Morning News Brief
NOEL KING, HOST:
All right, President Trump is once again threatening to shut down the government if he doesn't get money for his border wall.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Right. And to understand this current moment, you've got to go back in time a few months to last March, when the president reluctantly signed a trillion-dollar spending bill. Back then the president considered vetoing this bill because it didn't include changes to the immigration system that he wants to make, including funding for a border wall. And he drew a line in the sand.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again.
MARTIN: Thing is, there's another spending bill due in a few weeks. So the president is putting the pressure on Congress to push through his plans or else.
KING: Or else. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe been following all of this. Good morning, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: All right, so Republicans control Congress. And they have tried to hash out a deal on immigration reform and border security over and over again. And so far they've failed. The president knows this is difficult, so why make this kind of threat? Isn't he sort of throwing his party under the bus?
RASCOE: Well, he doesn't look at it that way. President Trump says he believes immigration is a winning issue for Republicans. And he argues that this is actually a weak spot for Democrats. And he can say they are sympathetic to MS-13 and care more about people crossing the border than citizens. And that will energize his base. And of course as a candidate, one of his big selling points was a wall on the border.
RASCOE: Of course there's a lot of division on immigration policy even within the Republican Party. And not only that but, you know, the big news on immigration lately has involved families being separated at the border. And this was a policy that the White House had to walk back after huge outrage not just from Democrats but from Republicans. So Republican leaders in Congress don't want that to be the focus, but Trump clearly disagrees.
KING: No, congressional Republicans really do not seem to want this fight. Here's Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson on CBS' "Face The Nation."
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RON JOHNSON: I certainly don't like playing shutdown politics. I don't think it'd be helpful, so let's try and avoid it.
KING: And the head of the House Republican Congressional Campaign Committee said Republicans are, quote, "going to make sure we keep the government open." How worried are they?
RASCOE: Well, this is definitely a worry for Republicans because they are the party in power, so they think they will be blamed for this. They don't want this sort of turmoil right before midterms. And Trump's tweets make it even harder for Republicans to argue they aren't responsible because he's saying flat-out that he's willing to do this if his demands are not met. And last year, he tweeted that the country needed a, quote, "good shutdown." So the messages from Trump have kind of been all over the place on this. He's - has at times said that shutdowns are actually not good and can be damaging. But for Republican lawmakers, the message is clear. They don't want to risk a shutdown.
KING: Ayesha, just quickly, this week the president is going to hold campaign rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania. Do we know if he intends to make this threat of a shutdown, like, one of those issues he's going to hammer?
RASCOE: We don't know that. But we do know that he is planning to be campaigning six or seven days a week and trying to help these Republicans in tight races.
KING: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe - thanks, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Thank you.
KING: All right, we're going to stick with President Trump for a moment on a different issue and bring in NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Good morning, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: OK, so yesterday the president got into a very interesting, very public fight with A.G. Sulzberger, who's the publisher of The New York Times. What were they fighting about?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it started yesterday morning. The president disclosed that 10 days ago he had met with A.G. Sulzberger. That's the young Arthur Sulzberger who took over as publisher of The New York Times from his father at the beginning of the year. Trump tweeted he'd "spent much time talking about the vast amounts of fake news" - I'm quoting here - "being put out by the media and how that fake news has morphed into the phrase enemy of the people. Sad."
Sulzberger - and this is based both on a statement he put out in the 24 hours since and also on what he said privately since Trump's tweets - you know, pointed out that he had said the phrase fake news is untrue and harmful, but that he was far more concerned about the way in which the president labels journalists the enemies of the people, that this basically inflammatory language is - contributes to a rise to threats against journalists. And then he said explicitly it'll lead to violence.
Later in the day, Trump lashed out at the press and at The New York Times as well as The Washington Post directly talking about Trump Derangement Syndrome and talking about the failing New York Times in the kind of inflammatory language he often does.
KING: The president has said this thing, which is that trust in the media is, quote, "at an all-time low." Is that a fact? Is that true?
FOLKENFLIK: Trust has been driven up very, very high by I think the times we live in, the sort of polarized nature of the electorate and also the way in which I think the president has turned faith in the media into in some ways a partisan question, at least certainly for his core supporters. I mean, Republicans, if you look at them, self-identifying Republicans really have an extra ordinary level of distrust for the media.
But it's worth pointing out that at times that that self-identifying population is shrinking toward sort of the folks who most closely identify with the president. And so it becomes almost a tribal way of signaling whether or not you support the president, to have trust in it. So there is truth in what he's saying, but he's not exactly an independent observer in that. He's somebody who's helping to drive that.
KING: What about Sulzberger's worry - and he said this in his statement. He said, look; you know, the president's language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists. And he particularly mentioned journalists overseas who often do have a hard time in, you know, more strict countries. Is that happening? Is the president hurting?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, and this is fascinating because one of the things that Sulzberger has told people privately in the last 24 hours is he thought that Trump sort of seemed delighted when he raised that as though he was about to make an ask of the president - they can strike a deal, "The Art Of The Deal" sort of thinking. But in reality, Sulzberger said, hey, you want to beat up on - beat me up by name, go for it. You want to beat up on The New York Times, fine. That's fine. I'm not asking you to soften your criticism of us.
What I'm saying is in other countries, you are encouraging people who don't favor democracy, in fact autocrats, to be able to go after not fake news but independent checks and scrutiny on what they do by journalists. You're making it difficult. You think about countries like Turkey, Syria, even Egypt, Russia, other nations, the Philippines where there are rhetorical attacks on journalists. That's what Arthur Sulzberger was trying to convey to the president.
KING: NPR's David Folkenflik - thanks, David.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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KING: All right, today Zimbabwe will hold its first election since Robert Mugabe was pushed out last year.
MARTIN: Yeah. Mugabe ruled that country for 37 years. In November, his former vice president forced him out but kept the same ruling party in power. So voters in this moment are energized, but they still worry about the country's history of ballot stuffing and election violence.
KING: NPR's Eyder Peralta has been around the Zimbabwean countryside talking to people about today's vote. Hi, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: So this is a very historic moment for Zimbabwe. Who is running in this election?
PERALTA: So there are 23 candidates running.
KING: Wow. Wow (laughter).
PERALTA: Really - yeah. And one of the reasons this is historic, too, by the way, is not just that Mugabe is not on the ballot, but also the historic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is not on the ballot. So you have Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over power from Mugabe and is still the leader of the ruling party. And then you have a really young startup, a pastor, a lawyer who is running against Mnangagwa.
And both of both of these guys, Nelson Chamisa and Emmerson Mnangagwa, are running in a lot of ways on the same platform, which is a platform of change. Of course Mnangagwa has a lot more work to do because he has all the baggage that ZANU-PF, the ruling party, has with him. But he is saying, I am not Mugabe.
And in fact, yesterday we got a kind of curve ball thrown when Robert Mugabe invited the press to his mansion and said that he was backing the opposition. So today Mnangagwa, who was once Mugabe's vice president and once his enforcer, said, look; a vote for the opposition is actually a vote for Mugabe.
PERALTA: So both of these guys are making the case that, you know, they are the change candidates here in Zimbabwe.
KING: All right, change is one of those mushy words that politicians always use. What do voters want? What would change mean?
PERALTA: Change here is really simple. I mean, you know, you start with the economic. There's literally no money. There's no cash money here. And so people want cash. They want a new currency. They want the economy to get better. They want jobs. But they also want their votes to count.
PERALTA: And, you know, that's a big question. And today I was at a polling place in rural eastern Zimbabwe. And I spoke to a woman who called herself Esther (ph). She wouldn't give me her full name because she was a little bit scared. And she said that when she got there at 5 a.m., there were men at the polling place taking names to intimidate her. Let's listen to a bit of our conversation.
I mean, that makes you brave to be here today.
ESTHER: Yes. Yes. (Foreign language spoken).
PERALTA: And what she's saying is that they are brave because they want change. So they're willing to stand in line. They're willing to vote.
KING: You went out into the countryside, which is really interesting, not into the capital, Harare. And you did that because most Zimbabweans still do live in the country. So will these rural voters - do they have the potential to swing this election?
PERALTA: Well, it'll be interesting. We don't know. And we also don't know what level of intimidation will happen. This is historically where intimidation has happened. But there are observers here for the first time since 2000, U.S. observers.
KING: All right.
PERALTA: So that may stifle some of that.
KING: NPR's Eyder Peralta in the Zimbabwean countryside. Thanks, Eyder.
PERALTA: Thank you, Noel.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.