Morning News Brief

Aug 28, 2018
Originally published on August 28, 2018 7:19 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump and Mexico's president spoke on live TV yesterday to say they would like to change NAFTA - some.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. The two countries say they have reached what they're calling an understanding to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The essence of NAFTA, trade without tariffs, does not change here. But some key rules would change. For example, cars and trucks would need to have more parts made in North America in order to cross borders without tariffs. Here's the U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer.

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ROBERT LIGHTHIZER: I think it's going to set the rules for the future at the highest standards in any agreement yet negotiated by any two nations for things like intellectual property and digital trade and financial services trade and all of the things that we think of as the modernizing, cutting-edge places that our economy is going.

GREENE: Now, we mentioned the United States and Mexico. You might notice something missing there. Three countries are involved in NAFTA...

INSKEEP: Yep.

GREENE: ...Including Canada. And Canada has not signed on to this yet.

INSKEEP: So let's go to NPR's Scott Horsley, who covers the White House, to figure this out.

Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's Canada responding to this announcement?

HORSLEY: Well, the foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, is cutting short her trip to Europe this week to come to the U.S. and join the talks. President Trump also spoke yesterday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The U.S. is really pressing to get a deal with Canada as well as Mexico by the end of this week. That would then give Congress the 90 days it needs to review an agreement before Mexico's current president leaves office on December 1. That's a really tight timeline, but that's what they're shooting for.

INSKEEP: OK. So they don't actually have a deal, but they have a sort of agreement to agree between two of the countries anyway. What is it that they've agreed to agree on?

HORSLEY: The biggest changes here, as David mentioned, is the rules affecting cars. Right now, in order to be sold duty-free in America under NAFTA, a vehicle has to contain at least 62 percent North American content. This deal with Mexico would boost that to 75 percent and would also require that 40 to 45 percent of the vehicle's content be made in factories paying at least $16 an hour. So that could erode some of the cost incentive for locating auto production in Mexico. Now, keep in mind that imported cars in the U.S. face a relatively low tariff, just 2.5 percent. So the duty-free benefits there are not that great on cars, although the president's threatened to increase that. Trucks, however, face an import tariff in the U.S. of 25 percent.

INSKEEP: Oh, so this says things, for example, Mexico will have to pay its workers a little more in order to get that benefit.

HORSLEY: Or you'll have to build the car parts in the U.S. or Canada.

INSKEEP: Or do that - you could do that as well, I suppose. How are people responding to this?

HORSLEY: Cautious optimism from a lot of Republican lawmakers and organized labor - the president's fellow Republicans generally call this a positive step, although, for the most part, they do want to see Canada brought along. Lamar Alexander cautioned that he wants to see a deal that eliminates tariffs on steel and aluminum that the Trump administration imposed on Canada and Mexico. Those tariffs have boosted the cost of vehicle production in Alexander's home state of Tennessee. You also heard some skepticism from Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He notes that the president has a history of splashy trade announcements that don't always pan out.

INSKEEP: Well, I mean, I'm thinking about Lighthizer's statement - highest standards in any agreement yet negotiated by any two nations. I mean, when you're a journalist, you're supposed to avoid those kind of greatest-ever, although I guess if you're a politician, it's different.

HORSLEY: Superlatives are OK in politics.

INSKEEP: OK. Scott, thanks very much appreciate it.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

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INSKEEP: Primary elections come in two important states today. Well, all states are important, really. But these are two of them. And in one of those states, Arizona, the legacy of Senator John McCain looms large.

GREENE: Yeah. McCain died over the weekend, prompting many to recall a lifetime of service in the Navy, as a prisoner of war and of course in Congress. Today his state holds a primary for Arizona's other Senate seat. And this race really illustrates the divide between McCain and another big Republican personality.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers politics. She's in our studios.

Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Just to be clear, McCain's successor is picked by the governor. We find out about that at some other time.

MCCAMMON: Right.

INSKEEP: But this is an open seat - Jeff Flake retiring. Who's running for that seat?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. And he's been a critic of Trump, too, like Senator McCain was. Jeff Flake is leaving in part because of the way the Republican Party is changing. There are three major primary candidates. The president has not endorsed any of them, but he's praised each of them at different times.

So I'll tick through those, Steve. There's a former state senator Kelli Ward, who ran against McCain in the primary in 2016 - over the weekend, drew a lot of criticism because in the hours after McCain's family announced he was withdrawing treatment but before he died, she suggested that maybe that announcement was timed in an effort to damage her campaign. She later deleted that post and blamed the media for focusing on the story. There's also former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his crackdown on illegal immigration that resulted in a criminal contempt conviction that Trump eventually pardoned. He campaigned with Trump. He was a birther. So he's running. And then the establishment favorite is Martha McSally, who leads in the polls. She's running on her record as an Air Force fighter pilot. And she's, perhaps unsurprisingly given her competition, run to the right.

So whoever wins the GOP primary is expected to face Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema in the general election. And this, Steve, is a seat that Democrats really hope to flip in November.

INSKEEP: This is a state that Democrats have looked at for years and hope to make progress in. Haven't made so much yet, but we'll see what happens in 2018.

Then there's that other state that has a primary today. What's happening in Florida?

MCCAMMON: Indeed, the big race there is the Republican primary in the governor's race. That pits a Trump Republican, Congressman Ron DeSantis, against an establishment pick - like we've seen a lot of races this year - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. DeSantis is running hard on his endorsement from Trump. He's maybe best-known for this ad in which his wife says DeSantis isn't just endorsed by the president, he's also an amazing dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "CASEY")

CASEY DESANTIS: Ron loves playing with the kids.

RON DESANTIS: Build the wall.

C. DESANTIS: He reads stories.

R. DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said, you're fired. I love that part.

C. DESANTIS: He's teaching Madison to talk.

R. DESANTIS: Make America great again.

INSKEEP: Well, he's certainly gotten lots of mileage out of that - free media, as they say.

MCCAMMON: Indeed. And you know, running hard on his endorsement from the president - even teaching his kids based on his support for the president in that ad. And he's leading in the polls. Whoever wins there in Florida is expected to face Democrat Gwen Graham in November. And we should say that in both the Senate race and the governor's race in Florida - there have been two high-profile mass shootings in the state this year - gun control will be a big issue.

INSKEEP: Which is something we can talk about a little bit next.

Sarah, thanks very much.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

Now, as Sarah mentioned, gun violence has been on the minds of many voters this year, particularly educators and parents.

GREENE: Yeah. And there is this federal school safety commission that was formed in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It holds its final public listening session today in Montgomery, Ala. And one question at the heart of this commission's work is, just how often do school shootings happen?

INSKEEP: Well, there is an official count because, earlier this year, the federal government published what it said was a comprehensive count of school shootings. But NPR checked the number. NPR's investigation found the actual number of school shootings may be far lower than the government reported. Anya Kamenetz of NPR's Ed team joins us now to explain.

Hey there, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the official number?

KAMENETZ: The Education Department says it's 235. So their Office for Civil Rights asked every school this question. This is a mandatory data collection for the first time last year. And they asked, has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting, regardless of whether anyone was hurt?

INSKEEP: In the past year - we're talking about one year's activity. Right?

KAMENETZ: The 2015-2016 school year, yes. And they published the answer this past spring.

INSKEEP: And so 235 was the number. And is that a real number?

KAMENETZ: Well, it seemed really high to us. It's more than one for every day in the school year. So the NPR Ed team - this was intern magic working with a nonprofit called Child Trends - we spent the summer calling around to every single one of these schools. And Steve, we confirmed just 11 of these incidents.

INSKEEP: What?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. We should say - now, a quarter of the schools did not get back to us, it being the summer.

INSKEEP: OK.

KAMENETZ: But in 161 cases, districts or schools told us nothing happened. The biggest chunk of those was in Cleveland, where 37 shootings were misreported. Their best guess is that that number was placed on the wrong line of the survey.

INSKEEP: OK. So I - you know, I just hate to even use the phrase margin for error when we're talking about a margin for error of hundreds of percentage points. How do you account for this change?

KAMENETZ: So you know, margin of error is interesting. There's 96,000 public schools. So this is one, you know, very small - less than 0.1 percent. And you know, there's human error involved. So for example, in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, four shootings are listed among 16 schools. And Gail Pinsker, a district spokeswoman, said they don't remember any guns being fired going back 20-plus years...

INSKEEP: Wow.

KAMENETZ: ...But maybe there was some kind of coding mistake.

GAIL PINSKER: There was a code that was selected for a student brandishing a pair of scissors.

KAMENETZ: And somehow that got inflated into a gun going off.

INSKEEP: How's the Education Department respond to your work here?

KAMENETZ: So first of all, Liz Hill, the department spokeswoman said, you know, they rely on schools to report accurate information. At least five districts have contacted them and asked to revise their data. Some of them did that after talking to us. And they do say, the department, that they are going to publish an update. But they have no plans to republish the original document that's already been cited. It's been out for several months.

INSKEEP: This just seems really important, Anya, because high-profile school shootings, of course, we hear a lot about. And we're horrified by them, and we're sickened by them. But when you have an official government count of 235 shootings in a year and you're only able to confirm 11, do we really have, in a broad sense, any idea what's going on in schools with safety?

KAMENETZ: You know, I wish we knew more. I mean, I'm a parent. I have a kid going back to public school. They're going to be doing active shooter drills. People are marketing, you know, bulletproof backpacks. Dozens of school safety laws have passed since Parkland. And people are really getting worried and losing a lot of sleep over something that, by any measure, is extremely, extremely rare. And I just wish, as a parent, that we had better information about it.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thanks very much for that work.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.