News Brief: Trump's CIA Director Pick, Pennsylvania Election, School Walkouts
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Voters in southwest Pennsylvania have left the political world a 'hangin.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. They sure have. Yesterday we were using the phrase dead heat to describe this special House race. It's a race for the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania. Well, the votes are still being counted, and it is still, as predicted, a dead heat - too close to call. This is, even though the Democrat Conor Lamb has declared victory - at least, tentative victory. The Republican, Rick Saccone, is still hopeful, though. Here is Lamb, followed by Saccone.
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CONOR LAMB: It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
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RICK SACCONE: Don't give up, and we'll keep it up.
SACCONE: We're going to win it.
MARTIN: Conflicting messages there. Let's bring in our friend, Scott Detrow, who has been up all night following this election from Robinson Township, Pa. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
MARTIN: You feeling pretty good? Well-rested, just, like, ready to take on the day, with all the sleep you got?
DETROW: Feeling very fresh...
DETROW: ...I always love the day after an election.
MARTIN: All right. So what's going on? Conor Lamb declaring victory, sort of. Saccone's saying it's not over. What's the deal?
DETROW: So as we talk right now, Conor Lamb is up by a very cushy, comforting lead of 579 votes. That's it, after over more than 200,000 that were cast. We are still waiting on results of about 1,200 absentee votes from one county that broke for Saccone. So that number will probably go down even more. But a bit after 1:00 a.m., Lamb went onstage, he declared victory. And, like you said, Saccone has not conceded. The AP hasn't called it. But Saccone would really need an overwhelming percentage of these remaining absentee ballots to break his way to win this. And we should say there is a recount process, but it is not automatic. It's tough for campaigns to pull off on a really tight timeline.
MARTIN: Wow. So this must have been a crazy emotional rollercoaster last night. I mean...
DETROW: Yeah. I was at the Lamb event. And, remember, this is a district that Republicans have done so well in, Democrats didn't bother to run a candidate in 2016 and 2014. But the Democrats were confident. So the room was packed. They felt like they could pull off this upset. For a while, Lamb had 6,000 vote lead. Things were going really well at the party. Everyone was happy. It got smaller, and smaller and smaller. At one point, it was just a 95 vote lead. So there was this really remarkable moment. CNN managed to get a reporter into the warehouse where Allegheny County was counting all of its absentee ballots. That's the county with the Pittsburgh suburbs where Lamb had done really well. So as soon as that was done, on CNN, they announced that Lamb had won most of those ballots. His lead was up to more than 800 votes. And the room went crazy. They exploded. And since then we've seen the lead get a little smaller.
MARTIN: So I mean, it is typically a safe Republican district. So even the fact that it is just this close must be a worrying sign for the GOP as they look towards the midterms.
DETROW: Absolutely. This is a district that President Trump carried by about 20 points. One Pennsylvania Republican operative called the results, in the suburbs in particular, apocalyptic. These are longtime Republican strongholds that broke for the Democrats. And nationally, Democrats see their path to a House majority through the suburbs. Yet another special election where suburbs really shifted into the Democratic column is welcome news for Democrats and something that Republicans need to figure out a solution for because most people say that this is a result of suburban higher income, higher-education Republicans just being really turned off by President Trump.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow covering this nail-biter of a race. You're not going to sleep anytime soon, Scott. Thanks so much.
DETROW: Probably not. Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. Here's the question today. Who exactly is Gina Haspel?
GREENE: Yeah. Well, she is President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, but she's not exactly a household name. So in this shake-up, we have Mike Pompeo likely on his way from CIA to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and now the spotlight turns to Haspel and her three-decade career at the CIA.
MARTIN: We've got NPR's Greg Myre in the studio to tell us more. Hey, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So we know Gina Haspel has spent much of her career undercover so there's just not a lot out there, not a lot of a public record. So what more are we learning about her today?
MYRE: Well, (laughter), we know that she's been in the CIA since 1985. She was a station chief so she worked abroad, also had very high-level jobs in Washington, at the Langley headquarters. Highly decorated, but as you say, few photo ops. Now, the one part of her career that's well-known was around 2002. She was sent to run this black-site prison in Thailand, where some al-Qaida suspects were waterboarded. And this is the thing that has gotten so much attention and will come up at a confirmation hearing.
MARTIN: And there were videotapes of this, right, that then she is accused of destroying?
MYRE: That's right. So a couple years later, in 2005, these tapes, Congress became aware of them and said they should be preserved. And she rode a cable and was deeply involved in the decision to destroy them.
MARTIN: So a lot of intelligence officials, when she was named the No. 2, came out defending her, saying, listen, Gina Haspel's great. She's a spy's spy. She knows what we do, and in that instance she was just doing what she was told to do. And attorneys for the CIA had said that what she was doing was legal. I imagine that's not going to satisfy critics who say that it doesn't make what she did right.
MYRE: No. And, again, because she has not been questioned, she's not come out publicly, this will be the first chance really to grill her and ask her about this period. She's got a long line of testimonials from top CIA officials who will defend her. But there has been resistance, particularly from some Democratic senators.
MARTIN: Is her confirmation hearing scheduled yet?
MYRE: Not yet. But Richard Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, the North Carolina Republican, has said he supports her. She has met with many members of the committee from last year when she got the deputy job, which did not require confirmation. So she has to fill out the paperwork, and we can expect a robust hearing. One thing I'd say, some things have changed. Some things haven't. It's much clearer now. President Obama banned torture by executive order in 2009. Congress followed up with a law in 2015. The Army field manual lists suitable interrogation techniques. Waterboarding is not included. But those two al-Qaida suspects she was involved with, they're still in Guantanamo Bay.
MARTIN: All right. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre for us this morning. Greg, thank you.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: Today is the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. That shooting left 17 people dead.
GREENE: And to mark this anniversary, student activists, students all across the country are marking the day with a day of protest. They're planning to walk out of class to try and bring attention to gun violence, and also to call for stricter gun laws.
MARTIN: NPR's Jeff Brady has been talking with organizers, and he's with us now from Philadelphia. Hey, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
MARTIN: What is this protest going to look like?
BRADY: Well, at 10 o'clock local time, students will walk out of classrooms for 17 minutes. That's one minute for each of the people who died in the shooting in Parkland. And, you know, just here in the Philadelphia area, I counted more than 50 schools where walkouts are planned today. Last night I met with a group from Abington Senior High School in the Philadelphia suburbs. They were painting a banner that read, Never Again. Alice Gao is a senior, and she organized the walkout.
ALICE GAO: We will be having a little bit of rally. We'll be passing around information about how you can contact your representatives about current gun laws in Pennsylvania and the United States, and about what we can do, even if you can't vote, to take action.
BRADY: Some of the things students are calling for - raising the age to buy a gun to 21, making it easier to take guns away from people who show signs of being violent and universal background checks before a gun is sold.
MARTIN: So it's interesting, I got an email yesterday from our school district explaining the district's policy about this and saying that elementary school students even could walk out if they're escorted by a parent. But are there other school districts that are discouraging kids from doing this?
BRADY: A lot of schools have sent letters out to parents letting them know what's planned and what the school's policy is. In some cases, parents have been asked to sign permission slips so their kids can participate. The school district here in Philadelphia has encouraged students in their activism, though the district is very clear that the students are expected to return to class after that 17 minutes is over. And the district is actually encouraging principals to think of ways to turn this into a teaching opportunity by maybe inviting a speaker to come in and talk to students, maybe have an essay-writing contest or art project. A few schools in the region are going to show student-produced videos that remember the people who died in Parkland, and those will be shown during the protests for students who choose not to walk out.
MARTIN: And this is just the lead-up, right, to this big march happening here in D.C. later this month?
BRADY: Right. Protest marches are in D.C. and elsewhere for March 24. And then some students also will be marking April 20. That's the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. Twelve students and a teacher were murdered in that attack. Outside Philadelphia, at Cheltenham High School, students plan to walk out of class on that anniversary. I talked with one of the student organizers, Eve Glazier, and she says waiting until April was a calculated move. She's frustrated that in the past these school shootings happen and a few weeks later the country seems to move on to the next big story with little or no policy changes. Before holding their walkout next month, Glazier says students at Cheltenham High have a letter-writing campaign under way to members of Congress and voter registration drive for students who will be 18 soon.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Jeff Brady for us in Philadelphia, reporting on the student walkout today. Students from around the country are going to leave class today to protest gun violence and to call for stricter gun laws. Hey, Jeff, thanks so much.
BRADY: Thank you.
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