News Brief: Trump Urges Repeal Of Obamacare; Turkish Journalists On Trial
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator John McCain returns to work today despite his cancer diagnosis. His vote is needed. There are some big votes ahead today for both chambers of Congress.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah, that's right. The House is going to take up a bill that imposes sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia. Senators are going to vote on whether to start debate on a health care bill. The question is, which bill? There's confusion over which of the various replacements for the Affordable Care Act that they're actually going to consider. Here is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy.
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CHRIS MURPHY: I don't know what's going to happen. So far as I can tell, my Republican colleagues don't know. There are three different versions of the bill that could possibly be up for a vote tomorrow.
MARTIN: That's Senator Murphy speaking on MSNBC last night. At this point, Republicans don't publicly have the votes they need to pass any of their health care replacement plans.
INSKEEP: One of our vote counters is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.
INSKEEP: Any idea? Do they have the votes?
MONTANARO: It's unclear at this point. You know, Senator Susan Collins of Maine is a no. And more than half a dozen other Republicans are undecided on whether or not to go forward with what's the first vote, which is just a motion to proceed, which is just what it sounds like, to just move on to the next step of the process. Donald Trump threatened Tom Price, who's the Health and Human Services secretary, seemingly in jest at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, which isn't really supposed to get political. But he went out there and said, if it doesn't pass, you're fired - seemingly jokingly. And he said that Shelley Moore Capito, one of those undecided senators, who's from West Virginia, said that she needs to vote for it. McConnell might be indicating, you know...
INSKEEP: Mitch McConnell, right?
MONTANARO: ...He thinks they do have the votes. Yeah, Mitch McConnell, who is the Republican Senate leader, controls the agenda because John McCain, who you mentioned there, who was diagnosed with brain cancer, is expected to make a pretty dramatic return to the Senate. And he's a yes vote.
INSKEEP: Oh, he is now a yes vote in spite of his own reservations about this entire process?
MONTANARO: He's got reservations. But he's a pretty loyal Republican and has been a yes vote and has not been one of the waver - wavering Republicans on this bill - on - not this bill - on this process.
INSKEEP: OK. Well, let's listen to some of what President Trump has been saying to pressure his fellow Republicans.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Remember, repeal and replace, repeal and replace. They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law.
INSKEEP: Domenico, I do remember repeal and replace. But Republicans never said what the replacement was and neither did the president, in spite of promises to do that. Do they know now what the replacement is?
MONTANARO: No, we have no idea. They have no idea what they'll even be voting on. We know that they'll vote on this motion to proceed, which it's not clear if they have the votes yet on it. And then they go on to about 20 hours of debate, which would expire tomorrow. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has promised to bring a full repeal with a two-year delay to the floor. But to this point, Republicans don't have the votes for that. And if he doesn't bring that or if it fails, then it's onto the Senate's version of no-holds-barred, which is called vote-a-rama.
MONTANARO: And, Steve, that's where anyone can bring any amendment to the floor and have it voted on. It's like doing the work from...
INSKEEP: Please, don't make us say the word vote-a-rama on the air.
MONTANARO: You just did. I just made you say it.
INSKEEP: OK, fine.
MONTANARO: It's like...
INSKEEP: What does it mean?
MONTANARO: It's - well, look, it's like doing the work that you would normally do for months in committee, doing it all out on the floor in a matter of hours or days.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, what's it mean that the House is now going to follow the Senate in imposing sanctions on Russia?
MONTANARO: You know, this has exposed the biggest rift between Republicans in the House and President Trump. This is not something he wanted to have to vote on. It really could curtail the powers of the presidency. And really, this is congressional Republicans having made Donald Trump cry uncle because now the White House is saying that he will sign these tougher sanctions.
INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks for joining us, really appreciate it.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: Shall we shift the focus a bit now to Turkey, where the prime minister is putting more pressure on his critics?
MARTIN: Yeah, critics including journalists. The government has put 17 newspaper employees on trial there. Protesters say journalists and newspaper employees have been targeted for doing their jobs.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
MARTIN: The voices of protesters crying, quote, "don't be silent. We have a right to a free press." The 17 staffers worked for one of the country's oldest newspapers. Turkey, of course, has steadily taken over major media outlets in the wake of this crackdown that has intensified after the failed coup last year.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer is joining us now from Istanbul. Hi, Lauren.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What did the newspaper employees allegedly do?
FRAYER: They are charged with writing things in this century-old newspaper that helped groups the Turkish government considers terrorists, predominantly...
INSKEEP: I thought you were just going to stop there and say they are accused of writing things in this old newspaper. I thought that was going to be the quote.
FRAYER: (Laughter) That's their job.
INSKEEP: Go on. Go on. I'm sorry.
FRAYER: They're accused of writing things that helped predominantly the movement of Fethullah Gulen. He is a Muslim cleric who lives in the U.S. The Turkish government blames his group for last year's failed coup that you mentioned, and he denies that. So these newspaper employees face up to 43 years in prison if convicted on what are terrorism charges. They were all arrested at their homes last October. Most have been in jail ever since. And it's not just reporters, by the way. The defendants include the newspaper's accountant, the newspaper's lawyer.
INSKEEP: OK. Well, what are people saying on the streets about this?
FRAYER: Here's someone I met outside the courthouse. Her name is Banu Guven (ph). She worked for a TV channel that was shut down by the government last year around the same time that these journalists were arrested.
BANU GUVEN: We were being accused of endangering the national security. So from then on, I'm doing my job as a freelancer. But it's becoming more and more difficult or almost impossible in Turkey.
FRAYER: And rights groups say that the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has jailed more than 150 journalists in the past year.
INSKEEP: You know, Lauren, we've been paying attention all year, especially this year, to a big theme around the world. Countries that have the forms of democracy - they're still having elections. They may have a, you know, popular leader, but they don't really have the reality anymore because so many elements of a democracy, like a free press, are being eroded or destroyed. How far is Turkey headed in that direction?
FRAYER: So it's not just free press, by the way. I mean, Amnesty International workers have been arrested here in recent weeks. I'll tell you a little anecdote that I think goes to the heart of this. Outside the courtroom, I met an elderly woman hunched over, in a headscarf, carrying a portrait of a - the man who founded modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in the year 1923.
And this woman told me that she worries that Ataturk's vision of a secular, democratic Turkey is fading with the arrests of journalists, with the arrests of human rights workers, with the purges in the business community of suspected followers of this Muslim cleric Gulen in sort of middle managers in business. And she feels like democracy is in danger here. And she's a - she was an elderly woman on the street. She's not a representative of a free press agency.
FRAYER: She's not representing other - anyone other than, you know, the - herself, the Turkish people.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer, thanks very much.
FRAYER: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: Hey, let's talk about the press in this country because The New York Times says it's had enough from Fox News.
MARTIN: Yeah, many personalities on the conservative channel openly support President Trump. So that means that they have joined Trump's regular attacks on The New York Times. We should note, despite the criticisms, though, the president has given several interviews to The New York Times.
INSKEEP: His favorite paper.
MARTIN: Over the weekend, Fox aired this segment accusing the times of publishing leaked information about an effort to kill the leader of ISIS. In reality, the Times published after the supposedly botched raid. But Fox hosts Pete Hegseth and Abby Huntsman then questioned the paper's patriotism.
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ABBY HUNTSMAN: Yeah. You think about what the role is that media today. Is it to inform and to protect the American people? Because if that is the case, you think about something like that and the harm that it does to our national security. So this happened...
MARTIN: The Times called the Fox segment malicious and asked for an on-air apology.
INSKEEP: NPR's David Folkenflik is here. No apologies from him. Hi, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So what caused - I mean, the - you know, Fox News criticizes the Times all the time. Why did the Times decide that this one required an apology?
FOLKENFLIK: A question I put to the Times itself. The Times argued that the way in which Fox News characterized what the Times had done in commenting on the weekend show "Fox & Friends" about the remarks of this four-star general, Tony Thomas, he's the head of the, basically, Army Special Forces - mischaracterized what the Times did and also really cast an incredible - them in an incredibly wrong light.
INSKEEP: Essentially messing up the timeline, right? According to the Times, their story was after the raid that was supposedly affected by their story in some way.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, they said they reported - look, you know, they said they reported these remarks uncritically from an appearance that Tony Thomas did in Aspen with Catherine Herridge, a Fox reporter. In fact, the Times said, look, we ran what we were going to publish by military officials at the Pentagon before we did so. They raised no objections...
INSKEEP: Oh, Tony Thomas. This is a guy who was at the security conference. And he makes a remark, which Fox News picks up. And...
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. He's a four-star general. And they say that, you know, they ran this uncritically and that they questioned then - they impugned the newspaper's - they impugned the newspaper's motives and that they did so in a way that didn't take seriously what they're doing as reporting. They said, look, a lot of this stuff was common sense. A lot of the stuff you'd know from past military raids. And why didn't Fox News's reporter think to question the grounds on which the general made those assertions?
INSKEEP: OK, David, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik this morning on The New York Times demand for an apology from Fox News.
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