News Brief: Trump Impeachment, Democratic Debate, China Trade Deal
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It was handwritten on a piece of hotel stationery from the Ritz-Carlton in Vienna. It said get Zelenskiy to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. So this note was written by Lev Parnas who was working with Rudy Giuliani to advance President Trump's personal political fortunes by using Ukraine. This was part of a trove of messages and other records that Parnas handed over to the House Intelligence Committee. Also included there, text messages illuminating more details about that pressure campaign against the ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Now, all of this comes to light as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a vote today to advance two articles of impeachment to the Senate, which is where Democrats have been pushing for more information to come to light. This is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking yesterday.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: If you want the truth, you have to have witnesses, you have to have documents. Who has ever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents?
MARTIN: We've got NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell with us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So a lot to understand about these new documents released by the House Intelligence Committee from Lev Parnas. Can you start off by reminding us who he is, where does he fit in this landscape?
SNELL: Yeah. Lev Parnas was helping Rudy Giuliani, who is President Trump's attorney, dig up dirt. Parnas was indicted in October on campaign finance violations. And then federal investigators seized documents and electronics and records as part of that whole federal probe. Parnas was recently cleared by a court to provide these documents to Congress and so he did that. These new materials track kind of with the whole narrative that we already know - you know, that Parnas and Giuliani were working to get the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate Democrats.
You know, one of the documents that we're looking at here is a handwritten note by Parnas on stationery from that Ritz-Carlton in Vienna. And it reads, get Zelenskiy to announce the Biden case will be investigated. There's also a letter in there from Giuliani to Zelenskiy trying to set up a meeting with the Ukrainian president. And in that letter, Giuliani says he's acting with Trump's knowledge and consent. So this is adding more detail to a narrative that has been pretty well fleshed out in the House investigation...
SNELL: ...As a part of the impeachment.
MARTIN: But, you know, now things are going to pivot to the Senate. What's been the reaction on the Hill to the documents?
SNELL: Well, you know, these documents are pretty new. We just started seeing them. And people are just starting to kind of get a chance to go through this whole - it's a lot of information.
SNELL: And the Senate already had a strategy for how they want to handle documents and which witnesses they want to call. So this has not fully factored into that yet. But that doesn't mean that they couldn't add more information. Senator Schumer has said many times that they want to make sure that the witnesses and evidence reflect everything that is currently known about the president's involvement in this.
MARTIN: So what is the latest from Mitch McConnell on whether or not witnesses will come? Because no doubt all of these documents, as people process them, will amplify those calls for more information.
SNELL: Well, you know, the thing that - this has kind of come down to a technical conversation about timing. Republicans in the Senate, there are a number of them who say that they are also onboard with Democrats who want to bring in witnesses, but they don't want to do it when Democrats want to do it. They don't want to have a witness conversation before this trial gets started.
They're saying they would potentially vote for witnesses, like, say, former national security adviser John Bolton, to come and testify. But they want to do it after the White House and the House have presented their case to the Senate and the senators have presented their arguments. And that's something that could take weeks. So we may see this witness fight play out more than once in the Senate trial.
MARTIN: So just quickly, we're going to see Nancy Pelosi hold a vote to advance the articles. Does that mean they actually move to the Senate today?
SNELL: They do. They will be transmitted in a ceremonial process after the House vote. They'll be walked in a box from the House floor to the Senate floor where they'll be received by the secretary of the Senate, which kicks off this kind of pretrial housekeeping part of the process.
SNELL: And we'll see the trial start on Tuesday.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you.
SNELL: Thank you.
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MARTIN: It was the last debate before voters start picking winners and losers in the 2020 election. And the argument over who is best suited to beat Donald Trump moved to gender.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women, Amy and me.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: So true. So true.
GREENE: That was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts during last night's CNN debate. That debate also addressed foreign policy really for the first time in any major way. And other topics included race and representation, as well as the new USMCA trade deal.
MARTIN: Watching it all, NPR's Asma Khalid up very late and now up very early...
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: (Laughter).
MARTIN: ...Joining us from Des Moines. Hi, Asma.
KHALID: Hi there.
MARTIN: So we knew gender was going to come up because of this kerfuffle between Sanders and Warren, right?
KHALID: I mean, leading into this debate, there was a news story that had begun to make the rounds that Bernie Sanders had told Elizabeth Warren in a private meeting that they had to discuss the 2020 race that he allegedly did not think a woman could be president. He was asked about that comment last night. He flat out denied that he had ever made such a remark.
And Warren, you know, for her part when she was asked about this, pivoted to electability. She tried to flip this notion of who can beat Republicans on its head. And she pointed out, as we heard in that clip just a moment ago, that out on the debate stage, it's the women who have undefeated track records in elections.
MARTIN: So we mentioned that this was the first debate where foreign policy was the focus - of course, this happening after the recent conflict with Iran that is still percolating. But did we learn much from last night about how these candidates would handle being commander in chief?
KHALID: Well, Rachel, I think what's striking is that so much was about the past. We heard about Iraq - it was relitigating the Iraq war vote even though, you know, we're now nearly two decades since the start of that war. We heard both Sanders and Biden talk about the Vietnam war as well, which kind of highlighted their age.
I think, though, what was sort of most interesting to me was that there was unanimity, general consensus over limiting presidents' war powers and criticizing the use of these old military authorizations. Pete Buttigieg had this sort of particularly striking way of putting this out
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PETE BUTTIGIEG: When we lost troops in Niger, there were members of Congress who admitted they didn't even know we had troops there. And it was all pursuant to an authorization that was passed to deal with al-Qaida and Sept. 11. And often, Congress has been all too happy to leave aside its role.
KHALID: And, you know, Rachel, the Obama administration had a kind of liberal usage of using this authorization of military force for airstrikes. So, to me, this was sort of an interesting, implicit criticism of former President Barack Obama at a time when we really haven't heard much willingness to kind of deviate...
KHALID: ...From his administration.
MARTIN: I want to ask the results of this moment where Bernie Sanders differentiated himself from the field when talking about the USMCA, the new NAFTA trade deal. Can you explain what happened and what is significant about it?
KHALID: Sure. You know, so him and Elizabeth Warren, who agree on many progressive issues, they had a difference of opinion here. She has come out in support of the new trade deal, he is not. The former Vice President Joe Biden tried to kind of make him sound radical on this issue. You know, he pointed out that he felt like Bernie Sanders would not necessarily agree to any trade agreement.
You know, what I think is interesting is that USMCA is something we're going to probably hear about in a general election cycle. President Trump, you know, touts this as a big accomplishment, so it's not an issue that's going to go away.
MARTIN: Right. NPR's Asma Khalid. We appreciate it.
KHALID: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: Well, a year and a half after starting his trade war against China, President Trump is set to sign a partial truce today.
GREENE: That's right. He's going to be joined by China's vice premier and over 200 invited guests for a signing ceremony at the White House. Trump, who touted the trade deal as a big, beautiful monster at a rally last week, has agreed to relax some of the tariffs he imposed on Chinese imports. And in exchange, Beijing would buy more American products and also make some other changes. But will China follow through on its commitments here?
MARTIN: We've got NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley with us this morning. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this is being called a Phase 1 trade agreement, which suggests it may not be the last word here. What's in it?
HORSLEY: Well, what's not in it is a answer for some of the big, structural complaints that the White House has long been raised about China. But there is some additional protections, some safeguards for intellectual property for American companies' technological knowhow. You know, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked about this deal on Fox News. And he acknowledged the administration didn't get everything they wanted, but he still characterized this as a victory for President Trump.
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STEVEN MNUCHIN: This is really a historic transaction. Now, it's not everything. And as we've said, there will be a Phase 2. But this is the first time we've had a comprehensive agreement with China. This is a big win for the president.
HORSLEY: The administration also says China has agreed to buy a lot more U.S. goods and services - specifically $200 billion more over the next couple of years - compared to what Beijing was buying back in 2017 before the trade war started.
MARTIN: But that's a significant number. Two-hundred billion dollars would represent an increase in U.S. exports to China of more than 50%, right? I mean, how realistic is that really?
HORSLEY: Yeah. It's a big increase. And it would likely require China to stop buying some stuff from other countries in order to shift their purchases to the United States. But, you know, China is a very big market. Some economists I spoke to said it is possible to hit this target. China's expected to buy more factory products, more energy, more services and, of course, more soybeans. Farmers have been hard hit by the trade war.
I talked to Kristin Duncanson who raises soybeans in Minnesota. She told me her crop lost 30 to 40% of its value when China stopped buying. So now she's hoping for a rebound with this Phase 1 deal.
KRISTIN DUNCANSON: We're optimistic that signing the agreement will reopen some opportunities, especially for the upper Midwest. But I'm also a realist enough to know until those beans are actually shipped to customers that we can't count our chickens before they're hatched.
HORSLEY: I asked Duncanson if she expects to plant more soybeans this spring in anticipation of higher sales to China. She told me she might shift some of her acreage. But for the moment, she's in a wait-and-see mode.
MARTIN: Right. So the U.S. is going to relax some tariffs under the agreement. But a lot of Chinese goods are still going to be subject to import taxes. What happens to those?
HORSLEY: Well, you're right. The U.S. did suspend some tariffs on things like cellphones and laptops that were going to affect last month. It's also reduced the tariff rate on apparel and some other products that have been affected since September.
But, you know, the administration is still charging a steep 25% import tax on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese imports. That includes a lot of things, a lot of components that factories in this country use to assemble into finished products. So this has been a tough row for the manufacturing sector. They've been in a slump, really, since last summer. And despite this Phase 1 agreement, there's not a lot of tariff relief on the horizon.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's Scott Horsley for us on this Phase 1 of a U.S.-China trade deal. Scott, we appreciate it.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.