News Brief: Brexit Vote, Government Shutdown, Nairobi Attack
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is very rare in Britain for the ruling party to lose a vote in Parliament. It is unprecedented for a government to lose the way Prime Minister Theresa May did yesterday.
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JOHN BERCOW: The ayes to the right - 202.
BERCOW: The noes to the left - 432.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That's right. Theresa May's Brexit plan lost by 230 votes. That's - I don't know, David - like your Pittsburgh Steelers lost the Super Bowl by 10 touchdowns or something.
GREENE: Wow. Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Britain now has no deal with the European Union as a deadline nears to leave. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is challenging Theresa May's rule today.
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JEREMY CORBYN: This House can give its verdict on the sheer incompetence of this government and pass that motion of no confidence in the government.
GREENE: All right. Let's bring in Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times, who has been covering all of this in London. A bit of news there in your country, Robert.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yeah. Morning, David. It was quite remarkable last night. I was actually sitting in the press gallery of the House of Commons when the vote came in. And we all thought she was going to lose, and we all thought she was going to lose fairly badly. But the scale of it was just breathtaking. And you heard the gasps all the way across the chamber. Nobody thought it was going to be quite as bad as that.
GREENE: So what do those gasps mean? I mean, there's always a lot of energy and noises coming from British Parliament. But, I mean, it sounds like what? I mean, do those gasps mean it's sort of like what - where does the country go from here after this?
SHRIMSLEY: I think the gasps are a direct reflection of the scale of the unhappiness with Theresa May's plan. But it is also crikey what happens now. It is - I mean, as you said, there's going to be a confidence vote tabled by the opposition today. But the remarkable thing is she's probably going to win this by a relatively small majority. So we will have - and you may remember there was a leadership contest to try and topple her by her own party at the end of December. So the overwhelming likelihood is that by the end of the day we will have a prime minister who cannot get through the most important single piece of legislation she has to manage, cannot be removed by her own party till December and cannot now be removed by Parliament either. It's a very, very happy place to be.
GREENE: But in a way, I mean, the fact that she can survive this, what does that tell us about Theresa May and this moment and her leadership?
SHRIMSLEY: Well, I mean, as you say, in ordinary circumstances, a defeat like that would be the end. She would have resigned already. Historically, in British politics, if the prime minister cannot get her legislation through on anything important, she goes. So it's remarkable that she's going to hang on. I think what it tells us is that nobody has any better plans. The Conservative Party, the government, is terrified of calling an election, which what would - be happen if she falls probably because they think they will lose. There is no unity within the Conservative Party as to who an alternative replacement might be because the Conservative Party is split over the best way forward on Brexit. And that choice would see one side or another losing. Therefore, it suits everybody within the Conservative Party to leave her in place for a bit longer.
GREENE: Well, you say no one has a real plan. The European Council president, Donald Tusk, offered a plan in a tweet after this vote. I don't know how serious he was because he was basically saying like, look; British Parliament, if you can't figure this Brexit thing out, why don't you just stay in the EU with us? I mean, is that even possible after all this?
SHRIMSLEY: Everything's possible. I mean, it's not true that nobody has a plan. The problem is that everybody has a plan and they're all (unintelligible).
GREENE: (Laughter) None of them just seem workable.
SHRIMSLEY: The fundamental options that lie ahead for Britain are as follows. They can - they can revive Theresa May's plan or it can find a softer form of Brexit or it can hold a referendum and try to call it off. All these things are possible. No one would bet a large amount of money on any of them at the moment.
GREENE: All right. Robert Shrimsley is editorial director and political commentator at the Financial Times covering this extraordinary moment in Britain. A few seem to know exactly where it goes from here. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.
SHRIMSLEY: Cheers, David.
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GREENE: All right. It has been nearly a month now since hundreds of thousands of federal workers have gotten paid here in this country.
INSKEEP: President Trump invited congressional leaders back to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss an end to the partial government shutdown. House Democrats did not come. The many workers on hold include Frank Ruopoli, who's on furlough from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
FRANK RUOPOLI: I feel a little betrayed by our politicians. You know, I got into this many years ago, and I chose to, in a way, serve my country, and I expect the same out of my politicians.
INSKEEP: So how are workers getting by?
GREENE: Well, NPR's Jeff Brady has been trying to answer that question. He's been speaking to a lot of them. Hi there, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
GREENE: Just listening to that voice there, I mean, someone who chose to, as he put it, serve his country going through this right now, I mean, how many workers are we talking about who've been impacted by the shutdown, and where do they work?
BRADY: Well, we started with about 800,000 workers affected, and they're all across the government. None of them have received a paycheck since they started - since the shutdown started on December 22. Half of those 800,000 - about 400,000 - they were furloughed initially, so they haven't worked since then. The other half are still working and not receiving a paycheck. The numbers are changing a bit now because some employees are being called back. The IRS is bringing back tens of thousands of workers for the tax filing season. At the Food and Drug Administration, thousands of employees are resuming their work performing food inspections. And the Federal Aviation Administration has recalled several thousand engineers and inspectors. But, remember; these employees, they're just being recalled to work. They still aren't receiving a paycheck.
GREENE: Which is amazing, and we've heard different voices on our air. I mean, one that stays by me is someone who is, you know, dipping into college savings for their kids to try and get by. But you've really been hearing a lot of stories talking to people. So how are federal workers getting by as you've been hearing?
BRADY: Yeah, it's really tough because a surprising number of federal employees don't earn a lot to start with. About 1 in 8 workers earn less than $40,000 a year. Some people are taking temporary jobs to bring in money. I talked with a Forest Service employee who lives near Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border, and he was picking up odd jobs, you know, fixing a dishwasher or a toilet for somebody - very different from his regular job, fighting wildfires. Frank Ruopoli, who you just heard from a little bit there, is a graphic designer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He made a plan after the 2013 partial government shutdown. That one lasted 16 days.
RUOPOLI: The shutdown a couple years ago, you know, brought a lot of anxiety on me and my family and, you know, trying to make ends meet. So what I decided to do is go and get my EMT certificate.
BRADY: So he studied to be an emergency medical technician. And with that, he was able to go out and find a part-time job right away with a company that needs EMTs to fill some shifts. Some federal workers are applying for unemployment benefits. A few of them told me that was a new experience. Another said it was just really tough to find anything knowing that you might have to go back to work at any time.
GREENE: And on the political front, any movement? I mean, any light at the end of the tunnel for these employees?
BRADY: Well, Congress passed some legislation that will give workers back pay, so they know in the end they'll get paid, but that doesn't pay the bills now. And there are many contract workers who are just out of luck but not a lot of movement right now.
INSKEEP: Robert Costa, excellent reporter for The Washington Post, well-connected, is reporting that a lot of Republicans he's hearing from, and possibly some Democrats, too, I suppose, are at the point where they're expecting some outside force, some outside disaster to be needed to get this shutdown to move in any direction at all.
GREENE: We'll see if that happens. NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks, Jeff.
BRADY: Thank you.
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GREENE: All right, so at least 14 people are dead after gunmen attacked an upscale hotel complex in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
INSKEEP: One question is whether an American is among the dead. We're checking on that. The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility. Bursts of gunfire and explosions could be heard around the hotel complex more than 16 hours after the attack began. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has since announced the siege is over and that all attackers are, quote, "eliminated."
GREENE: All right. NPR's Eyder Peralta has been on the scene and joins us now. And, Eyder, have things finally calmed down? Are people feeling a sense of safety? You know, I mean, there was shooting going on hours after this took place.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Yeah. There was shooting going on this morning. But right now, there are no more gunfire or explosions. But there's still a big security presence, and there's still a lot of unanswered questions. What's the total number of people dead - how the terrorists managed to get into a secure hotel? That hotel had two checkpoints. It had lots of security. It had metal detectors. So there's a lot of questions left unanswered.
GREENE: Oh, so this is a hotel that was sort of braced for something like this and yet this group was able to carry this out, which has to be making a lot of people question security structures in the country after seeing this.
PERALTA: Yeah. I think that's the big question. I think, you know, this is a city that always has braced for these kinds of attacks. That kind of security is not uncommon here in Nairobi, so it leaves people fearing.
GREENE: And al-Shabab, I mean, has struck high-traffic civilian areas in Kenya many times in the past. So, I mean, what are people saying and telling you about the way forward here if if this group is still able to carry stuff like this out?
PERALTA: I think there's a sense of disbelief here. I'm actually at the morgue right now, and it's just a lot of families looking for answers. They're sitting around. They're looking inconsolable. You know, I saw one lady faint. She was overcome by grief. I also spoke to Jasin Jama (ph) who's an older man (ph) who lost two family members in the attack. He's Somali and a Muslim - communities that always come under suspicion during these times. And what he was saying is that terrorism doesn't make sense. But every time this happens, Kenya has to come to terms with its vast diversity.
GREENE: And is the government able to deal with al-Shabab at all? I mean, does anyone feel like the government's going to be able to take care of this militant group?
PERALTA: Kenya is in a tough neighborhood. Al-Shabab obviously controls huge parts of Somalia, and they will always be a threat or they're always a threat to Kenya. But the president says that, you know, Kenya embraces peaceful coexistence, but they will never forget those who hurt their children.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Eyder Peralta on the scene of a terrorist attack in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Eyder, thank you so much.
PERALTA: Thank you, David.
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