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News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Import Tariffs And Syria's Civil War


And suddenly, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh takes on the feeling of a trial.


President Trump's Supreme Court nominee stands publicly accused of sexual assault more than 30 years ago. Christine Blasey Ford says he attacked her at a party when both were teens. Now, Ford will tell her story under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh, who has denied this accusation, will also testify. It was a move urged by key senators, including Republican Susan Collins.


SUSAN COLLINS: Both Judge Kavanaugh and professor Ford will be testifying under oath in a public hearing next Monday. That's exactly the outcome that I'd hoped for and advocated for.

INSKEEP: Now, President Trump has stood by Kavanaugh. In unusually temperate remarks, the president says he trusts the Senate.

MARTIN: All right, we're joined by NPR's Tamara Keith, White House correspondent and a host of the Politics Podcast.

Tam, thanks for being here.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: All right. So after The Washington Post's reporting yesterday, Republicans signaled that they didn't really want to deviate from the planned schedule. They wanted to move forward with this vote on his confirmation Thursday. And now they're not doing that. So what changed?

KEITH: Well, they didn't want to be seen as dismissing the allegations. But they also didn't want to derail the process. However, there were senators - like Susan Collins, like Jeff Flake - Republican senators who said that they felt that they needed to hear both of them under oath. And once that happened and more senators started weighing in, it became clear that something was going to have to happen. And really, the only option became scheduling this hearing.

MARTIN: I mean, this is going to be remarkable on Monday. Kavanaugh's also going to appear, as we noted. This is going to be a case of who the senators believe more. Really, this is about their individual characters.

KEITH: Yeah. And you know, you mentioned in the intro about a legal process. It's not - it isn't a legal process. It's a political process. This isn't a trial, but it is a public airing of something that happened 35, 36 years ago. And although it is not a one-for-one exact comparison, on the eve of another Supreme Court vote way back in 1991, Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. There was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and there were no women on that committee - on the Senate Judiciary Committee - not a one. And the public perception of that had political ramifications well beyond whether Clarence Thomas got on the court or not because he did get on the court.

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: The next year, 1992, became known as the year of the woman because so many women ran for Congress and won.

MARTIN: Right. Now there are women on the Judiciary Committee. Of course, we also have to point out...

KEITH: All Democrats.

MARTIN: ...There is a person in the White House - the president himself has sexual abuse and assault allegations against him. That's going to inform some of, at least, the public discourse around this.

KEITH: Right. And this is a #MeToo moment. There is reporting that Christine Blasey Ford talked to her friends around the time that some of these people were coming forward with #MeToo stories and told them about her story.

MARTIN: So it's about these two people, what happened in that room all those years ago. But the stakes are so high. We're already seeing signs that external groups are going to get really aggressive in the next few days messaging their own kind of campaigns.

KEITH: Absolutely. A conservative group is launching a $1.5 million ad blitz. There's already a website up, ibelievechristineblasey.com, from a group called Demand Justice on the left. There's going to be a lot more of this in the coming days.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. We are in Round - well, who knows? I don't know anymore. I've lost track, Steve. The trade war with China continues. What we do know at this point is that the Trump administration has issued yet another set of tariffs.

INSKEEP: Let's count. The president ordered new tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. That is in addition to $50 billion of earlier tariffs - so tariffs on $50 billion of goods. And it's not the end because the president says he's going to add even more tariffs if China retaliates, which China has already said it will do.

MARTIN: All right. So let's bring in NPR's Jim Zarroli who's been tracking all this very closely.

Jim, before we get to China's response, what can you tell us about these latest tariffs?

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, the administration is placing 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods. If there's no progress in trade talks, the tariffs go up to 25 percent by the end of the year. And this is a lot of products that have been targeted. When you add these tariffs to the ones already imposed earlier this year, you're basically looking at, you know, half of all the products we import from China facing new tariffs. And then the president is talking about going even further. He says he's willing to impose a third round of tariffs if Beijing retaliates, which it says it will do. And that would basically cover just about everything the United States imports.

MARTIN: So do we know exactly what kind of products are going to be affected here?

ZARROLI: Yeah. The administration came out with the long list of Chinese imports that would be targeted last summer. It included a lot of different kinds of, you know, things - food, clothing, household items, electronics goods. There's a long comment period. The administration removed some of these items from the list. But it left, you know, 5,000 others. The first round of tariffs earlier this year were imposed on a lot of intermediate goods, things that go into manufactured products. These new tariffs are going on items that you and I might find in our homes. So ordinary people are going to feel this in a way they haven't before.

MARTIN: So - I mean, essentially we already know the game a couple of steps ahead now. Because even though the president said I'm announcing new tariffs, he also said, and I'm going to put more in place if China retaliates. And now China has said it's going to retaliate. So this thing is escalating right - in real time before our eyes.

ZARROLI: Yeah. It's going about the way you might expect it, too. And you know, China says it's not going to be pressured on trade. The statement from the commerce ministry today said the country has no choice but to impose countermeasures since the U.S. insists on increasing tariffs, which brings new uncertainty to negotiations. That statement didn't have any timeline or details about when that might happen.

MARTIN: Of course, the president famously said that trade wars are easy to win. That has been much debated. But can you explain, Jim - if we know - when does the trade war end? I mean, what is the outer limit? How far can it go?

ZARROLI: Well, that is a big question right now. There are certainly people within the administration, like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who want to bring everybody to the table, who think it's important to resolve this. There are also, you know, trade hawks that don't quite see things that way and are, you know, basically trying to undercut that. So we don't know what's going to happen. It doesn't look like things are going to get resolved soon.

INSKEEP: We should mention that the president's statement that trade wars are easy to win is based on a presumption that a trade deficit loses money for the United States. It's not at all clear that that's true.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: People do make money off products they import to the United States. There could be a lot of people losing money on this.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Jim Zarroli for us this morning.

Jim, thanks so much.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right, there is a sign that civilians in the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria, Idlib province, may be getting a reprieve from the bombing there.

INSKEEP: We've been talking of the several million civilians, many of whom have fled to that province in a far corner of Syria. They don't have many other places to flee Syria's government. And government forces have been moving in. But Turkey and Russia announced yesterday that they reached a deal, which is supposed to put off a bombing campaign.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock joins us now from her base in Beirut where she's been following all this.

Ruth, first just explain what this buffer zone, this demilitarized zone, would look like.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, The idea is to carve out a 10- to 15-mile-long kind of buffer area, as you said, along the current front line in the southern parts of the province. And the idea for that is to separate the rebels from the regime troops and its allies. That involves removing - they also want to remove heavy weaponry, such as tanks and artillery, from the area. And the deal involves removing extremist elements within the rebel groups from the area.

MARTIN: The regime says Idlib is full of terrorists. Who exactly is living there right now?

SHERLOCK: Well, this is the last rebel bastion, if you like, left in Syria. Lots of rebel fighters came from across Syria as they fled from other battles. And so you have the rebel insurgency. You also have some extremists. But you also have millions of civilians. In addition to the local population, there's about a million Syrians who fled other parts of the country, that fled the war, there. So they're all crammed into this area that comes up against the Turkish border. But Turkey says it can't open its borders to more refugees. So we reached Fihar Rashid (ph). She's a 30-year-old mother of four in Idlib. And we asked her what she thinks of this latest agreement.

FIHAR RASHID: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: She says, "residents of Idlib were following the talks between Russia and Turkey moment by moment with bated breath." "There's relief now that this deal has been reached," she says, "because if there was a ground offensive on Idlib, life would become a living hell."

MARTIN: So what does this mean on the ground for the people who are in Idlib just trying to survive? What are the chances that this deal actually is implemented, that this DMZ is set up so civilians can escape?

SHERLOCK: Well, that is really the question. You know, this is a big diplomatic breakthrough, but implementing it is going to still be very difficult. Russia and Turkey say they're going to use their troops to patrol it. Turkey already has outposts there. There is a presence there already. But the challenge - so many challenges here - you've got the question of how you force extremist factions to leave the area. And of course, if - (inaudible) - many different militias are actually going to stick to the plan. So in the past, lots of attempts at cease-fires have failed. This looks like a concrete diplomatic breakthrough. But whether they're actually going to be able to implement it on the grounds is what we need to look for.

MARTIN: Yeah. We should note, we were just having some trouble with your line there. But you were just outlining how complicated all this is. Do we have a timeline, Ruth, of when this might go into effect?

SHERLOCK: They say that it needs to be implemented in about a month's time, on October 15. So there's a huge amount to sort out before then. And everybody's going to be watching to see whether they can make this happen - you know, at least the people who live there.

MARTIN: Right, exactly - people who are living this day in and day out.

NPR's Ruth Sherlock, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILANTHROPE'S "CITY LIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.