News Brief: Trump In Phoenix, Haitians In Canada, Kushner In Middle East

Aug 23, 2017
Originally published on August 23, 2017 6:40 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump held an hour-long rally at the Phoenix Convention Center last night. This was a campaign rally that really could have come straight out of his 2016 playbook.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Yeah, that's right. Early on, the president addressed the deadly events in Charlottesville. If you remember, he faced bipartisan criticism for not explicitly calling out white nationalists for the violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America. And tonight, this entire arena stands united in forceful condemnation of the thugs who perpetrate hatred and violence.

CHANG: But then, Trump immediately turned to attacking a pretty familiar target.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: But the very dishonest media - those people right up there with all the cameras.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Geoff Bennett was in the room in the arena for the rally. Hey, Geoff.

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So singling out the media, literally in the room - that is something that Donald Trump did throughout the campaign. The president doing it again last night - he went after the media over and over again, it sounds like and, it sounds like, tried to blame them for distorting his words on Charlottesville.

BENNETT: Yeah, and I think his strategy to shift the blame for that controversy is fairly transparent. So he blames the media for distorting his comments about the racial violence in Charlottesville. And then, when journalists correct the record, he then accuses the press of being biased or unfair. That's, you know, the strategy he stuck to last night and even went the extra step in saying of the press, I don't think they love our country.

And what's particular about this is that it's self-perpetuating because here again, we do have to point out that last night, when the president read a selection of his remarks where he condemned the violent protests - as if to show that, you know, he said all the right words and struck the right tone the first time - he left out the part where he initially said that many sides were to blame for the violence. And that is what prompted the original criticism. And then he also excluded from his self-defense last night his other controversial comment that there were what he called fine people who marched alongside the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists in Charlottesville.

But, you know, there was this open question following the president's Monday night speech, in which he said the U.S. would recommit to the war in Afghanistan. And the question was whether or not the president would use that rally in Phoenix last night to, in some way, make a broad appeal to the entire country, or whether he would just speak directly to his base and treat it like a freewheeling campaign rally. He certainly chose the latter route.

GREENE: He went freewheeling. I mean, he mentioned the possibility of a government shutdown. He signaled that he was prepared to maybe pardon the controversial sheriff in Arizona, Joe Arpaio. And he also slammed two Republican senators from Arizona, Jeff Flake and John McCain - right? - although he didn't bring them up by name.

BENNETT: He didn't mention them by name, but he didn't have to because as far as McCain goes, he kept referring to the collapse of the Senate health care bill and, you know, expressing disbelief that they were just one vote away, as he put it. And the crowd immediately knew who he was talking about - John McCain, who voted against the bill.

GREENE: Right.

BENNETT: And they erupted with chants of McCain must go. And then as for Flake, he said nobody knows who he is. And, of course, Jeff Flake recently has spoken against Trump and even wrote a book about it.

CHANG: And I also want to just say, Trump wants to stick it to Jeff Flake so much, he's pushing a Republican challenger against Flake that a lot of other Republicans think would lose to a Democrat. So maybe possibly losing a Senate seat doesn't seem to matter to Trump.

BENNETT: The president is settling scores, Ailsa.

GREENE: What was it like in that room? Did it feel like it was a guy settling scores, or - how were people reacting?

BENNETT: Absolutely, I mean, it was tense, particularly when the president encouraged the - his supporters to turn on the press. But, you know, every stage is a campaign stage to this president, it seems sometimes. And I feel like he thinks that every crowd deserves a show - deserves a spectacle. So in that way, it wasn't all that surprising, but I think the quick pivot away from that speech he gave Monday night to the sort of raucous freewheeling campaign speech he gave last night, I think was a little unexpected.

GREENE: And striking. NPR White House correspondent Geoff Bennett. Thanks, Geoff.

BENNETT: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: So the president's tough rhetoric on immigration and border security - all that came up last night in Phoenix. And really, you could say it's reverberating on our northern border as well.

CHANG: That's right. Thousands of Haitians are fleeing the United States, heading north to Canada to seek asylum. More than 6,000 have fled across the border since July. And what's happened is the Olympic Stadium in Montreal has become a refugee center.

GREENE: Wow. OK, well, let's talk about this more with reporter Brian Mann from North Country Public Radio, who's been following all of this. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So why are Haitians suddenly fleeing the United States and heading north?

MANN: Well, actually, the fear is that this is part of something that could grow into a really big refugee crisis. Here's what's going on. The United States has given temporary protected status to a bunch of countries, including Haiti, but also places like Sudan and El Salvador and Yemen. And right now, people from those countries have a really high chance of being given refugee protection here in the U.S. But that temporary status is set to expire next year. So refugees living in the U.S. fear that the Trump administration won't renew that status for a lot of these countries. A lot of people are fleeing to Canada before they're sent home to their country of origin.

GREENE: And how is - how is Canada handling this?

MANN: Well, right now what they're doing is they're fanning out to Haitian communities in the U.S., trying to convince people not to head for the U.S.-Canada border. And today, a Canadian member of Parliament from Montreal, named Emmanuel Dubourg, who was born in Haiti, is actually traveling to Miami.

He plans to try to tell people that there's not a good chance that they'll be given permanent status in Canada - only about 50 percent of these people succeed. There is also a high-level summit today, David, in Montreal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to sit down with provincial leaders. They're going to try to sort out how to manage this crisis.

GREENE: And, Brian, I mean, immigration and refugee status, I mean, really divisive issues in the United States. As you've been covering this, have you gotten a sense for what Canadians think about these issues?

MANN: Yeah, you know, Canada is a really welcoming country. Most people I talked to on the street believe deeply in immigration as part of their national identity. But the anti-refugee sentiment and right-wing activism against Muslims and other immigrant groups - it's really grown the last few years. Earlier this year I was in Quebec City after a young man there attacked a mosque and killed six worshippers.

At the time, I found a lot of right-wing media in Quebec - a lot of really bitter rhetoric about immigrants and refugees. And now, just today, Montreal's city hate crimes unit is investigating an anti-refugee banner that was hung on that Olympic stadium. So yeah, this refugee crisis complicating an already tense national discussion in Canada about just how open their borders should be.

GREENE: Sounds like an issue that's becoming divisive, even in Canada as well. That is Brian Mann from North Country Public Radio. Brian, thanks a lot.

MANN: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, so the president's son-in-law is making his third trip to the Middle East as peacemaker.

CHANG: Jared Kushner has been tasked with a near-impossible job, David. He is supposed to be solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And on this trip, he's first meeting with Arab leaders in the region. Then he's expected to touch down in Jerusalem this evening. So what's this visit going to be all about?

GREENE: Well, let's ask NPR's Daniel Estrin, who is in Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So Jared Kushner was in Jerusalem, like, two months or so ago - right? - to talk about peace. But stuff has changed.

ESTRIN: Yeah, a lot has changed. I would say his job has gotten a lot harder. Just last month, there was a deadly - deadly violence here because of tensions surrounding a really important religious site in Jerusalem. And that led Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to announce he was going to stop cooperating with Israel on security matters. The Palestinian public is really against any kind of cooperation with Israel.

And then there were some really big developments in corruption investigations involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And Netanyahu has gone to battle for his political survival. He held this enormous event to rally his right-wing base. His base is totally against concessions to the Palestinians. So that's what Kushner's up against.

GREENE: I mean, always a decision as to how much political capital and capital to invest in bringing peace in a really difficult region. So what exactly is Jared Kushner trying to pull off on this trip?

ESTRIN: Well, he's been meeting with Arab leaders from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar, from some other countries. Part of this kind of elaborate plan - it's not a new plan, but it's called the outside-in approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the idea is that if you get Arab countries to take steps toward peace with Israel, that could encourage Israel and the Palestinians to make peace with each other. But that is not going to be easy either. Today, Egypt announced it was canceling its meetings with Kushner after the U.S. decided to cut aid to Egypt.

GREENE: Well, what do Israelis and Palestinians want to get out of a visit like this?

ESTRIN: All we've heard from Netanyahu about this visit is a kind of pro-forma, you know, we'll welcome this visit as always. But pay attention to what he's doing today. He's headed to Russia to meet with Putin. Netanyahu was going to discuss Iran's buildup in Syria, and so that is what really is important to Israel right now - not the Palestinians. The Palestinians are a lot more clear about what they want. This is Mohammad Shtayyeh, a confidant of Abbas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH: We would like to know, what is the endgame? From our side, it's very simple.

ESTRIN: The Palestinians want to know, is Trump committed to the creation of an independent Palestine? Abbas claims that Trump envoys have said in private that they are for a Palestinian state. They haven't said it publicly, even though that's been the U.S. position for years.

The thing is, many people in the Israeli government don't want a Palestinian state. And Netanyahu himself is kind of being cagey about it too. So the Palestinians want the Trump administration to stand up and to say, you know, what are we talking about here when we talk about peace?

GREENE: And, really - and I just wonder what did leaders there think of Jared Kushner? They think this is a guy who can make a difference?

ESTRIN: They think that Jared Kushner - you know, they see him as having authority. He has a direct line to the president. But, you know, Jared Kushner is inexperienced. And in the end, you know, it's about deeds and not words.

GREENE: All right. Talking to NPR's Jerusalem correspondent Daniel Estrin. Daniel, thanks a lot.

ESTRIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EMERALD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.