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News Brief: Immigration Negotiations, False Missile Warning


A reporter asked President Trump once again on Sunday if he's a racist. The president gave an answer he's offered before.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No. No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have interviewed.


Now, this question grew out of a meeting with lawmakers on immigration. Some say the president used a vulgar term to describe African countries. Two Republicans in the room say he did not use the word. They have not, however, denied the general thrust of the president's remarks that he objected to immigrants from Haiti and Africa and wanted immigrants from countries like Norway. That meeting was supposed to be about extending DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The president was also asked last night if there would be a deal on DACA. And this is what he had to say.


TRUMP: We're ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA. But I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal.

INSKEEP: So much to discuss here. So let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley once again. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So there does seem to be a lot of rephrasing going on about this meeting. The president insists in tweets and elsewhere and his supporters insist that what he meant was he wants immigrants coming on merit. What is the idea there?

HORSLEY: That's right. The president backs a bill that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants admitted to the United States and would give priority to newcomers with in-demand skills rather than the relatives of those who are already here. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator who sponsors this bill, says the idea is to move to a system that treats people for who they are, not where they're from. I should say, though, in the comments that have drawn such scrutiny, the president seemed to be talking about admitting would-be immigrants precisely on the basis of where they come from - Norway, for example, not Africa.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And a lot of studies have pointed out you can have plenty of individual immigrants who are highly skilled. Highly desirable by whatever standard you want to make, even from a troubled country.


INSKEEP: And that is what the president does not deny saying that he wanted in this meeting. Is that right?

HORSLEY: The White House has not disputed the substance of the president's concerns there.

INSKEEP: So what does this discussion mean for DACA itself, Scott?

HORSLEY: DACA has been on life support ever since the fall, when the president announced he was pulling the plug on the plan but giving Congress six months to try to come up with a fix. There has been a bipartisan group working to reach some sort of compromise. They thought they had such a deal. That was what they were presenting to Trump at the White House last week when that controversial meeting took place. So we'll see what happens, as the president likes to say. Over the weekend, we might point out, the Homeland Security Department said they would begin accepting renewal applications from DACA recipients. That's in response to a lawsuit.

INSKEEP: Scott, just to set up the week for us, isn't this the week when the president promised he was going to give out fake news awards, ways to mock news media stories he didn't like?

HORSLEY: That's right, although that's been postponed once. So we'll see if it comes to pass this time. Jeff Flake the Arizona Republican is criticizing the president for using the term fake news and for calling the press the enemy of the people. That reminds me of the Ibsen play by that title with my favorite line - when a man goes out to fight for the truth, he should never wear his best pants.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

HORSLEY: I don't know if the president is a fan of Ibsen, but he might be. The playwright, of course, was from Norway.

INSKEEP: OK. OK. I just did not expect, really, Ibsen to make it into Up First - make it into NPR news coverage today. But I'm really glad to hear that's happened. Scott, thank you very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

OK. Let's talk about an emergency missile alert in Hawaii that turned out to be a mistake.

GREENE: This was extraordinary. It was shortly after 8 a.m. local time that residents received this emergency cell phone alert that read, ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill. We now know this was because of human error. The administrator for Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency has taken responsibility, saying the wrong button was pushed during a shift change. But it took 38 minutes before they issued a correction alert. This is Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard speaking on All Things Considered this weekend.


TULSI GABBARD: When you're dealing with a ballistic missile coming towards Hawaii, you know, there is less than 15 minutes that people have before potential impact. So when you're dealing with those minutes and seconds, what we don't want is for people to be spending that precious time wondering, is this for real, or is this just another mistake?

INSKEEP: OK. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in our studios. He's been following this. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So wow. I mean, we have stories of people, you know, crowding together in bathtubs, saying their last goodbyes, calling family members.

BOWMAN: Right.

INSKEEP: How does the government restore credibility after that?

BOWMAN: Well, this is a situation where information moves at lightning speed, and bureaucracies take just a little bit longer. You're right. There's going to be an investigation by the FCC. Hawaii, of course, is doing an investigation, as well. What's remarkable here is you can send out this false missile alert basically saying, you know, seek shelter. This is not a drill. And it takes 38 minutes to send out another cell phone message basically saying, that was a false alert. The - apparently, the - Hawaii had to call FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency...


BOWMAN: ...And work out a second message to send that, basically, it was false.

INSKEEP: Oh. So they had to think about exactly how to phrase, this, actually, is a drill - whatever they were going to say.

BOWMAN: Exactly. So it's remarkable that someone can send out a false message from a state agency and not immediately say, hang on a second. That was a wrong message. There is not a missile attack.

INSKEEP: Tom, let me ask a bigger, scarier question here. You've got this confrontation between the United States and North Korea - a nuclear confrontation between these two countries. Do Pentagon officials think there's a risk of some miscommunication in a situation like this? Hawaii sends out this false message. People begin wondering what's going on. Maybe somebody on one side or the other thinks this is really it and launches a missile.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. That's one of the big concerns in the Pentagon - is miscalculation, or someone just makes a mistake like this. It could be a military person. It could be a civilian person here in a situation like this. That's a real concern. But again, they're going to investigate exactly what happened here. And right now in Hawaii they're going to have two people to make sure the - a two-person activation...


BOWMAN: ...To make sure you're sending out the right message.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is like...

BOWMAN: So it's not just one person.

INSKEEP: In the old missile silos...

BOWMAN: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...Two guys had to turn the key to launch the missile. Maybe two people should turn the key to...

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: ...Announce a warning. Tom, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Bowman this morning.

And let's go next to Tunisia.

GREENE: Yeah. Yesterday, Tunisia marked the seventh anniversary of the day the country forced its dictator from power. That was the act that set the stage for the entire Arab Spring. Of all the countries in the Middle East that tried to throw off autocratic rule, Tunisia has really fared the best. It has not succumbed to war like Syria or Libya or a strongman-style president like in Egypt. But right now Tunisia is in crisis. The economy is so bad, it has sparked protests across the country.

INSKEEP: So a moment to consider the past and also the present. And NPR's Ruth Sherlock is in Tunis. Hi there, Ruth.


INSKEEP: What have you seen?

SHERLOCK: Well, yesterday, we went to the anniversary celebrations, which were in downtown. And there was thousands of people gathered. And it was kind of quite a celebratory vibe. You know, you had belly dancers on stages. You had people singing revolutionary songs. But then there was another side to it, too. There were these angry marchers mostly led by young people, university graduates who can't find jobs. And that's really at the heart of the problem here. You've got people who've been protesting all week. And some of those protests have been violent. And people are hoping this peaceful anniversary gathering would mark the end of those protests. But then last night, we had more violent action. There were some people throwing rocks at police. Police responded with tear gas. So this probably isn't over.

INSKEEP: You know, a lot of the Arab Spring was driven by university graduates who couldn't find jobs in different places. And now seven years have passed. I guess this is maybe another generation of university graduates who are just as dissatisfied.

SHERLOCK: Well, exactly. You know, there's been nine governments in seven years here. And so there is a kind of emerging democracy, but none of those have been able to fix the economy. There's 15 percent unemployment, 25 percent in some areas. And now there's this new youth movement called Fech Nestannowi (ph) - Fech Nestannew, sorry - or in English, what are we waiting for? It's only a few weeks old. But it's the most coherent organization of young people since the revolution, people here say. And they're bitter. I spoke to Nowreh Dhausi (ph), who's a spokesman for the movement. She's just 21 and a college graduate who can't find a job. And I asked her how she defines these new austerity measures that the government's trying to put in place.

NOWREH DHAUSI: When you have to be starving and poor enough in order to let the states have more money and the government have a lot of money. Yeah, classics (laughter).

SHERLOCK: So I pointed out, you know, this is - the government is also under pressure to pay back international loans, and they feel they have to tighten the purse strings. This is how she responded.

DHAUSI: I don't care what the World Bank said. I don't care what the government measures are. It's just me and the Tunisian people starving, and that's it, you know?

SHERLOCK: So it shows the challenges that there are for the government here. People are not sympathetic. They're desperate.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, do people want to overthrow the government the way that they succeeded in doing seven years ago?

SHERLOCK: Not at this stage. People just won a repeal of these measures that are tightening the budget - this tightening of the budget. They want jobs, but they're not talking about regime - government change yet.

INSKEEP: Ruth, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

SHERLOCK: Lovely to talk to you, too. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Tunis.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "RECURRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.