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News Brief: Texas Legislative Term Ends, Trial Begins In Minn. Police Shooting


Here's your guide to this day's news starting with one definition of democracy. It's a way for citizens to settle their differences without violence.


Yeah, American democracy has usually met that standard but not always. Think of last week's assault on a journalist by a congressional candidate and now an incident in Texas. It began with a peaceful protest. People in the state capitol were speaking out against sanctuary city legislation.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting, unintelligible).

GREENE: All right, so there were some protesters there holding signs that said, I am illegal and here to stay. And that got Republican Representative Matt Rinaldi's attention. He said, OK, you're illegal, I'm calling immigration agents. Once word got around about his call, Rinaldi contends that a democratic colleague threatened his life and another attacked him. Now, we should say, both Democrats deny this.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Geoff Bennett is in the studio now. Hey, good morning, Geoff.


INSKEEP: So what happened here exactly?

BENNETT: Well, Matt Rinaldi, he's the Republican Texas state rep who's at the center of this, he said he was angry not just about the protesters, who numbered in the hundreds, but at the fact that a handful of Democratic lawmakers on the House floor below looked up to the gallery and clapped in support of the protesters. So when Rinaldi told his colleagues, Democratic colleagues, what he'd done, a shoving match broke out on the floor.

I watched a bunch of videos of what happened from a few different vantage points. You see lots of pushing, lots of pointing, lots of tough guy posturing - no real physical altercation


BENNETT: But Rinaldi said later that a Democratic state rep named Poncho Nevarez threatened his life on the House floor and that Rinaldi is now under police protection as a result. Add to that, another Democratic state rep who said he heard Rinaldi threaten to shoot Nevarez in self-defense. So it's hardly a shining moment here for the Texas House of Representatives yesterday.

INSKEEP: Wow, wow.

BENNETT: And ICE officials, by the way, say they never received a phone call from Rinaldi about...

INSKEEP: Oh, that was the underlying claim that he'd called immigration authorities on the protesters. So what are they arguing about exactly?

BENNETT: Well, the activists, they're protesting the state's new anti-sanctuary city law. It's considered to be the toughest in the country, since it not only fines localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents, it also threatens jail time for the sheriffs or police chiefs who refuse to cooperate.

INSKEEP: Oh, so President Trump wants these so-called sanctuary cities to cooperate with federal authorities. This is Texas state lawmakers saying, we're going to make our cities do just that.

BENNETT: That's right. And Rinaldi saying he was planning to call ICE agents highlights why the law is so controversial. It takes effect in September. The argument that you hear from Democrats is the fact that he would look up into the stands, see a bunch of brown faces who he assumed to be Hispanics, who he assumed to be undocumented, and then call ICE agents.

That's the kind of profiling that they say causes great concern and they also say is unconstitutional.

INSKEEP: Although David mentioned some of them were holding signs saying I am illegal so maybe not.

BENNETT: And that's the point that Republicans make, that there are laws on the books that need to be followed and that Rinaldi was well within his rights to call agents, you know, should he have chosen to do so.

INSKEEP: You talk with people in Washington arguing over this same issue. To what extent do they feel they represent people with irreconcilable differences on this?

BENNETT: I think the politics of irreconcilable differences is what animates what drives so much of the policy debates here on Capitol Hill, if not immigration but also health care. I think health care is the latest case study of this. The ideological middle is dead in Congress. And Congress reflects an America that has been growing further apart ideologically for decades.

INSKEEP: Geoff, thanks very much.

BENNETT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Geoff Bennett.


INSKEEP: We turn next to jury selection in a high-profile, officer-involved shooting.

GREENE: That's right, Steve. Let's remember now this is for the trial of a Minnesota policeman charged in the death of a young black man, Philando Castile. He was shot during a traffic stop in July last year. As Castile lay dying, his girlfriend, who was right in the car with her young daughter, began live streaming it on Facebook.


DIAMOND REYNOLDS: Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that.

JERONIMO YANEZ: Keep your hands where they are please.

REYNOLDS: Yes, I will, sir. I'll keep my hands where they are. Please don't tell me this, Lord. Please, Jesus, don't tell me that he's gone.

GREENE: Now, the killing sparked many protests. The officer involved faces multiple charges, including second-degree manslaughter.

INSKEEP: Minnesota Public Radio reporter Matt Sepic is following this trial in St. Paul. Matt, good morning.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How much are people talking about this case where you are?

SEPIC: Quite a bit. It is a highly anticipated trial. In so far as we can tell, and my colleagues Jon Collins and Riham Feshir have done a lot of research on this, this is the first time in Minnesota that a police officer has gone on trial in the shooting death of a civilian while on duty. So it's (unintelligible) to say it's unprecedented...

INSKEEP: The first time ever in Minnesota?

SEPIC: In so far as we can tell going back decades of records and before that, this is the first time in the state that we've had a trial, even charges against a police officer for a shooting while on duty. So it's being closely watched.

INSKEEP: Well, given that there is Facebook video, not of the gunshot itself but of the aftermath of the encounter - there's that video, which so many people have seen - what's the defense strategy here?

SEPIC: Well, the attorneys for the officer are not talking right now. But we did speak with them in the days after the shooting. And looking at court filings as well, what we can piece together is that they will be talking at trial about the fear that Jeronimo Yanez, the officer, felt as he was conducting that traffic stop.

The words that one of his defense attorneys used in describing this early on was that the officer was reacting to the presence of that weapon when Philando Castile told the officer that he was carrying a firearm, a firearm he was legally licensed to carry.

INSKEEP: And is the officer just saying that my gun went off accidentally or I deliberately shot? What is he saying?

SEPIC: Not saying that it went off accidentally - they haven't made that claim yet. They have said - the defense attorneys have said that Officer Yanez was scared for his life during that traffic stop last July 6.

INSKEEP: OK, Matt, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

SEPIC: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio.


INSKEEP: OK, another story here now, David. Summer is unofficially here and along with that, concerns about Zika.

GREENE: Yeah, and people along the Gulf Coast are especially worried because the mosquitoes that carry Zika, they thrive in that hot, humid climate. There is some good news. Last year, researchers who are working for the U.S. Army developed a vaccine. The bad news, though, Steve, is that there are questions about whether that vaccine is actually going to be affordable. This is Louisiana's health secretary Rebekah Gee.

REBEKAH GEE: We want to make sure that there are price protections for the American citizens, and particularly for those of us in the Gulf South, as we think about the distribution and production of this vaccine so that the people of this country, who funded the development of it, aren't harmed by price gouging.

INSKEEP: Price gouging - well, health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak is covering that. She's on the line. Hi, Alison.


INSKEEP: So is this vaccine actually on the market?

KODJAK: No, it'll be some time before it's on the market. The Army researchers who developed the vaccine are now conducting what's called a phase 1 trial, which just determines whether it's safe. Then there are two more rounds of clinical trials to determine whether it's effective, what kind of side effects it might have. So it'll be some time before it's actually available.

INSKEEP: Well, here's the part that's weird, though. When it is available, even though the U.S. government, U.S. taxpayers funded this and got the vaccine into existence or near it, anyway, a French pharmaceutical company is expected to get the license to sell it at whatever price it wants. How'd that happen?

KODJAK: Well, the government has contracted with Sanofi Pasteur to conduct the next couple of clinical trials. The government will pay the company to do it. And Sanofi, in the end, if all goes well, would be granted the license to manufacture and sell the drug. This is not specifically a Sanofi concern because the government does this quite a lot.

But in this case, the degree to which the government has paid for the vaccine research and development is a little bit more than usual when the government contracts and gives its intellectual property to private companies.

INSKEEP: Is there something really widely symbolic here that's really representative of the drug industry in that it's taxpayer-funded? This isn't really the free market, but in the end, a company gets a product and they can say, well, it's the free market. We can charge 20 times what you think we should charge if there's an emergency and we want to make some money.

KODJAK: Yeah, and that's what people like Dr. Gee in Louisiana say. They're worried that the taxpayers have paid for this and they will pay again when Medicaid and public health departments have to buy the vaccine. Yet, the government is not getting any assurance that Sanofi will charge consumers in the U.S. a fair price or anything similar to what they pay in other countries.

The U.S. pays more for drugs than any other country in the world.

INSKEEP: And is there any reason to suspect this particular company of price gouging? Let's remember, they haven't actually sold the thing yet.

KODJAK: Well, they aren't any different than other drug companies, but they do charge more in the U.S. for other drugs than they charge in other countries. So it's a pattern, and there's no reason to think that they'll do any different here.

INSKEEP: OK. Alison, thanks as always.

KODJAK: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Alison Kodjak this morning. And one final note as we get your guide to the news today. Manuel Noriega, the former leader of Panama, has died.

GREENE: Isn't that a name that's just remained on our consciousness for so many years?


GREENE: He was a strong man in the 1980s, first an ally of the United States but then really an obstacle. He was accused of interfering with an election that didn't go his way.

INSKEEP: And the United States military under President George H.W. Bush removed him from power in 1989, blasting rock music at an annoying volume at the building where Manuel Noriega took shelter. He spent years afterward in and out of prison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Bennett is a White House reporter for NPR. He previously covered Capitol Hill and national politics for NY1 News in New York City and more than a dozen other Time Warner-owned cable news stations across the country. Prior to that role, he was an editor with NPR's Weekend Edition. Geoff regularly guest hosts C-SPAN's Washington Journal — a live, three-hour news and public affairs program. He began his journalism career at ABC News in New York after graduating from Morehouse College.
Matt Sepic
Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.