House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday told NPR she agreed with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's assessment that mask usage should be mandated on the federal level amid a surge of coronavirus cases across the United States. She blamed the Trump administration for failing to accept the seriousness of the pandemic.
"I totally agree with Joe Biden. As long as we're faced with this crisis, masks should be mandatory," Pelosi told NPR's Ari Shapiro and Susan Davis on All Things Considered.
"In fact, the reason the CDC hasn't made it mandatory is because they don't want to embarrass the president, or insult the president, whatever it is," Pelosi said, calling Trump "cowardly" for not wearing a face mask.
The United States on Thursday set a new daily record for confirmed coronavirus cases. The surge in the virus's spread comes following an intense push by the president to ease mitigation requirements and reopen states' economies.
Trump has taken advantage of the relaxed requirements, holding two rallies in as many weeks as he attempts to restart his campaign schedule for the 2020 White House race against Biden.
After weeks of no public briefings, the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Friday cautioned young people to take more precautions in assessing their risk for the disease, warning that although they may be less susceptible to the serious health fallouts from the virus, they could still pass it on to others.
"A risk for you is not just isolated to you, because if you get infected, you are part — innocently or inadvertently — of propagating a dynamic process of the pandemic," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
Still, Vice President Pence, who has also recently relaunched a cross-country travel schedule, said he believed the close gatherings in defiance of health care officials' guidance were an exercise of free speech.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the House GOP Conference chair, who rarely agrees with Pelosi, tweeted a picture of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, on Friday with the message: "Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK."
Pence plans to travel next week to Texas and Arizona, two states that have seen significant spikes in cases of the virus.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
The House of Representatives has passed a sweeping police reform bill. It includes many of the things civil rights groups have called for - changing policies on chokeholds, limited immunity for officers and no-knock warrants. Democrats blocked a police reform bill in the Senate this week, saying it did not go far enough. This means police reform is likely to go nowhere before the election.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At the same time, the U.S. is seeing record numbers of coronavirus infections, and this alarming rise comes just weeks before additional unemployment benefits are set to run out. If Congress doesn't act, millions of unemployed Americans will lose an extra $600 a week. All of this is on the plate of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who joins us from Capitol Hill, and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is also here to join me in the interview. Madam Speaker, welcome.
NANCY PELOSI: Hi. Thank you, Ari. It's wonderful to be with you. Hi, Susan. How are you?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. We're going to ask about the next phase of coronavirus response in Congress in a minute, but let's start with police reform.
DAVIS: The Senate this week could not pass a Republican bill. House Democrats did pass a bill last night, but the Senate's not going to take it up. There's no negotiations going on. Does there need to be an election first before Congress will try again?
PELOSI: I certainly hope not because if that were the case, more people will be in danger. It behooves the Senate to pass a bill. In order to do that, they have to negotiate with the Democrats about what that bill would look like. The bill that the Senate put forth was bare leaves. It was nothing. It did nothing. It would make no difference. So it's not a question that it didn't go far enough; it didn't go anywhere. So they'll - what will happen next, in my view, Senate Democrats and Republicans are going to have to sit down together and negotiate a bill. When a bill passes the Senate, then we can have a negotiation with the House bill.
SHAPIRO: Let's shift to COVID-19. Yesterday was the second straight day the U.S. saw a record number of infections, and it's especially bad in the South and the West, including your home state of California. Does the federal government need to take a more direct role in managing this crisis, or do you think states should continue to take the lead?
PELOSI: I think the federal government should take a more direct role in enabling states to execute. Just in terms of justice, as we've been talking about, the Reverend Martin Luther King said, of all forms of injustice, the inequality in health care is the most inhumane - inhuman because people can die. And so in this coronavirus, unless we get the data on how it affects everyone, including people of color, we will have many more deaths among people of color in this regard.
We have and our heroes have resources, a strategic plan for testing, tracing and treatment, as well as isolation, in order to destroy this virus. We don't have a vaccine. We don't have a cure yet. But right now we have the tools. And this administration has failed to execute them. Their denial and their delay in all of this has caused deaths.
SHAPIRO: Joe Biden said today that if he were elected president, he would make wearing a face mask in public mandatory. Do you agree with that?
PELOSI: Absolutely. In fact, the reason the CDC hasn't made it mandatory is because they don't want to embarrass the president or insult the president - whatever it is - offend the president. They said they recommend it, but they haven't required it. And we're like, why aren't you requiring it? The inference to be drawn from their response is that it's because of the president. And that, again, is another - president saying this is a hoax, that it's magically going to disappear. And not wearing a mask himself as an example to the country? How cowardly is that?
So I think, yes, I totally agree with Joe Biden. As long as we're faced with this crisis, the masks should be mandatory. It's not about protecting yourself; it's protecting others.
DAVIS: In just a few weeks, at the end of July, an additional $600 in unemployment benefits that Congress approved in response to the pandemic is going to expire. As you know, the employment rate is sitting around 13%. Are you committed to extending those additional benefits?
PELOSI: This week, we had the 14th straight week of over 1 million people applying for unemployment benefits - the 14th straight week. This is horrible in the lives of those people, terrible in terms of our economy. People have to have the unemployment insurance. That's a stabilization factor in our economy.
DAVIS: On that question of additional benefits, is that a deal-breaker or no?
PELOSI: I'm not going to negotiate that on this call. It depends on what we have in the bill and how much we get in direct payments and are they going to supply food for people and are we - you know, there are many factors in the bill. But you don't negotiate by drawing red lines in the sand in the public media. But it is something that we have to weigh the effectiveness of, and it is a big boost in many families. And so we'll have that negotiation. But it depends on what else we do with direct payments and other assistance.
SHAPIRO: Speaker Pelosi, on this question of negotiation, you told The Washington Post that you are not talking with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin right now. You and he negotiated many of the provisions of the previous relief bills. How will anything pass if you're not negotiating with the leaders in the administration?
PELOSI: Let me just say that they know what they have to do. They have said that they know they have to do a package. The chairman of the Fed has said if we don't make a major investment from Congress, we're going to have a bigger recession than we even have now. He has said...
SHAPIRO: But you said there will be a negotiation.
PELOSI: He has - of course, there - negotiation. But that doesn't mean I have to talk to Steven Mnuchin (laughter). It means that - there are different levels of negotiation. We always start with our appropriators. And when they get to a place where they - it has to be kicked up to a different level, then we go to the leadership, and we negotiate, and then when it goes - have to go to another level - so it isn't a person-to-person negotiation from Day 1; it's a process.
SHAPIRO: Finally, Madam Speaker, before we let you go, the surprise wins in the Democratic Party have been coming from people who are younger, farther to the left, not white. What responsibility does the generation of people currently in power, such as yourself, have to elevate these voices and allow them to define the shape of the Democratic Party?
PELOSI: Well, as I say, in a district like mine and a district like those in New York, those voices are very important, and they are important parts of our caucus. We have a big tent. We have a very big tent in our caucus, and a range of exuberance is there. And they're all welcome, and they're all respected.
We have changed so much about how we welcome newcomers here. When the biggest class that ever came before - or one of the biggest classes - was the Watergate babies. They came right after Watergate in the late '70s. In the first year they were here, not one of them was a chair of a subcommittee, had a gavel. With this new class that came this last time, 18 members of the freshman class were chairs of committees. And 10...
SHAPIRO: Are you saying they should be grateful for the opportunities to lead that you've given them, rather than demanding more?
PELOSI: Not talking about grateful. Nothing is about grateful; everything is about what you can do for the future. What I'm saying is that there is a recognition that the majority of our caucus is women, people of color, LGBTQ, and we want them not only to have a seat at the table but a seat at the head of the table because then the policy will be better, and we'll all benefit from that. So it's not a question of we want them to be - no, we're grateful that they're here. We're the grateful ones.
SHAPIRO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. Thank you for joining us again.
PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you, Ari. Thank you, Susan.
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