News Brief: North Korean Nukes, Trump's Response, Harvey's Toxic Effects
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So we definitely want to spend some time this morning talking about North Korea maybe - maybe - testing a hydrogen bomb. But let's start with some news out of the White House last night on immigration.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Right. That news is that tomorrow, President Trump will announce he is ending DACA - DACA being the program that protects so-called DREAMers. These are the young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. But David, it sounds like he - that won't take effect straight away. He's going to delay implementation by six months.
GREENE: OK, NPR's Ron Elving is here to talk about all of this.
Ron, good morning.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Let's start with DACA. What exactly is the White House saying at this point?
ELVING: They are saying nothing officially. But several news...
GREENE: OK, (laughter). Well, that's helpful.
ELVING: Well, they are saying nothing officially, and that still leaves a certain amount of wiggle room. As late as Friday, we were being told the president had not finally made up his mind with respect to what to do in the immediate future.
Several news outlets, though, are saying, as you have described, that he has decided to end the program - that is, to remove the current protection for the DREAMers - people who came here before they were 16, often with their parents. But there will be exceptions for certain countries, and there will be a phase-in. As you say, the president'll (ph) give Congress six months to pass legislation if Congress really wants to save DACA or replace it.
GREENE: You looked at the fact that the president seems to be weighing this - or at least, that's what we seem to think from the outside. He has been getting so much pressure, even from Republicans, not to end this program. So where is the pressure coming from to end it?
ELVING: There are many people in the White House and elsewhere in the administration who feel that DACA is not legal. That would possibly include the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and certainly some of the people in the White House, such as a presidential aide Stephen Miller.
But it's not just internal pressure. Ending DACA was a clear promise of the Trump campaign in 2016. Many of the president's supporters are impatient to see the program brought to an end. And 10 states have actually given the federal government a deadline, as far as enforcing DACA - and challenging the program, giving the government until tomorrow to respond.
GREENE: OK, so we're waiting for that decision. Nothing's official until it's official on DACA. Ron, stick with us because I want to talk to you, also, about North Korea. Mary Louise, this is on your beat, national security. And it seems like we have another nuclear test. This could be a really significant one. What happened?
KELLY: This is something we have been watching for on my beat. North Korea has tested before. Over the weekend, they carried out their sixth nuclear test - the first since President Trump became president. And this is a big deal because they're claiming it was a hydrogen bomb - a thermonuclear bomb - which would be a more explosive bomb - much more dangerous than a regular nuke.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
KELLY: That's the North Korean news media. They're talking about the test, saying it was a complete success. Now, we don't, David, have consensus yet from nuclear experts whether this was, in fact, a hydrogen bomb. There is consensus, though - this was a much more powerful weapon than North Korea has ever tested before.
GREENE: And just to make the distinction - when you say the first nuclear test since Trump became president - we've seen them test missiles, but this is an actual nuclear bomb itself that they've tested.
KELLY: Exactly, which they haven't done since last year. So it's been all eyes waiting to see when and if they would test, again, a nuclear weapon. And this weekend, we saw it.
GREENE: Well, I want to turn to the region now. NPR's Elise Hu is in Seoul.
Elise, does this sixth nuclear test change the stakes, somehow?
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, it does, and it doesn't. It doesn't really change things in that, as Mary Louise mentioned, all of us in this region and all North Korea watchers were fully expecting that a sixth test would happen. North Korea has been consistent in sort of telegraphing what it was going to do next. And it's been having to test in order to improve its program. The regional actors and the U.S. really haven't changed and diverted from their typical playbook between last year's test in last September and this one.
So because there was no dramatic new move being attempted, it really didn't change the course. But this could worsen the situation if the regional players read the advancing North Korea program and say, OK, we're going to act differently, as a result. And what I mean by differently is, it could embolden those in Japan who want to build up more conventional arms, or could drive the U.S. into considering - or more seriously considering - military options, despite all of the catastrophic collateral damage that that could trigger.
GREENE: Well, Ron Elving, let me ask you. What is the talk in Washington and from the Trump administration? Is - does some sort of military strike by the U.S. seem more likely now?
ELVING: Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that we have considered all of our military options. Let's listen to a little bit of what he said when he came out from his White House meeting with the president.
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JAMES MATTIS: Any threat to the United States, or its territories - including Guam - or our allies will be met with a massive military response - a response both effective and overwhelming.
ELVING: Mattis also said that we do not want to talk, and we are not talking about the total annihilation of a country, namely, North Korea, quote, "but as I said, we have many options to do so," unquote. So we're not talking about that, but on the other hand, he did use that word - annihilating. And we also heard the president criticizing what he called appeasement of North Korea by South Korea and others, saying that the North Koreans only understand one thing.
GREENE: And the president, also, is talking about some economic moves - potentially cutting off trade with countries that do business with North Korea, which could mean China. I mean, is that something realistic that Trump would do?
ELVING: Realistic is not the word, really, to use with respect to that statement. The United States does more than $600 billion in trade with China each year, hundreds of billions more with other countries that would be affected. So this would be an economic tsunami beyond description, affecting most of the major economies. But the idea is not to be necessarily realistic, but to send a portentous message not just to North Korea, but to China as well.
GREENE: Elise, let me just ask you. Ron mentioned President Trump sort of putting pressure on South Korea, saying that they shouldn't try and appease the North. What does - how does South Korea react to that coming from the United States?
HU: Well, the presidential office here says that it has actually gotten assurances from the U.S. National Security Council in a letter saying that the alliance remains as strong as ever. So this is more daylight between the president himself and what he's tweeting, and what the administration is saying to South Korea, which is something that we have seen in some foreign affairs under the Trump administration before.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Ron Elving and NPR's Elise Hu talking about these latest developments in North Korea. Thank you both very much.
ELVING: Thank you.
HU: You bet.
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GREENE: Mary Louise, it is hard to even describe this effort - this massive effort that is underway right now to clean up all of those areas hit along the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Harvey.
KELLY: That is right. That's because Harvey left behind a massive mess, including wrecked houses. Here's how Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner put it on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday.
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SYLVESTER TURNER: Every community, every part of this city was touched by this storm. And so people now are already putting that debris out. And we - what I said to the president - we need to get that debris removed, like, yesterday. Otherwise, we'll have a public safety hazard.
KELLY: Like, yesterday, David - and there's also concern near South Texas' chemical plants and Superfund sites.
GREENE: Yeah, reporter Brian Mann has been looking into that. He's on the line from Beaumont, Texas.
Hey, there, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what is the risk here? I mean, there've been a growing chorus of people saying that these - there could be chemicals that we just don't even realize are in these floodwaters.
MANN: Yeah, I've been talking to the Coast Guard the last couple of days about this. And they and other agencies are just starting to get a handle on how all this water from Harvey affected the massive petrochemical industry here in South Texas. And it is just huge.
This is one of the most industrialized parts of the U.S. I've been driving around looking at these big industrial sites, and a lot of them are still inundated. And so it's just not clear yet what might've ruptured, what may be leaking or have just gotten loose after this storm.
GREENE: And what could make things worse - I mean, there's some of these so-called Superfund sites, which we know are contaminated because they're called that. They've been flooded, which I gather could make things even worse.
MANN: Yeah, there are at least 13 of these Superfund sites that were hit by Harvey. The Environmental Protection Agency has only been able to reach two of those so far. They've tested them, and they seem OK. But 11 other of these Superfund sites - they are so flooded, so dangerous to get to that the EPA issued a statement saying, we just can't get to them; it's still too dangerous.
GREENE: And you know, Brian, I'm just so curious about what it has felt like the last few days. I mean, I left with our colleagues at NPR at the end of last week. I mean, we were on what appeared to be lakes that were actually just feet and feet of water on top of neighborhoods.
Once people are getting back to their homes, I mean, they must be finding - I mean, it must be devastating. They must be finding everything rotting. I mean, what are - what is it like right there, right now?
MANN: Yeah, so the lakes have given way to sort of a sea of garbage. And I was in a neighborhood a big part of yesterday and walking through people's homes. They invited me in - incredibly generous. But what's inside is just - you know, everything's rotten. Everything's, you know - walls have to be torn out. But it's also all their stuff, all their life possessions just gone and ruined. Whole neighborhoods - I just walked down between this sort of valley of trash that bermed (ph) outside everybody's homes. It's devastating. It's sad. And there's just a huge amount of junk to be hauled away now.
GREENE: It's going to be a long road back for the city of Houston, and also Texas, and Louisiana and elsewhere - places hit by that hurricane. But people in Houston say that they show the best of their city in trying times like this. That is Brian Mann reporting for us in Beaumont, Texas. Brian, thanks a lot.
MANN: Thank you, David.
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