Morning News Brief

Feb 20, 2018
Originally published on February 20, 2018 11:49 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There have been a lot of calls for new gun control in the wake of the massacre in Florida. But are these calls actually influencing lawmakers?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is in no rush. After the mass shooting in Florida, Ryan said - not for the first time - that he opposed a knee-jerk reaction or taking rights away from citizens. President Trump did say this week through his press secretary that he's open to improving the background check system for gun purchases. And the president is scheduled to do some listening this week.

GREENE: All right, let's talk to NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who is with us.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK, Steve said the president's going to do some listening. He is slated to hold what they're describing as listening sessions with both law enforcement and students. What exactly's going to happen?

HORSLEY: Right. It's students and teachers tomorrow, and then state and local officials on Thursday. When the president spoke last week about the school shooting, he said he wanted to make school safety a priority, and he added, no child or parent should have to be nervous about safety when they're in an American school. Of course, a lot of people are nervous, and some of the most eloquent calls for gun control have come from the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: In his statement last week, the president said nothing at all about gun control. But as you all mentioned, his spokeswoman did add yesterday that he is open, in particular, to a push by Texas Senator John Cornyn and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy to make sure that people who should be disqualified from buying a gun actually show up in the database that - of people who are barred from buying a gun.

GREENE: OK, so at least some Republicans talking about that - the president saying may be open - or his spokeswoman saying may be open to background check laws. But is this something that there could be enough support for in Congress?

HORSLEY: I think it would be surprising to see big changes at the federal level. As you mentioned, Paul Ryan suggested last week that he doesn't want to do anything too quickly. Remember, the very first - one of the very first actions this Congress and this president took when they came into office last year was to roll back an Obama-era rule that was aimed at making it harder for people who'd been judged to have mental disabilities to buy guns. So that was unwound by this president. So it's hard to see a whole lot of action coming out of Washington.

Remember, Donald Trump was elected with strong backing from the National Rifle Association. At that group's annual convention last year, he said, you came through for me; I'm going to come through for you. We are seeing action, though, at some state-level capitals like Tallahassee. A number of states have adopted moves to make it easier for families or, in some cases, law enforcement to petition to at least temporarily keep guns out of the hands of troubled people. So that may be a more fruitful avenue for gun control advocates.

INSKEEP: One thing to remember, of course, is that you don't just want to ask what people across the country feel about gun control. Lots of surveys say vast majorities of people would like some gun measures. The question that needs to be asked is, are there sufficient numbers of Republicans in very conservative districts in the House of Representatives who feel that their constituents want them to do something on gun control despite their concerns about the Second Amendment?

GREENE: And a lot of different...

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is one of those asymmetrical issues where people on one side are a lot more passionate than the other.

GREENE: Yeah, well, and Scott, let me ask you this because, I mean, you mentioned that also, the president's going to be spending time with law enforcement this week. He's actually attending a Medal of Valor ceremony today, I think, right? This is, of course, after all these tweets over the weekend - they're just blasting the FBI. I mean, that creates an interesting moment.

HORSLEY: Yes, and tying the FBI's missteps in the Florida shooting to the investigation by the special counsel. Nevertheless, the president will be painting himself as a champion of law enforcement.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Always good to have you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

GREENE: All right, so Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is going to remain closed today after that deadly shooting last week, but buses packed with students who survived are going to be on the roads.

INSKEEP: Yeah, at least 100 Stoneman Douglas students are headed to Tallahassee, which is the state capital, where they plan to call on lawmakers to ban assault weapons, weapons like the one that police say a gunman used to kill 17 people at the school. More rallies are planned across the nation in coming days in responses that have become familiar after mass shootings in this country.

GREENE: All right, let's talk to Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio, who's covering the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Fla. He joins us on Skype.

Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So let's start with these students traveling to Tallahassee. And, I mean, this is quite a display, as we've been seeing in recent days these students really coming forward in the wake of this and talking about what they want. So what exactly is their message here?

MANN: Well, I think the message that they're carrying is that, this time, it has to be different. You know, Scott mentioned that passion factor, and they're saying, this time, they're the ones who are sort of most passionate about this issue. They say too many children have died and are dying in schools and on college campuses. You know, this is the third mass shooting I've covered, and the energy here really is unlike anything I've ever seen. And a lot of their argument is just a basic moral demand that adults have to protect children. And I talked about this with Megan Smith. She's a senior at Stoneman Douglas who survived the attack, but two of her friends were killed. She said she's outraged grown-ups have allowed this to happen.

MEGAN SMITH: I still go to high school. I'm still a child. I am - I live with my parents. It's not my job. It's y'all's job, my community's job.

MANN: And, you know, David, Megan described herself to me as a conservative, but she told me it should be harder for people to acquire these semi-automatic rifles. Students here want age restrictions, better background checks, and a lot of them do want rifles like the AR-15 banned.

GREENE: Brian, it has been so amazing that these students have decided to wade into this, you know, sensitive debate, going to Tallahassee, talking about a rally in Washington. They decided to do this at a moment when things are still so raw. There's still funerals happening, right?

MANN: Yeah, yeah. And this activism has blown up. It's a big story here, so it is easy to forget that it's less than a week since the shooting happened - 17 people dead. People here are heartbroken. There were two more funerals yesterday, David, for Alaina Petty, age 14, and Luke Hoyer, who was 15 years old. And I have to say, Parkland is a community that really viewed itself in a certain way, as a really successful American community, diverse, and safe and welcoming, with great values. And this school has been the centerpiece of that in a lot of ways, and so now that sense of safety and wholeness has been shredded - a lot of sorrow, people who tell me they don't feel safe. So whatever happens in Tallahassee and Washington, that's going to take a long time to heal.

INSKEEP: Scott Horsley earlier said this is one of those asymmetric issues where the people who oppose gun control tend to feel much more passionately than the people who support it. But this is a moment where gun control activists may hope that the situation is flipped. Because of those raw feelings, people may feel more strongly than normal about gun control. That would be their hope, anyway.

MANN: Yeah, the kids I talked to here say they're not going back to sleep. They're going to stay active, and they really do seem to be kind of a new rallying point for people who think that at least some form of gun law reform, you know, has to happen. As these children - you know, this is just the basic fact that children keep dying, and that's going to keep pushing this right to the front of the debate.

GREENE: Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio joining us this morning on Skype. Brian, thanks a lot.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, the president's eldest son is on a trip to India, and this is a trip that is raising some ethical concerns here.

INSKEEP: Yeah, Donald Trump Jr. is in New Delhi, promoting his family's real estate projects in several Indian cities. So he's on private business. You may recall that he's helping to run the business that his father still owns while serving as president. The president said his company would come up with no new overseas deals while he's in office, though the Trump Organization does continue doing business overseas, raising many questions about conflicts of interest. And while in India, Don Jr. is scheduled to deliver a foreign policy speech at an event attended by the Indian prime minister.

GREENE: All right, let's talk to NPR's Julie McCarthy, our correspondent in New Delhi.

Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So what is Trump Jr. selling in India?

MCCARTHY: Well, he's selling more than a billion - that's a B - dollars' worth of luxury residential units that are being constructed by Trump local partners. You know, Trump sells his brand, his name, and for licensing fees, other people build these buildings. And in Gurgaon, which is Delhi's sister city, Donald Trump will pitch for investors in this latest Trump Tower project, and it's given much play here. Glossy, full-page newspaper ads have hyped it, saying, Trump has arrived, have you? And they these invite investors to book their (inaudible) for a very hefty fee, and what you get is Donald Jr., in return, having a personal conversation and dinner. Now, watchdogs on ethics say, look, this is nothing short of selling access. And they say, well, look, herein lies these potentials for conflict of interest.

GREENE: OK, selling access - I mean, that's quite a charge. Are there business leaders, are there politicians who are trying to spend time with the president's son?

MCCARTHY: Well, they fall over themselves trying to get there. The Trump Organization has more business entities in India than any other foreign country. And Donald Jr. will meet and greet them from Delhi to Mumbai to Kolkata, and they want to be seen with him. And he's also promoting the Mumbai Trump Tower with this golden-latticed exterior. He's opening a demonstration unit there. Now, I've seen one of their showcase units, and I was surprised, really, at how small it was. But Trump's partner is the Lodha Group, and David, there's nothing small about them. They're one of the biggest in the country. And their leader is a state legislator, and he also happens to be the vice president of Modi's BJP party in the state of Maharashtra. And that nexus between Trump and the BJP party has raised eyebrows.

GREENE: All right...

MCCARTHY: But Trump's organization insists that Donald Jr.'s itinerary doesn't include any meetings with government officials, but he's sure to bump into them on Friday.

GREENE: Yeah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's going to be there at that foreign policy speech - so a trip that is raising a whole lot of ethical questions. NPR's Julie McCarthy joining us this morning. Julie, we appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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