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News Brief: Current Political Divide And A Call For Cease-Fire In Yemen


There is a growing unease among Americans. Many see a lack of civility in our politics, and some fear that this could lead to more acts of violence.


Yeah. That's according to a new poll from NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist. It's out this morning. And it finds that more than 4 in 10 likely U.S. voters believe President Trump's abrasive style is to blame for this. Here's something else that more than three-quarters of likely voters actually agree upon. We're talking Republicans, Democrats and independents. Seventy-six percent of likely voters say that the level of civility between elected officials in Washington has gotten worse since President Donald Trump took office.

GREENE: Now let's talk about this with NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.


GREENE: All right. So our politics - I mean, I don't know if we could call them all that civil war before President Trump took office. But it looks like a lot of Americans are really getting more and more worried, which makes me wonder, like, could this be a change election? Could they say they want a different kind of politics and we might see voters, you know, voting on that mission?

MONTANARO: I'm not sure that they're going to actually be voting on civility in public life. I think most voters kind of, in a lot of ways, reflect the politicians, too, and are much more polarized. And especially in a midterm election, those activist, you know, hard-charging feelings are the things that usually motivate people out to the polls.

And to be honest, we haven't really seen a big change in, you know, kind of the fundamental way of how people feel, you know, since President Trump, essentially, was sworn in.

You know, whether it's a change election or not, it's certainly shaping up to look that way in the House, where all 435 congressional seats are up. That really hasn't changed. In the Senate, it's a little bit different because only about a third of seats are up and where those races are being run.

GREENE: Well, let's dig into these new numbers, if we can, a little bit. One thing stands out pretty starkly. Voters really are drawing a direct line between political hostility and divisiveness and some of the violence we've been seeing, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah, 4 in 5 voters are concerned that the negative tone and lack of civility in Washington will lead to acts of terror or violence. That's pretty striking. And like you said, that does go across party lines.

But here's the rub. They don't agree on who's to blame for that tone. You know, about 4 in 10 say it's President Trump. About a fifth, by the way, David, say that it's how the media reports on the news. You know, a similar percentage blame President Trump's rhetoric and demeanor for those improvised explosive devices that we saw mailed to high-profile Democrats and critics of the president.

But that's pretty largely reflective of the strongly negative feelings we've seen toward this president since he was sworn in. Consistently, in poll after poll, about 40 percent of people say they strongly disapprove of the job he's doing.

GREENE: What other numbers stand out to you as we get close to these elections?

MONTANARO: Well, look; you know, the president has just a 41 percent job approval rating - historically low. But again, not very - not terribly different. And Democrats are leading on that question of who you'd rather control Congress by 6 points with all - with registered voters, 9 points with likely voters. And that's a range our pollsters say points to a flip of the House if everybody who says they're going to vote actually goes and does so.

GREENE: All right. NPR lead politics editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.


GREENE: All right. It's time to go shopping for health insurance if you buy your health insurance on those Affordable Care Act exchanges.

MARTIN: Right. They open today in most parts of the country. And for all of the worry about rising premiums, the market may not look that different from what we have seen in the past.

GREENE: And let's talk about what to expect with NPR's Alison Kodjak. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So health care - I mean, it's a big topic in these midterms. And, you know, I've been out talking to voters. It's an issue that people really worry about. I mean, so take me to this moment when there are actually going to be many of them, at least, buying their insurance for this year.

KODJAK: Yeah. So what's interesting is even with all the talk that's out there and all the talk in Washington, not that much has actually changed in the marketplaces. The biggest difference that people will see is if they don't want insurance, then they're not going to have to pay the tax penalty that they would normally have in the past.

But people who do want insurance - in every state, they're going to be able to find policies that have all the benefits that were required under the Affordable Care Act. They cover prescriptions. They cover mental health. They cover hospitalization and doctor visits. And those policies, if you buy them through the exchanges, they're definitely going to cover your pre-existing conditions, which is one of those big worries. And so that all is still in place.

GREENE: And remind me. You're saying that if people don't want insurance that there's not going to be a penalty. Why is that?

KODJAK: Well, during the - Republicans last year, when they passed that tax cut bill, they also eliminated the tax, which is that tax penalty that people would've had to pay if they didn't have - they couldn't prove that they had health insurance.

GREENE: OK. So you face less punishment, or no punishment, if you don't get insurance.

KODJAK: No punishment, really. Yeah.

GREENE: What about costs? I mean, are costs going up, as some politicians, you know, frequently talk about?

KODJAK: Now that really depends on where you live. So in most places, on average across the country, costs are stable and actually went down a tiny bit. But in some places, rural areas, premiums have gone up again. And, you know, Wyoming's one example where, across that state, premiums seem to have gone up.

But keep in mind, even if costs - top-line costs have gone up where you live, there are subsidies available. Almost 90 percent of customers last year got some sort of financial assistance to pay for their premiums. And the biggest issue there is if not everyone qualifies for subsidies. If you have a higher income, you have to pay the full premium. And those are going to vary state-by-state. In New Jersey, those premiums, on average, are in the mid-$200. But as I said, in Wyoming, they're more than $700 a month.

GREENE: And you mentioned pre-existing conditions, which has become such a topic out on the campaign trail, and that they still are covered, or covered by some plans? What's the deal?

KODJAK: So if you buy on the ACA exchange, those pre-existing conditions are still covered. But there are more and more policies available. They're called short-term policies, and they have less protections. So if you're looking for something that covers pre-existing conditions, it's important to check the fine print or buy through the exchange, and then you'll know that those conditions are covered.

GREENE: NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak, always making sense of a very complicated topic. We always appreciate it, Alison.

KODJAK: Thanks, David.


GREENE: All right. So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have called for a cease-fire in Yemen, and also for U.N.-led peace talks over the next 30 days.

MARTIN: This is a significant policy shift for the United States because for years, the U.S. has been supporting Saudi Arabia's air campaign in Yemen against the Houthi rebels who took over the government there. The war in Yemen has brought on what is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The U.N. says there are about 14 million people facing starvation there right now.

GREENE: And journalist Iona Craig has been covering Yemen since 2010, before the country's civil unrest became an all-out war. And she joins us on the phone from the U.K. Hi, Iona.

IONA CRAIG: Good morning.

GREENE: So the U.S. for so long has been, I mean, really solid in supporting the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, even as the death toll has gone up and there have been concerns about the state of this country and what this war has caused. So what has changed now?

CRAIG: I think we're in a different environment now after the death of Jamal Khashoggi, and also now with increased coverage of the potential famine in Yemen, the humanitarian crisis. There were some very strong images that have come out of Yemen in the last few weeks that also added to that pressure.

And - but I think what's really brought it into focus is the general criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and, certainly, people's general now-skepticism over Saudi's narration of events, really. We've seen what happened after Jamal's killing, the story that came out of Saudi Arabia initially that kept changing and then repeatedly changed.

And prior to that, both the U.S. and the U.K. and other governments always said that they believe what the Saudis were telling them about trying to reduce civilian casualties, and they relied on them for that kind of information. And I think it brings all of that into doubt now. And certainly, you know, from reporting from the ground and from human rights organizations as well as journalists, it's been quite clear that the Saudi narrative on the war in Yemen has not matched with evidence from Yemen and from working there.

GREENE: It's just so interesting, I mean, that the United States was willing to accept that Saudi narrative for so long. And you're saying the killing of this Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could have really, I mean, changed everything, in a way, when it comes to this war if the U.S. backs out of supporting the Saudis here.

CRAIG: Yes. I don't know that it's going to lead to the Americans backing of supporting Saudis. This is the strongest statement that's been made, but I think we also have to look at the timing of it, the warnings from the U.N. about the prospect of famine and the U.S. administration not being wanted - wanting to let them back in their lap.

Also, what has been tabled after the midterms is the vote on the War Powers Resolution, which happened back in March. But again, it's renewed pressure on Saudi Arabia. And that's a bypass advance toward resolution, and that could potentially stop all U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen.

And by putting this statement out now with this 30-day timeline, that will come off with, potentially - that vote at the moment - the way it's tabled. And so this may mistake some lawmakers and stop them from supporting that resolution with a view to giving time to this now-demand that there should be a cease-fire and political talks within the next 30 days.

GREENE: Will there be frustration that after what we have known about the humanitarian crisis and all of the deaths in Yemen, that it took sort of this killing of a journalist to cause the United States to change course?

CRAIG: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think certainly from Yemeni perspective, they can't understand why it's taken the death of a single journalist to make people, you know, aware of what's happening in Yemen and the thousands of people that have not just died in the airstrikes and in the conflict, but the hundreds of thousands that are at risk now or have already died as a result of starvation and a lack of medical care and because of the economic collapse. So I think, yes, certainly, for Yemenis, it's bewilderment, really, that it's taken the death of one journalist to raise these issues.

GREENE: Iona Craig is an independent journalist covering Yemen, knows that country very well and has been covering it for quite some time. She's a Future of War Fellow at New America. Iona, thanks a lot.

CRAIG: Thanks for having me.


Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.