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News Brief: 25th Amendment, Far-Right Extremists, Unemployment Data

NOEL KING, HOST:

What is the appropriate response to a president who incited a violent mob to attack the Capitol building?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A president who is taking no responsibility - yesterday, he condemned the attack on the Capitol but, in a video, never mentioned his own role.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.

INSKEEP: Police have now arrested scores of people allegedly involved in the attack on the Capitol. But what about the president who addressed the crowd beforehand, lied to them about his election defeat and told them to fight? Some lawmakers want to invoke the Constitution's 25th Amendment and remove the president from office.

KING: Congressional correspondent Susan Davis is covering this one. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So it's a remarkable moment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on Vice President Mike Pence to forcibly remove the president. Let's listen to her.

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NANCY PELOSI: I joined the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment.

KING: She joins Chuck Schumer, of course. What are the discussions around this actually like?

DAVIS: Well, Pelosi and incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that they called Vice President Pence yesterday and were put on hold for 25 minutes and that he never got on the line. Pelosi said they don't plan to wait long for him to decide and that either if he doesn't respond or if the answer is no, that she is preparing to consider another impeachment resolution on the floor of the House.

KING: Let's go back to the 25th Amendment before we get to impeachment.

DAVIS: Yeah.

KING: How would it actually work?

DAVIS: It's complicated, and it's never been invoked before in this way. But there's a provision in the 25th Amendment that would allow for the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to send a letter to Congress declaring the president unfit. And that would allow the vice president to then assume the duties of the presidency. The president can contest it and put it to Congress to ultimately decide. But that's a longer process to have to work out. And supporters of the strategy say it would essentially tie the hands of the president in his remaining days in office.

I want to be very clear that we have no indication that the vice president is considering this, but we are seeing resignations not just from White House staff, but at least two Cabinet secretaries. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary DeVos are both resigning over the president's role in Wednesday's storming of the Capitol.

KING: So the match would need to be lit by Mike Pence and the Cabinet secretaries, who don't seem likely to do that. Worth asking, though, have any Republican lawmakers said they think this amendment should be considered?

DAVIS: A couple of them have. Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger put out a video saying that he believe the 25th Amendment should be invoked. Ohio Republican Steve Stivers, a former member of Republican leadership, said he would not oppose it if the Cabinet took that action. Even Lindsey Graham, who obviously has been a longtime ally of the president for most of his term, said he didn't support it right now, but that nothing should be taken off the table if there are more events like what happened this week.

KING: If there are more events in the next 12 days like what happened this week - OK, Lindsey Graham.

So let's say that Pence and the Cabinet don't agree. You said Democrats are thinking about impeachment, which I think of as a long process. What's going on there?

DAVIS: Well, there's already an impeachment resolution being circulated, and Democrats are signing on. Pelosi said it's the overwhelming sentiment of her members to do this. They'd have to call the House back into session and would need basically total party unity to pass it in short order. I did speak to one of the Democrats who supports it. They told me they know it's not going to remove Trump from office. They don't have time to do a Senate trial. But if they were to approve it, it would make Trump the first president to be impeached twice. And that is a political punishment that many Democrats would like to see delivered to Trump.

KING: Congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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KING: Federal prosecutors say they will aggressively pursue the people involved in this week's insurrection.

INSKEEP: A reporter asked the United States attorney in Washington, D.C., whether that included the president. And the answer came back, quote, "We are looking at all actors."

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has submitted his resignation after the attack. Still, many people ask whether law enforcement is taking this seriously enough. It is a matter of timing. Yesterday, video circulated of people who said they had been part of the mob. Outside the Capitol, they hung around, gave interviews, took selfies and talked proudly of what they had done. So why were they not arrested?

KING: NPR's Hannah Allam has been following this story. Good morning, Hannah.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So, among others in this group, QAnon conspiracy theorists, white power groups, militias, the Proud Boys gang known for violence - two days later, how are they reacting? What are they saying?

ALLAM: Overall, there's been a lot of celebration and bragging. You know, they portray themselves as patriots. But reactions did split somewhat after the president's condemnation video, with some feeling that the president had betrayed them. I want to play you a little bit of what Megan Squire has to say on this. She's a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who monitors far-right networks. She says the reactions to the storming of the Capitol tend to fall into three categories. So first, there are the sympathizers.

MEGAN SQUIRE: They probably weren't there. They're all over social media and on regular media. These are the ones who are, you know, blaming antifa. They're making up stuff about that this was a false flag.

ALLAM: And then there are the ones who were thrilled to be there, she says, who felt like they're making a stand.

SQUIRE: They are taking, you know, bounty shots, trophy pics, making memes, just talking it up - yeah, complete lack of remorse.

ALLAM: And finally, there's the group Squire usually studies. These are the hardcore white supremacists. She says they're thinking long term about how to capitalize on the incident for recruiting and expansion. And again, many of these factions have been talking about violent uprisings for years.

KING: I watched some of the videos that Steve mentioned where people were outside like, yeah, I stormed in; I was tear-gassed. Many people question why those folks were out there making videos and not being arrested. Are the authorities taking this seriously?

ALLAM: If we think back for a moment to 2017, you know, the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, that was this watershed moment for public awareness of the violent far-right. And, you know, U.S. authorities consider this the deadliest and most active domestic terrorism threat. But fast-forward nearly four years, and some of the same white supremacist figures from Charlottesville were at the Capitol Wednesday, part of another violent mob. And this time, the hardened extremists are alongside suburban families, conservative voters who've been radicalized by disinformation and conspiracy.

So far, police have made more than 90 arrests. Federal authorities have charged at least 50 people with more expected as they crowdsource suspects from photos and videos. So over the years, we have seen some changes in how federal authorities prioritize and investigate these crimes. But many extremism analysts I talked to say there's still a long way to go. The Trump administration has routinely played down the right-wing threat and said the real danger was activist movements like antifa and Black Lives Matter.

KING: And speaking of which, this summer, racial justice protesters were tear-gassed, arrested and tackled. That just is not what we saw with these folks this week.

ALLAM: That's right. That's been a key criticism. Ashley Howard teaches history and African American studies at the University of Iowa. I talked to her yesterday, and she says this is not an aberration. It fits into a pattern of responses to white mob violence.

ASHLEY HOWARD: The terror that we see here and the lack of response or equivalent response once again really highlights that crisis just brings out things we already know about this country. It amplifies the trends and the themes and the narratives of American history.

ALLAM: So while we are seeing arrests and condemnation, critical questions remain really about whether the long-time minimizing of the threat from the extreme right paved a way for the shocking security lapse we saw this week.

KING: NPR's Hannah Allam.

Thanks, Hannah.

ALLAM: Thank you.

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KING: OK. All of this and we still have a pandemic, and it is still pulling the job market down.

INSKEEP: Before COVID, a lot of people worked as restaurant servers or retail clerks and now are having trouble finding work. We get a snapshot of the job situation for December from the Labor Department this morning, and forecasters are not predicting much good.

KING: NPR's Scott Horsley is with us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what are the numbers pointing to? What are they likely to tell us?

HORSLEY: The U.S. jobs engine has been slowing down ever since last summer, and all indications are that slowdown continued in December. In fact, the engine may have gone into reverse. We expect to see anemic job growth last month, possibly even a loss of jobs. Economist Sarah House, who's with Wells Fargo Securities, says that's all because of the pandemic.

SARAH HOUSE: The restriction that we've seen from both governments as well as just the voluntary restrictions where people have been paring back on activity I think is really going to weigh on business hiring for December.

HORSLEY: Wells Fargo is predicting today's report will show a loss of about 50,000 jobs in December. If so, that would be the first monthly jobs lost since April, back when the pandemic was just taking hold here.

KING: OK. So that's significant. What about the all-important unemployment rate?

HORSLEY: Forecasters say the jobless rate may inch up a bit. It was 6.7% in November, so it could go a little higher - still, a lot lower than last spring when unemployment peaked at close to 15%. Some of that decline since has been real improvement as people have gone back to work. Some, though, has been less positive, stemming from people dropping out of the workforce. So far, we have recovered less than 60% of the jobs that were lost in the springtime. And the Labor Department said yesterday, there are still more than 19 million people in the country receiving some kind of unemployment assistance.

KING: Nineteen million people - my goodness. We do now have coronavirus vaccines, of course - a lot of optimism there because of that. How much of a difference will that make to the economy in the next couple months?

HORSLEY: It's going to make a difference, but not right away. You know, even in the best-case scenario, it was going to take months to reach a critical mass of vaccinations. And so far, the rollout has been far from best case. Still, House does offer some optimism that at some point this year, we could be looking at a pretty significant rebound for the job market.

HOUSE: This soft patch should be rather temporary. So by the time you get to the second half of the year, we're looking for employment to really strengthen as you see businesses return to just some semblance of normal and you have consumers really eager to get out there and spend.

HORSLEY: So as we've been saying, maybe by the spring, certainly by the summer, things should be better. But we still have to get through a challenging winter first.

KING: Late last month, of course, Congress passed that pandemic relief package. How much is that helping? How much will that help?

HORSLEY: It will certainly help. I mean, the most important thing it does is provide a lifeline for those 19 million people collecting unemployment. It extends some of the emergency jobless programs and also boosts weekly unemployment benefits by $300. The bill also provides refundable loans to help small businesses stay afloat. And it includes those one-time payments of $600 per person that are going out to most adults and children in the country already. President-elect Joe Biden has called that a down payment. He wants to see additional pandemic aid once he takes office.

And the chance of getting something done is certainly higher now that Democrats have clinched both runoff elections in Georgia and have a razor-thin majority in the Senate. Wall Street's banking that will mean more generous government spending in the months to come. And that's one reason, Noel, that even with all the chaos we've seen in Washington this week, the stock market closed yesterday at new record highs.

KING: Yes, it did. That was remarkable. NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thanks for this, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.