600 billion to a trillion to 1.3 to 1.5 to 1.6, all the way up to 1.9

MOSLEY: Yeah. Yeah. But there's still - but it's not just the Democrats. What does it say about White House influence when a Republican president can't get the support of the Senate majority leader of his own party?

MORGENSTERN: Well, so we will cross that bridge. If we do have a bipartisan agreement with the speaker, then I think we will, you know, make some effort, certainly, to rally Senate support. The fact is the Senate actually took steps that we were supportive of to take some measures where there was broad agreement, such as on PPP loans for small businesses and, you know, sort of a smaller package of 5 to 600 billion, just taking things that literally everyone agreed on. And the Senate Democrats wouldn't let it through. They blocked that. So, you know, unfortunately, there's been some politics played here. We are in election season.


MORGENSTERN: We understand that happens. But we've had so many different proposals. We've been negotiating in good faith over 92 days. It's been the Democrats that really haven't moved up to this point, but we're hopeful.

MOSLEY: Well, let me ask you more about the pandemic specifically. There are now warning bells going off across the country, particularly in the Midwest, where the number of COVID-19 cases are climbing back to rates we haven't seen since July. The Coronavirus Task Force met yesterday. And I want to ask you, how many states are they warning are in the danger zone?

MORGENSTERN: So I wouldn't call it the danger zone. Higher positivity is something that is happening. We also have more tests distributed throughout the country than ever before. We also know that the risks of the virus are so much less today than they were several months ago. And that's because we have PPE distributed throughout the country because of the Defense Production Act and the numbers of times the president has used that. We have treatments coming to market faster than ever before. We'll have soon a vaccine coming to market. So the risks are much lower today.

MOSLEY: Sure, but there - I hate to interrupt you. But there is a red zone every - which basically means for - every 100 new cases for every 100,000 residents. So how will this be taken on? I mean, the White House task force has actually said that they are seeing an increase in cases in those states.

MORGENSTERN: Right. So we're seeing an increase in cases. But as I said, the risk of the virus has gone down. We're also learning a lot more about it in terms of transmission. We continue to provide data and guidance to state and local officials who can guide their constituents best. But the fact is we know more that it's not spreading very much in workplaces. It's not spreading very much in public settings. The risks in schools are very low. So there are things that we can encourage people to do to safely reopen, but while we continue to protect vulnerable populations and as we see the mortality rate and the risks of serious health problems continue to go down because we're better and better at treating the virus and mitigating the risks.

MOSLEY: Brian, I have just a minute with you. Before I let you go, let's turn to one of the other major stories of the day, and that's the more than 500 children separated from parents at the Southern border who have yet to be reunited with them. What is the White House doing to rectify this?

MORGENSTERN: So I appreciate the question. There is some ongoing litigation. And what I've learned from the Department of Homeland Security is that this is a complex case where the families have been reached in many of these cases, and for a variety of reasons, the families in their countries of origin do not want the children sent back there. And it's heart-wrenching. We don't want this to happen. But we are certainly making every effort...

MOSLEY: And we're hearing otherwise from lawyers. We're hearing differences from the lawyers in the case who say they have not been able to locate those families.

I thank you so much for your time, Deputy White House Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern.

MORGENSTERN: You should check the DHS Twitter account, who dispelled that way of portraying the story. But thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.