News Brief: Impeachment, Inauguration Differences, U.K. COVID-19 Spike
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Today, the House of Representatives will vote to impeach President Trump again.
TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
House Democrats approved a measure last night urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president. But that vote was only symbolic. Pence said in a statement he does not think Trump's removal is in the best interest of the nation. This only set House Democrats on a determined course to impeach Trump. If the article is approved, which it is expected to, Trump would become the first president in U.S. history to be impeached for a second time. But this time, some key Republicans are on board.
MARTIN: For more, we've got NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales with us. Good morning, Claudia.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: A historic day today - what can you tell us? What's going to happen?
GRISALES: The House is going to kick it all off at 9 a.m. We're expecting some fiery debates that could extend for several hours today. The article of impeachment is just four pages. It charges Trump with gravely endangering the country and interfering with a peaceful transfer of power and that he remains a threat to national security. Democrats say while this second impeachment was triggered by this deadly insurrection, it's a buildup to part of a pattern that he's established in recent months and years.
MARTIN: All right. So this is the Democrats' case, pointing to the riot at the Capitol and President Trump's lies about the election results. This could set up a debate with Republicans, but there's a huge difference this go-round with impeachment because Republicans are breaking ranks. I mean, the No. 3 Republican in the House, Liz Cheney, put out a scathing statement, right?
GRISALES: Exactly. She said the insurrection caused injury, death and destruction in the most sacred space in a republic. The president summoned this mob and lit the flame of the attack and, quote, "Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president." She also said Trump could have intervened to stop it but didn't and, quote, "There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution." And several House Republicans are also on board with her. But today remains a real test if more will join her.
MARTIN: What about Republicans in the Senate?
GRISALES: The New York Times reported last night that McConnell could be on board with this process, which would mark a dramatic turning point here. We've also heard from a few other Senate Republicans who support Trump's resignation or removal. And we should note, there are some Democrats concerned a trial could eclipse a President Joe Biden's agenda. But some say they don't think that will be the case. I talked to Senator Tim Kaine about this. Let's take a listen.
TIM KAINE: So I think in some ways, America will be hungry to return to competence and compassion and character from the chaos, division and death that we've seen, especially in the last year.
GRISALES: So that's the sentiment among many Democrats. And we heard this from Biden himself, a hope the Senate can take up a trial and get going on this new president's agenda, too.
MARTIN: Right - 'cause we should just say, a Senate trial could extend, obviously, beyond President Trump's term. And so this is something that Democrats will be thinking about how to pursue both at the same time.
GRISALES: It's really revealed how divided Congress is right now one week after this horrific event. There were huge differences on how to respond, and some members were still reeling. Here's Representative Norma Torres of California.
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NORMA TORRES: I answered my phone to my son Christopher. The call lasted 27 seconds. All I could say, sweetheart, I'm OK; I'm running for my life. And I hung up.
GRISALES: So you can really hear the sentiment there, and Democratic members are especially directing this anger directly at Trump.
MARTIN: Claudia Grisales, our congressional reporter.
Claudia, thank you. We appreciate it.
GRISALES: Thanks for having me.
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MARTIN: All right. One week from today, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. But it's not going to look or feel like anything we have seen before.
MOSLEY: Ten-thousand National Guard soldiers will help provide security. The National Mall will be closed off with 7-foot fencing similar to what's there now wrapping the Capitol grounds. The inaugural parade will be scaled down, and there'll be no inaugural balls. Some of this is because of the pandemic, but a big part of it is because of the security concerns from last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol.
MARTIN: Joining us now, NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Good morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: Before we get to the inauguration planning, I want to ask - you were reporting from the Capitol when the the riot happened. And there is still a dispute among officials, including the military, about what actually transpired and who's to blame. What do we know at this point?
BOWMAN: Well, Rachel, it starts and ends with the Capitol Police. They said before the Trump rally, no help was needed from the military, which could have provided National Guard soldiers. Now, the Capitol Police have sole authority at the Capitol and its grounds. And they said they had a good plan, according to military people I spoke with. So small numbers of Guard soldiers only helped Washington, D.C., police at intersections and metro stops. But shortly after, 1:30, there was an urgent call from both D.C. and Capitol police for help from the military that D.C. officials say the Pentagon either refused or dragging their feet. The Pentagon says there was no refusal, but rather they needed more detail on how many Guard soldiers were needed, and they had to get approval from the defense secretary. So it really was a mess.
MARTIN: So what's to prevent that from happening again? I mean, there are all kinds of other threats coming in surrounding the inauguration itself and the days leading up to the inauguration here in Washington.
BOWMAN: Well, first of all, the Secret Service is in charge this time, as they are for all inaugurals. And they're much more professional than the Capitol Hill cops. And as one official said, they're the adults in the room. They'll have a command center in downtown D.C., also, clearly more planning for more agents, soldiers, police because of what happened at the Capitol last week. And there was a meeting at the FBI field office yesterday with all those involved - the Pentagon, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, Park Service, D.C. and Capitol police. They'll work out a plan. And they're still trying to determine, Rachel, for example, how many Guard soldiers will be needed. Ten-thousand are available. It could go up to 15,000.
And the Army - get this. The Army is working with the Secret Service to see which service members working at the inaugural will require additional security background screening. That's an astonishing level of security concern.
MARTIN: Additional screening for what, though, Tom - just whether or not they're going to abide by the rules in protecting the inauguration?
BOWMAN: Yeah, that's exactly it.
MARTIN: Wow. So that kind of ties into the last thing I wanted to talk with you about, which was the statement that came out from the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday. I mean, it was remarkable. Just tell us what it said and what you take away from it.
BOWMAN: It was an extraordinary memo signed by all of the eight Joint Chiefs. It referred to what happened at the Capitol as violence, sedition and insurrection. And it reminded all service members, Rachel, that any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against what they say is are traditions, values and oath, it's against the law. The fact that senior leaders would have to remind the troops of these basics says a lot about the troubled political situation the nation is in right now.
MARTIN: The fact that they even had to say Joe Biden is the next president and we're going to be responsible for making sure that there's a peaceful transition of power is historic in and of itself.
MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.
Tom, thanks. We appreciate it as always.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel.
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MARTIN: All right. Finally today, we're going to shift our focus over to the United Kingdom because the pandemic there has taken another turn for the worse.
MOSLEY: COVID-19 deaths in the U.K. are now approaching a loss of civilian life not seen in Britain since World War II as a highly infectious variant of the coronavirus threatens once again to overwhelm British hospitals.
MARTIN: We've got NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt on the line. Hi, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about how the hospitals in particular are dealing with this right now?
LANGFITT: It's really, really bad, Rachel - 35,000 patients in the hospitals here, more than 1,200 people dying a day. We're talking really about record levels for this pandemic. Just take Northern Ireland - 94% capacity. Over the weekend, there was actually hospitals putting out requests on social media for off-duty health care workers to come in. One official there said that hospitals were facing into the abyss. And yesterday, I was talking to a physician in London, a guy named Khajun Kantha (ph). He works in an intensive care unit in the city. And he talked about running out of oxygen, the kind that they use when they're transporting patients around the hospital and hearing of even more worrisome oxygen problems elsewhere. This is what he had to say.
KHAJUN KANTHA: The most number of admissions is much higher now than it was back in March last year when it was the peak. We're now seeing a virus that is more transmissible, but also you don't have the same lockdown spirit that we had back in the first lockdown in 2020, which means that we're expecting to see more and more patients.
MARTIN: I mean, it's just heartbreaking that this is happening. We're almost a year into this.
MARTIN: And now things are this bad, Frank.
LANGFITT: Yeah, worse than they were before.
LANGFITT: There's a lot of reasons. First, the variant - you know, you remember it started here in the United Kingdom, in county Kent in the southeast. It's up to 70% more infectious. And now it's really all over the country. As Dr. Kantha was saying there just a moment ago, a lot of people are following the rules, but some are not. People are burned out by lockdown. Police are still breaking up parties, card games, things like that.
And the other thing that's kind of amazing, Rachel, is that the government has never really put together an effective test, track and trace system. You know, in other countries, you've seen systems where people are on the phones. They're talking. They're following up with people all the time who might have tested positive...
LANGFITT: ...Very hands-on. More than 10 months now, we still don't have that kind of system here. I was talking to Paul Hunter. He's an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia. And this is what he had to say.
PAUL HUNTER: Having a text saying, yeah, you should isolate, isn't enough. Having somebody phoning you up and then telling you you should be self-isolating and then nothing else happens, isn't enough. And that's been really at the heart of why we haven't been able to control the epidemic.
MARTIN: I mean, he's suggesting that there has to be more accountability for people who don't follow the rules. And that starts to bring up all kinds of civil liberties concerns. I mean, what's the solution?
LANGFITT: Honestly, right now, I think it's the vaccine. You know, the U.K. was first to approve the Pfizer vaccine. We also have the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine online. And the government deserves credit for doing that quickly. It's already delivered 2.3 million doses, hoping for as many as 14 million by mid-February. But given the track record of the government, there is skepticism. And for most people, the vaccine just can't come fast enough.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London talking about how a new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus is taking a toll on people, their hospitals overwhelmed in the United Kingdom.
Frank, thanks. We appreciate it.
LANGFITT: Great to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.