Listen Now

News Brief: Kavanaugh Latest, Brexit, Koreas Summit

Sep 19, 2018
Originally published on September 19, 2018 9:53 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The lawyer for Christine Blasey Ford wants something more than a she-said, he-said hearing.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Which is pretty much what the Senate Judiciary Committee had been planning for Monday. Ford was invited to testify under oath about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. The plan was for Brett Kavanaugh to then testify afterwards. Lisa Banks, who is Ford's lawyer, told CNN she wants an FBI investigation first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA BANKS: There's no reason that we should have a public hearing on Monday given what has occurred and when it has occurred. This is being rushed through, and it's too important to be rushed through. It's not a game. This is a serious situation.

MARTIN: Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee said, quote, "there is no reason for any further delay."

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson is covering this story. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So realistically, could there be an FBI investigation of these charges from the '80s?

LIASSON: There could be an FBI investigation, but there probably won't be. The White House says the FBI has finished its work. They say it's extremely rare that the FBI would reopen a background investigation after the hearings are over. They say the Senate has plenty of investigators on their staff, and if they want to investigate this, they can.

INSKEEP: Well, this has got to be an awkward situation, though, for Republicans. They have this demand for more investigation. They want to appear fair. They don't want to appear dismissive of this allegation. But they also have an election coming up and they really want to get this Supreme Court confirmation done, don't they?

LIASSON: That's right. The politics of this are pretty tricky. You've seen Republicans and the president be very careful to blame Democrats but not to be seen as blaming the accuser, Ford. This is the #MeToo moment, and the Republicans want to get Kavanaugh confirmed as soon as possible, but they also don't want to treat Ford in any way that would further anger suburban women voters or senators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski or Jeff Flake. So that's why they feel they've landed in a pretty safe place politically, which is to say we're giving her a chance to come forward on Monday. Even Jeff Flake, who said that the vote should be delayed so we can hear from the accuser, tweeted last night around midnight, I implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and you mentioned those three senators because those are three senators who if they were, for example, to vote no, Kavanaugh would not have the votes to be confirmed at all. So we have Chuck Grassley saying, quote, "nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee so there's no reason for any further delay." And we also have Bob Corker of Tennessee saying if we don't hear from both sides on Monday, let's vote. That does then raise the question - why is it so important for them to stick to this timeline?

LIASSON: They are very close to achieving a major goal, which is cementing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that would last for at least a generation. This is a huge opportunity for Republicans that could be fleeting. They want to make - take advantage of this. Don't forget, as you said, we're very close to a midterm election where control of the Senate possibly could switch, not - maybe a big possibility. But the Republicans want to get this done. They have a big opportunity, and they're planning to take advantage of it

MARTIN: Although someone who has an informed perspective on this particular situation, Anita Hill, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that's worth quoting. She says, "do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important - hastily appraising the situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked." Simply put, a week's preparation is not enough time.

INSKEEP: Well, never mind the signal that might be sent. How do the senators know exactly what questions to ask...

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Is a fair question to ask them. Mara, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. So British Prime Minister Theresa May began this week essentially telling Parliament deal or no deal.

MARTIN: Which is pretty much the ultimatum that the British prime minister threw down. She told Parliament they either back her proposal to leave the EU, or they leave with no plan at all, which would be disastrous. Today and tomorrow, the heads of all the European Union countries are in Austria to talk about a lot of things but Brexit is definitely going to be top of the agenda.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering this story from London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to remember here - the British voted to leave the European Union but somehow want to have an agreement that gets them all the benefits of being in the European Union without being in the European Union.

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: What is the structure of the deal that Theresa May wants to get Parliament to sign off on?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Well, Steve, you've got it mostly right there. They do want still some of the benefits. And what Theresa May is saying, we are leaving, we're going to stick with the voters of the United Kingdom, but we want to be able to trade goods seamlessly with the EU - no tariffs, no customs checks, all that sort of stuff. Big reason for that is they don't want a hard border across the island of Ireland. Now it's open, it's been peaceful for many years, and there's really a genuine concern about a return to violence in Ireland if there's a hard border. And many people in Ireland would be furious with that.

INSKEEP: OK, so she wants trade to continue as it has been. Would Europeans go for that?

LANGFITT: h

LANGFITT: what the British want is still to have access to this single market in the EU of half a billion consumers. You can understand why they want it, but the EU is still saying no, this just isn't going to work.

INSKEEP: And the British still can't agree on how it is that they want it, what the terms are that they would propose to the Europeans.

LANGFITT: No. In fact, what's amazing here, Steve, is both parties are deeply split. The ruling Conservatives and the Labour Party, they're in the middle of internal civil wars that don't look - that look a little like the civil wars we're seeing in the Democratic and the Republican parties, the big splits across the Atlantic. And so right now, it's an incredibly fractured environment, and it's very hard to see even if Mrs. May could get someone to support a deal that, at the moment, the EU won't support anyway.

INSKEEP: Well, she's telling members of Parliament, back me or we're just going to walk away with no deal, a divorce with no settlement. What would a divorce with no settlement look like?

LANGFITT: Well, every economist - most every economist says it would be very, very bad. The IMF was just talking earlier this week, saying you're going to see shrinking growth. And this is the sixth-largest economy. It used to be the fifth before the vote. I mean, it's been getting smaller, falling currency. Basically in March - at the end of March, you would see about a quarter of EU exports - of U.K. exports to the EU getting hit with high tariffs of 10 percent or more. It would really hurt the auto sector. So it would not be a pretty picture, Steve.

INSKEEP: There is a clock ticking here, right?

LANGFITT: Yeah, there is. I mean, the EU isn't going to make any decisions this week in Austria. People will be watching, but they say they want a deal by November. And there's still no solution to avoiding this Irish border that everybody can agree on. There's some talk that they'll just kick it down the road, which is what they've been doing for essentially two years. It's a very difficult situation here, and it is really high stakes for the EU and, of course, the U.K. economy.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, so for the third time, North Korea is making promises to its southern neighbor.

MARTIN: Right, so this is the third time that the leaders of the North and the South have met face to face in this summit. This time, the meetings were in Pyongyang, and they came out with some commitments from Kim Jong Un. He agreed to shut down the North's main missile launch pad and allow international inspections as part of his country's proclaimed efforts to denuclearize. So the big question, as you alluded to, Steve - how do we know that South Korea is going to keep these promises?

INSKEEP: NPR's....

MARTIN: Or North Korea, I should say.

INSKEEP: Or either of them, one of those Koreas.

MARTIN: Either of them, for that matter.

INSKEEP: The one that is farther north of the two, probably. NPR's Rob Schmitz is here. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And he's in Seoul in South Korea. Sounds significant to shut down a nuclear missile launching pad. Is it?

SCHMITZ: Well, Dongchang-ri is the North's most advanced missile site. It's where the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that has the potential to reach the U.S., so it is important. But what's more important here is that Kim also promised to allow international inspectors to come in and verify that the site is going to be dismantled. I spoke to Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, about this. And he calls this a pretty big step.

HARRY KAZIANIS: I think that's a great first step. I think it's important to have international inspectors in there to really track the progress of what North Korea's doing. So I think any inspectors is good, but now we're going to have to see how far Kim Jong Un is going to allow them to go.

INSKEEP: Well, there's the question. How much would they be allowed to see?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, and that's the question many people here in South Korea are asking. This would not be the first time the North Korean leader allowed weapons inspectors into the country. And many people here remember what happened the last time they came to North Korea under the watch of Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il. It did not end well, and North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons. So that's what's different now. The North has these weapons, there's a new North Korean leader and we've got a U.S. president whose popularity is waning and who is really eager to accomplish something big here. So the ultimate question here is will Kim give up a nuclear weapons program that he and his father spent so much time and effort building? Most people here are pretty skeptical, but they do think the only option for South Korea and for Trump is to try.

INSKEEP: What's it mean that Kim Jong Un is now saying he will cross the DMZ to visit South Korea?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, when he announced that I was sitting among thousands of Korean journalists here at the summit press center in Seoul, and there was a very loud collective gasp from the crowd. People were not expecting this, and they were really surprised because it is a very big deal for Koreans. It would be the first time a leader of North Korea has ever visited the capital of South Korea. And this is a pretty bold move by Kim Jong Un. He's visiting a city where many people still hate him and his regime and who have the right to protest his visit.

INSKEEP: So let's be clear here that North Korea and South Korea and the United States have not agreed on any of the big things - nuclear weapons still to be negotiated, many things still to be negotiated. But are they continuing to take smaller, more symbolic steps toward some kind of permanent peace?

SCHMITZ: They are, between the two Koreas. You know, the two sides agreed to eliminate nearly a dozen guard posts from each of the demilitarized zones before the end of the year. They also agreed to groundbreaking ceremonies to link railways on both their east and west coasts before the end of the year. And last but not least, they announced that they'd file a joint bid to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2032. And that's a pretty incredible list of items...

INSKEEP: Yeah, wow.

SCHMITZ: ...When you consider that less than a year ago Kim Jong Un and President Trump were exchanging threats of imminent destruction. So yeah, big changes.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking about the possibility of the Olympics being hosted by two countries that are technically still at war. Wow.

SCHMITZ: Well, I would imagine by then things may have changed.

INSKEEP: They would have to have. Rob, thanks very much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.