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News Brief: Notre Dame Fire, Democrats' Tax Returns, Measles Outbreak


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).


The sound there of Parisians gathering last night on the banks of the Seine river, singing hymns, praying. Across the water, fire and smoke rose from Notre Dame Cathedral.


This house of worship was begun in the middle ages, took centuries to build. Nobody who began the work could have lived to see it complete. It survived many wars, and it lasted long enough to appear in the photos of giddy tourists who came from nations that did not even exist when the cathedral was started. Though fire collapsed its spire yesterday, the crews who put out the flames discovered parts of the cathedral still standing.



INSKEEP: French President Emmanuel Macron there, saying that the cathedral is part of the country's history, its literature and its psyche.

GREENE: And let's turn to NPR's correspondent based in Paris, Eleanor Beardsley, who joins us this morning and watched all of this unfold yesterday. Hi, Eleanor.


GREENE: So where exactly are you, and what does it feel like in Paris this morning?

BEARDSLEY: It's very somber. You know, I got up this morning, and I thought, Notre Dame has been ravaged. And it was a weird feeling knowing that. And I came down here, and I'm sitting on a bench beside the river. And I'm looking at the charred stone of a stained glass window. And there's no spire anymore. And there's hundreds of people out, Parisians and tourists, just standing here, solemnly taking pictures and looking at the damage.

GREENE: How bad is the damage in terms of what we know at this point? I mean, can this cathedral be fully rebuilt?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it is very extensive, the damage. Just this morning, they were showing footage of inside the cathedral. And it's shocking. We still see heaps of rubble that are smoking, destroyed art figures. And the roof is said to be two-thirds destroyed, and the cathedral is open to the sky. So it's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And they're estimating it could take more than a decade to rebuild it.

GREENE: I mean, you talk about money. There are just priceless collections of art and relics. I mean, was much of that saved in this fire?

BEARDSLEY: You know, they were able to save a crown of thorns and Saint Louis' tunic, those are two big things they're naming. They've stacked what they've saved next door in the Hotel de Ville. But they're still inside this morning, trying to get artwork out. It's dangerous work because cinders were still falling. You know, beams were still falling inside the church. And they're still trying to secure it. The fire has been pronounced officially out, and - but it's still cooling down. They're still saving things. So we don't know the - you know, exactly what's (inaudible) right now.

GREENE: So you said you're sitting on a bench, looking over at the cathedral, other people along with you taking all this in this morning. I mean, what are people saying in terms of the meaning of what happened yesterday?

BEARDSLEY: You know, people are just so shocked. They're saying a thousand years of history just went up in a couple hours. People are moved - not just French people, but from across the world. I spoke this morning to a South African tourist, Peto Foster (ph) and here's what he told me...

PETO FOSTER: It was quite amazing to be inside on Sunday. And then last night, we came back when it - while it was burning and now for the after effect. We were actually walking around here this morning just saying how somber the mood is. It's almost quiet as you come into the area in comparison to the other areas in Paris.

GREENE: The voice of one Parisian there speaking to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who like so many people in Paris are just trying to understand all of this, what happened yesterday at Notre Dame. Eleanor, thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, David.


GREENE: So during past presidential elections it's been pretty standard for major party nominees to release their tax returns.

INSKEEP: In 2016, candidate Donald Trump became the first general election candidate in more than four decades who did not keep a promise to release them. Democrats in Congress have more recently requested his taxes, citing their authority under the law. Although, the White House is resisting. As it's happening, 2020 presidential contenders are putting out several years of their own returns. They include, among others, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and, as of last night, Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke.

GREENE: And one person following all of the numbers, NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro, who is with us. Hey, Domenico.


GREENE: So anything standing out to you so far?

MONTANARO: Well, look, when we look at these tax returns, we're looking at three things to start off with - one, income, two, tax rate - what they pay in taxes - and three, their charitable giving. So just a few top lines from this so far. Kamala Harris' household was the highest income, and they were taxed at the highest rate. Beto O'Rourke and his wife have significant assets and investments and, according to his 2017 tax return, didn't give a whole lot to charity. And Elizabeth Warren, she was the most charitable. But a notable finding from these tax returns was what it showed about Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent senator. For years and years he's been one of the least wealthy members of Congress. But since his 2016 campaign, he was able to cash in on a book that he wrote, "Here We Go From Here" (ph). And he has lambasted millionaires and billionaires, as we know, for years - but guess what? After 2016, he made over a million dollars in some of those years. And that was something he was asked about during a town hall on Fox News last night. Let's take a listen...


BERNIE SANDERS: It was a bestseller. It sold all over the world, and we made money. So if anyone thinks that I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I'm sorry. I'm not going to do it.


MONTANARO: Well, that's pretty classic Bernie Sanders. And I have to say, for a democratic socialist, that was a pretty capitalistic answer.

GREENE: Should he be worried? I mean, could this come back to bite him if he has a lot of money and still has this populist message?

MONTANARO: Well, he's also raising a ton of money from grassroots and from the base. So he clearly has a huge depth of support still from his base. And this does not look like it's derailing him whatsoever.

GREENE: OK. So who have we not heard from at this point, and is there a reason? Like, are people deciding that they don't want to release these tax returns?

MONTANARO: Well, they're complicated. But we haven't heard from about a dozen others, like Pete Buttigieg, for example, the South Bend, Ind., mayor, Cory Booker of New Jersey. But everyone's pledging to release them soon. Booker, for example, has released previously 15 years of tax returns.

GREENE: And there's this really high-profile person running for president in 2020 who we definitely haven't seen tax returns from. That's the president of the United States.


GREENE: Is that going - where does that stand? And have we learned anything? I mean, we are getting some fundraising numbers from him.

MONTANARO: Well, Democrats are certainly trying to push to get his tax returns released. Democrats on Capitol Hill have been filing formal requests trying to get those. There's no sign that the president's going to do so. At this point, he said that he's not inclined to do it. But as far as his campaign fundraising goes, he's raised $30 million, most of that from political committees, just $4 million from small donors, which stands in stark contrast with Democrats who are trying to draw a significant share from the grassroots.

GREENE: Any evidence in this long battle over the president's tax returns that it's hurting him politically to keep them away from people?

MONTANARO: Not with his base, you know, and that's - we've never seen a president who has focused more on his base to try to win re-election.

GREENE: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.


GREENE: Let's look back to the year 2000. Measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States after a full year of no transmissions.

INSKEEP: But now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeing the virus return. New numbers were released yesterday and so far 555 cases - 555 - have been reported this year alone. New York City last week declared a public health emergency. New York's Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services asked parents to do more.


HERMINIA PALACIO: When you make the decision not to vaccinate your child, please understand you are also making that decision for the people around your child.

GREENE: OK, so what exactly is causing the spike in cases? NPR global health correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff has been tracking all of this. Hi, Michaeleen.


GREENE: So put this outbreak in perspective. How bad is this?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah, so 555 cases is actually about 50 percent more cases than we saw for the entire year last year. It's also the second-biggest outbreak we've had since - in more than two decades.

GREENE: Wow. So that's significant.

DOUCLEFF: Yeah, yeah. It is significant when you - when the CDC also says that it's going to grow, right? This thing is getting worse. They actually - one of the health officials I talked to said that it's accelerating, so...

GREENE: And this has been largely New York City, is that right? Or are there other spots where this is coming up?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah. So about 400 of those cases, the vast majority, are linked to two outbreaks in New York - one in Brooklyn and one in Rockland County, north of the city. As you mentioned before, the city has declared a public health emergency and is actually calling for mandatory vaccinations. So adults and kids have to get vaccinated, else families could be fined. The CDC also points to outbreaks in Washington state, Michigan, New Jersey and several parts of California.

GREENE: OK, so the big question - why. Why the surge now?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah, so health officials say that really two things are working together to amplify the problem. First of all, there's actually a surge of measles around the world right now. The World Health Organization just said this week that there have been four times as many cases reported this year as there were at the same time last year. And several countries have these massive outbreaks right now, with tens of thousands of cases, just to put our 500 cases into a global perspective.


DOUCLEFF: Ukraine and Madagascar have, you know, tens of thousands of cases. There are also significant outbreaks in Israel, several countries in the European Union and Indonesia.

GREENE: So we...

DOUCLEFF: So, yeah - go ahead.

GREENE: Go ahead.

DOUCLEFF: So the CDC thinks that more Americans are traveling to these countries and bringing them home. But then there's another problem here back at home, is that some communities here, the vaccination rates have really dropped significantly in the past few years - below the level needed to protect the whole community. And so once the virus lands here, it has more of a chance of getting a foothold and triggering an outbreak.

GREENE: Well, and that's what we heard there from the deputy mayor of New York City, suggesting that parents are not just protecting their children; they're protecting other children by making a decision about vaccinations. What other advice would - are people giving to parents?

DOUCLEFF: Yeah, so check to make sure your kids have two doses of the vaccine. You really need two doses to get the full protection. And also, if you are living in an out - where the outbreak is or around it, there - some health officials are calling for babies to get vaccinated a little bit earlier, around six months instead of the typical 12 months. But really the key is vaccination. Measles is super, super contagious. And everybody needs to be protected in order for the - for an outbreak not to occur.

GREENE: All right, NPR global health correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff for us this morning. Thanks so much.

DOUCLEFF: Thank you.


Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.