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News Brief: Trump Comment Causes A Stir, Immigration Plan

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on January 12, 2018 6:24 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Six senators - three Republicans, three Democrats - think they have a solution for DACA. That's the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But only if they can convince the president and other members of Congress to get onboard. And Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters not to give this any attention, which pretty much happened because during a meeting with senators about immigration policy President Trump used a vulgar slur to describe African nations. And that ended up overshadowing everything.

GREENE: It sure seemed to. And we have Scott Detrow, our colleague who's host of NPR's Politics Podcast. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So how are congressional leaders reacting to the president's vulgar comment?

DETROW: So there was broad condemnation. Many Democrats had reactions very similar to what Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House said. His quote was that President Trump's comments are racist and a disgrace. They do not reflect our nation's values - many Republicans critical as well. Utah Republican Mia Love, who has Haitian roots, put out a statement saying the president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values. You know, that being said, this is kind of in line with many things President Trump has said in the past. Remember. He began his presidential campaign making sweeping statements that Mexicans entering the country illegally were rapists.

GREENE: And I guess it's important to point out he used that vulgar term - he was referring specifically, it seems, to African countries. But also suggested that Haiti is a place where fewer immigrants should come to the United States...

DETROW: Yep.

GREENE: ...And suggested maybe Norway and places like that would be better places for immigrants to come. So this all happened when these bipartisan senators - this group of senators there talking about what seemed like an immigration deal. President Trump had been signaling he might support something like this. Where are negotiations now?

DETROW: Yeah, this is a group of three Democratic and three Republican senators. Before the meeting, they put out a statement saying they had a plan dealing with everything Trump wanted in a deal - DACA protections, border security and changes to the legal immigration system as well - said they're now trying to sell the rest of Congress on it. After the meeting, Dick Durbin's office says that has not changed. They're sticking to their plan as of now, and they're still trying to make that sales pitch. There are a couple of different other negotiations going on right now - different clusters of lawmakers. But this one in the Senate has been the most serious so far and has been the center of attention.

GREENE: So if this one has or had a lot of momentum - we know how President Trump feels about these talks - what is the rest of Congress feeling like as all these talks go on?

DETROW: You know, momentum is relative because most of Congress agrees on the general premise of doing something to keep DACA protectees in the country. After that, it splits very quickly. And you're going to have to cobble together a majority from a group of Republicans, many of whom want broader crackdowns on immigration - on illegal immigration, and Democrats, who are frankly resentful of the fact that they need to trade anything in order to get a permanent status for DACA protectees. So it's going to be hard. And you might have the rare case where it would come to the floor and the House, and Democrats who are in the minority would have to provide the majority of votes to get this passed. That's something that hardly ever happens.

GREENE: Scott Detrow is the host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you.

GREENE: All right, so another crucial decision on the president's table - it's whether to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal.

MARTIN: Yeah, remember. The deal with Iran and six world powers gave Iran sanctions relief. It lifted sanctions on Iran. And in return, Iran is supposed to limit its nuclear program. As early as today, the president could decide whether he wants to reimpose some of these sanctions that the U.S. had lifted as part of that deal.

GREENE: All right, here to talk about this - NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre in the studio. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So the Treasury Department is involved in sanctions in other countries. And yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seemed to give us a hint of what we might look for today, right?

MYRE: Right, he talked about the possibility of new sanctions - that this is what he was expecting. This may not be quite as much as he makes it sound because it's sort of out of the playbook, which there'll be minor sanctions against some companies or individuals but not big overarching sanctions against the government. It's a way to keep the pressure on Iran - or certainly the appearance of keeping the pressure on Iran without blowing up the entire nuclear deal.

GREENE: So his hope is that he can do as promised - keep pressure on, impose enough sanctions to look like he's doing that but hope that the deal itself can still stay in place for now.

MYRE: Right, and they could do that. The U.S. still can place non-nuclear sanctions on Iran.

GREENE: Oh, I see. There's a distinction in there.

MYRE: Absolutely, and so that's why you might see some of these smaller non-nuclear things, related to companies involved with missile testing in Iran or human rights abuses or things like that but not on the four corners of the nuclear deal.

GREENE: Why does this keep coming up? Why do we keep talking every so often about do we keep the deal - does the U.S. keep the deal in place or not? What does Trump do? Why does it happen?

MYRE: I think the president is asking the same question, David. And he can really blame or thank the Republican Congress for this. A lot of these laws were written during the Obama administration. And they were not pleased with President Obama's attempt to get this nuclear deal. And so they wanted him to come forward every 90 or 120 days and say, OK, is this still a good deal? Is this still in the U.S. interest? And sort of, you know, put him in a bit of an awkward position to keep defending the deal publicly.

Well, now that's carried over to President Trump. And so he has to keep coming forward and addressing this deal, which he has called the worst deal ever. He hates it, but yet he's got to come forward. His advisers are saying, eh, it's not a great deal. We're not big fans of it, but it's the best way to go. So it's putting Trump in this difficult position.

GREENE: Well, I wonder now that it's come up this time. This is - it seems like a sort of a different moment because we've had these big protests in Iran. Has that changed the dynamic of the debate here?

MYRE: It's certainly given it more attention now. And it's returned it to this fundamental question. A lot of the Republicans are saying look. This hasn't - the deal - the nuclear deal has not changed Iran's behavior. They're still cracking down on dissidents. They're supporting militant groups throughout the region. So see. The nuclear deal is not successful. But the supporters of the deal are saying look. This is specifically about Iran's nuclear program. They have had to scale it back and freeze it. There's intrusive monitoring. So Iran is abiding by the deal. The Trump administration has to sort of grudgingly acknowledge that they support the deal. And so that's sort of where we stand.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Greg Myre speaking to us about that Iran nuclear deal. Greg, thanks. We appreciate it.

MYRE: Thank you, David.

GREENE: All right, President Trump has also canceled a visit next month to the United Kingdom, which of course is considered America's closest ally.

MARTIN: Many in London think that's because he is worried about mass protests. But the president says it's because the new embassy, which he was supposed to open, cost too much.

GREENE: And he blamed President Obama and called that embassy deal a bad deal on Twitter. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right, so why is the president canceling here. Is it about the embassy, as he suggested on Twitter? Or is he worried about all these protests?

LANGFITT: Well, there were really big concerns about protests. There were big one - big protests after the inauguration here. But I spoke to somebody this morning who's familiar with how this all played out, and I learned that the president actually complained about this earlier this week - said he didn't like Prime Minister Theresa May, here in the United Kingdom, and as a real estate developer thought the embassy got a bad deal. And he didn't want to go to England. So it seems, to some degree, what the president said on Twitter may well be true.

GREENE: OK, so can you remind me of the backstory of this embassy.

LANGFITT: Yeah, sure. Yeah, we had an old - we had an embassy here for obviously an extremely long time. And the old embassy, it was in central London, prime real estate. And President Trump blamed President Obama for not getting enough money for it. The decision actually to move though was made under President Bush, and it was partly to get something that would be much more secure to prevent terrorism. The new embassy is south of the Thames River. Trump says it costs $1.2 billion. I think the big takeaway here is that the president seems to see his visit with a big ally in part through the prism of his former job as a businessman and sort of less as a politician or statesman.

GREENE: This is not a small thing.

LANGFITT: No.

GREENE: I mean, the U.K. and the U.S. have what's always been called this special diplomatic relationship. Normally, you wouldn't think that concerns over the cost of an embassy would do enough to cancel a presidential visit. So what's really going on here?

LANGFITT: Well, the other factor here is that the president seems to be pretty down on Prime Minister Theresa May. And the reason for that apparently is because she criticized him. After the president announced recently that the U.S. was going to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, she publicly disagreed with him on the decision. He shot back on Twitter basically saying, you know, you need to focus on fighting terror in the United Kingdom. So relationships between the two have been kind of frosty.

GREENE: And is that - how are people in London reacting to that? I mean, the idea of their country not getting along with the United States - I mean, is it awkward? Does it feel weird to people?

LANGFITT: That's a great question, David. I think that a lot of people are glad that he's not coming. He's very unpopular in multicultural London. But people are also concerned that the relationship is so important, especially as the United Kingdom moves to leave the European Union. They need new trade deals. They're worried about the economy. But a typical answer I got today - we got today - our producer went out - Sam (ph) went out to talk to someone. Her name was Anna Kayoko (ph). She's a retail manager at a major department store here. And here's what she had to say.

ANNA KAYOKO: Honestly, he no coming is good. U.K. don't need arrogance like that.

GREENE: Wow, that's simple and straightforward.

LANGFITT: And very typical, David.

GREENE: Huh. Is the visit ever going to happen? Could this be rescheduled?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yeah, it's been put off and put off. Remember. This was offered a long time ago.

GREENE: Right.

LANGFITT: Both sides apparently are hoping to get a working visit in, which is what this was supposed to be, sometime before this fall when there is expected to be a state visit by the president to meet the Queen. So this is not over at all. This is a very important relationship to both countries. The president is expected to come. And maybe the hope will be that if he is not as active on Twitter criticizing the United Kingdom's prime minister and other officials here, maybe things will calm down a little bit. And if he comes here in the fall for a state visit, they won't have quite as big protests as what they've been concerned about.

GREENE: Our colleague Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Frank, we appreciate it as always. Thanks.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.

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