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News Brief: HHS To Protect Religious Objectors, Trump's First Year Poll, Apple Jobs

Jan 18, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has frequently promised to protect religious freedom in this country.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, and his administration believes action it will take today will do just that. This morning, the Department of Health and Human Services is set to announce a new division for conscience and religious freedom. It's going to aim to protect medical professionals who object to participating in procedures that go against their beliefs.

MARTIN: All right, to better understand the implications of this, we are joined in our studio by NPR's health policy correspondent, Alison Kodjak.

Hey, Alison.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's this new division all about?

KODJAK: Well, so the division's being created as part of the Office of Civil Rights (ph), and we're going to learn a lot more details later this morning. But what it appears to be is a broad and - a broad new division aimed at protecting anyone who cites moral or religious reasons for refusing to take part in, say, abortions or to treat transgender patients or perhaps participate in other kind of types of health care.

MARTIN: Things that they would claim are antithetical to their morals or set of ethics or religion.

KODJAK: Right.

MARTIN: So I thought that Health and Human Services already had protections for - in those cases.

KODJAK: They have some. So the protections right now - last year, they issued new rules that allow employers who offer insurance coverage to refuse to pay for birth control if they cite a religious or moral objection. And, you know, the - this is actually sort of a reversal of an Obama-administration policy that said everyone - they have to treat transgender patients, and they have to participate in health care if they're going to work in health care. But when HHS offered those new guidelines last year, the head of the Office of Civil Rights made it clear that in his mind, the right to, as he put it, live out your religious identity, really needs to be protected just as much as any other civil right.

MARTIN: So this is just going to expand the religious exemptions when it comes to doctors and physicians and what they can treat and what they can't.

KODJAK: It is. It's a whole new division that will review issues and things like that. So they're going to expand what people can object to, and the idea that they can do a moral or religious exemption...

MARTIN: Ah, that's a difference.

KODJAK: That's something that has brought - had made a lot of critics worried because you don't have to have a specific religion.

MARTIN: Religious doctrine to point to.

KODJAK: Exactly, exactly.

MARTIN: So what else are critics saying? I imagine there's a lot criticism out there.

KODJAK: Yeah, a lot of groups are weighing in - everybody from the ACLU to physicians' groups to, of course, Planned Parenthood. The doctors' groups say they're worried this could hurt patient care. Say you're a transgender person who comes in to an emergency room, and maybe it's a Catholic hospital. And, you know, what if people in that emergency room decide they're not going to treat you?

You know, it's unclear how much this will actually play out. But I talked to Senator Jim Lankford, who's been pushing for something like this. His office yesterday - they cited nurses in Texas who did not want to participate in abortions but were required to because it was an emergent situation.

MARTIN: And they would find that to be a big problem.

KODJAK: Right, exactly.

MARTIN: ...Because it stands in the face of their religion.

KODJAK: So it's unclear how much this happens, but it could.

MARTIN: All right, NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak for us this morning about these imminent changes to religious exemptions at Health and Human Services agency. Thanks, Alison.

KODJAK: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, David, day in, day out, we cover big institutions, right? We're talking about corporations, Congress, the president, the media.

GREENE: And here's something all of those institutions have in common. Americans have lost faith in them. That is one of the takeaways from this NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that is out now. The poll also asked about President Trump's popularity as we approach the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

MARTIN: OK. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to break down the numbers with us.

Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Americans don't trust institutions. We knew this. I mean, this was something that Donald Trump tried to capitalize on the campaign trail, right? What exactly are the numbers pointing out?

MONTANARO: Well, political institutions that have served, really, as the cornerstone of American democracy - they're in real trouble - I mean, from Congress to the political parties and the presidency itself. You know, Trump may have campaigned on that, but the office of the president doesn't do very well, either. Americans have very little confidence in any of those. Just 8 percent have a great deal of confidence in Congress, for example. Only about 1 in 3 have much confidence in the Republican or Democratic parties. And right in there with them, Rachel, is us in the media.

MARTIN: It's disheartening. So let's talk about the president specifically. We know that his poll numbers have not been great over the past year as taken in snapshots. But when you look back at the entire year, how's he doing?

MONTANARO: Not very well. His approval numbers largely remain the same. About 57 percent don't approve of the job he's currently doing. We also asked, though, about how he's done in his first year as we approach the one-year anniversary this weekend of him being sworn in as president, and here's where the numbers are really striking. Fifty-three percent of Americans say the president's first year was a failure, and by a 2-to-1 margin, people say that he has divided the country.

Now, they do give Trump, I should say, relatively positive marks on his handling of ISIS and the state of the economy. And those aren't small things, especially in an election year, right? But on just about every other issue, they don't think he's done a very good job at all. And by the way, that includes foreign policy and, you know, that alert that went out over the weekend in Hawaii that shook the island. It's not surprising to see why people were so scared because more than 7 in 10 Americans are concerned about the possibility of war breaking out with North Korea.

MARTIN: So 53 percent of Americans think that the - his first year was a, quote, "failure." How does that stack up to other presidents at this time in their tenure?

MONTANARO: Well, for Barack Obama, for example, we were in the middle of the Great Recession. Numbers weren't great for him, either. Almost half the country said that he had fallen below their expectations. But he did have a majority on his side when people were asked about the direction Obama was taking the country, and that's not the case for Trump.

MARTIN: It's an election year, of course - midterms coming up this fall. Anything in this poll that could help us as we anticipate those votes?

MONTANARO: Well, certainly, it's never good when the president has this kind of - these kinds of numbers and his party rates so badly. Democrats, like I noted, don't do much better, but Americans do say they prefer Democrats to control Congress by about 6 points. But that's actually lower than a lot of other polls that have that have been out there. And I asked our pollster about this, and he said that what kind of happens is that when the president is tweeting things that are embroiled in controversy, then the number widens out. And that could be a - actually, a bad sign for Democrats because if he controls things during the - during October, that could be a bad sign for Democrats.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, we know Apple makes a lot of stuff that we use a lot - the iPod, the iPhone, the i-everything (ph).

GREENE: I-everything.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: The i-radio (ph) program.

MARTIN: They're around. They make a lot of things.

GREENE: Yeah, they also get criticized, though, for making a lot of those products in China and also holding a lot of their cash overseas. Yesterday, though, that company announced a huge investment in the United States. Apple plans to build a new campus and bring on 20,000 jobs over the next five years, and this led President Trump to take some credit for this. He tweeted last night, quote, "I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States."

MARTIN: All right, we are going to bring in Kif Leswig (ph) - he - Leswing, rather. He's a senior reporter at Business Insider.

Hey, Kif.

KIF LESWING: Hey, how you doing?

MARTIN: Doing well. What more can you tell us about Apple's plans here?

LESWING: So, you know, yesterday, there was a variety of announcements, but one of the biggest ones is that it's going to make a one-time, mandatory tax payment of $38 billion, and that's a really huge number in taxes.

MARTIN: Wow.

LESWING: And it sounds like a huge number in taxes.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LESWING: But it's actual - it - yeah, yeah. It - I mean, and it is. But it's actually much less than it would've been before the new U.S. tax law that was passed in December. So, you know, the fact that Apple is paying this now signifies that they've saved a lot of money on their taxes.

MARTIN: And so this is a voluntary thing. They're, like, doing this out of the goodness of their own heart now.

LESWING: No, it's mandatory, and, you know, it's under the new U.S. tax law. Under the new U.S. tax law, they could pay over a period of time or they could pay all at once, so they decided to go with the all-at-once approach. So no, they're not doing this out of the goodness of the heart. This...

MARTIN: So this money - presumably, this is going to come back into the U.S. economy in some way, and President Trump has - wants credit for this. Should he get it?

LESWING: Yeah, he does want to credit for this. And, you know, he - and he tweeted about last night, calling it a huge win. Yet, I think he deserves credit for, you know, collecting these taxes, but maybe not necessarily for the new 20,000 employees in the campus that they were also speaking about yesterday.

MARTIN: Do we know where this new Apple campus is going to be?

LESWING: No. And, you know, the rumors haven't really started yet. It's not like Amazon. Amazon basically put out, you know...

MARTIN: Bids.

LESWING: ...A request...

MARTIN: Requests, yeah.

LESWING: ...For all these cities. Apple's not doing that, Apple's doing it more quietly. But no, we don't really have any idea. Apple does have a big campus - Austin - already, so...

MARTIN: We'll see where campus No. 3 might be. Stay tuned for that. Kif Leswing of Business Insider talking about these new investment moves by Apple. Thanks so much, Kif.

LESWING: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRFKR SONG, "GOLDEN LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.