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News Brief: Biden To Address Congress, N.C. Shooting, Michigan's COVID Surge

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Biden will make a speech to a joint session of Congress tonight.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is an annual tradition. Most years, it's called the State of the Union speech. When a president is newly inaugurated, as Biden is, the speech is called something else, as if maybe the chief executive isn't up to speed on the state of the union yet. But in any case, the format is about the same. Lawmakers applaud or don't applaud as presidents offer big proposals to a national audience. And Biden is expected to promote the American Families Plan. That's a way to address economic inequality largely by providing benefits for children and parents.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe is following this one. Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what should we expect tonight? What's in the speech? What's in the plan?

RASCOE: Well, as you said, the centerpiece of Biden's speech is what the White House is calling the American Families Plan. In there is direct funding for child care. They want to make sure that low- and middle-income families spend no more than 7% of their income on child care. Then there's universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and two free years of community college. There's also a paid leave program that would eventually provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or a sick family member. And then there are also tax cuts for low- and middle-income families, lower health insurance costs, and there's even more than that, too. So it is a very long list of what would be really big investments.

KING: And how much will it cost?

RASCOE: It would be massive. It's about $1 trillion in spending over 10 years, along with $800 billion in tax cuts for low- and middle-income families. And remember, this comes after Congress has already passed Biden's big COVID aid package, which was $1.9 trillion. And Biden has already proposed about $2 trillion in spending on infrastructure - on an infrastructure and jobs plan just last month.

KING: These numbers are mind-boggling. It's impossible to overstate that. How does Biden propose paying for this one?

RASCOE: The White House says it will be fully paid for over 15 years. And that's because Biden will also propose a lot of changes to the tax system for the richest people in the country. The top tax bracket would go back to what it was before the Trump tax cuts of the last administration. And for millionaires, the income that they get from capital gains, which is things like selling stocks, it would be taxed at the same rate as wages. They're also making the point that only the richest Americans are going to be affected by these loopholes that are being closed. And the White House also says that they can get $700 billion in taxes from wealthy people who are evading taxes. There's this plan to beef up IRS enforcement.

KING: OK. So taxes could become interesting over the next couple of months. But how likely is it that Congress is really going to get behind this?

RASCOE: It's going to be a very tough sell. Republicans have already started calling these things radical and arguing that, you know, raising taxes like this would wreck the economy. And some Democrats have also expressed concerns about the cost and some of these changes. The White House says they're open to negotiations on both the jobs plans and the families plan. Part of this will be seeing what parts of of these measures that they're putting forward, whether they get traction in the weeks ahead.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. A big question in North Carolina - will authorities there release to the public video of the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. by police?

INSKEEP: A court could decide that today. And as we wait, the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation. The family of Mr. Brown has offered a description of their privately conducted autopsy, which they say strengthens the claim that he was executed. Here's one of the family attorneys, Wayne Kendall.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

WAYNE KENDALL: There were five penetrating bullet wounds to the body of Andrew Brown Jr.

KING: NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon is continuing to follow this story in Elizabeth City.

Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So family members have seen some of the footage - about 20 seconds, as I understand it. They want more. And also, the public wants more.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Family members want to see all of the footage from the shooting last week. There were several officers there. They should have all been wearing bodycams. And they say they've only seen 20 seconds from that shooting that killed Andrew Brown Jr. while authorities were carrying out a warrant here in Elizabeth City. And today, Noel, a judge in county court will consider whether to release that footage. It's not clear, though, how long it will take to make that decision or when it could come out. The family's lawyers say, again, they were only allowed to view 20 seconds from one bodycam Monday. And they describe what they saw as an execution. They say their independent autopsy backs that up.

KING: These independent autopsies are not unheard of in cases where there's a police shooting. What does the autopsy find?

MCCAMMON: Well, yesterday, lawyers for the family described the results. They said that Brown was shot five times in total, four times in the arm and once, fatally, in the back of the head. Here's how his son Khalil Ferebee put it during that press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

KHALIL FEREBEE: Yesterday, I said he was executed. This autopsy report showed me that was correct. Those three gunshots to the arm, that wasn't enough? That wasn't enough? You - it's obvious he was trying to get away. It's obvious.

MCCAMMON: Another thing we learned during that press conference is that arrangements are underway for Brown's funeral. Lawyers say it'll be next Monday at noon here in Elizabeth City.

KING: OK. And now, as well, the FBI is investigating. What do we know about the status of that investigation?

MCCAMMON: Well, it's a civil rights investigation. The FBI says agents will work closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and with the civil rights division of the Department of Justice to determine whether any federal laws were violated. Meanwhile, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is calling for a special prosecutor to handle all matters related to this shooting. In a statement, he says this should be done in the interest of justice and confidence in the judicial system and also to make sure that the community and Brown's family are confident decisions about any potential criminal charges against the officers involved are made without bias.

KING: I know you've been talking to people in and around Elizabeth City. What have you learned about who Andrew Brown was?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, I've spent some time in the neighborhood where he was killed, talking to residents here. They describe him as a good father. He had seven children, we're told. He did have a history of some run-ins with the law, but people who knew him say he was a gentle and kind person and they can't understand how a warrant could lead to his death. I spoke to another son, Jarod Ferebee, who told me his dad was always smiling, regardless of what was going on in his life, and he wanted other people to be happy, too.

JAROD FEREBEE: Whether he know you or not, he'll help you out and do as much as he can for you. You know, he was very loving, very caring. He cared about his children. He cared about everyone, you know.

KING: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. In Michigan, cases of COVID-19 have been going up and up and up since last month.

INSKEEP: And now the state has the highest case rate in this country. It's gotten so bad that some Michigan hospitals lack space and have opened up outdoor triage tents.

KING: Kate Wells of Michigan Radio just visited an overflowing hospital in Lansing, Mich.

Kate, good morning.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: Why are things so bad in Michigan? What happened?

WELLS: A number of factors that just all hit at the worst time - big one, of course, is the B.1.1.7 variant. That's the variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom. We've got one of the highest case counts in the country right now, over 2,000 cases. And it's just really spread like wildfire, you know. We know this is a more easily transmissible variant of the virus, and it hit us at the same time as we were really pushing schools to reopen in person. We've had a lot of confirmed outbreaks associated with school sports. And unlike in the fall or last spring, this time, state officials didn't impose new lockdowns.

The good news is that we are starting to see cases stabilize over the last week or so. But Michigan is still definitely at a crisis point right now.

KING: OK. So you got permission to report from inside Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. What did you see? What did health care workers tell you?

WELLS: Well, we have heard for a while now that, you know, it's younger people being hospitalized this time around. I think I was struck by just how young. We hit a grim record in Michigan last week. There were 70 kids in the hospital with COVID at one point last week. Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, they told me that the youngest COVID patient that they've admitted was just 2 months. One of the people I talked with, Kathleen Marble, she runs pediatric nursing at Sparrow. And she says there's a range of illness among these kids, but that some of them are critically ill.

KATHLEEN MARBLE: They're on a ventilator, just like the adults are. And there's still kids that come in that we find out they're COVID because we test them. And they're here for a broken leg, or they're here because they were in an auto accident. And then we find out they're positive.

WELLS: And of course, it's not just kids. We're seeing lots more of these younger adults being hospitalized, as well.

KING: And I would imagine the cases, these are folks who have not gotten the vaccine yet.

WELLS: Yeah. I mean, timing wise, that's certainly the case for the patients that I spoke with. This isn't just Michigan. We're seeing this nationally, too - you know, a bigger share of adults who are under 50 being hospitalized in the last couple months.

One of the patients that I talked with is just 42 years old. Her name's Quinita Glynn. And she got sick just a few days before April 5, which is when vaccine eligibility opened up to everybody in Michigan.

QUINITA GLYNN: I was so close. I fought the fight. I'm determined to - you know, waiting for April 5 and here come COVID (laughter). You know what I'm saying? So I tried to push it in quarantine. I just almost made it.

WELLS: Glynn has four kids, and she has been so careful this last year. She's got asthma. She's known this would be life-threatening. She kept her kids home from school, and then last month, she let her sixth-grader go back in person. They don't know if that's how this happened. But good news is she is making a really remarkable recovery.

KING: That is good news.

Kate Wells of Michigan Radio. Thanks for being here, Kate.

WELLS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.