News Brief: Impeachment, India's Citizenship Law, Climate Summit

Dec 16, 2019
Originally published on December 16, 2019 7:28 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For only the third time in U.S. history, the House is poised to impeach a president.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. The vote is expected on Wednesday, and lawmakers are planning for a trial in the Senate after that. House members would present their case, and senators would serve as the jury. Now, many lawmakers aren't even pretending they're going to keep an open mind. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell promises, quote, "total coordination with the president's defense team." And Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wants witnesses to be called.

INSKEEP: Everybody here is assuming that the House will, in fact, vote to impeach the president this week, which will set up the trial in January.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who is it that Schumer wants to hear?

LIASSON: Well, Chuck Schumer has asked for four witnesses who would have direct knowledge of what Trump said and did around the holding up of aid to Ukraine and the requests for investigation of the Bidens. And these are Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff; John Bolton, the former national security adviser, and two other officials.

Remember - Republicans complained that during the House Judiciary Committee hearings, there weren't enough witnesses that could testify with direct knowledge. And Democrats said, well, sure; that's because Trump refused to let any direct witnesses testify. He had a kind of blanket refusal to honor subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

We don't know yet how Mitch McConnell will respond to this letter. But we do know that it seemed as though President Trump had been accepting the will of Senate Republicans that there be no witnesses. Mitch McConnell had once said that calling witnesses would be, quote, "mutually assured destruction."

INSKEEP: Oh, why would that be?

LIASSON: Well, because if you - if, for instance, the president wants Hunter Biden and Joe Biden to testify, well, then you have to get all these other witnesses - the ones that Chuck Schumer is requesting - and maybe the president doesn't want that.

INSKEEP: It could be more than a little awkward for the president...

LIASSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Who refused to send witnesses to the House...

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Saying it was an unfair partisan process to refuse when the chief justice, John Roberts, is presiding over a trial in a Republican-controlled Senate.

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, promised, quote, "total coordination with the White House," which is an unusual thing, I suppose, to hear from a jury member. Another jury member, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told CNN he's not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here. And just in case anybody missed him there, he said it again the next day on CBS. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF CBS BROADCAST)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: But I think what's best for the country is to get this thing over with. I am - clearly made up my mind. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations and the process, so I don't need any witnesses.

INSKEEP: Mara, is this unusual? - because Republicans have said all along, Democrats had their minds made up, have always been looking for impeachment. I think Lindsey Graham himself may have said that; other Republicans certainly have. If that's unfair, why is it fair for them to say they're totally on the side of the president?

LIASSON: Well, I don't think anything - neither side thinks anything is fair here. But even though senators do have to take an oath to give, quote, "impartial justice" when they are sworn in as jurors in a Senate trial, doesn't mean that an impeachment trial is going to be impartial.

Senators who sit as a jury are not the same as a jury in a regular trial because impeachment is a political exercise, and I think all Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell are doing is saying the quiet part out loud. You know, this isn't a jury in a murder trial. They don't get picked from a pool. And this is a political process, and that's what you just heard.

INSKEEP: It brings to mind a bit of history that both other presidents to be impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, on the face of it fairly obviously did the things they were accused of. But in both cases, enough senators decided it was not politically wise to remove them from office.

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Students in India are protesting a new citizenship law. This is what it sounded like last night in New Delhi when police stormed a campus firing tear gas at protesters.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEAPON FIRING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They're firing into the campus, see.

KING: These protests started last week in northeast India, and then they've been spreading. The new law that Steve mentioned was passed last week, and it offers citizenship to undocumented migrants who enter India from three neighboring countries - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh - but not if those migrants are Muslim.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following this story from our bureau in Mumbai. Hi there, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would you remind us again how this law is supposed to work? Does it specifically say no Muslims allowed?

FRAYER: So the law is an amnesty for undocumented migrants from those three countries that you mentioned. And to qualify for it, you have to have arrived in India before 2015, and you have to be a persecuted religious minority - so a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu, for example - and not a Muslim.

And this was a key election promise by the Hindu nationalist government of India. And the reasoning - the government's reasoning goes something like this. Those three countries are Muslim-majority countries where minority faiths might face discrimination, and so India should welcome those people.

INSKEEP: OK. On the face of it, that sounds like it would be reasonable. But clearly, protesters see bias against Muslims here.

FRAYER: Yeah. They're protesting for a variety of reasons. In the diverse northeast of the country, people are worried that these new citizens will change the demographics, compete for their jobs. Some of the protests today on college campuses are in solidarity with the students in Delhi that you heard at the top of the segment got roughed up by police. But then many protesters are marching because they see this law as discriminatory against Muslims because it excludes Muslims from this citizenship offer.

And so this really goes to the heart of what India is. The Indian Constitution defines this country as a secular democracy, but we have a Hindu nationalist government in power that's increasingly inserting religion into politics. In fact, last night we saw protesters carrying portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, India's freedom leader. And so the message there is this new law, to some, violates the values of secularism and equal rights that Gandhi stood for.

INSKEEP: I want to pause to note something you just told us there, Lauren. Some people are upset because this law would exclude Muslims. But it sounds like other people are upset because anybody's getting citizenship at all, which is interesting to note. But this is something that is closely identified with the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What does he say in defense of this law?

FRAYER: Well, he tweeted this morning that these protests are deeply distressing and that debate and dissent are, of course, part of democracy. But he also made a comment at a rally last night. He accused his political rivals of arson - that was in reference to a bus that was set on fire in Delhi - but he also said that those behind the violence in these protests can, quote, "be identified by their clothes." And that's a possible reference to Muslim attire. It might seem innocuous, but some people are calling that a dog whistle comment against Muslims. He could be suggesting that anyone in Muslim dress is suspicious.

And you have to remember India has one of the world's largest Muslim populations; we're talking about 180 million people. And many worry that Muslims in India are becoming second-class citizens under Modi's Hindu nationalist government.

INSKEEP: Lauren, thanks for your insights - always appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: History's longest ever United Nations climate conference ended yesterday with very little to show for it. Delegates from almost 200 nations postponed a decision on global carbon markets until next year.

KING: One thing that became clear in this conference, if it wasn't clear already, is that there's a real disagreement between developed and emerging countries on what to do about climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the outcome disappointing, and he referred to it as a missed opportunity.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this more with Kalina Oroschakoff, who joins us from Madrid via Skype. She is Politico Europe's climate, emissions and energy reporter. Welcome to the program.

KALINA OROSCHAKOFF: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So why was there no real deal here at all?

OROSCHAKOFF: Well, as you already said before, it was a difficult COP. I mean, you were saying disappointment all around. I think one thing that it showed is, first of all, that tackling climate change and reducing emissions is a very difficult thing. And over the last two weeks, you could tell how countries were facing off with each other about how to do that and how much they want to be required to do that.

INSKEEP: What is the divide that Noel just mentioned between developed and emerging countries? How is it that they see the world differently?

OROSCHAKOFF: Well, we need to go back a bit about what the Paris Agreement really did. The Paris Agreement was meant to ensure that every country - not just the rich and industrialized nations but every country - would say, yes, we will do something to battle climate change.

Now the challenge is, of course, that industrialized nations, like the EU, the bloc - the European Union as well as the U.S. and others, they've been driving up emissions over the last decades. Now emerging economies - be that China, India and others - they say, well, we're still growing. So let us grow and let us do our economic development and care for our people.

INSKEEP: Oh, they're still saying - wait a minute - it's our turn to pollute; we get a turn to pollute just like you had.

OROSCHAKOFF: No, not really - because they did agree to the Paris Agreement. So everybody said, yes, we have to fight climate change. But now the question is - who has to do more to fight it over the next years? And that's where the challenge comes in because, of course, looking at the emissions data, many countries that will drive emissions in the future are emerging economies. And so now, just as we are on the eve of the Paris Agreement taking force in 2020, we see that battle playing out.

And then of course, global geopolitics and a very difficult international environment don't help because the U.N., after all, is - I mean, it's a club of countries. And so even in a climate conference, it's larger politics at play.

INSKEEP: Of course, the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement and has taken a very different view of climate change - the reality of climate change under President Trump. How has that affected negotiations?

OROSCHAKOFF: Well, you can feel that the U.S. is no longer there. As you will remember, the U.S. and China, their cooperation before the Paris Agreement was crucial. With the U.S. gone - at least, like, the big administration, the muscle being gone, you let countries that want to push back, they have much more space to maneuver and push back. And that's something you saw at this conference.

INSKEEP: Kalina, thanks so much - really appreciate it.

OROSCHAKOFF: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Politico Europe's Kalina Oroschakoff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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