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News Brief: Pence-Harris Debate, Census Battle, Breonna Taylor Case

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A single moment symbolized last night's vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Senator Kamala Harris promised that if he's elected, Joe Biden will work to repeal a tax cut signed by President Trump. Now, Vice President Mike Pence heard that, and he smiled a little. They both seem to believe that same line sounded good to the divergent audiences they were trying to reach.

INSKEEP: Whenever possible, Harris looked directly at the camera to address the people at home. Pence ignored the moderator's questions as he calmly defended President Trump. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro heard it all and is with us. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks for getting up after a late night. How did the candidates reveal their differences on the pandemic?

MONTANARO: Well, Harris, you know, as a former prosecutor, she really tried to deliver an indictment of Trump's handling of the pandemic. And she, frankly, had a lot of facts that she was tapping into.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country. And here are the facts - 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months; over 7 million people who have contracted this disease; 1 in 5 businesses closed. We're looking at front-line workers who have been treated like sacrificial workers. We are looking at over 30 million people who in the last several months had to file for unemployment.

MONTANARO: You know, it was a tough segment for Pence. He had his back up against the wall. He is chairman of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force. I mean, he came back at Harris by defending Trump's cheerleading on the pandemic and why essentially there hasn't been a top-down national plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Trump, I will tell you, has boundless confidence in the American people. And he always spoke with confidence that we'd get through this together.

MONTANARO: You know, so overall, a majority of the country has been saying that they don't think President Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic very well and would rather Biden handle it. I'm not sure what was said last night that would change it. And it dominated the top of the debate for a while. And if people were tuning in just to see if it would be different than that first debate, many may have tuned out after that.

INSKEEP: So it was in this section early on that the moderator, Susan Page, asked a question, why? Why is the U.S. death rate per capita so much higher than other wealthy nations? How did Pence respond?

MONTANARO: Well, they didn't respond specifically to that charge. I mean, a lot of questions were ignored in this debate, and this was one of them. You know, Pence pivoted to talking about how the administration had banned people coming from China, the thing they continue to come back to. But he never really answered the question of why there were so many more deaths at a higher rate than some other countries and something you've seen President Trump struggle with in interviews over the last several months as well.

INSKEEP: Did the vice president manage to turn the focus on his opponents as well as defending his boss?

MONTANARO: You know, he did try to drive a wedge, principally on taxes, something he kept coming back to, so much so that he even did it when he was asked if climate change represented an existential threat. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: As I said, Susan, the climate is changing. We'll follow the science. But once again, Senator Harris is denying the fact that they're going to raise taxes on every American. Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week that on day one he was going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. Those tax cuts delivered $2,000 in tax relief to the average family of four across America.

MONTANARO: So, you know, fact-check here - the Biden plan would not raise taxes on people making under $400,000 per year, the campaign says. This is still, though, the great dividing line in politics - how much should government do? And that was part of the normalcy, frankly, of this debate going back to the traditional Republican and Democratic policy approaches all the way back to debates that we've seen from Reagan and Carter.

INSKEEP: More of a normal debate. OK. Domenico, thank you very much, really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The Trump administration has not given up trying to end the census right away.

KING: Yesterday, the judges of an appeals court became the latest to block that effort. So the administration has appealed now to the Supreme Court. What judges have said so far is that the Census Bureau can keep counting until October 31, but the administration says it wants to stop sooner to meet official deadlines.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has covered the census about as thoroughly as anybody and is on the line. Hansi, good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would you just remind us what's at stake here if the census process were to end early? Whenever it ends, what's at stake in this count?

WANG: If there are any changes to the census schedule, this could have major long-term implications on population numbers that are tied to how power and money are distributed in the country. We're talking about each state's share of seats in Congress. We're talking about votes in the Electoral College and trillions in federal money for health care, schools and roads for the next 10 years. And at this moment, the Census Bureau is on track to continue door knocking at unresponsive homes, collecting responses from households through the end of the month as a lower court ordered. If the Supreme Court steps in and stops that earlier at the Trump administration's request, this could really add chaos to our very chaotic census season. There's been a rush in some parts of the country to complete the census. And it really raises a question about the accuracy of these counting efforts at this point because a lot of workers have been under pressure. Maybe they've been relying more on neighbors of unresponsive households rather than residents themselves to try to get the count done. And, you know, as you can imagine, Census Bureau research shows that that really increased the risk of inaccurate counting, especially of people of color and other historically undercounted groups.

INSKEEP: Yeah. So a lot is at stake and a lot is chaotic here. But we did speak yesterday with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. He's the guy who is overseeing the Census Bureau, and he insisted nothing to worry about here. They're just about done. And he had an impressive statistic at hand. Let's listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WILBUR ROSS: We didn't need as many calendar days to complete the census. And that's why we are already at - 99.7% of all the households have already been enumerated. And that's a tenth of a percent better than in 2010.

INSKEEP: 99.7% sounds impressive, Hansi. Can you give us any context for that number?

WANG: That number is not a good indicator of, No. 1, how accurate the work of the Census Bureau is at this point because that includes households that may have not responded to the census and a door knocker was sent, but no one responded. And so the Census Bureau workers may have relied on neighbors or the bureau may have to rely on incomplete government records. We don't know. The Census Bureau has not laid out those details, exactly what made up that 99.7%. It also is a national rate. It doesn't tell you how complete each state is at this point. And the latest numbers show that there are four states that have not reached 99% of completion, which is the rate the Census Bureau's career officials say is really a marker, they say, of acceptable accuracy at this point.

INSKEEP: We also asked Secretary Ross, why the rush? Why not just spend the rest of the month? He said, listen, we have other legal deadlines to meet, but - which is true. But you've done some reporting around this. What else have you learned?

WANG: The Trump administration is also looking at December 31 because if the numbers - the latest state population counts are delivered to the president by that date, that means the president can carry out this memo of excluding unauthorized immigrants from the count while he is still in office, regardless whether or not he wins reelection.

INSKEEP: So there is a big question there about who gets counted for congressional apportionment. That's what's on the line.

WANG: Exactly. The Constitution says it should include the whole number of persons in each state. A New York court, federal court, has already blocked the president, but they've already gone to the Supreme Court, the administration, to try to get that ruling overturned.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, thanks so much.

WANG: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. The police department in Louisville released an internal report on the Breonna Taylor case yesterday. It included thousands of pages and hours of recordings.

KING: Police shot Taylor in her home in March. Of course, you remember. There were three officers present. A grand jury found that one of them should be indicted for endangering Breonna Taylor's neighbors because he shot into their apartments. Now, the release of this internal report is a chance to review details about what led up to and what followed her killing.

INSKEEP: Eleanor Klibanoff of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WFPL in Louisville has been doing a lot of reading and joins us. Good morning.

ELEANOR KLIBANOFF, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you finding in this report that you didn't know?

KLIBANOFF: So colleagues and I are continuing to dig through this massive file, but looks like it shows us much of the narcotics investigation that led police to Taylor's apartment that night, as well as more details on what happened during the raid that ultimately left her dead. You know, as people probably remember, when the police showed up to serve this no-knock warrant, her boyfriend fired at what he thought were intruders, striking one officer. Those officers then fired back and killed Taylor in her hallway. So this report really looks at how did Louisville police investigate themselves, investigate this shooting after it happened.

INSKEEP: Oh, how did they investigate themselves about the shooting, but, of course, then that reveals something about the actual series of events leading to the shooting. One event was the police obtaining what's called a no-knock warrant to come to that apartment to break in the door. What do the documents tell you about the warrant?

KLIBANOFF: So that's been the central question throughout this case. You know, how did police get this warrant and how did they serve it? And in this internal investigation, Detective Joshua Jaynes told investigators that he believed that Jamarcus Glover, Taylor's ex-boyfriend, was using Taylor's apartment to store money and receive packages. And here's Detective James speaking with investigators in an audio interview that was released yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSHUA JAYNES: It looks like it would be a U.S. - a suspected USPS package. And so at that point, I believe that, you know, this guy's got to be getting - I'm hoping at this point he's getting dope delivered to him.

KLIBANOFF: He says, I'm hoping at this point he's getting dope delivered to him. So on that, Jaynes obtained this no-knock warrant for Taylor's apartment. And in the warrant, Jaynes said he confirmed with the postal inspector that Glover was getting packages at Taylor's apartment. But that turned out not to be true. This file shows us it was actually a neighboring police department that checked with the postal inspector. And the postal inspector said there were no packages sent to Taylor's address. And interviews in this report released yesterday show that the officers from that neighboring department were shocked when they saw what Jaynes had put on that affidavit that led to the search warrant.

INSKEEP: And, of course, without that warrant, none of this would have happened. And you now have this official finding that false evidence was used to gain the warrant. So what happens now?

KLIBANOFF: Well, the FBI is investigating how Jaynes obtained that warrant. And we've heard the results of that probe are expected next year. And there's still an internal investigation as well to see if any of these officers, including Jaynes, violated internal agency policy. So we'll see what comes out of those.

INSKEEP: Eleanor Klibanoff of WFPL in Louisville, thanks for your reporting. And we'll continue listening as you continue reading.

KLIBANOFF: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.