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Explosive criticism of a Trump administration policy has led the administration to continue the policy while denying it can do anything about it.


The Homeland Security secretary yesterday defended President Trump's policy choice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, you'll recall, had announced the zero tolerance policy this spring. As Sessions promised in public at the time, the policy separates families arriving at the border, even some applying for asylum. Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they disapprove. But yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed the lawmakers.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: The voices most loudly criticizing the enforcement of our current laws are those whose policies created this crisis and whose policies perpetrate it.

INSKEEP: Other officials have affirmed the administration can enforce the laws differently. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch says no change in the law is really needed.


ORRIN HATCH: I think we've got to lead in Congress and get it done. But I also think the White House can fix it if they want to. I don't think there's any question about that.

INSKEEP: Now, Secretary Nielsen denied that the administration is harming children to gain leverage to pass a broader immigration bill, but she pushed Congress to pass legislation. She also insisted, by the way, that people can apply for asylum at regular border crossings without trouble.

GREENE: All right, let's talk this through with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi there, Mara.


GREENE: So there was already a lot of disagreement in the Republican Party over immigration even before this explosive criticism over the separation of families. So where is the Republican Party now?

LIASSON: That is a good question. The Republican Party is divided. There are a lot of Republicans who want this policy, this practice to end because it's potentially hurting some of their members in the upcoming elections. That's what they're worried about. Even the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee, Steve Stivers of Ohio, called on the administration to change the policy, stop separating children from families. And you've heard from people - a lot of Republicans. Ted Cruz, for instance - very conservative senator, up for re-election - he's even putting - creating legislation to stop this practice. So you see a lot of Republicans pushing back against this, but others are happy that the president is enforcing the law.

GREENE: Well, what is the level of happiness about this policy out in the country? I mean, there have been polls over the months suggesting that there are a lot of Americans who want President Trump to be incredibly tough, right?

LIASSON: Sure. Now, like - as with a lot of cultural issues, this splits the country and the Republicans in completely different ways. A new Quinnipiac poll showed 66 percent of Americans disapprove of the policy, but 55 percent of Republicans approve of it. Seventy percent of women, by the way, disapprove of it. And I should just point out that while the public at large is turning against this policy by 2 to 1, the president's Gallup approval rating is the highest it's ever been since the first week in office. And that shows you that the intensity among Republicans who support him is very, very high.

GREENE: All right. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you.


GREENE: OK. This morning, we are watching the trade dispute between the United States and China really escalate, it seems.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Let's remember here, President Trump imposed $50 billion in tariffs, saying it was a response to Chinese trade practices and a big trade deficit. China responded with tariffs of its own, so the president raised the ante, threatening tariffs now on 200 billion dollars' worth of Chinese goods. And the White House adds that if China responds unfavorably to that, the president will add another 200 billion. China's government says this amounts to blackmail.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is at his base in Shanghai.

Hi there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So is this basically what a lot of people predicted - a trade dispute just becomes a tit for tat with both sides just escalating in response to the other?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I mean, this is like a schoolyard fight. U.S. gets angry about China's behavior, punches China. China punches back, and now U.S. is threatening to throw the equivalent of a rock at China with this newest threat. I mean, it just gets bigger and bigger.

GREENE: But there are real implications here, right? I mean, let's talk about this development. If President Trump imposes, you know, even more tariffs - if China responds, there are U.S. companies in China, and it could be incredibly impactful for them.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. You know, the message from Beijing was that China would retaliate with what it called quantitative and qualitative measures. Now, the quantitative measures refers to tariffs on U.S. products. And up to now, Beijing has retaliated to U.S. tariffs with a sort of tit-for-tat manner like we mentioned. So the qualitative part, though, is different. And the qualitative part looks at - so basically, here's the thing. Beijing only imports 170 billion dollars' worth of U.S. goods, so Trump's new threat of tariffs on 200 billion dollars' worth of Chinese goods puts that tit-for-tat response out of reach for China. So that means that...

GREENE: Oh, wow.

SCHMITZ: ...We go to these qualitative measures, and that's where Beijing starts to target U.S. companies that are generating a lot of revenue inside of China. So I spoke to the US-China Business Council's Jake Parker about this today. He represents dozens of big American companies operating in China, and here's what he said.

JAKE PARKER: That has a huge chilling impact on U.S. companies operating in the China market because it would be outside the scope of import and export and tariffs and would instead begin to chip away U.S. company market share in the China market, something that's almost impossible to rebuild.

SCHMITZ: And that's a market share that U.S. companies have taken decades to build in the first place, so this is really worrying for them.

GREENE: So qualitative seems to open the door, it sounds like, up to almost anything. It's not just about tariffs and money. It could involve punishment in all different forms. Is that right?

SCHMITZ: It gets dirty. And what's happening now, according to Parker, is that China's already doing this. He told me that U.S. companies are beginning to complain to him that they're receiving increased scrutiny on the regulation side. But also, when U.S. products enter customs into China, Parker told me that, typically, 2 percent of U.S. products are inspected upon entering a Chinese port, and whenever that happens, of course, they can't sell that - those products. Recently, for some U.S. products, that's gone up to a hundred percent, meaning that entire groups of U.S. products are no longer available. Businesses here are also worried about boycotts. Should Trump go through with more tariffs, China's government could easily turn a growing sense of nationalism inside of China into a more targeted anti-Americanism. And we've definitely seen this before here in China with Japanese goods when China was angry with Japan and with South Korean goods when it had a tiff with that country.

GREENE: And we're already seeing the immediacy of the impact. The markets are already tumbling in some parts of the world - a reminder that these are two very big economies that matter to the global economy. NPR's Rob Schmitz talking to us from Shanghai. Rob, thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.


GREENE: OK. Video gamers might recognize that theme. It is from the current blockbuster game Fortnite. And some gamers may know it all too well.

INSKEEP: Much too well. The World Health Organization now says gaming disorder is officially part of its International Classification of Diseases. That's a milestone, although the U.S. psychiatric profession is not ready to take that step of recognition.

GREENE: NPR's Anya Kamenetz has been following technology's grip on our brains for some time. She's here with us.

Hi, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So gaming disorder - I mean, how does the World Health Organization define it and decide that it actually is a disease, as Steve said?

KAMENETZ: Well, they say that they're not trying to set a precedent but instead following clinical practice here. And they are making it sort of similar to a gambling addiction. And here's a video about the new classification from Dr. Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization.


SHEKHAR SAXENA: Gaming has now been added because of very clear scientific evidence that it has characteristic signs and symptoms, and there is need and demand for treatment from many regions of the world.

GREENE: Characteristic signs and symptoms, he is saying. So what is the significance of the WHO's recognition of this here?

KAMENETZ: So they have a list of criteria, and that includes - basically, it interferes with other important life activities - with sleep, with school, with relationships. And it's something where it's out of the person's control; they don't seem to be able to stop. And the significance of this move, of course, is the hope that more people will be able to access treatment, and that insurance companies will start to recognize it and that there'll be more awareness that although video games are harmless for most people, there are some people who may have problems.

GREENE: So it makes it sound like the WHO is trying to be careful here and to use sort of traditional scientific research to decide whether or not this is officially a disorder. But the U.S. psychiatric community is not buying into this yet, so does that suggest there are a lot of questions to answer?

KAMENETZ: Well, it's really controversial, David, because obviously, video games are very popular and a harmless pastime for most people. And the psychiatric profession the U.S. lists this as a condition for further study. So the question is, is this really a stand-alone disorder, or is it something that's part of something else? We don't want to create a moral panic here around the prospect of video game addiction for every single kid.

GREENE: Did this come as a surprise - I mean, the WHO coming out and getting involved in classifying video gaming - or has this been sort of a conversation happening for a while now among parents and others?

KAMENETZ: I think it's part of a bigger conversation about the ethics of technology use in general.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Anya Kamenetz, who covers technology and questions like that. We appreciate it, Anya. Thanks a lot.

KAMENETZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGONE'S "CYDELINES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.