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Morning News Brief: Nashville Rally, Tariffs On China


President Trump tried to fire up his political base at a rally in Nashville last night.


And he was there to do, really, two things - drum up support for Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn, who is running for Senate, and also work towards keeping Congress under Republican control. Most Republicans are running on the state of the economy and the tax cuts they passed last year. But last night, the president struck a different but familiar message on immigration.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe covers the White House and was at the rally in Nashville.

Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hope you got a little bit of sleep. What was it like to be there last night?

RASCOE: It was very loud. The crowd was very into everything that President Trump had to say. So it was an interesting rally.

INSKEEP: And he was talking about immigration and in a particular way that he does. Right?

RASCOE: Yeah. So President Trump was very focused on MS-13 and really trying to make this issue of illegal immigration a safety issue. He basically said Democrats are too soft on gang members and care more about criminals than citizens. Democrats, of course, have argued that some of Trump's policies are cruel when it comes to immigration. But it's interesting because congressional Republican leaders have been trying to avoid this fight on immigration, particularly DACA. They don't want this to be the issue dominating the campaign.

INSKEEP: Yeah because they are, to an extent, divided - aren't they? You have some Republican lawmakers who want to vote on DACA, who feel people in their district want to vote on DACA, the program that would give legal status to people who don't have it at the moment, some people anyway.

Now, the president was there because there's a Senate race in Tennessee. Marsha Blackburn is the Republican candidate. What did he have to say about her?

RASCOE: He really talked up Blackburn. And that's notable because a lot of times at these rallies, they can really end up being all about President Trump and maybe some controversial statement that he makes. But this time, he really kind of stuck to the script. And Blackburn did speak to the crowd, and she said that President Trump needs Republicans who will back him. Here's a little bit more of what she had to say.


MARSHA BLACKBURN: Tennessee needs a senator who is going to support President Donald Trump. And I...


BLACKBURN: I am going to be there to stand with President Donald Trump and take your Tennessee values to Washington, D.C., to fight with him to get the job done. Thank you all so much.


RASCOE: And that may have been a subtle dig at Senator Bob Corker, who was also at the rally. The crowd even booed Corker when he was introduced by Trump because Corker has been critical of President Trump at times.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And of course, Corker is the one who is retiring, leaving the Senate seat open.

I want to ask about something else, Ayesha. The very evening of this rally, The New York Times reported something new about the investigation of possible obstruction of justice, of the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the election. The Times reports that, at one point, President Trump berated Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself from the investigation, said that he should reverse that decision because he wanted a loyalist overseeing the investigation. That was the report.

Did the president mention the Russia investigation at all in this rally last night?

RASCOE: He did mention the investigation. And he once again turned the topic to the issue of the investigators at the FBI and the Justice Department, saying that it was horrible that he felt that his campaign had been infiltrated going back to that, quote, unquote, "Spygate." And so he did bring that up at the rally and tried to get the crowd kind of worked up about it.

INSKEEP: A discussion of an informant that the FBI used when trying to track Russian interference in the election.

Ayesha, thanks very much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.


INSKEEP: Oh, my gosh - was this only last week? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that the administration was putting its trade war with China on hold.

GREENE: That was only last week. But then we have yesterday and the White House saying that it is developing new limits on Chinese investment in the United States and also preparing to slap steep tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese exports. This move comes just as the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, is preparing for a trade mission to Beijing later this week. And it appears calculated to keep the pressure on China over what the administration is calling that country's unfair trade practices.

INSKEEP: NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn is on the line. Hey there, Anthony.


INSKEEP: So what more can you say about the administration measures here?

KUHN: Well, I think these measures are going to be seen in China as mean-spirited and very political. And here's why. Those tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese exports are aimed at high-tech goods that China does not yet make and does not yet export but wants to. And the message the Chinese get from that is that you are not allowed to develop high tech because we suspect you of stealing our technology from the U.S.

And another thing was not in the raft of measures that the White House announced but was reported by several media - and that is that the U.S. is going to make it harder for Chinese students who are studying in sensitive tech fields in the U.S. And, as you may know, China is pretty used to sending its talented students to the U.S. to study tech and science at these...

INSKEEP: Well, this is really interesting, Anthony...

KUHN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Because here in the United States, people are becoming more aware of this Made in China 2025 platform, as I believe it's called. This is the Chinese listing a bunch of high-tech industries...

KUHN: Right.

INSKEEP: ...And saying they want to dominate them within a few years. So it sounds like this Trump administration remove is a fairly direct response to that, saying we're not going to let you get away with it.

KUHN: That's right. But to say that, you know, Chinese students coming to the U.S. to study tech and science are going to face limits, to Chinese, makes them feel like they're being - you know, suspicion is being cast on them that they're spies, they're going to engage in industrial espionage. And it's really seen as very political and mean-spirited, I think.

INSKEEP: Anthony, what about the timing of this? The administration is making this move at the very moment, just days before this projected summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea diplomatic dance in which China, as North Korea's friend, is a major player.

KUHN: That's correct. And you may have noticed that President Trump seems to think that China did something to set North Korea against the U.S. Both the U.S. and China seem a little bit uncomfortable about North Korea getting too comfortable with the other side, and so we've had these statements. I think if the U.S. really thought China could still derail the summit, then they wouldn't do something like this, which could be seen as irritating Beijing. So I think they consider the summit set.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.


INSKEEP: OK. Roseanne Barr has long been a provocateur. But yesterday, she paid a price for going too far.

GREENE: Yeah. On Twitter, Roseanne Barr was referring to the Islamist political party, the Muslim Brotherhood. She tweeted that if, quote, "Muslim Brotherhood and 'Planet Of The Apes' had a baby, it would equal VJ." She was referring to former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. That tweet drew a flurry of condemnation, though many also came to her defense.

Just hours after the tweet, ABC pulled the plug on her show. Now Jarrett says she wants to use this moment to highlight everyday examples of racism.


VALERIE JARRETT: I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense.

INSKEEP: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans has been following this story, and he joins us now to discuss it. And I have one question, Eric. This is an obviously racist remark. But Roseanne Barr has been tweeting racially charged, racist or just conspiratorial things for quite some time. How can ABC act like they're shocked that she would say something like this?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Yeah, I was at a press conference featuring the cast and producers in January, and people asked about this. And at the time, it seemed as if executives and producers were trying to minimize what she had done. Roseanne herself joked about how her son had gone back and deleted many of her more controversial tweets. But she had a tweet in 2013 where she compared Obama aide Susan Rice to a simian. She had called Islam a rape pedo culture in another tweet and also retweeted some conspiracy theories about Democrats being involved with sex trafficking.

So the evidence was out there that she was saying these things on social media. But some of them had been deleted. Some of them had been kind of minimized. And I think this may have been the first time that a tweet like this happened when everyone was paying attention and there was no way to delete it or walk it back or minimize it.

INSKEEP: Do you have any insight into ABC's decision to work with Roseanne at all, knowing - I mean, they must have had some sense that there was a potential downside like this.

DEGGANS: I think, obviously, there was this trend of reviving or rebooting old shows that has been very successful. And I think they had the sense that "Roseanne" could be that kind of success. And it was that kind of success.

And I think people also remembered the original "Roseanne" show, which was much different than this. It was often an advocate for inclusion. It often talked about racism and talked about opposing homophobia. And so it was sort of hard to square what was happening on that show, which Roseanne controlled, with the way that she seems to be acting on social media now.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And even the new version of the show had different kinds of characters. That's NPR's Eric Deggans talking with us this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.