Washington Responds To Pyongyang

Sep 4, 2017
Originally published on September 4, 2017 7:43 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We should be getting some answers this week about the future of DACA. That's the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Tomorrow the White House is expected to announce President Trump's decision about whether or not he'll end the program which allows people who arrived illegally in the U.S. as children to stay and work. DACA, let's remember, was a signature of President Obama's immigration policy. The Trump administration has faced pressure even from Republicans not to shut it down, but as a candidate Trump said he would.

With us now to talk DACA and what else the week in politics may hold is NPR political editor Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we know that Politico and some other news organizations are reporting that the president has decided to end DACA. What do we know?

ELVING: We know the president likes to keep people guessing. We know that he campaigned, as you said, against DACA for the last two years, saying that he would end it immediately if he were president. But we also know that he's given mixed signals about it in the months that he's been in office. We know he has said he loves the dreamers, literally, the people covered by DACA, often called dreamers. And he's also said that they have nothing to fear from him as president. So some uncertainty. As recently as Friday, we were told he had not made up his mind, but now apparently he has.

KELLY: No tweets yet, we should note. Is there still some wiggle room? Is there still some other way this decision might go?

ELVING: The details will be terribly important, as they always are - the overnight reporting from Politico and some others, and the betting is now that he will end the program but give it kind of a six-month transition period. There will probably be some countries whose refugees, for example, or people who came here under DACA might be exempted from whatever he decides to do. But let's remember that there is a real brink here, that 10 states are threatening to sue unless the president starts to dismantle DACA by tomorrow. And so there is a brink here. And while some Republicans, as you mentioned, would rather pull back from the brink, there are a lot of people within the White House and elsewhere in the administration who are ready to take the plunge.

KELLY: Let me turn you now to another story that heated up over the weekend. This is the news that North Korea has carried out a sixth nuclear test. We know President Trump gathered his national security team at the White House yesterday. What is the sense of how the U.S. response to this might be shaping up?

ELVING: The temperature gauge is going up again, and it's probably higher now than at any point in the recent past. But it has not really made any of the military options more realistic. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has told us we have lots of options, that we're willing to use lots of options. That would include - and he said we're not talking about annihilating any countries such as North Korea. But, you know, he used that word. He used that language. And...

KELLY: He used the word total - he used the phrase total annihilation, which even if you say that's not the direction the U.S. is going, is quite something to hear off the lips of a defense secretary.

ELVING: Don't think of a great, big, white elephant. Don't think of it. Just don't - put it right out of your mouth. So any kind of a military strike, though, has the same problems of realism. Any such strike would hazard not only the North Korean people, but the South Korean people very much as well. Not to mention the vital interests in the people of Japan and China and the rest of the region.

KELLY: Now meanwhile, Congress is back in town this week. The president already had a lot on his plate before North Korea, and now he needs to turn his attention to things like tax reform, to things like raising the debt ceiling. How might all of what's happening with North Korea, with hurricane aftermath in Houston, how does that impact what was already a really packed September agenda in Washington?

ELVING: It darkens the skies considerably, as they were already darkened by Harvey last week. And Congress already had more to do than it was likely to be able to handle. You mentioned the budget, spending bills, debt ceilings. They need to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. They have all kinds of other business that they have to do, and the president would also like them to go back to health care, and they're really eager to get to tax reform. But, you know, sometimes an external crisis like this can actually help to focus the mind of Congress, and we're thinking for example that emergency aid for Harvey victims, about $8 billion worth, will be quickly passed and that will become a vehicle for other difficult votes such as to raise the debt ceiling. And, you know, it's possible that a unified American response to the Korean crisis could enable some other cooperation on some other issues as well.

KELLY: Lots to watch in these coming days. That's NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.