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News Brief: Bolton's Message To Republicans, Biden's Economy, COVID-19 Vaccine


The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency does exactly what its name suggests. That agency put out a remarkable statement last night.


Right. It said the November 3 election was, quote, "the most secure in American history." The statement says there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised. The agency has been fighting disinformation about the election, false claims for which President Trump is a super spreader. Many Republican officials went along with Trump's televised lie that he won the election and have not called out his baseless claims of fraud. But John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser, says it's time to stop enabling him.


JOHN BOLTON: The arguments that Trump and his campaign are making on the conspiracy to deny him reelection is this conspiracy is so vast and so successful that apparently there's no evidence of it.

GREENE: Bolton, who has many supporters in Congress, says it's in the national interest and the party's interest to abandon the president.

KING: John Bolton talked to our co-host Steve, who's on the line with me now. Hey, Steve.


KING: So how, in Bolton's mind, would Republicans separate themselves from Trump when so many of them have just supported him all the way?

INSKEEP: Yeah, we are talking about a figure who's extremely popular with Republican voters. But Bolton says Trump is pursuing his own interests here, fundraising off of his baseless claims, which Bolton calls a con game. And he says Republican leaders could at least press the president to give Joe Biden aides access to key departments.


BOLTON: Showing disagreement with the president is not fatal to your political future. I'm not asking anybody to climb Mount Suribachi and plant the American flag on top of it. I'm just saying, for example, agree that Biden and key people on his transition team should have full access to intelligence briefings.

INSKEEP: And by the way, if you're scratching your head, Noel, on Mount Suribachi, I had to look it up to remind myself, too. It's a mountain on the island of Iwo Jima, where U.S. Marines famously raised a flag in World War II.

KING: It was a good reference.

Are any Republicans, Steve, who are currently in office leaning on Trump at all?

INSKEEP: Well, some have done it. Senator Jim Lankford, who's a regular guest on this program, set today as a kind of deadline for Trump to cooperate with the transition. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, one of the supposedly contested states, has said Trump should cooperate with the transition. But others, like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, have not acknowledged reality. And Lindsey Graham was asked if Joe Biden should receive transition help yesterday, and he said, I think so. But when he was on Fox recently, he was a lot more definite about spreading disinformation.

KING: This makes me think about the two Republicans who are facing Senate runoffs in Georgia because they have both made baseless election claims against their own party's secretary of state.

INSKEEP: Yeah, both of them demanded that the Georgia secretary of state resign and gave no specific reasons at all. And, of course, lawsuits about the Georgia results have so far completely failed.

KING: We should mention - and you've done a lot of interviews on this - John Bolton left office as one of the president's critics. What does he think of Joe Biden?

INSKEEP: He said he wasn't going to vote for Joe Biden but not for Trump either. He does, however, think that Biden can help the country.


BOLTON: I think Trump has caused damage, but I think it can be repaired. In fact, I'm optimistic it can be repaired fairly quickly. That's not to say I'm going to come close to agreeing with Biden administration policies in many respects. I would not be surprised if by the 21 of January, the day after Biden's inauguration, I'll be criticizing his foreign policy.

INSKEEP: But Bolton says that under Biden, it would be a more normal American debate, which will be good for America's standing in the world.

KING: UP FIRST co-host Steve Inskeep.

Thanks for bringing us this, Steve.

INSKEEP: You're welcome.


KING: All right. There are some bright spots in the U.S. economy.

GREENE: Yeah, markets responded well to the news that Joe Biden won the presidential election. They surged again on news that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer has developed a vaccine that, so far, is 90% effective. That said, markets don't tell us how people are doing during the coronavirus recession.

KING: But NPR's Scott Horsley can. He's been talking to people around the country.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Let's start at 10,000 feet first. What has President-elect Biden said about what he's going to do to fix the economy?

HORSLEY: Job one for fixing the economy, of course, is getting a handle on the pandemic. And President-elect Biden has promised a more robust and more coordinated federal role in that effort. Of course, the numbers right now are really frightening. Infections are climbing at an alarming level. Hospitals across the country are stretched thin. That's not only a health care crisis, it's also going to cause economic problems because as cities and states once again impose restrictions on restaurants and gyms and as cautious consumers just decide to stay home.

Biden came into office as vice president a dozen years ago under the weight of the financial crisis, and now he's going to be facing another uphill battle. But Ian Shepherdson, who's with Pantheon Macroeconomics, says this crisis could turn around more quickly.

IAN SHEPHERDSON: President-elect Biden is arriving in Washington at the right time. The COVID news at the point where he's inaugurated is likely to be horrific, but it won't be for much longer after that.

HORSLEY: Shepherdson says, with a successful vaccine, the springtime could see a flowering of the economy fueled by pent-up demand for all the kinds of stuff that's been off limits for so long.

KING: That's a nice thing to think about.

Millions of people, of course, lost their jobs this year, but not everyone did. What have the people who are still working been doing with their money?

HORSLEY: People who are lucky enough to still have a job are buying a lot of stuff. You know, spending on goods has actually recovered to pre-pandemic levels and then some. But they're spending less on services as they avoid travel and crowds and in-person entertainment. Brandon Fritze in Indianapolis is one example. He spent an awful lot of time this past year more or less stuck in his apartment. And he misses going out to buffet restaurants and doing all the things he used to enjoy.

BRANDON FRITZE: I was a big karaoke guy. I'd be going to the karaoke bar pretty much every night. But since the pandemic started, I don't think I've sung in eight months now.

HORSLEY: Coldplay's "Yellow" was Brandon's go-to song. All told, cautious consumers like him have squirreled away some $2 trillion during the pandemic. And that's money that could fuel a pretty big economic revival if and when people feel safe again going out to concerts and restaurants and karaoke bars.

KING: All right. So Joe Biden will be inaugurated in January. Let's say a vaccine rolls out widely sometime in the spring or in the summer. How long will it be before the economy stabilizes? Do we know?

HORSLEY: That's the $2 trillion question. Obviously, the vaccine still needs final safety tests. And then getting it out to hundreds of millions of people is a huge challenge. And even when the vaccine is widely available, it could take time to rebuild people's confidence. You know, I spoke to a woman in Pittsburgh who says she still gets freaked out watching period dramas on TV when the characters aren't socially distancing.

KING: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: So even though she wants to go out and see live music, she says it could take a while. Shepherdson thinks it could be a fairly rapid rebound; other economists say it could be a couple of years.

KING: NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


KING: All right. So for the past few weeks, we have given you so many numbers about coronavirus - cases, deaths, hospitalizations. And we understand that it's hard to keep them straight, but today we have two big ones.

GREENE: Yeah, significant numbers, right? Fifteen hundred people died in a single day this week from coronavirus, and there were more than 150,000 new cases on Thursday alone. There is one thing that nearly everyone agrees on - we need a vaccine badly. Dr. Anthony Fauci had some hopeful news on that front earlier this week. Here he is.


ANTHONY FAUCI: The vaccine is on its way, folks...


FAUCI: ...So hang in there. Hang tough. We're going to get over this together. Thank you very much.

GREENE: Yeah. Earlier this week, pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced that their experimental vaccine seems to be highly effective. Health officials hope to start vaccinating some Americans within a few months. But what about the rest of the world?

KING: NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff has been looking into that. Good morning, Michaeleen.


KING: So this is a global pandemic, obviously. Every country in the world is going to need vaccines. Who's going to get them first?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah. So for the past few months now, countries all around the world have been rapidly purchasing or trying to purchase vaccines - experimental vaccines before they even finished clinical trials. So it's not just Pfizer that's there, right? There are several other candidate vaccines out there. And right now, rich countries like the U.S., the U.K. and Canada have claimed way more doses than they potentially will need. So, for example, the U.S. could potentially have enough doses to vaccinate its entire population four times over. Canada could have enough to vaccinate its population five times over.

KING: That sounds a little like rich countries are hoarding vaccine doses.

DOUCLEFF: Yeah. On the surface, it does appear that way. But Noel, here's the problem. No one knows which one of these vaccines will work, so countries are hedging their bets. By pre-purchasing several different versions, they're increasing the chances that they'll get one that actually works. Now, that's great news for people in the U.S. or are other rich countries, but these vaccines have limited supplies. And so it leaves very little for the rest of the world and will likely greatly delay distribution in some poor and middle-income countries.

So take, for instance, the Pfizer vaccine, right? The company expects to manufacture about 1.3 billion doses next year, which sounds like a lot, right? But Rachel Silverman at the Center for Global Development says wealthy countries have already claimed more than 80% of those doses.

RACHEL SILVERMAN: What's left in that pie is not a lot. The takeaway messages for most people in low- and middle-income countries - this vaccine is not likely to be available at least by the end of next year.

DOUCLEFF: Some researchers estimate, Noel, that in many places, people probably won't get vaccinated until 2023, even 2024.

KING: Why can't companies, which are in business to make money and would certainly make money off a vaccine - why can't they just increase production?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah. So they can, and they will. But production in many parts of the world isn't the only problem. Storage - Silverman says that storage is a major issue, especially with new technologies like this Pfizer vaccine.

SILVERMAN: It needs to be maintained, stored, transported at extraordinarily low temperatures. And when I say extraordinarily low, I mean negative 80 degrees Celsius.

DOUCLEFF: That's much, much, much lower than a typical freezer and requires a specialized piece of equipment that's not available in many hospitals here. Actually, here, hospitals are rushing to acquire this piece of equipment.

KING: It all comes down to the cold chain.

NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff, thank you.

DOUCLEFF: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.