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News Brief: Biden Names Running Mate, College Fall Sports Canceled, Belarus Election

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Barack Obama won the presidential nomination in 2008, his vice-presidential pick was a rival who ran against him, Joe Biden.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now, 12 years later, Biden is taking the Democratic nomination. And for a running mate, he's picked one of his former rivals. Kamala Harris hammered Biden in debates before she dropped out. She's a former California prosecutor who was elected to the Senate. And she also represents how this country is changing. A major party hasn't ever chosen someone from her background. She is the first Black woman, the first person from an Asian background and one of the few women on a major party ticket.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow will be in Wilmington, Del., today when Biden and Harris appear together as running mates for the first time. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What made Harris the choice?

DETROW: You know, earlier this year, a Harris ally told me that Harris was kind of the Joe Biden of the Veep stakes - the clear frontrunner going in, a frontrunner that would lead to a lot of second guessing. But just like Biden in the primary - after close looks at lots of other contenders, you'd end up back at the exact same place. And that's essentially what happened. The idea of Harris eventually serving as Joe Biden's running mate has been such a consensus for so long that she had to try and deflect it a lot with sarcasm at points last year when she was running for president herself.

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KAMALA HARRIS: Sir, if people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate as vice president. He's proven that he knows how to do the job.

DETROW: And that's for a few reasons. First of all, the classic vice-presidential pick balances the ticket. You have Biden, a 77-year-old white man from Delaware, Harris, a 55-year-old Black woman from California. Biden regularly refers to himself as a transitional candidate. It was clear he was looking for a younger, more energetic running mate. And there was really a lot of pressure on him this year to pick a woman of color.

And then a couple other things - he was looking for someone he can trust. Both Biden and Harris have track records as pragmatic, mainstream Democrats. And we know that relationships are really important to Joe Biden. He's known Kamala Harris for a long time. And, importantly, she worked closely with his son, Beau Biden, when both were attorneys general.

INSKEEP: Well, you've just referred a couple of times to her track record. What is it?

DETROW: First and foremost, prosecutor. She's a longtime prosecutor. And that's a fact that a lot of progressive voters held against her when she ran for president last year. She grew up in the Bay Area as a daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India. And after working as a prosecutor there, she eventually ran for San Francisco district attorney, then California attorney general. And she became just the second Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate in U.S. history in 2016 and quickly developed a national reputation for the way that she grilled witnesses during Senate hearings, like Attorney General Bill Barr.

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HARRIS: Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

WILLIAM BARR: I wouldn't...

HARRIS: Yes or no?

BARR: Could you repeat that question?

HARRIS: I will repeat it.

DETROW: And then Harris, as I mentioned, ran for president last year. But it is worth noting that after entering the race as a top tier contender with a lot of buzz around her campaign, she kind of struggled to give voters a clear reason to back her in a crowded field. And she ended up dropping out of the race well before the Iowa caucuses.

INSKEEP: Now we have this senator who has been effective in hearings questioning Republicans, who was effective in debates even if she didn't get very far in the presidential campaign. And people think about her contending against Mike Pence here. How are Republicans responding?

DETROW: Well, the Trump campaign was ready for this. They posted new ad minutes after the pick was announced saying that she had a radical left agenda that would include raising taxes. And these are attacks that the Trump campaign has had a hard time getting to stick on Joe Biden. They're hoping voters are more persuaded when it's someone with less of a track record and a more liberal reputation. Worth noting - something we'll hear a lot about - the Trump campaign also highlighting the fact that, as we mentioned, Harris really went after Biden pretty hard at times in debates. That's a clip that will resurface a lot.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Detrow.

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INSKEEP: Many college athletes say they want to play this fall. Some coaches say the same.

KING: But two of the biggest football conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, say it is not the right time. They're postponing fall sports because of the pandemic. Here's Kevin Warren. He's commissioner of the Big Ten.

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KEVIN WARREN: The uncertainty involving the medical situation and, you know, having our student athletes compete in fall sports, we just did not believe that it was prudent at this point in time.

INSKEEP: Let's talk this through with Nicole Auerbach, national college football writer for The Athletic. Good morning.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Weren't the Big Ten and the Pac-12 heading in a completely different direction just a couple of weeks ago?

AUERBACH: Yes. They both put out revised schedules for what it would look like to play a college football season in the fall. But everything has changed in the last two months. There have been outbreaks throughout the country, particularly in a lot of college football hotbeds. Decisions started to get made at lower levels, the Ivy League, Divisions 2, Division 3. But those are leagues that don't have as much money at stake as the Power Five, which is what - the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are part of the five most influential leagues in college sports.

And, you know, they got to the point of saying, this is not safe enough to play college football this fall. They've been relying on their medical advisory groups. They've been relying on information and alarming reports about the rare heart condition, myocarditis. And it's linked to COVID-19. And it just got to the point where they did not feel comfortable moving forward and letting their student athletes continue onward.

INSKEEP: They did use the word postpone instead of cancel and talked about maybe rescheduling some games in the spring. Is that real?

AUERBACH: It is real. It is a hope. It is a long shot, potentially, if there is no vaccine. But it is technically a postponement and not a cancellation.

INSKEEP: OK. So this has got to be really devastating news for a lot of athletes who, maybe, it's their senior year. Maybe they feel this was their chance.

AUERBACH: Absolutely, athletes in all fall sports, not just college football, but everyone is crushed. It was a really tough day on Tuesday for fall athletes in all of these sports. They've devoted so much of their lives to these sports. A lot of these football players have aspirations of going to the pros. And missing out on a fall season is going to impact them. But there's also going to be massive financial implications. And a number of athletic directors have already estimated the potential lost revenue. Barry Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director, estimated about $100 million in lost revenue by not having a fall season.

INSKEEP: Wow. And I guess we should mention, these are big, big football schools. And the football revenue often pays for other sports. There might be other sports, even a spring sport, affected by this.

AUERBACH: Absolutely. And, you know, this is Michigan, Ohio State, USC, UCLA. These are the types of schools we are talking about. And the money that comes in for football does end up going to other athletic programs. It sponsors sports. It sponsors scholarships for athletes, including female athletes due to Title IX. So this is something to keep an eye on because these athletic departments are going to end up having to cut sports. We just don't know which ones and where.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is it possible that other conferences could still go ahead with fall sports?

AUERBACH: It is. As of right now, the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC are still moving forward. But, you know, the way that college sports operates is it's a lot of dominoes and decisions that impact others. So there is still an expectation across all levels of college sports, according to my sources, that, eventually, they will get to the same decision.

INSKEEP: Nicole Auerbach, who writes about football for The Athletic and who joined us by Skype. Thanks so much.

AUERBACH: Anytime.

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INSKEEP: For a third night, thousands of demonstrators were in the streets across the former Soviet Republic of Belarus.

KING: That's right. They're protesting election fraud. President Alexander Lukashenko claimed he'd won a sixth term in an election on Sunday. Meanwhile, his main rival in that election has fled the country.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's Lucian Kim is covering the story from Moscow. Hey there, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I don't mean to sound cynical. But Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years, has probably done things like this before. So why are people protesting now?

KIM: Well, protesters are angry for several reasons. For one, as you pointed out, Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for longer than many of those demonstrators have been alive. And often, with a twinkle in his eye, Lukashenko refers to himself as a dictator. But in Sunday's election, he actually had a serious challenger. Her name is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who attracted huge crowds as she campaigned around the country. The protesters say Lukashenko has declared victory after mass vote rigging, achieved in part by early voting and barring European election observers.

INSKEEP: Why is his challenger out of the country now?

KIM: Well, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya held a press conference on Monday. And she said she wasn't planning on going anywhere. But that night, she went missing after visiting the Central Election Commission, where she filed an official complaint about the election. And then finally, on Tuesday morning, the foreign minister of neighboring Lithuania tweeted that she was safe and sound in his country. It does appear that she left under duress. Her husband is in a Belarussian jail. And she already sent her two kids out of the country for their own safety.

INSKEEP: OK. So I got a mention, Belarus is a former Soviet republic, as we've said. It's one of the few countries that counts as an ally of Russia, a very close ally. How's the Kremlin viewing all of this?

KIM: Well, yeah. It's hard to stress the strategic importance of Belarus for Russia. For the Kremlin, it's a buffer zone bordering three NATO states. And it's been a gateway to invading armies for centuries. Now, Lukashenko often lashes out at Russia. But he's almost completely dependent on Russian energy deliveries. From the Kremlin's point of view, it's better to have an authoritarian regime in Belarus than a democratic government that might one day turn to the west. I talked to Artyom Shraibman. He's a political analyst in Minsk. And I asked him how Russian President Vladimir Putin might react if the unrest continues.

ARTYOM SHRAIBMAN: I'm not sure Putin will necessarily intervene because it will probably add even more chaos to the situation. And there is no evident threat to the Russian interests.

KIM: So what he's saying here is that the protesters' demands right now are domestically oriented. They're angry about the election and about Lukashenko and not about Belarus' relationship with Russia.

INSKEEP: And as best you can determine, the protests are continuing even though the opposition candidate can't lead them in person anymore, she's gone?

KIM: That's right. They keep on protesting even this morning.

INSKEEP: Lucian, thank you so much.

KIM: Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.