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Politics & Government

News Brief: Insurrection Hearing, Ga. Election Bill, One Medical Probe

NOEL KING, HOST:

FBI Director Christopher Wray will testify before Congress today about the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Capitol Police were overrun that day by a larger and more violent crowd than they expected. And that raises questions about how well U.S. agencies were tracking domestic extremists. The FBI director was often praised for keeping the bureau independent during the Trump administration. But Christopher Wray will face questions today before a committee chaired by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

DICK DURBIN: What did he know and when did he know it and who did he tell? I mean, those are questions which had been raised in other hearings, but he is the man of the hour.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales will be watching today. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK, so we heard Dick Durbin lay it out pretty clearly, but what do you think the thrust of the questions will be today?

GRISALES: Yes. As you heard Durbin say, lawmakers want to know what the FBI knew and what was shared. We heard testimony last week from leaders guarding the Capitol and they agreed on a few elements, one being there were intelligence failures and, two, white extremists played a large role that day.

KING: Beyond Wray's testimony today, the FBI is still working the January 6 insurrection as a case, right?

GRISALES: Right. The FBI has played a key part here. About 280 people have been arrested, and more than 300 have been charged. But, of course, there are still some outstanding cases here, such as who planted the pipe bombs close to the Capitol that day and the assailant behind the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

KING: And so do you think Wray will be asked much about domestic terrorism beyond just what went on on the 6?

GRISALES: Yes. This is a crucial focus for congressional Democrats investigating the Capitol siege. Does the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have a blind spot when it comes to these extremist groups? I talked to Durbin about this. He says domestic terrorism in the form of religious and racial-based hate groups have become a major threat to America. Let's take a listen.

DURBIN: I want to know if we're - our intelligence operations have taken this into consideration in establishing their priorities.

GRISALES: His judiciary panel is also conducting a larger probe on domestic terrorism. And Durbin wants to know if resources are in the right place to defend against these extremist groups. Last week, the panel's Democrats sent a letter to Wray raising concerns the FBI has minimized these threats. In a House hearing late last year, Wray defended the FBI's approach and also stressed the bureau investigates violence, not ideology. And he made these remarks in the wake of the racial justice movement. But today will be a real test of whether he can still stand by those words.

KING: There are still more hearings to come this week. Who else will we be hearing from?

GRISALES: Right. The House Homeland Security Committee will hold its second hearing in its insurrection probe tomorrow, focused on the military's role that day. Senators will hear from D.C. National Guard Major General William Walker. He was a central figure in this hourslong delay to get the military to the Capitol the day of the insurrection. A House panel will also hold a hearing later this week to expand the Capitol security budget. And by week's end, we're expecting a review led by retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore ready to be completed. And this is all part of a larger effort to get to the bottom of what went wrong, what failures allowed the Capitol attack to happen and addressing a lot of unanswered questions that remain from that day and how to ensure it never happens again.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you.

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KING: All right. Georgia's House of Representatives has approved a bill with new restrictions on voting.

INSKEEP: It's a response to President Biden's win in the 2020 election. Donald Trump, you will recall, sought to overturn that Democratic vote with false claims about it. Trump's allies said at the time that they would use the falsehoods to shape future elections. And now Republicans in many states are legislating as if the falsehoods were true, including in the key state of Georgia. A sponsor of the bill that passed yesterday said he wants to restore voter confidence after many voters believed Trump's claims.

KING: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting has been all over this story. Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: How would this bill change voting in Georgia?

FOWLER: So House Bill 531 is a 66-page measure that passed basically along party lines. It cuts back on in-person early voting options by making things uniform across Georgia's 159 counties. That's an issue because counties here are very different sizes with vastly different populations that vote in different ways. Now, primarily, this would curb back weekend voting, mandating one Saturday and then the option of adding an additional Saturday or Sunday. But that would harm Souls to the Polls events on days where we see more Black people voting. And it would cut back on absentee ballot drop boxes. One Republican even falsely said that was the most inconvenient way to cast a vote-by-mail ballot.

KING: In the debate before this vote yesterday, did legislators talk explicitly about which voters would be disenfranchised by this bill?

FOWLER: Absolutely. There were a number of impassioned Democrats that denounced attempts to restrict access to the polls, highlighting the fact that additional barriers like this end up hurting lower income voters, older voters and nonwhite Georgians in particular. Here's Representative Jasmine Clark. She's a black Democrat from Gwinnett County.

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JASMINE CLARK: The numbers are clear. HB 531 is textbook voter suppression. This bill reduces, restricts and limits every single aspect of our election.

FOWLER: And it was a big rainy day, and the virus is still present. But there were a number of protesters outside the Capitol as well.

KING: And how about the Republicans supporting the legislation? How did they respond to Jasmine Clark, who we heard there?

FOWLER: Well, Republicans talked about the lack of confidence and these controversies over 2020 voting in Georgia, again, even though they don't really have much merit because Georgia had those recounts and audits, and Republican officials said that the election was secure. Here's Representative Alan Powell.

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ALAN POWELL: The system is flawed because the counties run the system. One hundred and fifty-nine counties run the election system.

FOWLER: Beyond the controversy over early voting hours and this lack of confidence, many Republican suggestions deal with election administration and processes they think need tightening up after record turnout. And of course, this does follow an election that saw big swings in how people voted - you had more people voting by mail due to the pandemic - and how the state voted, which turned blue in both U.S. Senate seats.

KING: OK, so now this bill goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate. What are they likely to do with it?

FOWLER: Well, the Republican Senate has their own omnibus now that would completely end no excuse absentee voting and make more dramatic changes. But there's still a long way to go because Governor Brian Kemp, who you'll recall Donald Trump blasted for failing to intervene in the 2020 election, still has yet to weigh in.

KING: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Thanks, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you.

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KING: Late last night, Congress launched an investigation into the health care provider One Medical.

INSKEEP: This after an NPR investigation found the company administered COVID-19 vaccines to ineligible patients. Some of those patients had close connections to company leadership. One Medical denied it knowingly vaccinated ineligible patients, but NPR obtained internal company communications that contradict this.

KING: NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak broke this story and joins us with a follow on his exclusive. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KING: Just remind us quickly, what is One Medical?

MAK: So One Medical is a primary health care provider that is publicly traded and valued in the billions of dollars. Their business model is to provide tech-driven primary health care for members who usually pay a $200-a-year annual fee.

KING: OK, so now a congressional committee is going to investigate them. And what will they want to know about this company?

MAK: Right. This is the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and it's chaired by Congressman Jim Clyburn. He's looking for evidence that the company intentionally distributed vaccines to ineligible patients across multiple states, which is actually one of the conclusions of an NPR investigation we published a week ago. One of the committee's concerns is that there should be an equitable distribution of vaccines, one that prioritizes those most at risk rather than the wealthy or well-connected. The committee's giving this company two weeks to provide documents about their practices.

KING: One Medical usually gets its vaccine doses from public health departments. That's the standard. Is that still going to happen now that there's this shadow cast on the company?

MAK: So there are still public health departments that are providing COVID vaccines to One Medical, but we actually reached out to every local jurisdiction where they do business. We found that eight local jurisdictions that states and counties have cut the company off from vaccine allocations or are not planning to work with them any more in the future. San Francisco County, for example, made the unusual move of not only halting the supply of vaccines to the company but demanding back 1,620 doses. San Mateo County said it had done an investigation and found that One Medical had vaccinated 70 individuals who were ineligible. It, too, halted the allocation of vaccines to the company. So these are just two examples of that situation occurring.

KING: But really big examples. When your story first came out, One Medical denied that it knowingly vaccinated people who were not eligible. Do they still deny it?

MAK: One Medical has said that the situation is the result of misunderstandings and that it was working with local partners to address concerns. After I approached them about the news of this new congressional probe, they said that they are, quote, "confident that we will be able to clear up these misunderstandings." CEO Amir Dan Rubin made no apologies in a call with investors last week.

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AMIR DAN RUBIN: Regarding the stories, we strongly refute these gross mischaracterizations. Any assertions that we broadly and knowingly disregard eligibility guidelines are not true and in contradiction to our actual approach.

MAK: But the communications obtained and published by NPR suggest the company was aware. Medical providers across multiple states were sounding the alarm internally about One Medical's lax oversight over eligibility requirements.

KING: NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak. Tim, thanks for your reporting. We appreciate it.

MAK: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "TOO OFTEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.