News Brief: Government Shutdown, Viral Video, Mexican Gas Thieves

Jan 21, 2019
Originally published on January 21, 2019 8:10 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fund the wall, and DACA recipients will get three more years of protection.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That is the deal that President Trump has offered, over the weekend, to end the partial government shutdown. Vice President Mike Pence called this offer, quote, a "good-faith compromise" on "Fox News Sunday."

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The Senate leadership, Senator McConnell have agreed to bring this bill to the floor on Tuesday.

GREENE: Even still, it doesn't look like an agreement is on the horizon. As soon as Trump made his announcement, Democrats rejected his offer. And what happens now is the big question as hundreds of thousands of federal employees get ready to miss yet another paycheck.

MARTIN: So we've got NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley with us this morning. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First, can you just explain in more detail what the president was offering? And why exactly did Democrats find it to be insufficient?

HORSLEY: Sure. Under the president's proposal, Trump would get the $5.7 billion he wants to build a 230-mile stretch of border barrier. And in exchange, he's offering a temporary reprieve from deportation, both of the DACA recipients - that's the young people who were brought to the country as children - as well as several hundred thousand Haitians and Central Americans whose temporary legal status is in danger of running out. Now, we should say, some conservative commentators complain that the president's going too far here. They're calling this an amnesty. But in both cases, the reprieve from deportation would be for just three years, and that's why House Democratic Whip James Clyburn says his party is rejecting the president's offer.

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JIM CLYBURN: I think it's a non-starter for him to ask for a permanent wall and for us to have a temporary fix.

HORSLEY: Now, we should add, in both these cases, Trump would be temporarily fixing a problem that he himself created in rescinding DACA and the temporary legal status. This is a sort of standard Trump bargaining tactic. You do something your negotiating partner doesn't like, and then you offer to stop in exchange for concessions on the other side's part.

MARTIN: So Democrats keep saying, we're not even going to talk to the president until he reopens the government. Only then will we even engage on a conversation about potential border wall funding. But that seems to be a non-starter for the White House. I mean, is the administration even considering doing that?

HORSLEY: You know, Democrats will sweeten their offer a little bit this week. The House is expected to pass legislation that would reopen the government and include some additional money for border security measures but not the wall. Democrats want to show that, contrary to what the president's been saying, their opposition to wall does not mean opposition to border security. And then on the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is stirring himself to action, and they're going to vote on the president's proposal.

On the surface, Rachel, none of this looks likely to produce a resolution of the shutdown. But the question is going to be, does the president's offer change the blame game? Up until now, Trump and the Republicans have shouldered the lion's share of blame for the shutdown. And only if Trump's offer changes that public perception will Democrats feel any pressure to give ground.

MARTIN: Yeah. And meanwhile, Friday is supposed to be payday for the 800,000 or so federal workers impacted by this shutdown. And I mean, they're anticipating not getting another check. Right?

HORSLEY: That's right. And obviously, that is a great deal of hardship for those individuals. At the macro level, Rachel, it means that the jobs numbers for January that are going to come out early next month will show those furloughed workers subtracted from the overall employment picture. That will ultimately - that could be the first negative job growth we have seen since 2010. And ultimately, it'll be reversed when the workers get backpay. But it's going to be a temporary stain on what has been a record run of job growth in this country.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley for us this morning. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Did you see this over the weekend? A viral video of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial has a whole lot of people seeing what they want to see.

GREENE: Yeah. For some, the video shows a group of white high school students wearing Make America Great Again hats, mocking a Native American protester who's playing a drum.

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NATHAN PHILLIPS: (Playing drum).

UNIDENTIFIED COVINGTON CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS: (Chanting) Cov Cath is best.

What?

Cov Cath is best.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, other people saw the Native American activist intentionally walk into the crowd in an act of provocation. As longer videos emerged showing even more perspectives, we're going to try to understand what actually happened there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the fallout. And to do that, we are joined by Bill Rinehart of member station WVXU in Cincinnati, who's been covering this story. Bill, thanks for being here.

BILL RINEHART, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So these boys are students at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, which isn't far from where you are in Cincinnati. They were in D.C. for the March for Life against abortion rights. And one student in particular, named Nick Sandmann - he was the guy seen in the original video standing face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, the Native American activist.

So Bill, what can you tell us? What are each of these people - what are they saying about what happened?

RINEHART: Well, Mr. Nathan Phillips, in a video that circulated Saturday afternoon after the initial videos all on social media, he said he didn't understand what was going on. They were having their march, and suddenly, he felt like he was surrounded by young men and was confused about what the whole interaction was.

Now, the young man in question, the one that everyone has seen in the video, he released a statement Sunday evening and says that a lot of what people were saying is untrue. He says they were waiting for buses to pick them up after their attendance at the pro-life ceremonies. And he says, suddenly, there was a group of protesters at the Lincoln Memorial who started harassing them. And one of his classmates got permission from a chaperone to start a school chant. And he says that's when the Native American protesters approached our group.

MARTIN: We should say that the students also say they're the ones who were vilified by yet another group who was also gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This is a group called the Black Israelites here in D.C. They're known for shouting racist and offensive things, and they were doing that at these particular students. So this is really complicated. But the school has actually come out - the high school where these kids go to school, they have come out and condemned the students. Is that right?

RINEHART: They made a statement on Saturday that says (reading) we condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students toward Nathan Phillips specifically and Native Americans in general. They extended apologies to Mr. Phillips, and they said the behavior is, quote, "opposed to the church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person."

MARTIN: Yeah. As you point out, Nick Sandmann, the young man in the video, insists that he was actually trying to defuse the situation - that Nathan Phillips, the Native American activist, actually walked into the crowd and was approaching these students. This is Nick Sandmann's version of events. And the young man says that he was not being confrontational at all. So this is clearly confusing. How are people in the community responding?

RINEHART: There are people on both sides, folks who say these kids are - have acted incorrectly, and there are those who say the whole thing has been misunderstood and people should wait till all the facts come out.

MARTIN: Bill Rinehart of member station WVXU. Bill, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

RINEHART: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. The number of deaths continues to rise in a gas pipeline explosion in Mexico.

GREENE: Yeah. At least 85 people have been killed, and dozens more are injured and missing. This explosion occurred in Hidalgo, which is about two hours from Mexico City. And it came hours after this pipe ruptured, sending a geyser of fuel into the air, at a spot where people illegally tapped into the pipeline to siphon off fuel. And this is actually not a new problem. Mexico's president has tried to address this fuel theft. But with rising prices and a shortage of fuel, that's proving really challenging.

MARTIN: NPR correspondent Carrie Kahn joins us on the line from Mexico City. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do we know at this point about the explosion? What actually happened? Who's responsible?

KAHN: The exact person who tapped into the pipeline outside the small town in Hidalgo, we don't know. But authorities say they're looking into it. The attorney general says he will not prosecute those who joined in and were helping themselves to the free gas. He says he doesn't want to re-victimize the people. You know, as you said, this spot is a favorite around here for fuel thieves. And that practice is widespread throughout Mexico. Last year, the president says it cost the state oil company, Pemex, around $3 billion a year. And many in towns like this town, where the gasoline pipelines run through, benefit from the practice, either buying cheaper black-market gas or protecting criminal organizations.

There's also one big question in the investigation - is that police and armed soldiers were called immediately to the gas breach when it occurred. And for two hours, they were on the scene. And they didn't or they couldn't disperse the crowd that, at one point, reportedly grew to 600 to 800 people.

MARTIN: Wow.

KAHN: So they just want to get to the bottom of that, why that happened.

MARTIN: I mean, this explosion is obviously horrible. People died. But this bigger problem - significant problem - I don't want to call it bigger. But the fact that people are stealing gas - I mean, clearly, they just can't afford to buy gas. That's - what is Mexico trying to do about that?

KAHN: Well, the president has launched a crackdown against what he says is this widespread criminality. He's told the country in the weeks that he's been starting the crackdown, you know, just how deep this corruption has gone to allow this practice to be so widespread. It's gone - you know, he's implicated local officials, gas station owners, even Pemex, the oil company's, top officials. The head of security for the company is being implicated in the practice, you know? But the other answer is these pipelines run through rural, poor regions of Mexico, where poverty is high and opportunity is low. And as you said, you know, like, gasoline is expensive. It's expensive here. It's about $4 a gallon.

MARTIN: Wow.

KAHN: And so you know, I talked to people out in Hidalgo before the blast. And they say, you know, salaries are low here. People do what they do to get by. And black-market fuel is cheap, so they buy it.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Carrie Kahn for us this morning on this pipeline explosion in Mexico. At least 85 people have been killed, dozens more injured and missing. Carrie, thanks very much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "ANOTHER DAY [REVISED]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.