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Morning News Brief: U.K. Ups Threat Level, Brennan Testifies, Trump Meets The Pope

May 24, 2017
Originally published on May 24, 2017 7:17 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's the big question for British authorities. Why would one of their own citizens stage an attack that killed more than 20 people?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's an urgent question because while the attacker was killed in the explosion, authorities suspect there may be others like him. Here's Amber Rudd. She's the interior minister of the U.K.

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INTERIOR MINISTER AMBER RUDD: It seems likely, possible, that he wasn't doing this on his own. So the intelligence services and the police are pursuing their leads in order to make sure that they get all the information and reduce, therefore, the risk that they need to keep us all safe.

MARTIN: Rudd also said it was, quote, "irritating" to deal with news leaks. The name of the alleged bomber was leaked by U.S. security sources before the U.K. was ready to go public with it.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from Manchester. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where are you, exactly, in Manchester?

LANGFITT: I'm actually - I'm at Manchester Piccadilly station. And there are thousands of people coming in this morning for work. And what makes it really different, though, is right as you get out the front doors, there are two heavily armed police officers. They have automatic weapons. They're wearing body armor, and the mood is different. People are looking around a lot. They're not smiling. And clearly, the news of that threat level really - really struck people.

INSKEEP: And what are you hearing when you stop some of those commuters to talk to them?

LANGFITT: Well, I was talking to a guy named Dafid Rees (ph). He's a physiotherapy student here at Manchester Metropolitan. He was waiting for the bus today. He's 20 years old. He said actually some of his - he and his roommates sometimes work at the arena where the attack happened earlier this week. And he talked a little bit about his reaction to the bombing and also last night what he thought when he learned that another attack actually could be imminent.

DAFID REES: It was crazy to think we could have been there. And then, for that to be said on national TV is like, what are we going to do next? You know, carry on as life as normal, but then when someone says that, you just want to stay in your house. And it's just like - it catches your breath, you know? You just feel helpless around these situations, you know?

INSKEEP: And now they have this warning of a possible other attack. But, Frank, is this just a reflex response? Or is there a reason to raise the threat level?

LANGFITT: No. No, Steve, there's really good reason for this. And that is, talking to some high-ranking Western government sources yesterday, they said that the British security services knew enough about this guy to know that he did not have the skills to build a bomb like this. We know the bomb was quite effective given the damage that it did and the loss of life. And so their real concern is there's a bomb maker out there. That, I think, is inferable.

They're not saying that directly. But that has to be very much on their mind. Keep in mind also, the last time they went to critical - this level - was back in 2007. So that's another reason why people are reacting the way they are right now, is because this really feels different.

MARTIN: Frank, you talked about security guards, police with body armor and weapons. That is not the usual state of play in the U.K. It's unusual to see officers who are armed. Does that make people feel more or less secure?

LANGFITT: That's a good question. I think more secure. But honestly, around here, you know, everybody - it's on their mind. I did see some people come out from the shops and shake the officer's hand. They're very happy to see them, of course. But at the same time, when you have a cloud like this hanging over your head, people are worried, you know, could it happen again in Manchester in short order? That's absolutely what's on people's minds.

INSKEEP: And it's on people's minds just as they're getting ready to vote.

LANGFITT: Yeah, and the politics of this are very interesting. The Tory Party, Theresa May, they seem like they're headed for a very big victory. Polls have been tightening. She - her mantra is strong and stable. The fact that they didn't know about this guy and this happened, and this has happened before with attacks here in the U.K., I think has the government a little nervous that people may think they may have dropped the ball here.

INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Manchester, England. Frank, thanks as always.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Steve.

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INSKEEP: Some other news - today we find out how much a health care bill might really cost.

MARTIN: Yeah, the Congressional Budget Office gives its judgment of a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act. And remember, it has already been passed by the House. Normally, lawmakers would have waited to see how it affects taxes or spending or the number of people who might lose insurance. The CBO score does arrive in time, though, for the Senate to consider it. And Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri says he will.

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ROY BLUNT: The Senate's going to have to have the kind of score they need to move this forward. And the Senate's going to be looking at this to see what we can do to take the House work, look at what the House did, look at what we can do to improve that in our view.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been listening along with us. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So do people know roughly what to expect from the CBO?

LIASSON: Yes, they know roughly. You know, the CBO estimate of the first House bill, the one that didn't pass, showed about 20 million people losing coverage and costs going up for older, low-income people, especially in rural areas. That's a lot of Trump supporters. As you said, the House didn't wait for the CBO to score the second version. They just went ahead and passed it. And that sent it to the Senate. That's the score we're getting today.

No one expects it to be much different than the first version - could be a little bit better on the deficit side, less cost to the Treasury but maybe worse on the coverage side.

INSKEEP: Now, how does this affect the politics? - because the last time the CBO did score a bill it helped to sink the bill.

LIASSON: That's right. It probably won't help the Senate. But the Senate is on its own track. They've got this 13-member working group working behind closed doors. Like in the House, there's not going to be any public committee hearings, no regular order. They have to pass this bill by the summer if they're going to be able to take advantage of the Senate rules that allows them to pass it by 51 votes.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

LIASSON: Republicans aren't going to get any Democratic help, and they can only lose three Republicans.

INSKEEP: OK, so that's going to be a drama to continue watching. And here is a drama for you. The Senate Intelligence Committee, on another subject, wants documents from Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who was fired over lying about his contacts with Russians. The committee wants these documents. Flynn has said, no. And the committee says it's going to subpoena two of Flynn's businesses. How does that work? What's going on here?

LIASSON: This is the question. The Senate Intelligence Committee view is that Flynn has the right to claim the Fifth and refuse to testify. But Flynn's businesses, because they're a corporation, not a person, they can't claim the Fifth. And the committee believes that document requests are not covered by the Fifth Amendment. So we have the first legal skirmish of the Russian investigation, and it's over the interpretation of the Fifth Amendment.

INSKEEP: What can they do if Flynn just says no? Criminally prosecute him, sue him?

LIASSON: No, they could hold him in contempt. That's what they could do. And that's what we're waiting to see, what the committee will do in response to Flynn's refusal.

INSKEEP: OK, so that would be something like a judge holding a witness in contempt. There could be serious consequences.

LIASSON: Yes, only you would be in contempt of Congress. That would be the difference. They could come up with some kind of a compromise, they could drop the matter altogether. The ball is in the Senate Intelligence Committee's court, and we're waiting to see what they're going to do.

INSKEEP: OK, Mara, thanks as always, really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

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INSKEEP: Some other news - President Trump continued his religious pilgrimage this morning at the Vatican, although it was kind of awkward.

MARTIN: You could expect that - right? - because if you remember on the campaign trail, Pope Francis was pretty critical of Donald Trump's proposed policies back then, especially the idea of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. At one point, the pope even said, quote, building walls instead of bridges is not Christian. Trump called the pope's comments disgraceful.

INSKEEP: Well, that was then. This is now.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: The Vatican, pomp and circumstance and reporter Ines San Martin has been at the Vatican. She's on the line. Hi, welcome.

INES SAN MARTIN, BYLINE: Hi, thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: So when you got to watch the pope and President Trump, what were they like together?

SAN MARTIN: At the very beginning, they both seemed tense. They knew this meeting had to happen. But none of them - neither of them seemed comfortable with it. However, after the 30 minutes behind closed-door talk, both of them seemed a lot more relaxed and easy with each other.

INSKEEP: What did they discuss in those 30 minutes? Does anybody give you a readout of that sort of thing?

SAN MARTIN: Up to this point, we don't know. We will have statements both from the Vatican and the White House. But it is expected for both statements to mention, you know, we did talk about migrants, we did talk about, possibly, climate change. And something very specific, they probably did talk about the situation of Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. This is an issue both President Trump and Pope Francis are very interested in, and it's one of the very few topics in which both can agree on how to respond.

INSKEEP: I'm glad that you mentioned something where they have common ground, but you also mentioned something where they certainly do not. Is this correct that the pope was actually intending to give the president a gift of his statement on climate change expressing great concern about it?

SAN MARTIN: Yes, it did. The pope did, in fact, actually hand President Trump a copy of "Laudato Si'," his environmental manifesto from 2015. But I have to say, Steve, this is customary. This is what Pope Francis does when he meets every single leader. Of course, seeing that Trump has an ambivalent view on climate change, this becomes more specific or even more interesting. But it's not necessarily unique to this meeting.

MARTIN: So this has been an awkward meeting of sorts. Donald Trump - President Trump is going to another one today. He's heading to Brussels to meet with NATO leaders. He called the alliance obsolete, then he said it wasn't. If we've learned anything about Trump, he enjoys these standoffs, maybe even relishes them. I don't know.

INSKEEP: Well, here we go. What do you think, Ines?

SAN MARTIN: I think he probably does relish these standoffs. But, I mean, at the end of the day, I think we have to make a difference between the Trump that was on the campaign trail and the Trump within the presidency. Today we saw President Trump who knew he had to work nice - I mean play nice with Pope Francis. And Pope Francis acknowledged that and played nice with him, too.

INSKEEP: OK, Ines San Martin, a reporter who covers the Vatican. Thanks very much, really appreciate the time.

SAN MARTIN: Thank you. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.