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Morning News Brief

Mar 15, 2018
Originally published on March 19, 2018 11:20 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It looks like the Democrats have pulled off that upset we have been talking about in Pennsylvania.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right. So Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have won the seat in the House of Representatives, defeating Republican Rick Saccone. This was happening in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. And that is based on a review of the vote by NPR member station WESA. And we should say, Saccone has yet to concede, and there is still the possibility of a recount. It is a race we have been following all week, but now that the dust has started to settle, we want to understand what this apparent win means going forward.

GREENE: All right, let's talk to NPR's Susan Davis, who is here. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So we've talked about even if the results aren't definitive, definitive, definitive, we've said all along that even a very close, tight race in either direction could be trouble for Republicans. I mean, is - how big of a worry is this for the GOP as they try to hold this majority?

DAVIS: It's certainly a worry. I think the one major takeaway of what happened in Pennsylvania is the House Republican majority is very much in play in this year's midterm elections. The macro political climate in this country is moving decisively in Democrats' favor. The enthusiasm gap you hear about is real. The question is, do Democrats have the candidates to run races in at least the 24 congressional districts they would need to net gain to take over a majority? And can Republicans suffering from a rather bruising loss in a district President Trump carried by 20 percentage points get better on defense and defend their majority?

GREENE: This is far from unprecedented. I mean, President Obama watched his party take big losses in midterms in 2010, 2014. Democrats seem to have trouble getting their important voters to show up in those off-year elections. So is this just the same thing happening to President Trump here?

DAVIS: It certainly seems that way. The lesson of these midterm elections in recent years seems to be that the president can hurt you, but he can't save you. The popularity of the president just doesn't seem to transfer down the ballot, and the coalitions that elected presidents don't really show up in midterms. The important thing here is Trump wasn't particularly unpopular in this district. He was actually still quite popular among Republicans there. The problem is Democrats are just more motivated to turn out. So even as Trump was going there to campaign and, yes, boosting the base turnout, he also has the effect of boosting Democratic turnout.

GREENE: So can you sense nervousness among Republicans on the Hill after this?

DAVIS: Their tone has been a little bit, you know, nothing to see here. Here's what House Speaker Paul Ryan said in response to the results.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: Both of these people, both of these candidates, the Republican and the Democrat, ran as conservatives, ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives. And I think that's the takeaway.

DAVIS: That's not quite the takeaway. That's been one of the popular excuses Republicans are saying. The president said the same. You know, the Democrat ran like Trump. He did not...

GREENE: But he still got a vote like a Democrat, though, presumably.

DAVIS: Yes. And he didn't...

GREENE: I mean, even if he's a conservative Democrat.

DAVIS: It's important because he didn't really run as a conservative, even as Republicans are saying that. He took some less liberal stances on guns and on tariffs. But he is a Democrat who ran against the Republican tax bill, who ran against opposing the Affordable Care Act. He ran on protecting Social Security and Medicare and support of medical marijuana. And one of the most interesting things to watch as we go forward is the fact that the Republican, tax cut bill which Republicans believed would help them in the midterm elections, does not seem to be having that effect with voters.

MARTIN: We should also say Conor Lamb is not pro-life. He personally is pro-life...

DAVIS: Correct.

MARTIN: ...But his policies publicly - he's like a Tim Kaine on this.

DAVIS: Right, that he would not vote to restrict abortion rights.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: And another thing to watch is that this is a Democrat but one who ran against Nancy Pelosi, saying that he wasn't going to support her, which could be some questions for the Democratic Party going forward. So a lot - a lot to chew over from this race.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: NPR's Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. President Trump has a new top economic adviser. It is Larry Kudlow.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE KUDLOW REPORT")

LARRY KUDLOW: So is the IRS scandal just the tip of the iceberg for the Obama administration? Well, will the Republican...

MARTIN: That is Kudlow there. He has had his own TV show on CNBC. The tagline was, quote, "we believe that free market capitalism is the best way to prosperity," which means he's a free trade guy and not a big fan of the president's tariffs. Here he is recently on CNBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CLOSING BELL")

KUDLOW: He's so good on taxes. He's so good on tax cuts. He's so good on deregulation, infrastructure. I even like him on immigration. He's never been good on trade.

MARTIN: So will Larry Kudlow change how the president thinks about free trade, or will he be sidelined like his predecessor?

GREENE: Well, let's bring in NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner. Hi, Uri.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let's start with some basics. If you're not someone who watches CNBC all the time, who is Larry Kudlow?

BERLINER: Well, he's most well known as being a media figure, as being a host, commentator, contributor, analyst, pundit on CNBC for about 25 years. And, really he's best known for being a champion of supply-side economics, of free-market economics, this idea that if you cut taxes and deregulate the economy, it's going to have a virtuous effect - prices will go down, hiring will pick up, there'll be a lot of investment in the economy. He's been championing this for 25 years or more.

GREENE: OK, which makes him, in some ways, sort of in the same place as President Trump. But when it comes to trade and protectionist policies, I mean, how far are these two guys apart?

BERLINER: They're apart, as you said, you know, on things like taxes and deregulation. He is very close to the president, but he was very critical in the beginning when this plan came out to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He tempered that criticism somewhat when Canada and Mexico were exempted from these tariffs. But it's going to be very interesting to watch to see how that dynamic plays out. You know, as we mentioned, that earlier on, the predecessor in this job, Gary Cohn, lost on the trade battle to the protectionists in the administration.

GREENE: So, I mean, as you said, this is a guy with a long - a lot of experience in television - maybe a good fit given the president's own background. And the president says he likes having people on his team who disagree with him. But, I mean, coming from television into the White House in a top role like this, I mean, that takes some adjustment, right?

BERLINER: Well, he's used to talking and he's used to talking off the cuff in this very unscripted way, offering bold, assertive opinions on things. Now, that could be good 'cause - if he's defending President Trump's policies. But it also could go off the rails if he sort of speaks off the cuff and disagrees with the president. And, you know, the president doesn't always like that.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Uri Berliner, NPR senior business editor. Uri, thanks a lot.

BERLINER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK. The United Kingdom announced yesterday that it is kicking out 23 Russian diplomats.

MARTIN: British Prime Minister Theresa May took this step in response to last week's nerve agent attack that happened in Salisbury, England. The attack left ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in critical condition. So how might Russia respond to the response?

GREENE: Well, let's ask NPR's Joanna Kakissis, who has been following this extraordinary story, one that feels like a Cold War novel, from London. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right. So Britain announces these expulsions of Russian diplomats. There's an emergency session at the United Nations Security Council, which sounds like it was just an extraordinary scene.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, it was a - it was really tense, and it was a highly unusual session because, you know, you don't usually have permanent members of the U.N. Security Council accusing each other of using weapons of war against each other. And that's essentially what the U.K.'s ambassador to the U.N., Jonathan Allen - he essentially described Novichok - that's this rare, military-grade nerve agent that was used to poison the Skripals - this is how he described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONATHAN ALLEN: A weapon so horrific that it is banned from use in war, was used in a peaceful city in my country.

KAKISSIS: And he went on to say that Novichok is not - it's not a weapon that can be manufactured by what he called non-state actors. He accused Russia of keeping supplies of Novichok even though Moscow declared in 2017 that it had destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons. And Allen got unequivocal support from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who very firmly said Russia was responsible. And as for Russia, you know, it says it had nothing to do with the poisoning. Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, he mocked both Nikki Haley and Jonathan Allen for their remarks. And he said that Britain is trying to ruin Moscow's reputation before the 2018 World Cup that Russia is hosting in just three months.

GREENE: That's amazing. Russia's saying this is a smear campaign by the British and that it has nothing to do with it.

KAKISSIS: That's right. That's right.

GREENE: It's amazing. All right, so Russia's denying involvement here. Russia also hasn't answered a key question, which is how this nerve agent, this Soviet nerve agent, actually makes its way to the U.K. But now, I mean, the sort of more urgent question - how is the Russian government going respond to having its diplomats kicked out of Britain?

KAKISSIS: Well, in the past, they have retaliated by expelling diplomats. And there have been hints that they're going to do it again. Russia's ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, said that Britain - that British diplomats would be expelled from Moscow in retaliation. He said the way the U.K. was handling this was unacceptable and that Britain should refer the matter to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

GREENE: Joanna, and we - it's important, I think, to say the British government is not just treating this as a single case. They see a trend here, and they feel like they are responding to part of a pattern.

KAKISSIS: Yeah. There's been - there was an investigation by BuzzFeed News a while back that discovered 14 suspicious deaths of Russian exiles. And now British authorities say they're going to investigate those deaths.

GREENE: This is just an extraordinary story. NPR's Joanna Kakissis in London following the back and forth between Russia and Britain, maybe involving other countries like the United States now, responding to that nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. Joanna, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIAM JOSEPH AND LINDSEY STIRLING'S "HALO THEME SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.