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News Brief: Federal Agents In Chicago, Virus Relief Bill, COVID-19 In California

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has now confirmed his plan to send federal agents to Chicago.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. This is part of a program called Operation Legend, which will send federal agents and money to support local and state police in cities that the president says are plagued by violent crime, including Albuquerque in Kansas City. But the president's main focus has been Chicago.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Cheryl Corley with us from Chicago with more. Good Morning, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So this program is called Operation Legend. Can you explain what you have been able to learn about it?

CORLEY: Well, Operation Legend brings federal law enforcement agents to a city to assist the local police who are fighting crime. It's only been in place for a short while. The Trump administration sent agents to Kansas City earlier this month because of an increase in shootings there. The program's named after a 4-year-old boy who was killed by gunfire while he was sleeping. His relatives were at the president's announcement.

And this expansion will send about 200 agents from the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies to Chicago, more than 30 to Albuquerque. And they're also going to receive grants that will be used to hire more police. President Trump, as you said, said he had to take this step because he had no choice. He talked about mayors that he called extremists and the push by activist and others to defund the police, which, he says, has caused a shooting explosion. And he often points to Chicago as an example. And he did so again during the announcement.

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TRUMP: Perhaps no citizens have suffered more from the menace of violent crime than the wonderful people of Chicago, a city I know very well.

CORLEY: You know, overall, crime is actually down in Chicago, as it is in much of the country. But murders and shootings have been a big problem and have been on the rise.

MARTIN: So let me get this straight, Cheryl. We saw what happened in Portland, right? Like, these federal agents on the ground, they would arrest people without cause sometimes and put them in unmarked vehicles. I mean, is that what this is going to be? Even though the president says it's about helping local police forces, are we going to see a repeat of what we saw in Portland?

CORLEY: Well, Attorney General William Barr says, no. And he says they'll be engaged in classic crime fighting. And he says that's what's been happening for years with federal task force. And that's not what's going to go on. Here's what he had to say.

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WILLIAM BARR: These are street agents. They're investigators who will be working to solve murders and to take down the violent gangs.

CORLEY: And then he said they'll be working shoulder-to-shoulder with local and state law enforcement and nothing like what you see in Portland.

MARTIN: So they're saying this is about gang violence, not the protesters at all? It's just a coincidence.

CORLEY: Absolutely. They say they're fighting crime, that this is not about protests at all.

MARTIN: OK. So what about Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot? How's she responding to all this?

CORLEY: Well, she and the president have been loggerheads for quite a while. But even so, she seemed guardedly optimistic. Here's what she had to say.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: If those agents are here to actually work in partnership on support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that's something different. And that may add value.

CORLEY: And she says she's open because she has a close relationship with Chicago's U.S. attorney, who will be overseeing the project.

MARTIN: And we don't know how long any of these federal troops will be on the ground in Chicago either.

CORLEY: Not yet.

MARTIN: NPR's Cheryl Corley. Cheryl, we appreciate it. Thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. Millions of unemployed Americans are relying on their unemployment checks to pay the bills right now.

GREENE: That's right. But that help is about to run out. And Republican senators and the White House have now reached a tentative agreement on a next coronavirus relief bill. But the question is, can they get Democrats on board? And also, what will all this mean for businesses, schools, communities who are also looking for relief money?

MARTIN: We've got NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell with us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. So no small feat - Republicans have now agreed. They're on the same page - because there had been some divisions. What are they pushing for?

SNELL: Well, we know that they have agreed on part of the bill. They came out of a meeting last night with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying that they had agreed on $105 billion for schools. Now, they did not mention those big-ticket items like unemployment insurance and direct payments. Though, we are told that agreements are coming from different committees.

Now, when it comes to the schools, it's meant to start as a starting point for bipartisan talks on a final bill. They are talking about $30 billion for colleges and universities, $70 billion for K-12 education and $5 billion for governments to allocate as needed. What I think is really interesting is that half of the K-12 money is to be set aside for schools that reopen for in-person learning in some way.

MARTIN: Wow.

SNELL: So other schools would get the other half. But there's a real focus on getting kids back into the schools. And while we're talking about an agreement, I'd like to remind everybody that nothing is decided on Capitol Hill until everything is decided. We are expecting to see bills. But I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more hiccups along the way.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the fractions within the party on this. Why did it take so long?

SNELL: You know, there are differences over those big-ticket items like unemployment insurance, like the payroll tax deduction that the White House is pressing for that Republicans on Capitol Hill largely don't like. And there's also worry about the overall cost of a bill. Republicans had said they wanted to keep this all to about a trillion dollars. Democrats are talking about $3 trillion.

You know, and there's a serious difference of opinion between vulnerable Republicans, like Cory Gardner in Colorado or Susan Collins in Maine, who've been calling for money for testing, money for state and local governments and other really expensive elements - and more conservative members who are talking to the White House and who want to keep this package as small as possible. Remember, Democrats already passed that version, that $3 trillion. And this is Republicans coming out with their kind of starting point, with the way that they want to begin negotiations. This is not what we expect the final bill to be.

MARTIN: So Republicans want 1 trillion. Democrats want 3 trillion. Do they just settle on two, call it a day?

SNELL: (Laughter) You would think that that would be an easier route. But I doubt that that will be the way they do things.

MARTIN: That's not how it works?

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SNELL: Typically, with Congress, they don't take the easy route (laughter). We saw in previous negotiations that these divisions meant Democrats needed to provide the votes to get the legislation over the line. And Democrats know that. They're willing to drag out talks - or they were in the past. And they've refused to secure agreements to get priorities like the $600 in extra unemployment.

MARTIN: Right.

SNELL: So the real negotiations are yet to come.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, all these people just kind of living in this uncertainty, not knowing if they're going to still get their unemployment checks that they need. NPR's Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. Early in the pandemic, California's governor, Gavin Newsom, told the state that it had bent the curve. Now it's reported more cases than any other state, including New York.

GREENE: Yeah. We should remember, Californians were very early adopters in the lockdown efforts. State officials have been taking what they call a science and data-driven approach from the very start. So why can't California seem to get these outbreaks under control now?

MARTIN: We've got Nate Rott with us. He's been following the situation in California. Hi, Nate.

NATE ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What happened? I mean, how did California get to this point. Things seemed to have been going well at one point.

ROTT: Yeah. You know, I think that's a question a lot of people in California are asking themselves at this point. And I'll give you a pretty simple answer to what's undoubtedly a more complicated situation. And that is that places opened up back too soon. State and local officials here have basically admitted as much, that after being the first state in the country to do, you know, these statewide stay-at-home orders, they eased off of those restrictions too soon.

That's how you go from a bent curve to the spike that we're seeing now. And, you know, look; the numbers are jarring - 13,000 new cases in a day, more than 413,000 total cases in the state alone, more than any other state. But I think it's important to remember that California also has more people in it than 21 other states combined.

MARTIN: Right.

ROTT: So more people, more cases.

MARTIN: Right.

ROTT: The concerning thing here is that positivity rates - you know, that is the percent of people who are being tested that do have COVID-19 - have also been going up - only by a couple of decimal points. But that's still been an area of concern.

MARTIN: So what's going to happen? Is the governor going to revert to another lockdown? What's the plan?

ROTT: Well, that is a very good question. I think it's important to remember, too, here that, you know, California is already in a sort of let's call it a semi-shutdown. Gavin Newsom, the state's governor, has called it hitting the dimmer switch on reopening. So you know, dining - indoor dining is barred in a lot of parts of California. Gyms are closed. And yesterday, in his press conference, Gavin Newsom basically said, you know, a really simple thing people can do are the simple activities that we all are pretty familiar with at this point. We could wear a mask, maintain social distancing, do our activities outdoors.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: We have agency. We can shape this conversation. We can shape the future by our specific decisions. And that is my hope and intention is that we bend the curve as we did the first time in this pandemic. And we do it again as we're dealing with this flare up.

MARTIN: But, Nate, hasn't this been his message for months now? I mean, I thought at least at one point there was a mandatory mask-wearing rule? I mean, what if him just saying we need to do these things doesn't work?

ROTT: Yeah. You know, I've been watching Gavin Newsom's press conferences for some time. And they are - you could watch one from a couple of weeks ago, and they feel very much like the one I just watched yesterday. So look; I mean, in Los Angeles, which has been a hotbed of coronavirus cases in the state so far, the city's mayor, Eric Garcetti, has been warning that the city might return to some sort of stay-at-home order, you know, similar to the kind that implemented in March.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ROTT: Yesterday, he said nothing is imminent. But he said, you know, they still might happen sometime in the future.

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ERIC GARCETTI: If we did see exponential or double-digit growth of some of those key indicators - hospitalizations, hospital capacity, positivity rates, if we saw what we're seeing in places like Phoenix or Miami, where there's 25, 26% positivity - yes, of course, we'd have to consider those things.

ROTT: You know, Garcetti sounded hopeful. But we're going to have to see.

MARTIN: Yeah. NPR's Nathan Rott. Nate, we appreciate you, as always. Thanks.

ROTT: No, thank you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio version of this report, Rachel Martin said once that “federal troops” had been deployed to Chicago. It is actually federal agents that have been deployed.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.