News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Brazil Election, Nobel Peace Prize
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today an initial vote tells us if Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gets to 50.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Right. Fifty is the number of votes he would need for Senate confirmation, 50 plus the vote of Vice President Pence. Now, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is expressing no doubt.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: What we know for sure is the FBI report did not corroborate any of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. And the second thing we know for sure is that there's no way anything we did would satisfy the Democrats.
GREENE: Now, the FBI reported McConnell was describing there was an extra background check into allegations that the nominee committed sexual assault decades ago. Senators were able to take turns reviewing just a single copy of the report. Jeff Flake, the Republican whose doubts prompted a one-week delay, had a look.
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JEFF FLAKE: See no new corroboration. No new corroboration at all.
INSKEEP: Speaking quietly there, but he said, no new corroboration at all. NPR's Tim Mak is covering this dramatic story. Tim, good morning.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. We heard some Republican views of this FBI report that we've been waiting for the last several days. What are Democrats saying?
MAK: Well, so there are a couple Democrats who are running for re-election in red states, and we're really looking to them to see whether they might have interesting views on the Kavanaugh nomination. Yesterday Senator Heidi Heitkamp, she's running for re-election this November, she said definitively that she would vote no on Kavanaugh. Here's what she said to a local TV station.
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HEIDI HEITKAMP: The process has been bad, but at the end of the day you have to make a decision, and I've made that decision.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And that decision will be, what, Senator?
HEITKAMP: I will be voting no on Judge Kavanaugh.
MAK: So she faces a tough re-election battle in North Dakota, where polls show her lagging behind her Republican challenger in a red state. She said she would not be able to support the president's pick in a state that President Trump won in 2016 because she viewed Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as credible. But she said she would be willing to work with the president on someone else who would be able to be suited for, quote, "the honor and distinction of serving this lifetime appointment."
INSKEEP: OK. So this was important because the Senate is so narrowly divided. Republicans were hoping to get a couple, a few, Democratic votes to offset any Republicans that they might lose. Heidi Heitkamp is not going to be one of them. I guess Joe Manchin is still out there and hasn't quite said how he's going to vote. And Kavanaugh himself is wading back into this. He has been speaking up in The Wall Street Journal. Is this right?
MAK: Yeah. I mean, so last evening, he put out an op-ed. And it's unusual because Supreme Court nominees don't typically go on, say, Fox News. They don't typically write op-eds. But here's what he said in his Wall Street Journal piece last evening. He said that he was subjected to, quote, "wrongful and sometimes vicious allegations." He tried to explain what he characterized as his overwhelming frustration at being wrongfully accused. He also said, look, I said some things that I should not have said. He said he was, quote, "too emotional at times," but ultimately he was hardworking and he would be an independent judge.
INSKEEP: I guess we should underline why this is important. A lot of people have taken issue with his demeanor when defending himself in a hearing last week. And in fact, The Washington Post, which normally endorses just about any Supreme Court nominee, went against him yesterday not because of the allegations but because of his partisan statements. And in this Wall Street Journal op-ed, Kavanaugh didn't specifically say what it was that he said that he shouldn't have said. He just kind of indicated he wished he hadn't quite said so much.
MAK: Right. And he also didn't specifically apologize.
INSKEEP: Right. So we now get to the question of voting. We mentioned Heitkamp as a no. Some other people are definitely yes. Who remains uncertain here?
MAK: So these critical Republican moderate votes that have been on the fence for the last week or so remain on the fence. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, they still haven't come out and said, hey, this is how we're voting. And we're going to be looking very closely at that this morning.
INSKEEP: Jeff Flake seemed to be influenced by protesters a week ago. Are there still protesters around the Capitol?
MAK: Yes. You mentioned that critical moment. Approximately 300 people were arrested yesterday for unlawfully demonstrating in the Senate office buildings. And there have been regular demonstrations outside the Supreme Court. I'd expect more today.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tim Mak, thanks so much.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
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INSKEEP: All right. If you're monitoring the rise of populist nationalism around the world, you can turn attention next to Brazil.
GREENE: Yeah. Brazilians are choosing a president on Sunday. The candidates include Jair Bolsonaro. He's a retired army captain. He is leading in the polls, and he is running from the far right.
INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Rio de Janeiro. Hi there, Philip.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Who is Bolsonaro?
REEVES: Well, he's a veteran congressman, as you mentioned, a retired army captain. He portrays himself, positions himself as an outsider, although he's done some 27 years in Congress. He's age 63. He's very close to the military, and he's a very divisive figure. He has a record of making offensive remarks about the LGBT community, about black Brazilians and about women who took to the streets in huge numbers last weekend summoned there by women's groups campaigning online under the hashtag #NotHim. And those demonstrations had one big message, and that was they're worried that Bolsonaro will take this country back to the era of dictatorship which ended in 1985, a period which he openly expresses admiration for.
INSKEEP: I guess we should explain how it is that presidential elections work in Brazil. There's a first round, right? And if nobody gets 50 percent, you go on to a run off. So he's one of a bunch of candidates at this point?
REEVES: Yeah. Thirteen in all. And until now, people have been saying, look, he'll win the first round - they use, as their evidence, figures from the polls - but would lose against pretty much any candidate in the second round. But he's put on a surge in the last few days. The latest poll from last night has him 11 points ahead. And so analysts here are beginning to say that, you know, it's still unlikely but he just might make it in the first round which, if that was to happen, would be a political earthquake, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what is making him so popular? Is it something that he stands for or says he wants to do? Is it just an attitude? What is it?
REEVES: You know, Brazilians crave law and order. You talk to people here, Steve - and I'm talking about metropolitan Brazilians, middle-class Brazilians, educated people - and they say, look, we fear we have no choice. They've lost faith in the political system. This country's had this huge corruption scandal that's still going on, and it's exposed top executives and politicians as crooks. Also people are really worried about crime. They feel government's done absolutely nothing to combat that. WhatsApp and TV is full of pictures every day of bank robbers blowing up cash machines and people being assaulted. And this country's had a homicide rate of over 60,000 a year. And so it's corroded public faith. And along comes Bolsonaro, and he talks about putting generals in his cabinet, allowing the public to bear arms. He praises the cops for their use of lethal force. And, you know, people say, well, maybe that's the option. I should also say he's done a good job at campaigning against his chief opponent. Bolsonaro's been in hospital for more than three weeks. He recently came out after being stabbed at a campaign rally. And he's done a good job of vilifying his main opponent, Fernando Haddad, who's from the Workers' Party, and he's the stand-in candidate for Lula da Silva, the former president who couldn't run because he's in jail.
INSKEEP: Awkward, awkward. So he is connected with Lula, who is imprisoned, which gets to this law and order theme, I suppose.
REEVES: Yeah. And what they're doing on the Bolsonaro side is saying, look, this guy comes from that era where, you know, it was a huge recession and lot of spending, and we don't want that again.
INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves in Rio. Thanks so much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: Drumroll, please.
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INSKEEP: The Nobel Prize has been awarded.
GREENE: That was a great drumroll, Steve.
INSKEEP: Thank you.
GREENE: This announcement came this morning from the Nobel Institute in Oslo.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
INSKEEP: Vitally important issue, not really famous names, but they're going to be more famous. And let's talk with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson about them. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. Who are they?
NELSON: Well, the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, he's better known as Dr. Miracle. He spent two decades helping women recover from the violence and trauma of rape in war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. He's the world's leading expert on how to repair women's internal - I mean, basically, their insides, if you will, when it's damaged by gang rape. So it's something that's been expected for about 10 years. His support has been waiting for this. So they see this as long overdue. And the second person is actually the 17th woman to get it, Nadia Murad. She's either 24 or 25, depending on certain reports. She's a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants back in 2014, and she endured three months as a sex slave before escaping.
INSKEEP: Wow. So the Nobel Prize, which often comments in some way on the news or is seen as commenting on the news - we have here a kind of comment on the huge global conversation about violence against women.
NELSON: Absolutely. It's definitely seen as a nod to that, and to the #MeToo movement which, of course, is a big component of that.
INSKEEP: How did the Nobel Committee explain the choice?
NELSON: Well, they said they wanted to draw attention to people who were who were fighting for an end to the use of sexual violence as a weapon in war. So that was the initial explanation there. The press conference just ended a short while ago.
INSKEEP: I guess we should just very briefly note someone who did not receive the Nobel Prize. And we don't know how seriously he was considered. There was a question about whether President Trump might be considered for this because of his efforts to get nuclear weapons out of North Korea.
NELSON: Yes. Definitely. He and the Korean leaders, both North and South Korea, were seen as potential candidates. But 18 Republican lawmakers have basically nominated him for the 2019 prize so maybe he will get it next year.
INSKEEP: They're promoting him for that. OK. All right. Soraya, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson with news of the Nobel Peace Prize, which goes to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts against violence against women. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.