News Brief: Trump Travel Ban, French Presidential Election, Russia Meddling

May 8, 2017
Originally published on May 8, 2017 8:28 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today President Donald Trump's revised travel ban goes before a federal appeals court for the first time.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, so they're looking at whether the executive order from President Trump discriminates against Muslims and would therefore be unconstitutional. This is a panel of more than a dozen judges from five different states. And specifically, they're essentially deciding whether President Trump's own words about Muslims during the presidential campaign can be used against him here. It's words like these from a rally back in 2015.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

MARTIN: All right, with us this morning is NPR's Joel Rose. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: What are the arguments that are going to be laid out today?

ROSE: Well, as you say, opponents of this executive order are expected to use Trump's own words against him. They say that this is essentially - this is the Muslim ban that Trump and his advisers have been promising because it would block travel from six majority-Muslim countries. The government is going to argue that that was the campaign and that the court now should only look at the executive order itself and that the language of this order doesn't actually say anything about religion.

The White House argues that this order as well as the earlier version that was blocked are all about national security. The administration wants to stop travel from these six countries until it can revamp security procedures because it says these countries are known havens for terrorists.

MARTIN: So this is all about intent, trying to decide if you can discern the president's intention behind that ban. What can you tell us about the judges who are hearing this case?

ROSE: So the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the case today in Virginia. It's been considered a conservative appeals court. But that has been changing with new judges joining the bench. Democratic appointees now actually outnumber Republican appointees. And the court has clearly made this case a priority. It's a really unusual move. They're going to skip the initial hearing before a three-judge panel, which is usually what you get when you talk about an appeals court hearing. Instead, more than a dozen judges are going to hear this case all at once today. And the audience is going to be a little bit bigger than usual as well because they're going to allow audio of the hearing to be broadcast live.

MARTIN: And there's another hearing, I understand, next week. This is about the same executive order. What's this about?

ROSE: It is. There are two rulings about this executive order that are sort of on parallel legal tracks. Today's hearing's about the case of the ruling by a judge in Maryland. The hearing next week is about a ruling by a judge in Hawaii. That one not only put the travel ban on hold; it also is stopping the administration from suspending the U.S. refugee program. That's another court that is composed of a majority of justices appointed by Democrats. And no matter what happens in these two appeals courts, all roads are probably leading to the Supreme Court on this one.

GREENE: You know, guys, what I'm interested in, talking about Donald Trump's words...

MARTIN: Yeah.

GREENE: It's when he said, until the U.S. can figure out what is going on. Like, I mean, it's been a couple months now since he introduced the first executive order. In theory, you know, the administration has been looking at these countries, doing whatever vetting they needed to do. You have to - you have to wonder if the administration already knows...

MARTIN: Knows what's going on.

GREENE: What's going on and whether there's really a reason to keep fighting for this or whether it's politics. I mean, it's been some time now.

MARTIN: OK, NPR's Joel Rose talking through this story with us this morning. Hey, Joel, thanks so much.

ROSE: Hey, you're welcome.

MARTIN: All right, we're going to move...

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MARTIN: And now we're going to move to France, where voters elected a new president over the weekend.

GREENE: Yeah, what a big election - the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, defeated far-right Marine Le Pen in a landslide. So he is now France's youngest ever president. Before this victory, he had never even held elected office. Macron now has to lead a country, though, that's been struggling with high unemployment and a wave of terrorist attacks, issues that sowed really, really deep divisions across the French electorate.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line to talk about this. He's in Paris. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK, Macron won. It doesn't mean the French are all on the same page about the direction they want their country to go, right?

LANGFITT: No, not at all. And it was really interesting. I spent yesterday up in a place called Henin-Beaumont. It's a former coal town of about 20,000. It's Le Pen country. Her National Front actually runs the town. And it's only 90 minutes from - from here, from Paris, on high-speed train and a taxi. And it was such a contrast to life in Paris. You know, last night, you saw the images on TV, people waving the tricolor flags in front of the Louvre. When I was in Henin-Beaumont, I couldn't even find a bar with a TV to watch the returns.

And I felt like it wasn't different cities but different planets. And it reminded me a lot - I used to work in Appalachia in Kentucky. And it reminded me a lot of where I lived there and the problems they faced. And of course, that area voted very heavily for Trump. So one of the questions for Macron is going to be, how do you bring economic hope to places like Henin-Beaumont that have fallen so far down economically and voted very strongly for Le Pen?

MARTIN: So still, a lot of people voted for her, right?

LANGFITT: Indeed.

MARTIN: An estimated 11 million people...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Voted for Le Pen. That's the most her party's ever gotten, I understand. He's going to have to reach out to those voters.

LANGFITT: He is. And the other thing is like what David was pointing about, is these problems are not going away. There's a reason why people did vote for Le Pen - 23 percent youth unemployment rate here, spate of terrorism attacks as David mentioned, also concerns about migration. I was up in Lille yesterday - it's also a northern city - and talked to young women, who complained about - one woman who complained that a migrant was - had chased her recently and tried to get her bike from her, and also very concerned about terror attacks. And later on in the evening, after Macron won, I was talking to Corinne Mellul. She teaches political science at Catholic University up in Lille. And she cautioned Macron's supporters to kind of temper their euphoria. Here's how she put it.

CORINNE MELLUL: There's a lot of anger. There's a lot of frustration, many grievances on the part of the voters who chose Marine Le Pen over Emmanuel Macron. And I think that Macron, in the next five years, will ignore these grievances and this anger at his own peril.

MARTIN: So he's got to bring the country together in the next couple of months.

LANGFITT: Indeed, yeah.

GREENE: I mean, one of the challenges - you talk about bringing the country together. Let - let's imagine waking up as president of the United States without anyone from your own party in Congress. That is Macron's reality. It's a new party. He has a parliamentary election coming up. A quarter of the country didn't even vote in the presidential election. This is not a European leader with this huge, broad mandate or a lot of political capital right now. But, you know, after this victory, he's a 39-year-old with an enormous opportunity.

MARTIN: All right, Frank Langfitt reporting from Paris and apparently traveling all over France - it's tough work. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

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MARTIN: And on Capitol Hill today, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is scheduled to testify on Russia's meddling in the U.S. elections.

GREENE: Yeah, a lot of people have been waiting to see this. Yates, of course, was an Obama appointee and then spent a little bit of time, a real little bit of time - 10 days - in President Trump's Justice Department. She was fired when she said she would not defend the Trump administration's controversial travel ban. Now, today she is expected to testify that she warned White House officials about former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Yates, we should remember, was supposed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee back in March. But that hearing was canceled. And because of that, some Democrats, like Congressman Adam Schiff of California, suggested that the White House was trying to muzzle her testimony.

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ADAM SCHIFF: It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a vigorous pushback on having her testify. Among other things, how long did the president know that Michael Flynn had lied before he was willing to do anything about it?

MARTIN: All right, NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is in the studio with us. Hi, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do senators want to learn from Sally Yates?

KELLY: Well, Sally Yates has become the star witness in what has got to be the most explosive contacts that have come to light yet between Trump aides and Russia - because, as David mentioned, she sounded the alarm bell on then national security adviser Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian ambassador. So the question's about what exactly she said when she warned the White House.

As you heard Congressman Schiff there asking, who all knew about her warning? How long did they know? Why was Flynn able to continue as national security adviser for several weeks - working with top security clearance out of the West Wing of the White House for several weeks - before he was fired? You know, how much light Yates may be able to shed on any of those questions today in public testimony - this is the first chance to hear her account.

MARTIN: As David mentioned, this has a political bent to it, right? Devin Nunes, former head of the House Intel Committee, canceled a previous hearing that she was supposed to appear at. And Yates drew a lot of praise from Democrats when she left the Justice Department, kind of hailed as this hero. Does partisanship taint her testimony in any way?

KELLY: Well, she certainly has demonstrated that she's willing to be independent from the Trump administration. I mean, as we mentioned, she was - she was fired for refusing to defend the travel ban. And her testifying at all, just as a moment in this political drama, will be a big deal. Democrats howled when her previously scheduled testimony was canceled. The White House says, we didn't ask for it to be canceled; we will welcome her testimony. And today, we and the White House and everybody else are all going to get hear it.

MARTIN: And lastly, James Clapper, director of national intelligence - former director of national intelligence under Obama - is testifying. What's he expected to say?

KELLY: Right. So he never served the Trump administration. But he will be there to shed light on what the Obama administration knew and when about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And as we know, still many outstanding questions there.

MARTIN: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.