News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry, U.K. Parliament, Climate Report

Sep 25, 2019
Originally published on September 25, 2019 11:49 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

After months of hesitating, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is starting a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

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NANCY PELOSI: The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Betrayal is Pelosi's word for the president's dealings with Ukraine. The president acknowledged asking about a political rival in a phone call with Ukraine's president. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has acknowledged a long-running campaign to find political dirt in Ukraine. Someone in the government who learned of all this has filed a whistleblower complaint, which lawmakers want to see.

KING: There are a lot of unanswered questions here. But here to answer the questions that we can answer is NPR's political correspondent Scott Detrow. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK. So this is a remarkable step from Nancy Pelosi. It's one that she has been very publicly reluctant to take. What brought her around?

DETROW: You know, Pelosi has long believed that, politically, impeachment should be a last-resort measure, something that should not go forward unless there is bipartisan and broad consensus that it needs to happen. But for Pelosi and a lot of Democrats - including, importantly, a lot who changed their mind yesterday and that includes Representative John Lewis - these reports that the president may have pressured another country to do something for his political benefit and that the military aid may have played a role in all of this, that was just a bridge too far.

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JOHN LEWIS: We will never find the truth unless we use the power given to the House of Representative and the House alone to begin an official investigation as dictated by the Constitution.

DETROW: And there was one more really important factor here and that was the White House's refusal so far to hand over that critical whistleblower complaint to Congress. And that is something that's required by law.

KING: So if we talk about precedent here, there isn't a ton of it. Only three presidents prior to President Trump have faced impeachment proceedings - Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton. What does a formal impeachment inquiry in this case actually mean? What actually changes?

DETROW: Here's a very straightforward answer - not much at all changes...

KING: OK.

DETROW: ...And at the same time, a whole lot changes. So let's walk through that. Here's what doesn't change. Several key committees have already been investigating the president for a wide range of issues; that continues. There's no select committee. As of right now, there's no House floor vote on impeachment.

Here's what's different - Pelosi is now signaling that she fully backs this effort and that she and Democrats would be comfortable holding a House vote impeaching the president. And announcing this the way that she did yesterday also makes it clear that impeachment going forward is going to suck up all of the political oxygen in Congress. And that's another reason that Pelosi had been so hesitant to take this step until now. There's a lot of things that she wanted to get done...

KING: Ah.

DETROW: ...And it's much harder to come together on a prescription drug deal when you're holding an impeachment inquiry.

KING: When there's not much oxygen - yeah. So President Trump, what is he saying about all of this?

DETROW: Mostly responding on Twitter yesterday - very similar to how he responded to the long-running Mueller investigation, calling it a witch hunt, saying that Democrats are taking this route because they can't beat him in next year's election. I'll point out that he actually trails most top Democratic candidates in most of the very early hypothetical polls that we've seen of the election.

We will hear a lot from President Trump today. He just happens to be on the schedule meeting with Ukraine's president at the United Nations for the first time. He's also expected to hold a press conference. And the president has promised to release a transcript of that key call between him and Ukraine's president.

KING: OK. So a lot possibly coming down the pike today. Let me ask you about Republicans in the House and Senate who have stood by President Trump at points when you might not have expected them to. What are we hearing from them at this point?

DETROW: One thing that they are pointing out is something we've also heard from the White House and that's pointing out that Pelosi took this step without actually seeing the whistleblower complaint, without seeing the transcript, without a lot of the key evidence here.

Here's what Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Our job is to focus on the American public. Our job is to make tomorrow better than today. Our job is to legislate, not to continue to investigate something in the back when you cannot find any reason to impeach this president.

DETROW: Key moments going forward - that possible release of a transcript. We'll also have congressional testimony tomorrow from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. He's the person who has so far blocked that complaint from going to Congress. And we've also heard that the lawyers for this whistleblower have been in touch with key committees, saying that this whistleblower wants to talk to Congress. That could happen soon.

KING: Interesting. Big week coming up. NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thank you so much.

DETROW: Sure thing.

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KING: All right. The United Kingdom is having political problems, too, to put it lightly. In late August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament.

INSKEEP: He was sued. It ended up in the British Supreme Court, which ruled that the suspension was illegal. Johnson has suffered a succession of humiliating defeats since becoming prime minister two months ago. He's now flying home early from the United Nations meetings in New York. This all comes with little more than a month until the Brexit deadline. The U.K. is set to leave the European Union October 31.

KING: OK. So now that Parliament is back in session, is there any hope for an agreement ahead of that October 31 deadline? That is a question for John Peet. He's the political and Brexit editor for The Economist. Hi there.

JOHN PEET: Hello.

KING: So Parliament is back. And what does that mean for Britain's plan to exit the European Union?

PEET: Well, Parliament is coming back this morning. It will ask lots of questions of the prime minister. But the fact that it's been returned and that its suspension has been ruled unlawful doesn't directly affect the Brexit negotiations that the government is having in Brussels. But it does make it harder for Boris Johnson to secure a deal. And it will therefore raise the question of what happens at the end of October, which is the deadline for Brexit to take place.

KING: Yeah. And what happens ultimately to Boris Johnson, who's taken a lot of hits lately. How did he respond to this Supreme Court decision? And what do you expect him to do now?

PEET: Well, as is his characteristic, he responded defiantly. He said he disagreed with the judges. He thought they were completely wrong. He doesn't think he's done anything wrong despite the fact that the judges have ruled he's broken the law. And he's wants to carry on and deliver Brexit.

But he's going to find it very difficult because he's lost his parliamentary majority. And there is now a law in place which says that if he doesn't secure a deal with Brussels, he cannot then just proceed to leave the EU with no deal. And he's going to find it very difficult to defy that law.

KING: So where do things stand with his negotiations with the European Union, with Brussels?

PEET: Well, I think the gap between the two sides continues to be very large. I mean, it really hasn't narrowed much since earlier in the year when Parliament rejected the deal negotiated by Theresa May. And Boris Johnson is going to find it difficult to narrow that gap in the next - in the next two or three weeks.

He still hasn't put a proposal on the table, which Brussels is demanding for avoiding a border in Ireland. And then there is a crucial meeting in mid-October where he's hoping to do a deal. But I think he may find it very difficult. So I - my prediction is that it will end up with an extension of the deadline beyond October 31.

KING: Ah, an extension. OK. OK. Now, in the meantime, opposition parties are calling on Boris Johnson to just quit. Politically, is he safe?

PEET: I don't think he's going to resign. And I don't think he's going to be forced out of office. But he has no parliamentary majority. And I think the ultimate solution is going to have to be another election. But it may not happen until the end of the year or even early next year.

KING: John Peet of The Economist, thanks so much for your time.

PEET: Thank you.

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KING: Our oceans are experiencing a heat wave.

INSKEEP: That is among the alarming findings of a United Nations climate change report released today. It finds that the oceans are getting hotter and doing so faster. The report warns that ocean warming can ripple through natural ecosystems, affecting national economies and individual livelihoods.

KING: NPR's science reporter Rebecca Hersher has gotten a look at this report. She's with us now. Hi, Becky.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi.

KING: So why is this report unique - or uniquely worrying, I suppose I should ask?

HERSHER: Well, it's a synthesis of everything we know about climate change in the oceans. It has more than a hundred authors. They're from all around the world. And in terms of what we do know, as you said, not good. Climate change is happening. It's happening because humans are burning fossil fuels. As a result, ice is melting faster and faster. Sea level rise is accelerating. The rate of ocean warming has doubled since the mid-1990s.

And - this is interesting - this is the first time that a report like this has included really in-depth information about a relatively new phenomenon, and that's heat waves in the oceans. Altogether, that's really bad for sea animals. It disrupts fisheries. And it's happening right now.

KING: Heat waves like we would see in certain cities during the summer?

HERSHER: Exactly. And actually, in the last seven years or so - this is why it's relatively new - we've seen them, these big persistent blobs of hot water, off the coast of the U.S. And the report says they're getting more frequent, more intense as the Earth gets hotter.

I talked to Andrew Pershing at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

ANDREW PERSHING: So we've actually had three major heat waves in the Gulf of Maine - 2012, 2016 and 2018 - and repeat heat waves in the North Pacific. Australia has had some repeat heat waves. So it's really becoming a part of the conversation in oceanography.

HERSHER: And - and this is wild - right now there is actually a marine heat wave forming off the west coast of the U.S. It's about 4 degrees Celsius warmer than usual - that's about 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a big enough difference that you'd notice it if you touched the water with your hand...

KING: You would actually feel hotter. Yeah.

HERSHER: Exactly.

KING: When we have heat waves in U.S. cities, you know, sometimes people die - people who are elderly, people who are sick. They can be dangerous. So that makes me wonder, what does this mean for animals that live in the ocean?

HERSHER: Yeah. It can be really bad for animals. And the effects ripple through the system. You know, the ocean is a complex place. Things are interconnected. So it goes from little stuff all the way up to big stuff, all the way to humans.

I actually spoke with Noah Oppenheim. He's a former marine researcher himself. He's the executive director, now, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

NOAH OPPENHEIM: The impacts to the ocean sort of cascade up through the food web starting with plankton and into the krill, which form the prey base for animals as small as sardines all the way up to salmon and then whales.

HERSHER: So it knocks everything out of equilibrium. That's already happened in the Pacific Northwest - Dungeness crabs, salmon. There have been two federal fisheries disasters in the last few years. It's one of the many economic challenges from climate change.

KING: Yeah. Rebecca Hersher, thanks so much.

HERSHER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "A SECRET SOCIETY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.