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News Brief: Democrats Win In Virginia And New Jersey, Examining The Texas Shooter's Past


Collectively speaking, the Democrats haven't had a good day in a very long time. Yesterday, though, they finally came out on top.


Yeah, Democrats took two important governor's races. Phil Murphy won in New Jersey, and Ralph Northam won in Virginia. And that race in Virginia got a lot of national attention. It was seen as sort of a test of President Trump's support, with Northam's campaign working to tie his opponent to Trump at each and every opportunity. Last night after his victory, Northam told reporters that the eyes of the country were on Virginia and that Virginians had spoken.


RALPH NORTHAM: Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.

MARTIN: All right, so what does this contest say about the Democrats and the Republicans and their strategies moving forward? NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering the Virginia race. She joins us now.

Hi, Sarah.


MARTIN: How'd the Democrats pull this one off?

MCCAMMON: Well, by talking about President Trump and by organizing. Really for a year - ever since Trump was elected, Democrats have been organizing across the state. They say that right after the election, they had a surge of interest in people running for state house. And - so this is not just about statewide races but also the House of Delegates. The whole - all 100 seats were up.

And Democrats had candidates running in places that had not run one in a long time. And most of those seats - they picked up a lot of seats there, much better than expected. And they swept the statewide offices - this, Rachel, despite some real struggles in the past couple of weeks for Democrat Ralph Northam's campaign. He faced not just criticism from his Republican rival Ed Gillespie but also from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. But he did win...

MARTIN: He's a pretty centrist candidate.

MCCAMMON: He is. He is. And there's some internal struggles there within the party. But you know, Rachel, he won handily. And he did that at least in part by, as we heard, painting this as a referendum on President Trump, both his policies and his rhetoric.

MARTIN: At the same time, President Trump has now said - well, Ed Gillespie didn't win because he didn't tie himself close enough to me (laughter). What was...


MARTIN: ...Gillespie's strategy in this?

MCCAMMON: It was a tough line to walk 'cause Gillespie, too, sort of has his roots in the moderate establishment wing of the party, although he moved to the right during the general election. He campaigned with Vice President Mike Pence. He did not campaign with President Trump.

But Rachel, President Trump has been tweeting his support repeatedly for Gillespie in the last several days. And he recorded a robocall that went out in the final hours of the campaign promising that Gillespie would make America great again. And, I should say, Gillespie ran a pretty Trump-friendly campaign. He focused on things like crime and illegal immigration.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for the Republicans moving forward? I mean, when we think about the midterms coming up, does Donald Trump help you or hurt you?

MCCAMMON: That is still, I think, the big question. There are definitely those in the party that think that you've got to run a very pro-Trump campaign if you want to win. Gillespie kind of tried to do that and didn't win. But, you know, it's going to depend on the state. Virginia's an increasingly blue state, so we'll have to see.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon talking about the Virginia gubernatorial race. Democrats won in Virginia and in New Jersey - the governor's seat, we should say.

Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thanks, Rachel.


MARTIN: All right, President Trump arrived in China today. It's the latest stop on his Asian tour, where he's been looking to create a more unified front against North Korea.

GREENE: Yeah. So Trump traveled to China from South Korea, where he tried to visit the demilitarized zone between the North and South. But thick fog prevented him from doing that. He was able to address South Korea's National Assembly, and here's what he had to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea. To deny it and any form - any form of it, you cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept.

GREENE: And trying to figure out where that message was intended, China is the nation that has done the most to supply North Korea's regime. And now that Trump is in Beijing, the president is hoping to hear China's plans, if they are there, to intensify its efforts to isolate the North.

MARTIN: All right, our co-host Steve Inskeep is in Beijing.

Hi, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hi there, Rachel.

MARTIN: You've been there for - what? - over a week now?


MARTIN: What's the scene like? I mean, it's a big visit to have the president of the United States come. What preparations have you seen taking place?

INSKEEP: It's a big visit. But it's also a very big country, a place that's big enough and dynamic enough that I don't think people are necessarily as obsessed with President Trump as perhaps they are in some other places. There are other topics of conversation when you go out to dinner with people - although President Trump does come up - other topics partly because the country is so huge and changing so rapidly and partly, I should say, because criticism of the president is somewhat muffled here. His more embarrassing moments don't generally make the state media, which is not that critical of him at all.

MARTIN: Trump has said that he's got this great relationship with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Does he? I mean, is he likely to get the red-carpet treatment?

INSKEEP: Well, he's certain to get some good Chinese food.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: And we're told that he is going to have dinner with President Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City - you know, this whole chain of imperial palaces, centuries-old, many of them made of red-painted wood...


INSKEEP: ...Old buildings now restored. Thousands, perhaps millions of tourists go through the Forbidden City, but no American president has received the honor of a dinner there since the founding of the People's Republic of China. That's the way it's being phrased. And I guess that would probably mean no U.S. president ever, since it would have been rare before the People's Republic of China that an American president would show up here.

MARTIN: Right. So in your time there, what have you learned about these two men, Trump and Xi, about their different approaches?

INSKEEP: Well, they both use the language of nationalism. They both talk about building a stronger country. They both especially lean on economic nationalism. But they've got different approaches to a lot of key issues, especially if you think about energy. Some examples we've come across in our reporting - China has a goal to be a leader in electric cars. President Trump doesn't seem interested in that. And his Environmental Protection Agency is actually working to rollback fuel efficiency standards. China's cutting back on coal as President Trump promises more. Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord while China emphasizes they're going to honor it.

And fairly or not, these differences have allowed President Xi to propose - to pose as the one who is the protector of the global order and the one who's looking to the future.

MARTIN: Interesting - which would be something Donald Trump would not would not appreciate, I imagine.

NPR's Steve Inskeep - we'll be hearing more of your reporting in the days to come. Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it.


MARTIN: As with most investigations, some pieces of information inevitably lead to more questions.

GREENE: Yeah, that's really true. And this seems to be the case with the Texas shooting at that church. Police records show that the gunman, Devin Kelley, escaped from confinement at a mental health facility when he was stationed at a New Mexico Air Force base. Kelley was later picked up by police and handed over to local officers from New Mexico.

But that report goes on to say an employee at the facility told police at the time, Kelley had tried to carry out death threats against his military commanders and had been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base.

MARTIN: All right, we're joined now in our studio by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Why did this man, Devin Kelley, wind up in a civilian mental health facility while he was serving in the Air Force?

BOWMAN: Well, I'm told in May 2012, he was given a psychiatric evaluation by the Air Force. They didn't have any facilities at home in the Air Force base for him, so he was sent to this civilian facility. He escaped, returned to the facility and then, five months later, went through his court martial.

MARTIN: So this police report says that Kelley was caught sneaking firearms onto the base and making these really violent threats against his commanders. What does the Air Force say about this?

BOWMAN: Well, the Air Force said there's really no evidence of either threats against commanders or any weapon-smuggling onto the base. But there clearly was evidence that he assaulted his baby stepson and also his wife. That's what he was charged with, assault, and convicted of that and then spent a year in jail and was given a bad conduct discharge.

MARTIN: So because he had this history of domestic violence, the Air Force is supposed to put him - register him into this national database. You've been looking at this. I mean, if he had been put into that database, would this have prevented him from purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer?

BOWMAN: Yes, it would have. Because he was given a sentence - he spent a year in jail - but the possibility of five years in jail for charge of assault and - plus of domestic abuse - those two reasons would have prevented him from buying from a licensed dealer.

MARTIN: So was this just a one-off mistake? I mean, how - or is this a a bigger problem?

BOWMAN: This is a big problem across the Pentagon. All the services - they're just not entering any of this data into the system.


BOWMAN: Well, we don't know. It's just a lapse. The only thing they add into the system are dishonorable discharges, 11,000 of them. But for the whole of Pentagon, they entered one felony and one domestic abuse.

MARTIN: So we just don't understand the criteria of when they're supposed to enter it and when they don't and what (unintelligible) tells them.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. And that's something that Congress is looking into, as is the Pentagon.

MARTIN: And I imagine some folks in the military probably are going to be called to Capitol Hill to answer some questions...

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Sometime soon.

NPR's Tom Bowman. Thanks so much this morning, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "VENUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.