News Brief: Impeachment Markup, U.K. Election, Jersey City Shootings

Originally published on December 12, 2019 6:44 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What are moderate lawmakers thinking of impeachment?

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's easy to know what the more decided lawmakers think - or at least what they say. Democrats see an abuse of power by the president. Republicans see a web of unfair plots against him. Lawmakers in a House committee had a lot to say yesterday night. Democrat Lucy McBath of Georgia said her vote is for the Constitution with a heavy heart. Republican Jim Jordan argued that Trump voters should take this process personally.

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JIM JORDAN: It's not just because they don't like the president. They don't like us. They don't like the 63 million people who voted for this president.

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LUCY MCBATH: I believe the president abused the power of his office, putting his own interests above the needs of our nation. And for that, I must vote my conscience.

INSKEEP: But is every lawmaker so certain? NPR's Claudia Grisales is here. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what is the process in which we're hearing these lawmakers?

GRISALES: So today, lawmakers will get into the actual nuts and bolts of debating the articles of impeachment - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - before all 41 members of the judiciary panel. It follows the first of this two-part hearing that started with opening remarks last night. It's what's known on Capitol Hill as a markup hearing...

INSKEEP: Right.

GRISALES: ...And those are generally very technical committee processes to hammer out an approved legislation. So these can be considered a mundane part of the job.

INSKEEP: Except not this time.

GRISALES: Not this time. The stakes are too high. And so there's plenty of interest. And that changes all that. We understand that Republicans are looking at proposing an array of amendments. Those are expected to get shot down by Democrats. But it will also help extend this hearing by several hour.

INSKEEP: OK. So Democrats have said they're comfortable with their course. But are some of them less comfortable than others?

GRISALES: Yes. It's a different story for Democrats, which include freshmen members who flipped their districts from red to blue in 2018. Many of these new members from these moderate districts are keeping their decisions close to the vest. Here's freshman Representative Max Rose. He's a military veteran who represents New York.

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MAX ROSE: We are giving this the level of seriousness that it is deserving of - second-most serious thing I could ever do in this institution.

GRISALES: He said the first was considering an act of war. And he's not alone...

INSKEEP: Wow.

GRISALES: ...Taking his time in deliberating his decision and publicly rush to judgment. Some, like Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, aren't ready to announce. And she's planning to meet with constituents in Michigan - in her Michigan district ahead of the potential impeachment vote next week.

INSKEEP: You know, Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman, had a remarkable line in his opening statement last night. He urged his fellow lawmakers not to approve of something that they know in their heart is wrong.

GRISALES: Right.

INSKEEP: Republicans have certainly been very public in defending the president and changing the subject to the whistleblower, Hunter Biden. But are they all completely on board that everything the president did was completely OK?

GRISALES: Although most Republicans are remaining fiercely loyal to the president throughout this inquiry, there are those that take pause with the claims against him, that he invited foreign interference into our elections. For example, Republican Francis Rooney of Florida is expected to vote against the impeachment. However, in recent days, he issued a statement reiterating that the president's behavior related to Ukraine was improper and he should not undermine the work of our ambassadors and foreign service officers who spend careers protecting U.S. interests around the world.

INSKEEP: Claudia, thanks for the update.

GRISALES: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales.

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INSKEEP: It is Election Day in the United Kingdom.

KING: That's right. And today's vote is really mostly about Brexit. Voters are choosing a new Parliament. Those lawmakers could decide how and when the U.K. finally leaves the European Union.

Now, the British political system has been paralyzed for more than three years over how to get this done. Now, the pro-Brexit Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to strengthen his very weak Conservative Party. The main opposition party is Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn.

INSKEEP: Which is also seen as rather weak. NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt joins us now from London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's it felt like to be on the streets during the last days of this campaign?

LANGFITT: There's a lot of anxiety, I think, on both sides. So the conservatives have been up by about, I guess in the aggregate, nine points. But they're concerned that things are getting tighter and tighter. Boris Johnson's made some mistakes. There was a TV reporter who showed him a picture of a boy on the floor of a hospital, which was an example of the need for more funding for the National Health Service. Johnson took the phone and put it in his pocket and just ignored the photograph.

So he stumbled. And I think the Tories are concerned about that. Jeremy Corbyn, he hasn't taken a really firm side on Brexit. And even his biggest supporters in the party feel that may have been a big mistake and may cost them today during the vote.

INSKEEP: I just want to note that it would be certainly easier for us to follow in the United States and I would imagine easier for people to vote in the U.K. if there was a really clear choice - one side for Brexit, the other against or two different forms of Brexit. But they don't really have that choice.

LANGFITT: And I think a lot of people in the Labour Party would agree exactly with what you just said, Steve. Jeremy Corbyn has made this choice to basically say - and it's a convoluted kind of pitch that he's making to voters, which is essentially, I'll renegotiate a new Brexit withdrawal agreement. And then you can vote on it next year along with the choice to stay in the EU.

People are so tired of this that Boris Johnson's message, which is get Brexit done - which is simple, but a bit misleading because Brexit is incredibly complicated - actually is cutting through to a lot of voters, including people who voted to stay in the EU back in 2016, because frankly, they are very tired of it. And they would like the country to move forward.

INSKEEP: Now, you did mention that in polling, at least until the last few days, the Conservatives have had a definite advantage. But before assuming that I know what's going to happen in this election, I'm trying to remember that the U.K. tried to resolve this matter with an election once before.

LANGFITT: Yeah. That was 2017. And I think this is very cautionary tale. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May thought she was going to romp and get this big majority and then was going to push through Brexit. She actually lost her majority. The voters here are very volatile. The polls are unpredictable, as they've been in the United States as well. So we really don't know what's going to happen tonight. I think people are expecting a small Tory majority. But you could end up with another hung Parliament where nobody has control.

INSKEEP: Is Russian disinformation part of this campaign as it has been in the past?

LANGFITT: We don't know if it's Russian, but there is a fascinating disinformation case that I was just mentioning to you about this photo of this boy...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...A 4-year-old boy lying on a hospital floor. That went out. It came out - actually, it was reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post. A bunch of Facebook posts then came out saying it was all fake and that no one should trust this. And even people wrote the Yorkshire Post saying, you have to retract this story.

Well, they actually reported the whole thing. It was all true. And this looks like it was one of these disinformation campaigns, which we saw here in 2016 during the Brexit referendum.

INSKEEP: Which is the consequence of a lot of these disinformation campaigns, people just don't know what to believe in the end.

LANGFITT: Yeah. And in the end, they trust people they don't know on Facebook over their local newspaper.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much for the update.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London and covering the U.K. election today.

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INSKEEP: We're still learning about a shootout in Jersey City, N.J. And at least one leader there says it is a clear hate crime.

KING: Right. Here's what we do know. On Tuesday, two people shot and killed a police detective. Then they killed three bystanders at a kosher grocery store. Last night in Brooklyn, thousands of people got together to grieve for one of those bystanders, a man named Moshe Deutsch.

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HERSHEY DEUTSCH: He was a special person. He was a person that went on with his life and just had a good word to everybody, smiled, did good things and just was a nice guy.

KING: That was his cousin, Hershey Deutsch (ph). Authorities have identified the attackers, but they haven't identified a motive yet. Jersey City's mayor says this is clearly a hate crime.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence has been covering the story and is in Jersey City. Quil, good morning.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Can you work us through what's known about the sequence of events?

LAWRENCE: It started in a cemetery when a police detective, Joseph Seals, saw a van that had been identified in a previous homicide from over the weekend. He approached the van and was quickly gunned down. And then the two perpetrators drove over a mile to this kosher grocery store. One of them got out of the van, a 47-year-old man, with a rifle in his hand, went into the store, started shooting. His accomplice, a 50-year-old woman, followed.

They never left that store. They shot everyone inside. One of the people in the store managed to climb out over a fence and escape out the back with a gunshot wound. But then a police shootout began, which lasted several hours. And three hours later, the police actually breached the front of the store with an armored vehicle and found the bodies inside.

INSKEEP: Now, I think you're beginning to give us an answer here to why some people would see this as a hate crime. I was baffled at first because it did not begin at this kosher store. It began somewhere else. But even though that is the case, it seems that the store was deliberately and pretty intensively attacked.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. And so there isn't really so much of a disagreement about that as so much as that the attorney general of New Jersey is willing to give just facts and not talk about any of the evidence yet because it's a crime scene. Whereas the mayor of Jersey City was willing to just come out and say, what we saw on the video shows us that this was a targeted attack. His name's Steven Fulop. He's a grandson of Holocaust survivors. Here's what he had to say.

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STEVEN FULOP: There's no question it was a attack on the Jewish community. There's no other way to interpret it when you look at the facts, you know? Like I said, as a Holocaust survivor family, it's important for me to recognize it for what it is.

INSKEEP: OK. So he's making that statement. Police are holding back, as you would understand, as they gather more information. What are the outstanding questions here?

LAWRENCE: Well, I would like to clear up what the links to hate groups are. The mayor was willing to say that some of these perpetrators had been supporting hate groups online, but we're not clear what those are yet. There's reportedly a screed that was left inside that van. How they got so much firepower - I mean, to hold off the police for three hours, they had, presumably, hundreds of hundreds of rounds.

And it really does look like this detective, Joseph Seals, when this process started and the other police action may have prevented a much greater tragedy, really, by acting so quickly. And we don't have so many details about that yet.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll continue following your reporting. Quil, thanks so much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence. He is in Jersey City, N.J., this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.