News Brief: CDC School Guidelines, SCOTUS Tax Ruling, Biden and Sanders Collaborate

Jul 9, 2020
Originally published on July 9, 2020 8:29 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration is pushing hard for schools to reopen this fall.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. President Trump actually criticized his own administration guidelines for school reopening as impractical and expensive. And he tweeted that he is considering cutting funding to schools that remain closed. Robert Redfield, who directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, added that his own agency's guidelines were not intended to be, quote, "a rationale to keep schools closed." Still after being pressured by the president, the CDC is now expected to release new, less restrictive school opening guidelines.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Anya Kamenetz with us this morning to talk about all this uncertainty and what it means for parents, students, everybody. Hey, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So President Trump can pressure school districts all he wants, but it's their call - isn't it? - as to whether or not to reopen in-person classes.

KAMENETZ: Yes. This is the beauty and the terror of America's public schools. There is almost 14,000 districts, and each one is making its own decisions based on local conditions, local resources and guidance, not directives, from all these different sources. For example, where I am in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio just announced that New York schools would not open their doors full time as the president wants but would do a mix of in-person and distance learning.

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BILL DE BLASIO: Here's the deal - for the vast majority of kids and the vast majority of schools, you'll be going to school to the classroom, either two days a week or three days a week depending on the week.

MARTIN: OK. So this hybrid scheduling instead of what the president is looking for. So if school districts aren't abiding by President Trump's wishes, where are they getting the information to make their decisions?

KAMENETZ: So even though there's some emerging evidence, Rachel, that younger kids are not catching or spreading this disease in the same way that adults are, the current CDC guidance - and this is seen around the world, really - is that you should really be socially distancing inside classrooms and grouping kids into small pods. And that's crucial. That means a drastic reduction in class sizes almost everywhere in the United States. It's a huge cost. It takes space and staffing. And that, in turn, is why you're seeing schools not just in New York City but in many states dropping down to just two days a week of classes. And then, you know, districts are surveying parents and teachers to find out, are they willing to go back at all? You know, we have 1 in 3 teachers in this country estimated over the age of 50. And around the country, a significant group of teachers say they're not willing to come back.

And parents, too, you know, that I've been speaking to, they're feeling really nervous, really caught in the middle. Remote learning has not been working well. They have to go back to work in many cases. But, you know, they're still scared to send their kids back to school, especially where cases are rising. And all of that means that you have to keep doing remote learning at the same time that you're holding in-person classes, which is not something that the public school system has really ever contemplated doing. It's essentially a whole other job.

MARTIN: Right. So I know you've been having conversations with teachers in particular. What are they telling you?

KAMENETZ: You know, they are really feeling unsupported. Kirk Hansen, a middle school teacher in Florida, made this point.

KIRK HANSEN: The history of public education is inadequate funding, and we are supposed to come back to an environment where we don't know what's happening and we're supposed to do it on limited funds. And I think it's just - it's going to be a fiasco.

KAMENETZ: You know, education leaders, Rachel, are asking for as much as $200 billion from the federal government. The House passed about $60 billion. That hasn't been touched by the Senate. So even though Trump and many Republicans are calling so forcefully for schools to reopen, these leaders are not talking about how they're going to pay for it.

MARTIN: Right. So, I mean, is there any financing in the works?

KAMENETZ: You know, that House bill was approved in May. The Senate has not taken it up. It's about half of what is needed. And so it's really going out on a limb for schools with schools opening just in a few weeks to figure out how to do this.

MARTIN: NPR's Anya Kamenetz from our Education Desk. We so appreciate your reporting on all this, Anya. Thank you.

KAMENETZ: Thank you, Rachel.

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MARTIN: All right. So just how big of a tent is the Democratic Party?

GREENE: Well, the Democratic primary certainly exposed some huge differences between the moderate and progressive wings of the party. But Joe Biden came out on top, and Democrats know they have to come together to beat President Trump. So yesterday, Biden met with Bernie Sanders and his allies on the left, and they came up with a long list of policy recommendations to try to unify their party heading into the Democratic National Convention. Senator Sanders spoke to NPR.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Well, the goal of the task force were to move the Biden campaign into a progressive direction as possible. And I think we did that.

MARTIN: OK. Let's truth squad that a bit with NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow, who is following this for us. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. So Bernie Sanders claims to be pushing Joe Biden to the left. I mean, is he? How so?

DETROW: Yeah, he is. This was an effort by both Biden and Sanders to try to keep the party together to not repeat 2016 where progressives were not fully onboard with Hillary Clinton. So Sanders representatives and Biden representatives worked on six big policy areas, and they came up with this report that really reads like a progressive wish list across a wide range of areas. Just to tick off a couple, it calls for zeroing out net greenhouse gas emissions across the entire country by 2050, funding universal prekindergarten across the country, expanding Social Security, eliminating cash bail. These recommendations would push Biden to the left but not completely transform his platform. I talked to Faiz Shakir about this. He managed Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and he helped coordinate these task forces.

FAIZ SHAKIR: We did not have any impressions that we were going to turn Joe Biden into Bernie Sanders. That was not going to happen. And that did not happen.

DETROW: So these are recommendations, though. It's important to see what happens next. Biden's campaign did work closely on them, but so far publicly, they've only committed to reviewing the recommendations, not fully embrace them just yet.

MARTIN: OK. What about health care? I mean, we heard this as such a dividing line in the Democratic primary between moderates and the progressives, especially on "Medicare for All." What do the recommendations say about that?

DETROW: Yeah, that's a great example because I feel like we were talking about Medicare for All on every single Up First after every single debate. It was so drawn out. And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal talked about this. She co-chaired the health care task force. She really wants Medicare for All, but she said, look, the Medicare for All candidate did not win the primary. It was very clear where Joe Biden stood. She still feels like progressives got a lot out of this in the world of health care, including really expanding the benefits and lowering the costs of the public health insurance program that Biden would push for and making sure that Medicare would administer it, not a private health insurance company.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I feel like I can go and legitimately sell this as something that the movement achieved, something that we were able to do that pushed Vice President Biden further than he has been.

MARTIN: So, Scott, I mean, how does the Biden campaign see this effort? How important is it actually for Biden to win over these progressive Sanders voters?

DETROW: I think if Biden is elected president, this is very important. It's been very clear he wants to get a lot of this stuff done. But just looking at the blunt political question, I think it's actually less important than it seemed before. Joe Biden has built a really big lead over President Trump, and a lot of that has to do with independent, more moderate voters. And a lot of recent data shows that progressives are actually onboard with Biden already. That's less excitement about Joe Biden and more excitement about the possibility of beating President Trump. So Biden has been running kind of a cautious campaign, doing maybe one speech a week. He will be giving a speech today, actually. His campaign is billing it as a key speech on the economy this afternoon.

MARTIN: Do we know anything about that? I mean, that's a big topic, the economy.

DETROW: (Laughter) It is. Well, specifically on the economy, his campaign says that he's going to call for a lot of things that Democrats in Congress have been pushing for recently, providing federal aid to state and local governments facing these massive budget gaps, extending unemployment benefits. He's going to call again for something he's been talking about before, creating a big core of public health workers to create jobs and also boost the number of contact tracers out there trying to track infections.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow for us. Thanks, Scott. We appreciate it.

DETROW: Thank you.

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MARTIN: A blockbuster U.S. Supreme Court term ends today with some very high-profile decisions.

GREENE: Yeah. Just think, over the past two weeks, the court has delivered opinions on abortion, LGBTQ rights, immigration status, religious freedom. But the justices have yet to rule on cases involving President Trump's tax returns and finances.

MARTIN: We've got NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson with us. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we're expecting decisions today in two cases pertaining to President Trump. Let's start with the one involving a criminal investigation, right? This by a - an investigation by a grand jury in New York. What can you tell us?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. A grand jury in New York and the Manhattan district attorney's office want to see nearly 10 years' worth of financial papers and tax returns from President Trump. Remember, Trump is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to voluntarily release his tax returns during the campaign. And a grand jury New York is looking into possible wrongdoing. This all started after lawyer Michael Cohen testified he helped to pay women who allegedly had affairs with Trump to keep them quiet during the 2016 campaign. And the Manhattan DA basically says the president doesn't have across-the-board immunity for documents not related to his official duties. Basically, they're saying no one is above the law, not even the president. Now, the Justice Department has said the president can't be prosecuted in office, but that doesn't mean a president can't face charges once he or she leaves Washington.

MARTIN: The president has fought that subpoena all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I understand the Justice Department is weighing in on his behalf now, right?

JOHNSON: They are. Personal lawyers for the president say the nation needs his undivided attention, especially in a time of crisis, so he shouldn't have to be bothered with this. And the Justice Department agrees. They say at a minimum, the district attorney should have to show he has a real need for these financial records. President Trump, of course, is very fond of tweeting about presidential harassment. He's basically arguing these prosecutors in New York are interfering with his day job during a pandemic.

MARTIN: OK. So that's the first case. What about the second? This involves Congress, right?

JOHNSON: It does. The second case actually wraps up efforts by three different congressional committees to get information about Trump finances. But instead of knocking on the door of the White House to get it, these committees went to an accounting firm and to financial institutions that hold the Trump records. They want the documents to figure out how to craft new legislation on things like money laundering and ethics issues. In one interesting fact, Mazars, the accounting firm here, said it would have complied, but President Trump sued Mazars to try to stop the company from complying with the subpoena.

MARTIN: What does the Trump camp say about that case?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Lawyers for the president and his financial advisers say Congress isn't legislating here. It's trying to be a law enforcement agency. They say the committees haven't shown they have a good reason for this material. And they say making demands about this kind of sensitive financial information is a big reach. And, you know, Rachel, even during the oral argument, some justices seemed to buy that, at least in part. They worried about the implications of somebody like a former senator, Joe McCarthy, bothering a president. He was widely discredited, of course, for carrying out witch hunts in the 1950s.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Carrie, is there a chance the public is going to get to see these documents before the election?

JOHNSON: Possible but unlikely, Rachel. You know, courts move very slowly. And some of these materials are very sensitive. So even if the Supreme Court sides with Congress and the Manhattan DAs office, we may never see these materials before November.

MARTIN: Carrie Johnson, NPR's national justice correspondent, we appreciate it. Carrie, thanks for your reporting here.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.