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News Brief: COVID-19 Bill, Trump Mulls 2024, Doctors Call For Climate Action

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Leaders in Congress seem to agree on one thing, at least - they need to pass a coronavirus aid package before the end of the year.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, some are actually trying to do that. House Democrats approved extra aid months ago. Senate Republicans did not and talked of spending a lot less. This week, though, a bipartisan group of senators offered up $900 billion in aid, which is about half of what the House wants. Democratic leaders now say they support that level of spending. As they negotiate, more than 20 million Americans remain out of work. And more than 2,700 people died in the U.S. from COVID just yesterday, which is the highest number in a single day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us now. Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why are Democrats, who stood firm for so long, willing to move away from their demands now that anything less than $2 trillion would be insufficient?

SNELL: Yeah. Millions of people are at risk of eviction. Millions of people are at risk of losing unemployment benefits. And the political pressure of that reality is just absolutely immense. You know, Democrats also see a completely different negotiating and political universe on the very near horizon. Aides have been saying since Joe Biden won the election that they could pass a smaller relief bill now and do more later. They often said that they wouldn't accept a piecemeal approach before because they didn't trust President Trump. They didn't trust that he would follow up with any additional aid if they passed something small with the goal of trying to do something more later. Now, Democrats I talked to say this $908 billion bill that they're talking about is just a starting place. And they're trying to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to negotiate up from his much smaller figure of around $500 billion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So short term, yes, because they think Biden will help them pass more relief later.

SNELL: Yeah. It's a big part of why Democrats are ready to move. Even if Democrats don't control the Senate, they think they'll have a stronger hand in talks if they know that a relief bill will definitely have the support of a future President Biden. That was absolutely not the case with President Trump. He has been almost completely absent from all coronavirus relief talks. You know, he sent his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to negotiate for him. And Republicans frequently suggested that they either didn't feel confident in President Trump's support for further aid or they thought he would veto some measure. You know, this is one of those situations where Democrats say Biden is really going to change things. And they say he explicitly says any bill they would pass would be just a start. Here's what he said yesterday.

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JOE BIDEN: Any package passed in this so-called lame-duck session between now and January 21, at best, is only going to be a down payment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As always with this, there are big caveats. It seems like progress, but it's hardly a guarantee that a bill will get passed.

SNELL: Yeah. You know, there really isn't a lot of time, and there aren't a lot of guarantees. The gap between the Republican figure that we're talking about of about $500 billion and this new $900 billion for Democrats is absolutely a lot easier to close than $500 billion and $2 trillion. But these are still really big numbers. This is really significant. And it's not just about the numbers; it's about the policies. But, you know, the time pressure is really important here. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he wants to send the House home in time to quarantine before Christmas. And there's a spending bill deadline of December 11. So they are absolutely running out of time, and they will have to work quickly if they want to get this done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you very much.

SNELL: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump is preparing to run for office again.

INSKEEP: In public, the president has not quite accepted his 2020 election defeat. He is still pushing allies to challenge it with conspiracy theories. His lawyers have altered their reputations with repeated baseless lawsuits. And an ally of the president actually spoke in public of having a Republican killed for failing to back the president's lie that he won. But in private, the president says otherwise, apparently. People around the departing president say he is seriously considering launching a bid for the 2024 race.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joining us is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hello there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we should start by saying that the Constitution does allow a one-term president to run again, but it is unheard of in modern times. What are you learning about President Trump's plans?

KEITH: My colleague Franco Ordoñez and I spoke to three sources. They were not authorized to speak to reporters, so they spoke on condition of anonymity. But they say that President Trump is considering a run again, that he'd like to do it, that he's dangling it out there and could announce it quickly. One of the sources said he could announce it by the end of the year or shortly before Inauguration Day on January 20. The thinking is that that would make him part of the conversation on Joe Biden's big day. But another source said nothing that concrete had been discussed in planning meetings that he's been a part of.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems a little confusing because he's still fighting the results of the 2020 race.

KEITH: Yes, he is. And his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, insisted that that is his priority right now. But that fight, the one being led by his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is linked to his 2024 ambitions because among his supporters, this all casts doubt over Biden's presidency. You know, Trump is also allergic to the idea of being a loser, even if the reality is that he lost fair and square. So the the campaign official I spoke to told me that the campaign had been preparing for possible legal challenges if the results were close, and they began to execute that plan after the election. But then President Trump decided on a completely different playbook. He brought in Giuliani to, quote, "go in there and knock over tables and stuff." That alienated and pushed out more traditional professional lawyers with relevant experience. And the campaign official called these events that Giuliani has been holding in swing states, quote, "fake hearings."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is President Trump saying about this possibility?

KEITH: He was at a holiday party at the White House a couple of nights ago, and he hinted to the Republicans gathered there that he'd like to be president for another four years, even if that means returning in four years. Mostly publicly, he's focused on the fight. Yesterday, he posted a 45-minute video on social media that was just completely chock-full of falsehoods and went over the debunked claims Giuliani has been putting out there, none of which have been proven in court. He even called for the results to be overturned in multiple states.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm just wondering what kind of effect this is going to have on Republicans because, of course, there are many Republicans who are eyeing 2024 and their moment to, you know, try and become the next president of the United States. And this would seem to freeze them out.

KEITH: Exactly. And that is likely by design. One of Franco's sources told him that it's a strategy to go in early so that people will be like, oh, Nikki who? Larry Hogan who? - referring to Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and current Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who have presidential ambitions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We must stop burning fossil fuels now.

INSKEEP: That was the message on Wednesday from the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.

INSKEEP: A new U.N. report finds the pandemic had basically no effect on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher joins us now. Hi there.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All the lockdowns during the pandemic, so many people staying home, I mean, it is surprising that all of that did not affect greenhouse gases.

HERSHER: Yeah. I think a lot of people are surprised by this, but that's what this report from the World Meteorological Organization finds. So here's what climate scientists did. They looked specifically at the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That's what traps extra heat. And they found that even with the lockdowns, there's basically the same amount. So, you know, humans still used electricity, still shipped things, still burned a lot of fossil fuels this year. And 2020 was really sobering in some other ways that the report lays out. There were widespread heat waves. There were record-breaking wildfires and hurricanes. And the last decade is the hottest 10 years ever recorded, all of which is really bad for people's health.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, tell me about that. What are the effects on human health?

HERSHER: Well, to put it bluntly, climate change kills people, and it makes them sick. So there was another separate analysis that's also just been released that looks at this exact thing. It's this huge annual report in the medical journal The Lancet, and it's all about climate and health. And this year, it is blistering. So heat waves are killing a lot of people. The authors, who are doctors from around the world, they found that in the last 20 years, there have been a more than 50% increase in heat-related deaths for people over 65. And in the U.S., that meant 20,000 older people dying almost just last year. And air pollution is also leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world. That's on top of hurricanes, floods and wildfires. They're all getting more severe. And those not only injure people, they make it harder to get routine medical care.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been seeing the evidence of that, I mean, just repeatedly. I'm wondering, do the doctors who did the research suggest ways to protect people's health as the Earth gets hotter?

HERSHER: Yeah. The authors of the U.S. section in particular are calling for more funding for housing, for clean transportation, for health care. And they're calling on national and international leaders to stop burning fossil fuels. This is how one of the authors, Renee Salas of Massachusetts General Hospital, put it.

RENEE SALAS: Climate change and air pollution have the same root cause - the burning of fossil fuels.

HERSHER: And she went on to say that subsidies and incentives for oil and gas and coal, they're working against public health and should stop.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is that going to impact health systems around the world that are going to have to deal with this?

HERSHER: Yeah. The new report includes a survey of more than 800 cities around the world, and about two-thirds of them say they expect climate change to hurt their public health systems. They could have flood or hurricane damage, blackouts from heat waves. So that's not good, but it does offer some hints about how to prepare for a hotter future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher. Thank you very much.

HERSHER: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.