Monday July 20, 2020
Up First

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Congress is back to work this morning. First on the agenda, one trillion dollars in corona virus relief.

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Lawmakers are negotiating a fifth package to help Americans get through this pandemic. Can they reach an agreement?

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I'm Rachel Martin, along with David Greene. And this is up first from NPR News.

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There are almost as many people in the hospital with covered 19 now as there were during the peak in April. We are losing our battle against COBRA.

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40 states are seeing increases in cases, and that's bad news for parents hoping to get kids back in school. What is new research say about how kids spread the disease?

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And finally, federal agents forcefully arrested protesters in Portland, Oregon, this weekend.

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It blew the lid off the whole thing. They're using unmarked vehicles to grab people off the streets. How are local leaders responding? Stay with us.

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We've got the news you need to start your day in a pandemic economy. Americans are struggling to do basic things like pay them rent.

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Lawmakers are back in Washington working out the details of a fifth corona virus relief package to try to help.

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And let's bring in NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis to see where things stand. Good morning, Sue.

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Good morning, David. So are lawmakers close to a deal here? Is this going to be fairly quick and easy?

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I mean, they are not close at all, but they have about three weeks to cut a deal, which is a long time on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants to get a deal before the next Congress break, which starts on August 10th. And he wants it to stay in around the price tag of about a trillion dollars. And that's kind of really all we know for certain about it right now. Democrats have wanted to go much bigger than Republicans have.

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The House Democrats already passed a three trillion dollar package back in May. But Republicans say that just costs too much and they want to keep the price tag down. The question is, obviously, what are Republicans in the Senate going to put forward? McConnell is expected to unveil a proposal this week, probably on Tuesday. And he said their package will focus on, in his words, kids jobs and health care in particular. McConnell says he wants there to be a big emphasis on money to help schools that want to do in-person learning for the upcoming school year.

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You know, a couple months back, McConnell said he wanted to have sort of a wait and see approach to see what we needed to do at this point in time. And there had been hope that the virus would be more contained and the economy would be doing better. But with the virus surging and unemployment still around 11 percent, obviously Congress has a lot to do.

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Yeah, they feel like they have a lot of work to do with this. It sounds like. So where are the sticking points going to be, do you think?

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You know, one of the biggest questions that I think one of the things most Americans are watching are what are they going to do with expanded unemployment benefits? Several months back, Congress passed the first piece of legislation to address the pandemic that included this additional six hundred dollar benefit on top of traditional unemployment benefits that runs out at the end of the month. And Republicans have opposed it in part because they say it disincentives people from going back to work if they're making more money on unemployment and it's hard for employers to get their workers back to work.

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But it's also been a stimulus and it's also been money being pumped back into the economy and helping a lot of people stay afloat. So that's one issue that they're going to have to work out, that people are watching closely. Another one is a red line that McConnell has drawn. He's saying he will not allow anything to pass the Senate unless it changes to liability laws to protect businesses and health care workers from lawsuits. And one other thing, a payroll tax cut.

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No one on Capitol Hill really wants it, but President Trump does. And he has said he would be unlikely to sign a package unless it has that included in it.

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Well, I mean, we're late summer now in an election. It seems like anything Congress doesn't end a year like this at a moment like this. Politics is just the context for all of it. Does that remain the case, even though we're dealing with something like a pandemic? It does.

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And I think this is legislation that people are watching very closely. And it's hard to separate it from the political moment. The president's approval is down. It has stayed down over the handling of the pandemic. He's trailing former Vice President Joe Biden. It's having an effect down the ballot. The Senate is in play. Republicans control it by just three seats. One example of where the political winds are blowing. The Cook Political Report shifted 20 House races in favor of Democrats just a couple of days ago.

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They said they've never moved that many races in that short period of time. So I think it speaks to the fact that Democrats have some leverage right now. And while Republicans might oppose more spending and more benefits, it also like a win to be able to go home and campaign on. And this is likely the last bill that they will pass addressing the pandemic before that election.

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NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks so much. You're welcome.

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A 40 states are reporting coronavirus cases on the rise. The U.S. is setting and breaking new records each and every day.

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And with outbreaks surging, many states are weighing the public health value of things like mandatory face masks and whether or not to send kids back to school.

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Let's bring in NPR's Allison Aubrey, who's been following all of this for us. Hi, Allison. Good morning, David.

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I feel like I've asked you this on a lot of Mondays as we begin a new week. Just give us a picture of where things stand in the United States right now when it comes to this pandemic, sir.

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Well, as a nation, cases are climbing. We were up to about 74000 new cases in one day over the weekend. George, is that a new record for its number of new cases? Florida is at about 10000 cases a day and hospitalizations, David, are now nearly as high as they were back in April. Deaths rising to remember fatalities were trending down in May and June. But in recent days and weeks, they've risen. We've surpassed 140000 deaths, which is about a quarter of the globe's covered, 19 fatalities.

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So the big picture, David, is quite concerning. Here's former CDC director Tom Frieden.

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We are losing our battle against Koven. We already have a death rate that's six times the global average and one of the highest in the world. And cases and deaths are still increasing. Our economy and our educational systems will not be able to recover until we get the virus under control.

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And all of this comes amid reports the Trump administration aims to limit more funding to states to pay for things such as contact tracing and testing, which we know is so important. And the president has resisted calls for a national mask mandate where even without a mask mandate nationally, I mean, states are moving in that direction.

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More and more rain. Absolutely.

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A national retailers, too. I mean, if you look at all the big retailers, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, CBS, Walgreens, you don't wear one. You can't go in and shop. And as you point out, the number of states has increased to. Governor Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas said he didn't want to have a mass mandate. But given the number of new cases in his state and the data showing that they are effective. He did it.

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Also, Colorado Governor Jerry Pullets kind of flipped the argument on freedom. He said yesterday it was an easy decision to go with a mandate after he saw the data showing that in his state, places with more masking had lower spread of the virus.

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Mass are a ticket to more freedom. It makes it less likely that businesses will be shuttered. It makes it less likely that people will die. Makes it more likely school will return if we care about those things. You're going to take that as a matter of personal responsibility to wear a mask, protect yourself, protect others, protect our economy.

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So you hear him saying that we all have a role here, David. By you wearing a mask, you could help reduce spread in your community, make it more likely schools could open in your area.

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I mean, that question schools reopening is is one on the minds of so many people, so many parents.

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Obviously, the key question about to what extent kids can spread the virus. Do we know more now than we did like five months ago?

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Sure. We know kids get infected, though they usually have mild cases. The bigger question is to what extent they spread it. And there's still some uncertainty here. But increasingly, the evidence suggests that older kids eight, 10 and up, including teenagers, are more likely to spread it. Not clear why a new study from South Korea shows this contact tracers. They're documented thousands of contacts of people who got the virus. They found older kids, 10 to 19 were more than twice as likely to spread it to others in their household compared to younger children.

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NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, thanks as always. Thanks, David.

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This is the sound of protests in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend. Fireworks were set off and tear gas canisters were fired at protesters. Demonstrators are still on the streets despite what happened last week when unidentified federal agents started arresting people without telling them the charges and then taking them away in unmarked cars. Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, is taking action. She ordered her state attorney general to file a lawsuit to block the federal government from taking similar actions again.

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Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting has been covering the protests since they started and joins us now on Skype. Jonathan, thanks for being here. Thanks for having me, Rachel. I mean, it was OPB that broke this story in the first place about how federal agents there were arresting people in this manner. Can you just get us up to speed? Give us a sense of how things have evolved over the last month.

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Protests have been going on here every night for weeks since George Floyds killing. And the police are right off the bat. We're responding with significant violence. They were using tear gas, which is an agent that makes you cough, that makes your nose run your eyes and your skin burn. And they were using rubber bullets with protesters. An activist group and protesters sued the city. And last month they won a temporary restraining order limiting law enforcement's use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

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But significantly, it didn't apply to federal law enforcement.

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So, Jonathan, how is the Trump administration explaining the presence of federal agents there?

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So President Trump has called the protests here out of control. And last Friday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, seemed to place the blame for the restrictions on Portland police at Mayor Ted Wheeler's feet when he was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered.

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It's not made any easier when you have somebody like Mayor Wheeler who holds back, to a certain extent, his own law enforcement.

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So that's Cuccinelli on NPR, basically blaming the mayor for the restrictions and a temporary restraining order. The officers that are here are from the U.S. Marshal Special Operations Group, a SWAT like unit from Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protective Service. They started taking a more active role clearing protesters from around the courthouse on July 1st.

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And I mean, it's my understanding they're there because their justification anyway is that they're protecting federal property. Explain that. Yeah, that's right.

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They were sent here to protect federal property is what we've been told. But on the 4th of July, there was a really big turnout at the protests. A lot of people were setting off fireworks and the federal police made this really big show of force. They came out in large numbers, disperse the crowd. But this time they continued across the street into the park and then continued four blocks into the city, right alongside the Portland police. And then a week ago, a protester was shot in the head with a less lethal round and he was severely injured.

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The U.S. Marshals say they're investigating that. Last week we found out. Federal police are using unmarked vehicles to grab people off the street. Cuccinelli confirmed in an NPR interview that is a tactic that they're using. And on Saturday night, they beat a 53 year old Navy veteran with a baton and fractured his hand on Weekend Edition yesterday. The mayor blamed the federal police for actually making things worse. We believed a week ago it would be over by this weekend.

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But what happened instead is the feds stepped in with a very heavy handed approach and it blew the lid off the whole thing.

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So we heard what the governor is during. What about other state and local leaders? What's the response? Yeah, officials are pushing back. Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and say they plan to introduce an amendment to the defense bill preventing what Merkley called paramilitary squads from being sent onto American streets. And the Oregon Department of Justice is suing federal agencies. And the attorney general may pursue criminal charges against the officer who shot the protester, Jonathan Levinson of OPB.

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Thank you. Thank you. That's up first from Monday, July 20th. I'm David Greene. And I'm Rachel Martin. Come back tomorrow. We will be right here. And because the news doesn't stop when the podcast ends. Follow us on Twitter.

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And up first there, you'll find a daily roundup of the most important stories of the day.

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And we appreciate you listening. And you can find more in-depth coverage of the stories we talked about today and a whole lot more. If you listen to NPR's Morning Edition, that is the radio show that Rachel and I hosted along with Noel King and Steve Inskeep. You can find Morning Edition and find your NPR station at stations Dot, NPR dot.

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Monday July 20, 2020
Up First