News Brief: Asia Trip Winds Down, Moore Denies Misconduct Allegations
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Like when he campaigned, President Trump could hardly stop talking about unfair trade with China. So what did he gain from visiting China and several of its neighbors?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, at a summit meeting in the Philippines today, Trump met with the leaders of India and Japan and Australia. These are really three pillars of democracy in what the White House is calling the Indo-Pacific region. Now, as we know, the president last week promoted Chinese plans to buy American goods. But a larger question is how the U.S. works with China's neighbors.
INSKEEP: Yeah, these are neighbors that the U.S., at times, has seen as a counterweight to China. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He's on the line. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so we heard what the president said in Beijing. He said China has an unfair advantage. But then he said it's not China's fault. What's he saying to U.S. allies?
HORSLEY: You're right, Steve. Along with North Korea, trade has been a major preoccupation for the president on this trip. He has said repeatedly that the U.S. is being taken advantage of by some of the fast-growing economies here in Asia. But, he says, that's changing as a result of the work he's been doing during this trip. He did not, however, offer any details. Instead, the president says he'll fill us in when he gets back to the United States.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with almost everybody. Those deficits are going to be cut very quickly and very substantially.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Except us. You have a surplus with us.
TRUMP: You're the only one.
TRUMP: And if I check it, I'll probably find out that was...
TURNBULL: Oh, no. It's real. It's real, though.
HORSLEY: You can hear Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia...
HORSLEY: ...Chiming in there. Turnbull's correct. The U.S. had a $12.6 billion trade surplus with Australia last year.
INSKEEP: And he's jokingly but maybe not jokingly saying they're determined to keep that trade surplus with (laughter) rather - hoping to keep that advantage if they possibly can. So let me ask though, Scott, these are countries that are around the borders, around the margins of China and had been seen as a possible counterweight to China that would be unified by this transpacific partnership.
Haven't the East Asian nations essentially delivered a rebuke to President Trump by reviving that in recent days?
HORSLEY: This right, and not just East Asian countries, but countries around the Pacific Rim.
HORSLEY: At the Apec summit in Vietnam this weekend, trade ministers from the other 11 countries that had signed onto that trade deal that President Trump dropped out of as one of his first acts in office, the 11 other trade ministers said they reached an agreement on core principles to move ahead without the United States. Now, Trump says he wants to negotiate one on one with those countries.
But there was no indication he was striking those kind of one-on-one deals during this trip. And instead, now we're seeing the rest of the TPP countries moving ahead without the United States.
INSKEEP: Well, has the White House sketched any kind of strategy for dealing with China's growing economic power?
HORSLEY: Some have described the framework that the president talked about during this trip of an Indo-Pacific region as really a way to contain China, although White House officials say the very notion of containing a power like China is impossible. What critics say is that by withdrawing from the TPP and other multilateral deals like the Paris climate accord, Trump has, in effect, created a running room for China to flex its muscles.
And, in fact, we've seen Xi Jinping doing that at some of these same Asian summits this week.
INSKEEP: OK, Scott, always a pleasure talking with you. Travel safely.
HORSLEY: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley is in Manila.
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INSKEEP: Now, in this country, for Republican Party leaders, the burning question is exactly how or in some cases whether to distance themselves from Roy Moore.
GREENE: Yeah, the Alabama Senate candidate denies allegations of sexual misconduct with minors decades ago. One woman who spoke out says she was 14 when he touched her inappropriately. Many Alabama voters are telling reporters they don't buy the reporting from The Washington Post. Steve Bannon's Breitbart has been re-reporting the story hoping to expose a fraud.
Now, other Republicans have responded differently. Here's Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey on NBC's "Meet The Press."
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PAT TOOMEY: You know, I have to say, I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial. I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside.
INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow is covering this story. He's in our studio. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what are the different gradations of criticism of Roy Moore?
DETROW: It's interesting that many Republicans are putting some qualification into their concerns. I'll just walk through just a few sentences in a row from Marc Short, President Trump's legislative affairs director...
DETROW: ...Speaking on "Meet The Press" yesterday. First he says, the notion of innocent, defenseless children being molested is one of the most painful thoughts a parent can have. I think Roy Moore has some explaining to do, more than he's done so far. But then, just a few sentences later, Short says, I think we in Washington have to be careful as well.
He praises Moore, says the people of Alabama know Roy Moore better than we do here in D.C. and I think we have to be cautious. So concerned but with qualification - if these allegations are true.
INSKEEP: And you can frame that as just saying that someone is innocent until proven guilty. But is that also a bet that Roy Moore still has a chance to win this Senate seat for Republicans and that they really need the Senate seat?
DETROW: Well, I think that a lot of Republicans have certainly had long concerns about Roy Moore way before this. He had a lot of baggage in his career, and he also would be far from a reliable vote on a lot of issues. Remember though that the distance and the condemnation of Republicans in Washington might not necessarily hurt a Republican running for a Senate race in this current environment.
Remember, Mitch McConnell's PAC went all in against Moore in the primary. And the polling found that that actually boosted Roy with a lot of Republican voters.
INSKEEP: Have Senate Republicans decided that they do want Moore as a candidate on the whole? Or as a fellow senator, I should say, on the whole?
DETROW: No, no, I think certainly most senators in Washington are very concerned about this. They're putting some distance, but they're doing it with an interesting level of condemnation saying, you know - Pat Toomey on "Meet The Press" also raised questions about why these allegations took so long to surface, as he distanced himself and said he wanted to see a write-in candidate.
INSKEEP: Isn't it too late for Roy Moore to withdraw anyway?
DETROW: It is. And one other option that was being floated was the idea of postponing the special election. But the governor of Alabama has said that she has no interest in doing that. One option that's available out there is to run a write-in campaign. Luther Strange is the incumbent senator. Strange is a lot easier to spell than Murkowski.
Remember, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska did successfully win a write-in campaign several years ago.
INSKEEP: But you can imagine that backfiring, too. Someone might simply say, Luther Strange, you already lost. Why are you running again?
DETROW: Yeah. For a lot of voters, this comes down to a binary choice. And Republicans are being cautious here about siding with Democrats and The Washington Post.
INSKEEP: OK, there you go. Scott, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
DETROW: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Detrow.
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INSKEEP: Some other news now. The strongest earthquake in years has struck near the Iran-Iraq border.
GREENE: That's right. According to state media in Iran, more than 300 people have been killed. Thousands have been injured in villages up in the mountains. In northern Iraq, at least seven people have been killed. Now, this quake struck shortly after 9 p.m. local time and had a 7.3 magnitude.
INSKEEP: And just if you're tracking that, anything over seven is a big, big...
GREENE: Is significant.
INSKEEP: ...Earthquake. NPR's Jane Arraf was in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, which is right there along the Iranian border and was close enough to the epicenter to feel the earthquake. Jane, what did it feel like?
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, it felt like nothing I'd ever felt before 'cause I've actually never been in an earthquake before. So I was - I'm staying in a high-rise hotel on a high floor. And then all of a sudden, the closet started to shake. And it was nighttime. And so with my heart in my throat, I walked over and flung open the closet to see if there was something inside and that's when the floors and the walls started to shake. And it actually swayed.
So if you live here or have spent a lot of time here, you know what it's like when buildings shake because of bombings. But it wasn't until later that I realized it was actually an earthquake. That's what an earthquake feels like.
INSKEEP: How long was that high-rise that you were in shaking?
ARRAF: It felt like forever. But I think it was probably just a few minutes. But really, it swayed. It was like being on a ship. And I wasn't sure if it was a bombing that I hadn't heard. I wasn't sure if the building was about to collapse. And that was the fear, of course, of a lot of people in Erbil. There were people rushing out in the streets from their homes.
INSKEEP: So your building did not collapse, happy to say.
ARRAF: It did not.
INSKEEP: But some others seem not to have been so lucky. And we have the most widespread reports of casualties coming out of Iran, even though this seems to have been centered in Iraq. Why would there be so many casualties in Iran?
ARRAF: Well, part of it is the way that the houses are built and part of it is the communities in Iran. So the center of this was near Halabja, which is close to the Iranian border. It's actually about 150 miles from here. It was, as you mentioned, a really strong earthquake. And the tremors were felt in Baghdad and Tehran. But in these border villages in Iran, people live in the mountains. And they're farming villages. And they build their houses from mud brick.
So they collapse really easily. They also use kerosene heaters for heat. So either they would have been - the people would have been killed when the furniture toppled on top of them, the minimal furniture they have or when the kerosene heaters toppled over and set fires. That was what the majority of casualties were caused by.
INSKEEP: What are Iranian authorities doing so far as you've been able to learn?
ARRAF: They are scrambling to try to get help there, but it's difficult because it is a mountainous region. And the quake also triggered landslides, so it's not so easy to get there. They've mobilized the army and they're trying to get relief. And they say, 70,000 people are out there and it's the start of winter and they don't have shelter. So they're really scrambling to get aid to there.
INSKEEP: Jane, thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.
ARRAF: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jane Arraf. She's reporting from northern Iraq today on a serious earthquake, which struck along the Iran-Iraq border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.