News Brief: Boeing Plane Crash, Trump Budget, ISIS Territory
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So David, how was your flight over the weekend?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It was good. I came back from Washington to Los Angeles last night - coast to coast - although, you know, it wasn't lost on me that it was a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
INSKEEP: Oh, which would not be lost on you because that's the kind that crashed in Ethiopia over the weekend.
GREENE: Yeah, and also the kind that crashed recently in Indonesia. I mean, my flight's still operating, but some airlines around the world are now grounding this really popular plane. So is the government of China, where many of the planes are used. And the Ethiopian plane - it crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa Airport. All 157 people onboard were killed in that plane, though aviation analyst John Nance says it really remains too early to draw conclusions here.
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JOHN NANCE: There is nothing right now that I know of that would lend any credence to being concerned about this particular airplane. These two crashes are wildly dissimilar, even though we know very little about what's happened in the second one.
INSKEEP: Well, what is the evidence from Ethiopia? NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Nairobi and covering this story. Hi there, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did this disaster unfold?
PERALTA: So, you know, we're very early into this, so the Ethiopians have only given us a broad outline of what happened. This was a regularly scheduled flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. And we know that shortly after takeoff, the pilot called the control tower and asked them if he could return to the airport because he was having technical difficulties. Flight tracking data from the website Flightradar24 tells us that the plane was seesawing. The plane gained altitude, but then dropped. And it gained altitude again and then dropped.
And six minutes after takeoff, the plane lost contact and crashed. Ethiopian Airlines says that the pilot was a veteran with an outstanding records. They say that the plane, as you mentioned - the Boeing 737 MAX 8 - was brand new. And they say they had gotten no indications that anything was wrong with it. Ethiopia has started an investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board says it is sending a team to help them.
INSKEEP: Well, Eyder, we've already heard that note of caution. We don't know that this is the same as the Lion Air flight. And in fact, John Nance indicated some differences. But some airlines are clearly taking precautions. So what is the evidence so far?
PERALTA: I mean, there's a huge question - right? - why two brand new Boeing planes have crashed within months of each other. At the time of the Indonesia crash, pilots were up in arms. They were angry that Boeing - they were angry at Boeing for making changes to the flight control systems without telling them. And this morning, Ethiopian grounded its 737 MAX fleet. They said it was out of caution, and China ordered all of the airlines do the same. Aviation experts are now looking at the U.S. - what the FAA and what the NTSB will do. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are flying dozens of these planes, and this is Boeing's bestselling plane. They still have 5,000 of them on order.
PERALTA: So whatever happens here, it will have a big impact on one of the biggest players in aviation.
INSKEEP: OK. Same type of plane in each case, crashed shortly after takeoff, but of course, plane crashes tend to be so complicated there could be many differences we don't know. Who, in brief, was on board this plane, Eyder?
PERALTA: So it was people from 35 different countries. The United Nations says that they believe at least 19 of their staff members were on there. You had students. You had academics, diplomats. And now the families are picking up the pieces.
INSKEEP: Story just beginning - Eyder, thanks so much.
PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta.
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INSKEEP: All right. The White House releases its annual budget proposal this morning, and there's a big ask in there.
GREENE: Yeah, President Trump now wants more than $8 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico. This is the president's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaking on Fox News Sunday.
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LARRY KUDLOW: I would just say that the whole issue of the wall and border security is of paramount importance. We have a crisis down there. I think the president has made that case very effectively.
GREENE: And so this sets up another potential spending fight between President Trump and Congress after the recent partial government shutdown.
INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson covered that shutdown and is covering, well, whatever's going to happen next. And she's on the line. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: I guess just the basics here - is this budget proposal likely to be anything like what Congress enacts into law?
LIASSON: No. These budget proposals are always political documents. They lay out the president's vision and his priorities - in this case, increases in defense spending and cuts in foreign aid, domestic programs, environmental protection, new strict rules for anti-poverty programs. And the cliche, of course, is they are dead on arrival when they come to Capitol Hill. Even when the President's party controls Congress, the budgets rarely get reenacted as written. And this time, it will be even more so because the Democrats' priorities are very, very different.
INSKEEP: I guess this is the equivalent of, if you have a job, you ask for a raise. It doesn't mean you're going to get it. So they're asking for a raise in the wall, so to speak. Why reopen the issue when the last round of wall funding battles with Congress went so badly for the president?
LIASSON: Well, I think you heard Larry Kudlow. This is extremely important to the president. In that funding deal, he didn't get wall money. He just got $1.3 billion for 55 miles of barriers. And ironically, this request arrives on Capitol Hill the same week that the Senate will vote on the president's emergency declaration to allow him to build the wall with funds that Congress did not appropriate - looks like there'll be enough Republicans to join Democrats to defeat that, although they don't have enough votes to override his veto. But it's a signature issue for him. It's important to his base. And because it's become his No. 1 priority and almost a symbol of his presidency, Democrats have made stopping it the symbol of their opposition to him.
INSKEEP: Well, how concerned is the administration about a bigger picture question - the deficit?
LIASSON: Not very much, although there are some across-the-board cuts in this budget - 5 percent for domestic programs. But remember, the president ran during the campaign on not just getting rid of the deficit, but getting rid of the entire national debt. But now, neither side cares very much about the deficit. The president put these 5 percent cuts into his budget to show that he is doing something about spending, but Democrats and Republicans both don't care much anymore about the deficit.
INSKEEP: I guess when you say it's a political document, that's a part that certainly is. You can put in a wish list of massive cuts to government spending in full confidence that neither Democrats nor Republicans in Congress really want that, and they're not likely to do that.
LIASSON: That's right.
INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.
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INSKEEP: Some other news now. How are U.S.-backed forces fighting to take the last scrap of territory away from ISIS?
GREENE: Yeah, you say scrap, Steve. I mean, this really is just a patch of land that's a few hundred yards wide. The Syrian defense forces suspended their attacks on this land to let civilians leave. Now they have resumed these attacks. National security adviser John Bolton notes that taking this territory, though, does not end the threat.
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JOHN BOLTON: We know right now that there are ISIS fighters scattered still around Syria and Iraq, and that ISIS itself is growing in other parts of the world. The ISIS threat will remain, but one reason that the president has committed to keeping an American presence in Iraq and a small part of an observer force in Syria is against the possibility that there would be a real resurgence of ISIS.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is on the line and covering this story. Hi, Ruth.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello.
INSKEEP: How's the fighting going?
SHERLOCK: Well, it's intense as of last night. Videos from the area show these flashes of artillery pounding this small area, as you said. You can kind of look out across it from the front line. As you can see, if you look through binoculars, there's a black flag for ISIS raised on what's left of one of the few buildings. But the SDF - that's the U.S.-backed forces fighting ISIS - say that there's this complex network of tunnels and caves where ISIS fighters and their families are hiding out.
INSKEEP: Well, now, we mentioned that this offensive was delayed deliberately so that civilians could be allowed to flee the area before this bombardment began. I suppose they now feel that the civilians have all left. Have they?
SHERLOCK: Well, we don't believe so entirely. It's very hard to say exactly how many people are still inside. But one major concern is that there are families of ISIS fighters and also hostages. In particular, we've been following the case of this man, Bashirul Shikder. He's an American father who lives in Florida. And about four years ago, his wife kidnapped their two children - one of them was just an infant less than a year old - and brought them to Syria to join ISIS. But his wife was recently killed. So now he has these two children - and actually, they now have a half-sister in Syria somewhere - and he's desperately looking for them.
We went to Iraq with him, where he went to lobby U.S. officials, you know, tried to go across the border into Syria. And he knew nothing about them. Well, we've now been told by multiple sources, though this isn't confirmed, that these children are still inside this area, Baghouz. You know, it's every parent's nightmare. He feels like he finally knows where they are, but he is also being told that the family who's holding them doesn't want to get out, doesn't want to let them go. So he's now watching this offensive in just utter terror, believing that his children are under the bombs.
INSKEEP: And a brutal situation that reminds us that in these kinds of civil conflicts and conflicts involving extremist groups, it's hard to draw a distinction between who's a civilian and who's a fighter, particularly if you have someone like this family you describe that - they arguably are civilians, except they want to stay, they want to fight, which means the children will stay and fight.
SHERLOCK: Right. And a lot of people are also terrified of leaving. And, you know, it's hard to say how - they just don't know what will happen next. It's hard to say how long this situation is going to continue for. Some officials - you know, the Kurdish - the U.S.-backed people say, you know, this could take just a few days. Others say it could take a couple of weeks to get into this area. And in the meantime, these people are being heavily bombarded.
It really is also a lesson that, you know, you can't bomb an ideology into oblivion. Even some of the people that have left this area say they continue to support ISIS. Some of the women that have spoken to reporters in the area say they remain defiant and are going to raise their children in the belief of the group. So just because this offensive is ongoing doesn't mean that, you know, ISIS as a group is over.
INSKEEP: Ruth, thanks for your reporting.
SHERLOCK: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock.
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