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News brief: Midterm enthusiasm; Pelosi security concerns; Fed raises interest rates

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have one more picture of the election that concludes next Tuesday.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll surveyed an election in which many people have already voted. Control of Congress is at stake, along with many governors' offices and legislatures. The polling shows a close election but with an advantage to Republicans.

INSKEEP: Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor and correspondent. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see in the numbers?

MONTANARO: Well, look; there are crosscurrents in this election that are making for a lot of uncertainty and volatility. I mean, on the one hand, voters continue to say inflation is top of mind, and they overwhelmingly said in our poll, by 20 points, that they trust Republicans to handle the issue more than Democrats. They also gave Republicans double-digit advantages on crime and immigration. You know, Democrats, on the other hand, continuing to hammer Republican opponents for their positions on reproductive rights, and voters are giving Democrats the advantage on abortion as well as preserving democracy.

INSKEEP: Can I stop you right there? Because preserving democracy would seem to be a special issue, a standout issue, since it is whether the people who win are going to support self-government at all. How important is that to voters?

MONTANARO: You know, it's No. 2 on the list, actually, but it's tops for Democrats, not Republicans or independents. And on how people are looking at this election, we've heard so much about election deniers, people who falsely believe the election in 2020 was stolen. Four out of five Republicans said they would be likely to vote for one of them as long as they agreed with their policy positions. You know, Republicans were also more likely to say that if their candidate lost, that their candidate definitely should not concede the race. And this is really what we've seen with former President Trump's rhetoric and how it's filtered down in these races. You know, if there is a ray of light in this about U.S. elections, it's that three-quarters of people say they trust their local and state elections officials to run a fair and accurate election.

INSKEEP: After all this rhetoric, a bedrock of trust in the system. But how do people say they mean to vote?

MONTANARO: Well, when we asked which party voters would go for if the election was held today, it was dead even - 46-46. Now, this is going to sound a bit counterintuitive, but historically, that kind of number is actually bad news for Democrats. In recent elections, they've needed an advantage on that question of about six points or more to make gains in the House. That's because, really, of how districts have been drawn, with so many in right-leaning areas.

Another warning sign for Democrats, even though white women with college degrees appear to be fired up, and they are a vital portion of the Democratic base, other pillars of the Democratic base are not so fired up. Black voters, Latinos, young voters are all far down on the list of enthusiasm, while Trump voters, rural voters and older voters are near the top. You know, just to show how wide the gap is, 87% of people in the baby boomer generation say they're very interested in this election versus just 52% of Gen Z and millennials, a 35-point gap. So clearly, right now Republicans have the enthusiasm edge with just six days to go.

INSKEEP: And they generally have an edge with older voters, not universally but generally. So how many people have already voted versus people who plan to vote on Election Day?

MONTANARO: Well, some 55% of people in the survey said that they have either already voted or will do so this week. But Democrats are far more likely to say that they will vote early. And of those who've already voted, Democrats, by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans, say they have. So be careful when you start hearing about early voting numbers and trying to interpret those.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Lawmakers and election officials are facing threats after the attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul Pelosi, in their San Francisco home.

MARTIN: The attack has exposed some of the shortcomings of the security around lawmakers. The question of who should be protected and how is being talked about on Capitol Hill and across the country as law enforcement officials warn of threats to political candidates and election workers.

INSKEEP: Let's talk this through with Washington Post congressional reporter Marianna Sotomayor. Thanks for being here. Good morning.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Well, just what are - what's the baseline here? What kind of protection is in place for lawmakers as they move around the country, talk with crowds, try to do their jobs?

SOTOMAYOR: Well, it's pretty different when you're looking at leadership in both parties and your rank-and-file members. Leadership, of course, are typically the top three Republicans, Democrats in the Senate and the House. And they constantly have a security presence, a number of officers who are walking with them everywhere they go, including within the Capitol itself. They have security back home and a lot of security cameras around their homes to be able to detect strange movements.

Of course, we have seen since last Friday just how difficult it can be to still protect individual properties after the attack on Paul Pelosi. But those kinds of things do not exist for rank-and-file members. Of course, if there are death threats and it reaches a certain level for these rank-and-file members, U.S. Capitol Police can step in and have a security presence for those lawmakers, but typically, it's up to the lawmakers themselves to request money, guidance from Capitol Police to be able to secure their properties, secure anything that they own, secure even their own district offices to make sure that they stay safe in this day and age.

INSKEEP: I understand that Capitol security would naturally follow the speaker of the House and not necessarily her family. But it was her family, and it was her house. I guess there were security cameras, right? Did the Capitol Police take any responsibility or effort to keep that home secure when she was not there?

SOTOMAYOR: Well, yesterday, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, in a pretty rare statement, actually noted that that attack was just an example of the everyday things that Capitol Police have to deal with. So, yes, they can monitor the security cameras outside of the home, but they were not physically present. We know that in the days after January 6, for a significant number of time, there tended to be cop cars, usually from San Francisco district police, that were actively outside of the home. Whenever threats really do reach a certain level, even for Pelosi, you tend to see that local security presence. But that was not the case a week ago, just several weeks before the election.

And in that same statement, Manger said that - really pleading to lawmakers that this is an example of why they need more resources. He did not go into details of specific security measures that they will have to take. But it has been a known thing that Capitol Police, especially since January 6, have seen a number of retirements and have not been able to recuperate the numbers that they really do need to be able to protect all lawmakers on and off Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: Wow. And you think about hundreds of lawmakers traveling around and having to talk to people and so forth. I research Abraham Lincoln. It's something that I write about. And there is a story in which a friend of Abraham Lincoln sees him when he's president walking through Washington with no security, and he says, I'm worried about your security. And Lincoln essentially says, it's pointless. Adding security would be like putting up one fence rail when the rest of the fence is down. What is the point of that? When you talk with lawmakers, are they a little fatalistic about what they do?

SOTOMAYOR: You know, it has become a reality they have had to accept, especially after January 6. And a good example of just that kind of conversation, hundreds of years later, is something that Congresswoman Veronica Escobar - she is a Democrat from Texas - had with a friend who texted her Halloween morning saying, please do not be in front of your house giving out candy. It is such a normal thing that any of us do. However, for these lawmakers, their friends, their family, they know that they are exposing themselves every single day, even in their own neighborhoods - is something that worries those closest to them.

And she says, you know, it is an honor to serve. And this is something that I have heard from many lawmakers. They want to be in office. They are running again to represent their constituents on the national level. But there are these considerations that they now have to take. And it really guilts them to see just how much worry this political climate and them being in it gives to their family and their friends.

INSKEEP: Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post. Thanks so much.

SOTOMAYOR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The Federal Reserve is expected to order another big jump in interest rates today.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's part of the central bank's ongoing campaign to bring down inflation. The Fed has already raised rates five times this year. Even so, prices just keep climbing.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so what's happening?

HORSLEY: The Fed has been raising rates at a aggressive pace. Its benchmark interest rate was close to zero back in the spring. It's now above 3%, and by the end of today, it's expected to be close to 4%. That's the sharpest run-up in four decades. Greg McBride, who is chief financial analyst at Bank Rate, says two big questions now are how much higher rates are likely to go and how long they're going to stay there.

GREG MCBRIDE: The cost of money is going up. Interest rates have risen at a whiplash-inducing speed. And we're not done yet. Rates are still likely to continue to move higher, at least through year end and into the early part of 2023.

HORSLEY: And that makes it more expensive to buy a house or a car or carry a balance on your credit card.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I'm just thinking about this from the Fed's point of view. They not only want to raise rates the right amount; they want to instill confidence that they will do whatever it takes, that they will go as high as they need to go. So with that in mind, how much higher might rates go?

HORSLEY: It's a moving target. On average, Fed officials estimated back in September that the benchmark rate would top out this year close to 4.5% and then go a little bit higher next year. So far, though, inflation has barely budged. So the forecast of how high rates will have to go keep getting pushed up. However high the interest rate eventually climbs, there's also the question of how fast it gets there. It's possible the central bank will slow the pace of rate hikes after today so it can better assess how that's working in the economy. Esther George, who heads up the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, is among the policymakers who's pushing that approach.

ESTHER GEORGE: I have been in the camp of steadier and slower. My concern being that a succession of very supersized rate increases might cause you to oversteer and not be able to see those turning points.

HORSLEY: Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is set to meet with reporters this afternoon, and markets will be listening closely for any signal that smaller rate hikes might be in store at the next few Fed meetings.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the difference between the tools the Fed has and things that seem to have contributed to inflation over the past couple of years, like the supply chain problems or labor shortages, a shortage of people in the workforce. But what the Fed has to respond is these interest rate hikes. How are those hikes actually working, if at all, and how are they affecting the economy?

HORSLEY: Well, you're right. The Fed can't do much about supply chain issues. What they can do is work on demand. And we are starting to see somewhat slower growth in consumer demand, although not as much as you might think. Keep in mind, a lot of people managed to sock away money in the early months of the pandemic. Now, those savings are a lifeline for families. They're helping them cushion the pain of rising prices. But that cushion can also muffle the effects of the Fed's interest rate hikes. So the central bank winds up having to push the brakes even harder. Now, the housing market has slowed pretty sharply as mortgage rates are now above 7%. Kansas City homebuilder Shawn Woods says he's gone from selling a dozen houses a month to just three or four.

SHAWN WOODS: I think we're in for a rough six or eight months. Typically, housing leads us into downturns, and it leads us out of downturns. And I think from the housing perspective, we've probably been in a housing recession since March or April.

HORSLEY: Despite growing concerns about a recession, the Biden administration and most members of Congress have stayed out of the Fed's way. They know inflation is still a top concern for voters. We are starting to see some cracks, though. This week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and some of her colleagues wrote a letter to Powell challenging the Fed's approach. They're warning that aggressive rate hikes could put millions of people out of work.

INSKEEP: I just want to ask what the analyst meant there when they said a housing recession since March or April. That means - what? - decreases in home prices for some people, a loss of construction jobs. What does it mean?

HORSLEY: We're not seeing a loss of construction jobs just yet. We certainly are seeing a deceleration in home sales. And in some areas, we are starting to see actual declines in home prices.

INSKEEP: Something that, up until the Great Recession of some years ago, was thought to be very, very rare. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.