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News Brief: Trump Visits Pittsburgh, Americans Divided On #MeToo, Pakistan Blasphemy Case


We are just days away from the midterm election. And President Trump has laid his bets on immigration as the issue that will drive Republicans to the polls.


Or at least his hard-core supporters. Late last week, the administration reportedly floated the idea of an executive order that would bar all migrants, including those seeking asylum, from entering the United States at the southern border. Then came the announcement on Monday that the Pentagon is deploying more than 5,000 troops to the border. And then yesterday came the idea of scrapping a key piece of the 14th Amendment, what's known as birthright citizenship, through an executive order.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How ridiculous - we're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end.

INSKEEP: Couple of false statements there, most notably that the United States is one of more than 30 nations with birthright citizenship.

MARTIN: Also worth noting, overturning a constitutional amendment is really, really difficult. Tamara Keith is an NPR White House correspondent and co-host of the Politics Podcast and joins us now. Good morning, Tam.


MARTIN: So is the president's anti-immigrant message something that resonates with Republicans writ large, or is this about really what Steve said, his personal base of support?

KEITH: It is the No. 1 issue for Republicans. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a poll out that finds that if you ask Republican voters their top issue, most - 25 percent of them, which is the highest of any issue, will say immigration is their No. 1 issue. It's not nearly as salient with Democrats or with independents.

So this is about Republicans. And this is, in particular, about Trump Republicans. This is an issue that President Trump has has felt worked for him and he hopes will be able to transfer to candidates he supports. He felt it really worked for him in the Republican primary in 2016.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should just note the way that politics and the media work. You can say something wildly impractical, completely irrelevant, not that important - caravan, caravan, birthright citizenship. And even if it's not very practical, it focuses attention, focuses the mind on the issue that the president wants people to be thinking about.

MARTIN: Right, and what he perceives to be a threat and positioning himself as the person who can meet that threat.

KEITH: Yeah, and you can float a lot of trial balloons and then not bring it up again after the election or have all of these troops go to the border just in time for the midterms.

MARTIN: Right, but he's hoping it focuses the minds of voters. Which voters is he focusing on himself? Where's he going?

KEITH: So he has a bunch of travel in the next few days. He's in Fort Myers, Fla., today. He has another trip to Florida before voting. So Florida is a big state for him. He's very interested in the governor's race and, in particular, the candidate Ron DeSantis, who he has put a lot of political capital into backing. The states he's visiting most before Election Day, over the course of this election season, Indiana and Montana. They have Senate races he cares about a lot.

MARTIN: So has he given up on saving the House? Or is he focusing on the Senate? He thinks that's at risk?

KEITH: The White House would say that he hasn't given up on the House. But he has no more stops that are specifically focused on the House. He's all-in on the Senate right now.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: All right, one year after the #MeToo movement exploded in this country, a new NPR-Ipsos poll shows the country is deeply divided about sexual misconduct and the consequence when those allegations are made.

INSKEEP: Most of those surveyed see some progress in holding offenders accountable. But more than 40 percent of those surveyed feel the movement has gone too far.

MARTIN: All right, let's talk about this with NPR's Tovia Smith, who has been digging into the poll. Tovia, good morning.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: No surprise that the nation is divided - we hear that about a whole host of issues. Maybe not exactly how we thought on this, though, right?

SMITH: Right. For all the talk about this as a woman's issue and a war on men, gender is actually less of a driver here than party. For example, on whether alleged victims of sexual assault should get the benefit of the doubt, most Democrats say yes far more than Republicans. And that party gap is bigger than the gender gap. We see a similar pattern on sexual harassment. And that gap has widened over the past year, mostly due to Republicans' shifting opinions, like 53-year-old Cindy Bradshaw from Texas.

CINDY BRADSHAW: Girls are like, oh, yeah, me too. But I feel like some of the girls want the attention. And I feel like it really, really takes away from the girls that, you know, it really happened to.

MARTIN: So she sounds like one of those who think the #MeToo movement has gone too far. What does the poll say about that? Do you see a partisan divide on that too?

SMITH: Absolutely. Overall, 43 percent think #MeToo has gone too far - meaning, perhaps, there's too much rushing to judgment or, say, frivolous accusations. And that's three-quarters of Republicans and less than one-quarter of Democrats. And we see a similar split on whether people think false accusations are common. So lots of Democratic men, for example, like Steve Novotny from Georgia, who take the side of alleged victims and discount this idea of false allegations.

STEVE NOVOTNY: I think that's the exception as opposed to the rule. I mean, I think most people wouldn't make up something just to get back at someone.

MARTIN: So with so many others believing that false accusations against men are common, I guess no wonder we're seeing something of a backlash to the movement.

SMITH: Yes, and this backlash has really picked up since the sexual assault allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and also since President Trump has been fueling the narrative that this is, you know, a scary time for young men because they'll be considered guilty until proven innocent. That has all really helped bolster the #HimToo movement. That's the hashtag now for the cause of the wrongly accused. And our survey suggests that's resonating with Trump's base.

MARTIN: What about people on the other side, those who think #MeToo has been so long overdue, an overdue reckoning?

SMITH: Yep, we see just over two-thirds think #MeToo has ushered in this new era of accountability. So people accused of sexual misconduct will be held accountable. But we still see more than a third of women and Democrats who believe that reports of sexual misconduct still get ignored. One Democrat that I spoke to, Juan Rodriguez from Texas, he says he thinks that's because people demand a level of proof now that just doesn't exist in most sexual misconduct cases.

JUAN RODRIGUEZ: With the way things are now, I think it's just going to get brushed off. They're raising the bar too high. It's like, you've got to really prove your case. It gives the perpetrator the right to just get away with stuff.

MARTIN: And if the burden of proof is too high, I mean, you would think that that could perhaps have a chilling effect on reporting. Did the poll ask about that?

SMITH: Yes, and actually, that's a bit of a point of agreement. Seventy-five percent believe that it's still risky for women to report sexual assault. But interestingly, most people say they would be more likely to report now than they would have been a year ago.

MARTIN: NPR's Tovia Smith on that new poll. Thanks so much, Tovia.

SMITH: Thank you.


MARTIN: Pakistan's highest court made a ruling that was awaited with both anticipation and dread.

INSKEEP: The court overturned the death penalty for a woman who was accused of blasphemy. The ruling ends a case from 2010, when the Christian woman was sentenced to death after being accused by fellow farm workers in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Her case was seen as a test of religious freedom or simple fairness. The blasphemy law's commonly been invoked to seek revenge against people or win disputes. But the ruling in her favor was also awaited with dread because of the fear that religious extremists could respond with violence.

MARTIN: NPR's Diaa Hadid has been following the case and joins us now. So Diaa, this woman's name is Asia Bibi. Can you just explain, when we say blasphemy, what exactly does that mean in this context? What was she accused of doing?

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: She was accused of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. But it's never really been clear exactly what she said. It's always referred to as she exchanged hot words with her Muslim - fellow Muslim colleagues. They were all farm hands in the same field. So - but even these accusations like that can be toxic in Pakistan. Other people who've been accused have been lynched by vigilante mobs. But, you know, the Asia Bibi case kind of stood out from the start. She was a Christian woman. She was accused of blasphemy. And she was sentenced to death. And this case has taken about eight years to work its way through the courts.


HADID: And what it's underscored - yeah. And what it's underscored in the meantime is just the power of Pakistan's extreme religious right. A minister who spoke in her defense was assassinated. And so was the prominent provincial governor. And he was killed by his bodyguard, actually, just a few miles from where I stand. And that bodyguard was later executed. But now he's revered as a near saint by Pakistan's religious right. And in that, you can kind of see the power and the - like, the emotive power of these cases.

MARTIN: So this is clear - this has clearly been a huge case in Pakistan, with all kinds of repercussions. So then what was it like in the courtroom, when this - when this decision was announced?

HADID: It was quite overwhelming. We were all - the media was just, like, pushed into this soaring courtroom. It was hushed. Unlike most cases in Pakistan, it began more or less on time. The three Supreme Court judges walked in. And in less than a minute, they'd announced their verdict. The death - she'd been acquitted, and she was free to go.

It was incredible. We all rushed out again to try to speak to the parties involved. And even as we were doing that, we could see security forces rushing through the center of Islamabad. And what they were doing was shutting down access to the Supreme Court. It's on a sweeping boulevard in the middle of the capital.

MARTIN: And they were afraid there was going to be protests or violence or something.

HADID: Riots, yep. Yep, and so as we drove out to a nearby intersection where we knew some demonstrators would be. And along the way, you could see these enormous containers, they're called. They're these big sort of, like, trucking blocks that prevent protesters from accessing certain roads. But the protesters we spoke to had already shut down a major intersection. And they were furious.


HADID: They were chanting against Asia Bibi and saying the judges deserve to be punished.

MARTIN: So then there were protests and, presumably, there is a fear of violence after this.

HADID: Right. And already we've had reports that some journalists have been attacked. And some police have been attacked. And now everyone's waiting for Friday, when we expect the bulk of the protests to happen.

MARTIN: What - what is the - what is the impact of this ruling for Pakistan writ large?

HADID: This can be seen as a test of the independence of the Supreme Court and its bravery in addressing these cases. It weighs on everybody's mind that previous people who spoke out in favor of Asia Bibi were killed. So now it's up to the government to see how far they're going to take this and maybe even review these blasphemy laws.

MARTIN: We'll keep following it with the help of Diaa Hadid. Thank you so much. We appreciate it, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANAN RYOKO'S "UTAKATA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
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