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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House Select January 6 Committee has released its final report. It comes after an 18-month investigation into the events which culminated in the insurrection at the Capitol in 2021. In more than 800 pages, the report details what led the panel to vote to issue four criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump, among other recommendations. And it lays out a path forward for the panel's findings. Here's Chairman Bennie Thompson.

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BENNIE THOMPSON: We have every confidence that the work of this committee will help provide a roadmap to justice and that the agencies and institutions responsible for ensuring justice under the law will use the information we've provided to aid in their work.

FADEL: To walk us through all of this is NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So what are some of the report's major findings?

GRISALES: It focuses largely on former President Trump's premeditated role in the January 6 attack and goes further into his criminal referrals from the committee. The report is eight chapters long, covering false claims of a stolen election, the fake electors scheme, and, quote, "187 minutes of dereliction," referencing Trump's inaction during the siege. One chapter is titled after a federal judge's description of Trump's post-2020 election efforts, calling it a, quote, "coup in search of a legal theory," and captures desperate attempts to overturn the presidential result, such as trying to force then-Vice President Mike Pence to illegally reverse President Biden's win in a ceremonial counting of the vote. Finally, it details ties between extremist groups and Trump allies.

FADEL: So how does the report delve into law enforcement and intelligence failures?

GRISALES: It reiterates other findings, that there were significant failures here. For example, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, said before January 6, the probability for violence was clear, and he expected, quote, "street fights when the sun went down."

FADEL: What role does the American public play when it comes to these findings?

GRISALES: The panel says while the danger to the Capitol by an armed and angry crowd was foreseeable, the fact that a president would be the catalyst was unprecedented. The report says, quote, "If we lacked the imagination that a president would incite an attack on his own government," it goes on to say, "we lack that insight no more." And it says the best defense against that danger in the future will not come from law enforcement, but rather an informed and active citizenry.

FADEL: OK, so what recommendations does the report lay out?

GRISALES: The first is reforms to the Electoral Count Act. This would solidify a vice president's role as ceremonial, and this is part of a major spending bill that could head to President Biden's desk today. It also says it's now up to the Justice Department and courts to take the lead on criminal referrals and that respective legal bar associations should evaluate the conduct of attorneys named in the report who should not, quote, "undermine the constitutional and statutory process for peacefully transferring power in our government." This includes attorney John Eastman, who was tied to the plot to overturn the result, Kenneth Chesebro, a central figure in the fake elector scheme, and other Trump-aligned attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani.

FADEL: OK, so, Claudia, now that this investigation is done, the report is out, what are the next steps?

GRISALES: There are still more records to come and plenty. For example, a few dozen witness transcripts have been shared so far by the panel, but hundreds more are expected in the coming days, as the panel will sunset December 31.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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FADEL: American forces brought tens of thousands of Afghans to the U.S. after the Taliban takeover in 2021. But the majority still don't have legal status here. A bipartisan bill in Congress to fix that was blocked by immigration hard-liners this week. We're joined now by NPR's Quil Lawrence, who has been following this story. Good morning, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So I understand you spoke with one prominent Afghanistan war veteran about this, Jack McCain, son of the late Senator John McCain.

LAWRENCE: Right, yeah. And McCain is a - he's a fairly private person, but he's been out in the public on this issue. He's a Navy pilot. He went to Afghanistan in 2018 on a mission to train Afghan pilots to fly American-made Black Hawk helicopters. And while he was there, he kept a very low profile for his own safety and the safety of everyone around him as a well-known figure. So in August of that year, though, he went home for five days for his father, John - Senator John McCain's funeral. And then the secret was out. And McCain - Jack McCain, the younger McCain - says that the danger was very clear.

JACK MCCAIN: If one of them had wanted to make a high-profile target out of me, they could have. It would have been extremely easy. I believe that they protected me or at least kept the secret. I can't overstate how important that is to me.

LAWRENCE: You know, so he got very close to these Afghan Black Hawk pilots; on the next eight months left on his deployment, trained up dozens of them to fly the chopper. And he said he saw those pilots rescue Afghan and American troops under fire in ways that were worthy of the highest combat medals.

FADEL: Worthy of the highest combat medals. So what's happened to these pilots just three years later when the Taliban took over Afghanistan?

LAWRENCE: Well, they kept flying missions, some of them even after Kabul fell, trying to help the resistance. But it was seen as very important to bring them in. They and their helicopters then were very high-value targets to the Taliban. And so McCain and others were part of this massive digital Dunkirk trying to get everybody out. About 120,000 people were airlifted out of Kabul during those two weeks in August of 2021.

FADEL: Yeah. And many of them were flown to bases in the U.S. But almost a year and a half later, their status isn't clear. Right?

LAWRENCE: Right. I mean, many - most of them are here on an emergency immigration status that will probably run out sometime next year.

FADEL: OK.

LAWRENCE: There was a bill in Congress this week called the Afghan Adjustment Act to help them normalize their immigration status. But it had bipartisan support. It had a growing list of former generals and ambassadors supporting it and a yearlong campaign by Afghanistan veterans. But it was blocked by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley because of concerns about security vetting of these Afghans. And so now they're in limbo. I spoke with one of the pilots that Jack McCain says helped keep him safe in Afghanistan. The pilot's name is Colonel Salim Faqiri. He put it this way.

SALIM FAQIRI: All the people, they come during the evacuations, and they don't know what will happen to them. The U.S. government - will they turn them back to the - for the Taliban? But everybody's waiting for the Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment.

LAWRENCE: Faqiri himself is in Phoenix right now. He's with his wife and three daughters. He has another reason to want the act to pass because it would actually help him get a green card so that he and all these other pilots can fly helicopters again, which is what the U.S. trained them to do.

FADEL: So he said everybody's waiting for Congress. Does the bill have a chance in the next Congress?

LAWRENCE: It probably will have a harder time getting through the Republican-controlled House, but it's not a strictly party-line vote. And many Republicans, especially Republicans who served at war, did support this bill.

FADEL: NPR's Quil Lawrence, thanks so much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Leila.

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FADEL: For nearly three years, China used extremely strict testing and lockdown policies to keep COVID out. Then it abruptly lifted nearly all those controls as a COVID surge spread across the country. Public health experts are warning the country's health care system could now be overwhelmed. NPR's Emily Feng joins us to talk about the outbreak. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Emily, what are things like right now in China? Has the health care system been able to keep up with this surge?

FENG: So far it appears, yes, but barely. And that's because the surge in China is forecast to get way worse this month and into January. Anecdotally, everyone I know in Beijing has basically come down with COVID already in the last month, and it's spreading to other cities. A Shanghai hospital warned this week that half of the city's population - that's about 12.5 million people - could be infected by just the end of next week. There are long lines already outside of funeral homes and crematoria that we visited in Beijing. Crematoria are telling us that their waiting list is now more than one week, which is unusual. Pharmacies in the countryside have been emptied of fever and pain medication. But the good news is that outside fever clinics and hospitals in Beijing that we visited this week is pretty busy, but it's actually pretty orderly. Unfortunately, we've seen in other pandemics that there's usually a lag of about a month after initial outbreak before we really start to see an increase in deaths and severe cases. And in China, that's supposed to happen in January.

FADEL: So what are public health experts saying about how bad it could get?

FENG: Their predictions vary widely, but they're all pretty devastating. There was one model last week from the University of Hong Kong that estimates up to nearly 1 million people will die if China doesn't mount a new vaccine booster campaign. And then this month, the U.S.'s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts up to half a million deaths just by April if China doesn't have new travel and mask mandates. And the reason why they vary so widely is a model is only as good as the data that you put into it, and right now, there's no accurate data from China on infections. In fact, the WHO said this week that China has not released hospital data since early this month on who is coming in with COVID. For this, I talked to Ray Yip. He's an epidemiologist who founded the U.S. CDC office in China in 2003 and more recently the China office for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

RAY YIP: They're going to do the same thing what they did in Wuhan. In Wuhan, unless you have a confirmed PCR test, they're not going to call you a case of COVID in the beginning. So that's why the number of deaths in Wuhan was only 4,000. I'm sure it's at least four or five times that much. And what's happening in China right now - the death rate is probably, you know, in the thousands and every day. But they are only willing to report, you know, a small handful.

FENG: He's referring here to the extremely strict standards that China uses to determine who dies of COVID - so strict, in fact, that officially only two people have died in this latest surge, which just does not match up with what people are going through on the ground.

FADEL: So where does China go from here?

FENG: Well, it can only get worse because the real concern now is holiday travel. China has its Lunar New Year in late January, but people are already traveling home now for the holiday, and they're bringing the virus with them from cities to villages where the health care system is even patchier. But in China, the trend is still towards rapid, full-scale opening up. In fact, some cities, like Chengdu, for example, are already reducing their quarantine requirements for inbound travelers coming from other countries. This was just simply unthinkable about a month ago when China was in the full throttle of zero-COVID.

FADEL: That's NPR's Emily Feng. Thank you, Emily.

FENG: Thank you so much, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.