News Brief: Homemade Pipe Bombs, Midterm Elections, Election From Texas

Originally published on November 16, 2018 7:23 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

A massive search is underway for the person or people who mailed what appear to be bombs to critics of President Trump.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, at least 10 suspicious packages were sent to a list of notable names, including President Obama, his former attorney general and his one-time CIA director.

KING: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following this story as it has been developing. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right, so let's get up to speed on the investigation. Is there any more information on who may have done this?

JOHNSON: Not yet. The investigation seems to be centered in two places. One is the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., which is analyzing these devices. They look like homemade pipe bombs. And the experts of the FBI will be looking for clues about how the bombs were constructed, what materials were used. They'll also be looking for DNA or fingerprints the bomber may have left behind on the devices or those manila envelopes. Retired investigators are telling me that it's very promising because so many of these devices are intact. They didn't explode. But if history is a guide, that whole process could take a while. It won't be immediate or overnight.

KING: Well, last night authorities were searching a package sorting facility outside of Miami. What do we know about about that place and what they were looking for there?

JOHNSON: This postal service facility is in Opa-locka near Miami. The operating theory for now is that some or all of the 10 packages went through that facility and through the U.S. mail. Investigators were looking for more devices but also any other clues. And there's a lot of manpower deployed here and around the country.

The postal inspectors, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are already on the case, as is Homeland Security. So are local police, like the bomb squad and canine unit at the Miami-Dade police force near Opa-locka and, of course, the New York Police Department as well.

KING: Carrie, it is really notable that none of these devices so far have gone off, have exploded. What do we know about the threat that's actually posed by them?

JOHNSON: There is an open question about that. Police and the FBI are declining to answer questions on the record about whether those bombs could have been a lethal threat. Former officials at the ATF are raising questions about whether they included a key component that would have set off the devices. In fact, some retired investigators say they appear to lack at least one critical component.

But New York Police Commissioner Paul O'Neill (ph) said at a news conference yesterday the powder and the bomb sent to actor Robert De Niro is not a biological threat, like anthrax, for instance. O'Neill was still quick to add police are taking this very seriously. And he says if you see a suspicious device, don't touch it. Don't move it. Instead, call police or the FBI immediately. This is being taken with the utmost seriousness, he says.

KING: Sounds like good advice. NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right, a new poll out this morning from NPR, the PBS NewsHour and Marist shows that President Trump is a major factor driving people to vote in the midterm elections this year.

MARTIN: Right. The poll also shows that Republicans have had trouble selling their signature legislative achievement. This is the tax overhaul. They've had a hard time selling that to voters.

KING: NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here with more on the poll. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right, let's start with President Trump and Republicans. They saw this bump in enthusiasm - right? - among the base during Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. Did that bump last?

MONTANARO: Well, the Kavanaugh factor really appears to have faded as a salient motivating issue. You know, Republicans have maintained, actually, their level of enthusiasm. But the pollsters say that that probably has more to do with the fact that it's October and there being a natural rise closer to Election Day - because when you look specifically at Kavanaugh in this poll, the number of people saying he's motivating their vote has actually gone down, even among Republicans.

And we also see that the president's approval rating is back down to 39 percent. And Democrats have expanded their lead to 10 points on that crucial question of whether you'd vote for a Democrat or Republican in your district.

KING: All right, so maybe just a temporary bump. You know, past polls have shown that women, by and large, do not like this president. Does this new poll show him making any midterms - any inroads, excuse me - ahead of the midterms?

MONTANARO: Not at all. I mean, one of our pollsters said it's all about the, quote, "gender gap, gender gap, gender gap." They said that if 2010 and 2014, those elections were about Republicans - you know, when they took back the House, that was about men upset with President Obama - 2018 is about women motivated to vote against President Trump. We saw that up and down on questions related to the president's approval rating, to preference for control of Congress. And in particular, white, college-educated women give the president among the lowest ratings of any group and are among the highest to believe that the elections are very important.

KING: So as Rachel said a little bit earlier, Republicans have had trouble selling the big tax overhaul to voters. This was their big legislative achievement. Do we know why that is? And do we have - do we have a sense of what is going to motivate people to turn out to vote this year?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, when we're talking about the president, he is the driving factor in these elections. Two-thirds said that President Trump will either be a major or minor factor in their vote. That's 20 points higher than in 2014, when the same question was asked about President Obama. And that's the year Republicans took back the Senate.

Again, I come back to the power of women in this election. Fifty-one percent of women overall, 54 percent of women who live in the suburbs, where a lot of these key House races are being run, say the president is a, quote, "major factor" in their vote. Those who say President Trump is a major factor, by the way, are twice as likely to vote for a Democrat in a couple of weeks.

And when you talk about those tax cuts, I can tell you that that is not motivating voters. More people say that they're likely to vote for a Democrat because of those tax cuts. And when asked about the rising federal deficit, 60 percent of people, including a plurality of Republicans, say in order to address the deficit, they'd prefer to roll back the tax cuts rather than touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

KING: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

KING: All right, Rachel, I want to get your thoughts on what Domenico was saying because you have been in Texas for the last week talking to voters.

MARTIN: Right. Let's talk about Texas. I am currently in Del Rio, which is just next to Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande River, which separates the U.S. and Mexico. And this is the last stop on a weeklong road trip that we've done through the 23rd Congressional District here in Texas. This is one of the state's only true swing districts - totally fascinating place, Noel, that spans about a third of the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

KING: OK, so this is a massive district. And I wonder, as you've been knocking doors, talking to people, does any of what Domenico was just saying line up with what you've been hearing from people, particularly from women?

MARTIN: Right, so he mentioned the power of women. So we wanted to talk to some, especially in the suburbs around San Antonio. Suburban women are really going to be influential in these midterms. We met a woman named Janet Oglethorpe. She, like a lot of white, liberal women in this country, said that Donald Trump's election just devastated her and really caused her to become politically active in a completely new way. Now she registers people to vote. She volunteers for Democratic candidates. She is committed in a way she never was before. Let's listen to a little bit.

JANET OGLETHORPE: I wish I'd done more earlier for progressive candidates. I just didn't think it was so necessary. And now I do.

MARTIN: So at the same time, I should note we also talked with one of Janet's neighbors, a Republican who really likes what President Trump is doing. In fact, she was going to speak with us on Monday. We had this all scheduled. And she had to reschedule so that she could road trip to Houston with her friends to see Donald Trump do his thing at a Houston rally.

KING: (Laughter). All right, and I know that while you've been down there, you've also been looking at particular economic factors in these places. And you visited a place that's experiencing something like an oil boom.

MARTIN: Something - I mean, totally like an oil boom. This is a place called Pecos, Texas. It's really benefited from all the fracking that's been happening in oil country. Just to give you a sense of how the place has grown, in 2010 the population was around 8,000 people. Today, city officials don't even know what the real population is.

KING: Wow.

MARTIN: They speculate that because of all the temporary oil workers who are there, there could be up to 50,000 people living there at any given time, which has put a massive strain on the town. Because it all happened so quickly, they haven't been able to really keep up. There's not enough food on the grocery store shelves. They don't have enough restaurants.

But what's really interesting is how it seems to be changing the politics of the place. Most of the population is Hispanic. Traditionally, they've been Democrats. Based on our conversations there, that could actually be shifting because these - all these new people are coming in with new viewpoints, people who give the party in power credit for the current economic boom. I want to play you a clip from a conversation we had with a guy named John Pack.

JOHN PACK: I've doubled my salary from the fire department.

MARTIN: Wow.

PACK: I've struggled for a long time. And I've come out here, and I'm just - I'm not struggling anymore like I was.

MARTIN: Does it feel like it's going to dry up anytime soon?

PACK: No, not as long as Trump's in office.

MARTIN: So you're feeling good.

PACK: We're riding the Trump train.

MARTIN: He's riding the Trump train, Noel.

KING: Trump train (laughter).

MARTIN: Yep, Trump train - he's pretty happy about the economy, credits the president. Clearly a lot of people here feel that way.

KING: And of course, immigration, a huge issue where you are.

MARTIN: Right. You would think so, anyway. We're actually at a part of the border that's pretty quiet. We're just a few miles from Acuna, Mexico. These two communities, Del Rio and Acuna, are totally entwined, like is the case in a lot of border cities. We met people who cross the border on a daily basis to go to the dentist, to buy their groceries. They don't see it as a crisis here. And opinions about President Trump and his immigration policies are pretty much split in a partisan way.

What people here do agree on - and we're talking about Democrats we spoke with and Republicans - is that a wall, the idea of building a border wall, is not going to fix the country's broken immigration system.

KING: Last question, Democrats have been looking for years to turn Texas blue. You think it's going to happen?

MARTIN: Right, So we've heard a lot about the so-called blue wave on the congressional side. The incumbent Republican, Will Hurd, has an advantage. A recent poll says he's up 15 points against his Democratic challenger, Gina Ortiz Jones. On the Senate side, the Democrat Beto O'Rourke has given Ted Cruz a run for his money. Recent polling has him down 5 points against Cruz. Ted Cruz is fighting for every vote, though. He is going to be here in Del Rio next week, something people here say hasn't happened for a long, long time.

KING: Rachel Martin in Del Rio, Texas. Thanks for the great reporting, Rachel.

MARTIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.