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News brief: social spending bill, Facebook's name change, Cuomo criminal complaint

NOEL KING, HOST:

Democrats say they have a way forward on social spending, but, as ever, it's complicated.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

OK, here's what's going on. Yesterday, President Biden unveiled a plan - $1.75 trillion on programs for housing, child care, climate change, among other things.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No one got everything they wanted, including me. But that's what compromise is, that's consensus, and that's what I ran on.

MARTINEZ: Top Democrats hoped this plan would convince their progressive colleagues to vote for a separate infrastructure bill that has been stuck for months, but progressives say they need more assurances before they'll vote on infrastructure.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following all of this drama and is with us now. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK, so does it look like this social spending framework, which was announced yesterday, is headed for a vote?

SNELL: Well, we're not sure still.

KING: (Laughter) Why?

SNELL: Well, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus took a vote amongst themselves yesterday, and they say that they overwhelmingly support this framework, but they need more time to make sure it will actually become law before they will drop their hold up of a separate trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill. That bill passed the Senate in August. You know, progressives are basically saying if two senators have all of this power to prevent the social safety net in climate legislation from moving ahead, they're going to use their power in the House to hold the bipartisan bill back until there's a deal on everything. They essentially view it as the best leverage they have to make sure centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona won't backtrack on their support of the social spending that they've all been negotiating, or that they won't go ahead and seek new cuts to what's been released.

KING: And yet this framework unveiled yesterday seems to actually have a lot of support among Democrats. Why is that?

SNELL: Well, they realize that they need to kind of reframe all of this fighting that they've been doing over the past couple of months and sell the measure that they've agreed on to the public. You know, at the end of the day, they are still moving towards about $2 trillion in new spending, with a goal of establishing programs that will become part of the fabric of the federal government. You know, they put together a package of tax provisions, including a 15% minimum tax on huge corporations, a new surtax on billionaires and multimillionaires to pay for several years of spending on things like universal pre-k for roughly 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds and a new system for capping the cost of child care for many families and half a trillion dollars in funding to address climate change and investment in, you know, packages on housing that Democrats are calling the largest in history. You saw President Biden come out yesterday and make this case before he departed for that overseas trip. And it's clear the White House had hoped for a deal ahead of his travel, but Biden and his allies made sure to talk up the plan yesterday. And we're going to see a lot more of that because that's what Democrats want to be doing before they head out into another election year.

KING: Sure. Does it look like a deal will ultimately come together?

SNELL: Well, this may sound like "Groundhog Day," (laughter) but they're still trying to get these last pieces to fall into place. You know, the deal isn't exactly done yet. Most progressives, like I said, are embracing it. The leaders are embracing it. And it's just a question about whether Manchin and Sinema are going to really sign off on it. They want a rock-solid deal there. You know, it is, like I said, nearly $2 trillion in spending, and Democrats have to do this alone because Republicans are unwilling to support any of this. While Democrats may not like making some of these programs temporary or accepting a lot of the trims that they have had to go through here, some of it could be a political gift. It allows them to go out and campaign by telling voters that they delivered these big programs and their opponents would just take it away. It's a dynamic that helped Democrats win the House in 2018 when they campaigned on saving Obamacare, and they want to replicate that.

KING: It's something concrete. Yeah. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

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KING: Facebook wants to move beyond just Facebook.

MARTINEZ: CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a corporate rebranding yesterday. The social network will still be known as Facebook, but the company that owns it will be called Meta.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: Building our social media apps will always be an important focus for us. But right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can't possibly represent everything that we're doing today, let alone in the future.

MARTINEZ: And that future, he says, centers on something called the Metaverse.

KING: All right, before we get started, let me note that Facebook was until recently one of NPR's sponsors. Tech correspondent Shannon Bond is with us now. Hey, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: OK, so Meta is Greek for beyond. It also means, like, awareness of oneself. Why did Mark Zuckerberg pick that word? Do we know?

BOND: Well, you know, he's talking about moving beyond. So he says it made sense for the company to be called Facebook for these past 17 years because it was built on social networking, specifically on Facebook, the world's biggest social network. But he's saying that time is over, and he's looking ahead to the next platform for social interaction, which he says is this thing called the Metaverse.

KING: Which is what exactly?

BOND: It's a term that originates in science fiction and was actually coined in the novel "Snow Crash" back in 1992. But what Zuckerberg described in this glossy presentation yesterday that lasted more than an hour was this sort of immersive virtual digital world that's made possible by the technology he wants to build.

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ZUCKERBERG: You're going to able to do almost anything you can imagine - get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create, as well as entirely new categories that don't really fit how we think about computers or phones today.

BOND: So in this demonstration, he showed off his virtual avatar riding on an electric hydrofoil and then fencing with a hologram. To be clear, Noel, the technology that's actually going to power all of this is still years and, in some cases, even decades away.

KING: Decades. So then why is he betting an enormous company's future on something that'll take decades?

BOND: Well, he thinks this is where people in online commerce is going to shift. And also, look, Facebook is rapidly becoming the social network for old people, OK? Teenagers, the next generation, they're on apps like TikTok and Snapchat, not on Facebook. And so Zuckerberg is also talking about refocusing the company on appealing to people under 30, and that's both on its existing apps like Facebook and Instagram and in these new virtual experiences in the Metaverse. If it can't do that, that's an existential problem for the company.

KING: Do you think, lastly, that this name change is coming now because all of the criticism that Facebook as Facebook has been taking?

BOND: Yeah. I mean, Facebook says it's been working on this change for a while. But, of course, a lot of people are questioning the timing, right? I mean, we are just, you know, weeks into very damning news stories coming out of this trove of internal documents that were leaked by a whistleblower who was a former Facebook employee. Plenty of skeptics are saying that this name change is really just a public relations stunt, right? And so yesterday in the presentation, Zuckerberg did nod at this criticism. He said people might be wondering, why are they doing this now? Is the time right for this? He says he really believes in building for the future, pushing ahead with technology. He says this company, his company, Meta now, has to focus on the future, and that future is the Metaverse.

KING: NPR's Shannon Bond. Thanks, Shannon.

BOND: Thanks, Noel.

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KING: All right. New York's former governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been ordered to appear in court to face a criminal complaint.

MARTINEZ: It's a misdemeanor charge of forcible touching. Cuomo resigned in August after multiple women accused him of sexually harassing them, and we should warn you that this interview includes some details about sexual misconduct. Cuomo still denies that he did anything seriously wrong.

KING: NPR's Brian Mann has been following this one. He's with us now from upstate New York. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What do we know about this incident, about this allegation?

MANN: Well, according to the criminal complaint filed yesterday by the Albany County sheriff, a female staffer was at the governor's mansion doing work back in December when Andrew Cuomo allegedly put his hand under her blouse and touched her breast. The complaint accuses Cuomo of degrading the woman, and - I'm quoting here - "gratifying his sexual desires." Forcible touching is a class A misdemeanor in New York, and that means, if found guilty, Cuomo could face up to a year behind bars.

KING: What does he say about this?

MANN: Well, from the beginning, Cuomo's denied any wrongdoing, any serious wrongdoing. And yesterday evening, his attorney, Rita Glavin, issued a statement saying Cuomo has, quote, "never assaulted anyone." And Glavin went on to accuse the Albany sheriff, Craig Apple, of mounting a politically motivated and improper investigation. And really all along, Noel, Cuomo has said he was driven out of office by what he describes as a political witch hunt. But it's important to point out that all the players involved in this in the state legislature, the Attorney General's Office, even the Albany County sheriff, they're all Democrats, members of Cuomo's own party. And Andrew Cuomo has never really articulated a clear explanation why these women who've accused him and all these politicians and people in law enforcement, why they'd all conspire against him.

KING: Right. So women, plural, and that's the thing to note here. There's one criminal complaint, but this is part of a much wider scandal involving multiple women.

MANN: Yeah, this was a remarkable political downfall. Cuomo, of course, gained national fame with his daily briefings during the first months of the pandemic. But over the last year, a total of 11 women have come forward, accusing Andrew Cuomo of harassment, touching them inappropriately. And a probe by the State Attorney General's Office led to a damning report that found a lot of evidence supporting the women's claims. You know, at first, Andrew Cuomo promised to fight to stay in office, but when it became clear he would be impeached and removed by his fellow Democrats in the legislature, he stepped aside. But, of course, we know now it didn't end there. The Albany County Sheriff's Department opened this probe into Cuomo's behavior and yesterday filed this first criminal complaint; really a devastating moment for Cuomo, who himself, of course, is a former state attorney general as well as governor.

KING: And now he'll be appearing in court. When is that?

MANN: Yeah, he's been ordered to appear in November, November 17, which means it doesn't appear there will be sort of a dramatic public arrest, which some of Cuomo's critics have called for. Several other county sheriff's departments have signaled they're also investigating claims of sexual misconduct by Cuomo that allegedly occurred in their jurisdictions. And some of the women who've accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct have also indicated they might sue him. So, Noel, while the political fallout in Albany caused by Cuomo's downfall has really subsided, it appears a lot more turmoil ahead for Cuomo himself. This one criminal charge really could just be the start of his legal troubles.

KING: NPR's Brian Mann in upstate New York. Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.