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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The man who authorities say shot and killed 10 people at a dance hall in Southern California over the weekend is dead.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Police say the man opened fire in a community where many people were celebrating the lunar New Year. His high-powered weapon was banned in California. Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna spent much of yesterday giving the public information. Though, as often happens, it's hard to understand the gunman's motive.

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ROBERT LUNA: The investigation continues. We want to know. We want to know how something like this, something this awful, can happen.

FADEL: NPR's Nathan Rott is in Monterey Park, the community where this happened. And he joins us now. Good morning, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So a really traumatic start to a new year as people celebrated...

ROTT: Yeah.

FADEL: ...The start of the Year of the Rabbit. Tell us what we know about the shooting.

ROTT: Yeah. So the shooting happened on Saturday...

FADEL: Yeah.

ROTT: ...The Lunar New Year Eve, here in Monterey Park at a dance hall that we understand is usually frequented by elderly Asian Americans. The gunman, who authorities have identified as a 72-year-old Asian man, walked into the dance hall at around 10:20 p.m. local time, opened fire on the crowd, killing 10 people, injuring 10 more. He then went to another dance hall in Alhambra, which is just north of Monterey Park. And authorities say he was disarmed there by two patrons and then fled.

FADEL: So he was disarmed, but he still escaped.

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. And so, you know, yesterday, there was this huge manhunt underway here in Los Angeles County until around midday, when police stopped a vehicle matching a description of the suspect's in Torrance, which is about, you know, 30 minutes southwest of here for people that don't know the LA Basin geography.

FADEL: Yeah.

ROTT: Authorities say when officers approached the van he was in, a single shot rang out. And then they later found the man dead in the driver's seat from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There were items in the vehicle, authorities say, which tied the man to both crime scenes. And he is believed to have acted alone.

FADEL: Nate, as we both know, these mass shootings happen so often. And it's hard to make sense of such senseless violence. But do authorities have any idea why he did this?

ROTT: At this point, no. That's still the big question hanging over this whole tragedy, you know, that and how the man was able to obtain the weapon he used, a semiautomatic assault pistol that had an extended magazine, which is illegal in California. So authorities are looking into how he was able to obtain that. They're also still trying to identify the victims.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna says five men and five women were killed. All were in their 50s or 60s or older. They're not releasing all of the information about the victims until family can be properly notified. And Monterey Park is a predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander community. It's a place where many Chinese and Taiwanese Americans get their start in this country. So it may take some time for them to let family know what happened if they do have family abroad.

FADEL: So as you said, this happened over the Lunar New Year. It's such an important holiday for many Asian Americans. How are people doing?

ROTT: There's a lot of shock and a lot of outrage, as you can imagine, you know?

FADEL: Yeah.

ROTT: Here's one of the people I talked to, Vickie Kuo, who came to Monterey Park to celebrate what he thought would be his first normal New Year holiday in years.

VICKIE KUO: After the pandemic, we finally had, like, normal life. This is the first New Year festival, so it's pretty sad.

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, all of the events yesterday in Monterey Park were canceled for the new year. And I know other parts of the city did that out of caution as well, so a hard way to start the year.

FADEL: NPR's Nate Rott in Monterey Park, Calif. Thank you so much.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you.

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FADEL: One of President Biden's closest advisers is stepping back.

INSKEEP: Ron Klain has been a Biden strategist for many years. He's expected to leave his job as chief of staff next month, although the exact timing isn't certain. NPR has confirmed the president has selected a replacement, Jeff Zients, the former COVID response coordinator. The many challenges that Zients will face include an investigation of the president's handling of classified documents. The FBI searched Biden's Delaware home on Friday.

FADEL: NPR's Tamara Keith is here to talk about all this. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So let's start with the documents. Didn't the president's lawyers say they'd already found everything?

KEITH: Oh, indeed, they had. But on Friday, the FBI went to Wilmington for this truly extraordinary search of a sitting president's home. The president wasn't there, but his lawyers were. And they said that they kept the search quiet as it was happening at the request of the Justice Department. And according to Biden's team, the FBI did find additional items with classified markings dating back as far as his time in the Senate. So any hope in the White House of this issue quickly fading - it's back, front and center, with more documents being found.

FADEL: So Jeff Zients is expected to replace Ron Klain as chief of staff sometime soon. Why him? Why now?

KEITH: You know, being White House chief of staff is a meat grinder of a job. And Klain helped usher through a surprising number of legislative accomplishments in these first two years. And then he saw Biden through the midterms. People who know him say he is exhausted. And also, this is a new phase of the Biden presidency that's starting. Biden is likely launching a reelection campaign soon and will be dealing with both these congressional investigations that we're expecting, as well as the special counsel investigation related to classified documents.

As far as Zients, he has known Biden a long time. He was on the transition team. And then he took on this Herculean task of getting hundreds of millions of COVID vaccine doses into the arms of Americans in the early days of the administration. Dr. Anthony Fauci worked with him closely. And he said that in addition to being a very good manager, Zients can also be an effective gatekeeper, which is a key part of the job.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Fundamentally, he's a really good guy and a very likable guy. But when he has to say no, he says no in a non-confrontative way. But no is no (laughter).

FADEL: So as you said, there are investigations, political battles ahead. Do you have a sense of his possible approach there?

KEITH: He was a budget director under President Obama and has strong business connections. And that could help with the specter of a high-stakes political fight over the debt ceiling coming up. I spoke to Cedric Richmond, who is a senior adviser now at the DNC.

CEDRIC RICHMOND: The Hill Republicans are going to overplay their hand. And with a calm, cool and collected chief of staff like Jeff, it will show how clear it is that they're not ready to govern and that they feed off of chaos.

KEITH: That is certainly the White House plan for this. You know, in the Obama years, Zients was known as Mr. Fix It for rescuing healthcare.gov after a catastrophic rollout. So he is no stranger to crisis. But based on the conversations I had over the weekend with half a dozen people in the White House orbit, I have to say that the thing that they kept coming back to was this idea of his ability to implement. And there are three sprawling pieces of legislation passed over the last two years involving a lot of government spending. And they need to be implemented.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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FADEL: NPR has learned that the Food and Drug Administration wants to simplify the nation's COVID-19 vaccine strategy.

INSKEEP: The goal is to make COVID vaccines a little more like the annual flu shot.

FADEL: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story. And he joins us now. Good morning, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what is the FDA considering, exactly?

STEIN: A top federal official, who is not authorized to speak publicly, tells me the agency is considering making the whole vaccine regimen much less complicated and confusing. Right now, getting vaccinated means first getting what's called the primary vaccinations, two shots with the original vaccine spaced weeks apart. That's followed months later by at least one booster, which used to be one of the original vaccines, but is now one of the bivalent shots targeting omicron.

Basically, the FDA is considering doing away with that whole way of thinking about it. Instead, most people would just get whatever the latest version of the vaccine is, probably each fall, like the flu shot. They wouldn't have to worry about how many shots they've already had and, you know, which one they got when or any of that. And that one shot would be updated every year to try to get as close a match as possible to whatever variant will be dominating each winter, again, just like the flu shot. And finally, the FDA is hoping to make the shots interchangeable, so the brand wouldn't matter anymore.

FADEL: OK, simpler. Why is the FDA considering this now?

STEIN: The idea is we're moving towards COVID becoming an endemic disease. It's not going away. COVID's going to sicken and kill many people for the foreseeable future. But unless some new, more dangerous version of the virus suddenly emerges, we might be settling into a more predictable coexistence with the virus. And the goal is to make vaccination, which is the major weapon for protecting ourselves, simpler and, hopefully, more appealing. This shift is based on the reality that at this point in the pandemic, most people have a lot of immunity either from having gotten vaccinated and boosted or infected or both.

FADEL: What do immunologists think about this proposal?

STEIN: You know, many of the independent scientists I've talked to about this think simplifying the process makes a lot of sense and endorsed the idea of regularly updating the vaccines. Here's Deepta Bhattacharya. He's an immunologist at the University of Arizona.

DEEPTA BHATTACHARYA: As far as the tools that we have right now, I think it just makes the most sense to, you know, plan to update each year as close as we can to the currently circulating variant. So I think all of these things that, you know, the FDA is considering make a lot of sense.

STEIN: But some people think people may still need to be boosted more often than just once a year. And other scientists question whether updating the boosters does make sense. They doubt the omicron boosters are really much better and argue the virus is changing so fast that it's pointless to try to chase the latest variant. It might be better to invest in next-generation vaccines, like, you know, nasal spray vaccines to protect people against even catching the virus, and to focus more on just getting more people vaccinated.

FADEL: So how would the FDA actually make this happen?

STEIN: An FDA advisory committee meets Thursday to recommend how best to proceed. And if the committee endorses the approach, the FDA would hash out the details. And FDA advisers would meet again in the spring to pick the specific strains of the virus the new shot should target.

FADEL: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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