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News Brief: Biden's Infrastructure Remedy, Chauvin Trial, COVID Surge

NOEL KING, HOST:

Later today, President Biden will unveil his ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

He'll make his pitch at a Pittsburgh facility where aspiring carpenters take on apprenticeships that often turn into union jobs. The plan is going to focus on physical infrastructure - bridges, roads, sewer systems and expanding broadband, among other things. Biden characterizes it as a jobs plan that he hopes will transform the economy.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here with some details. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what's in this plan? What do we know?

KEITH: Well, they're calling it the American Jobs Plan, as you guys said, about $2 trillion, you know, the transit, bridges, roads, broadband into rural areas, also big spending on the electric grid and sewer and water systems - you know, think about what happened in Texas earlier this year or what happened in Flint, Mich., trying to avoid those types of things - upgrading housing, schools, hospitals, a lot of focus on union jobs and helping underserved communities, both rural and urban. You know, it specifically talks about trying to entice manufacturers to areas affected by a loss of coal jobs and helping address racial inequities by reconnecting neighborhoods that were cut off by previous highway building. This sweeping proposal is only part one, though. Next month, Biden is set to propose investments in health care, child care and education.

KING: There is a lot in part one that's worth digging into. But I am curious, why are we only hearing about the first part today?

KEITH: Yeah, so historically infrastructure was an area where Democrats and Republicans in Congress actually worked well together. And there is a widespread acknowledgement that there's a big backlog that needs to be addressed. Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, told me that infrastructure can be an easier sell because there's something tangible for every lawmaker to tell their constituents about.

HEIDI HEITKAMP: You get a bridge and you get a bridge and you get a bridge and you get a road and you get a hospital (laughter). It's the Oprah of infrastructure (laughter).

KEITH: Now, she said that for Republicans and even some moderate Democrats, the key will be having this proposal remain targeted. But this is a very expensive and expansive proposal. It has a lot of elements. A lot of them are really popular ideas, though. Reverend William Barber from the Poor People's Campaign, who delivered a sermon at the inauguration, says Biden needs to go big - and he's told him that - that he needs to be more ambitious than FDR's New Deal just given the depth of suffering exposed and created by the pandemic.

WILLIAM BARBER: Where you do the roads but you don't prioritize rural and urban areas, or you do the bridges, but you don't look at environmentally sustainable infrastructure, jobs and the health care and the public health infrastructure and the training and the capacity. It's not or. It's and. It's and.

KING: And it's $2 trillion. And how does the Biden administration propose paying for all of it?

KEITH: They want to roll back some of the tax cuts that Republicans and President Trump pushed through in 2017 for corporations and place more taxes on companies that move profits overseas. Their proposal would put the corporate tax rate at 28%. That is still historically low but about halfway back to where it was before the Trump tax cuts. And also there's this idea that Democrats are pushing that you don't need to get hung up on paying for it dollar for dollar because infrastructure investment pays for itself. That will certainly be a debate.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. This morning, witnesses will again testify in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

MARTIN: Yesterday, jurors heard from eyewitnesses, including a 9-year-old girl and her teenage cousin who recorded George Floyd's death on her cellphone.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Minneapolis this morning covering the trial. Good morning, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Tell us about the testimony of Darnella Frazier. She was the teenage girl who recorded George Floyd's Killing and then posted the video. What did she say?

CORLEY: Well, she really talked about walking, first of all, to the neighborhood corner grocery store with her younger cousin, the 9-year-old that you mentioned, and seeing George Floyd on the ground under Officer Chauvin's knee. And she said Floyd was saying he couldn't breathe. He was calling for help and for his mother. She sent her little cousin inside the store, and she stayed outside to record what she saw happening. And the court ruled that no video of her testimony could be allowed since she was a minor at the time. But according to the pool reporter who was in the courtroom, Frazier just had tears streaming down her face as she told her story. And she said when she thinks about George Floyd, she thinks about her father, her brother, her other relatives, all Black, and how what happened to Floyd could also happen to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARNELLA FRAZIER: It's been nights. I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it's like, it's not what I should have done. It's what he should have done.

CORLEY: And Frazier just turned 18. She was 17 at the time of that encounter with Floyd and Chauvin. And three other minors testified - her cousin, the 9-year-old, and two other young people as well.

KING: How did the defense cross examine a crying teenager and a small child? How did that process go?

CORLEY: Well, they stayed away a lot from the younger people, not asking them any questions. It was other folks that they - the adults that they tried to portray as bystanders, as people who were angry and interfering with police trying to do their job. There are several videos played that were showing people calling for Officer Chauvin to get off Floyd's neck. And in one of those videos, Genevieve Hanson, she's a Minneapolis firefighter and a trained emergency medical technician, she moved closer to the officers and demanded that they check Floyd's pulse. And during the trial, defense attorney Eric Nelson asked her and others testifying whether they just weren't angry people who were becoming threatening to police. So listen to this exchange between him and Hanson after he says it took her just a short amount of time to become louder and frustrated and upset.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GENEVIEVE HANSON: Frustrated, I'm not sure, is the word I would use.

ERIC NELSON: Angry?

HANSON: More desperate.

NELSON: You called the officers [expletive] right?

HANSON: Yeah. I got quite angry after Mr. Floyd was loaded into the ambulance and there was no point in trying to reason with them anymore because they had just killed somebody.

KING: There is a lot of emotion in this testimony. We're hearing it. What has the mood of witnesses been during this trial?

CORLEY: Well, it's pretty much run the gamut from sadness to anger, but most of them just seem to have a feeling of helplessness and really wishing that they could have done more.

KING: What has Derek Chauvin been doing as people testify?

CORLEY: You know, for the most part, Derek Chauvin sits at the defense table and takes notes. And that's just been what's been visible on the video - don't have much more to know beyond that at this point.

KING: And so, Cheryl, you'll be watching today following the testimony. What do you expect?

CORLEY: Genevieve Hanson was the last witness yesterday, and she'll be back on the witness stand today.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Minneapolis. Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Coronavirus infections in India and Pakistan are surging, but until just last month, there had been a dramatic drop in cases in those two countries. This sudden change has confounded public health officials who are now investigating two mysteries. Why did cases in India and Pakistan drop, and why are they surging now? NPR India correspondent Lauren Frayer is on the line from Mumbai. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

KING: What is the situation in Mumbai now?

FRAYER: So Mumbai seeing its highest caseload since the start of the pandemic, worse than last spring when there was a total lockdown. Now, we're not under lockdown here yet, partly because of how damaging it was the last time around. India's economy shrank 24% last spring and summer. We're under an 8 p.m. curfew here. There's a ban on gatherings. The Indian Festival of Holi, this big colorful festival, was basically cancelled last weekend. And this has all come as kind of a shock to a lot of Indians because until recently, as you mentioned, cases had dropped here to a tenth of what they once were.

KING: And that hasn't happened in lots of places that have done lockdowns like the ones you describe. So what are scientists telling you about why there was such a dramatic drop in cases?

FRAYER: So random tests last summer and fall showed about half of people in India's biggest cities had antibodies. And so what we thought is those people had already been infected, many of them asymptomatically, and they had some protection.

KING: And, OK, that would make sense, but then why would cases suddenly be surging now?

FRAYER: Yeah, that's the real big question. And I called up a virologist, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, and she says it looks like this wave is straining private hospitals more than public ones. So this latest round of infections could be affluent Indians who stayed home during the first wave and now are going out and maybe let their guard down.

GAGANDEEP KANG: People who were previously able to isolate themselves and stay away from getting infected are now out and about and more likely to be infected.

FRAYER: But on the other hand, Dr. Kang says this could be people who are getting reinfected.

KANG: Now, we've reached a stage where previously infected people cannot ward off infection anymore.

FRAYER: I mean, essentially, she says, too much time may have passed for those folks who were infected last year to still have protection from the virus. And she says there could be another explanation - new variants. Last week, India said it's detected one they're calling a double mutant, which has two mutations, the mutation that first emerged in the U.K. and then another mutation that was first discovered in South Africa. But it's too soon to tell whether that's really to blame for this latest spike.

KING: And so what is India doing about all of this?

FRAYER: Trying to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Starting tomorrow, India is opening up vaccinations to anyone over the age of 45. I mean, India is in a good position in that it's the world's biggest vaccine producer. So supply isn't an issue here. I visited an Indian factory a couple weeks ago that's churning out 100 million doses a month. But India's really big. It's got nearly 1.4 billion people. And so it takes a lot of time to get shots in all those arms. Other countries in the region may have smaller populations, but they don't have the supply. Neighboring Pakistan is importing doses from China, and they're seeing a huge surge. Even the prime minister has it there.

KING: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.