Morning News Brief: Primaries, Taliban Attack And Turkey's Crisis

Aug 14, 2018
Originally published on August 14, 2018 7:46 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The four states holding primaries today each have a distinctive story.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. You have Vermont and Connecticut voters who are deciding the fates of candidates who could make history, as we're going to hear. And then there are states in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Minnesotans choose a governor and not one but two senators. And we should say, there are some ballots being cast today that could help decide control of the House.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here to tell us more. She'll be covering whoever wins, I guess.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yes.

INSKEEP: Hi there, Kelsey.

SNELL: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. Minnesota first - what makes it interesting?

SNELL: Yeah, it's a strange situation. You know, as mentioned, there are two senators up, and that almost never happens. But it's because Senator Tina Smith, the Democrat, was appointed to fill the seat of Al Franken...

INSKEEP: Right.

SNELL: ...When he left under a scandal about his actions before he was in Congress.

INSKEEP: Right.

SNELL: And then there's Amy Klobuchar, who is also up for re-election. Both of them are very popular. We expect them both to win. But it is odd to see that happen in a single year, and it's going to draw a lot of Democrats out to vote.

INSKEEP: Just in a moment when there are a lot of House seats in Minnesota...

SNELL: Yeah, a...

INSKEEP: ...That are very relevant.

SNELL: ...Full half of their eight congressional seats are toss-ups, two in the Republican category, two in the Democratic category. And that means that you've got a lot of tight races happening. Two of them are Republicans who are running for very different reasons that are very of the moment. One is Erik Paulsen who is in a suburban district, a Republican in an area that's trending bluer as Republicans are becoming more the party of Trump. And you've got Jason Lewis who's under fire for comments he made during his radio show that have been derogatory towards women. So you're going to see a lot of the patterns of this entire year coming forward.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another item that could be said to be part of that pattern. Keith Ellison - Minnesota congressman, leading Democrat - now stepping down but running for statewide office and faces some new accusations.

SNELL: Yeah. So Keith Ellison - people may know him because he's a No. 2 at the DNC, and he's a very prominent progressive figure. He decided not to run for Congress again to run for attorney general. And just over the weekend, a former girlfriend has accused him of physical abuse after her son made allegations public on the Internet. Ellison is denying the allegations, but they could cast a shadow over these primaries.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear, we don't have a lot of details...

SNELL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...About what this is.

SNELL: There is still ongoing reporting. This is all very new. But no, not a lot of detail. Ellison is denying it. She is acknowledging the allegations.

INSKEEP: OK. We'll continue following that and report more when we have more than we can verify. Then there is Wisconsin right next door, where you've got some big names, including one who's not on the ballot.

SNELL: Yeah. The person not on the ballot is House Speaker Paul Ryan. He's stepping down at the end of this year, and there is a race to replace him. And Democrats are hoping - very slim hope - that they can pick up that seat. There's also Scott Walker. He's the governor. He's up for re-election there. People may remember him as the person who was recalled in 2012 over a fight over public sector unions. Now, he is expected to be a big draw not just for Republican voters but for big Republican money. That state is a very complex kind of purplish, not quite not-red blue state.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Scott Walker - OK - so he won in 2010. There was this recall election. He survived. Right? And then he...

SNELL: Yes, and he won again after that.

INSKEEP: ...Won again. So he's won three times. Is he favored to win this fourth time?

SNELL: He is.

INSKEEP: OK. Now there's Vermont and Connecticut. We mentioned history being made - or potentially being made. What is it?

SNELL: Yeah. The Democrat running for governor in Vermont could be the first transgender governor in the state. And then over in Connecticut, Jahana Hayes is running to be the first African-American woman to represent that state. And she's been endorsed by a California senator, Kamala Harris, and Democrat Chris Murphy, two 2020 potential contenders.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll watch for the results there. Kelsey, thanks for coming by. Really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell.

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INSKEEP: All right, the efforts to bring the war in Afghanistan to some kind of end have been eclipsed by more fighting, a siege by the Taliban on one city with growing questions about who exactly is in control.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

GREENE: Yeah. There are these multiple videos that have been posted on Twitter by an Afghan news outlet showing buildings that are engulfed in flames, purportedly in the city of Ghazni. This is about 90 miles southwest of the capital Kabul. This is where Taliban fighters are blamed for killing at least a hundred Afghan police officers and soldiers and as many as 30 civilians since Friday. Now, Afghanistan's government and U.S. military officials say they are still in charge of key parts of this city. But how might this new bloodshed impact the peace negotiation efforts with the Taliban?

INSKEEP: Pamela Constable of The Washington Post has covered the Afghan war for years. She is in Kabul. Hi there, Pam.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Hey. How are you?

INSKEEP: What is it like to be living in Ghazni right now as best you've been able to determine?

CONSTABLE: Well, it's been very difficult to determine. A lot of tele (ph) - I would say most telecommunications have been cut off. As you say, there have been videos coming out on social media and a little bit from Afghan TV showing, you know, buildings in flames, markets destroyed, people sort of running and looking scared, hospitals with bodies sort of in the corridors - hard to know whether those are wounded or dead.

So there's been this feeling of panic, this feeling of destruction. There have also been people fleeing the city, not on the highway because it has been blocked but through rural areas. And some of them have gotten to check posts. A couple of them seem to have gotten fairly close to Kabul and been interviewed and, you know, described, you know, running in panic from what seemed to be, you know, quite an intimidating if not overwhelming Taliban presence in the city.

INSKEEP: Help me understand something here. And I appreciate listening to you, that you're covering a war and you can only trust what you can see yourself. And we're in a situation where it's very hard to see anything for yourself. But from what you've been able to determine, what is the Taliban objective here? Are they simply trying to destroy things, or have they arrived in Ghazni with a force that is strong enough they could potentially take over a major Afghan city?

CONSTABLE: I don't think they could take over Ghazni. They have tried in the past several times to take over major cities. They've been able to keep them embattled for several days, in some cases as much as a week. They've never been able to hold a major Afghan city. And even though some of the response in this case was delayed - it took time to get reinforcements - I think that now, with the Afghan reinforcements and with considerable U.S. airpower having been brought to bear in Ghazni the past two days, I do not think that the Taliban could hold Ghazni. What they're doing is harassing it and making a show of force and making it clear to everyone that they can still cause problems when they want to in urban areas.

INSKEEP: How does this fighting compare with the way that the United States has been talking about its progress in the war?

CONSTABLE: Well, again, we don't really know. What we're getting is two very different versions of events. The Taliban say, you know, that they've killed lots of people, that they're controlling lots of parts of the city. U.S. and Afghan officials keep saying, no, we're in control now. We've got it. Don't worry. We're just doing clearing out. So I don't think I can really answer that question yet. But I can say that from a purely propaganda point of view, the Taliban really have scored one.

INSKEEP: Pamela Constable of The Washington Post, thanks for your reporting. Be well.

CONSTABLE: You're very welcome.

INSKEEP: And be safe.

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INSKEEP: Let's try to explore how one country's economic trouble is sparking fears of a global financial crisis.

GREENE: Yeah, we've been talking in recent days about Turkey's currency, the lira, which has hit new lows now. And countries are already feeling the impact ripple across their economies now. And while the policies of Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are getting most of the blame, a dispute with the United States is clearly also playing a role here. So the big question - how far is this crisis going to spread?

INSKEEP: Reporter Ben Bartenstein with Bloomberg News has been covering this story.

Hi, there.

BEN BARTENSTEIN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Hey, would you explain something for us? I think that if there was an economic crisis in China or in - I don't know - Germany, Americans would instinctively understand how it's connected to the United States and the rest of the world. How is a crisis in Turkey potentially something of global significance?

BARTENSTEIN: Definitely. So Turkey's problems really are threefold - economics, markets and geopolitically. The country has had a large current account deficit, which makes it especially vulnerable today with the Fed raising interest rates. In order to plug this gap, Turkey relies heavily on cash inflows from abroad. But those have come under pressure in recent days after the Trump administration sanctioned two top government officials and doubled steel tariffs on the nation, which has sent the Turkish lira to a record low against the dollar. And those sanctions and tariffs stem from a failed coup attempt in July 2016 to overthrow President Erdogan.

INSKEEP: Oh, I see what you're saying. So you've got political problems. You've got economic problems. So then, how is Turkey connected to the rest of the world? How could this affect other countries?

BARTENSTEIN: Right. So in a speech just minutes ago - and President Erdogan is still speaking - he said that he threatened to respond to the U.S. with a ban on U.S. electronics, a boycott for all Turkish companies. So this could, although it's not the scale of the U.S. and China in terms of a trade relationship, become a tit for tat between Washington and Ankara.

INSKEEP: I wonder how much room Turkey's president has to make a move like that. I mean, you impose those kinds of tariffs, you may punish the United States. But you also punish your own country at a moment of crisis. Don't you?

BARTENSTEIN: That is certainly a risk. Washington certainly appears to have the upper hand at the moment. That said, there is a potential pathway out of this. Turkey's ambassador and Trump's national security adviser John Bolton met yesterday at the White House, which could signal potential diplomatic thaw. However, Erdogan's comments this morning certainly do not suggest that coming any time soon.

INSKEEP: Did Erdogan say more besides talking about potential penalties on the United States?

BARTENSTEIN: He described the freefall in Turkish markets as the result of a U.S. economic war. Now, this language reckons back to words that other autocratic leaders have used in the past, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who himself has come under scrutiny by Washington. And Venezuela has certainly faced U.S. sanctions in recent months, sending their markets into turmoil.

INSKEEP: OK. Ben Barteinstein of Bloomberg, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

BARTENSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "REMINISCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.