Happy Scribe Logo


Proofread by 0 readers

Negotiations over the coronavirus relief bill have stalled again. President Trump says he's now taking matters into his own hands as early as this weekend. I'm Scott Simon. And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.


And this is up first from NPR News. The president promises he'll sign a series of executive orders if Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage. I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need.


And the government's funded much of the research for a vaccine.


But how much will it cost if that classic example of taxpayers pay twice? And we'll have the latest from Beirut. A city destroyed by neglect. So stay with us.


We've got the news you need to start your weekend support for up first. And the following message come from simply safe home security. Simply safe has everything you need to protect your home. You can set it up yourself in under an hour. No technician required go to simply safe. Dotcom's up first and get free shipping and a 60 day risk free trial.


Support for this NPR podcast and the following message come from Better Help. Online counseling by licensed professional counselors specializing in isolation, depression, stress and anxiety. Visit better help dotcoms. Up first to learn more and get 10 percent off your first month.


Congress has not been able to agree on the next round of coronavirus relief after weeks of talking and talking.


In fact, the parties remain largely in the corners where they started each prodding the other to compromise.


So we're hopeful that they will think about it and come back and tell us they're willing to meet us halfway to the extent that they are willing to make new proposals. The chief and I will be back here any time to listen to new proposals.


That was Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steve Manoogian reporting little progress after meeting yesterday. President Trump says he'll be forced to act on his own if Congress doesn't pass. The congressional reporter Claudio Gazal has been following all this. Claudia, thanks for being with us. Good morning, Scott.


Republicans unveil their proposal in late July. That was months after the Democrats had released theirs.


That's weeks and weeks. Why so little progress?


So there's been some progress, but still a really big differences are on the table now. The parties are still far apart by trillions on the overall cost of the bill. Among those differences, Democrats want to reinstate the extra unemployment insurance weekly payments of 600 dollars. Those expired last week, while Republicans wanted that closer to 200 dollars weekly. And another major gap comes down to aid to state and local governments, which are facing very tough financial pictures. Democrats want to divert nearly a trillion dollars there, and Republicans have so far only focused on aid for schools at around 100 billion dollars.


President Trump says he's going to move forward on his own if Congress doesn't act. What do we know or infer about what he's considering?


So he did indeed say this last night without a deal, he's going to issue a series of executive orders to try and address economic relief. White House officials said Friday is a bit of a deadline to do this and move forward with this plan. He blamed Democrats for the lack of progress. Let's take a listen to what he told reporters.


Tragically, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer continue to insist on radical left wing policies that have nothing to do with the gentrifier, has nothing to do with it at all.


So there you hear him blame Democrats, but they would counter that it was the Republicans who wouldn't negotiate. Democrats offered to shave a trillion dollars off their plan. It was at three trillion when they started. They approved this in the House couple months ago. Republicans, they said, should come up a trillion. They started at the trillion dollar mark, but they've said that's a nonstarter to get into the two trillion dollar range because they're worried about the spending.


So we're kind of in a wait and see mode on exactly how these executive orders could address. These concerns were from eviction moratoriums to jobless benefit payments that recently expired.


Yeah, and a lot of Americans are waiting on the enhanced unemployment insurance. What happens next with that and negotiations more broadly?


So we're looking at a real impasse on Capitol Hill with two weeks of negotiations stalled out now and that failure to act may have political ramifications for both sides. And is the economic chaos builds in the coming days and weeks perhaps that fuels a new urgency for Congress? We shall see. Meanwhile, we're very much in the dark how far these executive orders could go. Trump doesn't have the power of the purse. Congress does. And when asked, he wouldn't elaborate how he would find the money to fuel a program that's going to cost a lot of money.


Congressional reporter Claudio Graça, thanks so much for being with us. Thanks for having me.


And for all the latest political news from Capitol Hill or the campaign trail, download the NPR Politics podcast.


You may recall this, it's known as Operation Warp Speed, that's the government's push to get a coronavirus vaccine by January. The federal government is spending billions of dollars to make it happen.


Multiple vaccines are still in the clinical trial phase. But what kind of prices can we expect to see once there is a working vaccine? NPR's pharmaceutical correspondent Sidney Lapkin has been following the issue. Sidney, thanks for being with us.


Hi, Scott. Why are we talking about prices already?


That usually happens after we know something is going to work.


We usually don't get a price on a product until after it's been approved. But the pandemic changes things. These are unusual times. For example, drug companies are also already starting to manufacture their vaccines, even though there's still testing them to make sure they're safe and effective. They want to get those vaccines out the door as soon as they're approved. So governments are already signing deals to purchase them. What kind of prices are people talking about now?


So doing the math on vaccine procurement contracts in the United States so far, we can figure out that drug makers are charging between four and 20 dollars a dose. But the CEO of Moderna, which is one of the leading companies in the vaccine race, said that it's coronavirus vaccine was priced at between 32 and thirty seven dollars per dose in some agreements with countries outside the U.S. But that's much higher than the prices we've seen so far. And people will likely need two doses of the vaccine for protection against the virus countries purchasing larger volumes.


Presumably the United States would get a lower price.


Still, that really ruffled some feathers among consumer advocates.


At the same time, obviously, those numbers sound low compared to some of the truly staggering drug prices we've seen in the last few years. Right.


But because in the pandemic, we're spending differently on biopharmaceutical development than we normally do. Usually the government will fund basic research and the drug maker will foot the big bill on late phase clinical trials and getting the drug over the FDA's finish line. Now, the US government taxpayers are spending on a whole lot more on research, development and manufacturing. And consumer advocates want to make sure the country gets a fair price, considering that large upfront investment. They're really worried about the Moderna price, considering the company's president said it planned to make a profit on the vaccine during a congressional hearing a few weeks ago.


Here's Zain Rizvi at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.


Moderna is literally reaping the benefits of nearly a billion dollars in federal funding with significant taxpayer risk, and now it wants to reap the rewards for its shareholders.


Sidney, how much is the US paying Moderna for its work on the vaccine?


Moderna got its first contract from the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, back in mid-April for four hundred and eighty three million dollars. Now, that doesn't include a purchase for any vaccine doses. It's aid to fund R&D and scale up manufacturing. And that amount could actually get bumped up to almost a billion dollars if the company meets all its goals under the contract. But government spending on medicine as vaccine doesn't end there. Madrona has been developing its coronavirus vaccine with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH.


It says it's spending an additional four hundred and ten million dollars on the Moderna studies from preclinical work all the way to the Phase three clinical trial that started on July twenty seventh and is expected to include thirty thousand people.


So all totaled. The government could wind up spending well over a billion taxpayer dollars on just this vaccine, and that doesn't include the cost of buying it.


That's right. What's next then? While we're waiting to find out how much the U.S. will spend on the Moderna vaccine when it's ready, and we have to see which of the vaccines will pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration.


NPR's pharmaceutical correspondent Sidney Lapkin, thanks so much for being with us.


You bet.


In Beirut, they are still looking for survivors, recovering bodies and trying to clear the rubble from the massive explosion of a warehouse Tuesday at the port, that warehouse held thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer and explosives ingredient that had been left at the port for years.


Some 150 people are dead, thousands more wounded. Now the people of Lebanon are venting their anger. Protests have broken out amid the cleanup and more protest is planned.


We're joined now by journalist Nada Homsi, who's been covering the devastation and its aftermath for NPR in Beirut. Good morning.


Good morning, Neda. This blast caused damage from Miles.


Almost no one in the city of Beirut was unaffected. What is the scene like there right now?


Yeah, people have really come together in a show of solidarity to help clear the rubble from the city. They pitched tents downtown, which they turned into donation points where food, water and essentials are being distributed and even free housing for those made homeless. And the blast is being coordinated by various groups.


And that's because officials say that some 300000 people have been made homeless by the explosion in a city of around two million people, 300000.


I mean, that is a huge number. I have seen a lot of anger on social media.


What are people feeling?


They're slowly over the days after the initial shock of the blast wore off that thank God we're sick feeling has turned into massive anger at a political class that they say has failed them. And that's a failure that culminated in the explosion of almost 3000 tons of ammonium nitrate that was neglected so near a highly populated area. Sporadic protests have taken place amid the cleanup operations and a massive one is planned for today.


And there are so many wounded. How are the hospitals coping? Some of the hospitals were damaged or destroyed in the explosion, essentially taking them out of commission.


Remember, this was a country that was already near the breaking point when it came to treating its covid-19 patients. And now hospitals are struggling to treat the wounded even as coronavirus is on a worrying rise.


What more do we know about how this warehouse full of ammonium nitrate came to be left at the port for so long?


Well, we know the ammonium nitrate came from a ship that was initially bound for Mozambique and was stopped in Beirut's port in 2013. And a dispute over port fees or safety, it's unclear, led to it being impounded and offloaded. But there's a lot of finger pointing.


The customs director says he sounded warnings about the unsafely stored material. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said Hezbollah doesn't control the port and denied any interference and so on.


But what is the president said? The president on Friday said he gave orders to have it removed just a few weeks before the explosion. And in fact, we know that in the past six years, authorities from Lebanon's customs, military, security agencies and judiciary were informed at least 10 times that the massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate was being kept in Beirut airport so close to the city center.


So I can't overstate how outraged people are at the negligence of politicians.


So let me ask you this. There were these anti-government demonstrations and protests, camps there through much of 2019 over the situation in Lebanon, which has been bad for a while. We've seen economic collapse, mismanagement.


Are those protests now coming back?


Yes, protests have been breaking out spontaneously since the explosion, even while people were cleaning up the rubble. And now a big one is set for this afternoon. People are mad. They were already struggling through Lebanon's worst economic crisis. The Lebanese currency was devalued by 80 percent. Over 50 percent of Lebanon lives under the poverty line. And there are regular electricity cuts. There's a big fuel shortage. And now food shortages will likely get worse with the port devastated and grain silos there destroyed.


That's Nada Homsi in Beirut. Thank you very much. Thank you. And that's up first for Saturday, August eight, 2012. I'm Scott Simon. And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.


Up first is back Monday with news to start your week, follow us on social media.


We're at first on Twitter and keep an eye on this feed for the occasional special episode and for more news, interviews and fun, even you can find us on the radio. That's right. Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Find your NPR station at Stations Unpeg. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed 30 years ago, so why to this day is the disability community still fighting for their rights? Listen now to learn what they're fighting on through line from NPR.


Every Thursday.