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News Brief: Kavanaugh And The Midterms, Interest Rates, Cosby Sentencing


The one sure thing about Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation - it has most definitely captured the nation's attention.


We have a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll out this morning. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans surveyed say they want to watch Thursday's hearing. Those who do turn in are likely to see Christine Blasey Ford accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. And Kavanaugh will respond. Now, Republicans on the committee - who are all men - have hired a woman to ask the questions for them. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday, we have hired a female assistant, by which he means Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor with long experience investigating sex crimes.

MARTIN: All right. We're joined by NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, let's start off talking about this poll. You asked specifically about Americans and whether or not they would like to see Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. What was the answer?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, Americans are pretty split on his nomination, as you can imagine. Just 38 percent support Kavanaugh's nomination right now. Forty-three percent say they oppose it. Another 1 in 5 say they are not sure. This is, by the way, worse than for any recent Supreme Court nominee in the past dozen or so years. That's about six nominees to the court. And we've heard this anecdotally, but we now have data for it. There's a big gender gap. Forty-five percent of men support Kavanaugh's nomination; 32 percent of women only do.

MARTIN: Do people believe the allegation that Christine Blasey Ford has put out there against him?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, a big split again - and again, another one along gender lines. Overall, about a third of people say they believe Ford. Less than that, about a quarter, say they believe Kavanaugh. And again, political and gender divide here - the political and gender divide is huge. Among Republican men, for example, 61 percent say they believe Kavanaugh. Among Democratic women, 56 percent say they believe Ford. So big stakes ahead of this hearing on Thursday, when we've got almost 6 in 10 people saying that if Kavanaugh is not telling the truth, he should not be confirmed.

MARTIN: I mean, Donald Trump, when he was running for president in 2016, talked an awful lot about the Supreme Court, trying to convince people who were a little bit lukewarm on him that, hey, I'm the guy who's going to appoint conservative justices. So now as we approach the midterms, I mean, did you ask Americans - do we know if this nomination is going to be a factor in how they vote?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And a lot of people are saying that it is becoming a voting issue. More people are saying that they're likely to vote for someone who opposes Kavanaugh's nomination than supports it by a narrow 5-point margin. And you know, with Republicans losing - white voters with a college education are slipping away from them. You know, this is a group that says they're going to be closely watching these hearings.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: It's worth noting, Domenico said there's a large number of people who are saying, if Kavanaugh is not telling the truth, it becomes a question of his veracity as well as whatever he may have done in the 1980s. This is a lawyer who was involved in the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton in the 1990s - which also, for many people, became a question not only about his sexual history but whether he was truthful about it under oath.

MARTIN: Right.

So as we mentioned in that intro that Steve read, Domenico, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't like the optics so much of a bunch of white guys asking her questions, prosecuting her essentially. So they hired someone else to do it. What do we know?

MONTANARO: They did. You mentioned Rachel Mitchell. She's an Arizona prosecutor, registered Republican. She's in charge of the Special Victims Division of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which deals with sexual assault cases. And she's dealt with older cases. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, says that the goal of this is to depoliticize the process and get to the truth. But Democrats are probably not going to be thrilled with this decision.

MARTIN: OK. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.


MONTANARO: You're welcome.


MARTIN: OK. The Federal Reserve will likely nudge up interest rates today.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the Fed controls how much banks are charged to borrow money short-term from the Fed. The Fed raises rates to slow down borrowing and hold down inflation, which has been rising about as fast as people's wages.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Colin Dwyer is here to make the case as to how this is going to affect us.

Good morning, Colin.

COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First, before we get to the consumer impact of all this, why do so many analysts believe this rate hike is coming today?

DWYER: Well, things have been looking pretty rosy for the economy lately. Jobs reports have given us a stream of good news. Unemployment has been super low. Stocks have been super high. And consumers are more confident than they've been in almost two decades now. That's partly because the Fed has made it so easy on them with interest rates kept very low for a long time now. But now it's time to ease up on the gas pedal, and that's just what the Fed has been doing. It's gently raised rates seven times already in the past three years. And we've seen few reasons to persuade them not to make today number eight.

MARTIN: So there are bright spots and dark spots in the economy at any given time. Things - a lot of indicators are really positive. Where are the dark spots, though?

DWYER: Right. There always are dark spots, of course. We're talking about the economy here. In this case, there are two big questions hanging over this meeting. The first has to do with trade and the rest of the world. Emerging markets have seen their fair share of economic troubles. U.S. and China are in a massive trade dispute. And that's in addition to new tariffs from the U.S. against much of the world.

MARTIN: Right.

DWYER: All of this has some folks nervous. I talked to Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Grant Thornton. And she told me why those jitters matter.

DIANE SWONK: The Fed will always say it's making policy decisions for the U.S. economy and that's their mandate. But the reality is, what happens around the world does not stay around the world. It washes up on our shores as well.

DWYER: She...

MARTIN: Globalized economy and all.

DWYER: (Laughter) I know. Exactly. One thing has an effect on the other always. And in this case, she's also pointing to a second question that the Fed is facing right now. And that is, why isn't all this news on Wall Street translating to higher wages? I mean, that's not to say that wages aren't growing lately - they are. But it's just not near...

MARTIN: It's been so slow. Right?

DWYER: Right, exactly. It's just not nearly at the rate of the rest of the economy. The rest of the economy is booming at the moment. Wages, meanwhile, have been growing pretty sluggishly. So all of this could mean some storm clouds on the horizon. But at the moment, we've got mostly sunny skies. And that's what the Fed is reacting to now.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention one thing? Even after all of these interest rate hikes, interest rates are still relatively low. They've been extraordinarily low for about a decade now, which means there's a whole generation of consumers that has no experience whatsoever with high interest rates. It'll be interesting to see, as interest rates keep creeping up, how people respond to that.

MARTIN: Right. So what does this mean, Colin, for the average consumer out there?

DWYER: Well, the thing to remember is, this will still be a very small bump. Interest rates will remain pretty low if all things go as we expect. But there will be some changes on the way. And that basically means that this is bad news for borrowers. But it also probably could mean good news for savers. So just get yourself on the right side of that equation.

MARTIN: All right. Sounds challenging, but we'll make it happen. NPR's Colin Dwyer.

Thanks so much.

DWYER: All right. Have a good morning.


MARTIN: He was Cliff Huxtable, America's dad; a beloved comic; an American icon. And now Bill Cosby is in prison.

INSKEEP: Walked out of court in handcuffs yesterday. A judge sentenced Cosby to three to 10 years in state prison. He'd been convicted of aggravated indecent assault against former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. Other women who had accused Cosby of similar assaults were outside the courtroom with their attorney Gloria Allred, who spoke with MSNBC.


GLORIA ALLRED: It's important that the criminal justice system has finally worked on behalf of a victim and that women's words mattered and were valued.

MARTIN: NPR's Eric Deggans joins us now.

So Eric, Cosby is the first celebrity who's actually been handed down a prison sentence in the #MeToo era. How are you weighing the significance of this moment?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Well, it certainly feels like the page has turned regarding how America reacts to allegations like this. Constand tried to get prosecutors to take her case back in 2005, when she first accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her. But they declined to pursue the case, and she wound up filing a lawsuit against him that was settled. And it felt like America kind of got some kind of cultural amnesia about what happened. And people didn't really talk about it much until Cosby tried to revive his TV career in 2014.

Stand-up comic Hannibal Buress did this bit that became a viral video, talking about how Cosby was a rapist. And that led other women to come forward.

MARTIN: Right.

DEGGANS: And before long, we had dozens of women sharing similar stories. So even though this can feel like a victory for #MeToo, it basically took more than 10 years, accusations from at least 60 women and a prosecution that ended in a mistrial before...

MARTIN: Right.

DEGGANS: ...We got the trial that brought his conviction.

MARTIN: That's a long slog. So...


MARTIN: ...Did we hear from Andrea Constand yesterday at the sentencing?

DEGGANS: Well, she spoke briefly during the sentencing proceeding on Monday but submitted a longer victim impact statement that was really profound. I mean, she wrote about how she couldn't eat or sleep after the assault, enduring, quote, "psychological, emotional and financial bullying" from Cosby and his legal team during the civil case. She talked about the pain of having her character insulted during the prosecutions. She wrote, quote, "Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it."

So you know, through this process, she endured a lot. But she also kind of became the instrument through which other women who have accused Cosby could feel like they got some measure of justice.

MARTIN: So after the sentencing, a spokesman for Bill Cosby had a lot to say. He called the trial racist and sexist. He also talked about Bill Cosby's history within the civil rights community. Let's listen to that.


ANDREW WYATT: Dr. Cosby has been one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the United States for over the last 50 years. He has also been one of the greatest educators of men and boys over the last 50 years.

MARTIN: I mean, that's true. Isn't it, Eric?

DEGGANS: Yeah. And you know, it was interesting to listen to what Wyatt said. He had a lot of heated rhetoric. He compared Cosby's case to the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who also faces allegations of sexual assault from his past, saying both of these men were victims of a, quote, "sex war."

I think Cosby's status as a hero feels kind of generational. Younger black folks may have less of an attachment to him. I'm a member of the TV Critics Association, and we voted to rescind a Career Achievement Award we gave him in 2002. I think there's a sense that we have to hold two ideas in our head now.


DEGGANS: You know, someone who was one of the world's most successful entertainers is also now a convicted sex offender who is serving a jail sentence.

MARTIN: We should just say Cosby's spokesman, his full name there - Andrew Wyatt.


MARTIN: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans.

Eric, thanks so much for sharing your reflections on this. We appreciate it.

DEGGANS: Thank you.


Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.