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News Brief: Trump Meets Democratic Leaders, Brexit Deal, U.N. Climate Talks


We have been here before - yet another game of chicken over the budget and the threat of a partial government shutdown.


Yeah. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are scheduled to meet with President Trump today. The president has said he wants $5 billion for the border wall that he promised to build and that he said Mexico would pay for. He is at least entertaining the idea of a shutdown next week if he does not get some of that money from Congress. Democrats are getting ready to take control of the House of Representatives and will soon have a lot more power.

MARTIN: Right. So that could change the dynamic here. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us this morning. She's also co-host of the NPR Politics podcast. Good morning, Tam.


MARTIN: Outline for us the going-in positions today with this big meeting.

KEITH: Yeah. So President Trump, as we've said, wants $5 billion for the wall. Democrats don't want to give it to him. That's the short of it.

MARTIN: There you go (laughter).

KEITH: And, you know, President Trump has, however, not been pushing as hard on the wall funding as I think he has in the past. You hear him using the phrase border security a lot more than you hear him using the word the wall. I mean, he's still talking about the wall. He's still talking about $5 billion. But when he says border security, that is what you might call...

MARTIN: That's a word that works for Democrats, right?

KEITH: It's a word that works for Democrats. It's what you might call an opening.

INSKEEP: It works for Republicans who think the wall is a bad idea but wouldn't mind more sensor technology and things like that.

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: Right. And that's the thing. What Democrats are saying is we don't control the House yet. Republicans control the House and the Senate - Schumer and Pelosi put out a joint statement last night - and if they want to keep the government open, they should probably work on that is basically their message, saying that, you know, the president shouldn't move for a shutdown at this point and that his proposals, they say, don't have the votes to pass the House and the Senate. Democrats are essentially trying to take themselves out of it and say this is a Republican problem.

MARTIN: Is that a winning position for Pelosi and Schumer?

KEITH: It's a position that they've taken before, and the reality is that there aren't enough Republican votes, generally speaking, to get budget bills through Congress. Democrats are ultimately needed. And then in the new year, the dynamics will change again when Democrats have control of the House. And that's a bigger, longer term question of whether deals will be made or whether the sort of intransigence will continue, whether President Trump will fight or make deals. And I spoke to people who are close to Trump, people who are close to Nancy Pelosi. One of those people is John Lawrence, a former Pelosi chief of staff. And he said that Democrats are going to want to show that they can govern in the new year.

JOHN LAWRENCE: She is going to be and I think Democrats in the House are going to be concerned with proving that they can be trusted, that they can govern. And if that involves having to make deals with Senator McConnell or Senator - or President Trump, then I think they will do that because that's what they've been hired to do.

KEITH: And the funny thing is allies of the president say President Trump wants to show he can govern and that he'll want to make a deal. But both say the other side has incentives not to get things done.

MARTIN: Right, so who blinks first? Before I let you go, Tam, this is happening clearly at a time of great transition at the White House. John Kelly out as chief of staff - President Trump says he was going to name his replacement in the next couple days. It's been a couple days - no replacement yet.

KEITH: Yeah. That was a couple of days ago when the president thought he had someone in place, and then that didn't work out. And now it's like "The Apprentice." He's looking for a No. 1.

MARTIN: All right. We'll see who takes that spot. NPR's Tamara Keith - thanks so much, Tamara. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: The U.K.'s prime minister, Theresa May, yet again faces an uncomfortable reality.

INSKEEP: She put off a vote that had been scheduled for today on her plan to leave the European Union. Too many lawmakers hated it, so May said she would ask Europeans for better terms, except the spokesperson for the EU says those were already the best and final terms. The British have been debating Brexit for 2 1/2 years and now have a bit more than 3 1/2 months before a deadline to leave, even if there is no deal.

MARTIN: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt has more. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What is Theresa May's play today?

LANGFITT: Well, actually, she's in Europe. She's running around Europe. She's meeting Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and what she's trying to do is get additional language on this divorce agreement that might reassure members of Parliament back here over this big issue. And the big concern here in the United Kingdom is that the European Union - basically that Northern Ireland, which is a part of the U.K., could end up inside a tighter customs arrangement with the EU for years to come. And what she wants is reassurance from the European Union that that's not what they intend to do. The EU, as you said, they don't want to reopen this agreement. And they have reversed course in the past, so we'll see how that works out. Today, Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president of the European Commission, said there could be some further clarification. So maybe they will give something to Prime Minister May that she can bring back here.

MARTIN: She better hope so, right?


MARTIN: I mean, at this point, she's - the Europeans have said these are our best terms. You're suggesting there could be wiggle room.

LANGFITT: I don't - you know, I'm doubtful about that. I do want to point out, though, historically they said no in the past on other deals and then made some changes. But I think it would be way too early for them to suddenly reverse course on this thing they'd been working on for two years.

MARTIN: I mean, she - it is not an understatement to say Theresa May is in a political crisis trying to save her own job and yesterday...

LANGFITT: And has been for a long time, yeah.

MARTIN: And has been a long time.

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yes.

MARTIN: But yesterday was crazy in Britain's House of Commons. I mean, a member of the opposition Labour Party at one point took the parliamentary mace. Let's listen to this.


JOHN BERCOW: I'm grateful to a dedicated servant of the house for bringing forward the mace and restoring it to its place.

MARTIN: Explain the mace and its place.

LANGFITT: Sure. The mace is a symbol of royal authority here, and without the mace, the House of Commons can't meet. And so this Labour Opposition backbencher went up and briefly took the mace. It was polite - didn't grab it and try to run off.

MARTIN: I mean, they are British.

LANGFITT: But well - and also Commons can get pretty - actually quite feisty. But in this case, it was a protest of May's handling of Brexit, and it was quickly returned. But it's a sign of the level of anger and frustration with this entire process that's been dragging on for a really long time.

MARTIN: So we talked about the political crisis. We touched on it, but how serious is the moment for Theresa May? Is there any way in which her premiership survives?

LANGFITT: It doesn't - it doesn't look good for her at all. I think that she's playing for time. She's trying to basically, I think, push this well into January - this is what a lot of analysts say - in hopes that she'll actually force members of Parliament to take this deal with the threat that in fact otherwise the U.K. walks away from the EU with no deal at all, which could be economically calamitous. And we'll see. There - a lot of people are after her job in her own party, and the Labour Opposition also would love to get a general election and take over the government here.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt for us this morning. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.


MARTIN: All right. After President Trump said he wanted to pull America out of the Paris climate accord, there was a lot of anger directed at the U.S. Now there's some laughter.

INSKEEP: Climate negotiators are meeting in Poland. It's a follow-up conference to Paris. A U.S. delegation is there, including President Trump's adviser, Wells Griffith. And here is how people responded as Griffith led a U.S.-inspired panel on innovations in coal and natural gas.


WELLS GRIFFITH: Fossil fuels will continue to play a leading role...


MARTIN: Spontaneous - maybe contrived - laughter. Who knows? Laughter nonetheless. NPR's Rebecca Hersher is covering the climate summit from Poland and joins us now. Good morning, Rebecca.


MARTIN: So that was a little bit awkward. What kind of role is the U.S. able to play? Is it constructive at all if this is the way some audiences are responding to them?

HERSHER: Well, it's a challenge. The Trump administration doesn't acknowledge basic climate science, and that makes it hard at a climate conference. And it's effecting the negotiations here. So the U.S. has refused to endorse this major U.N. climate science report, and the other countries that are taking that stand are Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - not exactly climate leaders.

MARTIN: Right.

HERSHER: On the other hand, there are American State Department bureaucrats here in Poland. These are career folks who've been working on climate negotiations for a really long time. And they are working in good faith. They're trying to make the Paris agreement into a functional thing.

MARTIN: So what is the broader goal of this summit? I mean, we said this was the big follow-up to Paris. What did they - what is supposed to happen here?

HERSHER: Well, Paris, in 2015, was all about promises - every country making promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And this summit is about the nuts and the bolts of how to get there. So these are rules about basic things like how do you measure your greenhouse gas emissions? How do you hold each other accountable? Do you believe what other countries say about their emissions? And this is the second week. It's a two-week summit. A lot of high-level ministers have started to show up and were really just roaring toward this final rulebook deadline for all those rules, and that's on Friday.

MARTIN: This happens to be taking place in the heart of Poland's coal country - right? - where you are right now, which, on the face of it, seems like an odd place to have a conference about climate change and reducing fossil fuels.

HERSHER: (Laughter) It is. I don't know if it's either odd or really appropriate. This is the Polish equivalent of West Virginia or Wyoming. It's a major coal producer. Coal is around. I'm looking out the window at a coal museum in an old mine shaft. And there's smog in the air here. It burns your throat. And there are three state-owned oil companies - or coal companies that did sponsor this conference. And the president of Poland says coal is going to be a big part of his country's energy in the coming decades. Now that said, Poland is part of the Paris agreement. They promised a 40 percent reduction in European emissions by 2030. So how on Earth do you reconcile these things? That is what we're doing this week. That's what the rulebook is all about and it's why it matters. It tells countries how to achieve their goals even when it's hard. So I would argue and some argue, you know, it's most important those rules for places like this.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reporting on this big climate summit that is happening in Poland. This is the follow on to the Paris climate accord. Becky, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

HERSHER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACE BUNDY'S "LITURGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.