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Morning News Brief: Comey Testifies, Spinning The Budget Deal, Hospital Attacks

May 3, 2017
Originally published on May 3, 2017 5:28 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we start with the return of Hillary Clinton and FBI Director James Comey.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hillary Clinton is talking about Comey. The defeated presidential candidate took questions onstage at an event yesterday. Christiane Amanpour asked about the election, and Clinton blamed her defeat in part on Russia and FBI Director James Comey.

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HILLARY CLINTON: I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.

INSKEEP: Remember, Comey's letter saying the FBI was looking into some more emails. This morning, the FBI director might have a chance to get his say if he's asked about it. Comey will be before the Senate Judiciary Committee, although the hearing is supposed to be about something else.

MARTIN: OK. NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is up first with us this morning.

Hi, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What is this particular hearing about? What do senators want to know on the Judiciary Committee from James Comey?

KELLY: Well, Rachel, in case living through the 2016 campaign once wasn't enough for you, Jim Comey is going to get to do it again. He will get questions about the FBI generally. He may get asked about this Hillary Clinton...

MARTIN: This is a regular check-in.

KELLY: This is a regular oversight hearing. However, as tends to happen lately on the Hill, it's likely to be all Russia all the time. The chair of the committee that he's before today is Senator Chuck Grassley. And Grassley has a bee in his bonnet about the Trump-Russia dossier, which we haven't talked about in a while. You may have recalled, this is the one everybody was talking about a couple months ago that alleges that Russia has all kinds of dirt on Donald Trump. Grassley...

MARTIN: And that there had been collusion is what this dossier...

KELLY: And that there had been collusion. And Grassley has questions - everybody has questions - but Grassley has written a letter, which I am looking at right now, Rachel, asking questions about the relationship between the guy who wrote this dossier - this is the former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele - and the FBI. And so it is safe to say - he fired off a letter to Comey on Friday demanding answers. Safe to say he'll be pushing for them today.

MARTIN: Tomorrow, there's going to be yet another hearing on Capitol Hill. Right? This one is going to be behind closed doors, which is where they can talk about classified material and presumably get closer to real answers.

KELLY: Right. Comey is back in the hot seat tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee. There are a lot of committees on the Hill looking into this, but it's the intelligence committees that have the lead. So tomorrow, House Intelligence Committee - Comey, also the head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers. But there are a lot more hearings to come. I mean, I think we are in the settle-in-and-pop-some-popcorn phase.

MARTIN: And there is a sense of urgency here. I mean - we've interviewed people who've said, oh, we're going to take as much time as we need. But they can't take forever on this.

KELLY: No. Because there are more elections coming. So if the point of all of this is to figure out what Russia did and to stop Russia from doing it again, there's a gubernatorial race coming up in Virginia in the fall.

INSKEEP: And worth remembering - one of the reasons we're still talking about this is because we still don't know some answers and because it's a democracy where nothing is ever over. This is, you know, like "Homeland" or - name your series - "House Of Cards." There's always going to be another episode or another layer to dig down on this story.

MARTIN: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly helping us do that digging - as always, thanks so much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're very welcome.

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MARTIN: And we're going to say on Capitol Hill where Republicans, Steve, are having to do a bit of compromising these days.

INSKEEP: And lawmakers formally vote today on a spending agreement. It's the deal that kept the government open and avoided a shutdown the other day. Some Republicans think they agreed to a little too much. Here's Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think the...

KATE BOLDUAN: Why?

GRAHAM: ...Democrats cleaned our clock. I think the, you know - there are things in this bill that I just don't understand. This was not winning from the Republican point of view.

INSKEEP: What happened here was the bill required some Democratic votes, and so it did require compromise. Democrats got a variety of items, like more money for the arts, more spending on health care, Pell Grants for college.

MARTIN: Compromise - something that doesn't happen that often anymore on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: No, not that often.

MARTIN: NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us in-studio.

Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. This spending bill - President Trump didn't get funding for a wall. He didn't get any of the big cuts to domestic programs he'd been pushing. Planned Parenthood is still funded. So what did he get?

MONTANARO: Well, he did get more military spending. He did get another million - another billion and a half - excuse me - for border security, fixing fencing, more technology, sensors. The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency got more money. Customs and Border Patrol got more money. So there were things that did get some more funding that President Trump had wanted for some of his priorities, but there were also things that Democrats liked. You know, Steve mentioned the Pell Grants increases. The EPA Clean Water program was left intact. E-cigarettes are going to be subject to FDA review, something some Republicans wanted to stop. And Democrats stopped deep EPA cuts. So a lot of things that both sides had to give in on and you saw, like you said, some compromise.

MARTIN: Well, but isn't - so is that an outright - when we heard Lindsey Graham there...

MONTANARO: Of course not (laughter).

MARTIN: ...Feeling like it's not - but at the same time, it's a compromise. Isn't that what they're supposed to do? Isn't that governance?

MONTANARO: I mean, the big win for everybody was the fact that the government stayed open, although you had President Trump tweet yesterday that he was encouraging moving from the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to 51 votes in the Senate so that he could get more of what he wanted because he said, the reason we had to give in so many things is because we had to work with Democrats. So instead, he said, you know, the country needs a good shutdown come September.

INSKEEP: A nuclear, nuclear, nuclear option.

MARTIN: OK. So let's pivot to health care - because why not? We always do, it feels like. Republicans are trying again to replace Obamacare. It doesn't look like, at this point, they have the votes they need.

MONTANARO: No. They still don't have the votes. They didn't have the votes yesterday. If they had the votes, they would bring it to the floor. So Republicans still are trying to corral the votes. They are some, you know, half a dozen - maybe a little fewer, maybe a little - more short of the goal they need to be able to get that through. Of course, that's a big priority for President Trump and something that they've now pledged to do before moving on to tax reform.

MARTIN: So Democrats must be feeling a little more emboldened these days.

MONTANARO: They are a little more emboldened. But let's remember, life in the minority in Congress is not fun.

INSKEEP: Can I just remember something that the president said some weeks ago about the health care debate? And I'm paraphrasing here because you can't quote him directly. Don't worry about the little stuff, essentially was the quote. Don't worry about the little stuff. Just get this bill passed. It's hard to believe this president really cares that much about the details of his spending bill as long as some business gets done and the fight goes on. I'm sure he would like to pass some kind of health care legislation and maybe still doesn't particularly care what it is.

MARTIN: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro helping us sort this out this morning. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

MARTIN: And we have a question to keep an eye on today. Steve?

INSKEEP: The question is - what will the Justice Department do after a shooting in Baton Rouge, La.? The killing of Alton Sterling, you may recall, was part of a string of violent incidents involving police in 2016. Numerous news outlets say federal authorities have decided not to charge the officers involved, although NPR News has yet to independently confirm this.

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MARTIN: And our final story has to do with international law. We're going to talk about the Geneva Convention.

INSKEEP: Yeah, which set standards for humanitarian treatment during war. The rules - they're supposed to be laws of war here - they include protections for hospitals. Yet a new study says hospitals are targeted in war zones around the world - not very surprising if you've listen to NPR News. We've heard from people in Syria whose facilities were targeted. And the Bloomberg School of Health at Johns Hopkins studied that very country, saying that more than 100 health facilities were attacked last year in Syria alone, despite a United Nations plan to protect them.

MARTIN: So NPR's Jason Beaubien has been doing some reporting on this, and he's with us now. Good morning, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: What was in that that U.N. plan?

BEAUBIEN: So basically the U.N. Security Council - it was exactly a year ago today - passed another resolution because they were saying there's this incredible prevailing impunity, they said, for attacks on hospitals. And they were saying that member states need to really step it up and conduct independent investigations when attacks like this happen.

MARTIN: So that wasn't happening, nation-states weren't investigating after a hospital...

BEAUBIEN: I mean, that is part of the problem. Right? There's this international law saying this is a horrific thing to do - to bomb a hospital or to attack health care workers or for gunmen to come in and, you know, yank people out of hospital beds. But trying to enforce that is incredibly difficult, and there's not, you know, this sort of mechanism that can go in and investigate. And so they're saying, member states should take that on, and they are the ones that should do it.

But it's the member states that actually are accused of carrying out these attacks that are considered responsible for investigating themselves as to whether or not this happened. And as you can guess, that hasn't gone incredibly well. You know, this new report gets into some of the details on some of - it doesn't try to look at absolutely every attack. But it did look at some of the documentation that's out there and found that, you know, as you might suspect, not that many of these are actually leading to anyone being prosecuted, being held accountable. And that's what the problem was in the first place.

MARTIN: It's also hard to discern if these attacks - some of them - they may have claimed to have been mistakes, others directly targeted.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, absolutely. So it's a huge problem, and it's sort of this outrage of war. People are trying to do something about it.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BEAUBIEN: But what we're seeing is that not much is actually getting done.

INSKEEP: The old phrase is total war. And in Syria, that's what it is.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Hey, Jason, thanks so much for sharing your reporting on this.

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