News Brief: Trump Ends DACA, Irma Is A Category 5 Hurricane

Sep 6, 2017
Originally published on September 6, 2017 8:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This was already expected to be a very busy fall. In Congress, looks like it might be even busier, maybe even more politically fraught.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yep. After the administration's announcement that it's going to end DACA, there were widespread protests around the country yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Unafraid.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Undocumented.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERES: (Chanting) Unafraid.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Undocumented.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERES: (Chanting) Unafraid.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Undocumented.

MARTIN: The Trump administration says it is now up to Congress - the House and the Senate - to make a plan to protect the 800,000 immigrants who will be affected when this program comes to a close.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a love for these people. And hopefully, now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. And I can tell you, in speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right.

GREENE: OK. So how quickly will Congress do something if they're going to do something with DACA? NPR's Domenico Montanaro is here to discuss that with us. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So is this actually on the congressional agenda now that the president has tossed the ball into Congress' court?

MONTANARO: You know, not exactly and certainly not immediately. I mean, Congress has a jam-packed September. It's got 12 legislative days to get some big important things done. Think about that - Hurricane Harvey relief funding, debt limit...

GREENE: Maybe Irma now. I mean, that could even add more to...

MONTANARO: Right. Which is now the strongest hurricane to make landfall. And, you know, they need to get that Harvey relief funding through - a debt limit increase that's likely to be tied to Hurricane Harvey funding, or at least that's what the administration wants. And they need government funding to avoid a shutdown by the end of the month. So those are all big, big things.

You know, after that, a comprehensive tax code overhaul is really the big Republican priority agenda item. And that's something that really - you know, it hasn't gotten done in 30 years in Congress - expected to take up a lot of time.

Republican leaders have not promised any kind of urgency on a DACA fix or even committed to taking it up. You know, Speaker Ryan and Mitch McConnell both issued statements and - you know, kind of sympathetic on DACA but more talking about hopes...

GREENE: But not making any promises.

MONTANARO: ...Rather than taking it up. Yeah.

GREENE: What would doing something about DACA look like? I mean, could Congress actually legalize this program that we saw come into effect under President Obama? What would happen?

MONTANARO: It'd be closer to doing something like the DREAM Act - something that had been first introduced in 2002, 15 years ago. So take - getting something done in six months that's been talked about for 15 years is kind of difficult to get done. It failed in 2010. Even though Democrats got 55 votes, Republicans filibustered it. So this all comes down to whether Republicans want to buck the most activist portion of their base and have this fight.

You know, several Republicans are supportive of passing a DREAM Act that would legalize people in the country illegally who were brought here as children. But again, those hardline members are not onboard. And it's going to be really tough for some of these Republicans to want to go against them.

GREENE: Well, then we have tax reform coming up today - the president giving a speech in North Dakota. Why North Dakota and what are we going to hear?

MONTANARO: Well, this is expected to be a scripted speech, not a rally. He's going to North Dakota for a couple of reasons. One, he wants to highlight what he'll say is an example of what an economy can do when the government doesn't stand in the way. North Dakota has led the way on fracking and rode out the '08 economic downturn, you might remember, with an oil boom. Falling oil prices have kind of put a pause on that boom a bit.

But there's a more raw political reason. And that's North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp is actually one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2018. She's actually going to ride on Air Force One with Trump. And Trump hopes maybe he could get her vote the way he's also tried to target Claire McCaskill, the Democrat from Missouri - much more traditional approach from the White House. They're hoping that this can work, and we'll see. Right now Trump is onboard with that.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks as always, Domenico. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: All right. You're welcome.

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GREENE: All right, we are all thinking about people in the Caribbean right now. This could be a really scary next few days there.

MARTIN: Yeah. This morning, they're in the path of the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm ever recorded. This is called Hurricane Irma. And it's already slammed into the islands of Antigua and Barbuda and is now on course for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and possibly southern Florida. Here's Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello.

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RICARDO ROSSELLO: You know, we've had a history of hurricanes, but none of them of the magnitude that we're seeing Irma turn out to be.

MARTIN: That may spell big trouble for the island's infrastructure, especially the power grid there, which is pretty shaky as it is.

GREENE: OK. Danica Coto is the Caribbean-based reporter for the Associated Press, and she joins us from San Juan, Puerto Rico on Skype. Thanks for being here.

DANICA COTO: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: So most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, and it's already hitting some islands. What's the latest?

COTO: Sure. The eye of Hurricane Irma passed through the tiny island of Barbuda, which is just northeast of Antigua, shortly before 2 a.m. So the report so far is that the storm ripped off the roof of a local police station. Officers had to flee to a nearby fire station and a community center.

And I think there's a lot of concern for the small northeastern Caribbean islands given that churches and schools that are serving as shelters have not been tested by a Category 5 storm of this magnitude.

GREENE: And that could be just the beginning, sadly. What is it like on Puerto Rico right now as, I know, people are bracing?

COTO: It's pretty quiet for the moment. We had a steady breeze going last night, you know, and some spurts of heavy rain but that has since stopped. Officials say that the winds of Irma will probably start lashing the Puerto Rican island of Culebra, which just - lies just northeast of the island around 5 a.m. - so probably around now - and then that the main island of Puerto Rico will likely start feeling the effects by late morning. The storm is expected to be northeast of Puerto Rico by Wednesday night.

GREENE: I just think about - you know, Puerto Rico is, of course, a U.S. territory. This storm could head from there maybe to Florida, where people are bracing for this weekend. Are their concerns that the U.S. federal government is just dealing with too much storm relief at this time right now given what happened in the Gulf Coast with Harvey?

COTO: Yes. I would say so. You know, some estimate that Harvey relief could amount to between 150 billion to 180 billion. And it's still a bit too early to say what kind of damage Irma could inflict on Puerto Rico as well as, you know, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and elsewhere.

And the island's governor has said that they've never seen anything like this storm and that a lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand that kind of force. And I think the biggest concern is flooding for Puerto Rico. You know, Puerto Rico floods very easily after a brief storm. And now the island faces up to 10 inches of rain.

GREENE: All right. Following the most powerful Atlantic ocean storm ever recorded Hurricane Irma, talking there to the AP's Donica Coto on Skype from San Juan. Thanks a lot.

COTO: Thank you very much.

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GREENE: And we have some news this morning on the war against Islamic State fighters in Syria.

MARTIN: Yeah, David, there are battles taking place against ISIS on several fronts. So the U.S. is supporting forces that are fighting for one city in Syria. The Syrian government is fighting to force ISIS out of yet another city. And then there's this convoy of buses with ISIS fighters and their families aboard that's become sort of an emblem of the militant group's situation these days.

GREENE: And NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been following all of this, including this convoy of buses. Ruth, what is it about this this convoy? What - why is it seen as representative of something?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello. Well, it was part of a truce that was designed to end the presence of a group of ISIS fighters that have been existing on the border with Lebanon. And to stop the fighting there, Hezbollah - that's the Lebanese militia group - and the Syrian government agreed to transport these fighters all the way across Syria to another ISIS held city near Iraq.

But that upset the coalition. I mean, they said - the U.S. led coalition. They said ISIS should be killed on the battlefield and not allowed to flee on buses. So they bombed the road that led to the area where these people were being taken. And now these 17 buses full of both ISIS fighters and also their families have been stranded in the desert for days.

Now that convoy has somewhat broken up. But nobody really knows what will happen to them. And I think the reason it was so important was because it's part of this major debate about, you know, what we should do, whether these truces are acceptable, and also what happens to ISIS fighters in areas where they're losing.

GREENE: Wow. So this bus full of ISIS fighters, it really does symbolize what, at times, has been the elephant in the room - the fact that you have the United States and the Syrian government on the same side in the fight against ISIS. That's fascinating.

SHERLOCK: Yes.

GREENE: So it sounds like there's a key city, also, where ISIS has been on the defensive in eastern Syria. The Syrian military has made some breakthroughs there. Is that right?

SHERLOCK: Yeah, that's right. So that is the city of Deir ez-Zor. And that's where these ISIS fighters in the truce were being taken to. It's one of the last ISIS holdouts. Part of the city has always stayed in government hands. But ISIS has besieged the area. And so these residents had been trying to survive on food drops that had been made by helicopters.

ISIS had also besieged this military base for several years on the outskirts of that area. Yesterday, a Syrian regime regiment called the tiger's regiment broke through and freed the soldiers in that base. And now there's this battle that's ongoing to open the road up to the wider besieged area that has 70,000 people - or an estimate of 70,000 people in it.

GREENE: And what about the ISIS - their capital Raqqa? I mean, are they holding onto that?

SHERLOCK: Well, not really. So the U.S. - local fighters with U.S. backings have been making big gains there. And it's estimated that about half the city has been taken back from ISIS. But the war isn't over. You know, what really matters in these situations is if you can win the hearts and minds of the local population and make sure that they wouldn't let ISIS back in.

That's hard when there are civilian casualties in the fighting. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights - a guy called Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein - said that his office documented 151 deaths just in August. And he says civilians are paying an unacceptable price.

GREENE: NPR's Ruth Sherlock bringing us up to date on the fight against ISIS in Syria. Ruth, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYNTHETIC EPIPHANY'S "STAND UP LET'S GO BACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.