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News Brief: Trump Has 9 Days In Office, Rioters Arrested, COVID-19 Vaccine Challenges

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot can happen in nine days, and Democrats say leaving President Trump in office that long is a risk that the country cannot afford.

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

They want the president held accountable for inciting the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol, an attack that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Democrats in the House will try to remove the president in two ways. They're pushing for the vice president to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring him unfit for office. And if that doesn't happen, they are simultaneously preparing to impeach Trump a second time. That article of impeachment could be filed as early as today.

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

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So just lay out the two strategies that the Democrats are pursuing this week.

SNELL: Yeah. So to start with, that resolution, to call on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, would be brought up today. Democrats will try to pass it with unanimous consent, but Republicans could and probably will block that with just one objection. After that, House Speaker Pelosi is basically giving Vice President Pence 24 hours, a kind of ultimatum to decide if he's going to use the 25th Amendment. And then if he doesn't, she plans to begin the process of holding a vote on impeachment, which could happen as early as Wednesday. You know, it currently is just one article referring to incitement to insurrection. And it's based on Trump's address to the crowd before the riots and his attempts to overturn the election. More than 200 Democrats have signed on, which is a really remarkable number. And it shows a lot of unity among Democrats on this. And I'm told they expect some Republicans will support it as well. You know, part of the reason they're unified is Democrats tell me they do not want to have what happened at the Capitol go unpunished. They don't want Trump to simply leave office without any consequences.

MARTIN: So even if it's only nine more days in office, I mean, January 20 is - at noon, I believe, is when President Trump is supposed to be out of the White House. They're saying that that's too long. And I hear you that Democrats are coalesced. They're unified around this idea of holding the president accountable. But, I mean, where are the Republicans right now?

SNELL: Right. Republicans still control the Senate, and until the Georgia elections are certified and the Senate meets to do some, you know, organizing work, that means they control whether or not this moves forward. Mitch McConnell has been quiet and Republicans have been quiet. And the Senate is out of session and would not begin a Senate trial until basically Inauguration Day, which is, you know, a time crunch and a political crunch that could be really, really difficult to navigate. Once an impeachment trial is triggered in the Senate, it stops everything else and it forces all of the senators to be in their seats for six days a week until they're done. And that could take a really long time. House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn floated a proposal on CNN yesterday.

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JIM CLYBURN: Let's give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running. And maybe we'll send the articles sometimes after that.

SNELL: You know, but that could be well after President Trump leaves office, and Democrats want to move forward for all of these reasons. But they also want to bar President Trump from ever holding federal office again, which is what - part of what impeachment could do.

MARTIN: And, of course, there are all kinds of political calculations being made on the side of the GOP right now. Some of them would like to run for president in the near future. They're, no doubt, considering whether or not President Trump might want to run again in 2024. I mean, what kind of voices are we hearing right now from the GOP?

SNELL: So far, the number of people calling for him to be removed or for the 25th Amendment are small. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was joined by Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. But by and large, we have not heard from most Republicans.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, we appreciate you. Thanks.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

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MARTIN: All right. We're starting to get a clearer picture of what exactly happened at the Capitol building last week, how an angry mob of Trump supporters was able to break through minimal security and lead an attack that left five people dead.

MOSLEY: The FBI and other law enforcement have started identifying and arresting those involved. At the same time, preparations are underway to secure the nation's Capitol ahead of the inauguration next week. And some right-wing militias say they're planning to come back to Washington. So what's to prevent them from staging another attack?

MARTIN: We've got NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre with us this morning. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with the investigation and what it's turned up. How many people have been arrested at this point?

MYRE: Looks like we're around 90 arrests or so. Many of these are for relatively minor curfew violations. Around 25 or so seem to be more serious federal charges. The acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, tells NPR that hundreds could eventually face charges. As we know, very few were arrested at the scene, so suspects are being tracked down as far away as Arkansas and Florida and Texas. The rioters, many white men, left many clues, the videos and photos of themselves at the Capitol. Their cellphone data would indicate if they were at the Capitol during the time of the riot. And many of them didn't seem to be fearful of COVID. So they didn't wear a mask, making it more easier to recognize them. And we know of five deaths, but one case in particular shows how this could have been much worse. An Alabama man is accused of parking his pickup truck with several guns and Molotov cocktails just a block or so from the Capitol.

MARTIN: I mean, you mention all this open source material. I mean, many of these rioters were posting their own Instagram posts or Facebook posting on social media during the event itself, during the insurrection. And this has provided - I mean, it's really a trove of material for investigators, but they're turning to private researchers. Explain that.

MYRE: Yeah, that's true. There's some really striking online forensic work. I'll mention one person in particular. John Scott-Railton from Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, he's sort of been at the center of a spontaneous army of online sleuths. Now, he focused on individuals who seem to have a real purpose amid this mob and two men in particular who had plastic handcuffs suggesting they wanted to detain people, possibly take hostages. Now, one of them has been identified as a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Larry Brock. And then there was a second man who disguised himself from head to toe in black camouflage. He had a black mask and gloves and baseball cap. But crowdsourcing footage found him earlier in the day at a Washington hotel in the same gear but with his face uncovered so that he was then tracked down by his social media post. Here's John Scott-Railton.

JOHN SCOTT-RAILTON: Some of the pictures were pretty disturbing, including a shot of him holding a short-barrelled shotgun and mugging in front of a television showing President Trump. And ultimately, there was some very sharp-eyed people on Twitter who really helped surface that identity.

MYRE: And U.S. officials announced Sunday evening both of these men have been arrested, one in Texas, one in Tennessee. One other quick thing to mention - my colleague Martin Kaste is reporting that police departments are investigating whether some of their off-duty officers traveled to Washington to take part in the riot.

MARTIN: I have to get you to look ahead. What can we expect between now and Inauguration Day? A precarious period.

MYRE: Well, some in the far-right ecosystem are talking about more rallies, possibly as soon as the 17. But it looks like officials may try to prevent these rallies.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Greg Myre, thank you. We appreciate it.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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MARTIN: OK. Developing a COVID-19 vaccine was in and of itself a huge accomplishment, but it's an entirely separate challenge to get the vaccine into people.

MOSLEY: Yes, and that's really where the focus is right now, speeding up delivery of the vaccine to the millions of people who are waiting. Health officials are also trying to convince people who are hesitant, including some essential workers, that getting the shot is the best way to protect themselves and others.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us this morning. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we are seeing deaths, hospitalizations from COVID-19 up in states across the country. Can you just give us the 30,000-foot view right now?

AUBREY: Sure. The pandemic is as bad as it's ever been, Rachel. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people are dying every day. That's more than two people every minute. And there's great urgency to speed up the vaccination campaign. You know, as some governors open up access to more people, there are just not enough vaccination sites up and running. Some states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, they're opening mega sites. Many others are scrambling. My own mom, Rachel, who's 75, got wind that a local pharmacy had extra doses left over from vaccinations at a nursing home. So she hurried over there to find this big crowd of people, but there were only a few shots available. So she said it was a bit chaotic. People got really frustrated. She did not end up getting a shot. And that's playing out in other places, too.

MARTIN: But that story is really interesting, right? Because it speaks to sort of the patchwork nature of the distribution. Some places are just not getting enough or too much to meet their specific demand because it also requires a booster shot. Explain this. Because President-elect Biden has a different strategy for administering the vaccine.

AUBREY: Sure. Well, the Biden campaign - the transition team announced last week that they were going to release more doses. The Trump administration had been holding some back for the second dose. But, you know, advisers to Biden tell me that this decision to release more doses and speed up the first shots is based on the analysis that supply is not the issue here. There's millions of doses being made. And the thinking is there will be plenty of vaccine for everyone to get a second dose on time. I spoke to one adviser, Zeke Emanuel. He says the challenge right now is just to improve this coordination and increase the capacity to deliver more shots now.

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: There cannot be a higher sense of urgency, so nothing should be taken off the table - sports stadiums, convention centers, schools, parking lots that have been set up for testing and can be adapted to vaccine administration. That's the philosophy.

AUBREY: He says this higgledy-piggledy approach in these initial weeks just needs to improve.

MARTIN: Can we talk about some places where it's just really bad? LA, Allison, right now, the situation's dire.

AUBREY: Yes, absolutely. And hospital systems are really under stress. I mean, some ICUs and ERs are just overwhelmed. I spoke to nurse Karen Grimley (ph). She says they have multiple ICUs. They take in a lot of other patients. They've been kind of struggling to keep up. They do have extra COVID beds and they have a surge plan in place. But it's tough.

MARTIN: And, of course, you have to convince people - when you're talking about the vaccine, you have to convince people who might not be so into getting a vaccine that it's the right thing to do, which is another challenge altogether. NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, thank you so much, as always, for your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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