News Brief: Trump Tweets, Asylum Rule, Big Tech Hearings Trump doubles down on racist remarks directed at freshmen congresswomen of color. White House implements a new rule for asylum-seekers. And, big tech comes to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings.
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News Brief: Trump Tweets, Asylum Rule, Big Tech Hearings

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News Brief: Trump Tweets, Asylum Rule, Big Tech Hearings

News Brief: Trump Tweets, Asylum Rule, Big Tech Hearings

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How do four Americans respond to the president suggesting they leave?

NOEL KING, HOST:

All four of them are members of the House of Representatives. They are Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Omar yesterday pointed out that the president, who complained about their complaining, is noted for his loud and frequent complaining.

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ILHAN OMAR: For him to condemn us and to say we are un-American for wanting to work hard to make this country be the country we all deserve to live in - complete hypocrisy.

KING: She was responding to President Trump saying that these women of color should, quote, "go back to where they came from."

INSKEEP: Mostly, they were born in the United States. Now, how is the president explaining himself? NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us once again. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so he begins by saying these people mostly born in the U.S. should go back. They're people who are from here but just of a different race than him. And then he came out and made a statement - the president did - saying, well, what I meant was if you don't like America, you can leave. But isn't he pretty much saying the same thing?

MONTANARO: Right. I mean, the president showed no contrition, essentially, for racist remarks. He instead - he emphasized them. He said, if you hate our country, if you're not happy here, you can leave. Now, the rhetoric has gone too far for many Republicans. They're voicing disapproval of the president's remarks. They're also criticizing the congresswomen, though, calling them socialists or far-left or, quote, "anti-Semitic" - using anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Most of them, though, stopped short of calling the tweets racist. You heard from Will Hurd of Texas, who is black, who called Trump's tweets racist, as did Mike Turner of Ohio. But others like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah - they called the remarks, you know, destructive, demeaning, disunifying and, also, over the line, which I guess, Steve, means there is a line.

INSKEEP: Oh. Well, interesting to learn that. Why would the president go over that line, then?

MONTANARO: You know, the fact is the president and the Republican Party want to elevate these four congresswomen to make them the, quote, "face of the Democratic Party" - you heard Lindsey Graham say that on Fox News yesterday, for example. You know, they think that that is something that helps them because it makes the Democratic Party look far-left. Ayanna Pressley argued that the congresswomen's views are not total outliers.

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AYANNA PRESSLEY: Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world. And that is the work that we want to get back to.

INSKEEP: I guess we should define some terms there. They've been called the squad, these four freshmen members of Congress. And when she says, our squad is big, she's referring to - she's asserting that, actually, they have a lot of support; they're not just four freshmen.

MONTANARO: Right. And the fact, though, is that within the Democratic conference, they've had some disagreement with leadership, with Nancy Pelosi, whether it's tactically or ideologically. But for now, I have to say, this helps Nancy Pelosi. It's a pretty big gift to her to maintain unity because, instead of the focus being on that Democratic infighting, it's on Trump. And Pelosi is now calling on Congress to condemn Trump's remarks and wants to put Republicans on record.

INSKEEP: Although, the way that Republicans will spin this is, look - all the Democrats have now been glued to these four lawmakers that we want to describe as socialist and so forth. So what does this mean for the 2020 election?

MONTANARO: Well, they'll certainly attempt that. But this whole incident's a reminder that identity politics are going to be, unavoidably, a top issue for 2020. Republicans and the Trump campaign are happy to have it that way. They think it helps them. They think it throws the left off balance.

But stepping back, Steve, the fabric of the country is really being stretched. I mean, you have demographic change in this country that's upsetting half the country, while the other half is painting in primary colors, emboldened. They feel under siege by Trump. And, you know, it's unclear what it's going to mean for 2020 at the ballot box next year, and it's even cloudier for our culture and what it means to be American.

INSKEEP: One of the questions, of course, will be who gets the half or a little more than half or a little less than half? Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Domenico Montanaro. Now, amid all the attention on the president's racist language, his administration continued its push to reshape immigration policy.

KING: Yeah, that's right. Yesterday, the Trump administration announced a new rule for migrants from Central America who want to get asylum in the U.S. They first have to apply for asylum in a country that they traveled through on their way to the United States, and if they're rejected by one of those countries, only then can they seek asylum here. Now, that rule is scheduled to go into effect today, and it will certainly face challenges in court.

INSKEEP: Reporter James Fredrick is in Mexico City and covering this story. Hey. Good morning

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to figure this out - if you show up at the U.S.-Mexico border and say, I'm seeking asylum, is the asylum officer, the federal agent there, going to say, OK, prove to me you tried in Guatemala first?

FREDRICK: Exactly. I mean, what this establishes is that, if you show up at the U.S. border now to request asylum, basically, you're not - ineligible unless you can prove you've tried to apply elsewhere and have been rejected. So, I mean, this applies to everyone who's coming to the southern border. The administration says that this policy is to crack down on what it calls fraudulent asylum claims. But the result is that someone who could have been granted asylum yesterday had they been able to apply, well, today that same person can't even apply and could be deported to their home country.

In terms of who this affects, we're talking mostly people from Central America. But it's not just them; it's anyone who's come through Mexico. I've met people from as far as Venezuela, the Congo, Ukraine who have come through here to apply for asylum. It would affect all of them. And the question now is how - what this looks like on the ground. One question is what do they do with people who break this rule now? Will they deport them to their home country, to a place where they say they're not safe? That's a big question right now.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to think this through. First, we should note - this is kind of normal, that you encourage people to just go one country over and stay near where they came from. I mean, refugees from Afghanistan end up in Pakistan or Iran, for example. So it's not that unusual to have the impulse to say, if you're fleeing El Salvador, maybe you should go to Guatemala, maybe you should just go to Mexico, you should go somewhere nearby. But that does raise a question - can people get asylum? Can people be safe in Guatemala or Mexico?

FREDRICK: In theory, yes. In practice, in a place like Guatemala - Guatemala officially does allow asylum-seekers, but it doesn't have an office to even process that. So, I mean, the capacity for it just doesn't exist right now. In Mexico, it's a bit different; Mexico does process tens of thousands of asylum requests a year. The problem right now is that Mexico's asylum office has an annual budget of $1.2 million. They've already had 30,000 asylum requests this year. They just have nowhere near the funds to resettle more people or even the number of people who are requesting asylum right now. So practically, it just doesn't seem feasible in other countries like that.

INSKEEP: Have Mexican officials indicated they're going to try to deal with this?

FREDRICK: They have not said anything. They mostly said that this is a domestic policy in the U.S., so they can't challenge it. But what they're going to do is a big question because this would be a huge burden on them to take tens of thousands of more people, possibly.

INSKEEP: Reporter James Fredrick, in Mexico City. Thanks, as always.

FREDRICK: Thanks, Steve.

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INSKEEP: OK, wow - three congressional hearings today in Washington, three of them, put the power struggle between Congress and big tech on display.

KING: And when we talk about big tech, we're talking about a handful of companies - Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple. Some members of Congress are concerned about the influence that these companies have over billions of people's lives. And today, lawmakers get to question executives from those companies.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aarti Shahani will be listening and is on the line. Good morning.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, let's start with Facebook, which is the sole focus of a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. Why banking?

SHAHANI: That's right. So you may have heard Facebook plans to create its own money called the Libra. The stated goal is to bank the unbanked. An estimated 1.7 billion adult on Earth do not have a bank account; many of them are Facebook users. So Facebook is going to create its own currency, taking on a key power of nation-states - the power to mint money. But Facebook has got to clear a lot of hurdles. What are they and their partners going to do about money laundering? How will they protect privacy? What happens to the interest earned on Libra deposits?

Regulators are speaking up about it and striking very different tones. France's finance minister came out saying Facebook shouldn't have a sovereign currency. The U.K. minister says his country is willing to engage with Facebook. And U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin made it clear in a briefing yesterday that he is not comfortable with Facebook launching a currency, at least not yet.

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STEVE MNUCHIN: I think they're being very candid with the administration in where they are. I'm not going to publicly speculate how long I think it will take them to get to the point where we're comfortable with it. But they are a long way away.

INSKEEP: Facebook by now, of course, has heard some of the criticism. How are they responding?

SHAHANI: So the company is sending David Marcus. He's heading the creation of this Libra wallet. He used to head PayPal. His testimony, which he submitted, it's very diplomatic. He's going to say Facebook will not launch Libra until his team has fully addressed regulatory concerns and received appropriate approvals. So, you know, it seems like, at least today, Facebook is talking the talk.

INSKEEP: And we'll find out how the walk goes a little bit later.

SHAHANI: (Laughter) That's right. That's right.

INSKEEP: In the House, some lawmakers are asking if some of these companies amount to monopolies.

SHAHANI: That is correct, and there is an entire hearing today that's really dedicated to how these platforms work. The House Judiciary Committee members are going to drill into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple - how they deal with competitors and collaborators.

And, you know, Steve, here's the thing - is that these companies do have differences. For example, Amazon and Google both collect advertising money. But Amazon's ad money is basically a fee to vendors for them to show up in Amazon's search pages; Google is not that. As one person close to the companies pointed out to me, it is in each of their interests to not point fingers at each other, to not throw each other under the bus. They'll want to stick together and make the antitrust conversation go away.

INSKEEP: Kind of act like, I don't know, a big tech monopoly or something like that.

SHAHANI: (Laughter) Well, and coordinated - coordinated, correct.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Coordinated messaging - that's something different, I know, I know, I know.

SHAHANI: Yes.

INSKEEP: Third hearing is about what actually gets carried on social media and what allegedly gets blocked.

SHAHANI: That's right. That's right. Senator Ted Cruz, he has long criticized social media platforms for anti-conservative bias. Today, he's going to grill a Google lobbyist, specifically, on whether the company is tweaking its algorithms, manipulating search to suppress certain ideologies. So, again, does big tech have too much power?

INSKEEP: Can't wait for people to be googling the results of that hearing to see whether it comes up.

SHAHANI: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Aarti, thanks so much.

SHAHANI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Aarti Shahani.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS")

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