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News Brief: China Tariffs, Maria Butina, Pope Francis Decree


If you're an American and you order goods from China, the tax bill that is part of the price you pay may have gone up overnight.


That's right. As promised, the U.S. put higher taxes on a range of products made in China. Now, Americans will pay the tax, but this move is meant to pressure China. President Trump's administration did this just as negotiators met for trade talks. So what are the prospects here for success?

INSKEEP: Who better to ask than NPR economics correspondent Scott Horsley, who's on the line?

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: (Laughter). There's got to be somebody better to ask.

INSKEEP: Well, I don't - well, you're the one who's available, Scott.

HORSLEY: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: So are the two sides giving any hints of progress?

HORSLEY: Not really, except that the Chinese delegation did, in fact, show up here in Washington. They talked last night. The talks continued over dinner. And they're going to be back at it this morning. So I guess you can say that is a sign, at least, that things have not broken off entirely.

INSKEEP: Because of the new tariffs, that didn't cause things to fall apart. But let's note the way that the president has been talking about these tariffs. We have some tape here. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So our country can take in $120 billion a year in tariffs - paid for mostly by China, by the way, not by us. A lot of people try and steer it in a different direction. It's really paid - ultimately, it's paid for by - largely by China.

INSKEEP: Is that accurate, that the tariffs are largely paid by China?

HORSLEY: No, it's not. Despite what the president says, economists believe the bulk of these tariffs are paid by businesses and consumers here in the U.S. In cases where there's easy substitutions, China might absorb some of the cost to stay competitive. But generally speaking, tariffs are payed by people on this side of the Pacific.

The other big cost, Steve, is felt by our exporters because China, like other trading partners, has responded to the president's tariffs by imposing tariffs of its own. And that makes it harder for Americans to sell their products in China.

INSKEEP: I want to keep that reality in mind for a moment, Scott, because you've told us that Americans are largely paying these tariffs. And that does raise a question. Why would - why would China care if the United States is raising tariffs? Because it does seem that they care.

HORSLEY: Right. Well, the president says that these tariffs will force American customers to go back to buying from American suppliers. And there may be some cases where that happens. But, you know, I've talked to a lot of people who say what they do is they just look for a cheaper supplier in some other country, like - like Vietnam.

INSKEEP: Oh, so maybe that would be China's ultimate fear here, is that there is increasing friction between China and the United States, increasing costs in doing business in China for Americans, and Americans would just end up looking somewhere else in the world.

HORSLEY: That's right, a threat that they could, over time, lose market share. But that's not something that's going to happen right away. We should say, Steve, there is a little bit of wiggle room here because the pair - the higher tariffs that took effect at midnight don't apply to goods that were already in transit as of, you know, 11:59 on Thursday. And it does take time for goods to cross the ocean. So that means there's still a little bit of a window here when a deal could still be struck before these higher tariffs really start to be felt in the United States.

INSKEEP: And I suppose there's a little time before another shoe drops because China has said they will respond to these tariffs, but we don't know yet exactly how or when.

HORSLEY: That's right. And, you know, the president is also threatening to expand tariffs onto a whole lot of other Chinese goods. China has limited options to respond to that because we simply buy a lot more from them than they buy from us.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.


INSKEEP: Next we have the voice of a Russian woman inside an American jail.

MARIA BUTINA: My name is Maria Butina. And I'm a Russian citizen. And now I guess I'm an inmate.

KING: Maria Butina is, so far, the only Russian arrested after Russia played a role in our 2016 election. She pled guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of Russia.

INSKEEP: And she's given her first U.S. media interview since she was sentenced to Mary Louise Kelly, of NPR's All Things Considered, who's here. Good morning.


INSKEEP: How do you talk to somebody in jail?

KELLY: You ask her to call you.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK, and that's what you did.

KELLY: That's exactly what I did. I had been out to meet her at prison in Alexandria weeks ago and talked to her at some length. But you're not allowed to bring recorders in there or your phone - or even a spiral notebook. So after she was sentenced, I wondered whether she might be more free to speak. And we went back and forth with her lawyer and asked her to call. And at a appointed hour yesterday, the phone in the studio rang up with a collect call, and we answered. And we talked.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember, this is an individual who was very colorful, who was active on the social scene in the United States.

KELLY: The long red hair - we've all seen the pictures, and...

INSKEEP: Sure, sure.

KELLY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: So what did she say about what her role was? What was she doing here?

KELLY: My central question was, who are you? What is your story? Why did you come to America? So we talked about her interest in gun rights, her Republican Party connections, how she built those into an unofficial influence campaign here in the U.S., which she says was not in any way part of any broader Kremlin effort to subvert U.S. democracy or swing the 2016 election.

She says she was here to promote peace. And I said, but come on. You were here in 2016 and 2017 and 2018, when the Russia story was front page every day. What were you thinking about how you fit into that? And here's part of what she told me.

BUTINA: I love both countries. This is the worst pain of my situation now, was that I am embarrassed that instead of creating peace, by not registering, I created discord. That is what I'm going to carry for the whole of my life.

KELLY: That - not registering - she's talking about the requirement, if you are a foreigner here and working for a foreign government, to register as a foreign agent, and which she did not do.

INSKEEP: But I believe she admitted to passing information on to well-connected Kremlin-connected Russians. So...

KELLY: She did.

INSKEEP: ...Does she admit she was a spy?

KELLY: She does not. I asked her that point blank. She said, no, I am not a Russian spy. We did have a long back-and-forth about any relationship which she had with the Russian intelligence services. She says she never worked for them. She does acknowledge her relationship with a Russian official named Alexander Torshin, the guy who was identified as her handler. He - very close to the Kremlin, former Russian senator and central banker who's sanctioned by the U.S., by the way. And I asked, did you know he was passing on the information you were feeding him, that he was feeding it to Russia's foreign ministry? Here is part of her answer.

BUTINA: We know he did some reporting or some notes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We don't know if it ever went to any intelligence services. And it feels for me that this is, like, all a potentially, possibly speculation which has no evidence. So I do question the U.S. justice system. And I think you guys should, too.

INSKEEP: Although, she did plead guilty to a crime. Is it clear what, if anything, Russia might have learned through Maria Butina?

KELLY: No. We know that she reported back on her contacts, that she reported back on the relationships that she was building. We know that she is questioning her sentence. She - she thinks 18 months is a ridiculous sentence to have been given for what she says she did. We know she's joined in questioning that by Vladimir Putin, who's called her sentence an outrage. But she - despite all this, she says, I love America; you guys, you Americans in general, you're wonderful.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks so much. We'll listen for more of that interview on NPR programs.

KELLY: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.


INSKEEP: OK. Pope Francis issued new rules obliging priests and nuns around the world to report incidents of sexual abuse or cover-ups to church authorities.

KING: Yeah, before this order, clergy members in some countries didn't have to report sexual abuse to anyone at all. The new orders changed that. But they don't require the incidents to be reported to prosecutors, except in places where local laws already mandate. Marie Collins was abused by a priest when she was a child. And she says the new guidelines are a step in the right direction, but she thinks there's still a long way to go.

MARIE COLLINS: In this day and age, that they need to put all this down now and say you have to report is mind boggling.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Gjelten covers religion for NPR News. And he's here. Good morning, Tom.


INSKEEP: I'm just thinking this through. In the United States, if I'm not mistaken, teachers, principals in schools and so forth, they have to report things to the authorities. It sounds like there may still be cases even now where church priests and nuns may not have to report to civil authorities. Is this enough of a change?

GJELTEN: Well, Steve, it is a big change in this sense, that what you're talking about is what happens in this country. And the big loophole, the big problem with this is that in the developing world, in many countries around the world, they don't have these procedures, these mandatory reporting laws that we have in the United States.

The Catholic Church in the United States has already done a lot. But in many places around the world, nothing has happened. And that's what's important here, is that the pope has mandated that Catholics everywhere across the world have to have a system in place to report allegations of sex abuse. That's new.

INSKEEP: Meaning regardless of the country, there must be someone designated - some bishop, some whatever - someone you would go to and say, there's a problem; I know evidence of a problem.

GJELTEN: Very detailed procedures in this new law of exactly how it should happen, to whom it should be reported, how it should be reported, et cetera.

INSKEEP: Although, I'm sure that there are people listening now who are familiar with stories that have come out over the past couple of decades where church officials did know of abuse and did nothing. Are there any consequences if people do not act as they're required under this law?

GJELTEN: This law sets out procedures. It does not set out punishments. And that is a problem, I think, from the point of view of church critics. You know, the church has not - like, the Vatican, the pope has not laid out what enforcement provisions are going to be in here. I mean, he says what you have to do, but he does not say what happens if you don't do what you're supposed to do. And that is a problem. Presumably the Vatican will come out with more information, more procedures. As far as enforcement is concerned, we haven't seen that yet.

INSKEEP: Well, we heard the one criticism of Pope Francis. But let me understand the depth of that criticism. When you hear from advocates on this issue, are they saying, I disagree with some details but like what Pope Francis is doing? Or are they saying, I'm beginning to doubt Pope Francis' sincerity on this issue?

GJELTEN: This is a big enough move that critics of the church, advocates for survivors are saying it's significant. It's not trivial. They're not satisfied with it. You mentioned at the beginning that the - or Noel mentioned that the - there's no mandatory reporting to civil authorities, except where that's applied under the law. But you know, in general, I think that survivors and their supporters say this is an important step.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks for your insights, always appreciate it.

GJELTEN: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "TOO OFTEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.