News Brief: Trump Campaign Rally, TSA Put Passengers At Risk, New Financial Aid Hurdle

Jun 19, 2020
Originally published on June 19, 2020 5:55 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that hundreds of thousands of immigrants may keep their legal status. In response, the president wrote on Twitter, quote, "do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn't like me?"

NOEL KING, HOST:

The court rejected the president's attempt to end DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It was a program started under President Obama for people who were brought to this country when they were children. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-to-4 decision. He said President Trump could end the program but that he'd failed to give good reasons for doing so and acted in a manner that was arbitrary and capricious.

INSKEEP: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is with us now. Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How else has the administration responded?

RASCOE: In addition to questioning whether the Supreme Court likes him, President Trump tweeted that he's going to have to go back to the drawing board again. He said he was looking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, but the Supreme Court did not provide a legal solution, according to Trump. Ken Cuccinelli, who oversees citizenship and immigration for the Trump administration, talked with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly yesterday, and this is what he had to say about next steps.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KEN CUCCINELLI: I do expect you will see some action out of the administration. The president is considering his options.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Right.

CUCCINELLI: When that will be completed, I can't speak to exactly. But he is not a man who sits on his hands.

RASCOE: So we don't know when he might act or what the president might do about this issue exactly now. It is an election year, and this program protects more than 600,000 so-called DREAMers from deportation. What the majority on the Supreme Court found was that the administration has to at least address the implications of rescinding this program.

INSKEEP: Yeah, it's a process that would take time, although the administration certainly could try again. And it's widely agreed that the permanent solution here, if there is to be any ever, would come from Congress. So that's in limbo for a little while anyway. And the president now goes on with his presidential campaign, holding a campaign rally on Saturday - first time in months. What can we expect to see?

RASCOE: Well, this rally, it has been controversial from the start, I have to say. You know, it was supposed to happen today, which is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the freedom of slaves in Texas. Well, it is happening tomorrow in Tulsa, a city where white residents brutally killed black people in the 1921 race massacre. So that pushback on having it in Tulsa on Juneteenth was enough to make Trump push back the rally to tomorrow. And Trump now is saying he was asked about kind of all of this, you know, the pushback that he faced in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. And he claimed that nobody had ever heard of Juneteenth until now - this is what President Trump said - and that he made it popular. That is not the case.

This holiday is widely known and obviously getting more attention this year. But it's always been widely known, especially among African Americans. Beyond the concerns about race, there are a lot of health concerns about this rally. Trump and the campaign claim that a million tickets were requested, but there are not going to be that many people there. But there will be thousands sitting there, you know, for hours indoors during a pandemic.

INSKEEP: All right. Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Did the Transportation Security Administration put passengers at risk as the coronavirus was spreading?

KING: A whistleblower says the agency did. Jay Brainard says the TSA had protective masks but didn't give them to workers. And he says it had the chance to provide safety protocols for employees but didn't implement them in the most urgent days of the pandemic.

INSKEEP: NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak spoke with the whistleblower yesterday about the complaint he filed. Good morning.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: All right. So this is a whistleblower whose name we know, Jay Brainard. What was his role at the TSA?

MAK: Well, he's a TSA federal security director. He runs TSA security operations in the state of Kansas. And over the past few months, he's been trying to sound the alarm to anyone who would listen - his chain of command, Congress and recently the Office of Special Counsel, which handles federal employee whistleblower complaints.

INSKEEP: Well, what did he allege?

MAK: Well, he says the TSA didn't take adequate steps to protect employees from coronavirus and, as a result, allowed TSA employees to, quote, "become a significant carrier for the spread of the virus to airport travelers." He says that in early to mid-March, he began reading questions and found barriers at the most senior levels of the TSA. He asked, for example, to mandate masks among his TSA staff in Kansas and was told that was not allowed. He also says that another federal security director asked if they could use N95 masks that the TSA had in stock and was told that that was not allowed. Remember, this is all during mid-March, spring break, one of the busiest traveling seasons of the year. Here's what Brainard told NPR in an interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JAY BRAINARD: You've got communities shutting down. You've got governors shutting things down. And we still hadn't mandate masks. We still hadn't mandate eyewear. We still weren't changing personal protective equipment as often as we needed to. Every federal security director was forced to fend for him or herself.

MAK: Brainard said that TSA contact tracing was inadequate, that the TSA declined to require employees change or sanitize gloves between passengers and that these procedures or lack of procedures endangered both staff and passengers. It was not until almost a month after Brainard raised the question that state directors were even allowed to mandate mask wearing locally. So far, there have been 695 TSA employees who have tested positive for coronavirus and five have died. In addition, one contact screener has also died.

INSKEEP: And you can hear in Brainard's voice how upset he still is about that. But that was months ago. You mentioned that the mask wearing rule changed over time. What's he saying about TSA preparedness now?

MAK: Well, months have passed since the start of the coronavirus crisis, as you mentioned. And Brainard is furious about the lack of progress made. He says it continues to endanger his staff and passengers. He says the TSA still does not have guidance or mandatory safeguards on things like protective eyewear, temperature checks or the sterilization of gloves between passengers. He says that in a 30-minute shift, a typical TSA screener will interact with and examine the ID of approximately 50 people and that the TSA is woefully unprepared as passenger traffic is beginning to pick back up this summer.

INSKEEP: OK. Tim, thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.

MAK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Parents of college-age kids and many independent students may feel they need more financial aid this year. Think of how the economy is going. A lot of households have lost income because of COVID-19.

KING: Right. But the U.S. Department of Education is making it harder. So there was federal guidance from back in 2009, the last financial crisis. It encouraged colleges to do more to help students whose families were affected by a downturn. The Department of Education appears to have shelved that guidance.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cory Turner has an exclusive story here. Good morning.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would you explain how things used to be before we get to how they changed?

TURNER: Sure. Well, you know the standard financial aid process starts with a student filling out an aid application called the FAFSA. But the income information they have to provide is actually from two years ago. And, obviously, many people have lost jobs or income in the past several months. So there is a process, though, where students can basically ask for a do-over. Officially, they ask their campus aid administrator to exercise what's called professional judgment, which is really just a fancy way of saying please reconsider how much aid you're giving me.

INSKEEP: And please take into account the fact that I'm not making nearly as much as I was two years ago. OK. Do schools typically get a lot of requests like that when the economy goes south?

TURNER: Absolutely. But there's also a big reason schools don't like to do these reconsiderations. There has always been this weird risk for colleges and universities that if they do too many reconsiderations, it could actually trigger a costly Ed Department investigation. So during the last big downturn in 2009, the Obama administration issued guidance that basically told colleges, look, we know people are hurting right now, don't worry, we won't investigate you for doing a lot of these student aid reconsiderations.

INSKEEP: Oh, essentially welcoming that re-evaluation for people who need it. That was the rule in the Obama administration, the Great Recession. What is the Education Department saying now in this coronavirus recession?

TURNER: Yeah. So in March and April, campus aid administrators started realizing that they're, once again, going to have a lot of these requests to reconsider aid because of the crisis. And so they started asking, is this old guidance still good? Are we protected, essentially, if we do what we think is right? I spoke with one aid administrator, Rachelle Feldman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she underlined just how important it is for schools to get this reassurance right now.

RACHELLE FELDMAN: I worry that without some specific guidance from the department saying, hey, we understand you're going to have a lot of these this year, that schools will be reluctant to help the very students who need the help the most.

TURNER: But, Steve, NPR has learned that late last month during a call with stakeholders, a top Ed Department official indicated that this guidance is no longer active. And that is according to multiple sources familiar with the call. Obviously, I went directly to the department and asked them to clarify its position. A spokesperson told me simply it is updating the issues presented by the guidance given the pandemic and resulting economic downturn. Now, while the department seems to be leaving open the possibility that the guidance could be restored or revisited, aid administrators told me, look, not knowing for sure right now could end up hurting a lot of students.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they have this period of uncertainty and they're making decisions now, aren't they?

TURNER: Exactly.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cory Turner, thanks so much.

TURNER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.