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News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Indonesia Tsunami, Trade Deal


Just how much further is the Federal Bureau of Investigation supposed to look into the life of Brett Kavanaugh?


Yeah, that's become a hotly debated question after the Senate allowed an extra week to interview witnesses. Republican Senator Jeff Flake was the one who forced this change. He called for a short pause to allow a limited, one-week FBI investigation of sexual assault accusations against the Supreme Court nominee. Flake worked with Democrats who were trying to stave off an immediate confirmation vote. Flake appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" along with Democrat Chris Coons, and anchor Scott Pelley asked this key question.


SCOTT PELLEY: If Judge Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, nomination's over?

JEFF FLAKE: Oh, yes.

CHRIS COONS: I would think so.

INSKEEP: Lot of testimony to examine. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here.

Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So where does the nomination stand today?

LIASSON: Well, one thing we know is that Donald Trump is still all in. At a rally in West Virginia over the weekend, he cast the vote for or against Judge Kavanaugh in purely partisan terms. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So some great things are happening. But a vote for Judge Kavanaugh is also a vote to reject the ruthless and outrageous tactics of the Democrat Party (ph) - mean obstructionists, mean resisters. For the last 18 months...

LIASSON: So there is some confusion, however, about what exactly is going to be investigated. The Senate Judiciary Committee said the investigation would be limited to, quote, "current credible allegations." So what does that mean? Is the investigation going to look into the accuracy of Kavanaugh's testimony? That's unclear. Donald Trump has denied that he's put any limitations on the FBI. He said the investigators have free rein. But this is not a criminal probe. It's merely an additional background check. So they're not going to be issuing any subpoenas.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to a little bit more of what the president has been saying about this.


TRUMP: Having the FBI go out, do a thorough investigation, whether it's three days or seven days - I think it's going to be less than a week - but having them do a thorough investigation, I actually think, will be a blessing in disguise. It'll be a good thing.

INSKEEP: It would be, of course, if it cleared Kavanaugh. Now, Mara, I'm trying to parse everyone's words here because there have been contradictions. The president has said on Twitter and elsewhere, I want the FBI to have free rein, but his aides have said, we are doing what the Senate would like. And the Senate has said publicly and otherwise, we want a limited investigation. And it certainly is limited in the number of days.

LIASSON: Right. And that's why Democrats are saying they want to see any instructions that the White House has sent to the FBI. But I do think the calculation that Republicans are making - at least the ones I've talked to - is that the FBI is not going to turn up any new corroborating evidence for Dr. Ford's claims. I think they're also counting on - and you just heard the president talk about this - that if they can make the process look a little fairer, it will help them get the Republican votes they need, and it will make any political backlash after Kavanaugh is confirmed a little bit less.

INSKEEP: Has this become a major issue for candidates campaigning for House and Senate seats this fall?

LIASSON: I don't know about a major issue, but I think it is going to affect the elections in some way. It's unclear. We have to see what the FBI comes up with and whether he is confirmed or not. But if he's confirmed, the question is - can it energize college-educated female voters any more than they already are? I think the trend lines for the midterms are pretty much set. Then there's the question if he withdraws or is defeated - will that enrage Republicans - increase turnout - or demoralize them?

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson.


INSKEEP: The Trump administration and Canada have settled on terms for a new North American free trade deal.

MARTIN: President Trump has long criticized NAFTA for terms that he argued punish U.S. businesses and put Canada and Mexico at an advantage.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what can you tell us about the deal?

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: That it's a good day for Canada.

MARTIN: Good day for Canada. That was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late Sunday night. The U.S. and Mexico came to terms in August. But differences between the U.S. and Canada had kept hopes for a new NAFTA deal just out of reach. That changed over the weekend. With a self-imposed deadline looming, President - Prime Minister, rather, Justin Trudeau joined the talks. Just before midnight, the parties emerged with a deal.

INSKEEP: OK. So what's the deal? NPR business editor Uri Berliner is with us.

Hi there, Uri.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember that the old NAFTA - it's a free trade agreement but not strictly that. It's free trade except when it's not quite free trade. There are a lot of complexities. But the basic idea is goods crossing borders without tariffs most of the time. How is this new agreement supposed to be different?

BERLINER: Well, let's start with the brand-new parts, the sections that Canada and the U.S. agreed upon in this last-minute scramble. Both sides gave up some ground from positions that they were pretty entrenched on. Canada said it's going to pry open its dairy market, which has been very protected - open it up more to U.S. farmers. The U.S. backed away from this demand; they wanted to get rid of these independent dispute resolution panels that deal with complaints about unfair trade. The administration didn't like them at all, thought they stepped all over American sovereignty. The U.S. gave up there.

And also, significantly, you know, the U.S. agreed - reached an understanding with Canada that it's not going to go ahead and slap tariffs on autos imported from Canada. President Trump had threatened that a bunch of times. Remember those tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum?


BERLINER: Yeah, they're still in place for now. And they're supposed to be negotiated out on a separate (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting. And you mentioned that dairy rules will change. This has been, like, a very public complaint of the president. He's made a number of complaints about Canadian dairy practices. So you're saying that will change. But I do have to ask. This is an immense trading relationship between three nations. Is it really changing that much?

BERLINER: Well, that's really an interesting question. I mean, you know, there's parts of it that were in place already when the U.S. and Mexico came to an agreement are - you know, are significant. And the ones that really are deal with auto manufacturing, you know? It increases the amount of content that has to be produced within the border of North America. And more significantly even, it requires that at least 40 percent of the vehicles made within this trade zone have to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour. You know, this is designed to push up wages in America and, hopefully to the Trump administration, move more manufacturing back to the U.S.

MARTIN: It's got a new name now - doesn't it, Uri? - which is not insignificant because this is a president who is all about branding. So if you got a new name, then something's changed. Right?

BERLINER: Well, you know that President Trump always hated NAFTA. He always call it a total disaster, the worst trade agreement that the U.S. has ever negotiated. So yeah, got to changed the name.

MARTIN: United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

BERLINER: Exactly right.

MARTIN: Oos-mah-ca (ph).

INSKEEP: Oos-mah-ca.

MARTIN: Right, Oos-mah-ca.

INSKEEP: So instead of NAFTA, oos-mah - Yous-Mah-Ca (ph). Does it - Oos-mah-ca or Yous-mah-ca? We've got to get that...

BERLINER: Let's go with Yous-mah-ca.

MARTIN: To-may-to, tomahto (ph).

INSKEEP: Oh, that's fine.

BERLINER: All right.

INSKEEP: So what has to happen in order for this to be final? Does Congress have to sign off?

BERLINER: Yeah. Congress has to approve it. You know, that would have been very, very hard if it was just a U.S.-Mexico deal alone. Probably, their odds are better if it's all three countries. But we'll wait and see what happens in the midterms. If the Democrats take control of the House or Senate or both, they could insist on changes and make it more difficult.

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting - although, of course, there are some Democrats who would favor changes to NAFTA also.

Uri, thanks very much.

BERLINER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Uri Berliner.


INSKEEP: All right. Maybe you saw the video over the weekend - people fleeing, fleeing away from the beach as massive waves crashed ashore in Indonesia Friday. Beachfront houses on the island of Sulawesi were swept away, and hundreds of people are known dead.

MARTIN: All right. Most of the confirmed deaths are from the city of Palu. Rescuers, though, say they could find more victims in the Donggala region. This is closer to the epicenter of where the quake happened.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is on that Indonesian island.

Hi there, Julie.


INSKEEP: What are you seeing?

MCCARTHY: As you say, I am on the island. Well, I'm on the island of Sulawesi. But many hours to the north of me is the city of Palu. Life has been totally upended. Body bags are lining the shore where the dead have washed up after this 18-foot tsunami. People are hungry. They're scrounging markets for food. They're looting stores and government buildings, cars carrying aid. Relief groups are worried about their base camps being overturned.

The military has now been deployed. But many people are asking, what took so long? World Vision says that people are terrified. This tsunami - they're terrified of another tsunami. It just didn't take lives; it took a chunk of the city shoreline with it.

INSKEEP: I'm just stuck on that number, 18 feet, Julie McCarthy, because if you follow hurricanes that strike the United States, a 5-foot storm surge is really bad - floods a lot of areas. An 18-foot storm surge must have been devastating - or not storm surge, tsunami in this case, yeah.

MCCARTHY: You saw actually - yeah. You saw this video of this thing approaching and people kind of blithely taking pictures of it on a hotel. And then the picture goes black. They must have been gone. And these are not small places. This is a city - Palu is a city of 335 people - devastated now.

INSKEEP: Three-hundred-thirty-five thousand.

MCCARTHY: Three-hundred thousand are in Donggala.

INSKEEP: You're saying 335,000.

MCCARTHY: Three-hundred-thirty-five thousand people - 335,000 in Palu and another 300,000 in Donggala. And these places are remote. Palu is nestled where the tsunami came careening in. And their buildings are cracked, and they're collapsed. And there are still powerful aftershocks. And people are building makeshift shelters in the hills, too afraid to stay indoors.

INSKEEP: Well, I have to ask about the capacity for rescuing people and recovery. Is there an Indonesian equivalent of FEMA? Is the military really strong logistically the way the U.S. military would be? Do they have the resources to go after this?

MCCARTHY: Well, this has been a huge challenge. In fact, the Palu airport was closed today. One police major said 4,000 people stormed the airport there. They rushed a military transport filled with aid, and that shut down the flights for the day. So you know, chaos is emerging. People are shown standing on tankers, siphoning the fuel. Power has been cut. The hospitals are crippled. People have moved outside, where - patients have been moved outside, where the doctors are trying to administer them outside there. Military transports are flying in generators. But there's a desperation setting in. The president, Joko Widodo, has authorized international aid agencies into the quake area. And now they've got to overcome the hurdle to reach these devastated places.

INSKEEP: OK. Julie, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy speaking to us from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.


Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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