News Brief: Mexico's Presidential Election, Supreme Court Vacancy

Jul 2, 2018
Originally published on July 2, 2018 3:57 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mexicans have overwhelmingly elected a new president.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And here are a few words used to describe him. He's a populist. He's a leftist. He ran against corruption and against Mexico's political establishment. He wrote a book called "Listen, Trump" but says he's ready to work with the U.S. president. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador appears on track to get more votes than his four rivals combined.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's Carrie Kahn has been covering the election. She's in Mexico City. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what would prompt a past presidential loser - because he has run before - to get more than half the vote in a crowded field this time?

KAHN: Well, this time was much different. I think two things are very different. Mexico is different and so was candidate Lopez Obrador. First, Mexico is much more violent than it was during those previous two runs he had. There were nearly 30,000 murders here last year. And this year looks even more violent. And he was different, too. He really toned down some of his rhetoric. He was less confrontational. And he built this wide coalition, everything from leftist, the Workers' Party, to conservative evangelicals. And he really honed in on his main message, too, that corruption is the No. 1 problem in Mexico, causing everything - poverty, poor economic output, inequality, all of it. It was a strong message, and it was very well-received this time.

INSKEEP: And what are you hearing from voters?

KAHN: Well, I talked to them in - all over the - I went to three states today - yesterday - I'm sorry. And they were just telling me - everybody said they wanted change. That's what they were really going for. Lopez Obrador's win, you know, was really a repudiation of the current administration. Just listen to these chants of the jubilant crowds that gathered all over Mexico City last night.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: They're shouting Mexico without the PRI. The ruling party here is so unpopular. It has been embroiled in countless corruption scandals at the federal, the state level, for the past six years. And I think more than voters wanted to bring in a leftist government, this was more about an anti-establishment vote, an electorate very angry over the corruption, violence and impunity that's rampant in this country.

INSKEEP: Yeah. When we look at the votes, as they've been counted as you and I are talking, the ruling party, the PRI, is not even in second place. They're in a very, very distant third place.

KAHN: Right.

INSKEEP: Now, I want to ask about one other thing, Carrie Kahn, because we mentioned that the winner here says he wants to work with President Trump. What does he mean by that?

KAHN: Well, he said he wants a cooperative, respectful relationship with the U.S. That's what he said tonight. You know, President Trump and the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, have had this tense relationship, mostly over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for a U.S. border wall. But President Trump did tweet his congratulations last night to the new Mexican president-elect.

INSKEEP: And has he been talking about this specifically, talking about Trump specifically?

KAHN: In this election? In this campaign? No, he has not. He has a long, very long list of promises that he's been making. He says he wants to work hard. He's going to be honest, and he repeated several times that he wants to go down in history as one of Mexico's greatest presidents. He had this great line in his speech at the historic Zocalo plaza last night. He said he's going to live by - he's going to rule by three basic tenants - no lying, no stealing and no betraying the people.

INSKEEP: OK Carrie, thanks very much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. In this country, President Trump says he will focus this week on selecting a Supreme Court nominee to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

KING: But the president is also facing the aftermath of some of his past decisions on other issues. This weekend, there were nationwide protests over the administration's immigration policies. It has been slow going reuniting more than 2,000 kids separated from their parents at the border. And America's longtime allies are hitting us back on trade and tariffs.

INSKEEP: With us now is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who's covering all this and more. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So the president told reporters the other day he's not going to ask his potential nominees about their position on Roe versus Wade, the historic ruling on abortion rights, but does he really need to ask?

HORSLEY: No. You know, President Trump made it crystal clear during the 2016 campaign that if the opportunity presented itself, he'd plan to nominate Supreme Court justices who would vote to overturn Roe. That was a big selling point for the president with social conservatives who otherwise might have been skeptical of this thrice-married billionaire from New York City. He famously published that list of potential nominees. There are now 25 names on that list, all of them vetted by conservative activists at The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation. Trump has said he will pick someone from that list. He expects to talk to six or seven candidates this week before a big showbiz-style reveal next Monday. And he repeated on an - in an interview with Fox Business Network that he would not be quizzing those candidates specifically on the question of Roe.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't think I'm going to be so specific in the questions I'll be answering (ph). And I'm actually told that I shouldn't be.

HORSLEY: And he doesn't need to be. You know, the people who put together this list had a pretty good idea of what the president was looking for.

INSKEEP: But then there's the question of whether he can get this person through the Senate because it's 51-49. Republicans just have one vote to spare. And there you have one Republican, Susan Collins, saying that she has some concerns. Let's listen to her from the weekend.

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SUSAN COLLINS: I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.

INSKEEP: OK. So they can lose one, but there is another Republican who supports abortion rights. Can they get a nominee through?

HORSLEY: You know, I think right now it's the supporters of abortion rights who are more nervous about that. You heard Collins say she couldn't support a nominee with a demonstrated hostility to Roe. But the president can avoid that landmine by simply picking a nominee who's kept his or her hostility to Roe v. Wade under wraps. You already hear a lot of soft pedaling by conservative activists who suggest Roe is not in the crosshairs, even though they've spent years targeting the decision. But the president is on record saying what he wants, no matter what sort of bland packaging it might be wrapped up in.

INSKEEP: The president, of course, is also on record with tariffs against Canada, and the Canadians have responded.

HORSLEY: Yeah. You know, the president spoke on Friday night with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But in the terse, one-word readout we got from the White House, there's no sign they have reached any sort of accord. In fact, Trudeau is getting a little bit of a political boost at home for standing up to what Canadians see as Trump's bullying. The president has said that other countries have been approaching him about trying to negotiate a trade deal. But if that is true, and there's no evidence it is, those other countries aren't talking about it.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. In Iraq, security forces have stepped up attacks on ISIS across the border into Syria.

KING: That's right. They're aiming at fighters who were driven out of Iraq but who could come back in, and they are being helped by U.S. troops.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf went in with the U.S. military for a look at the U.S. base or a U.S. base near the border. Hey there, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: So what are U.S. troops doing at this point along that Iraq-Syria border?

ARRAF: So there's still ISIS along the border. They were driven out of Iraq, and the U.S. and Iraq fear that they could come back in. So mostly these U.S. troops are advising the Iraqis, and in some cases, they're assisting with the operations. The base we went to is an example. It's called a fire support base because U.S. soldiers, protected by Marines, are launching artillery. The big guns with a 10-mile range hit ISIS targets across the border, and that's where we spoke with Sergeant Jason Powell. He's from Louisville, Ky., now based in Fort Hood, Texas. He's 31. He's been out there almost a month. And he was standing near a rack of artillery shells, showing me how he's given a target, and then he directs his crew to load these huge rounds and fire them into Syria.

JASON POWELL: It all starts with the forward observer. They're going to observe something that needs to be - maybe we're calling for fire to destroy the enemy or just terrain denial, a number of different reasons.

ARRAF: So terrain denial means preventing ISIS from holding ground or coming back across that border.

INSKEEP: So what is life like on this American base that you were able to visit?

ARRAF: Well, it's not like the old bases, which were kind of like little cities. This is really austere. It's about a mile from the Syrian border in the desert; desert as far as you can see. There were no buildings, just tents. And it's about 100 degrees. There's no air conditioning. There's lots of sand, and there's scorpions and huge biting spiders. So on their time off, the guys say they play cards with the Iraqi soldiers on the base, and they play baseball. They don't have any bats, so they use the handles of pickaxes.

INSKEEP: Do what they can and then go back to lobbing artillery shells at a distant enemy. I want to ask, Jane, because, of course, you cover Iraq all the time, these folks are on the Iraq-Syria border. This is far, far western Iraq. How is security like in the rest of the country, this country where ISIS used to have much more control?

ARRAF: Probably you could sum it up by saying it's relatively secure but fragile. And a lot of that danger is in territory in between the seams, if you will, between, for instance, Kurdish security forces and Iraqi government forces, like in the disputed city of Kirkuk. There's a highway near there, and ISIS has been kidnapping and killing security forces, setting off suicide car bombs. So while ISIS has been defeated militarily, there's still quite a lot of concern that they're not entirely gone.

INSKEEP: Appreciate that phrase in between the seams since you were just on a seam there in a sense between Iraq and Syria, a place where ISIS can still survive.

ARRAF: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Jane, thanks very much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jane Arraf.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOCAL NATIVES SONG, "YOU AND I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.