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News Brief: Election Roundup, Jacob Blake Shooting, Overwhelmed Hospitals

NOEL KING, HOST:

Reverend Raphael Warnock has won his Senate runoff race in Georgia.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Democrat defeated Republican Kelly Loeffler, according to the Associated Press. Warnock declared victory this morning in a video address.

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RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We were told that we couldn't win this election, but tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.

INSKEEP: A second race is too close to call. Democrat Jon Ossoff has a narrow lead over Republican David Perdue in that race. And if Ossoff should prevail, Democrats would control the Senate. The lawmakers currently in Congress perform a formality today. They are to affirm Joe Biden's presidential win, counting the certified results from all 50 states. There is no doubt about the results affirmed by officials from both parties across the country and tested many times in court. But numerous Republicans plan to object. They say they will go on the record voting to overturn a Democratic election.

KING: Covering all of this, NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK, so two very close races in Georgia - one of them, we know the result; the other, we don't yet. What do we learn from this?

SNELL: You know, the polling showed very close races heading into this election. And Democrats really worked consistently on turnout. You know, particularly, they focused on the early vote, making sure that people showed up early and showed up, you know, in large numbers. Republicans worried that President Trump's messaging on election fraud and his fights with the Georgia secretary of state would repress Republican turnout. The tight margin in the remaining race between Perdue and Ossoff, if it holds, could really leave the Senate in limbo. You know, if they wind up within a half a percent, that could possibly lead to a recount, which would mean they can't officially organize the Senate or even start committees, really do anything to get underway until Georgia is finalized.

KING: More recounts in Georgia, OK. And so let's talk about the significance for Joe Biden if Democrats do end up controlling the Senate.

SNELL: Yeah, this last Senate seat changes everything. It changes who has control of what gets on the floor of the Senate. If Ossoff wins, there's a 50/50 Senate and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break any tie. It would also mean that Democrats could decide if bills that passed the House can be voted on in the Senate. It also puts a lot of power in the hands of moderates who have shown over the past several months, and if not several years, that they're willing to work across the aisle. That really kind of changes what the Senate is willing to look at.

KING: OK, so also today, Congress will certify the results of the presidential election. What is that process like? How does this work?

SNELL: So Vice President Pence will preside alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans have the chance to object to each state individually. And we really expect that that will start with Arizona. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and a group of others will start their objections there and plan to focus on calls for an electoral commission, not on setting aside the election results, is what I'm told. As many as six states could be at issue, and it could drag on all night because each objection opens them up to hours of debate. You know, Congress is expected to certify the states with little trouble in the end. And we understand that Vice President Pence intends to, as we are told, follow the law as he presides.

KING: Republicans themselves are obviously split on this with some of them saying, look, guys, it's a done deal and others objecting.

SNELL: Yeah. About two dozen Senate Republicans are saying it's a done deal and are expected to join all of the Democrats in easily voting down these objections. You know, they're split because they're attempting to kind of decide who the party is in a post-Trump era. You know, there are divisions over culture wars and policy fights and, really, a deep concern about extreme positions in conspiracy theories that have taken root, including among some members of the party in Congress. Supporters of President Trump have gathered in D.C. for days to protest. And, you know, they're based on President Trump's false claims of election fraud. And it's so tense that D.C. officials have called in the National Guard to be on standby.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

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KING: The district attorney in Kenosha, Wis., will not file charges against a police officer who shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times this summer.

INSKEEP: People protested that decision yesterday.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Jacob Blake.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Jacob Blake.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Jacob Blake.

INSKEEP: These were small and peaceful demonstrations, unlike the violence that followed Blake's shooting in August.

KING: NPR's David Schaper is in Kenosha. Good morning, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Why didn't the prosecutor file any charges?

SCHAPER: Well, first of all, knowing that his decision could spark outrage and protests, District Attorney Mike Graveley went to great lengths to demonstrate why he couldn't charge Officer Sheskey or any other officer on the scene. He spent two hours detailing the investigation and all of the evidence. And Graveley says this is why.

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MIKE GRAVELEY: Everybody has seen the video. And so from their perspective, they have tried this case at their computer screen or in their living room. As a professional, I am called upon to talk about how to try this case in a real courtroom.

SCHAPER: And Graveley says that means he must consider all of the evidence, not just what was seen in that short 20-second video snippet.

KING: But reminding us that there was video of this incident, which is part of what made it such a big deal, what does the video show, David, and what does it not show?

SCHAPER: Well, you might remember the video shot from kind of across the street, and it shows Blake walking away from Officer Sheskey, who had his gun drawn. Blake walks around the front of the SUV and is trying to get in it as Officer Sheskey pulls at Blake's shirt and then all of a sudden opens fire. In the video, it appears Blake has something in his hand, but you can't really see what it is. Graveley says Blake was holding a small knife and that he suddenly turned toward Sheskey, knife still in hand, as the officer was tugging at his shirt. And Graveley says that suggested Sheskey believed his life might have been in danger, that he feared Jacob Blake was going to stab him. So the case, he says, is really about self-defense and whether he can prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer did not shoot Blake in self-defense.

KING: How is Jacob Blake, shot seven times, doing now? And did he or his family say anything about this?

SCHAPER: Well, as we understand it from his father and other family members, he is paralyzed from the waist down. He is in pretty much constant pain and is struggling to still recover from his injuries. Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr., says he's not surprised by the decision, and he was quite outraged. At a news conference in Chicago with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Blake sharply criticized that prosecutor's lengthy justification for not charging the police officer.

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JACOB BLAKE SR: I don't care how long you talk in front of a microphone. There's no justification what was done to my son.

SCHAPER: And other family members led a protest here in Kenosha last night, and they say they all plan to go to Washington in coming weeks to push for legislation to better hold officers accountable for police shootings.

KING: And there in Kenosha, there were protests last night. You were reporting on them. What did you hear? What was it like?

SCHAPER: Well, many people are just disappointed and angry with the decision to not file charges. Here's 20-year-old Kenosha resident Lynnette Stinson (ph).

LYNNETTE STINSON: It's ridiculous. Like, it just hurts. Like, I literally cried and I held my little brother because, in my eyes, my little brother can one day be somebody who ends up like Jacob or Tamir Rice or Breonna - or, like, my sister, too, Breonna Taylor. The list goes on. And it's sad that I can say the list goes on.

SCHAPER: You could just hear the frustration in her voice, and they're going to continue making their voices heard.

KING: NPR's David Schaper. Thanks, David.

SCHAPER: My pleasure.

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KING: Los Angeles County has issued new directives to emergency medical technicians.

INSKEEP: They're being told to preserve oxygen and other resources. This, by definition, is rationing care. Hospitals in LA County are overrun with patients. And on average, 186 people are dying from COVID-19 every day in America's second-largest city.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel is covering this one. Good morning, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What prompted these new directives?

FADEL: Yeah, what's prompted this is a crisis level of COVID-19. Hospitals are overrun. ICUs are over capacity. Meanwhile, ambulances are waiting hours, sometimes days, to get patients admitted to the hospitals, some being turned away as hospitals declare internal disasters. So these directives are aimed at freeing up beds and ambulances. One instructs EMTs not to transport people in cardiac arrest if they can't get a pulse back in the field after working on them for 20 minutes. So a decision is being made - if there's almost no chance of survival, that ambulance and bed are needed by someone else. The other directive tells EMTs not to use oxygen on patients unless the patient's oxygen saturation level falls below 90% because oxygen is such a scarce resource. I spoke to Dr. Marc Eckstein. He's the medical director and EMS bureau commander for the Los Angeles Fire Department. This is what he said.

MARC ECKSTEIN: This is not hyperbole. We are truly in a crisis right now in Los Angeles. And even if you're fortunate enough not to get sick with COVID, if you have a heart attack, if you get into a car accident and you need emergency services or, heaven forbid, you're sick or injured severely enough to require an ICU bed, no matter who you are and how good your insurance is, there's no beds.

KING: Leila, how did it get to this point in Los Angeles, a city in a state, California, that did lockdowns?

FADEL: Yeah. It's - I mean, it's the holidays, record amounts of travel, people gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas outside their household despite lockdown measures. And these numbers we're seeing now don't include the New Year's surge that's surely coming. So it's mind-boggling to think that in the first 9 1/2 months of this pandemic, Los Angeles County saw about 400,000 cases. Just in the last month, that number has doubled. And LA County has now seen more than 840,000 cases. The county supervisor calls it a human disaster. And it's really demoralizing for health care workers who were being hailed as heroes for them to watch the public disregard social distancing and stay-at-home rules. I spoke to Dr. Anish Mahajan. He heads the Harbor UCLA Medical Center. The ICU there is at 150% capacity.

ANISH MAHAJAN: We are overrun. And our emergency room - we are taking care of patients literally in the hallways sometimes because there's just no beds available. We have equipment that's, you know, almost running out. And so it is a really unbelievable situation here.

KING: How are they talking to the public about this? Rationing is obviously one of those things that really scares people.

FADEL: Well, they're avoiding the word rationing.

KING: OK.

FADEL: But they are strapped, you know, nurses, double the load, talking about running out of oxygen. And they're telling people stay home because even when our doctors and nurses are not getting it at work, they go home and they're getting it from their household and the community transmission. And so they just want people to adhere to these stay-at-home rules so they can handle this in the hospitals.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel. Thanks, Leila.

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