Capitol Riot Hearing, Vaccine Mandates, Western Wildfires: News You Need To Start Your Day

Published July 27, 2021 at 6:55 AM EDT
An aerial view of police trying to hold back supporters of former President Donald Trump before they stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Olivier Douliery
Police try to hold back rioters before they stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A select House committee will hear testimony today from four law enforcement officers who witnessed the insurrection.

Good morning. Lawmakers are meeting this morning to hear from law enforcement officers during the first select committee hearing into the Capitol riot. For months, NPR has been investigating the insurrection.

We're also tracking a number of other important stories for you:

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily news podcast, reporting on how pharma companies flooded a West Virginia community with opioids.

— The Morning Edition live blog team
Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman, Will Jones, Arielle Retting, Nell Clark, Chris Hopkins and Casey Noenickx


Atlanta Teenagers Make History As First Black Girl Duo To Win Harvard Debate Competition

Posted July 27, 2021 at 10:12 AM EDT

Jayla Jackson, 15, and Emani Taylor, 17, made history at Harvard University last week. They became the first Black female duo to win the International Debate Competition at the university.

The dynamic duo trained forayear to compete against 100 scholars from around the world. Their debate topic was called “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”

“We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”
Jayla Jackson

The girls credit their victory to the HarvardDebate CouncilDiversity Project, a program that trains Atlanta-area underserved youths with no debate experience to go on and compete against debaters from around the world.

Emani says her favorite moments throughout the competition were right before debating.

“I was so nervous, and then Jayla would pray. I would just feel myself just calm down and all the nerves would dissipate. I'd never had a partner, like someone who supported me, like Jayla does. I will always look back on that experience and try and implement the way that she carried us throughout the rest of my life.”
Emani Taylor

Click here to watch a practice debate with Jayla and Emani.


Tunisia's Fragile Democracy Is Under Threat

Posted July 27, 2021 at 9:54 AM EDT
Protesters are seen outside of the Tunisia's parliament building at an anti-government rally.
Fethi Belaid/AFP
A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag at an anti-government rally in front of the parliament building in Tunis on July 25, 2021.

Tunisia’s fragile democracy began a decade ago, after the 2011 Arab Spring popular revolutions. That democracy is now under threat.

The country's president has invoked emergency powers, and some analysts are calling that a coup.

As NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports, in videos shared online thousands of Tunisians celebrated a sudden takeover of power by President Kais Saied on Sunday.

Saied suspended parliament for 30 days and ordered troops to surround the building. He dismissed the prime minister and will rule temporarily by decree. He's also imposed a nighttime curfew.

Monica Marks is a Tunisia expert at the New York University in Abu Dhabi. She says Saied's takeover is popular among those who feel let down by those political parties elected after the 2011 revolution.

"There’s freedom of expression, which didn't exist before, under the old dictatorship, and that’s a huge victory," she says. "But in terms of dignity, most Tunisians don't feel like there's been any progress because for so many people that meant jobs, that meant economic well-being, the ability to put food on the table and provide for your family."

Tunisians have been dealing with rising inflation and high unemployment. And then a poor health care system has been overwhelmed in the pandemic.

Civil society activists in Tunisia are deeply concerned about this move by the president. Listen to Ruth Sherlock's reporting to find out what they believe this could mean for Tunisia's democratic gains.


Here's What We Know About The Jan. 6 Capitol Riot After NPR's Investigation

Posted July 27, 2021 at 9:41 AM EDT

Four police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol against a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters on Jan. 6 will testify today before a House Select Committee. There are nine members on the panel. Seven are Democrats and two are Republicans. All were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The committee will look at intelligence shared from that day, the role of white nationalist groups, why it took so long to secure the Capitol and what Trump officials did and did not know.

NPR's Investigation team has been hard at work since January looking into what happened. Here's what they've found (click through for details) ⤵️

🎧 Listen to special NPR coverage of today's hearing beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET


What Wildfires Mean For The West

Posted July 27, 2021 at 9:28 AM EDT
An American flag flies in the middle of a clearing in the forest. The crumpled remains of a structure destroyed by fire lay around it.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
An American flag flies over a property burned in the Dixie Fire in the Indian Falls area of Plumas County, California on July 26, 2021.

Across the country people have been experiencing hazy skies from huge wildfires in Western states, and fire experts say this is just the beginning.

A historic drought and heat wave have primed forests to burn big this year — just like they did last year.

Why? Montana Public Radio's Nick Mott says it's 95% a result of climate change.

Mott has been covering humans' relationship with fire in the Western United States for the podcast, Fireline.

The podcast team spoke with Cathy Whitlock, a paleoecologist at Montana State University. Whitlock has looked back at thousands of years of climate history to come to that 95% figure and found warmer climates result in more fire:

"When you have warmer winters you have less snowpack. Snow turns to rain. Earlier in the year, the snowpack that you get melts off faster and so you're left with less water in your high elevations as you go into summer."
— Cathy Whitlock, Montana State University

For more, check out the full Fireline podcast.

🎧 Start here with Episode 1

Must Listen

On 'Welcome 2 America' Prince Posthumously Calls Out Hypocrisy

Posted July 27, 2021 at 9:12 AM EDT
Prince stands on a stage lit in a spotlight and sings into a mic. He had a guitar on his back and wears a sparkly gold outfit.
Kevin Mazur/The Prince Estate
'Welcome 2 America' is a 12 track previously unreleased album of Prince's work.

My name is Phil Harrell; I'm a producer with Morning Edition. And I am a Prince fan.

There are varying levels of Prince fandom. I'm at the level where it seemed like a good idea to travel 1100 miles at great personal expense to visit Prince's former home and studio complex, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minnesota. It's now a museum, and as you can see below, I did that in late 2019, just before the world shut down.

 Phil Harrell kneels in a praying position and looks up at a huge photo of Prince. The room has high acoustic ceilings, wood floors and a piano.
Phil Harrell
As a loyal fan, Phil Harrell traveled over a thousand miles in late 2019 to visit Prince's former home and studio complex, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

I didn't know it at the time, but that's when Prince's former keyboardist Morris Hayes was helping to revive an album that Prince recorded and shelved in 2010, Welcome 2 America.

It'll finally be released to the public on Friday. and we've got this preview for you to listen to 🎧. Morning Edition's Noel King recently spoke with Hayes about making the album. You can read more about that here.

Climate Change

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Silicon Valley. Tech Firms Might Need To Pay More

Posted July 27, 2021 at 9:02 AM EDT

Coastal areas are in need of billions of dollars to protect their shorelines from rising sea levels. That presents questions. Who pays? Should the bill fall to private landowners who built on the waterfront, knowing of the risks?

In parts of Silicon Valley along the San Francisco Bay, there are some well-known private landowners who built by the water. Take for example Facebook. Currently, aging levees act as as flood barriers for the company's campus but flood protection experts say that's likely not enough.

"The structures that are providing flood barrier now are not adequate and are subject to failure if we have a really big tide or a big wind event or a big storm surge."
Kevin Murray - San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority

When Facebook moved in to its campus a decade ago, the company knew it was risky. An analysis found that Facebook's property, now valued at $2.5 billion, could be inundated with 16 inches of sea level rise, within decades.

A street sign showing Hacker Way is seen in Menlo Park, California, at the corporate headquarters for Facebook.
Josh Edelson/AFP
A street sign showing Hacker Way is seen at Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California.

Given the risk posed, the region is preparing to build a new 16-foot tall levee, but it's not cheap. The price tag is $100 million.

And it's not just Facebook that will depend on the new levee. There's the neighboring city of East Palo Alto. It's one of very few low-income communities of color left in Silicon Valley. The risk of catastrophic flooding is on the minds of residents.

"I'm thinking back to the places that weren't ready. Let's talk about Katrina. That could be us in the next couple years."
Leia Grewe - Resident of East Palo Alto

To build the new levee, East Palo Alto is paying $5.5 million and Facebook is fronting a little bit more: $7.8 million.

But when you consider that Facebook's revenue is 2,000 time greater than East Palo Alto's city budget, that has residents wondering, why isn't the company doing more?

NPR's Lauren Sommer has this compelling, visual piece, where you can discover more about how residents of East Palo Alto are viewing this debate over who pays how much.

Facebook is one of NPR’s financial contributors.

International Dispatch
North and South Korea

North And South Korea Reopen Hotlines In A Bid To Improve Relations

Posted July 27, 2021 at 8:46 AM EDT
Two South Korean soldiers talk in military uniforms and face masks. Behind them is a tall barbed wire fence. A sign says 'slow' in English and Korean.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images
South Korean soldiers stand at a checkpoint on the Tongil bridge, the road leading to North Korea's Kaesong joint industrial complex, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas in Paju on December 15, 2020, a day after South Korea's parliament passed a law criminalising sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North.

North and South Korea restarted communication channels Tuesday by reconnecting hotlines between the two states that have been severed for 14 months. The move is a small step toward an improvement of ties between the two Koreas, but neither side hinted the reconnection would lead to a new round of summits.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports military and inter-Korean affair officials use the five known hotlines to check in twice a day. These hotlines connect the two countries' leaders, militaries, spy agencies, and agencies in charge of inter-Korean relations. Interestingly, the line between the intelligence agencies was never severed.

After some political theater, North Korea cut the lines in June 2020 after the country lobbed accusations at South Korea and blew up their shared joint liaison office.

The reconnection was decided through a series of letters exchanged between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. After decades of cycles of détente and diplomacy on the Korea Peninsula, people aren't overly hopeful the reconnected lines signal a step toward easing hostility between the two states.

Listen to more of Anthony Kuhn's reporting here.

Just In
Tokyo Olympics 🥇

Simone Biles Just Pulled Out Of The Team Gymnastics Final

Posted July 27, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
Two gymnasts stand on the sidelines during the Olympics.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Getty Images AsiaPac
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 27: Simone Biles of Team United States looks on during the Women's Team Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles has suddenly pulled out of the team competition after the first rotation of the four-event final at the Tokyo Olympics.

The withdrawal came after performing on the first apparatus, which was the vault. Biles had a rocky start, taking a large step on the dismount.

U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee confirmed her departure to NPR but did not state a reason.

This is a developing story, head to our Tokyo Olympics live coverage for the latest.


Why Are Mask Mandates Back In The News?

Posted July 27, 2021 at 7:45 AM EDT

New cases of the coronavirus are once again on the rise after months of decline.⁠

And that's leading to a renewed discussion about the need for mask mandates. Here's what we know ⤵️


Communities Across The U.S. Are Weighing Vaccine Mandates

Posted July 27, 2021 at 7:31 AM EDT

Concern over the risks of the delta variant and rising case numbers (plus stalled vaccine rates) is leading some communities across the country to require government workers to be vaccinated.

Here's what we know:

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced state employees will need to be vaccinated or get tested regularly beginning next Monday.

And all health care workers in the state will have to show proof of vaccination by late August.

If they won’t get vaccinated, they’ll have to get tested at least once a week and wear masks at work.

For more details, check out CapRadio reporter Nicole Nixon's full report.

New York City
City workers will have to be vaccinated by mid-September or face weekly COVID tests. This comes after cases in New York have nearly doubled in the past week, and there's a lot of concern over the delta variant, NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

"We cannot go through what we went through over the past year. We can't. We can't. You can't. I can't. The economy can't. Society can't."
— N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Even though 54% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, rates vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. For example, the Bronx lags behind other boroughs in the city, and Cuomo acknowledges the well-founded skepticism of the medical establishment and public health matters among immigrant communities and communities of color.

Cuomo said Monday he's dedicating $15 million to help vaccination efforts on the ground.

Across the U.S.

Find our updated tracker of COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates in your state here.


Four Officers Will Testify At The House Committee Hearing On The Jan. 6 Riot

Posted July 27, 2021 at 7:26 AM EDT
Supporters of former President Donald Trump are pictures outside of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Alex Edelman/AFP
Supporters of former President Donald Trump are seen during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. A House select committee holds its first public hearing into the insurrection today.

The select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection is holding its first hearing today after partisan fights over who could even sit on the panel.

The lawmakers will hear from four law enforcement officers about what they experienced at the U.S. Capitol that day, when a pro-Trump mob disrupted Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the officers were each “a hero, and each will bring powerful testimony about the truth of the day.”

Watch the hearing live beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET here.

The committee, approved on a largely party-line vote in the House, has itself been the center of controversy. Pelosi pursued the panel after Senate Republicans blocked an attempt to form a bipartisan commission.

Pelosi also rejected two Republican members for the select committee chosen by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks -- saying the Trump allies who voted against certifying the election results would threaten the integrity of the investigation.

Pelosi’s dismissal prompted McCarthy to withdraw all his picks from the panel and threaten a competing GOP-led investigation.

But there will be Republicans in the hearing. Pelosi appointed two Republicans who voted to impeach Trump: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. McCarthy has suggested there may be consequences for their participation.

Read more about who’s on the select committee here.

Just In
Tokyo Olympics 🥇

U.S. Women's Soccer Advances After A Scoreless Game Against Australia

Posted July 27, 2021 at 7:20 AM EDT
Four soccer plays seen in action during game play. #8 Team USA is seen challenging Team Austrialia #2 for possession of the ball.
Fernando Vergara/AP
Australia's Sam Kerr, 2nd right, and United States' Julie Ertz, left, battle for the ball during a women's soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Kashima, Japan.

The U.S. women's soccer team is advancing to the knockout stage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics soccer tournament after a nervy, 0-0 draw against Austrialia.

In what was an unusual sight for these Olympics, there were a small number of fans in the stadium for the game. 1,000 schoolchildren had been given tickets.

The result today was enough for the U.S. team to secure the runners-up position in Group G, after losing their first game against Sweden and later defeating New Zealand.

They'll next play the winner of Group F (China, Brazil, Zambia or the Netherlands) on Friday.

The team entered the tournament unbeaten in 44 games, before losing that opening match to Sweden.

NPR Newscast
Western Wildfires

More Favorable Weather Is Helping Firefighters Tackle The Bootleg Fire

Posted July 27, 2021 at 6:14 AM EDT
A smoky scene shows a charred foreground, with flames burning forest in the background.
Bootleg Fire Incident Command
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, trees burn at the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Sunday, July 25, 2021.

The largest wildfire in the U.S. is now more than 50% contained.

As NPR's Dave Mattingly reports, the bootleg fire has burned about 640 square miles in Oregon near the boarder with northern California. Fire officials say more favorable weather — including higher humidity — is helping crews to gain ground on the wildfire.

The largest wildfire in California continues to spread: The Dixie Fire has burned nearly 309 square miles of timber and brush. Containment remains at less than a quarter. Over the weekend, the fire did heavy damage to the community of Indian Falls.