News Brief: Trump's July 4 Speech, Census, Gaza Exodus

Jul 4, 2019
Originally published on July 4, 2019 6:06 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Patriotism or partisanship - that's the question surrounding President Trump's plans for the Fourth of July celebration here in Washington, D.C.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. Today, the president plans to give an Independence Day speech from the Lincoln Memorial. On Monday, a reporter asked him if he thinks this speech will be for all Americans, and the president said yes. But then 17 seconds later, he started talking about health care policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What the Democrats' plan is is going to destroy the country, and it's going to be horrible health care, horrible health care.

KING: So not exactly nonpartisan, but if he gives a partisan political speech today, that could cause some legal problems for the White House.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us this morning. She is also host of the NPR Politics Podcast.

Happy Fourth of July, my friend.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello. Happy Fourth of July.

MARTIN: So President Trump has a history of going to events that are not supposed to be political and then sort of making them political. What do we know about - do we know anything about the content of the speech today?

KEITH: Well - and as you say, he has gone to places that are really not supposed to be political, like in Iraq the day after Christmas, talking to the troops, where he started attacking Democrats in the middle of his speech. A White House official who declined to be named - so they spoke on background - said that the speech today will be all about celebrating America - the flag, members of the military - specifically said it will not be political. It is a "Salute to America." That is what the event is being called.

But, you know, all assurances about what President Trump will do or say have to be taken with a grain of salt. And critics are already objecting to the fact that the White House gave VIP tickets to the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican Party to hand out to supporters. Now, they defend that, saying, well, this is a pretty common thing; if the - if it was on the South Lawn of the White House, we'd be doing that. And they also say that members of the military and their families, thousands of them, have also gotten these VIP tickets.

MARTIN: So we mentioned that there could be some legal jeopardy for the White House if the president makes an overtly political speech. What might those be? What could those problems be?

KEITH: Yeah, so there are laws preventing the spending of government resources for political purposes, so if the president starts attacking Democrats or talking about his reelection campaign, that could be a problem. I spoke with Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center. He says that the campaign might have to reimburse if this turns political.

BRENDAN FISCHER: If this does become a political event, then the president's campaign or the RNC should certainly reimburse Treasury for those costs. And this is already shaping up to be a much more expensive Fourth of July celebration than past celebrations, and I think there's at least the appearance that the costs are going to benefit President Trump's campaign.

KEITH: So the Interior Department has been organizing this, and Congress could - it could bring the Interior Department in for hearings and try to collect if this were to happen. Someone familiar with the matter told me that the White House is well aware that some people may accuse the president of making this a political event, and that ethics specialists within the White House and lawyers have been looking at this closely and that the plan is for the president to act within all applicable ethics rules.

MARTIN: Just real fast - would this be the first time a sitting president gives a national address like this on the Fourth of July?

KEITH: Well, Harry Truman did it on the 175th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and there hasn't been one since then, though remarks from Richard Nixon were piped in in 1970, and it was a big mess that ended in tear gas.

MARTIN: Well, and the weather report isn't so awesome for Washington, D.C., tonight. So we'll see.

KEITH: Thunderstorms.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Tamara Keith, thank you. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. The fight to keep a controversial citizenship question off the 2020 census seemed all but over. This time yesterday, we were telling you about how the Justice Department confirmed that forms were already being printed without the question.

KING: Without the question - but now a Justice Department official says they have orders to keep looking for a way to ask the question on the census. Now, those orders apparently came in the form of a tweet from President Trump.

MARTIN: Once again, NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us to talk about all things census.

Hansi, I didn't think we're going to see you for a while, and now here you are because there was another unexpected development.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Here I am. This was also unexpected, apparently, from - unexpected by the Justice Department attorneys representing the administration in these cases.

MARTIN: What happened?

WANG: What happened, essentially, was that they realized that the position that they thought they were representing of the administration, that they were ready to move forward with the 2020 census without a citizenship question - actually, President Trump doesn't necessarily agree with that and that he wants the Justice Department and the Commerce Department to try to figure out if there is another way to ask for a citizenship question on the 2020 census in time for it to be added.

MARTIN: But how could this even happen? Didn't the Supreme Court say, no, you can't include the question?

WANG: For now. And the Supreme Court also allowed this - allowed the administration to make another case in court. Essentially, the Supreme Court said, we - if you can give us another reason, if you can explain another reason that is not the reason the administration originally gave, which is that this question could help better enforce the Voting Rights Act, that it could better protect the voting rights of racial minorities, a majority of the Supreme Court said that that reasoning, quote, "seems to have been contrived."

MARTIN: Contrived - so they didn't buy the administration's justification for the question, but at the same time, they opened the door. They were like, OK, if you can make a better argument, you can come back and try to do that. What do critics say is the real reason for the question?

WANG: There are a lot of theories. Plaintiffs in these multiple lawsuits over the citizenship question - you know, the most recent theory that's come up is that this question, through the files of a GOP redistricting strategist. They believe that this question could ultimately be used to help politically benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic white people by redrawing political districts after the 2020 census based on the number of U.S. citizens old enough to vote, not on the number of total residents in any given area. That could ultimately benefit Republicans. So that's one theory.

Another one is that - is this way to use the responses so that the census numbers that determine how many congressional seats each state gets after the census - if that number could exclude noncitizens.

MARTIN: But that would be problematic for the court, we would assume, on several different counts.

WANG: These would be legal questions that would certainly be challenged in the courts.

MARTIN: So what happens next? I mean, who knows, but what's your best guess?

WANG: Well, the Trump administration is facing a deadline. Friday 2 p.m. Eastern is when a federal judge in Maryland says the Justice Department attorneys have to represent whether or not the Trump administration is going to try to fight for a new reason for the citizenship question. And if they do, the judge is ready to reconsider the allegations that adding this question was a form of discrimination and also that there was a conspiracy amongst administration officials.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, the census keeps getting printed.

WANG: Exactly - without a citizenship question, as far as we know.

MARTIN: All right - NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Maybe we'll see you soon.

WANG: Maybe.

MARTIN: OK. Thanks. We appreciate it.

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MARTIN: All right. We're now going to hear from people on the Gaza Strip about why they won't be there for much longer.

KING: Years of conflict and blockades have made life in the Gaza Strip very hard. Now the White House has this new proposal to invest billions of dollars in both Gaza and the Palestinian territories, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. And thousands of Gazans in the meantime have been leaving despite the hard that it - despite the fact that it is very difficult to do that.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been covering this story and joins us now from Jerusalem.

So Daniel, this is something that you just noticed, right? As you were going back and forth to the Gaza Strip, you just seized on the fact that there were fewer people. Is that right?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, yeah. It's really been a major topic of conversation in Gaza. And every time I visited recently, more and more people I have gotten to know in recent years were gone, or they were packing their suitcases. It's been really hard to leave Gaza in recent years. It's been under blockade by Egypt and by Israel because Hamas, the militant group, is in control there. But now what's - what you have is a rare window of opportunity to leave because Egypt opened its border last year. It was a kind of goodwill gesture. And so now we're seeing a real brain drain - doctors, surgeons, Web developers, my own journalist colleagues who have left.

When you go to the Egyptian border, it's really noisy and busy, and authorities are calling out travelers' names on loudspeakers. And I want you to meet one of those travelers, a 25-year-old college graduate, Zeid Al Kurdi, and he was about to say goodbye to his family.

ZEID AL KURDI: As you see, these are my brothers. It's really bad for me to leave them and also really bad to leave my mother and my father, but it's necessary for me to seek a better future because I didn't find my future here.

ESTRIN: The estimates are that at least 35,000 people - maybe a lot more - have left Gaza, mostly for Europe.

MARTIN: I mean, for more than a generation, life in Gaza has been difficult, almost unbearable. What has changed now, Daniel?

ESTRIN: Well, I think life keeps getting worse. I mean, there are the things that we've heard about for years - the wars, the violence between Israel and Hamas, the spotty electricity, the bad drinking water. Recently, Hamas has cracked down on people protesting them. But a big factor now that's driving people out is economic. There's no real economy in Gaza. Israel restricts certain goods for security reasons. The Palestinian government in the West Bank is also cutting money to Gaza. And you've got this booming population of young people with college degrees and no work. Youth unemployment is above or about 70%. So people are saying, we have to build our lives somewhere else.

MARTIN: But there was this plan, right? Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and the guy who's heading up kind of trying to fix the Middle East, went to the region, led this conference in Bahrain and rolled out this plan that it has been geared towards reviving Gaza. Remind us what's in there and how people are responding to it.

ESTRIN: Yeah. It's a multibillion-dollar plan for infrastructure, for trade. Jared Kushner wants to create a million new jobs. He wants to open up the Palestinian territories to the world. But Palestinians don't see any hope in this. Kushner says very clearly, none of this plan will go forward without progress on a peace deal, and Gazans don't see that happening anytime soon. And so this is really just the latest chapter in this great exodus of Middle Eastern refugees fleeing the region.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin for us from Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks. We appreciate it.

ESTRIN: Sure thing. You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "STREET DREAMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.