News Brief: GOP Convention, Deadly Kenosha Protest, Hurricane Laura
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Days after unveiling the replanting of the Rose Garden, the first lady used it as the backdrop for a political speech.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. In a departure from tradition, she turned federal property to her husband's personal political use. She acknowledged the crisis overshadowing the president's reelection campaign.
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MELANIA TRUMP: I know many people are anxious. And some feel helpless. I want you to know you're not alone. My husband's administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone.
GREENE: Now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke from Jerusalem. He was on an official trip. Though, he maintains it was his personal time. It was the first time in 75 years a sitting secretary of state addressed a national political convention. His predecessors had said their job was to speak for the country, not for a party.
INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line. Mara, good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: The first lady's speech was maybe the centerpiece of the evening. What stood out to you about it?
LIASSON: What stood out to me was that she didn't downplay the pandemic. She didn't call it an offensive nickname. She was trying to make it clear, make the argument that the president takes it seriously, something he doesn't always convey himself. She even said, quote, I don't want to use my time "attacking the other side" because that just divides the country.
She also acknowledged racial unrest. She clearly understood the two top worries for the voters the Trump campaign wants to reach and win back, suburban women. She also spoke in front of a small, cheering crowd without masks, which is unusual. And that raised some ethical and legal concerns because she was speaking from the Rose Garden, which is part of the official White House complex and is not supposed to be used for partisan political events.
INSKEEP: Well, David alluded to this because there's the same question about Mike Pompeo, who says, hey, I was on my own time even though I was in the Middle East for official business. And it's unusual for a secretary of state to speak to a convention at all. How much of a legal issue is all of this?
LIASSON: Well, the laws around this are pretty weak. They're rarely enforced. It's more of a political problem. And the House Democrats say they will launch an investigation into Pompeo's trip. Of course, as you said, the State Department says it wasn't done with any state department resources. And, you know, Pompeo himself recently signed memos saying that State Department officials should not, quote, "speak for or against a partisan candidate" and shouldn't even attend a political convention.
But this mixing of official duties and partisan politics has become a feature, not a bug, of the Trump administration. Last night, Trump himself conducted official acts as part of the convention program. He pardoned a convicted bank robber. Of course, the pardon is a constitutional power of the president. He attended a naturalization ceremony. The message was pretty clear that he likes immigrants even though the administration has pretty much stopped naturalization ceremonies because they won't do them on Zoom. So another norm-busting moment.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out, Mara, what message the president wants to take down the homestretch here. You mentioned Melania Trump saying she didn't want to attack the other side, that that would detract from the moment. But, of course, the president welcomes combat at every turn. What image does he want to present to people?
LIASSON: Well, I think this whole - the two days of the convention so far has been an exercise in methodically addressing Trump's deficits, whether it's on character, race, COVID or the economy. And I think the convention painted a pretty effective portrait. It just bore little resemblance to the Donald Trump we see every day, tweeting and expressing his grievances and attacking his enemies. So for me, the big question is who's watching, whose minds are still open enough to be changed and whether the hole that the president has dug for himself is just too deep to get out of? And we don't know the answer to that yet.
INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson on the Republican convention, which, by the way, features Vice President Pence tonight. Mara, thanks.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And we want you to know that NPR's coverage of the Republican National Convention continues tonight at 9 o'clock Eastern. Visit npr.org. Or ask your smart speaker to play NPR or your local station by name to join us live.
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INSKEEP: All right. We now bring you what we know so far about events last night in Kenosha, Wis.
GREENE: The Kenosha Police Department says three protesters were shot. And two have died. All this comes after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by police Sunday in Kenosha. Blake survived. But his family says he is paralyzed from the waist down after police shot him multiple times in the back. We have Wisconsin Public Radio's Rachael Vasquez with us this morning. Hi, Rachel.
RACHAEL VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: Can you take us through these protests yesterday and how they became deadly?
VASQUEZ: Yeah. It really felt like two separate protests as the night went on for me when I was out there walking around. Earlier in the evening, there was an initial march with about 100 or so protesters who kind of walked across the city. They were largely peaceful, on foot and in cars. And they returned to the county courthouse area right around the 8 p.m. Central time curfew for the city. And they, at that time, urged a lot of the people who were with them to go home and to respect the curfew. And a lot of them did, but some didn't. And some stayed.
GREENE: Well, we should say, the city of Kenosha Police Department has tweeted out that there were two fatalities last night and that they're following this with an investigation. I know we don't know much. But do you know where this became deadly? Was this around the protest that you're talking about or somewhere separate?
VASQUEZ: Yeah. It was in the kind of general vicinity of the protest, within about a couple blocks. And what we know about the investigation into the shooting so far is that they're focused on a group of civilians, I should say, who were there, armed with guns and who were looking to protect private property. That's what they said, at least. They were there to try to prevent looting and things like that.
GREENE: It's going to be interesting to learn more about who they were. I mean, we know these protests have drawn a lot of different groups out onto the streets. The people who were out there protesting police brutality, I mean, can you tell us what exactly they're demanding at this moment?
VASQUEZ: Yeah. They have a couple different things that they're looking for. They want the release of any and all video related to the incident to the shooting of Jacob Blake. They want a community review board to help give the Kenosha community a voice in some of the policing decisions that they say are negatively affecting communities of color there. And just like communities across the country, a lot of them are calling to defund the police as well.
GREENE: OK. And just to restate the news, two people were killed last night in Kenosha. This is as protests continue over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who remains hospitalized. His family says he is paralyzed. Wisconsin Public Radio's Rachael Vasquez. Thank you so much for your reporting on this.
VASQUEZ: Thanks, David.
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INSKEEP: OK. In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Laura is getting stronger as it moves toward southern Texas and Louisiana.
GREENE: Yeah. Those coastal areas are expecting the storm sometime tonight or early tomorrow. Forecasters are predicting winds from this storm could be over 100 miles per hour when the storm makes landfall. And one of the big concerns, as is often the case, is storm surge - maybe as high as 13 feet and reaching as far as 30 miles inland. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, declared a state of disaster already in 23 counties.
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GREG ABBOTT: We are anticipating that the storm itself will be out of Texas, perhaps, as early as the end of Thursday. That said, there will be a lot of devastation wrecked upon Texas as the storm sweeps through especially east Texas, as well as lingering challenges that will result.
INSKEEP: Eddie Robinson of Houston Public Media is covering this story. Eddie, good morning.
EDDIE ROBINSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So I'm looking at the map for the National Hurricane Center here, Eddie. It's, of course, got the path of the storm, the projected possible path. And there's different colors for different bands of strength. And the worst is purple. And you have some purple in east Texas and western Louisiana.
ROBINSON: Yeah. Well, and just a few minutes ago, just some breaking news, it's expected to make landfall as a Cat 4 storm, with wind gusts of at least about 130 miles per hour in the northwest Gulf Coast. And so that tells you the severity of the storm and how difficult it's been for forecasters to really sort of expect what it's going to do.
The storm is slated to arrive late tonight or early tomorrow morning, somewhere between midnight tonight and 2 a.m. tomorrow morning central. And, you know, look; even though current projections have the eye of the storm making landfall near or at the Texas-Louisiana border, what's concerning forecasters and, frankly, many of us residents, is the storm surge. I mean, this hurricane can still cause a pretty significant impact in and around the Houston area even if it's in the direct path of the storm, especially along the Gulf Coast in areas east of the city.
So really, for the next few hours, Steve, as this storm churns, gains more strength, spins, swims in these warm Gulf waters, forecasters are paying close attention to Laura's curve. You know, when will that turn or that curve of the storm happen? And when it heads towards the coastline, watch out - places like Beaumont, Texas, other places like Port Arthur, Texas, Galveston Island, the Bolivar Peninsula, Lake Charles, La., other parts of the southwestern portion of that state. I mean, we're talking damaging, destructive winds of a life-threatening storm surge all expected to batter the coast.
INSKEEP: Of course, you guys have been through this before, I'm sorry to say. How are people preparing?
ROBINSON: Yeah. Both Louisiana and Texas, they issued mandatory evac orders yesterday for residents along coastal towns like Galveston, south Beaumont, Port Arthur, Jefferson and Orange counties. But so many residents did take heed. You know, mandatory evacuations were also ordered for low-lying areas in parts of southwestern Louisiana.
INSKEEP: And let me interrupt for one second just to ask, is the pandemic complicating those evacuations?
ROBINSON: It has. Texas officials are urging people to remain vigilant even during the pandemic. They're wearing masks. Pack disinfectant. Grab wipes. Possibly even stay in hotel rooms to avoid the spread of the disease.
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. You don't want to be in a massive shelter if you can avoid it, I suppose. Eddie, thanks so much.
ROBINSON: Exactly. You got it.
INSKEEP: Eddie Robinson of Houston Public Media. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.