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News Brief: Biden Address, Raid On Giuliani's Apartment, Georgia Killing

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In an aside during his speech to Congress last night, President Biden at one point told lawmakers, you all know this, but the American people, I want to make sure they understand.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president was addressing people at home as much as the lawmakers. He laid out numerous proposals aimed at workers, parents and children. He wants the federal government to spend more money subsidizing child care and preschool and two years of free community college. Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations would finance that. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott gave the Republican response.

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TIM SCOTT: Even more taxing, even more spending to put Washington even more in the middle of your life from the cradle to college.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I was struck by a couple of things. One is Biden's familiar tone. He's talking on a first-name basis with Mitch and Chuck, the leaders of the Senate who he's known for decades. But the other is the, I guess, ambition. How did he describe $6 trillion in spending proposals?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You know, that was really the focus of the speech and his, you know, agenda moving forward. You know, the focus really was on both the American Jobs Plan, which he unveiled earlier - that's the more traditional infrastructure and climate change mitigation plan - and also the American Families Plan, which focused on child care and education. That's the new piece of his agenda. It was really kind of interesting how he shed the framing that everything was infrastructure. He talked about traditional infrastructure from roads to bridges, but it was not framing education and child care programs, for example, as a form of, quote, "human infrastructure," as the White House had done before. He instead made the economic case about how these programs would impact people's lives, like, as you said, universal pre-K and free community college.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If we were sitting down and we set a bipartisan committee together and said, OK, we're going to decide what we do in terms of government providing for free education, I wonder whether we'd think as we did in the 20th century, that 12 years is enough in the 21st century. I doubt it. Twelve years is no longer enough today to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Steve, this idea of competition and the need to defend democracy was a strong theme throughout this speech. He framed the need for his plans in terms of a battle between the ideals of democracy and autocracy and, more specifically, competition with China.

INSKEEP: Yeah, talked about China quite a lot. But let me ask about another issue. What did the president say about policing, which has been so much in the news?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he pressed Congress to pass the George Floyd policing bill, and he made some news here and set a deadline. He told lawmakers to pass the bill by the first anniversary of Floyd's death at the end of May. And that's just in four weeks. It's quite ambitious, but he's trying to take advantage of the energy of the moment. Senator Tim Scott has - you know, who gave the response - is actually the lead negotiator for the Republicans. He told reporters last night that they'd be having talks today.

INSKEEP: What wasn't in this speech that you were listening for?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he didn't really address the border crisis. You know, that's what has dogged him for his first 100 days. He instead called on Congress to pass his comprehensive immigration plan but not with the same vigor that he pushed other parts of his agenda. And he kind of appeared ready to give up on passing that plan, actually, and urged Congress to go ahead and pass one of the smaller measures involving farm workers and young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

INSKEEP: Well, how will the president sell the parts of his proposals that he was passionate about?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the president and some of his Cabinet are going to be doing a lot of traveling to build support for his plans. He's flying to Atlanta later today and then will travel to Philadelphia tomorrow. And they're going to be looking to drum up support from the American people for these agenda items like the American Families Plan.

INSKEEP: Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

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INSKEEP: Yesterday, federal authorities raided the New York home and office of President Trump's former lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

MARTIN: Yeah, this is the latest development in an investigation into Giuliani's dealings with Ukraine. The FBI seized laptops and cellphones as they ask if Giuliani broke federal lobbying laws. Outside his Manhattan apartment, Giuliani's son, Andrew, addressed a crowd of reporters.

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ANDREW GIULIANI: This is disgusting. This is absolutely absurd and it's the continued politicization of the Justice Department that we have seen. And it has to stop.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been covering this story. Ryan, good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so we know this apartment. We went to talk to Giuliani there a couple of impeachments ago.

LUCAS: (Laughter) Right.

INSKEEP: We know what we were doing there, but what did federal authorities want in there?

LUCAS: Well, we've known about this investigation into Giuliani's business dealings and his work related to Ukraine that investigators in New York have been looking at that. And now this investigation is taking a significant step forward with the search warrant, which around a half dozen FBI agents executed early yesterday at Giuliani's apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. They also went to his office. Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, told me the agents took Giuliani's electronic devices, so things like his cellphones. Costello said the search warrant indicates that the investigators are looking into possible violations of foreign lobbying laws related to Giuliani's Ukraine work. Giuliani had business dealings in Ukraine for many years. We've known about that. But he, of course, also famously played a central role in the Ukraine scandal and President Trump's first impeachment. Now, Giuliani has not been charged with a crime at this point. It's important to say that. I've spoken with him in the past about his foreign lobbying. He's said that he always followed the law, and he's saying the same thing through his lawyer now.

INSKEEP: When you say seized his phones, he's famous for having multiple phones, so there'll be lots of things to look at. And aren't they also looking at another lawyer that Giuliani worked with?

LUCAS: They are. That lawyer is Victoria Toensing. Two agents from New York showed up at her house outside of Washington with a warrant for her cellphone yesterday morning. She handed it over. That warrant mentioned foreign lobbying violations as well. Her law firm put out a statement which said that Toensing is not the target of the investigation. But, yes, Toensing did work with Giuliani on his Ukraine claims. You may remember, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Giuliani who were indicted in 2019 on campaign finance and other charges. They helped Giuliani try to find damaging information in Ukraine about Joe Biden. Parnas also worked with Victoria Toensing. Giuliani's lawyer told me that the investigators are seeking Giuliani's communications with Parnas and Fruman and others. One of those others is John Solomon, who is a columnist who helped amplify Giuliani's claims about Ukraine and Joe Biden.

INSKEEP: Giuliani's lawyer expressed outrage that this could happen to a lawyer for the former president of the United States. And we should note, that's a pretty big deal, isn't it?

LUCAS: It is a big deal. It is a big deal to execute a search warrant on an attorney. It's unusual but not unheard of. It normally requires approval from senior Justice Department officials because of concerns about attorney-client privilege. It's obviously a big deal, as you said, when the attorney worked for the former president of the United States. But the fact that investigators got a search warrant means that a federal judge found probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed and that there would be evidence of that crime in this specific location. So that's significant. And it also indicates that the investigation is pretty far along.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: Some other news now. The Justice Department is bringing hate crimes charges against three white men in custody for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery last year.

MARTIN: He was the 25-year-old black man who was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood in February of 2020. Video of the incident shows the suspects chasing Arbery in a pickup truck, confronting him and then shooting him. All three have been indicted on state murder charges.

INSKEEP: Emily Jones is with us. She's with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Good morning.

EMILY JONES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How are these charges different from what the men already face?

JONES: Well, previously, as you said, they only face state charges. Those included murder, assault and false imprisonment. But many people on the ground here in Georgia and nationwide have really been calling this a hate crime from the beginning. Here is Ahmaud's aunt, Thea Brooks.

THEA BROOKS: It had to be nothing but hate. And it had to be because of his skin color.

JONES: But Georgia had no hate crime law at the time that this happened. So now a federal grand jury has indicted these three men on several counts, including using force and threats of force to interfere with Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race. And that is a hate crime. And the Justice Department has also charged them with attempted kidnapping.

INSKEEP: Just so that we're clear on this, this would mean a federal trial in addition to a state trial, which means that even if he were acquitted in one venue, they would face a trial in another venue, correct?

JONES: Right. Yes.

INSKEEP: So how does this case fit into the overall context of stories of the past year, year and a half about the killings of Black Americans?

JONES: Well, this shooting happened in February of last year, so that's before the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, which were the focus of the swell of protests we saw across the country last spring and summer. But this case didn't really get a lot of attention outside of this region in coastal Georgia until video of the shooting came out in May of last year. And then another difference is that Ahmaud Arbery was not killed by a police officer. He was killed by people who said that they suspected him of break-ins in their neighborhood. But one of the men that's charged in his death is a former cop and investigator for the local district attorney. And many people feel that that's why it took more than two months to arrest these three men.

INSKEEP: It did take a while for the case to be revealed and in public attention. Has that led to wider changes where you are?

JONES: It has. The local DA who - Greg McMichael, one of the men who's charged used to work for, has been voted out. Georgia also did pass a hate crimes law last summer, and the state has also repealed its citizen's arrest law as well. And both of those were in response to the protests that broke out over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

INSKEEP: OK, so the news here is the federal case. But you mentioned there is this state case, and those charges have been on the books for a while. What happens next there?

JONES: There isn't a trial date yet, but there are some hearings next month on several motions in that case. And also, after a long delay because of COVID-19, Georgia courts actually are allowed to hold jury trials again. So that brings this case a few steps closer to going to trial at the state level.

INSKEEP: Emily, thanks so much.

JONES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Emily Jones of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.