News Brief: Presidential Campaigns, Pandemic Cases, China's Economy
NOEL KING, HOST:
This year, remember - it's not Election Day. It's election season.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Election season because the pandemic and the availability of mail-in voting has made it possible for 28 million people to vote already. That's according to the U.S. Elections Project. Both of the major presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, but they're taking decidedly different approaches right now. President Trump has been all about large rallies, while Joe Biden is nearly as active but perhaps not quite as loud.
KING: NPR's Tamara Keith has been traveling with President Trump. Good morning, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: Let me start by asking you about Joe Biden. Polls have him ahead both nationally and in some really important swing states. What is he doing at this point to keep himself ahead?
KEITH: Yeah, his travel schedule is pretty low key, certainly compared to the president. Yesterday, Biden was in Durham, N.C., which is something he's been doing a lot of. You know, there are no big close-together, standing-together rallies, and that's on purpose. Criticizing President Trump's handling of coronavirus is a central campaign message for Biden. His other message that's taking shape is about unity, saying he wants to be a president for all Americans, which in part is about making a pitch to Republicans and independents who may be uncomfortable voting for Trump. Over the weekend, Biden's campaign manager sent a memo to supporters saying that they could still lose the race even though the numbers look good now. Or in other words, hey, guys, don't get complacent.
KING: Yeah. All right, so you were on the road for a few days with President Trump behind in the polls. Is he acting like it?
KEITH: Yeah. So I was with him at rallies in Macon, Ga., Ocala, Fla., and Greenville, N.C. And spending time on the campaign trail with President Trump is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. He's bringing together huge crowds of people in the middle of a pandemic, at the same time celebrating that he and his staff have recovered from COVID. He's down in the polls. He's two weeks removed from his hospital stay. And he is all about sending a message that he feels good. But even though he says he feels good, he is making dire predictions about a Biden presidency and then joking about losing.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life - what am I going to do?
TRUMP: I'm going to say, I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics. I'm not going to feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country. I don't know.
KEITH: If he wins, he's saying that prosperity will surge. He keeps saying make America great again again. And otherwise, it's a little hard at times to find his message. It's there. But he is constantly distracting from it and interrupting himself. He mocks Biden for his mask wearing and his crowd sizes. And he says that we are rounding the turn on the pandemic, you know, even though cases and hospitalizations are rising again.
KING: President Trump has gone after Joe Biden in some very personal ways. Is the Biden campaign responding to that at all?
KEITH: They are largely avoiding that and focusing on coronavirus, which is what Biden did again yesterday at that socially distant drive-in rally in North Carolina.
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JOE BIDEN: My grandfather would say, this guy's gone around the bend if he thinks we turned the corner.
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BIDEN: Turned the corner? Things are getting worse. He continues to lie to us about the circumstances.
KEITH: And the coronavirus is set to be a topic in Thursday night's debate. It is the one big event left on the calendar that could change the trajectory.
KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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KING: All right. So in the U.S., we are seeing people test positive for coronavirus at rates that are higher than they've been since midsummer.
MARTIN: At this point, more than 8 million Americans have been infected by the virus. The number of daily new cases was down in September, but it's on the rise again.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey is following this story. Good morning, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So here we are mid-October. We were told from jump that the winter months would be tough. That's what public health experts said. Why is the number of cases going up, though?
AUBREY: You know, part of it is as weather changes, people tend to congregate more inside. But Noel, all the key metrics show we are headed in the wrong direction. There were more than 70,000 new cases in one day over the weekend. Hot spots include Wisconsin - where a field hospital has opened outside Milwaukee - Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and the Rocky Mountain states, Colorado, Utah. In Europe, Britain and France are also experiencing a surge. Here's former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb speaking on CBS yesterday.
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SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think the next three months are going to be very challenging. There's really no backstop against the spread that we're seeing. We're probably two or three weeks behind Europe, and Europe's in a very difficult position right now, too. I think as we enter the winter, we're going to see continued spread. There's 42 states where hospitalizations are rising. There's 45 states where they have expanding epidemics. And there's really no backstop.
AUBREY: A vaccine could provide a backstop. But, of course, we know now that even if a vaccine candidate is shown to be safe and effective before the end of, say, this year, it will likely be mid-2021 before it's widely available or later.
KING: You know, it's really interesting to hear Scott Gottlieb say we're probably two or three weeks behind Europe because in Europe we've seen some cities and, in fact, some entire countries impose those really strict restrictions again. Do you think that's going to happen here?
AUBREY: It's possible we could see states or cities bring back more restrictions on, say, restaurant and bar capacity or gatherings in general. Already in Denver, there's now a stricter mask policy requiring people to wear masks in certain outdoor settings. People are asked to limit gatherings to no more than five people now. Now, some places with low infection rates throughout the pandemic had loosened restrictions, such as Indiana. But there's now a significant jump in cases there and a dramatic rise in hospitalizations, which is happening in many states. I spoke to physician Aaron Carroll of Indiana University about this.
AARON CARROLL: When hospitalizations go up, it is likely that deaths will follow. But I don't think they will climb as rapidly as what we saw in March for a number of reasons. First, we're testing more than we did then, so we're catching more positives. Secondly, more and more of the cases are coming from younger people now than they did before. And younger people seem to do better.
AUBREY: In addition, it could be people are seeking treatment sooner. Doctors and hospitals know more about how to treat COVID patients.
KING: OK, so as we've been saying for weeks, it is election season - lots of people voting early. But election day is a thing, and it's two weeks away. How will people stay safe when they're going to the polls?
AUBREY: You know, election officials have done a lot of planning. So voting early is one good option. There could be long lines. So be prepared to wait, bring water, dress for the weather and keep in mind ways that you can limit being around other people. Don't bring kids or extra family members. Of course, wear a mask and look for these single points of entry and exit at the polling centers. They've been designed to minimize close contact. In some places, curbside voting may be available for people at high risk.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks, Allison.
AUBREY: Thank you.
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KING: The world economy is on track to shrink by at least 4% this year because of the pandemic and all that followed.
MARTIN: But China has just announced its third-quarter numbers. And its economy grew 4.9% in the third quarter, which has enormous implications not just for China but for the rest of the world.
KING: NPR's Emily Feng is with us to explain those implications. Hey, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: China was hit hard by the coronavirus. It originated there. How did it manage to rebound so quickly?
FENG: Right, it was hit hard, but it was hit first. And the feeling here is that the worst is now well behind. They went through, basically, a total lockdown for all of February and March. And the economy then took a huge hit. It shrunk by almost 7%. But that means there are now near zero new cases in China each day. Because its factories are up and running again, it's selling more and exporting more to the rest of the world. China also has more than 1 billion people in its own country, so that's helped cushion it against a global recession. But to grow, it still needs to trade with the rest of the world and attract investment. Chinese leaders, though, are announcing new economic policies next week that might make China less reliant on other countries, though.
KING: Oh, that's super interesting. The U.S. and China, of course, are economic competitors. So what does China's third-quarter numbers being really good - what does that mean for the United States?
FENG: It makes China a more attractive place to continue. So last year during the U.S.-China trade war, many U.S. companies thought they might move their supply chains to Southeast Asia or back to the U.S. But a recent survey from the Shanghai American Chamber of Commerce finds that now nearly 80% of firms say they're staying put in China. And because China is making and selling goods while everyone else is under lockdown, Chinese firms will gain bigger market share in especially manufacturing and industrial sectors this year, which could lead to tensions in the U.S. Here's Michael Hirson, who is a China lead at Eurasia Group, a consultancy.
MICHAEL HIRSON: The fact that China is back up and running smoothly - and in fact, some evidence suggests that China is actually grabbing market share in export industries - will be a cause of concern for U.S. policymakers in particular.
FENG: And he says that's likely to renew these long-running accusations in the U.S. here that China benefits more from the global economic order.
KING: So the numbers in China are good. I would imagine, given everything, there still have to be some weaknesses in its recovery, yeah?
FENG: There are. And I talked to one analyst, He Wei, who works at a research firm called Gavekal Dragonomics about this.
HE WEI: Overall, it's still an investment-driven story. And we will have seen what's lagging behind is mainly the consumption, especially for lower-income people relative consumption.
FENG: What he means by investment driven is there has been this growth because China is building factories, houses, making cars. But you need people to buy that stuff. And consumer demand has been weaker. And China has not given, you know, checks in the mail, cash payments to those hardest-hit. And so that's going to further throw supply and demand out of sync - many of these itinerant migrant workers who spend but no longer have a job. Yeah, if people are poor, they can't buy much.
KING: NPR's Emily Feng. Emily, thanks so much for this.
FENG: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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