News Brief: Government Shutdown, Migrant Crisis, Stock Volatility

Dec 28, 2018
Originally published on December 28, 2018 6:58 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Republican leaders announced yesterday that there will not be any votes in the House of Representatives this week.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. That is basically Washington speak meaning this partial government shutdown is almost certainly - is almost certain to continue into the new year. There's been not a lot of progress in President Trump's standoff with Democrats. He's demanding money to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Democrats are saying no.

GREENE: And one person who's been covering this lack of progress is NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, who's with us. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what often gets lost in the whole political back and forth about a government shutdown - a partial government shutdown is how it really is impacting people. So can we talk about who's paying the price here for this fight in D.C.?

SNELL: Yeah. Another thing that seems to get lost in this is that this is not really a local D.C. area problem. There are some 800,000 employees who are either working without pay or are just not working right now. And about 85 percent of them are outside the D.C. area. There's also been some impacts in places people might not think about. The Violence Against Women Act also lapsed along with the spending bill. And that 1994 law cut off new funding for victims of sexual assault and abuse.

And there's been a lapse in flood insurance being sent out. The Smithsonian museums are being closed. And people like contractors, who include, you know, janitors and security guards for federal buildings, they may not get paid at all because they aren't eligible for the backpay that, you know, regular federal workers are eligible for.

GREENE: Yeah. And we'd been reporting that there are a good number of federal workers impacted...

SNELL: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Who, you know, struggle to make ends meet, even when the paychecks are coming. And so that tells you what these moments could be like. Is this putting pressure at all on lawmakers? Like, are they feeling the heat to get something done, knowing that people are going through this?

SNELL: They absolutely feel the heat to get things done. But I think it's important to remember that we've seen several shutdowns recently. And neither political party seems to have paid a real price for this. And in part, that's because approval ratings for Congress really are just in the dumps right now. So there - it's one of these situations where they absolutely don't want it to continue. But it's hard to see how they resolve it.

GREENE: So why aren't lawmakers rushing in, you know, to Washington to deal with this?

SNELL: Well, they say that both the House and the Senate passed bills. They just passed different bills. And they don't want to go through this process of continuing to pass things the other one can't get through, things that can't become law. They said the plan all along was to stop passing things so that they could negotiate. But the thing is we haven't seen those negotiations happen. The capital's essentially been a ghost town for the past few days.

And everybody I talked to says it comes down to what the president will or will not sign. And there seems to be a lack of trust on both sides when it comes to actually cutting a deal. Plus, it doesn't seem like people are really all that interested in giving up the political ground on something that is as divisive as the border wall and as divisive as immigration.

GREENE: And does that political dynamic change at all when Democrats take control of the House in January?

SNELL: Well, Democrats do say it does. They are really dug in. But they'll have more leverage. They can pass the bill in the House, maybe something just like what already passed in the Senate. And then the political burden would be on President Trump and Republican leaders to decide if they can accept what gets through the House. So it does increase the pressure, but it doesn't necessarily mean that things will be easy to resolve because again, the president gets to make the final decision about what he will sign.

GREENE: Kelsey Snell covers Congress for us at NPR. Kelsey, thanks a lot.

SNELL: Thank you.

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GREENE: All right. We're going to move now from Washington to Wall Street, where investors have been trying to ride out some pretty turbulent stock market swings.

KING: Yeah, it's been a rough month for the markets. Yesterday, stock prices were down across the board. And then as the afternoon wore on, everything suddenly changed.

GREENE: And let's talk that through with NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: All right. So what happened with the markets yesterday?

ZARROLI: You know, it doesn't get much crazier than this. You had stocks opening higher than they plunged. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down as much as 600 points at one point. And then about 90 minutes before the end of trading, stocks suddenly rebounded. And the Dow actually finished up about 260 points. And this comes after a really big drop on Monday and then a really, really big increase on Wednesday.

We have - we've now had six straight days in which the markets swung up or down by more than 1 percent. And this is unusual. This is really the kind of volatility - we haven't seen this in the markets since 2011, which was, you know, as you'll remember when the economy was recovering from the Great Recession.

GREENE: Sure. And it seems now, though, that the economy, I mean, is doing pretty well, right? I mean, there's a pretty strong job market. Other numbers have been going in the right direction. So how do we explain this turmoil in the markets?

ZARROLI: Well, the thing about the market is it's always looking ahead. I mean, it's not about what's happening today. It's what's - it's about what's happening, you know, six months from now in the future. And one thing that's happened is the Federal Reserve just raised interest rates. And federal - and Fed officials said - indicated that right now, at least, they're going to keep raising them in the new year. And they do this - they're raising rates because they're worried that the economy is running too hot. They're worried about inflation getting out of control. That's one of their mandates - to worry about inflation.

But there's also a lot of evidence that economic growth may be slowing in the United States but also in Europe and Asia. We got a report yesterday that showed there was a big drop in consumer confidence in the United States. So, you know, is the economy running too hot or is it slowing? And there's evidence for either scenario. And meanwhile, investors just don't know where the economy's headed. There's a lot of uncertainty, and that's made for a lot of volatility.

GREENE: So I know we always see these famous images of people on Wall Street, like, looking deer in the headlights sometimes when the market's swinging. Like, you know, what is going on with my investments? But if we look out in the country, you know, Americans who might have their long-term retirement savings invested or don't have any money at all in the stock market, is - does this kind of volatility affect them?

ZARROLI: Well, it may not affect them directly. You know, I think overall, most people shouldn't worry about this too much at all. It does have an indirect effect in several ways. I mean, one is your pension fund may be invested in the stock market. It probably is. And then also, you know, when stocks go up or down it affects the rate at which companies hire and invest. So yeah, that does have an impact.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's business reporter Jim Zarroli joining us this morning to talk about what sounds like a wild day on the markets yesterday. It's been a pretty volatile time. Jim, thanks.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

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GREENE: All right. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is going to El Paso, Texas today.

KING: Yeah. DHS says it's working to improve conditions for detained migrants. The agency has been under a lot of scrutiny. Two migrant children died in U.S. custody this month. The autopsy for an 8-year-old boy who died just this week shows that he tested positive for influenza. Now, meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement also released more than 500 migrants from custody this week in El Paso, Texas. And local shelters there are scrambling.

GREENE: And we're joined by Monica Ortiz Uribe, who is in El Paso and has been covering migration for NPR. Good morning, Monica.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with these large - this large-scale release of migrants that's causing shelters to really scramble that Noel mentioned. What exactly prompted this?

ORTIZ URIBE: Well, it's a number of things. The migration flow into the U.S. is changing. We're seeing more children and families. According to CBP figures of the nearly 140,000 apprehensions they've made in the last two months, more than half of them were children and families.

And also, the backlog of asylum seekers at official ports of entry due to Trump - the Trump administration's so-called metering policy is pushing people to more remote and less resourced border crossings. Finally, the Guatemalan Consulate and migrants themselves have told me that smugglers are encouraging families to make this journey.

GREENE: And so that has been filling shelters up and causing the Trump administration to figure out a way to deal with the overcrowded shelters, and that's what's leading to this release. Is that what we're hearing?

ORTIZ URIBE: Yeah. So it's worth highlighting that as the federal government reaches its limit, it's been handing off these families to community organizations like the Annunciation House in El Paso. And these organizations rely on the goodwill of volunteers and online donations. Annunciation House currently has 20 shelters, and that includes churches and hotels. And it's been taking in roughly 2,300 migrants per week.

And it also gets help from ordinary El Pasoans. A group of volunteer health care professionals set up a pop-up clinic to do checkups. An LGBT community center helped prepare meals. And if it wasn't for this community mobilization, these community - these families would be left on the streets.

And Ruben Garcia, the shelter director, is calling on federal authorities to communicate with shelter networks so that this doesn't happen. And he's also asking for more transparency from ICE. That's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Frankly, when reporters reach out to ICE, we rarely get an answer. And there are important, unanswered questions, like why the agency is holding families in processing facilities longer than their own 72-hour limit.

GREENE: Well - and, of course, one of the other important, unanswered questions is about the deaths of these two migrant children recently in U.S. custody. I mean, has that led these agencies to try and improve conditions to avoid that?

ORTIZ URIBE: Yes. Well, the processing facilities for migrants, they're designed to hold single adult males, not families. And any changes to the infrastructure will take time and money. But in the meantime, CBP says it'll take medical screenings more seriously. It plans to work with neighboring health care facilities, contract EMTs and its own medically trained staff to monitor the health of migrants, particularly children under 10. And Secretary Nielsen has said - she's asked other agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for more help on this front.

GREENE: And then you have Kirstjen Nielsen coming to El Paso today. What's her plan?

ORTIZ URIBE: Yeah. Well, she plans to inspect these processing facilities herself. She also wants to observe the medical screenings there. A congressional delegation who made a similar visit recently said they were appalled by the conditions. At a Border Patrol station in New Mexico, they described a garage-like space crowded with families that lacked potable running water and private toilets.

GREENE: Monica Ortiz Uribe reporting for us from El Paso, Texas, this morning. Monica, thank you.

ORTIZ URIBE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.