Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict, Booster Expansion, House Passes Spending Bill : Up First Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two people and wounded a third last year amid violent protests over police conduct, has been acquitted of all charges. COVID-19 vaccine boosters are now available to all adults. And after months of arduous negotiation, House Democrats finally approved President Biden's social and climate spending bill, which now goes to the Senate.

Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict, Booster Expansion, House Passes Spending Bill

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty on all counts.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The trial has shown a country divided amid a reckoning on racism. It's been a lightning rod for debate over gun laws, vigilantism and self-defense.

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

FADEL: I'm Leila Fadel, and this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

SIMON: How the defense made their case and how Kenosha has reacted, plus new guidelines on COVID booster shots.

FADEL: After critical approvals yesterday from the FDA and CDC, anyone 18 and older qualifies.

SIMON: And in the House of Representatives...

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NANCY PELOSI: The Build Back Better bill is passed.

SIMON: ...President Biden's social and climate spending package moves forward, the vote split largely down party lines. We'll hear what the bill faces in the Senate.

FADEL: So stay with us. We've got the news you need to start your weekend.

A jury in Kenosha, Wis., found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of reckless homicide, intentional homicide and three other charges.

SIMON: Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and wounded a third last year during protests over a police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black.

FADEL: The jury deliberated Rittenhouse's fate for 3 1/2 days before reaching the verdict yesterday.

SIMON: We're joined now from Kenosha by NPR's David Schaper. David, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: My understanding is that jurors did not speak with reporters after the trial. But from what you've been able to glean, can you help us understand why they reached the decision they did?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Well, you know, prosecutors really tried to show that Rittenhouse recklessly put himself and others in danger by coming to Kenosha during these violent and destructive riots by arming himself with this AR-15-style rifle. He was out there past curfew. And the prosecution emphasized that in all this chaos, he's the only one there who - to shoot at people. But the defense argued throughout the trial consistently and ultimately successfully that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and then shot and seriously hurt Gaige Grosskreutz. And many legal experts are not surprised by the verdict.

Julius Kim is a former prosecutor who's now a criminal defense attorney in the Milwaukee area, and he says the video evidence was key. It showed Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse in a menacing way. It showed Huber trying to hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard. And it shows Grosskreutz with a gun, and he himself testified that he pointed that gun at Rittenhouse.

JULIUS KIM: I think that when the jurors saw all that happening and then read the instructions where they're asked if Kyle Rittenhouse reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at the time these incidents occurred, they just weren't convinced that he wasn't or that he didn't believe that.

SIMON: Rittenhouse took the stand and testified that he acted in self-defense. This is often considered a risky move, especially for someone who just turned 18 years old.

SCHAPER: Yeah, it is. And it was acknowledged as much by Mark Richards, Rittenhouse's defense attorney. It's something that could certainly backfire under intense cross-examination. But Rittenhouse was well-prepared, well-rehearsed when he got on the stand. One legal expert we talked to said that he was very believable. And importantly, he came off more as a regular teenager. In the opinion of his defense attorney, Mark Richards, Rittenhouse's testimony was critical to proving his innocence.

SIMON: David, this is a case that has obviously divided public opinion across the country and in Wisconsin as well. I wonder what you've been hearing from people there.

SCHAPER: You know, there were Rittenhouse supporters and detractors who made their presence known outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse every day of the trial and certainly during deliberations, too. They would shout at each other, scream at each other, sometimes. Among those who was a frequent presence is 60-year-old Tom Heineman, who lives in nearby Racine. He was elated by the verdict.

TOM HEINEMAN: I think this case did for the Second Amendment what everybody in many other parts of the country wanted to see happen, which was that people could, you know, be assured that they would be defended by a court and by the police and by the judge in the case of defending themselves and defending their property.

SCHAPER: But, you know, that kind of sentiment doesn't sit well with people like Tanya McLean of Kenosha, who says she's sad and disheartened by the verdict.

TANYA MCLEAN: Black and brown people just feel like their voices don't matter. And then when things like this happen, it just kind of reinforces that, you know? It's hard as an African American leader to go back into the community and say, hey, you know, let's fight for change when it's always the same thing.

SCHAPER: McLean says she worries that this verdict may undermine the fight for racial justice here, and it may encourage more people to bring firearms to protest in the future.

SIMON: David Schaper in Kenosha, thanks so much for being with us.

SCHAPER: My pleasure, Scott.

FADEL: COVID vaccine boosters are now available to all adults. That's after an eventful Friday where the FDA authorized boosters for people 18 and older. An advisory committee to the CDC backed the expansion, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky accepted the committee's recommendation.

SIMON: NPR's Joe Palca joins us now. Joe, thanks so much for being with us.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: You bet, Scott.

SIMON: We kind of compressed the details at the top. So let's back up to the FDA authorization. What did they actually decide about boosters?

PALCA: Well, they expanded the list of who was eligible. It basically said anyone 18 and older or older who had their first two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine could get a booster six months after the second shot, after completing the first round. And anyone who had had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could get a booster two months after their first shot. Remember, that's a one-shot vaccine.

SIMON: And we should note boosters had already been available to people 65 years of age and older and some who qualified for other reasons who were below that age.

PALCA: Yes, before, only people at high risk for severe COVID - either because of their age or because of an underlying health condition or because of their jobs - were authorized to receive a booster. And it's been up to the CDC to define exactly what health conditions or which jobs are putting someone at high risk for severe COVID. And they did that a few weeks ago. But there was a long list of categories, and it was a little confusing about who was actually eligible, and it led to a lot of head scratching.

SIMON: Did the CDC Advisory Committee do much to clear up that confusion?

PALCA: Well, basically, yes. I mean, there was a telling moment during the three-hour-plus advisory committee meeting when the members heard from Dr. Nirav Shah. He's director of Maine's Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. And he said he'd been on a call with all the state health officers the day before, and they all said that they favored expanding the definition of who was eligible and clarifying and simplifying the rules.

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NIRAV SHAH: Individuals who right now are absolutely eligible for boosters are not able to parse the guidelines to come to that conclusion on their own.

PALCA: Shah's words seemed to resonate. But the committee still wanted to make a distinction between who should get the vaccine and who may get the vaccine. Anyone 18 or older may get the vaccine. Anyone 50 and older should get the vaccine.

SIMON: So for people who now find themselves in a new position to consider getting a booster shot, are there any drawbacks?

PALCA: Well, not really. So far, the experience has been that there is no worse side effects reported with the booster. And there's no clear indication that the booster makes you more susceptible to one of the rare side effects, such as this heart inflammation known as myocarditis. So basically, no, it doesn't seem to be a problem.

SIMON: And ahead of the holidays, COVID cases reportedly are rising in most states. Will boosters be able to make much of an impact on that?

PALCA: Well, that's not clear. I mean, maybe fewer people going to the hospital - that's a good thing. Fewer people dying - that's definitely a good thing. And there's some evidence that boosters might reduce the rate of transmission. If you do get a so-called breakthrough infection, it may be less likely that you would transmit that to somebody else. But everyone agrees - everyone still agrees - that the best way to keep the coronavirus at bay is to get everyone vaccinated. And nobody's quite clear how to convince everybody that that's what should be done.

SIMON: NPR's Joe Palca - thanks so much.

PALCA: You're welcome.

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SIMON: House Democrats have approved President Biden's nearly $2 trillion social spending bill, largely along party lines.

FADEL: Democrats were jubilant on Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi basked in the moment.

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PELOSI: This bill is monumental. It's historic. It's transformative. It's bigger than anything we've ever done.

SIMON: The partisan legislation includes provisions to help with child care, health care and climate change. It now heads to the Senate, where it faces new challenges and changes.

FADEL: So joining us now to talk us through all this is NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So this was not an easy bill to pass. How did House Democrats navigate it?

GRISALES: Yes, Speaker Pelosi steered what was a very tiny margin for her caucus to ultimately approve this bill. It also included universal pre-K, $500 billion towards combating climate change and a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription prices for seniors. In the end, she only lost one Democrat. That's Jared Golden of Maine, who voted no. But she faced what, at many times, seemed to be this insurmountable task, which was bridging a very large divide among the various factions of her party.

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PELOSI: The House does not just write any bill that they think the Senate will pass. We find our common ground. But we have our own, shall we say, personality about things.

GRISALES: And this came after the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, staged a record eight-hour-plus speech on the House floor on Thursday evening. This delayed the vote by one day. And I was in the chamber when the bill ultimately passed. And the energy for Democrats was palpable. They were cheering, jumping up and down and clapping. There was just utter relief when they reached this moment.

FADEL: But there's still a tough path ahead through the Senate. What can we expect there?

GRISALES: Yes, this returns now to the upper chamber, after Democrats there first introduced the legislation - at least the top line number for it - earlier this summer, which was a much higher price tag at that time of $3.5 trillion. It's been dramatically reduced. So there's more changes to come, and especially to keep all these Senate Democrats now on board, including West Virginia moderate Joe Manchin.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn talked about this.

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JIM CLYBURN: We think we've got a good bill. They think they can make it better. And let them go at it. And they may make it better. And we will accept better.

FADEL: Of course, what counts as better - obviously in the eye of the beholder, right?

GRISALES: Exactly. And that remains to be seen. For example, Manchin is not on board with the plans for weeks of paid family leave. At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders says he wants to see the Medicare coverage expanded. Also, there's pushback from some of the members on a provision raising the cap for deductions on state and local taxes. And finally, the bill's immigration reform provisions may not get past Senate rules.

FADEL: What about the House progressives? I mean, they held the line to make sure that this bill included some of those provisions, like paid leave. What happens if those items get cut from the bill in the Senate?

GRISALES: Well, the Progressive Caucus did issue a statement saying they don't want to see many of these provisions weakened. And they held the line, for example, on paid leave and other issues. But some members told us after the vote that they don't know if they will draw a red line if some of these provisions are ultimately dropped. For example, Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin told us, quote, "that's politics; and we'll have to accept that if those changes come." So there's still much negotiation left. And as the recent months show, any new complication could threaten to derail this effort once again.

FADEL: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales - thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks much.

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SIMON: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, November 20, 2021. I'm Scott Simon.

FADEL: And I'm Leila Fadel. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your week. Follow us on Twitter. We're @upfirst.

SIMON: And for more news, interviews, features, books, music, fun, you can find us on the radio.

FADEL: Weekend Edition, Saturday and Sunday mornings - find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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