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News Brief: Nancy Pelosi, Xi Jinping, Airbnb

Nov 20, 2018
Originally published on November 20, 2018 5:38 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The House Democrats opposing Nancy Pelosi's bid for the top role in the House of Representatives have finally gone public.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Sixteen Democrats released a letter saying it is time for new leadership, although they do not identify who that new leader would be. The math does not yet say that Pelosi really needs those 16 to be speaker of the House. Democrats have a large enough majority that if those 16 were the only opponents, Pelosi could be elected speaker without them. She remains publicly confident that she will be the leader as she once was before.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow has been following the ins and outs of all this and joins us in the studio.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: So in so many ways, this will sound like just an inside-Washington story to a lot of people. But remind us why this matters.

DETROW: This is the person who sets the agenda in the House, what bills come up for a vote; the main negotiator with the Senate and the White House; someone who's second in line for the presidency after the vice president in the line of succession. And until there's a presidential nominee in 2020, this will be the most high-profile Democrat in the country.

MARTIN: Why do these Democrats want Pelosi out of the leadership position?

DETROW: Their main argument is that voters wanted change and that Pelosi and other top Democratic leaders have been in charge for a very long time. I think a more accurate view of that is a lot of House Democrats want change. There's just not room for them to advance with the same people leading the caucus for so long. Here's Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who's someone who's thinking about maybe running against Pelosi.

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MARCIA FUDGE: We have a lot of very bright people in this caucus, and everybody knows it. But it's very difficult to move up in an environment where the same people run everything all the time.

DETROW: And you've seen this over the last few years. A lot of House Democrats have just decided to run for other office or retire rather than wait around to advance up the ranks of leadership.

MARTIN: Right. We should just point out, the younger generation of the House leadership on the Democratic side is, like, Steny Hoyer, who's - I can't remember how old he is; he is old - and people who've been around a really long time. So when you think about how serious this threat is to Nancy Pelosi, I mean, is this a real risk?

DETROW: It is. I mean - it's just on the verge of being very serious, as Steve pointed out. There's an internal election next week where Democrats will vote behind closed doors. Right now there's no question she'd win. The question is - when there's a formal vote on the House floor, does she have the 218 votes she would need from Democrats to be elected? There's a few races that still haven't been decided. And right now, this letter is right on the verge of the amount of Democrats she can afford to lose...

MARTIN: Right.

DETROW: ...Which is interesting because all week, in the lead-up to this letter, the organizers had indicated the number would be much larger, something that would really prove she doesn't have the votes. And right now, it's just on the border, though they point out there are several people committed to voting against her who have not signed their letter.

MARTIN: How's Pelosi responding to all this?

DETROW: Pretty seriously. At first, her camp really dismissed this - saying, this is nothing; of course Pelosi will be elected speaker. But as time has gone on, you've seen her really take this seriously. She's hold a lot of meetings with incoming Democrats. She's very confident she has the support. I interviewed her over the summer, and she said, if she's good at one thing, it's knowing exactly how many votes she has at any given time.

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NANCY PELOSI: I'm a numbers person. When it comes to counting votes for legislation - passing the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, the list goes on - Wall Street Reform and the rest. And I'm a numbers person when it comes to my own possibilities in the Congress.

DETROW: And you're hearing there her argument. She's somebody who's gotten a lot of stuff done. You look at how John Boehner and Paul Ryan have run the House since her, and they haven't gotten as much of their agenda passed as she was able to.

MARTIN: I mean, is it fair to say she's more threatened than she's ever been, though, for this job?

DETROW: For sure. And the next few weeks will be key. Can she pick off some of the people who signed this list? Can she get them to change their mind? She's someone who has a lot of leverage and has a long track record of knowing how to use it.

INSKEEP: Although, you point out, this is a question about who gets to go in what turn. It's hard to identify the substantive, the issue on which a lot of Democrats would necessarily differ with Nancy Pelosi.

MARTIN: Although you have to point out - President Trump uses Nancy Pelosi as a foil, has for the last couple of years, even in the campaign.

DETROW: And she would point out that Democrats are on the verge of picking up 40 seats after a campaign focused on her.

MARTIN: All right, NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow.

Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EARL OF MANILA SONG, "STRANGER")

MARTIN: OK. We're going to shift now over to Asia and a high-powered meeting today between two world leaders.

INSKEEP: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte welcomed China's President Xi Jingping. The Philippines is a traditional U.S. ally. In fact, Americans used to run it. And the Philippines has been pressured by China. But now Xi comes to the country with offers of infrastructure loans and new accords to prevent possible clashes, maybe even an idea to explore, jointly in some way, for oil and gas in the disputed South China Sea.

MARTIN: All right, let's talk to NPR's Julie McCarthy about all this. She is in Manila covering this meeting in the Philippines.

Hey, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: So have you seen these two leaders? Have they actually come out for a photo shoot or anything yet?

MCCARTHY: Oh, yes. There was an official welcome. And I've just come from that official welcome at the Malacanang Palace. And you know, it was full of pomp and ceremony. The anthems played, and then schoolchildren - hundreds of them just outside the gates - greeted Xi Jinping as his motorcade drove in. So it was short, and it was sweet. It was lovely.

MARTIN: All right. So Steve outlined some of what is at stake in this meeting. But let's hear your take on this. What is the significance of these two leaders meeting right now?

MCCARTHY: Well, for the Philippines, it's a historic time. This is the first time in 13 years that they will be throwing a state affair for a Chinese president. And arguably, it's very significant for - could be very significant for China because what this state visit helps solidify is Chinese rising influence in Southeast Asia, a region that was dominated, as Steve alluded to, by the United States not too long ago. Now - and all of that is taking place after a week where increasingly acrimonious U.S.-Chinese rivalry was on display and left leaders out here at an APEC summit ducking to get out of the way of an unusually nasty tone between the Americans and the Chinese. Now, President Trump was not here at these meetings, and that was interpreted by some as ceding to China this region. Certainly, the day here in Manila belongs to Xi Jinping, red carpets and all.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for the ongoing, this long dispute about the South China Sea, where China has made these pretty expansive claims? And what are they offering? What could they get out of the Philippines?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that's right. It is the flashpoint. It's one of the most sensitive flashpoints in Southeast Asia, and it's largely because of China's complete disregard for international law. They are occupying, after seizing, atolls and islands in the South China Sea that lie in Philippine waters. An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China has no claim whatsoever to those waters, and it's in violation of them. What China is here to do is try to nail an agreement for jointly exploring oil and gas. It wants to legitimize what is seen as an illegitimate occupation here in the South China Sea. And Duterte would be an outlier if he agrees with it. No other country that claims waters in the same sea has signed any agreement to jointly explore with China for fear that it's going to lose its sovereign rights.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting for us this morning in Manila.

Julie, thanks. We appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Airbnb is getting out of business in the occupied West Bank.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The company says it will no longer post listings for homes that are open, apartments that are open in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This move comes amid pressure on companies to stop doing business there. Israeli officials say they're being singled out and that they will take action against the company.

MARTIN: Daniel Estrin is NPR's correspondent in Jerusalem, and he joins us now. So Daniel, why is Airbnb making this move? Why now?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, Airbnb has wrestled with this issue for a while. That's what it says. It has about 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Most countries say settlements in occupied land are illegal under international law. Israel has occupied the West Bank for the last 51 years. The territory is under dispute. Palestinians want the land for their own country. And until now, Airbnb said it operated in settlements because it wanted to help bring people together. But the company says it spoke to experts and decided it needs to act responsibly and change its mind. And it says settlements are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

Human Rights Watch says it lobbied Airbnb, actually, about this for two years. And I spoke to Omar Shakir from the group about it. He argued Airbnb helps broker some rentals on land that Israel seized from Palestinian landowners. And in terms of the timing, well, Human Rights Watch put out a report today that doesn't make Airbnb look good at all. The report is called "Bed And Breakfast In Stolen Land" (ph).

MARTIN: So this isn't the only company that has made this kind of decision. Right? Like, put Airbnb into the broader context for us.

ESTRIN: Well, there is this growing pressure on companies not to do business in the settlements. The U.N. human rights commissioner is preparing a database of such companies. The European Union labels products made in settlements that are sold in Europe, and some businesses have changed their practices. For instance, the sparkling water company SodaStream had a factory in a settlement. It moved that factory out of the settlement following a boycott campaign, even though it claimed it had nothing to do with politics. But Israel is very concerned about this kind of thing and especially with a big brand name like Airbnb.

MARTIN: I mean, how often were people using Airbnb in the occupied West Bank? I mean, what's the reaction on the ground?

ESTRIN: Well, Airbnb is very popular in Israel. And I spoke with one Israeli Eliana Passentin, who has her home listed on Airbnb. It's in an Israeli settlement. It's listed as warm home with breathtaking view. It's in the hills of the West Bank. She says people come there for biking and wineries and attractions. And she says she's astonished by this decision.

ELIANA PASSENTIN: It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. They've become political. And instead of building bridges, they're building fences and taking people, an entire area in Israel, away from their website, which is - it's crazy. It doesn't make any sense.

ESTRIN: Israeli officials say, you know, there are conflicts all over the world, so why single out Israel?

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin for us this morning.

Thanks, Daniel. We appreciate it.

ESTRIN: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MECCA:83'S "2AM SAMBA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.