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Morning news brief

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The 2022 election is finally coming to an end in Georgia.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

After a record-setting period of early voting, polls are open one more day. This is a runoff election. Voters are deciding between the top two candidates for U.S. Senate in the first round back in November. A victory for Senator Raphael Warnock just two years ago helped to give Democrats control of the Senate, and now Warnock faces a challenge from Herschel Walker, who rode his football fame to the Republican nomination.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas has been covering this campaign for the last year. He is with us now from Atlanta. Hey, Sam. What a year.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. Yes, it certainly has been.

MARTIN: (Laughter) So you've been on the road with both of these candidates. What have the final few days of the campaign been like?

GRINGLAS: This is a race that has been almost as much about the biographies of these two candidates as the policy positions that they support. Herschel Walker has leaned into his status as one of the University of Georgia's most revered players to deflect, really, one controversy after the next over the course of this campaign, including allegations of domestic abuse and claims that he paid for ex-girlfriends' abortions, despite his anti-abortion stance as a candidate. He's denied those claims. But here's Walker talking football at a Sunday rally on the lot of this massive Chevy dealership.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HERSCHEL WALKER: You saw Georgia won that SEC championship, didn't you?

(CHEERING)

WALKER: You saw a lot of people get out there and play, and they did it as one. They did it together. That's what we got to do right now. We got to do it together, and that's how we're going to win.

GRINGLAS: Raphael Warnock is senior pastor at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta. He talks a lot about King, especially with students, like during this Monday rally at Georgia Tech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Martin Luther King Jr. was killed before I was born, but his voice captured my imagination. And part of what I was drawn to was the way in which he used his faith, not as a weapon to crush other people but as a bridge to bring us together.

GRINGLAS: So you've got these two unique candidates that are each representative of these two really different and central institutions here in Georgia.

MARTIN: Yeah. So almost $80 million has been spent on TV ads in this race in just the last month, which is crazy. Is that investment likely to get people to the polls?

GRINGLAS: Well, it is very hard to turn on the TV right now without seeing basically back-to-back-to-back campaign ads for an entire commercial break. The reality is that this is a short runoff window - just four weeks, like you mentioned. And so you have got to educate voters really fast that they have to vote one more time. I will be watching the turnout strength for voters under 30 and Black voters. Warnock's also been making appeals to voters who went for Republican Governor Brian Kemp in November but did not vote for Walker. Whether these groups turn out for Warnock will be really key. Walker needs to amp up turnout among the state's most conservative voters. The question is whether Republican turnout on Election Day can be robust enough to overcome Democrats' advantage in these early votes.

MARTIN: So, Sam, Democrats are going to control the U.S. Senate no matter what happens tonight in this runoff. How is that changing the dynamic, if at all?

GRINGLAS: Well, both campaigns are arguing that this one seat is really a big deal, even if it doesn't decide the balance of power. I have talked to a lot of voters at these stops, and I think part of why this race is still energizing people is the fact that who Georgia sends to the Senate is really a statement of the state's identity and its political trajectory. That is really pressing right now, given Georgia is becoming more purple, and the country is wading through such a fraught political moment.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Thank you so much, Sam.

GRINGLAS: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The members of the U.S. Capitol Police and D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department will receive one of the highest civilian honors later this morning - the Congressional Gold Medal.

INSKEEP: Which recognizes officers who were outnumbered while defending the Capitol during the attack on January 6, 2021. Since that attack, threats against lawmakers, who the Capitol Police protect, have increased dramatically. Here's U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger.

TOM MANGER: Clearly, the threat landscape has changed in this country over the past few years - much different today than it was even five years ago. So we've got to keep up with the demands that we have in terms of threats and protection responsibilities.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh sat down with the chief and joins us now. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, Manger, we should say, wasn't the chief on January 6. He was brought in to address problems after that. What did he say about the impact of that day on the department?

WALSH: He called January 6 a dark day, but he also said he doesn't want people only thinking about that day when it comes to his officers.

MANGER: I've often said that anyone who defines the Capitol Police Department by that one day is making a mistake because these men and women are amazing professionals, courageous, smart and hardworking and very dedicated to their country. And so I think that this is a wonderful honor.

MARTIN: There were, though, Deirdre, documented communication problems on that day. What did Manger tell you about lessons learned?

WALSH: Right. I mean, he maintained it's like night and day in terms of then and now in how the department is set up and shares information and said they're really ready to respond to any major event.

MANGER: We are much better prepared in terms of officers' training and equipment. The biggest issue being staffing, making sure we have enough people here to handle whatever comes our way. There's still work to do. But the big things, the big failures that occurred on January 6 have largely been fixed.

WALSH: On that issue of staffing, Manger says the department is on track to hire the 280 officers a year he set as a goal. He hasn't heard any chatter about any threats ahead of the two-year anniversary of the attack that's coming up next month. But he did say there is something else that worries him.

MANGER: I'm not losing sleep over whether or not we are on top of this now because I know we are. I do lose some sleep over the fact that some of these extremist groups are still active. And of course, as we learn, extremist groups learn as well.

MARTIN: I mean, the threats against members of Congress have gone up since January 6, right?

WALSH: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, the attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband at their home in San Francisco.

WALSH: Right. This is really a major focus for the Capitol Police right now, and the chief stressed how much just impacts how they staff and how they budget.

MANGER: With the numbers of threats that we get in now, again, compared to five, six, seven years ago, it's almost tenfold more. And so we have put more folks and more resources into the threat investigation responsibility.

WALSH: And the chief eventually like - would like to open up field offices in all 50 states.

MARTIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. We appreciate you bringing us this interview. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That is sound from the Chinese Communist Party's memorial service that was held this morning for one of its former leaders, Jiang Zemin, who died last week at the age of 96.

INSKEEP: Jiang helped to oversee the country's economic transformation during what is now seen as a time of relative freedom.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt covered Jiang when he was China's president in the '90s and watched the memorial service from London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Good morning. Explain how the party is remembering this leader.

LANGFITT: Well, Xi Jinping came out today - he's the current leader, of course - and he eulogized Jiang, sort of as this defender of the party and the country. He cited Jiang fighting what he called the risk of succession by Taiwan. And, of course, Jiang also oversaw the return - it was a smooth return back then - of Hong Kong to Chinese rule back in 1997. And Xi added this, which is translated into English.

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PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) He also united China to join the WTO, thus forming a new pattern of opening up to the outside world.

LANGFITT: And of course, joining the World Trade Organization was a huge step for the country. It really boosted China's integration with the world economy and also set the stage for sort of the turbocharged economic growth that we've seen since.

MARTIN: So as we noted, you covered Jiang. You even met him. You also covered Xi. How different, Frank, is the China of Jiang Zemin from the one we see today?

LANGFITT: It's really dramatic, Rachel. You know, this China now that Xi oversees is vastly wealthier than the China that I first covered, and lives have been transformed in many positive ways. But Xi's China also is a lot more repressive. Back in the '90s, when it was under Jiang, it was a much more relaxed society.

And I'll just give you this personal example because I was reminded of it when Jiang passed away. Back in '97, there was this impromptu press conference at the Great Hall of the People, where this memorial is actually being held, and a bunch of American reporters came down. And Jiang was heading to the United States to meet President Clinton. He wanted to make a good impression on Americans. He wanted to get China into the WTO. So we just asked him questions. It was very relaxed, unusual situation. And afterwards he came up to me, and it was this rare human moment. I could see he was nervous. He was practicing his English for the trip. And he said, you know, once Americans get to know me, they'll understand China more, and they'll feel more comfortable.

And I want to contrast this with Xi Jinping. I mean, he doesn't chat with foreign reporters. His government, frankly, more often threatens them and, in some cases, many cases, has kicked them out of the country.

MARTIN: I mean, why the difference? Why was Jiang's era more - so much more relaxed?

LANGFITT: I think, Rachel, in Jiang's era, China needed more from the West. They needed trade investment, needed to get into the World Trade Organization. There was also a sense at the time in the '90s, late '90s, that China would probably become more tolerant and be able to get along reasonably well with the U.S. and the West - still be authoritarian. Now, when Xi took over a decade later, the party was facing mass corruption. He cracked down on that. He also really crushed dissent to prevent criticism of the party at a vulnerable time for its leadership.

Also - and this is, I think, really important - the image of the West really declined in China the last couple of decades. The war in Iraq, the global financial crisis, some of the political chaos of the Trump years really changed the minds of many Chinese towards the U.S. And Xi began to sort of openly espouse the idea that China's authoritarian system was better than the democratic model, something you would never have heard during Jiang's era. And of course, now Xi and China, as we see with his zero-COVID policy and these street protests that we've seen in just the last couple of weeks, they also have a lot of challenges they have to deal with.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.