Morning News Brief: Trump Blasts Sessions, DeVos Talks To Conservative Activists
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Meghan McCain writes that, of her family members, the one most confident and calm right now is her father.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Her father is Senator John McCain. And his office says he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The medical term is glioblastoma. It's a type of tumor. They found it when they removed a blood clot from his head earlier this week.
McCain's absence leaves Republicans a vote short at a moment when their agenda is in peril. But the response goes well beyond that.
The analyst Susan Hennessey says the McCain news hurts because he exemplifies public service and, quote, "we need him now."
INSKEEP: That's the start of our discussion with NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So I was just looking back at the biography of - of John McCain.
He's a Naval Academy graduate in 1958, meaning he's been in public service almost constantly for about 60 years. Prisoner of war, a member of Congress, senator - not universally loved, I - I guess, but just an outpouring overnight to this news.
What is his place in the Senate?
MONTANARO: You know, McCain has been a Washington institution, coming to the Senate in 1987.
First started as a representative in 1982, just nine years after he was released from a prison in Vietnam - is probably the country's most famous prisoner of war, spending five years in that prison in Vietnam when his bomber was shot down. He was beaten and tortured - a cause that he later spoke out against during the Iraq War during the Bush years.
And everyone who has ever come in contact with John McCain, regardless of whether they agreed with him on policy, knows this is one tough guy.
INSKEEP: Yeah, one tough guy and someone who has spoken out again and again on issue after issue, including from time to time, the president of the United States, who, as we await more news of McCain's condition, is speaking out himself.
He gave an interview to The New York Times I want to ask you about. The Times uses the word grievance to describe the president's tone. What's the president unhappy about?
MONTANARO: (Laughter) And pretty much everything involving, in particular, those who touch that Russia investigation.
You know, he's talked out about Jeff Sessions - his own attorney general - still upset because he recused himself from the investigation. He said he would never have picked him if he knew that he would have recused himself. He said it - it's extremely unfair and, quote, "that's a mild word to the president." Who knows what other word he was actually thinking of there?
And we can't know his broader motivation, but let's look at the facts. Sessions oversees the Justice Department. He serves at the pleasure of the president. He recuses himself. The deputy in charge appoints a special counselor with broad authority. And, you know, that removes that individual from the direct chain of command from the president.
Certainly, Sessions recusing himself made it a lot harder for the president to control the Russia investigation, if he so wanted to.
INSKEEP: And the president also concerned that the Russian investigation is going to get more deeply into his finances. This according to the Times interview, in which they also discussed that undisclosed meeting at the G-20 summit that President Trump had with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
He - he described the meeting a little bit.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Toward dessert, I went down to just say hello to Melania. And while I was there, I said hello to Putin. Really pleasantries more than anything else.
INSKEEP: OK, pleasantries, but he says they also talked about adoption. What's the significance there?
MONTANARO: Yeah, he just sort of threw that in there at the end.
You know, let's be blunt, Steve, they talked about sanctions. He said adoptions came up. And that is sanctions. Putin cut off American adoptions in retaliation for a law in the United States that punished what it sees as human rights abusers.
Trump also said he found that interesting because that was the topic of discussion at Donald Trump Jr's meeting with a handful of Russians in June of 2016. Well, Steve, guess what. I find that pretty interesting, too, and I bet investigators will as well.
INSKEEP: Extremely interesting, and certainly not the end of the discussion. NPR's Domenico Montanaro - thanks very much.
MONTANARO: Thank you, Steve.
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INSKEEP: Protesters are gathering in Denver, Colo., and are planning to be at a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
GREENE: Yeah, and they marched yesterday from the State Capitol Building to the hotel that is hosting this event.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Resist. Resist. Resist.
INSKEEP: Resist, they're chanting there.
GREENE: Yeah, DeVos is going to be addressing the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. And she's got more than a passing relationship with that group.
INSKEEP: What draws attention here is the topic and also the meeting.
Anya Kamenetz is here from NPR's Ed team to explain. Hi, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What is ALEC?
KAMENETZ: ALEC was founded by conservative activists in the '70s. And it brings together corporations with state lawmakers, and they basically write model bills together. And those bills go out to state houses all over the country.
INSKEEP: Oh, and this just drives progressives crazy - right? - because what they see is businesses writing legislation and handing the very language to lawmakers. And, very often, this stuff gets passed word-for-word or something close to it.
KAMENETZ: Absolutely, yes.
INSKEEP: So what is Betsy DeVos's connection to ALEC?
KAMENETZ: Well, they're fellow travelers, in a sense.
DeVos's organization that she chaired until she became secretary, The American Federation for Children, has been a longtime supporter of ALEC. ALEC gave her father-in-law an award many, many years ago.
And DeVos and her husband have disclosed that they're financial supporters - sorry - DeVos and her husband have disclosed that they are stockholders in K12 Inc., which is one of these corporate sponsors of for-profit virtual schools company.
INSKEEP: And this is so interesting because this is an organization that is seen as a little bit below the radar, doing things that are seen as a little secretive. But here we are, out in the open, and Betsy DeVos actually speaking to the group.
And, I guess, protesters will be outside or around the meeting somewhere. What do they want to say?
KAMENETZ: Well, basically, you know, there - there's very little daylight, as you say, between DeVos's education agenda and the one that ALEC promotes, which is really vouchers, vouchers, vouchers, school choice, as well as technology in schools.
And, you know, so there's teachers unions out there in the protesters, but also people who feel that, you know, this is basically an undemocratic process of policymaking, where lawmakers feel that they have access to donors. And they are very influenced to adopt the exact policies that are being set forth by these corporations and these free-market conservatives.
INSKEEP: I guess the biggest message that DeVos is sending is just by showing up to such a group. What does she plan to say?
KAMENETZ: You know, she'll talk as she usually does about school choice and particularly on the state level.
And what's interesting about this moment right now is that the federal proposals for school choice that were in the Trump budget requests were basically just zeroed out by House Republicans. And so this is not going to happen on the federal level this year.
If there's going to be a continued advancement of these ideas, like tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, vouchers, charter schools - it's all going to happen in the state level, and ALEC is going to be a big part of it.
INSKEEP: Anya, thanks very much.
KAMENETZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anya Kamenetz.
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INSKEEP: Let's look at another part of the government because the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement says deportations are up.
GREENE: Yeah, he says deportations are up. And acting director Thomas Homan says he wants to deploy more border agents.
Now, immigration advocates, Steve, say ICE agents are fearmongering - that they're arresting people who only broke the law to come to the United States for a better life. Agents say they're really misunderstood.
INSKEEP: Well, let's hear what the world looks like from their perspective.
NPR's John Burnett has been trying to get that. He embedded, as we say, with a team of ICE agents in Texas. Hi, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's changed for these agents under the Trump administration? I know you've covered them for many years.
BURNETT: Right. It's very interesting.
I got a rare opportunity to go out with ICE's, what they call a fugitive operations team, in Dallas. And these are effectively the deportation force troops that Trump spoke of on the campaign trail.
So I spent two mornings with them driving all over Dallas-Fort Worth looking for targets - people in the country illegally who ICE decided should be arrested and deported. And I can say that the agents' morale is up. Esprit de corps is running very high in this group under the Trump administration.
This time last year, they were under President Obama's rules, and they effectively could only arrest immigrants who had committed serious felonies or those who had entered the country only recently.
And now the guy you quoted at the top, the ICE boss, Tom Homan, said anybody in the country illegally, you need to be worried.
So this is supervisory deportation agent Chuck Winner.
CHUCK WINNER: In the days past, if we encountered someone in the house that was not a priority, we would just let that person, you know, walk.
Now we would, if we encounter someone in the house that is illegal in the country, in violation of the law, we will go ahead and arrest that person.
INSKEEP: OK. If we encounter - so much behind those three words. How do they track people down, John Burnett?
BURNETT: It was so interesting to finally sort of see how agents do their job.
They start the day really early because, under federal rules, you can't serve warrants until after 6 a.m. when the sun comes up. And then they go to addresses in these working-class, Hispanic neighborhoods. And they sit in their cars drinking coffee and talking on the radio in these unmarked government SUVs. And they wait for, say, you know, the guy to come out to his truck at 6:30. He's going to his job on a lands - on his - a landscaping job.
As a rule, they don't go knock and ask for him, which is really interesting because so - under this climate, so many immigrants know their rights now. And they know, for instance, social media tells them that, if ICE comes knocking, even with the warrant, they don't have to let them in.
And one agent says these are targeted; they're not just random sweeps or, you know, indiscriminate raids, that they have individuals they're looking for. They're not just, you know, stopping people.
INSKEEP: John, thanks very much. Really appreciate your reporting.
BURNETT: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's John Burnett, who's been embedded for a couple of days with ICE agents - federal immigration agents - in and around Dallas-Fort Worth.
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