STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The fight for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama grows ever more raw. At the center is the personal conduct of Republican Roy Moore.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yeah. His opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, has released a new campaign ad. The ad just shows photos of young women and girls who say Moore dated or abused them when they were teenagers. Now, that ad came out as Moore gave his first interview in almost two weeks to an Alabama cable news host.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROY MOORE: I was definitely shocked. I mean, this is - this is something anybody - it depressed. I mean, it's hard on my family.
KING: So has all this been tough on Moore's staff as well? We learned yesterday that Moore's communications director has resigned.
INSKEEP: So let's bring in NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, who joins us so often here. Domenico, good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve, and Happy Thanksgiving.
INSKEEP: Thank you and same to you. Why did Moore's communications director leave just before the holiday?
MONTANARO: You know, it's never good when a campaign loses somebody. It's certainly indicative of a shake-up and a lot of what's happened with this campaign is - all the incoming that they've taken, they've really dug in quite a bit, as we've heard. There really hasn't been a lot of budging. And the campaign says that this campaign official, that this communications official didn't have the experience level to deal with the incoming. As you've seen, more and more different kinds of spokespeople kind of more take the lead, and this person didn't want to take second fiddle on it and left last Friday.
INSKEEP: Because it's a hard message to sell at the moment. It's an awkward situation to say the least. Now, the Democrat seems to be adjusting as well. Doug Jones did what candidates often do in a situation like this. When your opponent is flaming out, you just stay quiet, stick to the issues and let them flame out. But now Jones is going directly after Roy Moore.
MONTANARO: Yeah and putting up an ad and this one's a digital ad but, you know, it's one that's been getting tons of attention and gone viral about using the women who are - who have been accusing Moore, reminding voters of what the accusations are and putting names and faces to it, which is a very powerful thing to do. But as you note, certainly a change of direction from Jones, which, you know, you can - which could indicate that the Jones campaign - and some Democrats have said this - a little concerned that Jones may have peaked too early and that they'd be worried that with weeks still to go until the December 12 election that people may forget about it. In addition to that, with Donald Trump endorsing him, Democrats are concerned that that could give Moore a boost.
INSKEEP: Good to be reminded there's still a couple of weeks to go, which is years given the way the news cycle has been lately.
MONTANARO: Yeah, it can be.
INSKEEP: So I just want to review here. We've got Roy Moore running for a Senate seat. We've got Senator Al Franken who has a different set of accusations against him. John Conyers, Democrat in the House, has some accusations against him. And now an explicit photo was published showing Congressman Joe Barton of Texas as part of what he says was a consensual relationship. All these cases are different. The facts are different, to be fair, but all seem awfully distracting as Congress is trying to get something done before the new year.
MONTANARO: Absolutely. And, you know, you've seen House Speaker Paul Ryan talk about how there need to be reforms made in the reporting process on sexual harassment in Congress. So that could be a distraction and something that they have to work on. On the other hand, it could also paper over some of the more thorny issues within, let's say, tax reform that people might be talking about around the Thanksgiving table whether you're debating whether you like tax cuts or if you're against some of these deductions that are being taken away that are more popular.
INSKEEP: People might discuss other things. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks very much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: OK. So what exactly has happened to Saad Hariri?
KING: It is a big question. The Lebanese prime minister first traveled to Saudi Arabia and resigned his position. He's now back in Beirut, and he has unresigned. No one really knows what's going on, but some analysts see a regional fight for power here. Iran has a lot of influence in Lebanon; so does Saudi Arabia. And some accuse Saudi Arabia of coercing Hariri to resign in order to make a move against Iran.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is trying to figure this all out. She's on the line from Beirut. Hi, Ruth.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hello.
INSKEEP: OK. So Hariri says he, quote, "put his resignation on hold." What does that even mean?
SHERLOCK: Yeah, it's strange language, but basically it means - well, he said he had a change of heart after he spoke with the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun. And the Lebanese president said to him, look, please don't resign. We need more time. Buy us time to have a dialogue so we can try to fix some of the problems that made you want to quit in the first place.
INSKEEP: Did he actually want to quit, as far as anybody knows? Because the presumption is that the Saudis pushed him.
SHERLOCK: Well, exactly. So people are saying - the diplomats I've spoken to say this is a whole big way to try to end this saga and save face for the Saudis and everybody else involved. So basically, the Saudis - people are saying that, you know, the Saudis tried to make him quit and then France and the U.S. and other countries insisted that Hariri should come back because they think it will keep Lebanon stable. And the Saudis were kind of taken aback by this backlash. And so now he's back, and the presumption is that he's going to continue as prime minister.
INSKEEP: So what was it like when you went to Hariri's residence?
SHERLOCK: Well, people were delighted. You know, it was full of his supporters, and there was a huge crush of people gathered, and it was interesting. His speech was different. You know, when he tried to resign, he said that he was resigning because of Hezbollah. That's this powerful Lebanese group that's got funding by Iran.
SHERLOCK: And he attacked them very vociferously, but here he didn't mention them at all, and that's because some people here think they have to work with Hezbollah if they want to keep the country stable. Hezbollah was leading this fragile coalition government - sorry, Hariri was leading this fragile coalition government.
SHERLOCK: And some people thought that if - it would collapse if he left and there might even be a war. So here's one of his supporters.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
SHERLOCK: So here she tells me that she now feels secure because he's back. You know, as I said, people were frightened that the government would collapse. But she says so long as Hariri stays, there can be a government and there can be a unity in Lebanon. She said Saad is life for us.
INSKEEP: Given how politically fractious Lebanon has been for so long, is this just another - just another day in Lebanon?
SHERLOCK: Yes, it may be.
SHERLOCK: It's very - it's very, very difficult to say. You know, you've got this situation where it does feel like for the moment, you know, a potential conflict has been avoided. But, you know, all these problems that cause the Saudis to want to force Hariri to resign in the first place are still here. So, you know, you still - diplomats saying that Saudi was behind the move and they thought that they were actually trying to stop - force a popular revolution against Hariri - sorry, against Hezbollah by removing Hariri, but that backfired. But, you know, you still got Saudi and Iran wrestling for power across this region...
SHERLOCK: ...And they're across different front lines in several wars, so...
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Thanks very much, really appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: OK. One more thing now - China. China is claiming a larger role for itself in world affairs.
KING: Yeah. China's president, Xi Jinping, talked last month of making his country a powerful nation that could lead the world. And now China seems to be trying. It's speaking out on crises in Myanmar and Zimbabwe. And this is different from past years when China was mainly focused on growing its economy and usually left world problems to the United States.
INSKEEP: So how's this going to change the world? NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing. Hi, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what does China's leader exactly mean when he talks about making his country a more powerful force?
KUHN: Well, he's basically saying China is no longer the poor, developing nation that it was just a few decades ago. It's not that it's just not - you know, it's more than just a major power now. It's a powerful nation, and that means China has got to act like one. And that means being more proactive and confident in its foreign policy and even providing solutions to world problems. And while China's...
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about...
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because in past years the United States had been urging China to step up, and China said, no, thanks, United States, you guys can handle that. And now we have this crisis in Myanmar, what could be called a genocide or ethnic cleansing, as Rohingya Muslims are targeted. And the United States has spoken out. China is now speaking out but with a different idea than the United States.
KUHN: Yeah. Well, the problem is China is offering to broker a solution in Myanmar, but it's making no mention of this ethnic cleansing that the U.S. says has happened. It's also said nothing about the fact that the Rohingya are stateless. They have rights and citizenship in no country. And so basically China's just taken Myanmar's government side in this dispute. And when the U.S. threatens to sanction Myanmar, it basically just drives it into China's embrace.
INSKEEP: Is this going to make things actually more complicated for the United States?
KUHN: Well, you know, China is not - it doesn't have any stated intention to directly challenge the U.S. at this point because it knows it's not powerful enough to do that. What it's saying is it's going to defend its own interests more forcefully. It will probably compromise less in the face of U.S. pressure. And while it may not, you know, put together a new order in its own image, it may tweak the existing order to suit its own interests actually.
INSKEEP: Well, is that Myanmar example an example of what's to come? Because you described a Chinese policy that seems to have no interest in human rights.
KUHN: Yes, and that's what people - what critics are saying, that China is more willing to export its own model of authoritarianism, of censorship and of lack of human rights.
INSKEEP: Anthony, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.
KUHN: You bet, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.
(SOUNDBITE OF WMD'S "GRACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.