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Morning News Brief

Mar 30, 2018
Originally published on March 30, 2018 8:57 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The United States kicked out 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate. Russian officials were saying that they were going to respond with a reciprocal move.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And that is exactly what they have done. A U.S. Consulate closed - 60 Americans sent home. And this is the latest move in a diplomatic fight that started when a former Russian double agent was poisoned on British soil. And there might be more drama coming. Here's State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert talking to reporters yesterday.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Or you reserve the right...

HEATHER NAUERT: We reserve the right to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To respond to their response?

NAUERT: Correct.

GREENE: All right. I want to bring in NPR's Tamara Keith here. She covers the White House and hosts NPR's Politics Podcast. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

GREENE: OK. So the U.S. threatening to respond to Russia's response. What now? Where does this end?

KEITH: So the United States, according to both Heather Nauert and also a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders, feels that Russia's move was not warranted. The idea being that the United States was justified in their response, and it wasn't just the United States - that it was the U.S. and 28 other countries responding to this chemical attack on U.K. soil on this former Russian spy and his daughter and that Russia's response to the response, they say, is unjustified. Now, what the U.S. and these other countries might do - that is not clear. And the president of United States has often said - and his aides have often said - that he doesn't like to foreshadow.

GREENE: Right. He doesn't like to signal to others, to us and to other countries what he's going to do. Has he been really involved in this?

KEITH: (Laughter) Well, that's a...

GREENE: Unclear.

KEITH: ...Really good question, and it's not clear. What White House aides will say is that he was briefed all along, that he was involved in the decision to expel the Russian diplomats/spies, depending on who you're asking. However, the president himself has not tweeted about this. He has not spoken publicly about it. He gave a big, wide-ranging speech in Ohio yesterday, and the word Russia did not come up.

GREENE: With these actions, though - even if he's not speaking - does it signal a tougher approach to Russia than we saw from him when he first came into office?

KEITH: There have been many actions that have been tougher, including arming - or providing arms - to Ukraine late last year, a round of sanctions a couple of weeks ago that were sort of pushed by Congress. And then the White House and Treasury Department responded to that push from Congress and put in some sanctions related to Russian election interference in the 2016 election - and now this move in conjunction with a bunch of U.S. allies. It is a tough approach and a stronger approach than early on.

GREENE: And before I let you go, some other Russia news we should probably talk about - Jeff Sessions, the attorney general - there's a development involving him and the Russia investigation, right?

KEITH: That is correct. So several Republican members of Congress had said that they wanted a second special counsel to investigate misconduct that they saw by the FBI and Justice Department. Sessions is saying that is not necessary at this point, that he has put a U.S. attorney in Utah, John Huber, in charge of looking into these things. And for now, those members of Congress are OK with that.

GREENE: OK. So one special counsel for now.

KEITH: For now, but he is not ruling out the possibility of another one. But there is a U.S. attorney now looking into these claims and concerns brought up by Republicans in Congress.

GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks as always.

KEITH: You're welcome as always.

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GREENE: OK. So today, we may learn some new details in the shooting death of Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old unarmed black man who was killed by police on March 18 in Sacramento, Calif.

KING: Yeah, Clark's family is going to give a press conference later this morning. This comes a day after his funeral and a day after protests continued in Sacramento. Reverend Al Sharpton gave a eulogy yesterday, and he responded to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders who, earlier this week, called the shooting a, quote, "local matter."

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AL SHARPTON: No, this is not a local matter. They've been killing young black men all over the country.

KING: So where is all of this going to lead?

GREENE: All right. We want to bring in Nick Miller with Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. He's been covering this story. Hi, Nick.

NICK MILLER, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: You covered the funeral for Stephon Clark yesterday. Can you take us there? What did it feel like?

MILLER: The family - they'd opened it to the public, and it was packed. It drew a very large capacity crowd - hundreds of people. And dozens weren't able to even get into the church. The services were, of course, emotional, but they were also unscripted and passionate. Clark's brother Ste'vonte, who - he's grieved very publicly, interrupted speakers on a few occasions and continued a theme he's touched on since his brother's death of how he wants to establish community services and building monuments in his brother's name throughout Sacramento.

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STE'VONTE CLARK: We're going to do coliseums for Stephon. We're going to do libraries. We're going to do resources centers. We're going to - Stephon is going to live for generations to generations to generations to generations.

MILLER: And Reverend Al Sharpton, as you mentioned, gave Clark's eulogy. And his message really focused on bringing the issue of police shootings of black men to Washington, and specifically to President Trump's doorstep. He criticized the president for being mute on police shootings. And Sharpton hinted that he might be flying families of the victims of police shootings to D.C. in the coming weeks for an event.

GREENE: Well, so Sharpton's vow to keep this movement going strong - does that reflect an expectation that these protests in Sacramento are still going to be going strong?

MILLER: I think so. So last night was the third-straight evening of protests downtown after - and this after a week and a half of near continuous demonstrations. There was a lot of discussion over whether the activists would again be able to block thousands of fans from entering the evening's Sacramento Kings game because this has happened twice in the past week already. But there was a lot of police - a very heightened security presence near the arena. And that allowed the game to go forward without any issues, though attendance, I'm told, was down. There was a protest. And it did cause problems though, especially for rush-hour traffic. But organizers - and even Ste'vonte Clark - they were there at the demonstration. They pleaded with the protesters to not block the Kings game. And interestingly, the Kings had announced the day before a sort of special partnership with the local Black Lives Matter chapter to help the Clark family. And they're reportedly putting $60,000 towards this partnership.

GREENE: And what happens now? Are we going to be learning more about his death?

MILLER: Yes. The big news for Friday is a press conference with the family this morning. Attorneys for the families say they will be sharing results of their independent autopsy, which was performed by medical examiner Bennet Omalu. And he's the doctor known for first discovering CTE in football players. He has...

GREENE: Oh, yeah.

MILLER: ...A reputation - a certain credibility. The results of this independent autopsy could spark even more demonstrations. The family's also expected to file a federal lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Sacramento County coroner report isn't yet written, and there are more demonstrations pinned to the weekend.

GREENE: All right. Capital Public Radio's Nick Miller, thanks a lot.

MILLER: Thank you.

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GREENE: OK, we want to turn now to reports about a big legal battle that could be brewing between the federal government and states over climate change. It could really impact anyone in the market for a new car in the coming years.

KING: Right. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to decide this weekend whether it's going to move forward with a plan to scrap the current target standards on auto emissions. Now, the Obama administration put those standards in place. The state of California has a special waiver to impose its own fuel economy rules. And California says it's ready to go to court to keep them. So what's at stake for the auto industry and for efforts to cut back on pollution?

GREENE: Well, let's ask Evan Halper of the LA Times who's been reporting this story. Good morning, Evan.

EVAN HALPER: Good morning.

GREENE: So let's start with the current fuel-economy standards that are in place right now. What are they, and why are they so important to California?

HALPER: This program is a big deal in the fight against climate change and smog. It may be the single biggest action taken on the planet to reduce greenhouse gases. The national program was championed in its current incarnation by California, which has ambitious goals for fighting climate change and chronic smog. But meeting those goals takes a lot of aggressive action. And the rule mandates that manufacturers reach an average of 55 miles per gallon for their cars and SUVs by 2025. And automakers - and particularly American automakers - complain the technology may be there, but the consumer interest isn't. With gas prices low and - car companies say people are interested in owning SUVs and trucks, and they want to keep selling more of them.

GREENE: OK, so that's the argument that the EPA is making in all this, though - is to help the manufacturers who say this is just not something that's realistic at this point for them if they want to keep selling the cars they're selling.

HALPER: Right. Exactly.

GREENE: Well, what what happens now? I mean, if that's the position of the Trump administration, and California's threatening legal action, what happens next? And could California's move lead to other states challenging the EPA?

HALPER: Yes, absolutely. So the car manufactures are happy that EPA's heeding their request. But they're getting very uncomfortable with the way this is all playing out. They were hoping that some kind of deal can be brokered between the EPA and California, and that's not looking likely. And so 13 other states follow California's rules, and all of them are getting ready to fight. And the EPA is taking an increasingly threatening tone, so it looks like we have a big battle ahead.

GREENE: A big battle about climate change and about these fuel economy standards in the auto industry - big stakes. LA Times reporter Evan Halper joining us this morning. Evan, thanks a lot.

HALPER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOMAK'S "FORCE FOR TRUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.