News Brief: Trump Rallies In Michigan, Venezuelans Leave, Brexit

Mar 29, 2019
Originally published on March 29, 2019 5:04 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On this Friday morning, Americans still do not have the Mueller report. A new survey finds an overwhelming majority want it to be public before they decide what to think.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Americans do have a summary by President Trump's attorney general. In it, William Barr says Russia worked to elect the president. He finds no evidence President Trump's campaign conspired with Russia. And Barr decided not to charge his boss with obstruction of justice. That was enough for the president to celebrate at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over.

MARTIN: NPR's White House correspondent, Tamara Keith, was at that rally and joins us now. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So let's start with that poll - the president there clearly saying that this is victory in his mind. But what do these new numbers tell us about how the public sees the Mueller report?

KEITH: Well, 56 percent now say that Robert Mueller conducted a fair investigation. In fact, Robert Mueller's favorability is going up, in large part, because of Republicans. Let's get to this big number, though. Seventy-five percent of people surveyed say the full Mueller report should be made public. That includes a majority of Republicans. Two-thirds also say that they want Mueller to testify before Congress. And a similar number say they want Attorney General Bill Barr to testify. Now, interestingly, almost six in 10 said that questions still exist. And just 36 percent say that President Trump is clear of any wrongdoing.

Now, I was at this rally. I talked to several Trump supporters as they were heading in. And surprisingly - or maybe not surprisingly, given these poll numbers - basically, every one of them said that they either wanted or would be OK with the Mueller report coming out. Here is Jack Korkl. He's 19 years old.

JACK KORKL: I think he's innocent. I think that it should be released in full. Personally, I thought it was, like, kind of, like - they had laid out the groundwork for it in the previous administration. And Trump - Mueller, I think he's an honest guy. And he did the investigation. And I think now everyone should just move forward.

KEITH: And he was not alone in this. A number of people said similar things.

MARTIN: I was looking on Twitter last night and saw this picture of a guy at that rally who was wearing a No Collusion T-shirt, which they've clearly - you know, that was quick response to make some T-shirts after this whole thing. The president - also trying to frame this as a victory - clearly, he sees this as a political opportunity.

KEITH: Well, the president has been saying no collusion for a long time but now he has a little bit something to back him up on that. And this was a victory lap last night. And in addition to declaring victory, he was also mocking the congressmen who are leading some of the House committees that are investigating him.

And that belittling has a purpose. It is both the president trying to make them pay for what he sees as two years of overreach. And it's also him trying to undermine the investigations that still linger. And if all that wasn't clear from the mocking and the nicknames, President Trump also made it quite explicit, saying Democrats are, quote, "defrauding the public with this ridiculous B.S." And he did not say B.S.

MARTIN: (Laughter) At the same time, the White House - the president - they're talking about this, trying to frame it as win. They're also talking about health care in a way that they haven't before - I mean, clearly seeing this as a potential win for them politically in the election.

KEITH: Yeah. It's a remarkable thing, given that 2018 - the midterms - Democrats ran on health care and won. The president and his administration are now looking to, as he says, get rid of Obamacare through the courts this time and then says that Republicans will become the party of great health care, saying there will be a new plan. Though, it's not clear where that plan...

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: ...Is right now...

MARTIN: Haven't seen that.

KEITH: ...Because it doesn't seem to exist.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith.

Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: OK. Despite mounting pressure from inside Venezuela and around the world, the sitting president there, Nicolas Maduro, is still holding onto power.

INSKEEP: He has heavily armed supporters, of course, both in the military and in paramilitary groups. Maduro is also being helped by a Russian military contingent that is said to have arrived in the capital Caracas. But none of that seems to be deterring Juan Guaido, the man the United States and most Western states recognize as the legitimate leader now. Guaido declared yesterday that preparations for what he's termed Operation Liberty have begun. Although, it's unclear what Operation Liberty is.

MARTIN: Ari Shapiro is the host of NPR's All Things Considered. And he has spent the last week on Colombia's border with Venezuela. And he joins us now.

Ari, thanks for being with us.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel - good to be here.

MARTIN: Just tell us what the situation is at the border.

SHAPIRO: You know, the city of Cucuta, right there on the border, is so overcrowded. More than a million Colombians - more than a million Venezuelans, rather - have recently crossed into Colombia. And many of them are still in the city of Cucuta. It feels like a place stretched to the breaking point.

People there are desperate. Hyperinflation in Venezuela has wiped out the life's savings that many of them earned. And so I - I met a lot of angry, young men who told me they have nothing to lose. They're willing to fight. People told me, give me a weapon, and I will charge across the country and do what's necessary to try to force Maduro out.

MARTIN: Wow. Tell us more about some of the people that you met.

SHAPIRO: OK. Well, let's start with the guys who have the most training and experience fighting - those would be the military defectors. And they are living in this abandoned luxury hotel resort guarded by Colombian police. It's a place that used to be popular with Venezuelan tourists. But, of course, those tourists are no longer coming.

These defectors are only allowed out of the hotel a couple hours a day, partly because their Colombian hosts are afraid that the guests might try to spark a war. Four of those guys agreed to spend their time out of the hotel talking with me. So we met in the ruins of this old cathedral that was destroyed in an earthquake more than a century ago. And the informal leader of the group - this guy named Williams Cancino (ph) - told me he and his buddies are just waiting for the order.

WILLIAMS CANCINO: (Through interpreter) We are here to overwhelmingly attack the dictatorial regime of Maduro.

SHAPIRO: He said the defectors are getting impatient. And he told me, if they do not get the green light to attack from Juan Guaido or from the U.S., they might just take action on their own. Some people will say that's just bluster. These guys don't have weapons or money. And the majority of the military still supports Maduro. But the military defectors are not the only ones itching for a fight. There are a lot of people who are getting very impatient.

MARTIN: So not just ex-military, other - just civilians are...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Ready to start some kind of conflagration.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I mean, I mentioned disillusioned young men. I heard this from older men too. At a Catholic soup kitchen that serves up to 8,000 hot meals every day to hungry Venezuelans, I met a 58-year-old construction worker named Luis (ph). He crosses the border every day to get food because he can't find any in Venezuela. And we're only using his first name here because what you are about to hear him say could get him in a lot of trouble back home.

LUIS: (Through interpreter) In my state, armed groups are forming to go confront the government of Nicolas Maduro.

MARTIN: Wow. So...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MARTIN: People are anxious to bring the fight to Maduro. What would happen, Ari, if violence breaks out?

SHAPIRO: Of course, it's impossible to know for sure. But there are fears that a civil war could become a regional conflict - potentially, even a global conflict. We've seen the U.S. and Russia both digging in. The U.S. wants Maduro out. Russia wants him to stay. When I spoke to the Colombian ambassador to the U.S. about this, he told me that his worst fear is that Venezuela could become like another Syria, where armed groups, backed by global superpowers, fight for dominance.

Of course, that would mean millions more Venezuelans flooding out of the country into Colombia. And that exodus is the story that we're going to explore tonight on All Things Considered.

MARTIN: NPR's Ari Shapiro, thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Rachel.

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MARTIN: Let's go to London. Today is yet another crucial day for the future of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the EU. We mean it this time.

INSKEEP: So British Prime Minister Theresa May says - twice she has brought her Brexit withdrawal agreement before Parliament. Twice it has suffered staggering defeats. Today she tries a third time, possibly the last time because the European Union has given the U.K. until tonight to approve the agreement or risk crashing out.

MARTIN: Does the prime minister have enough support? Let's ask NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the prime minister has been here before. She lost her first vote on her deal by big margins. The second defeat was also big but less bad. What are her prospects?

LANGFITT: Well, Brexit is nothing if not unpredictable. But the odds are still against her. She did pick up some votes this week. James Gray - he's a Brexiteer member of May's Conservative Party. He was actually speaking to MORNING EDITION yesterday and said he would finally back the prime minister's deal. This is what he said.

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JAMES GRAY: Seventeen-point-four million people voted to leave the European Union. We must now deliver on that promise. And the only way we can do that is by supporting the prime minister's otherwise obnoxious deal.

LANGFITT: But the problem, Rachel, is the opposition Labour Party says they're against this. The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland - also against it. The margin should be closer today, but it's still very challenging for the prime minister.

MARTIN: Also - I mean, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said that the prime minister...

LANGFITT: He did.

MARTIN: ...Couldn't bring back her deal unless it was really changed. And it's not so much - is it?

LANGFITT: Well, this is hairsplitting, frankly. But what she's done is she's brought back one part of the deal - what's called a divorce deal - instead of - the divorce deal and sort of an outline on the future relationship with the EU. And Bercow said, OK. This is just - we're just voting on one part of it. That makes it different enough, so he's accepting it.

MARTIN: OK. So the stakes - I mean, it sounds so cliche. But it's for real now. I mean, this is kind of the final deal for the U.K. This vote is really important, right?

LANGFITT: It's hard to imagine she would bring it up for a fourth vote...

MARTIN: Right.

LANGFITT: ...At this point. And she would be crashing through this deadline. What the EU has said is if it does fail tonight, which is the general expectation - and if not, if they - then they have until April 12, really, to come up with some kind of new plan. So time is very much running out.

And what we could - would do is if this goes down, we would expect Parliament to come back early next week to debate other options. And one of the options to look for would be some kind of compromise where there might be a customs union still between the EU and the U.K. so that goods could still travel freely across the borders. And so, basically, looking for some way out of this - Prime Minister May's against that. We'll see what happens next week.

MARTIN: What happens to her? She's promised to step down if Parliament passed her deal. If they don't...

LANGFITT: She's under so much pressure right now. And certainly, if she loses this vote tonight, people don't expect her to last that long.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt with the latest on Brexit, reporting from London.

Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.