Iran Frees U.S. Student, Democratic Field Gets Less Diverse, Violence In Baghdad An American graduate student imprisoned in Tehran since 2016 was released today. We'll tell you about the prisoner exchange that led to his freedom. Plus, the Democratic primary field just got a lot whiter. What does that mean for voters? And violence against anti-government protesters in Baghdad stokes fears of a wider conflict.
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Iran Frees U.S. Student, Democratic Field Gets Less Diverse, Violence In Baghdad

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Iran Frees U.S. Student, Democratic Field Gets Less Diverse, Violence In Baghdad

Iran Frees U.S. Student, Democratic Field Gets Less Diverse, Violence In Baghdad

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/785807042/785819336" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Hi. I'm Scott Simon. You know, UP FIRST is here for you to help you stay on top of what's happened in the world, to keep you informed in a way that's reliable, quick and easy. And now it's your turn to be there for UP FIRST. It's made possible by your NPR member station. And so today, we're asking you to support them before this year ends. It's fast and easy. Just go to donate.npr.org/upfirst. And thank you very much.

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SIMON: A Saudi aviation student opened fire yesterday at a naval air station in Florida.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Three people are dead. Governor Ron DeSantis.

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RON DESANTIS: The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims.

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

SIMON: Plus, after an historically diverse field early on, Democrats are likely to have an all-white roster on the next debate stage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Cory Booker is still in the race but has yet to qualify for that debate.

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CORY BOOKER: It is a problem that we now have a overall campaign that has more billionaires in it than black people.

SIMON: Also, we'll have the latest on protests in Baghdad and what may be fueling violence against anti-government demonstrators.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So stay with us. We'll give you the news you need to start your day.

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SIMON: The FBI is investigating a deadly shooting Friday at a military base in Florida. Officials say the gunman was a member of the Saudi Air Force who was in training at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Four people were killed, including the shooter, who was shot dead by sheriff's deputies. Eight others were wounded in the attack. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now with the latest. Debbie, what is the latest on the investigation? And what do we know about the gunman?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, federal investigators are on the scene, and they were overnight collecting evidence. But officials are still refusing to identify the gunman. The FBI's Jacksonville office is overseeing the investigation. And last night, special agent in charge Rachel Rojas asked for patience while agents processed what she described as a very large crime scene.

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RACHEL ROJAS: There are many reports circulating. But the FBI deals only in facts, and this is still very much an active and ongoing investigation.

ELLIOTT: You know, she said they are not prepared to confirm what may have motivated the shooter. Earlier yesterday, the base commander and state authorities confirmed that the gunman was an aviation student from Saudi Arabia. Part of Naval Air Station Pensacola's mission is to train U.S. allies, and the commander there says about 200 foreign students were there in training. They say the shooter had a handgun even though guns are prohibited. The shooting happened in a classroom area there on base.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what has been the reaction?

ELLIOTT: You know, some are calling this an act of terrorism, including Florida Senator Rick Scott and Congressman Matt Gaetz of Pensacola. They, along with Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio, are calling for an examination of how military personnel from U.S. allies are vetted for training at domestic military bases. Gaetz says safety protocols broke down here.

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MATT GAETZ: This event demonstrates a serious failure in the vetting process and in the way in which we invite these people to our community.

ELLIOTT: Now, Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, says the Saudi government owes a debt to the victims of yesterday's shooting, and he says he's spoken with President Trump about that. President Trump says he spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who expressed his condolences and said that the kingdom would provide full support with the investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I imagine the investigation is going to be thorough. It's going to take a while. But what's happening now at Naval Air Station Pensacola?

ELLIOTT: You know, we have to remind our listeners that this is a huge, sprawling military base on the waterfront in Pensacola. This is known as the cradle of naval aviation, home to the Blue Angels. So this was - the base was pretty much shut down all day yesterday. Later in the evening, essential personnel and the people who live on base were allowed back, and people who had sheltered in place and were stuck all day were finally allowed to leave.

That was a huge relief for Lucy Beavan (ph), a mother of four who I spoke with right outside the gate. She said her husband is in the Navy Reserves. He's OK. He had called her with news of the active shooter very early Friday morning and wanted to tell the kids that he loved them. She called it the scariest call in their military career.

LUCY BEAVAN: I would have never thought that something like that - especially on a military base - you wouldn't ever think. But, you know, it just definitely makes you take a step back and realize that even your military bases aren't as safe as you think that they would be.

ELLIOTT: And, you know, this is happening just days after another fatal shooting at a Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii earlier this week. Even the officials in Pensacola have described this as surreal, something you might see on TV but not imagine happening in your own community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott. Thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: The 2020 Democratic field was once hailed as the most diverse ever. But now the four frontrunners are all white, and three are men.

SIMON: California Senator Kamala Harris ended her campaign, and the remaining candidates of color haven't qualified for the next Democratic debate. NPR's Juana Summers has been in Iowa all week to talk to voters and candidates. Juana, thanks so much for being with us.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: How did the shakeup in the campaign change what a lot of people are talking about this week?

SUMMERS: So this is a conversation that's been going on for quite a while now. But in the last week, voters, activists and even some candidates are really saying the quiet part out loud. After Senator Harris announced that she was going to be leaving the presidential race, it really seemed to raise alarm bells among some Democrats. The party is now grappling with this uncomfortable reality that when Democrats gather for their next debate in a couple of weeks, the candidates - at least so far - who have qualified to be on stage - they're all white.

BOOKER: What message is that sending that we heralded the most diverse field in our history, and now we're seeing people like her dropping out of this campaign? Not because Iowa voters had the voice - voters did not determine her destiny.

SUMMERS: Yeah. That was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker talking about Harris's decision to get out of the race. He and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro are among the most vocal candidates on this issue. They and some other prominent Democrats I've been talking with are making the point that this is not how a party that emphasizes diversity and fairness should represent itself.

SIMON: We'll note, of course, this field also includes Mayor Buttigieg, who represents a milestone as a gay candidate. What would Senator Booker and Mr. Castro like to change about the debates of the primaries?

SUMMERS: So this is where it gets kind of interesting. None of the candidates, including Senator Booker and Mr. Castro, are calling on the DNC to change the standards for the debate in December. That's just in a couple of days. And the DNC has made clear that they don't plan to do that. Julian Castro, though - he says he wants bigger changes, and he talked about that on a call with reporters earlier this week.

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JULIAN CASTRO: There's no reason that Iowa and New Hampshire, that hardly have any black people or people of color, should always go first in nominating a president.

SUMMERS: And on Friday night, he took that even a little further. He told reporters here in Iowa that the next chair of the Democratic Party has to commit to making the presidential primary process more reflective of the country's diversity. He says if they don't, they shouldn't be in charge of the party's nominating process.

SIMON: What are some of the other candidates saying?

SUMMERS: So former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently jumped into the race, was asked about Booker's comments by CBS News' Gayle King. He says he was not worried about the current makeup of the field.

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MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: If you wanted to enter and run for president of the United States, you could have done that. But don't complain to me that you're not in the race. It was up to you.

SUMMERS: And he's not the only candidate who was getting this question. Former Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday that while it's obvious that the folks on stage are not representative of the party, you can't dictate who's going to be able to stay in the race. That's the job of the voters.

SIMON: Juana, you've spent some time talking with Iowans this week. And what do you hear from them about the field?

SUMMERS: Yeah. So I landed in Iowa maybe an hour after Senator Harris announced she was getting out of the race. And this week, I've been reporting mostly in communities of color across the state. So I talked to a lot of nonwhite voters about what they thought about the fact that the top tier of this field, at least right now, seems to be made up of white candidates. And frankly, a lot of them seem pretty frustrated.

But there's also this other thing that I hear. I like to ask voters when I talk to them what quality is most important to them in the candidate or what they're looking for. And one of the big things I've heard them toss around this week is words like viability. Or, to put a finer point on it, they want someone who can win in November. And some of these voters of color even explicitly have made the point to me that they feel like a white candidate is the one that's best positioned to beat Donald Trump in November's election.

SIMON: Juana Summers covers demographics and culture for NPR politics. Thanks so much.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: An attack in Baghdad yesterday threatens to turn months of anti-government demonstrations into all-out conflict.

SIMON: Men in cars opened fire on protesters in the heart of the capital. They killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens of others.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from Baghdad. Jane, tell us what we know about the shooting yesterday. And who are the victims?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, I talked to witnesses, and they all say these were gunmen who came in the dark. They also cut the power around the square where protesters were gathered. They describe pickup trucks full of gunmen. And these gunmen opened fire on most of them unarmed protesters. Most of the victims were young men. They've been out there for weeks since early October, demanding a new government, demanding jobs, demanding their country back - an end to Iranian influence.

The Interior Ministry also says that two policemen were killed. It wasn't just demonstrators. But interestingly, the Iraqi government says this was done by unknown gunmen. Even they are afraid to say who they are, if they know who they are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how are people reacting today?

SUMMERS: They're reacting with grief and with shock. I went to the square where it happened, near a bridge that leads to the Green Zone. And there were protesters gathered around candles - those little candles that burn with these thin flames that were set on the concrete. And they were gathered around the candles and bloodstained clothing from the protesters. This is what it sounded like.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Sobbing).

ARRAF: So one of the guys sobbing there - he's this huge guy. And he's got his face covered like a lot of the protesters do, and he's wearing this scary-looking skeleton mask. But he's just sobbing and sobbing and saying, I hope you're in a better place than we are now. And then as I was standing there and people were crying, more people started coming. People started gathering, women. This has really hit hard. It's been very tough for protesters, but this one is different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's hard to listen to. Jane, this has been going on for two months - violence against the demonstrators. More than 430 people have died. What kind of groups would want to attack these protesters this time?

ARRAF: You know, people are really careful about this because there are people being killed and being kidnapped, as well. But most people think it's Iran-backed militias. A lot of this protest is about Iraqi officials, but it's also about getting Iran out of Iraqi affairs. And Iran, of course, has not taken kindly to that. And all of the people I spoke with here described an organized operation when these gunmen opened fire. I met a medic named Safa (ph) who treated some of the wounded.

SAFA: (Non-English language spoken).

ARRAF: He's describing pickup trucks - five pickup trucks and three minibuses that came in with a large number of gunmen, he says - different kinds of weapons. He says they also used tear gas and that red smoke that the military uses. And he said there were gunmen standing on the rooftops and in a parking garage, shooting at people. And then he actually treated some of the wounded. And almost all of the witnesses gave a similar story.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Thank you so much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, December 7. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. Start your day here with us. We have a special UP FIRST tomorrow, Sunday - a profile of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And UP FIRST is back Monday with the news to start your day. You can follow us on social media. We're @UpFirst on Twitter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, you know the news doesn't stop when this podcast ends, and we have a solution for that.

SIMON: It's called Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday. Find it on your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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