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News Brief: Iowa Results, Trump Speech, Educational Redlining


We still don't have the final results of the Iowa caucuses.


Yeah. Technical problems delayed the numbers, although most precincts have now reported their results. And for now, Pete Buttigieg is emerging as a winner on delegate counts with a narrow lead over Bernie Sanders. Both candidates claimed victory, each in his own way.


BERNIE SANDERS: I'm very proud to tell you that last night in Iowa, we received more votes on the first and second round than any other candidate.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: A campaign that some said should have no business even making this attempt has taken its place at the front of this race to replace the current president with a better vision for the future.


INSKEEP: OK. Multiple ways of counting the results gave multiple opportunities to claim victory. But there's no doubt who lost - the Iowa caucuses itself. Iowa's Democratic Party blamed a coding error for the lack of timely results. So where does the Democratic race stand now that we have some vote totals?

KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us with some answers. Good morning, Mara.


KING: OK. So let's get into the numbers. With 71% of precincts reporting, Buttigieg has a narrow lead over Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is in third. What does it mean to be in the top three at this point?

LIASSON: Well, it means that the race is still not winnowed. All three of them can claim they got a ticket out of Iowa. For Pete Buttigieg, he seems to be on track to win the largest number of delegates, which is bragging rights for him. Bernie Sanders won the equivalent of the popular vote. He had come very, very close to Hillary Clinton, remember, in 2016, so he had a very good showing. But he didn't get the turnout surge that he's been promising he could create for the Democratic Party. Turnout in Iowa equaled the 2016 levels - around 170,000 Democrats voting - rather than the big numbers - 240,000 - in 2008. So Warren's still in the game. She had faded a little in the polls, but her good organization that she'd invested a lot in paid off for her. So she's still in the hunt, too.

KING: Is Joe Biden still in the game? He appears to be in fourth place, which is not what he wanted. Is he still in it?

LIASSON: This is a very disappointing finish for Joe Biden. He didn't even surpass the very low expectations that his campaign had laid out. Publicly they said that he - being even in third place would be fine. Other Biden supporters said he really had to come in a close second in order to be able to raise the money to keep on going. He now is facing the next primary, New Hampshire, which is really Bernie Sanders' territory...

KING: Yeah.

LIASSON: ...Sanders won it by a curvature of the Earth last time in 2016. He's from a neighboring state of Vermont, of course. And Biden has to hope that his firewall in South Carolina - when he finally gets to a state where there are a lot of African American voters where he's very strong - he has to hope that that holds.

KING: We're hearing, Mara, that with Biden not doing so well, there's an opening now for Michael Bloomberg. Why would he be the person in a position to capitalize on Biden's stumbling?

LIASSON: Because Biden was supposed to be the leader of the centrist lane. We think that Bernie Sanders is now the leader of the left-wing lane in the party. The rationale for Bloomberg getting in was that Biden looked so weak. Last night, he spoke to a big rally in Philadelphia.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think the results from Iowa underscore that we need a candidate who can build a coalition broad enough to unite the party and strong enough to go toe to toe with Donald Trump and beat him.


LIASSON: Bloomberg has already spent almost $300 million on advertising. And he is having a staffing surge. He just hired 2,000 people.

KING: OK, 2,000 people. Wow. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.


KING: President Trump used his State of the Union address last night to make the case that he should be reelected.

INSKEEP: Speaking to a joint session of Congress last night, the president claimed credit for a, quote, "great American comeback."


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Three years ago, we launched the great American comeback. Tonight, I stand before you to share the incredible results. Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging and our country is thriving and highly respected again.

INSKEEP: The president never once mentioned the impeachment inquiry during his 78-minute speech, which took place on the eve of a Senate vote that is expected to leave him in office. The speech also featured several moments that could remind viewers of the president's past as a reality TV star.

KING: NPR political reporter Tim Mak is with us in studio. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: All right, so you were watching. How would you characterize this speech?

MAK: Well, it was a polarizing speech, a partisan speech that started off without even the customary shows of perfunctory respect. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered to shake President Trump's hand before the speech; he declined. And unlike in previous State of the Unions where our speaker typically says that they have the, quote, "high privilege and distinct honor of presenting the president," the speaker omitted that.

In another surprise moment, the president awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - typically awarded to civilians of universal acclaim - to controversial conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh during the speech. And the speech itself was filled with jabs against Democrats, accusing many of the lawmakers in the room, for example, of endorsing a, quote, "socialist takeover" of the health care system. And to wrap it all up - after the speech was over, Pelosi took her copy of the speech and tore it up.

KING: Between the accusations of socialism and Nancy Pelosi tearing that speech up, which was remarkable, what does it actually mean in terms of the legislative agenda as we go into this election year?

MAK: Well, the president and the speaker and their respective parties obviously aren't in the mood to work together. One example - the president called for the legislation to lower prescription drug prices. That's something that the late Congressman Elijah Cummings had wanted to work with the White House on, but there wasn't much engagement. And the Democrats passed their own bill in the House earlier in this Congress.

So they're talking about similar things, but they're not cooperating on doing it. You'll remember in last year's State of the Union address, the president said, if there's going to be legislation, there cannot be investigation - and he meant that. We've had investigations, many investigations, since.

KING: He did not mention impeachment?

MAK: That's right. Despite an opportunity to do so, he didn't bring it up during his speech.

KING: And the trial will end today - the impeachment trial will end today. Senators are going to vote on the two articles. We're expecting them to acquit the president. How is this going to work?

MAK: Well, there are two scheduled votes at 4 p.m. Eastern today on the two articles of impeachment. The question now is merely, how many senators will vote to convict and remove the president? It's unclear whether any Democrats from conservative states will join Republicans to acquit the president. And Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have announced they will vote to acquit. So one other remaining question is among Republicans - whether Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney could be the sole GOP member of the Senate voting to convict.

KING: NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot.


KING: People who graduated from historically black or predominantly Hispanic colleges might be paying more to borrow money because of where they went to school.

INSKEEP: Wow. That's according to a new report from a financial watchdog group. This report found that one firm called Upstart is charging higher interest rates to graduates of historically black and majority Hispanic colleges. Upstart's CEO, Dave Girouard, denied it.


DAVE GIROUARD: I mean, we're a company that - you know, our entire mission, the reason, you know, we get out of bed every morning is to improve access for affordable credit. So we are absolutely supportive of the intent that credit shouldn't be biased or unfair in any way.

INSKEEP: Still, the report's results raised eyebrows of some legal experts.

KING: NPR's Chris Arnold was the first person to get a look at the watchdog report. Hey, Chris.


KING: Tell me about this watchdog.

ARNOLD: Well, the report comes from a group called - it's a nonprofit, it's called the Student Borrower Protection Center. In this case, most what they're looking at is not student loans. It goes beyond that. And a lot of Americans are getting loans now from a new breed of lenders. They're called fintechs - or financial technology firms. And what they do is they use all kinds of data, you know? So they don't just look at your credit score, they look at all kinds of different things. And some consider, well, where did you go to college, you know? What did you major in? We're going to consider this stuff, too. That got this nonprofit group concerned, this advocacy group. And they're wondering, well, OK, how is this really affecting lending decisions, where I went to school? And is that fair?

KING: Well, how did they end up coming to the conclusion that people who graduated from historically black or majority Hispanic colleges might be paying higher interest on their loans?

ARNOLD: All right. So what they did is they did a test. And they chose Upstart, which is one of these fintech lenders. And its website allows you to apply for loans pretty easily, so that was one reason. They've also talked about using education as a factor. And they applied for dozens of loans sort of posing as the same guy - you know, makes $50,000 a year, an analyst - you know, all these different details, everything the same. Except each time they applied for a loan, one time they say, hey, I go to NYU in New York - lots of different universities. And one time they said, well, I go to Howard University, which of course is one of the most famous historically black colleges and university in this country.

And then they compared and they found, well, if you go to NYU versus Howard, for a $30,000 personal loan and a five-year term, $3,500 more in interest you end up paying if you went to Howard University, a historically black college. This is Kat Welbeck. She's a lawyer following civil rights issues with the group.

KAT WELBECK: There's no other difference between these two borrowers other than the fact that one attended NYU and one attended Howard. And so there's no other explanation that we can really come to terms with other than the fact that where this borrower went to school mattered in terms of how Upstart measured their credit worthiness.

ARNOLD: And they found this at other schools, too, with large Hispanic populations. And so they wrote this report saying, this is educational redlining - or at least it looks like that.

KING: And what are legal experts saying?

ARNOLD: Depends on who you talk to. But, look, I think a lot of them are saying, nobody's doing this intentionally. But this is an issue worth being concerned about because when you bring in all these other factors, all these other pieces of data, they can have unintentional biases. And we have to be very, very careful. And we should be keeping an eye on this.

KING: And you did talk to the CEO of Upstart. You asked him, are you discriminating? He said, no, right?

ARNOLD: He said absolutely not. They run tests, they do all kinds of things. But he said, look, he's open to talking with the group because he, too, said this is an important issue.

KING: OK. NPR's Chris Arnold. Thanks so much, Chris.

ARNOLD: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.