Morning news brief
NOEL KING, HOST:
House Democrats were supposed to vote on a trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure plan yesterday. But...
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
They did not. Democratic leaders delayed that vote because of disagreements within the party. Some Democrats first want an agreement on a bigger $3.5 trillion package before they commit to vote yes on the infrastructure bill.
KING: NPR's Deirdre Walsh covers Congress. She's been following this one. Good morning, Deirdre.
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: What happened last night?
WALSH: Speaker Pelosi just ran out of time, and she didn't have the votes to pass the bill last night. Leaving the Capitol around midnight, she said there would be a vote today. The vote this week was really just a self-imposed deadline. They can still bring the bill up, but Pelosi has repeatedly said she would not bring a bill to the House floor unless she had the votes to pass it. And right now she still has a sizable bloc of House moderates - I'd say there are dozens - who say they will defeat that $1 trillion infrastructure bill unless there is a broader deal with Senate centrists and the White House on this larger spending package that includes President Biden's priorities for things like health care, education and climate programs. They have been standing firm, and so the talks continue today. One moderate Democrat who's been pushing for this infrastructure vote, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, said late last night he's just grabbing some more Gatorade and Red Bull.
KING: But where do the negotiations stand between progressive Democrats and centrist Democrats?
WALSH: They're very intense right now. House and Senate Democratic leaders, President Biden and several officials from the White House were on the Hill last night. They were working the phones late into the night. They were trying to get a framework together on that broader bill so they can give progressives something to point to that they will get after this infrastructure bill conceivably passes the House. Those centrists, like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, are starting to put some more cards on the table in terms of what's acceptable. Manchin has been saying he wants a more targeted package than the 3.5 trillion that the progressives are pushing. He said he's looking at something roughly less than half of that amount. Here's Manchin talking about that yesterday.
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JOE MANCHIN: I'm willing to sit down and work through that 1.5 to get our priorities. And they can come back and do later, and they can run on the rest of it later. I think there's many ways to get to where they want to, just not everything at one time.
WALSH: Progressives were really not happy about that number or the idea that they should put off large parts of this agenda until next year and take it on the campaign trail. But other Democrats I talked to last night in the Capitol said it was good to hear more details about where a compromise could come. Manchin and Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema have a lot of leverage on what a final deal could look like because, as you know, there's this 50-50 split in the Senate, and Democrats are using this process to get around a Republican filibuster. They need all 50 Democrats to stay united.
Just on the policy, one issue that Manchin talked about yesterday is this child tax credit that goes out to families. He said it should be targeted to income. He doesn't think families making over a certain threshold should still be getting those child care tax credit checks in the mail.
KING: OK. So that is still being worked out. But in the meantime, we should note Congress did manage to avoid a government shutdown last night.
WALSH: They did. They did wait up until the last minute, as they tend to do. They wrangled about the details about a spending bill until hours before the midnight deadline. But they did pass a bill that will keep government agencies running until December 3. That bill also has emergency money for natural disasters and Afghan resettlement programs.
KING: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.
WALSH: Thank you.
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KING: All right. The Biden administration is doing something new on federal immigration enforcement.
MARTINEZ: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says new guidelines prioritize people who pose the most urgent threats to public safety.
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: We have guided our workforce to exercise its discretion to focus on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.
MARTINEZ: But like many of the Biden administration's immigrant policies, these latest rules have been criticized by people on all sides of the debate.
KING: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. He talked to Secretary Mayorkas yesterday.
Joel, good morning. What are these new rules?
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel. Well, so under this new guidance, being undocumented, quote, "should not alone be the basis," unquote, for officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and remove somebody. Agents are told to focus on immigrants who are considered a serious threat to public safety or national security or those who've just recently crossed the border.
These guidelines also spell out some factors that should make someone less of a target for enforcement, such as being very old or very young, also immigrants who speak out against unscrupulous landlords or employers or at public demonstrations. And that should offer some measure of protection for immigrants who say ICE has retaliated against them in the past for their advocacy.
KING: Did Secretary Mayorkas say what motivated this new guidance?
ROSE: Well, the reality is that immigration authorities cannot realistically detain and remove everyone who is in the country illegally. So administrations have to make choices. And under the Trump administration, ICE agents were free to arrest anybody they encountered who was in the country without authorization. This new guidance from Secretary Mayorkas is a big move away from that Trump policy. Let's listen to this clip from Mayorkas.
MAYORKAS: The majority of undocumented individuals have contributed so significantly to our communities across the country for years. They include individuals who have worked on the frontlines in the battle against COVID, teach our children, do the backbreaking farm work to help deliver food to our table.
ROSE: That is a big shift in tone away from former President Trump, who often talked and still talks about immigrants mostly as a danger and a threat. And the Biden administration is really trying to distance itself from those policies and that rhetoric.
KING: So A just alluded to this, but the reaction is not unanimous thumbs-up.
ROSE: It is not at all. Republicans and immigration hard-liners do not like this guidance. They say the Biden administration is preventing ICE officers from doing their jobs. And some immigrant advocates are also critical because compared to the interim guidance that the Biden administration put out way back in February, this gives more discretion to individual ICE officers. And advocates are worried that that is a recipe for abuse by officers who want to enforce the law to the max.
KING: When you asked Secretary Mayorkas about the criticism, what'd he say?
ROSE: Well, he pushed back on those concerns. He said ICE officers should look at a wide range of factors when deciding, you know, to make an enforcement action. And the DHS would put some safeguards in place to ensure that they do. Here's Mayorkas.
MAYORKAS: Yes, it leaves discretion in the hands of the agents. But that discretion is guided. It is supervised. It is overseen. We will hold ourselves accountable internally, and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public externally.
KING: It'll be interesting to see how that works out. NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.
ROSE: You're welcome.
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KING: All right. So you will likely remember that when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, they promised that women would have the same rights as men.
MARTINEZ: But so far, there are no women in the Cabinet, freedom of movement and higher education for women are limited. Taliban officials have commented on what women should and should not wear. One even reportedly said they shouldn't smell good in public.
KING: NPR's John Ruwitch is in Islamabad, Pakistan, this morning. Hey, John.
JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So you've been following developments in Afghanistan from there - from Pakistan. What are you hearing about how the Taliban are treating women?
RUWITCH: Well, it's not optimistic so far. One of our producers spoke with a woman in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and she only wanted her last name used - it's Saeedi - and she was not optimistic.
SAEEDI: (Non-English language spoken).
RUWITCH: She says the Taliban of 2021 are no different from the Taliban of 1996. Their promises have been hollow. They can't be trusted. She says she used to work as a reporter and a rights activist, but now she encounters difficulties just leaving home. And we've heard similar stories from others. You know, for the past 20 years, really, women's place in society has changed pretty drastically in Afghanistan. They were in classrooms teaching, in government, media, civil society. There were women involved in the last government's negotiations with the Taliban even. But day by day, it seems like that is all being slowly rolled back.
KING: OK. Another big question - how has the security situation been under the Taliban?
RUWITCH: Yeah. If there's a silver lining in all this, it's that the war in Afghanistan is over. And the security situation in cities, from what we hear, in some respects, has arguably improved. Anecdotally, crime is down. Corruption is down - corruption in trade. But that may well be because the Taliban have resorted to harsh punishments again. We've seen videos and heard stories of alleged criminals being lashed to poles as a form of embarrassment and punishment - or whipped. There's even reports of people being killed and then having their bodies put on public display as a warning.
You know, for many, it's just a scarier time in Afghanistan. There is more uncertainty. I spoke with a man who just wants to limit the amount of time that he's outside the house. He doesn't know what might happen, where he might get stopped. So - you know, and finally, I guess I would say that in and around the city of Jalalabad in the east of Afghanistan, there have been a string of attacks on the Taliban by ISIS-K, which is the local Islamic State affiliate.
KING: Oh, so the Taliban aren't completely in control of the country yet.
RUWITCH: Well, certainly in that region, they seem to be facing challenges. And when it comes to control, there's also another intriguing thing that we're watching, and this is the divisions within the Taliban, which may actually be part of what's creating this mismatch between promises and policies on the ground. There are moderates within the Taliban, like the spokesman. And there are hard-liners. There are reports of disagreements at the senior level within the Taliban. There's another factor, which I asked Madiha Afzal of the Brookings Institution about, and that's that the Taliban doesn't seem to be in full control over its foot soldiers.
MADIHA AFZAL: They're young, they're uneducated, and all they've learned how to do is fight. And now that the fight has suddenly ended, perhaps unexpectedly early, what happens next? Right? So they don't quite know how to transition into the next phase.
RUWITCH: And all of this is happening against the backdrop of a horrible economic meltdown in Afghanistan. Salaries aren't being paid. There's a cash shortage. Foreign aid isn't getting in in the quantities that it got in before. And this statistic's really shocking. The World Food Programme says that only 5% of households have enough to eat each day in this country. I mean, this is a country of about 40 million people, so that's a lot of people who are going hungry.
KING: NPR's John Ruwitch in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thank you, John.
RUWITCH: Thank you.
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