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News Brief: GOP Police Reform Bill, India And China Clash, Wealthy Spending Slows

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How far should Congress move toward police reform?

NOEL KING, HOST:

Lawmakers are now full-on engaged with that question. It illustrates how the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, upset Americans across the political spectrum. In a deeply divided Congress, neither party wants to look like they're doing nothing. The question is, how much to do? The Republicans who control the Senate are expected to offer their reform measures today. But they don't go as far as the Democrats, who control the House. And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is upfront about that.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: The House version is going nowhere in the Senate. It's basically typical Democratic overreach to try to control everything in Washington.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is on the line. Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do Senate Republicans want to do?

SNELL: Well, we know that they want to have a strong focus on resources so the police departments can do more training and have more incentives, essentially, to get local departments and agencies to comply with standards on use of force and reporting. They want to create incentives to ban chokeholds and create a duty to intervene in excessive force.

So if an officer sees another officer using excessive force, there would be a duty for that person to intervene. We're also expecting to see some additional money for body-worn cameras. Now, this is a lot about focusing, like I said, on resources and encouraging departments to do the right thing.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about just the way you phrased that. You said the Republicans are offering incentives to ban chokeholds. I gather that House Democrats want to just ban chokeholds. Is that a symbol of the different kinds of approaches the two parties have at this moment?

SNELL: Yeah. We will see more details of exactly how that is structured by the Republicans when the bill comes out today. But Democrats really did go in a comprehensive direction. They have an outright ban on chokeholds. They want a national database of police use of force. And they want to eliminate qualified immunity, which is used by police departments and police officers to avoid some lawsuits. You know, this is a very stark difference in the way Democrats approach these things. They want to give the Department of Justice authority to intervene in opening investigations. And they want to allow subpoenas for those investigations so that there is much more oversight at the federal level.

INSKEEP: I want to figure out if both parties have the same idea of what the problem is. You will hear people say, well, police are mostly good. And there's a few bad apples. You will also hear people say, this is a systemic problem. The laws are wrong. The training is wrong. The structure of police departments is wrong. The whole history of police departments is wrong. Do you have a sense of whether the parties agree on what the problem is?

SNELL: Well, you know, we heard from Kamala Harris, the senator from California, a Democrat, yesterday at the hearing on policing in the Senate. She said, this is not enough. And what Republicans are talking about does not meet this moment. She's basically saying that taking incremental steps will not be sufficient to meet the demands of people who say that they are seeing their families and their communities in a policing crisis.

INSKEEP: Why is it that Republicans don't want to go quite so far? What is their thinking there?

SNELL: A big part of the logic that we hear from Republicans, and we've heard from Congress traditionally, is that this is an issue of federalism and that state and local government are the ones who are in control of police departments and that there is a very limited role for the federal government to play here. We even heard that from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mentioning that there is - you know, there are limits to federalism here.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, then, is there a chance that the two parties could come up with an agreement?

SNELL: They do still seem fairly far apart. But in Congress, stranger things have happened.

INSKEEP: OK. Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

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INSKEEP: People call the snowy mountains in the interior of Asia the roof of the world. Cutting across those mountains is a long, winding, largely unmarked border between India and China.

KING: And in those mountains, troops from those two countries have been fighting. At least 20 Indian troops have died. China is not disclosing its casualties. So here's the situation. You have tension between the world's two most populous countries skyrocketing in the middle of a pandemic.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's India correspondent Lauren Frayer has been watching this unfold. Hi there, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: It's got to be hard to get verified facts out of those snowy mountains. But what is known?

FRAYER: It certainly is. Both sides accuse the other of illegally crossing this unmarked border and instigating the fight. Though, as you say, it's impossible to verify - nearly impossible. There's no civilian presence on that border. We're talking 14,000 feet high up in the Himalayas. Indian officials say it was hand-to-hand combat with stones and wooden clubs because they have this agreement not to carry guns in the border zone.

An Indian Army colonel is among the dead. India has been building a road in the area that could be used to deploy more troops. Perhaps, China might see that as a provocation. Both sides have been pouring in more troops and infrastructure in recent weeks. There had been some earlier scuffles, none as deadly as this week's. There have also been some high-level military talks as recently, actually, as this past weekend to try to diffuse tensions. But the opposite appears to have happened.

INSKEEP: I'm obliged to mention that these are two nuclear-armed powers. So what is India saying about this confrontation with China?

FRAYER: Not much, Steve. Compare that to whenever there's a confrontation with Pakistan, India's archrival next door. The Indian government uses very strong words. This is China. The situation is very different. And Indian officials have been uncharacteristically quiet. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a crisis meeting but not until Friday.

The Indian Army's statements have been measured. The army actually noted that it was the cold that killed the majority of these troops. So that they were wounded but then succumbed to these subzero temperatures, so not killed in battle. The army made that distinction seemingly to be trying to de-escalate things. But, you know, turn on your TV in India and you hear something quite different. This is one of the most popular TV channels.

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UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: Viewers, devious China - devious China has broken the peace after 45 years. The consequences are grim.

FRAYER: So that's one of the TV news anchors sounding very angry. There's a hashtag trending, #ChinaGetOut. TV crews are going to the homes of dead soldiers.

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FRAYER: And that's the sound of the sisters of one of the slain soldiers wailing. So there is a lot of anger and emotion in India today.

INSKEEP: Everyone trying to act calm, it seems. Though, in the government, if the prime minister is saying let's have an emergency meeting in a few days, are there fears of escalation, though?

FRAYER: Both sides say they want de-escalation. China's foreign ministry spokesman just this morning said both sides have agreed to resolve this through dialogue. We're in the middle of a pandemic. India's coronavirus cases are rising. The virus has devastated India's economy. Many in India allege China started this. And here's C. Uday Bhaskar. He's a former military man and naval commodore. I reached him in Delhi.

C UDAY BHASKAR: My sense is that the Chinese had planned this carefully and moved in when India was, perhaps, not as cognizant of what was happening.

FRAYER: So there's a feeling in India that the country was really caught off guard.

INSKEEP: OK. Lauren, thanks so much. That's NPR's Lauren Frayer.

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INSKEEP: After weeks of lockdown because of the pandemic, there are signs that many Americans are beginning to, once again, spend money more freely.

KING: Yes, but not the wealthiest American households. They aren't spending money the way they did before. And that could affect the way the entire country's economy recovers.

INSKEEP: NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is here. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Better-than-expected retail sales were reported just this week. But not quite everybody is spending. What's happening?

HORSLEY: Right. Remember, consumer spending is a huge driver of economic activity in the U.S. And while it dropped off sharply in March and April, it started to bounce back in May. But it's not bouncing back evenly across the country nor across the income spectrum. Nathan Hendren and his colleagues at Harvard have been looking at credit card data. And what they find is people at the bottom of the income ladder are now spending almost as much as they were before the pandemic started, but not so people at the top.

NATHAN HENDREN: When the stimulus checks went out, you see that spending by lower income households went up a lot. Spending by higher income households didn't go up by as much. And then more recently, you know, just in the course of the past month, for higher income individuals, that spending is still way far off from where it was prior to COVID and has not recovered as much.

HORSLEY: In fact, Hendren says two-thirds of the total decline in spending is from people at the top of the income ladder, the wealthiest 25%. And ordinarily, their spending drives a lot of economic activity.

INSKEEP: What's keeping them from spending?

HORSLEY: Not a lack of money. By and large, these are not people who've lost jobs or are worried about paying the rent. They are people, though, with a lot of discretionary income. And before the pandemic, they were using their discretion to spend a significant chunk of that income on nice restaurants or going to the theater, traveling, staying in hotels, precisely the kinds of services that have been off limits since the coronavirus hit.

And that makes this very different from an ordinary recession, where it's usually - spending on services is stable and it's things like cars and houses that suffer. Hendren and his colleagues found businesses that deliver in-person services, in wealthier neighborhoods in particular, have seen the biggest drop in sales. While retail stores and maybe takeout restaurants in poorer neighborhoods have seen some decline, but it's really starting to come back.

INSKEEP: What's that mean for the broader economy?

HORSLEY: It spells trouble for people who work in those nice restaurants and other service-oriented businesses. Hendren's team found big job losses among people who worked in high-income neighborhoods. And many of those jobs may not be coming back anytime soon because it's not a lack of money that's keeping the rich from spending. The usual tools the government might use to fight a recession or not terribly helpful here.

HENDREN: From the perspective of people who are not living paycheck to paycheck, the main concern here is really fighting the virus. And unless we remove the threat of getting sick or getting your family members sick, it's hard to imagine that that spending will be covered to the pre-COVID levels.

HORSLEY: We know from public health experts that could take a long time. The Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, talked about this before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday. Powell said even those encouraging - we've seen a rebound in retail sales and some uptick in jobs. It's likely there are going to be millions of people out of work for an extended period of time. And he suggested they may need some additional help from the government.

INSKEEP: OK. Scott, thanks very much for the update.

HORSLEY: You're very welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.