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News Brief: Cost Of GOP's Health Bill, Travel Ban Gets A Reprieve


Late last night, the White House released an unexpected statement.


Yeah. It was about Syria. The administration says it believes the Assad regime might be preparing to wage another chemical weapons attack. The statement went on to say that, if such an attack is carried out, the Assad regime and its military would pay a, quote, "heavy price." And I think it's worth remembering, President Obama made his own threats against the Syrian regime back in 2012.


BARACK OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

GREENE: Just a year later, a chemical attack killed hundreds of people just outside of Damascus. And President Trump has called Obama out over that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When he didn't cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways - not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world - because it was a blank threat.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now. Tam, this is kind of unusual - an official statement like this coming out so late in the day.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah. It came out at 9:45-ish last night from Press Secretary Sean Spicer. And it is also surprising because President Trump has been so opposed to the idea of a red line, saying - both in those statements that you played but also on Twitter repeatedly back in 2013 - red line statement was a disaster for President Obama.

MARTIN: So heavy price can mean a lot of different things. What might it mean? I mean, what are the implications here?

KEITH: Well, there had been a missile strike that the U.S. conducted, led by President Trump, after a previous chemical weapons attack. It's not clear what they mean in this case. I tried reaching out to CENTCOM, the part of the military that's...

MARTIN: ...Central Command. Yeah.

KEITH: Central Command, that deals with this part of the world. And they said, you know, we have nothing to add to the White House statement. Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the U.N., said on Twitter, quote, red line - no, she said - yes - "any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran, who support him killing his own people."

MARTIN: So using this moment to lash out at those countries for their involvement there. So...

KEITH: ...Yeah, an even more explicit threat.

MARTIN: Whether or not this was intentional, the Syrian news could, perhaps, distract from some important domestic news - the Republican health care bill that's now struggling. The CBO score finally came out on the Senate Republicans' bill. How, Tam, is that changing the way senators are thinking about this?

KEITH: Well, 22 million fewer people would have coverage - health coverage - under this bill, as compared to current law, a decade from now. That is a big number. And also, another...

MARTIN: ...But it's less than the House bill.

KEITH: By about a million. But it's still a huge number. And one of the main GOP selling points on the need to repeal and replace Obamacare had been the rising cost of insurance and, in particular, premiums. So what the CBO says about that is that, initially, premiums would rise, but then they would fall. But in part, that's just because the health plans would cover less. And so they're saying that, actually, out-of-pocket costs, deductibles and other expenses, would rise significantly and that many people simply wouldn't have health coverage because it wouldn't be worth it for them.

MARTIN: So this is making it more difficult for some senators to get behind this.

KEITH: Yeah. So Susan Collins from Maine says that she now wants to work with her GOP and Democratic colleagues to fix the ACA, but this CBO analysis shows that the CBO bill won't do it. She and about three or four other senators are now saying that they don't even want to vote on the current bill. They don't want to vote to move to it. They don't want to even begin the voting.

MARTIN: Although Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, apparently still says he's going to push forward with this vote this week. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tamara, thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: The fate of President Trump's travel ban now rests in the hands of nine Supreme Court justices.

GREENE: Yeah. It's a little complicated here, Rachel. So yesterday, the high court agreed to hear the case over Trump's travel ban and also said that parts of the ban can go into effect right now, before we actually reach the point where the court considers it in the fall. So let's just look back. In the original version that President Trump issued in January, the administration banned travelers from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

It suspended the refugee program for 120 days. As we remember, there were legal challenges. There were airport protests. The White House retooled the ban, dropping the nation of Iraq. But then came more legal challenges, and the ban was on hold until now.

MARTIN: Until now. So NPR's Joel Rose is here. Joel - so now the Supreme Court says parts of this can go into effect. So who can come to the U.S., and who cannot?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: So the Supreme Court says that to come in, you must have a, quote, "bona fide relationship", unquote, inside the U.S. And that could be a family member. It could be a business where you're planning to work. It could be a school that you're planning to attend classes, or maybe lecture. In a statement, the Trump administration called this a victory for national security. Remember that, you know, this White House is...

MARTIN: ...That was the whole thing. It was a major national security crisis. And that had to happen now.

ROSE: Yeah. The White House has been arguing all along that this temporary ban is needed to protect the country from terrorists. But immigrant rights activists have seen this very differently. They think the executive order is a Muslim ban, like the one President Trump talked about during the campaign, and therefore, unconstitutional.

They're arguing that most foreign visitors and refugees actually have bona fide relationships inside the country already. And these activists say they'll be watching to see how the administration responds to the Supreme Court's order. And they'll be willing to take that - to go to court if they don't like how it's rolled out.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK, so here's my question. This is a proposal for a 90-day ban - is what the administration had wanted. So Joel, it's almost July. If I'm doing my math right, by the time the court decides this case in the fall, those 90 days will have elapsed, right? So doesn't this become moot?

ROSE: Well, there's a lot of speculation about this. This has always been framed, as you say, as a temporary measure so that the administration could review security vetting procedures. It was 120 days in the case of the refugee program, and it was supposed to be 90 days for visitors traveling from the six affected countries. If you start counting from yesterday, that 90-day clock would indeed run out before the Supreme Court term begins in October.

So we don't know exactly how this will play out. The administration could finish its security review and just declare victory, maybe - drop the appeal before the court even rules on the rest of the case. Or maybe they go forward anyway and seek a ruling from the court. I think, you know, I'm sorry I can't give you the final answer today.

MARTIN: Well, we should say, we talked with the secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, who a couple months ago had suggested that, you know, they may extend it. So who knows? We'll just have to wait and see on that. NPR's Joel Rose has been following the story for us. Thanks, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.


MARTIN: The Trump administration wants cooperation with China on a whole range of issues - perhaps, most importantly, on containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

GREENE: Yeah. We have a lot of questions this morning, though, because the administration is poised to announce that China is on the list of the world's worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking. That would put China in the company of countries like North Korea, Sudan and some others.

MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing. Anthony, the Trump administration has downplayed human rights recently. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it's not going to be as much of a priority in U.S. diplomacy as it has in the past. So where's this push on human trafficking coming from?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, this particular push appears to be coming from the State Department. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to deliver an annual report on human trafficking to Congress. And he's expected to say that China is not doing enough to fight trafficking. And as a result, China could face sanctions, like getting non-humanitarian aid cut.

We should note, of course, that there's also a White House connection here, in that the president's daughter, Ivanka, will be participating in the release of this report. She'll be there to lend her support. And there've already been comments from the media noting that her firm - that her fashion firm - has sourced shoes from a factory in China, which is accused by labor rights activists of coercing workers into overtime.

MARTIN: So any sense of how this might be received in Beijing?

KUHN: Beijing has already made an initial response saying these criticisms are irresponsible and it's not fair to judge other countries according to U.S. domestic laws. And it says it's fought very hard against trafficking. We'll see if there are any more remarks after the report is formally released.

MARTIN: So any larger potential impact here on the relationship? I mean, it's a whole host of issues between the U.S. and China that are at play at any given time. Is this being seen as something that's incremental, or could it substantively change the relationship?

KUHN: Well, it certainly could be a signal that Washington is going to take a much stronger stand on key human rights issues, like, for example, the Chinese government's crackdown on rights lawyers, which has been going on for a couple of years. Or the U.S. could say something about sort of the issue of the day here to human rights activists, and that is Liu Xiaobo, the dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who's been given medical parole with late-stage liver cancer.

On the other hand, it's also possible that the U.S. will say, we have other priorities. This has happened with many of these trafficking reports before. They say that China does have problems, but in the end, there are other priorities. And so they waive the sanctions. That's possible too.

MARTIN: Or this is just a response to what has been kind of an issue that Ivanka Trump has talked a lot about, perhaps because of her issues with her business in China. But it's something that she's paid attention to, and she definitely has her father's ear. Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Beijing. Hey, Anthony, thanks so much this morning.

KUHN: Sure thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF INFAMOUS MOBB'S "G.O.D. PT 3") 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.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.

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