News Brief: Trump Investigations, U.S-China Trade Talks, Ebola Outbreak
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So what is China's next move here? It has been days now since the U.S. raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And to the surprise of many, China's government has not yet hit back. Here's the president's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, on "Fox News Sunday."
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LARRY KUDLOW: It's interesting. The expected countermeasures have not yet materialized. We may know more today or even this evening or tomorrow.
INSKEEP: At least up to this moment as we speak, Beijing has limited itself to verbal responses, denying U.S. claims that China walked back details of a trade deal.
GREENE: All right. One person who's following this - NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is in Shanghai. Good morning, Rob.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what happened to tit for tat? Is this a totally different tune now from China?
SCHMITZ: (Laughter) Yeah. What's surprising here is that Beijing's inaction represents a break from how they've traditionally responded.
SCHMITZ: When President Trump announced this first round of tariffs last summer, China responded immediately, imposing tariffs on the same amount of U.S. products. After Trump's second round of tariffs later in the summer, Beijing responded the same way. But the third round of tariffs in September were the big ones. Those were the $200 billion worth of Chinese imports.
GREENE: And those are the ones that - on consumer goods that Trump just raised by even more, 15% on Friday, right?
SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's right. And when the U.S. imposed tariffs in September, China ran out of U.S. goods to impose tariffs on. It could no longer fight in this tit-for-tat way.
GREENE: Nothing left. Yeah.
SCHMITZ: Right. So Beijing imposed tariffs on all remaining U.S. imports, and those equaled around $60 billion. So now that President Trump has raised this third round of tariffs, the prevailing wisdom was that Beijing would raise its tariffs by the same amount. But that has not happened yet.
GREENE: And why might that be? What - I mean, could this be strategic on China's part?
SCHMITZ: Well, one reason might be that because Beijing has run out of U.S. products to impose tariffs on, and its own economy isn't doing that well, so they may have to get creative here in how they'll retaliate. And that might take some time to formulate. Another reason might be that there's a debate among the leadership in Beijing about how to respond. What's clear is that something is amiss here, but we don't really know what it is because China's government is so opaque.
GREENE: But we do know we're at a point in a trade war where countries are running out of things to tariff, which is amazing.
GREENE: So, I mean, I know we don't know everything because you - as you say, it's hard to figure out what China might be thinking. But where do these talks go from here? I mean, is this a total standstill?
SCHMITZ: Well, China's lead negotiator, Liu He, told China's media Friday that the U.S. and China will hold the next round of talks in Beijing, but he did not specify when.
President Trump's statements since Friday about the matter have sort of run the spectrum from praise for Xi Jinping to then taking to Twitter to make even more threats, saying he's asked his staff to begin the paperwork on yet another round of tariffs on the remaining $300 billion worth of everything else China sells to the U.S. He's also praised his own tariff increase, saying it's more money in the U.S. government coffers despite the fact that, at some point very soon, American consumers will be stuck with the bill for much of this through higher prices on nearly everything they buy.
GREENE: And that's what everyone is watching. I mean, at a point when consumers feel enough pain that the pressure builds on President Trump to make decisions based on that.
All right. We'll see where this goes. NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Shanghai on the latest on the trade war. Rob, thanks.
SCHMITZ: Thanks, David.
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GREENE: So as congressional Democrats launch more investigations into President Trump, the White House seems to be focusing on a single strategy, which is do not cooperate.
INSKEEP: The president and his administration have refused requests for his tax returns and other records, rebuffed congressional subpoenas and blocked aides from testifying before House committees. Some of these battles appear to be heading for court, and they raise questions about Congress' ability to oversee the executive branch.
GREENE: And NPR's Tamara Keith, who is NPR's White House correspondent, also hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, is with us. Hi, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
GREENE: So how's this strategy going for the president - not to cooperate at all?
KEITH: So far, so good, I guess. The White House is holding pretty firm on this idea that many of these congressional investigations lack legitimate legislative purpose. The White House is saying that congressional Democrats are asking for documents and other items that they don't have a legal right to see. And the website for President Trump's campaign has all kinds of items, like the collusion delusion T-shirt and witch hunt beer koozies.
KEITH: And talking to folks at the campaign, they are perfectly happy with the way this is going. And they say that this fight is energizing his supporters.
GREENE: Well, Tam, I mean, you mentioned the witch hunt beer koozies. I mean, even as the president was calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt, I mean, White House staff were cooperating, speaking to investigators, turning over records, right? I mean, this is really a change.
KEITH: Yeah. So there was this interesting legal theory that the White House is now really testing, which was that Mueller was part of the executive branch because he was part of the Justice Department, so the theory was that they could have anybody in the executive branch talk to Mueller and still would not have waived executive privilege. Now that these are congressional investigations, the theory goes that's a different branch of government, and they don't have to cooperate - that by cooperating with Mueller, they did not guarantee that they would have to cooperate with Congress.
GREENE: Democrats are describing this as a critical moment, a crisis. I mean, you have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this is a constitutional crisis, these blanket refusals from the White House.
And if you don't mind, I just listen to a little bit of the House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff on ABC's "This Week."
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ADAM SCHIFF: I don't think this country could survive another four years of a president like this, who gets up every day trying to find new and inventive ways to divide us.
GREENE: I mean, can you put this moment in some historic context for us?
KEITH: A constitutional crisis requires not just a disagreement between two branches of government, but something more than that. It would require the legislative - the - it would require the judicial branch to require someone to cooperate. So let's say the judicial branch mediates one of these disagreements between the White House and Congress, and then the White House still refuses to cooperate. That would then get to a crisis.
At this point, many people that we talked to say that this is a conflict. It's absolutely a conflict between the Article 1 branch and the Article 2 branch of the Constitution. But we aren't there yet, they say, on an actual crisis.
GREENE: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, also host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Thank you, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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GREENE: So in the Democratic Republic of Congo, health workers who are fighting Ebola are now facing a lot of threats.
INSKEEP: Threats like leaflets calling health workers the enemy or text messaging saying stop, or we'll kill you. And for some, these threats have turned violent or even deadly.
GREENE: NPR's Nurith Aizenman has been reporting on this growing hostility against health workers, and she joins us. And Nurith, what is happening? Why, if you're fighting an outbreak of a disease, would you be threatened by people?
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Well, the problem is that this virus is circulating in an area of longstanding conflict between dozens of armed rebel groups and the government, and also people have felt very neglected by the government there for years. It didn't help that the government used Ebola as a justification to suspend voting in recent presidential elections. And so there have been these rumors swirling that either Ebola isn't real, or it's been introduced to kill people on purpose. And the rumors are even sweeping up doctors at regular clinics, you know, the ones who are often the first to spot a patient with possible Ebola symptoms.
AIZENMAN: And I spoke with a primary care doctor who works in a village clinic. Her name is Joyeouse Kivwira. And she was describing how, on a recent afternoon, she was at her house preparing lunch when she looked out her window, and she saw this angry mob gathering. Let's have a listen.
JOYEOUSE KIVWIRA: (Through interpreter) People say that we - the local health workers - are getting money to refer patients to the Ebola treatment centers where they're sent to die. The crowd was shouting that they should chase us out, even kill us.
AIZENMAN: You know, and luckily for her, some older men in the village rushed forward. And after about an hour, they were able to talk people down. And then Dr. Kivwira said as soon as that crowd dispersed, she just fled the village on foot.
GREENE: So this is - I mean, it sounds like this is not just about targeting health workers. These are just bringing up a lot of resentments and a lot of the distrust in government that has always been in a country like Congo. But it - I mean, that makes me wonder how far this could go. Are these incidents really common? Is it dangerous now to be a health worker in this country, fighting this disease?
AIZENMAN: Absolutely. I've spoken with the head of one of the local doctors' association, and he says that a lot of health workers report that they're getting increasingly threatened through text messages or even at home. You know, there have been incidents where attackers broke into the house of a government nurse while he was sleeping, and they made his wife watch as they took him outside and shot him dead with a bow and arrow.
And then we've seen direct attacks on the Ebola responder teams, you know, treatment centers burnt to the ground, gunmen storming a meeting and shooting dead an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization. And each time there's an attack, the work that's needed to stop Ebola grinds to a halt, you know, things like identifying new cases and vaccinating their contacts. I mean, just last week alone, they had to stop operations for five consecutive days in the hot zone because of various violent incidents.
GREENE: And that's just a reminder this is not just people who are risking their lives. It's other lives are at risk because they're not able to do their job to stop the spread of this thing.
AIZENMAN: Yeah, yeah. That's right. And basically, this has led to a surge in infections of Ebola, just more than 1,600 cases now in this 10-month-long outbreak. And now we're seeing more and more just numerous aid groups calling for a total rethink of the strategy.
The most prominent group calling for this is Doctors Without Borders, which evacuated after their treatment centers were attacked. And their argument right now is that the emphasis is so focused on biosecurity. You know, as soon as someone shows signs of Ebola, they're singled out. They're whisked off by people in hazmat suits to these special centers with orange plastic fencing that we've all seen. But for people who are already distrustful, that just breeds suspicion.
And so the argument that's being made now is, you know, let's integrate Ebola back into the regular health system. Let's let people get an Ebola test at the doctor's office. If they're sick, let's let family members put on protective gear and go into the treatment center and sit by the bedside of the sick kid or parent. And if a patient doesn't want to go to a treatment center, maybe even help their families take care of them at home. And interestingly, the World Health Organization and even the government is starting to be more and more open to this idea.
GREENE: All right. Difficult situation dealing with disease in a place with so much violence. NPR's Niruth Aizenman, thanks so much. We appreciate your reporting.
AIZENMAN: Glad to do it.
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