DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Jared Kushner leads some important work inside the White House, from brokering Mideast peace to streamlining the federal government. But a new wrinkle could make it a lot harder for the president's son-in-law to carry out his responsibilities as an unpaid senior adviser.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Indeed. OK. So according to multiple reports, Kushner has lost the top-level security clearance that he had been using on an interim basis. Instead, he's going to have to operate with a lower level of access. This is a policy change that also impacts other White House staffers with these temporary clearances.
GREENE: All right, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So what happened here? Why did Kushner lose this top-secret clearance?
LIASSON: Well, it all started with the fallout from the Rob Porter controversy. Porter was the former White House staff secretary who was also under a temporary security clearance until it was revealed that his security clearance had been held up because his two former wives accused him of domestic violence. So after that was revealed, chief of staff John Kelly decided that anyone whose security clearance had been pending since before June 1 would be downgraded to secret from top secret. That included dozens of White House aides and Jared Kushner, whose security clearance had been pending for over a year.
GREENE: Well, I mean, obviously you and I don't know exactly what it means to go from top secret to secret or it wouldn't be secret. But Jared Kushner has, I mean, a lot of responsibilities inside the White House. So couldn't this, in theory, really impact his work?
LIASSON: Yes. Now, he will no longer be able to read the presidential daily brief. He won't have access to some highly classified intelligence. On a practical level, for instance, if the head of the CIA comes to the White House to brief the president on top-secret information, Kushner could be asked to leave the room. John Kelly, the chief of staff, wrote a memo last week that said Kushner's ability to do his job would not be affected. That's probably true for issues like prison reform and technology innovation, which Kushner oversees. But people who've served in past administrations say it would be very difficult for Kushner to continue doing other parts of his vast portfolio like overseeing the Middle East peace process, relations with China, relations with Mexico.
And just today, there's a Washington Post report based on intelligence intercepts that says officials in China, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Israel discussed ways to manipulate Kushner; to take advantage of his inexperience in foreign policy, his complex business dealings - including the fact that his family's real estate company has tremendous amounts of debt. So that's another reason why it might be hard for him to ever get a permanent security clearance.
GREENE: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's no small thing if governments are actually talking about how they might manipulate him. So I mean, that really might reduce his chances of ever getting that full clearance.
LIASSON: That's right.
GREENE: I mean, does that then raise questions about how long he might actually keep this job as an unpaid adviser inside the White House?
LIASSON: There were always questions about that. There are reports that there have been clashes between John Kelly and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Yesterday, one of Kushner's top aides and spokespersons, Josh Raffel, said he was going to go back to New York and re-enter the private sector. But there are no indications that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are planning to leave the White House. It's just that his role as a top aide to his father-in-law is being curtailed.
GREENE: Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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GREENE: All right. Students this morning are returning to class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida. This is two weeks after a mass shooting there took the lives of 17 people.
MARTIN: Yeah. Some students are obviously anxious to get back, others just feeling overwhelmed still. Amanda Edwards is a senior. She says many of her friends don't plan on going back for the first day.
AMANDA EDWARDS: My dad said that, you know, if I ever get scared during the school day on Wednesday or after that, I'm fine with leaving early and stuff. 'Cause what's the point of being at school if we're just freaking out half the time that there might be a school shooter coming in?
GREENE: Yeah. It's going to be quite a morning there, it sounds like. NPR's Greg Allen is based in Florida. And he's been spending time with people in the community there, Parkland.
And Greg, what are we hearing about this next step, school reopening this morning?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, a lot of the students were back on Sunday for an orientation day to pick up their phones and backpacks and to walk into school for the first time since the shooting. Some of the students I talked to that day said it was too soon to go back. They're going to be thinking about the students and the adults who are missing. And they're - it will be difficult today. They won't be using Building 12. The school says that's going to be not used because it'll be torn down and replaced eventually. So they won't have to go through the places where the shootings happened.
But several students and parents told me how great the principal's been holding them together. They feel like - that they've been - they're together as a community, so they'll be back together again. I heard from some students and parents who said they think it's time to go back. And they're worried about falling behind. So they'll have half days as they ease back in.
GREENE: You know, some of these students have been so outspoken - I mean, become gun control advocates in the wake of all of this. Do we expect that advocacy to continue even as they get back to class and start doing schoolwork again?
ALLEN: Yes, I think we certainly can. It'll be interesting to see how they balance school with the activism. A lot of the students have been planning this March for Our Lives rally. I'm sure you are aware of it, March 24 in...
ALLEN: ...Washington, D.C., and cities around the country. And, you know, they set up a GoFundMe page. And they've raised close to $3 million dollars so far with big donations from people like Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney. So they've been in Washington planning that. And they're also continuing to put pressure on lawmakers in Tallahassee on guns and school safety. And so I'm sure they'll continue to be involved there, as will their parents.
GREENE: And help me understand what's happening in the state legislature, Greg. There have been, you know, all this talk about state lawmakers moving really quickly on legislation in Florida aimed at preventing school shootings. What exactly are they doing?
ALLEN: Right. Well, you've got this Republican-controlled legislature. Both chambers there have Republican leaders and majority. And they agreed on a package of measures that they'll take. And that's moving pretty quickly through the committee. It should get to a vote on the floor last - next week before the recess a week from Friday.
It raised the age of all firearms purchases to 21. That would have an impact 'cause, you know, Nikolas Cruz was just 18 when he bought his AR-15-style rifle. There will also be a three-day waiting period on gun purchases when there would be background checks, giving time for that. There's also a provision allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. And then you have things like improving school safety and this idea about arming teachers. That's something the governor says that he's opposed to. So we'll see whether it makes it when it reaches his desk. He could veto it.
GREENE: NPR's Greg Allen talking to us from Florida this morning.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
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GREENE: All right. In Syria, a cease-fire sure did not last long. And right now about 400,000 people remain trapped in eastern Ghouta.
MARTIN: The suburb of Damascus is just being pounded by airstrikes. More than 500 people have been killed in just over a week. And this Russian plan to open a pathway for aid workers to get into the area to deliver aid never actually came to fruition.
GREENE: NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been following all of these developments.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello.
GREENE: So what is the latest in Ghouta? I mean, all this talk of a cease-fire. But am I right? The situation, instead of getting better, might actually be getting worse.
SHERLOCK: That's absolutely right. The U.N. voted for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria on Saturday. But so far, all the efforts to make that happen have failed. In fact, (unintelligible) Najib (ph) said the violence has intensified. So the Syrian government has stepped up its ground war. So pro-government forces have been actually trying to make incursions into this suburb and take back part of the area controlled by rebels. We reached Hamza Birqdar, who's a spokesman to the Army of Islam, which is one of the main rebel groups in the area, and asked him about the situation.
HAMZA BIRQDAR: (Foreign language spoken).
SHERLOCK: So here he's saying the airstrikes are continuing. This humanitarian situation is as bad as ever. And he says this waterfall of blood is being spilled because of the crimes of the regime and its supporters Russia and Iran. But in actual fact, you know, the fighting is happening on both sides. The rebels have also stepped up shelling attacks from central Damascus, where dozens of people are thought to have been killed in recent weeks.
GREENE: Well, Ruth, Rachel mentioned that Russia was trying to open this humanitarian corridor, which I suppose is meant to provide a route for civilians to get away from all of this. Is that happening?
SHERLOCK: Yes, that's right. So there was this corridor that was meant to be opening up for five hours a day in which civilians and the wounded are meant to leave and aid organizations are meant to get aid in. This place has been under siege for years. And people are suffering from malnutrition - a terrible, wounded situation there.
And what's actually happened is the U.N. says the fighting is too bad. They can't get any aid in. And, you know, this shelling has been ongoing. So what this tells you - you know, Russia is a key actor in Syria. It's one of the - seen as one of the main foreign powers that can influence the situation on the ground. But I think this highlights how difficult this is for them to do. It's a number of militias on both sides fighting. And it just shows what a real test this is and whether Syria could be, you know, controlled at all.
GREENE: Well - and now we have these reports that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons in the war and maybe a suggestion that they might be getting them supplied by North Korea.
SHERLOCK: Right. This is a report that was published in The New York Times citing a confidential U.N. report which found that North Korea is shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons. The U.N. has accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the past. And in recent days, France, the U.S. and the U.K. have threatened military action if any chemical attacks occur and their government is found to be responsible.
GREENE: Wow - a lot to follow. NPR's Ruth Sherlock.
Ruth, thanks. We appreciate it.
SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.