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News Brief: Citizenship Question, Tropical Storm Barry, R. Kelly Arrested

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 9:37 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What does the president do after failing to change the 2020 census?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president gave up a bid to add a question about citizenship on the census. Experts said it would have generated an inaccurate count of immigrants. A Republican operative who was part of the effort to add the citizenship question had explicitly written that adding the question would benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. Courts rejected the move at every turn.

As the president acknowledged defeat, though, he also said he wasn't giving up. He was going to try another way. He ordered the federal government to collect citizenship data through existing databases.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: With today's order, we will collect all of the information we need to conduct an accurate census and to make responsible decisions about public policy, voting rights and representation in Congress.

MARTIN: Representation in Congress - so the president said explicitly that his move could allow states to redraw congressional districts in a way that experts say could benefit his political party.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering the census story from the beginning. Hansi, good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how else can the administration gather citizenship information other than asking people through the census?

WANG: Well, there are existing records about citizenship that the government can compile and gather from various federal agencies - including the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and the State Department.

INSKEEP: So are they doing anything new as a result of this executive order?

WANG: You know, I can't see what this new executive order - what impact will be new in this front because, last year, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who approved adding the citizenship question, he already ordered the Census Bureau to start compiling those records. And so this is something that's already happening. And the Census Bureau said, as of May, they're ready to release that information anonymized, without identifying individuals. They're just waiting for guidance from the commerce secretary.

INSKEEP: OK. Trying to figure out, then, how significant this is. There may be less to this order than meets the eye because it was already being done and yet it is being done for the purpose that the president laid out. And some people may wonder, what would be wrong if states were to go along with the president's suggestion, that they can reshape their congressional districts knowing who is a citizen without really including non-citizens?

WANG: Right. Well, this is a topic that really is kind of in a legal gray area. It's up for - really, ripe for a Supreme Court battle coming up once state or locality passes some law that says this is how they're going to do redistricting. And - but what's interesting, though, is that the challengers of the citizenship question, they made this allegation that this was indeed the true intention of the Trump administration. That's why they pushed for this question, to give Republicans and non-Hispanic white people a political advantage when redistricting comes along.

The Trump administration, up until now, has denied that. And so President Trump is now saying this is the reason - one of the reasons why citizenship information is important.

INSKEEP: Is this constitutional?

WANG: This is, again, something that will be tested in the courts if it is done, if any state or locality tries to do this.

INSKEEP: Let me figure out what the argument would be, then, why it would not be constitutional. The census has something in - the Constitution has something about the census counting everyone, right? And it is presumed that that is the way that the districts would be drawn is from the census, not through some other count of some subset of people. Is that it?

WANG: Well, the Constitution requires a count of every person living in the country. And there is another federal law that requires one person, one vote as a standard. And it is unclear right now exactly how the courts will rule if you were to consider that just voter-eligible citizens.

INSKEEP: OK. So just another phase in a long-running battle. Hansi, thanks so much.

WANG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

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INSKEEP: Tropical Storm Barry is arriving this weekend in Louisiana.

MARTIN: The storm is currently over the northern Gulf of Mexico. The winds aren't really strong enough for it to be labeled a hurricane at this point, but the rain that the storm brings could be devastating.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott is in New Orleans, where preparations are underway - a city that has suffered so much. Hi there, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are things like today?

ELLIOTT: Well, it's very breezy. There have been occasional, you know, strong gusts of winds and some scattered showers as Barry gets a little closer. And generally, there's just this feeling in the air, that humid feeling that lets you know that the tropics are engaged and something's coming.

INSKEEP: I just want to remember the geography of New Orleans. When we think about - I guess forecasters are talking about as many as 25 inches of rain in some places. I guess we should remember, lots of New Orleans is below sea level, right? And they've got pumps to pump the water out. But the question is, does it rain faster than they can get the water out of there?

ELLIOTT: It does. And it's already very wet. You know, earlier this week, heavy rain inundated the city and kind of crippled parts of it. And so the city is already saturated, it's like a big bowl that's basically surrounded by water. Mayor LaToya Cantrell says the city's pumps are running at optimal levels, there are no problems there. But she says that might not be enough.

INSKEEP: Well, if that...

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LATOYA CANTRELL: We cannot pump our way out of the water levels and the waterfalls that are expected to hit the city of New Orleans.

ELLIOTT: And, you know, Steve, this is going to be a slow-moving soaker. The rain could persist for, like, 48 hours. So far, the mayor has not ordered any evacuations here in New Orleans. She says people should be ready to have a plan and be ready to shelter in place.

INSKEEP: So individuals are being told to be ready to shelter in place, keep some food on hand, keep some clean water on hand in case you get tons of not-so-clean water coming your way. What are state and federal officials doing to prepare, though?

ELLIOTT: Well, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has gotten a federal disaster declaration that sort of frees up federal resources to get in place. He's expecting widespread impact statewide, not just New Orleans, also Baton Rouge, Lafayette, other places. He's activated National Guard troops who are positioning what they may need for the rescue and response efforts - things like high-water vehicles and emergency provisions.

There have also been mandatory evacuations in places that are, you know, outside of the levee systems - for instance, Grand Isle on the coast, parts of Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes - you know, places that are particularly vulnerable down on, you know, close to waterways and close to the Gulf of Mexico. We should also note, this is disrupting industry. You know, offshore oil and gas are affected. More than 200 platforms and rigs have been evacuated and production halted. That means about half of the oil and natural gas that's produced in the Gulf of Mexico has been curtailed.

INSKEEP: Wow. Appreciate the reminder you don't need to be below sea level in New Orleans to potentially be affected by a couple feet of rain.

ELLIOTT: Right. And I should remind people that there's this other problem, and that is the Mississippi River is already in flood, so it's already at this record-high level. Now this storm surge coming up is really going to test the new levee system here.

INSKEEP: Oh, gosh. And everything, of course, that drains out of Louisiana is going to end up in that river. Debbie, thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott.

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INSKEEP: The R&B singer R. Kelly is in federal custody.

MARTIN: Yeah. He was arrested last night in Chicago on federal charges, which include child pornography and obstruction of justice. R. Kelly, for years, had been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. He was already out on bond, facing multiple state charges, but these federal charges represent yet another escalation in the sex abuse cases against him.

INSKEEP: So what kind of escalation? Let's ask Patrick Smith of our member station WBEZ. Good morning.

PATRICK SMITH, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: How do these charges differ from the state charges, if at all?

SMITH: Well, we don't know a lot of details yet about the federal charges. We know it's a 13-count indictment that was handed down by a federal grand jury yesterday here in Chicago. What we do know is that this is an escalation. You know, originally the state charges were filed in February. Then in May, some of those charges were upgraded to class X felonies, which are the most serious charges R. Kelly has ever faced. And now these new federal charges represent a sort of whole new ballgame when it comes to the legal troubles for R. Kelly.

INSKEEP: What were the underlying acts that caused Cook County - prosecutors in Cook County in Chicago to bring the state charges?

SMITH: So Kelly is accused of sexual abuse and sexual assault of four different women, three of whom were minors at the time of the alleged abuse. I don't want to go into too much detail there. But each - there are four separate cases for the four alleged victims, each one alleged multiple sex acts. And that was part of the new charges that came up in May, which was - R. Kelly was accused of forcible sexual assault as opposed to the statutory rape that he was accused of previously.

INSKEEP: Well, now you mentioned four. I guess, over time, R. Kelly had been accused of abusing far more than four women, right? I mean, this is a long-running accusation against R. Kelly. I suppose one question is whether the federal charges will bring in more victims.

SMITH: Yeah. That is one of the biggest outstanding questions. You know, in 2008, he was found not guilty by a jury here in Chicago of making child pornography. And since then, there have been, you know, many, many alleged victims who have come forward who say that he sexually assaulted or abused them. You know, all of the state charges that are outstanding right now that we're waiting on trial for those, those are all pretty old - at least 10 years old.

So one thing I'm waiting to see with this new indictment is, are there any more recent acts that are being alleged in these new federal charges? You know, it's hard to prove cases that are really old. R. Kelly's attorneys have even said that they think the statute of limitations may be up on some of these, the legal experts I talked to disagree. So it'll be interesting to see, with these federal charges, if there are new victims and if they're more recent.

INSKEEP: How much has this case dominated conversation in Chicago? I'm curious, when people find out that this is what you've been covering for a while, do they just have a lot of questions?

SMITH: It is a really big topic of conversation here in Chicago. Although, in ways both good and bad, Chicago is a really big news town so I can't say it's been the only thing. But it's something that is on a lot of people's minds here in Chicago. And there are a lot of supporters of R. Kelly here in Chicago. You know, almost every court date that I go to, there are supporters of his there in the courtroom and outside of the courthouse.

INSKEEP: And so that could very well be the case again as we learn more about these federal charges I guess.

SMITH: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Patrick, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Patrick Smith of WBEZ in Chicago on the federal charges we're learning about against R. Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.