August 10, 2020 - PBS NewsHour full episode
August 10, 2020 - PBS NewsHour full episode
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening from the "NewsHour" studio. I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: an uneven response. President Trump pushing to extend unemployment
benefits and suspend payroll taxes, as Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal on
Then: The crackdown continues. Hong Kong police arrest the leader of a pro-democracy newspaper
in the most high-profile use of the controversial national security law yet.
Plus: the pandemic in Alaska. The influx of seasonal workers and the inaccessibility of
remote villages present challenges for confronting the coronavirus.
DACHO ALEXANDER, Tribal Council Member, Gwichyaa: We knew that it was a matter of time before
it did get here, and we just tried to hold it off as long as we can.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
JUDY WOODRUFF: Confusion lingers tonight over the legality of President Trump's executive
actions to provide economic relief during the pandemic.
That comes as Congress remains at a stalemate on negotiations for a larger COVID-19 rescue
package. The urgency is mounting now that the number of confirmed infections in the
U.S. has topped five million.
Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.
QUESTION: How motivated is the White House today?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Today at the White House, a flurry of questions about President Trump's
actions this weekend to bypass Congress and ease the economic pain of COVID-19.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, White House Press Secretary: This president has taken action to alleviate
- - alleviate some of that burden, but make no mistake, there's still much more that we'd
like to accomplish. That includes having willing negotiating partners in Congress.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The patchwork of relief measures, made up of three memorandums and
one executive order, were signed by the president on Saturday after talks between all parties
DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: Democrats are obstructing all of it. Therefore,
I'm taking an executive action. We have had it. And we're going to save American jobs
and provide relief to the American workers.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The president said he would resume additional jobless benefits, but at
a reduced rate of $400 per week. The federal government would pay $300 and request already
cash-strapped states to foot the rest of the bill.
It's still unclear how many states would be willing to do so, and, for now, when any benefits
would be sent. His actions also included a pause on federal student loan payments until
December 31 and a deferral of payroll taxes for most workers from September through the
end of the year.
The president said this would mean bigger paychecks for working families, but the taxes
will eventually be due, and the move does little for millions of Americans currently
Finally, President Trump also directed his administration to consider curbing evictions
during the pandemic. But the executive order does not necessarily ban them or provide any
money to help renters.
Democrats over the weekend blasted the president's actions. They questioned their legality, and
called for a legislative solution.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It was unconstitutional slop. While it has the illusion of saying,
we're going to have a moratorium on evictions, it says, I'm going to ask you -- the folks
in charge to study if that's feasible.
While he says he's going to do the payroll tax, what he's doing is undermining Social
Security and Medicare. So, these are illusions. Right now, we need to come to agreement.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Over Twitter today, President Trump claimed his weekend actions had given
him leverage in negotiations with Democrats. He said they were now ready to make a deal.
And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this morning the ball was now on their court.
STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. Treasury Secretary: I think there is a compromise, if the Democrats
are willing to be reasonable. There is still a lot of things that we need to do and that
we have agreed on.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: But the prospects for any talks at the moment are still unclear.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And the question is, what more do we know about the president's weekend executive
actions and what they might or might not accomplish?
Yamiche joins me now, along with our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.
So, before we talk about the president's actions over the weekend, Yamiche, there was just
some drama in the White House Briefing Room. The Secret Service asked the president to
Tell us what we understand happened.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president was beginning his briefing, talking about mail-in
voting and the stock markets, and, soon after, a Secret Service agent approached him and
said he had to leave.
The president then left. He came back a few minutes later and said that someone had been
shot outside the White House. We're not sure if that's outside the gates or on -- or outside
The point is, the Secret Service says that they now have the situation under control.
The person has been taken to the hospital. President Trump says he feels very safe, and
the briefing is now continuing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let me turn now to what the president was saying over the weekend
and what Yamiche was just reporting, Lisa.
So, of course, we're glad no one appears to have been hurt by what may have been the shooting.
But, Lisa, on the unemployment assistance, and the president talking about $400 a week,
I think the question is, how exactly would this work? And there are still questions about
whether it would actually get to the people it's intended for.
LISA DESJARDINS: Let me answer that last question first, Judy.
It is not clear any of this money will get to the unemployed. It will be state by state.
And if it goes out, it will take many weeks. So, let me break down a little bit of why
that is. First, there is the issue that each state must opt in to this idea. And each state
must itself contribute $100 per person per week.
Many states may not have that money right now. So, states have to choose this. Also,
they may have to go through some process inside the state.
So, let's say a state does decide to participate in this. The next issue is that the president
is using money from the disaster assistance fund, which is meant for things like hurricanes.
But that fund is only so large. And when you do the math, Judy, it looks like, talking
to experts and people on -- in both parties, that this money would only last for five or
six weeks' worth of these payments.
So, the third problem, Judy, is, if a state does sign up and wants these payments, it
is going to take them a long amount of time, most states, weeks to months to change their
unemployment system to get these checks rolling.
So, Judy, what could happen here is, if a state does accept these payments, does allow
it to go to their citizens, it could take them so long to actually get that system going,
that, in the end, there may just be one check, and it may come out just as the money is running
So, at best, this is short-term, Judy. And, for many states, it may not happen at all.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Wow. So much to absorb about that.
So, Yamiche, one other thing. And another thing you talked about in your report was
- - had to do with evictions and housing. What the president is saying doesn't go as far
as banning evictions and not financial assistance.
So, what is the idea behind what the president said there?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: That's right.
The idea behind this executive order -- he signed three memoranda. But the executive
order is specifically on evictions. And what the president directs federal agencies to
do is to look into the idea of whether or not there can be some sort of relief given
to the more than 110 million Americans who are renting, as well as people who have federal
And in this regard, the president has not set aside any money. So, if you're someone
who's renting who's scared that you might be evicted, this right now does not stop your
landlord from doing that. Instead, what this is doing is essentially studying the problem.
I talked to a lot of people, especially here in Southeast D.C. and in Northern Virginia,
where there are a lot of vulnerable people who are infected disproportionately by the
virus. Those people are very scared that, now that these eviction protections have elapsed,
that they could be thrown out.
And, as of right now, they could still be thrown out, unless the president puts more
teeth into something else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Wow.
So, another piece of this is important, getting a lot of attention, Lisa, has to do with payroll
taxes, the president talking about putting them -- cutting them and basically giving
people a break for the last part of the year.
How would that work? And what does it really mean? I mean, would people actually see a
LISA DESJARDINS: That's exactly the right question again.
And, Judy, again, it is not clear that people will see this money in their paychecks. And
here's why. The payroll tax, as many people may know, is 6.2 percent out of most paychecks.
That goes to fund Medicare and Social Security.
But it doesn't -- it's not something that we pay, as individuals, to the IRS. Companies
collect that money, essentially. And the company is responsible for forwarding that money to
the IRS on behalf of employees.
So, the cut, first round, goes to those companies. And the companies have to decide whether they
will pass it on to their employees or not.
One reason they wouldn't do it, Judy, is because, under the president's order here, what the
president is doing, this money must be paid back unless something changes at the end of
the year or soon after.
So, a company like Amazon, this is billions of dollars. They don't want to hand it out
and then have a bill come due next year, when we could still very well be in the pandemic.
So, the thinking is that many companies may not pass on this money, instead may hold on
to it, because they might just need to give it back again in a few months. So, it's a
And one other note. A lot of comparisons are being made to the Obama payroll tax cut. One
difference with that one, Judy, is, Congress actually passed replacement funds for that
payroll tax cut, so that Social Security and Medicare would not lose money.
In this situation, there has not been the replacement funds. Instead, it is dependent
on companies and essentially employees paying this money back.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So many moving parts here.
And just finally, very quickly, Yamiche, I want to ask you about the fact that, while
this has been going on, on the president's part, those negotiations on the Hill, people
are still looking to see if that's going to produce anything.
Is it thought that what the president did is going to cause that to move forward, or
what? I mean, what's the effect it's expected to have on the action the Hill?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president was very eager to look like he was doing something
for the American people because the talks stalled on Friday. The White House had a deadline
for themselves to then go it alone. So, the president did that over the weekend.
Now, it seems as though that the talks continue to be stalled. The Senate right now is not
expected to be back, as Lisa and I are both reporting.
The other thing is, there are -- there is this feeling that, now that the president
is saying that this is the thing that will - - that will save everything, and that will
fix the problem, that there is some feeling from the White House that he has already solved
But the White House is still looking, as well as Democrats, to make some sort of deal. The
president today said that Nancy Pelosi and Senator Schumer had called him and were interested
in making a deal. They, of course, said that they never called them president.
So, what we have here is really a stalemate, and the president saying, well, look, at least
I have tried to do something here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So much to follow.
Lisa and Yamiche, thank you both for following this so closely.
We appreciate it.
LISA DESJARDINS: You're welcome.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, with more than five million COVID cases and over 160,000 deaths in this
country, many public health voices are contending that the U.S. is essentially at another crossroads
when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. This country currently accounts for more than
22 percent of all cases and deaths worldwide.
We want to explore some of these concerns with Dr. Peter Hotez. He's an infectious disease
specialist and a pediatrician. He's at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Dr. Hotez, thank you very much for joining us again.
So, when we compare the U.S. with the rest of the world, is it as bad as it sounds?
DR. PETER HOTEZ, Baylor College of Medicine: Unfortunately, it is, Judy.
You pointed out 22 percent, 25 percent of the cases, and a significant number of the
deaths, so 160,000 deaths so far, and out of the 700,000, the 750,000 deaths globally.
So we are, sadly, at the epicenter of the epidemic.
And despite all of the suffering Americans have gone through in 2020, there is still
no end in sight. The projections are, we're going to get up to 230,000 deaths by October,
300,000 deaths by December 1. That's from the Institute for Health Metrics. And it continues
to rise from there, and not only just the deaths, but the permanent, long-lasting injuries,
neurologic injuries, lung injuries in the survivors, vascular injury, heart injury.
So, this just is an awful, awful disease, and it has taken a huge toll on the American
life and economy, and now with the homeland security, tragically.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Awful disease, as you say. And so hard to understand, when this country
is one of -- certainly one of the wealthiest in the world.
Dr. Hotez, you told us today that you think it's time for a national reset. What did you
mean by that?
DR. PETER HOTEZ: Well, the strategy has been, on the U.S. side, if you call it a strategy,
to always have the states out in front, let the states make their own decisions, and the
federal government would provide some important support, FEMA support, manufacturing support
to provide ventilators and PPE and so forth.
And it's a failed strategy. It's failed because we are the epicenter, and we continue to be.
We have now -- in the last seven days, we still lead the world in number of new cases
And my proposal -- and others have made similar ones -- is that we need -- not only need a
reset, but we need the federal government in the lead. We need -- not only in the back,
but actually providing the directives to the states.
And that reset has different aspects, depending on the state. So, for instance, in New Hampshire
and Maine, they're doing quite well, and there may not be much to do at all. But here in
Texas and in Florida and Georgia, where things are dire, we may need more much more aggressive
measures, in some parts, even a lockdown.
And if we can get to that containment level - - and there are different definitions, one
new case per 100,000 residents per day, per...
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
DR. PETER HOTEZ: ... others one per million - - what that means, we can then safely open
schools throughout the country. We can safely open up colleges, maybe even have sporting
events, and have something that resembles normal American life.
But we cannot have that now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you say lockdown in some places, are you saying in some states,
what, half the states? I mean, what does this mean, in practical terms?
DR. PETER HOTEZ: In practical terms, certainly, for instance, if you look at a state like
Florida, where the epidemic is raging in North Florida, in Miami, there's clearly going to
need to be more aggressive measures, possibly a mandatory stay-at-home, maybe not the entire
Same in Texas, where you have very aggressive acceleration in some of the metro areas in
South Texas. The point is, you can be a little more surgical than just simply saying, we
have got to stop all of the -- just lock down the entire nation.
There are pieces that will be -- have to lock down, however.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, right now, we don't see moves in that direction. The federal government
- - we know the president feels strongly, this is something, it's up to the states.
How do you see the wheels being set in motion for this to -- for this to happen?
DR. PETER HOTEZ: Yes.
So, you ask the hardest question of all. I have put out a plan, but how do you get movement
out of the White House to really take this on? And we're trying to -- I'm trying every
lever I can, through the White House, and other colleagues are doing the same.
And, unfortunately, we have people who then say, well, Peter, Dr. Hotez, I hear your October
plan, but we don't need that. I have my November 3 plan. And I say, well, there is no November
There's a January 20, 2021, plan, which is really more like a February 20 plan. And,
by then, we could have up to 400,000 Americans perish. So it's not an option. We have to
find a way to do this now.
Otherwise, we have already seen what's happened in Georgia when we try to open up schools
in areas of high transmission. It will fail. It failed miserably. And it will fail in Florida
and it will fail in Texas.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what do you say, Dr. Hotez, to those people who say, we understand it's
serious, we understand it doesn't look good, but, if we don't get businesses open, if we
don't get schools open, this country can't function, that some people are not going to
be able to thrive if they can't get their livelihood going?
DR. PETER HOTEZ: Yes.
No, and I understand that, especially for the essential workers, who physically have
to be in the workplace, and family-owned businesses, and working on construction sites. But in
the areas where transmission is still aggressive, we already know we can't open schools. We
already know we are not having anything that resembles a normal life anyway.
At least, if we can do that reset now, by October 1, we can have a -- I wouldn't say
it's entirely -- would be entirely normal, but something that resembles that, like they're
doing all over the world, like they're doing in Canada and Europe and so many other places.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, if we don't, if this isn't done, what are the consequences?
DR. PETER HOTEZ: If we -- we have got the models. And the models are dire. The models
say the deaths will continue to climb.
We will -- the long-lasting injuries will continue. Teachers will be terrified, and
appropriately so, about going back to work. And it will not only cause further erosion
to the economy, but we will reach a point where people feel scared about going outside.
And that's when homeland security is threatened. So, this has to be recognized as a direct
threat to our homeland security. And, right now, unfortunately, the way the White House
is conducting its business, it's guaranteeing that our homeland security will be threatened.
And we don't have to live this way. We can do something about this now and make life
much better for all Americans at this point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: An utterly sobering message, Dr. Peter Hotez from the Baylor College of
Thank you, Dr. Hotez.
DR. PETER HOTEZ: Thank you so much, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: Chicago police are beefing up their presence downtown
after widespread looting there overnight.
The unrest broke out after police shot a 20-year-old man who fired at them on the city's South
Side. Hundreds of people descended on the Magnificent Mile shopping district. They smashed
windows and stole merchandise. More than 100 people were arrested.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called it an assault on the city.
LORI LIGHTFOOT, Mayor of Chicago, Illinois: What occurred in our downtown and surrounding
communities was abject criminal behavior, pure and simple.
And there cannot be any excuse for it, period. This is not legitimate First Amendment-protected
speech. These were not poor people engaged in petty theft to feed themselves and their
families. This was straight-up felony criminal conduct.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The melee lasted for several hours and left 13 police officers injured.
Sixteen people have been arrested in Portland, Oregon, after protesters rioted at a police
union building last night. Demonstrators lit a fire inside the building, before police
pushed hundreds of people away. Two officers were injured in the clashes. It was the 70th
night of protests there since George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis.
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned today, along with his entire ruling cabinet.
The move follows a week of protests demanding a government overhaul since the devastating
Beirut port explosion. Diab said the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate thought to have
caused last Tuesday's blast highlighted longstanding negligence.
HASSAN DIAB, Outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister (through translator): Today, we follow the
will of the people to hold accountable those responsible for this disaster that has been
in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change.
We take a step back to stand with the people, to undergo this battle of change with them.
We want to open the door towards national salvation that the Lebanese people are taking
part in. And, thus, I am announcing today the resignation of this government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, riot police clashed with anti-government demonstrators again in
Beirut tonight. The protesters continue to denounce the government's mishandling of the
explosion that killed at least 160 people and injured thousands more.
A political crisis is also flaring in Belarus, after Sunday's election that was widely denounced
as rigged in favor of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election was not free and fair. Protesters
also insisted it was a fraud, after government-sponsored polls showed Lukashenko took 80 percent of
Alex Thomson of Independent Television News filed this report.
ALEX THOMSON: This is Belarus, the police ordered to tear-gas, stun grenade and beat
peaceful protesters off the streets across the country.
Several thousand arrests, at least one reported killed, run over by a police vehicle, which
the authorities deny. After 26 years in power, this so-called election duly delivered President
Alexander Lukashenko yet another reality-defying victory, 80 percent of the vote.
The man who says, you have to be born to be president, not elected, who praised Hitler,
who denied the COVID pandemic existed, says, opposition protests will be crushed.
ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, President of Belarus (through translator): If you fight against
the country, if you try to plunge the country into chaos and destabilize it, even with minor
incidents, you will receive an instant response from me. This is my constitutional authority.
So, why blame me?
ALEX THOMSON: The protesters are sheep, says the president, manipulated by foreigners.
But he offered no evidence.
Quick to congratulate him, two more presidents whose commitment to democracy is, at best,
questionable, Russia's Putin and China's Xi.
Quick to condemn him, European democracies. Belarus' opposition candidate has read the
message from the streets.
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, Belarusian Presidential Candidate (through translator): I think we
have already won, because we overcame our fear. We overcame our indifference to politics.
We overcame our apathy and indifference.
ALEX THOMSON: Western observers say the last free election here was way back in 1995. This
time, the numbers on the streets, not just in the capital, the numbers at opposition
rallies, the numbers now arrested, well, it all adds up, some say, to a genuine turning
JUDY WOODRUFF: That was Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.
Since filing that report, one protester died in Minsk after an explosive device detonated
in his hands as he was trying to throw it at police.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani signed a decree today to release the final batch
of 400 Taliban prisoners. The Taliban demanded they be freed as a condition for long-awaited
peace negotiations with the Afghan government. The militant group said that it's ready to
restart those talks in Qatar within a week from the prisoners' release.
And stocks were mixed on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 358
points to close at 27791. The Nasdaq fell 42 points and the S&P 500 added nine.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": the crackdown continues, as Hong Kong police arrest the
leader of a pro-democracy newspaper; Alaska faces challenges on multiple fronts in its
fight against the coronavirus; our Politics Monday team breaks down the federal response
to COVID-19 and the upcoming conventions; plus, much more.
China extended its crackdown in Hong Kong today, arresting a prominent pro-democracy
activist and media owner.
As Nick Schifrin tells us, it comes as the highest-level American official in decades
visited Taiwan to reinforce U.S. ties to the island, in defiance of Beijing.
NICK SCHIFRIN: For Beijing, this is what protecting national security looks like, frog-marching
a media tycoon through his own newsroom, plainclothes officers rifling through reporters' papers,
and hundreds of police corralling journalists and arresting editors who produce journalism
critical of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP.
Apple Daily is Hong Kong's largest media outlet, and its owner, Jimmy Lai, an outspoken advocate
for democracy, whose arrest was designed to silence a Hong Kong media that, until now,
enjoyed freedoms that don't exist in mainland China, says senior aide Mark Simon.
MARK SIMON, Senior Aide to Jimmy Lai: We take a strong stand for pro-democracy. We don't
make any bones about it. Our media is starting to look more like the mainland than Hong Kong
in the past.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Many of Hong Kong's freedoms are stifled by Beijing's new national security
law. Lai and activist 23-year-old Agnes Chow were both arrested for -- quote -- "colluding
with foreign powers," punishable with life in prison.
And the law is written so vaguely, pro-democracy advocates fear it can be used against any
MARK SIMON: That law will mean exactly what they want it to mean, when they want to mean
in it, and when they need to use it. It will also be used if a young college student from
Hong Kong stands up at UCLA and starts talking about how much they love democracy and freedom.
This is a widespread and an overreaching law that has incredibly draconian implications.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Beijing says it's protecting Hong Kong from protesters who last year turned
And, last week, Chief Administrator Carrie Lam says, because of COVID, upcoming elections
that pro-democracy candidates were expected to win had to be postponed until next year.
In response, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Lam and 10 other Hong Kong officials and called
the national security law a tool for CCP repression.
Today, the Ministry of Foreign affairs called that proof the U.S. was biased against China.
HUA CHUNYING, Spokeswoman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): Current
U.S. policy towards China is a strategic mistake, based on a lack of truth and evidence, venting
emotions, and McCarthyist bias.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And Beijing announced its own sanctions on six Republican lawmakers and
five leaders of NGOs critical of Beijing, including National Democratic Institute president
DEREK MITCHELL, President, National Democratic Institute: It's part and parcel of today's
China, where it's not just about what happens in China, but around the world, that they
want people to be quiet about what's really happening.
They don't care about law. They don't care about truth. They don't care about abiding
by the basic law of Hong Kong.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Last year, Mitchell spoke in Hong Kong and has co-written three books about
China. He argues, under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is willing to try and silence
domestic and international critics, no matter the consequence.
DEREK MITCHELL: They're going to use their power and that they will not accept anything
that is remotely rights-based or democracy-based in Hong Kong, and keep going until they feel
it is squashed entirely.
It's very, very sad. We're seeing it in our headlines on a daily basis in broad daylight.
And it doesn't stop in Hong Kong. We have to recognize that. It can certainly move to
the free people of Taiwan.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The fear Taiwan is next is the backdrop for the highest-ranking U.S.
visit in four decades. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar gave a show of
support to President Tsai Ing-wen, considered a Beijing critic.
ALEX AZAR, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary: It's a true honor to be here to
convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Officially, Azar is visiting because Taiwan's a COVID success story, in
stark contrast to the U.S. Taiwan's had fewer than 500 cases, thanks to quick actions in
January, like widespread testing and tracing and mandatory masks.
But Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and U.S. support, especially military support,
as meddling in internal affairs. During Azar's visit, the nationalist tabloid Global Times
reported, Chinese planes entered Taiwanese airspace as a clear message.
And the clear message received in Hong Kong by the national security law, activists, residents,
even businesspeople are now considering leaving.
MARK SIMON: Information is everything. And this law is telling, especially the financial
community, there are certain pieces of information that we're not going to let you have.
The ripple effect is going to be significant. It is not just one more cut in the grain here.
This is like an axe chop.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, after the raid, Apple Daily vowed to continue its work, but it acknowledged
that, in Hong Kong today, press freedom is hanging by a thread.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A coming COVID storm -- that's how the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, recently
described the pandemic in his city, as he announced new emergency orders restricting
businesses and gatherings.
As Stephanie Sy reports, the unique geography of the Last Frontier State has not spared
it from the pain.
STEPHANIE SY: Removed from other states, mostly wilderness, the pandemic took longer to gain
a grip on Alaska. But now it has in what officials have described as a rapid acceleration and
exponential growth in cases.
Summer is usually a boom time in Alaska for tourism and fishing, pillars of the economy
that some locals worry will now expose them to an unwanted guest, the virus.
DESI BOND, Alaska: As a mother, you're always concerned for your -- the safety of your children.
STEPHANIE SY: Desi Bond, who is Yupik, lives in Dillingham, a small town in the Bristol
Bay region known for its sockeye salmon. During the summer fishing season, the population
of some 7,000 residents doubles with seasonal workers.
DESI BOND: My oldest and my youngest have asthma. You're always on the alert, you know,
are they OK, are they healthy? But then to have something come in that's so invisible
and such a big threat to our lives and our livelihood, it's been very -- it's been very
THOMAS TILDEN, First Chief, Curyung Tribal Council: We're going to be very careful all
the way until end of August, first part of September.
STEPHANIE SY: Thomas Tilden is a tribal leader and commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay.
THOMAS TILDEN: The mayor of Dillingham and I had sent a joint letter to the governor
asking him to postpone the fishery, cancel the fishery.
STEPHANIE SY: But other local officials, including Dan O'Hara, pushed to keep the fishery open,
concerned about the economic hit.
DAN O'HARA, Mayor of Bristol Bay Borough, Alaska: And then you're sitting here, and
the community is broke, and we create another disaster upon that.
STEPHANIE SY: A compromise was worked out, and seafood companies took steps, like testing
seasonal workers before they could work, that so far have prevented outbreaks in Bristol
Bay, not easy in canneries and fisheries, where workers live together.
THOMAS TILDEN: They put gates around their living quarters, gates around their facilities.
Got to give them credit for what they did to keep us all safe.
STEPHANIE SY: But other coastal fishing villages have not dodged the virus. Hundreds of seafood
industry workers have tested positive.
In Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, more than a third of workers at an OBI Seafoods processing
plant tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the plant to temporarily shut down.
OBI Seafoods operates 10 processing plants across Alaska, staffed with both seasonal
and local workers.
MARK PALMER, CEO, OBI Seafoods: When you look at the remote facilities, like out in Bristol
Bay and in the Kodiak Island, the far reaches, those are closed campuses. They don't leave.
They don't interact with anyone in the communities.
STEPHANIE SY: Mark Palmer is CEO of the company. He says they work with local officials to
keep tabs on any employees who test positive.
MARK PALMER: Where you have some local work force, those employees come and go back and
forth to home every day. So, they're certainly not required to stay on campus. But we try
and keep them as separate as possible inside the facilities.
STEPHANIE SY: In addition to fishing, the tourism industry is vital to Alaska's economy.
Cruise ships bring in $1 billion a year.
VIVIAN MORK, Owner, Planet Alaska: We went from that to, of course, almost nothing.
STEPHANIE SY: Vivian Mork owns Planet Alaska, a gallery that sells Native-made goods in
downtown Juneau; 1.4 million cruise tourists were projected to come through the port this
summer, before coronavirus canceled cruises.
VIVIAN MORK: We went from maybe doing well to all of a sudden trying to figure out how
to keep the roof over our head and the food in their belly and the store open and bills
STEPHANIE SY: That loss in business has meant a huge drop in income for many Alaskans.
VIVIAN MORK: At the same time as it hits us economically, it also helped to protect us
being inundated with positive cases.
STEPHANIE SY: They are far from being inundated. The cases have began seeping in to even the
most remote communities, where there is extremely limited access to health care.
Patients have been medevaced from places like Bethel in far West Alaska, and Fort Yukon
near the Arctic Circle, home of the Gwichyaa Zhee people.
DACHO ALEXANDER, Tribal Council Member, Gwichyaa: We have, we have lost our first tribal member,
a community member, to COVID a few days ago.
STEPHANIE SY: Tribal council member Dacho Alexander says they did their best to keep
their town isolated, but village and family life are remarkably interdependent, especially
during the crucial peak fishing months.
DACHO ALEXANDER: The reality of village life is, it requires multiple families in order
to basically survive, because you're having to put away food for the winter. We knew that
there was a matter of time before it did get here. And we just tried to hold it off as
long as we can.
STEPHANIE SY: It's not clear how the virus got to Fort Yukon. The village was under a
strict lockdown and curfews, but for a 10-day period in June, when rules were relaxed.
NATHAN MCCOWAN, George Tanaq Corporation: The rural areas are intertwined economically
with the larger communities.
STEPHANIE SY: Nathan McCowan is head of the St. George Tanaq village corporation. St.
George is an island in the middle of the Bering Sea.
NATHAN MCCOWAN: Once it gets into the rural communities, everybody understands the capacity
and the medical realities about how dangerous it can be.
DR. ROBERT ONDERS, Medical Director, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: We're seeing
some larger events occur now.
STEPHANIE SY: Dr. Robert Onders is the medical director at the Alaska Native Tribal Health
Consortium. He says many Alaska Natives are at greater risk for severe impacts from COVID-19.
DR. ROBERT ONDERS: There is an increased burden of chronic disease, increased burden of smoking,
increased burden of crowded housing, increased challenges with water and sewer access. And
all those prevent -- incredible risk to the rural community.
STEPHANIE SY: Native Alaskans have survived in the face of many hardships, but not without
taking devastating losses. The 1918 Spanish Flu decimated many families, including Thomas
THOMAS TILDEN: Apparently, someone bought that influenza into the village. One morning,
there was no more relatives. They had all died that night. And so they lost a vast number
of their village people.
STEPHANIE SY: That pandemic killed more than half of adults and elders across Alaskan villages.
More recently, the 2009 H1N1 flu hit the region hard. Alaska's geography is both an opportunity
and a vulnerability when it comes to COVID.
DR. ROBERT ONDERS: We want to rapidly identify and eradicate COVID in these rural communities,
not a mitigation strategy. We really need to prevent it entering those communities.
STEPHANIE SY: But an eradication strategy may be too late. And when the summer fish
harvest is over, Nathan McCowan worries, the cold season brings new peril.
NATHAN MCCOWAN: We can have seasonal storms that will ground all air travel for weeks.
STEPHANIE SY: By the numbers, Alaska has far fewer cases than other states, but Desi Bond
says the burden is no different.
DESI BOND: I know Alaska is a forgotten state. I know our people are overlooked. But we are
here. We, too, are fighting to keep ourselves safe, to keep our families healthy.
STEPHANIE SY: Fighting an invisible enemy, as memories of devastating pandemics loom
large in the minds of many Alaska Natives.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We are just one week away from the start of the Democratic National Convention.
And for the first time in months, all eyes are on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Our Politics Monday team is here to mark the moment. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political
Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR.
She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."
Hello to both of you. It is great to see you on this Monday.
So, Amy, all eyes are on Joe Biden. He has been able to let Donald Trump have most of
the spotlight for almost all the time. What are that -- what kind of pressure is on Joe
Biden at this moment?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes.
You know, Judy, up until this point, the race has really not been Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden.
It has really been Donald Trump vs. not Donald Trump.
Part of the reason that Joe Biden also hasn't gotten a lot of the spotlight is, Donald Trump
doesn't cede enough of it, right? He likes being in the front -- in front of the cameras,
constantly having that level of attention.
And so, in order to make the race a referendum on Joe Biden, he has got to give Joe Biden
time to get in front of the camera.
You're right that, this coming week, we're going to see a lot more, in the next two weeks,
of Joe Biden. And I think the most important thing, Judy, is that he answers the questions
that a lot of voters have about him.
One, what are his priorities? He's been giving speeches. He's been doing stuff from Wilmington,
but there's never been a real intense focus on who he is and what he stands for.
And then, of course, who he picks as vice president and how that rollout goes. Does
it go over among Democrats very well? How does the media portray it? How does he look
and sound introducing this person in what will be his very first big decision that he's
made as a candidate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tam, how do you see the expectations on Vice President Biden?
You hear the Republicans trying to make light of him, saying he's been hiding in the basement.
Now is his chance to come out.
TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes. And that hiding is by design.
There have been numerous opportunities where Joe Biden could have tried to get in on a
Trump news cycle, and the Biden campaign purposely did not jump in on that news cycle, in a way,
not taking the bait. And that's a -- that's a contrast with past people who have run against
One question is, there is so much other news happening right now. Will Joe Biden and his
running mate be able to dominate the news? Will they even be able to dominate the political
news? And part of that may depend on how negotiations go over these coronavirus relief packages.
And the potential exists that Biden and his running mate don't get as long a news cycle
as one normally would. And what does that mean? It's not clear.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know it's going to be a woman, Amy.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, talk about what -- I mean, what's riding on -- how much is riding on
AMY WALTER: Yes.
I mean, I think Tam makes a really good point about, they might not get the whole cycle
to themselves. In some ways, to me, that would suggest that it was actually a good pick politically
for Joe Biden, because it's not raising the level of controversy that would keep it in
the news for more than a couple of days.
What seems to be riding on it is this. He has said, yes, Judy, he's going to pick a
woman. But over the last couple of weeks, the impression is that he's going to pick
a woman of color. And you have seen so many women who have been brought up on the national
Sunday shows, who've been getting full profiles in national newspapers.
I think that the expectation has been raised so high that this woman that he picks will
be a woman of color that, if he doesn't, that becomes much more of the story, and that the
president spends -- I'm sorry -- that Vice President Biden spent most of his time in
rolling this out explaining why he chose someone who's not a woman of color.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given that, Tam, the pressure is on him to do exactly that, which may be
his inclination anyway.
TAMARA KEITH: Well, and just to add to what Amy was saying, there have been numerous open
letters with very big names, and long lists of them, urging Biden to pick an African-American
And, as Amy says, there's a decent chance that, if he doesn't, that is what the conversation
will be all about.
One thing that -- I think that we don't fully know the answer to at this point is, there
have been two other women on the Democratic - - on the ticket before as vice president.
And in both of those cases, they ended up getting picked apart in the press.
And some of it was based on real holes in their resume and real problems, and some of
it wasn't. And what we -- what I have to wonder is, what happens when another woman is on
the ticket? What happens? Does that -- do the same sort of sexist tropes rear their
And what we know is that the Biden campaign is fully expecting that and seems to have
a plan to try to combat it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we're going to know in coming days. We are told we're going to see
the announcement sometime this week.
But, very quickly, in the time we have left, Amy, the COVID relief negotiations have gone
nowhere on the Hill. The president came up with his executive orders and actions over
Where's -- where do you see the political play here? Who's benefiting and who isn't?
AMY WALTER: Right.
I mean, the big danger for both parties is that this completely falls apart and everybody
ends up looking bad. It's interesting, Judy. If you go back, in April and May, Gallup recorded
the highest job approval rating for Congress in the last 20 years. It's down to 18 percent
So, certainly, Congress isn't going in with a whole lot of deep well -- a deep well here
of good will.
But, look, I think Republicans are much more on the defensive, especially in the Senate,
because so many of them live in states, especially blue states or purple states, where the arguments
that Trump and Republicans are making in the Senate just aren't going to fly there.
They do want to be able to campaign on bringing home money to -- especially to these state
and local governments who are struggling right now. And many of them are struggling with
financing things that voters care so much about, education.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Tam, how do you see the politics shaking out here?
TAMARA KEITH: Yes, I mean, the other big risk here is if they can't come up with something.
People have already lost unemployment benefits.
Now, the president is talking about trying to create a way, but, already, states are
pushing back, saying that it's problematic, they don't have the money, that it's going
to be logistically challenging.
The Treasury secretary is saying it could take a couple of weeks, and that may be optimistic.
All the while, there is economic suffering. And the real risk is that the economy ends
up suffering further while this political fight goes on, and that the ground shifts
underneath both Democrats and Republicans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: None of this is happening in a vacuum, as both of you are pointing out.
Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.
AMY WALTER: You're welcome.
TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, as more institutions across the country start to reopen and some
close again due to spikes in the coronavirus, we look at how the 173-year-old sprawling
Smithsonian Institution is gradually welcoming back the public.
John Yang visited two of the key attractions of the world's largest museum, education and
This report is part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
JOHN YANG: Its reopening day at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in
Chantilly, Virginia, outside Washington, home to some of the greatest exhibits of air and
There's no crush of thousands of visitors, as there would normally be this time of year,
instead, an orderly, timed entrance of no more than 1,500 people, the daily limit of
advance tickets available online.
WOMAN: They will scan it, and you will be good to go.
JOHN YANG: The same day, under a morning rain, animal lovers trickled into the Smithsonian's
National Zoo in Washington. These two sites are the tip of the spear for an institution
that has more than 150 million artifacts and works of art and each year usually attracts
more than 30 million visitors.
STEVEN MONFORT, Director, National Zoo: Our secretary, Lonnie Bunch, has described in
our opening and closing more like a thermostat or a switch that we can turn up and we can
turn back down.
JOHN YANG: The Smithsonian's 19 museums are free to the public. Officials say these two
facilities are uniquely positioned to open first.
Steve Monfort is director of the National Zoo.
STEVEN MONFORT: We have a large campus, 163 acres. Mostly, it's an outdoor experience.
We do have indoor houses, but we can restrict access to those. So, the idea was, if we can
provide enough social distancing, we can mandate the use of masks.
JOHN YANG: Following guidelines and regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and the District of Columbia, the zoo is admitting no more than 5,000 people each day, with timed
entry passes from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon.
On an ordinary summer day, the zoo could have as many as 25,000 guests. Now every visitor
6 and older is required to wear a face covering.
The pandemic has also meant changes for zoo's permanent residents. Associate director Brandie
Smith oversees animal care.
Talk about what it was like here for the months that you were closed. Did the animals' behavior
change at all with people gone?
BRANDIE SMITH, Associate Director, National Zoo: Well, you know, the animals definitely
notice that people aren't here. You know, I can tell when I'm out in the park. When
I walk by, say, the lions and tigers, they definitely pay attention.
JOHN YANG: They perk up? Oh.
BRANDIE SMITH: Well, I think it's two things, right? So they're not used to seeing people.
So, when a person comes by, what are they doing here? What do they have to offer me?
Also, I think, sometimes, you know, the animals like seeing us as much as we like seeing them.
So, we offer them entertainment and distraction.
JOHN YANG: Another concern? The possibility that the animals could catch COVID-19 from
people. Even in normal times, some zoo workers wear protective gear to prevent what are called
zoonotic diseases, which are shared between animals and humans.
BRANDIE SMITH: Zoonotic diseases are not a new thing. They're something we deal with
all the time. Think about avian influenza. Think about rabies. Think about E. coli. So
we are always prepared to deal with and prevent zoonotic viruses.
JOHN YANG: First-day visitors said they came to get out of the house and see both animals
and other people.
NICK CHAUVENET, Father: What brings us to the zoo?
JOHN YANG: Nick Chauvenet had took daughters Maya and Sonya.
NICK CHAUVENET: We have been doing some nature trails and going to playgrounds, things like
that. But they usually like coming to the zoo.
So getting a chance to come back after a while has been nice.
QUESTION: Does it give you a sense of normalcy?
NICK CHAUVENET: A small amount, yes. It certainly feels like little tiny progress.
CLAIRE VANDERTUIN, Zoo Visitor: We have been waiting all summer long for the zoo to open.
JOHN YANG: Three generations of the Vandertuin family wanted an interesting environment for
JOHN VANDERTUIN, Zoo Visitor: He was fascinated by the elephant over here.
QUESTION: Do you feel like that's important education? It's not just get out in the fresh
JOHN VANDERTUIN: Oh, sure.
CLAIR VANDERTUIN: He just froze when he saw the elephant. He knows what an elephant is.
And now he's connecting that book as a real thing. That gobsmacking for a 1-year-old.
JOHN YANG: Air and Space Museum director Ellen Stofan says the Udvar-Hazy Center can offer
a hopeful message.
ELLEN STOFAN, Director, Air and Space Museum: This museum is about these stories of ingenuity,
stories of creativity, overcoming huge problems. And, to me, that's a message that maybe the
public could use right now, is, look what we're capable of.
JOHN YANG: Last year was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and the sort of resurgence
of that spirit of that summer of 1969, which I certainly remember, and now this summer,
which is quite different.
ELLEN STOFAN: You know, we have been thinking about that a lot, because, last summer, we
went all out and projected the Saturn V rocket on the Washington Monument and even launched
it up the monument.
How do you give that spirit to a new generation that, as Americans, we can conquer any challenge
we put our minds to? And so, obviously, even though we're not celebrating as much this
summer as we were last summer, that message of the American spirit, American ingenuity
- - we have our Apollo 13 face mask that has "Failure is not an option" on it.
JOHN YANG: For 90-year-old Wallace Coates of Newcastle, Pennsylvania, and his extended
family, seeing was believing.
GRACE MURDOCH, Udvar-Hazy Center Visitor: I do appreciate the chance to see this technology
that went behind the science. And I also like seeing that the museums are surviving and
JOHN YANG: Though funded mostly by Congress, both museums have lost millions of dollars
in parking fees and sales of food and souvenirs. That's as much as 40 percent of their yearly
But just as important to officials is returning to Smithsonian founder James Smithson's mission:
the increase and diffusion of knowledge.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Washington, D.C.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So great to be able to go see the animals again.
And a quick news update before we go tonight.
As we reported earlier, President Trump was asked abruptly to step out of the White House
Briefing Room by a Secret Service agent after a shooting occurred just outside White House
grounds. The president returned to his briefing minutes later.
He said he believed a suspect was armed and that shots were fired by law enforcement.
A man has since been taken to a D.C. hospital to be treated for undisclosed injuries.
And tonight on the "PBS NewsHour" online: How is the pandemic affecting the 2020 elections?
We're looking for your questions ahead of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
You can ask us by filling out the form on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour.
And, before we go, I just want to note that it's nice to be back in our Washington studios
tonight, for the first time in some months. We are here preparing for special coverage
of the convention starting next week, during this important election year.
We are continuing to practice social distancing. We're being careful. And we hope you are as
And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff.
Join us online and again right here tomorrow evening.
For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.
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