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Morning News Brief: Tax Overhaul Plan, Pope Francis In Myanmar


President Trump's agenda today seems familiar - head to the Hill, meet lawmakers, try to gin up more support for a tax overhaul. But the stakes seem to be getting higher day by day.


Yeah, that's because the clock - it's a-ticking (ph). The president wants this tax bill passed by Christmas. The party has seen legislative defeats, of course. Yesterday, though, President Trump sounded upbeat about the GOP and this bill's chances.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've had great - great spirit. And I will tell you, the Republican senators were up. If we win, we'll get some Democratic senators joining us.

GREENE: Now, Trump did not, however, mention the most recent Congressional Budget Office analysis. That report finds most people who make less than six figures will actually see their taxes go up under this bill.

MARTIN: All right, joining us now - NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: All right, before we get to the CBO score, can you just give us the lay of the land at this moment because it has been shifting? How close are Republicans right now to getting the votes they need?

KEITH: Most Republicans in the Senate support this bill. Many of them would support a ham sandwich as long as it cuts taxes and is a win.


KEITH: But there are a handful of senators - eight or nine - it's hard to know exactly - who have reservations about the legislation, and their reservations are about a wide range of issues related to this bill.

MARTIN: All right, so speaking of those reservations, I mean, let's talk about the CBO report. It basically says, Americans who make less than $100,000 are going to take a hit, and, oh, also, the deficit is going to go up. It would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit. How's this going to go over?

KEITH: Well, so the hit that people take is - it's a little more complicated than just, your taxes are going up. It's related to another provision in the bill which would repeal the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act. That means millions of people would drop their insurance. They would no longer get the subsidies from the government that help them pay for it.

MARTIN: This was kind of a late...

KEITH: And that's how they would be net losers.

MARTIN: This was kind of a last-minute add that Republicans put into their bill.

KEITH: Yeah, and it might be a last-minute subtraction. It's not clear. Of the concerns that people have - Republicans have - that's one of them. Another is the deficit effect, and another is the effect that this has on small businesses. There's a sense that wealthy people, big businesses and corporations benefit the most, and lower-income, middle-income and smaller businesses don't benefit as much.

MARTIN: All right, we have to talk about this because there's this power struggle going on at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There are two bosses - Mick Mulvaney, the White House's pick, and Leandra English, the former agency head's pick. Are they both going to work right now?

KEITH: Yeah, and Mick Mulvaney is the only one who brought doughnuts.

GREENE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I saw that.

KEITH: They've also gone...

MARTIN: Very political move.

KEITH: They've also gone to court, and that's the more significant matter here. It is in U.S. District Court in D.C. Arguments have already been heard last night. Briefs were filed overnight. But Mick Mulvaney in particular says he's the acting director, held a press conference, says he's putting in a 30-day hiring freeze. He's moving forward even as Leandra English argues she's the director.

MARTIN: Wow. OK, NPR's Tamara Keith this morning for us - thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Pope Francis is in Myanmar, and perhaps his most important meeting is happening today.

GREENE: Yeah, this is a very delicate trip in Myanmar. Pope Francis is meeting with the country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Then comes an address by the pope that some fear could lead to tension. Earlier this year, the pope spoke out against what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing in Myanmar - the violence against Rohingya Muslims that's led to 600,000 people fleeing the country. And some are really worried about the impact of whatever the pope decides to say today.

MARTIN: Right. Almost no matter what he says, this could be complicated. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is traveling with the pope. She joins us on Skype.

Good morning, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you just outline the stakes for this? I mean, he is - Pope Francis - walking a very thin line here.

POGGIOLI: Well, what is at stake, essentially, is just one word - the name Rohingya. Local church authorities had advised Pope Francis not to use it because the military authorities who had ruled Myanmar in dictatorship for five decades and still hold on to key ministries in this very difficult and delicate transition to democracy - they consider Rohingya Muslims illegal migrants and do not grant them citizenship. Use of the word could be perceived as offensive by the military leaders and by the Buddhist majority, so the Catholic minority - and that's only 1.3 percent of the population - fears that if the pope uses that word, it could unleash reprisals against them.

MARTIN: Wow. So we literally will be listening for whether or not he uses the word Rohingya, and it's going to send a message if he does or if he doesn't.

POGGIOLI: Exactly.

MARTIN: He's going to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, who's the de facto leader of Myanmar. There are questions about how much actual power she has there. But she has gotten a whole lot of criticism from the international community for not doing enough, not saying enough to protect the Rohingya, so she's also in a difficult spot. I mean, what is likely to come out of this meeting between Pope Francis and Aung San Suu Kyi?

POGGIOLI: Well, that's what we're really waiting - it's happening probably just about right now. You're right - very difficult. Former dissident, Nobel Peace Prize-winner, but she's seen by much as - of the outside world as more or less complicit with the military for not having denounced this crackdown against the Rohingya. However, her supporters say she does not have sufficient power to challenge the military. And that is the view of the local Catholic church, and they say the pope is here to show his support for her.

MARTIN: Besides listening for whether or not he says the word Rohingya, what else can we expect him to communicate? How's he going to use this opportunity, this public address today?

POGGIOLI: Well, it's going to be very difficult - difficult balancing act. And of course, he has to maintain his reputation as the champion of the downtrodden all over the world, and at the same time, not endanger local Catholics. He has to somehow address the humanitarian crisis, which, as you said, both the U.N. and U.S. have branded ethnic cleansing and - but the military denies charges of murder, rape, torture and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands.

They - he's going to have to trial somehow - forcefully talk about it through - you know, basically running a semantic tightrope, and it's going to be a very difficult diplomatic test for a pope who is not known - who is known not to mince words.

MARTIN: All right, we'll be listening for that. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli - thanks so much, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you Rachel.


MARTIN: Now to the transition of power underway in Kenya this morning, where we're seeing and hearing what you might expect for a presidential inauguration.

GREENE: Yeah, cheering crowds, music filling a stadium for hours now - but this celebratory mood stands in such contrast to the political violence that has killed dozens of people over the last two months - all of this because of disputes over President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election.

MARTIN: NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is on the line from Nairobi, where the inauguration ceremony is just wrapping up.

Hey, Eyder.


MARTIN: Where are you right now? It sounds like there's some drumming happening.

PERALTA: There is. I am at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, where the inauguration is happening, and we've got a dance troupe right now. The official ceremony has finished. Kenya has a new president. It's Uhuru Kenyatta, who is going to - into his second term. And we've seen, you know, huge celebrations here and huge crowds. There's about 60,000 people here. There were so many people trying to get into the stadium that we...

MARTIN: Oh, we may have lost Eyder's line. He was talking to us live from - oh.

GREENE: And such lovely sound - there he is.

MARTIN: I know. There, it's back. Communication's obviously spotty from where you are. Eyder, we just lost you for a second, but we got you back. You were talking about how the celebratory mood and so many people were waiting to get into this inauguration ceremony, but it was not always thus. I mean, there were protests, there was violence, people died during the contest and the debate over whether or not Kenyatta had actually won a free and fair election.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: There still are. If you - you know, you can hear the celebration here, but just outside the stadium, a few miles from here, police are battling it out with protesters. We've heard reports from colleagues that, you know, police are firing tear gas, and they're also firing at protesters who are saying that they want to commemorate the people who have died during these elections.

But here at the stadium, what people are saying is that they want a unity and that they want a Kenya to emerge here united. It's going to be very hard to do because about 50 percent of the people here in Kenya support the president. About 50 percent support the opposition leader, who still believes that this president is illegitimate.

MARTIN: So what does that mean, though, for Kenyatta? I mean, how does he make peace with the opposition? Does he have what it takes to do that?

PERALTA: He's certainly trying. You know, he has not delivered a speech today, but he went to a prayer rally a few days ago in which he invited the opposition leader to talk. The opposition leader says he doesn't want to talk. He says that the president is illegitimate and that he will not accept that.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Eyder Peralta - he is at the site of the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta. He assumes office after months of political violence. Eyder, thanks so much for your reporting this morning.

PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel.


David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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