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News Brief: Supreme Court, Pompeo Trip, Missing Saudi Journalist


The three-month confirmation fight is over, and Brett Kavanaugh is the newest associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday he was in his chambers preparing for oral arguments before this newly constituted court.


But there is still a lot of bitterness over this process. Republican Senator Susan Collins was on CNN yesterday defending her vote to put Kavanaugh on the court. Collins, who's a moderate, says she was convinced Kavanaugh will not overturn a woman's right to get an abortion.


SUSAN COLLINS: He says for a precedent - a long-established precedent like Roe to be overturned, it would have to have been grievously wrong and deeply inconsistent. He noted that Roe had been reaffirmed 19 years later by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. He said it should be extremely rare that it be overturned.

GREENE: OK, a lot of questions about whether this appointment will change the court. Will it shift the court to the right? Let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, one of many journalists following the story over the last three months. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right so we have a confirmation now. Kavanaugh's on the court. What are experts, analysts saying about how the court might change with him seated?

HORSLEY: Kavanaugh's placement on the court cements a conservative 5-4 majority, probably for years to come. Whereas Justice Kennedy, the Reagan appointee that Kavanaugh will replace, was pretty conservative himself - but he occasionally sided with the court's liberal wing, most famously in a string of gay rights cases - Kavanaugh is expected to occupy a space well to the right. So that shifts the center of gravity.

You will now have Chief Justice John Roberts as the tipping-point justice. The question is how much restraint Roberts displays in the name of the court's institutional integrity. That will determine whether the shift to the right is gradual or swift. But a shift it will be.

GREENE: And we could start finding out really soon. I mean, October looks to be a busy month for this court. What's on the docket? And what should we be looking for?

HORSLEY: Well, as Politico notes, one early case is one that our colleague Hansi Lo Wang has covered aggressively. It concerns the 2020 census and that controversial citizenship question, more particularly whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross should have to answer questions about his role in adding that question. Critics, who say the question would compromise the accuracy of the headcount, they want to quiz Secretary Ross. The administration has tried to shield him from questioning.

In the past, Kavanaugh has written that presidents are too important to be distracted by this kind of litigation. So we'll see if that logic extends to Cabinet secretaries. There's also a case about whether gays and lesbians should be protected from discrimination in the workplace. The court has not officially granted a review to that. That's one that could be on their docket.

GREENE: Scott, one - a poll that came out last week - actually, it was our poll, NPR's - suggested that Republicans have been very energized by this confirmation battle, maybe closing the energy gap with Democrats, but Democrats also talking about, that a debate like this is going to fire up their base. Has this confirmation battle changed the dynamic heading into the midterm elections?

HORSLEY: It's certainly energized Republicans to match Democrats, who are already pretty excited. We'll see if that lasts now that Kavanaugh has been seated. It's possible that, given the geography, this will have a mixed reaction. It could help Democrats in the suburban districts that will determine control of the House. And it could also help Republicans in some of the rural red states that will control the fate of the Senate.

Certainly this is something the president's going to be talking about as he campaigns this week in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky. There's a formal swearing in ceremony at the White House tonight. So this is kind of a victory lap for the president.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David.


GREENE: All right, Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, for several hours in Pyongyang.

KING: And it seems like the meeting went well. Both sides are claiming success at working toward nuclear disarmament and setting up a second summit between Kim and President Trump. But then Pompeo's trip seems to have ended on a negative note because he stopped to brief officials in Beijing, and these tensions between the U.S. and China came up.

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Beijing. Good morning, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let's start with this meeting in North Korea. Are Pompeo and Kim claiming that there was some sort of progress made?

KUHN: Yes, they are. They say they're - Pompeo said that the two sides are closer to that summit, even though no date or place has been announced yet. Nor do we know whether it will happen before or after the November midterm elections in the U.S. But Pompeo was very upbeat that real progress on the North Korean nuclear issue could be made at a second summit.

And perhaps no one was upbeat as Kim Jong Un. According to North Korean state media, he said that he was satisfied with productive and wonderful talks with Pompeo on denuclearization and other issues. And Kim said he was optimistic about the future because he and Trump have deep confidence in each other.

GREENE: Any idea what progress we're actually talking about when it comes to the nuclear issue?

KUHN: OK, well, the way they phrase it, the way the U.S. side phrases it, is that they made progress on implementing the Singapore summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump. And nuclear disarmament is a big part of that. Also, Kim Jong Un invited international inspectors to go check out a dismantled nuclear test site called Punggye-ri. But really, that's not really - that - the U.S. doesn't really see that as a disarmament measure, more as a confidence-building measure. That test site may actually be defunct anyway. But no details about the main things that the two sides want. North Korea, of course, wants a formal treaty ending the Korean War. The U.S. would like to see, most of all, a timeline and an inventory of what it has and when it's going - how it's going to get rid of its nuclear assets.

GREENE: OK, so then Pompeo moves on to China, where it sounds like things were not totally friendly.

KUHN: That's right. We don't know exactly what happened in these talks. But when Pompeo sat down with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, he got an earful. Wang Yi said, you know, you're hitting us on trade, on Taiwan and on baseless accusations, by which I think he was referring to this speech that Vice President Pence gave last week, which was - adopted a very confrontational tone. And Wang said, look, you come here. You want to cooperate with us on the North Korea issue. That's exactly why we have to avoid confrontation.

GREENE: So is that at risk now? I mean, could China's cooperation - could China not be so cooperative on North Korea if they feel things are frosty with the U.S.?

KUHN: Well, China says it has not abandoned the goal of a nuclear-free peninsula. It's going to fulfill its international obligations, such as U.N. sanctions. But, you know, Beijing and Seoul both think that North Korea needs to be rewarded when it makes progress. They think it has made progress. And they're also both very interested in investing North Korea because they see things thawing on the peninsula, and they want to take advantage of this opportunity.

GREENE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing. Anthony, thanks.

KUHN: Sure thing, David.


GREENE: All right, there are still no signs of a missing Saudi dissident and journalist. Last week, Jamal Jamal Khashoggi went into the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul. He was never seen coming out.

KING: Yeah, Turkish investigators have now told several news organizations that Khashoggi is dead. They say he was killed by a team of Saudi agents and that his body was dismembered and taken out of the consulate. Now, Saudi Arabia denies this and says that Khashoggi left the consulate not long after he arrived.

GREENE: Jamal Khashoggi was a contributor to The Washington Post. He's also been a guest on NPR. This is him speaking to All Things Considered in May.


JAMAL KHASHOGGI: Even when I speak to you, I feel somebody over my shoulder. I have family back in Saudi Arabia. I have friends. And the government is having a heavy hand on us.

GREENE: All right, on the phone with us is Karen Attiah. She's the global opinions editor at The Washington Post. She's also Khashoggi's editor. Karen, I'm so sorry that you're going through this with someone you work with. Thank you for taking a few minutes for us.

KAREN ATTIAH: No, no, thank you for covering this.

GREENE: So as we mentioned, no body has been found. Are you convinced of what some Turkish officials are saying, that Khashoggi was murdered here?

ATTIAH: Right, you know, we don't have proof positive of sort of either scenario, that he's alive or dead, from either the Saudis, who are still maintaining that he left the consulate, whereas Turkish officials are saying that he's dead. You know, again, what is worrying - most worrying is that we haven't heard anything for almost a week now. It's Monday. I think - I think right now we're still obviously hoping for the best. But - but it just - it just feels pretty grim right now.

GREENE: I mean, Saudi Arabia is obviously denying that - the accusations that they might have killed him. But can you talk about what kind of journalist he is and why he might be a target of the Saudi government?

ATTIAH: Absolutely. You know, so he's been a journalist for about 30 years. I think what people should know is that for a long, long time, he was a loyalist to the Saudi - the Saudi authorities, to the regime. He was an adviser to the royal family - very, very close to them, to the senior princes - and within the last two years or so also became more and more the target of the crackdowns on dissent. And so when we - when we got in touch about a year ago, he wrote his pretty much first op-ed, after being silenced, after being fired from multiple columns. And he said, you know, it's becoming so repressive that I have to leave. I have to leave my job. I have to have my family. And that's when we started our working relationship. And we penned dozens of columns.

And yes, he was critical of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, but also kind of took a very advisory role, wanted this young prince to do the right thing for his country. He loved - Jamal loves Saudi Arabia. He didn't want to be known as a dissident. He just wanted to be a journalist. He just wanted to be free to write the truth. And I think writing for The Washington Post gave him a certain sense of energy. And he got to be a journalist again. That's what hurts the most about all of this.

GREENE: All right, Karen Attiah, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

ATTIAH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.

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