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News Brief: Trump Rally, Puerto Rico Protests, Turkey Angers U.S. And NATO

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump has a theme for this phase of his reelection campaign - telling a U.S. citizen to leave the country.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. The president held a campaign rally last night, and he kept on with this controversy that he started last weekend. He said four Democratic lawmakers who criticized him should go back to where they came from. All of them are actually U.S. citizens. Three were born in the United States. And all four are women of color. The House voted to condemn those comments as racist, and even a few Republicans agreed. But the president kept on going last night in front of a crowd in North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So these congresswomen, their comments are helping to fuel the rise of a dangerous, militant hard left. But that's OK because we're going to win this election like nobody's ever seen before.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe was at the rally. Hey there, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should mention, when he talks about their comments, he is criticizing some of their past statements - kind of broadening the attack. But how much did he dwell on these four lawmakers?

RASCOE: This was a whole section of his speech. He listed each lawmaker by name, and he painted them as anti-American and radical. Minnesota lawmaker Ilhan Omar received the most intense attacks from Trump. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back...

RASCOE: Yeah. And you may not be able to hear exactly what they were chanting - what the crowd was chanting. But they were saying, send her back, and that was basically echoing Trump's racist language from tweets last weekend. Omar, as was said, is a U.S. citizen. And she has faced some controversy over comments about Israel. But she says she's not anti-Semitic. And the crowd there at this rally, they were really into it. They were shouting traitor. Someone yelled, they're evil. In response to all of this, Omar tweeted a quote from Maya Angelou saying, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I'll rise.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention this is a president who thrives on conflict. This is not a very controversial statement. He continued pushing against Hillary Clinton long after he won the election against Hillary Clinton. Now he has someone else to push against. But did he have anything to say about the Democrats - the many, many Democrats who are challenging him for the presidency?

RASCOE: Yeah. He had a lot to say about his potential competitors. He bashed former Vice President Joe Biden for his performance during the first debate a few weeks ago. Here's what Trump said about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: They have a new one who knocked the hell out of Biden during a debate. He said, I wasn't prepared for that question. That's not a good answer.

RASCOE: And he also went after Elizabeth Warren, kind of doing his usual bit mocking her about her claims about having Native American ancestry. And he went after Bernie Sanders. He said that he missed his chance last time - and I guess in 2016 - to get the Democratic nomination, that his time had passed. He also talked about Sanders saying that he's promising voters free health care and college and all of these things. But he said he - but Trump said he won't be able to deliver.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from voters there in North Carolina, which we should note is a swing state?

RASCOE: So Greenville did not go for President Trump during the last election. It actually went for Clinton because it's a university town, has East Carolina University. But I talked to - before the rally, I talked to an African American pastor here. And he said that these words from Trump, that they're offensive and that they're racist. And for him, there's no question about it. I talked to an advocate for the Latino community, and he said something similar. He said that there have been - there's been teasing of schoolchildren using some of the same language that Trump used.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. A very different kind of rally filled the streets in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

KING: Thousands of people are demanding that Governor Ricardo Rossello resign. Hundreds of pages of misogynistic and homophobic texts between the governor and his main advisers were leaked to the press. Yesterday, celebrities including Ricky Martin joined peaceful protests. But then, in the evening, things got tense.

(SHOUTING)

KING: Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. And that audio comes from the Puerto Rican news site El Nuevo Dia.

INSKEEP: Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team has been in San Juan covering the protests and joins us once again. Good morning, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I saw this overhead image yesterday of the protests outside of, I guess, the capital there in Puerto Rico. And actually, I mean, from an altitude, it looks beautiful. And it was a huge crowd. How big was it?

FLORIDO: I mean, it's hard to say for sure. There are no official estimates, but it was huge. There are many, many thousands of people who showed up. And, you know, during the height of the protest, moving through the streets of Old San Juan was nearly impossible. I got stuck for about an hour and a half. You know, it was a night of unprecedented political protest against a sitting governor. Nothing like this has ever happened in Puerto Rico before.

And one reason it was so big was because, as Noel mentioned, famous artists - including Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin - asked people to come out. But another is that Puerto Ricans are just really angry. They're really angry and fed up with their governor and their government. And they say they've had enough of it.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you understand why this peaceful protest became less so as the day went on?

FLORIDO: It's always hard to tell (laughter), you know, why things turn. Things can get kind of confusing as night falls. You know, but there are always skirmishes between, you know, police and some of the more aggressive protesters if things start to turn, you know, after nightfall - and that's what happened. Tension was building throughout the evening. And at some point, there was a trigger. I don't know what it was, I was about a block away.

But the tear gas and the rocks started flying and then the rubber bullets and the flash grenades. And there were injuries, and there were arrests. And Old San Juan, you know, this beautiful part of San Juan, suffered significant property damage too.

INSKEEP: So Noel mentioned these awkward, to say the least, private text messages that were published. You have told us that's not the only problem the governor faces, that he was already under pressure before the publication. When you listen to the protesters, what's on their minds?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean, you know, there's no question that these text messages were the spark that has basically gotten these protests going. People were really offended to see all this language that the governor and his inner circle were using to insult people, including everyday Puerto Ricans.

But what really, you know, Puerto Ricans are more upset about are kind of the way that they feel like it sort of revealed that their leaders don't take seriously the struggles that many Puerto Ricans face right now because of the economic crisis that the island is facing, because of the slow recovery from Hurricane Maria. They just say, well, they're really out of touch. They've been out of touch for a long time. And we just need a change.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, has the governor said he's going anywhere?

FLORIDO: He said he's going nowhere. And these protesters say, you know, we'll see about that. These protests will continue until step - you step down or are otherwise removed from office.

INSKEEP: NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan. Thanks so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: How does the United States aim to keep Turkey as an ally?

KING: That question comes up after a big arms sale fell apart. Here's what happened - Turkey is a member of NATO, a really important partner of the U.S. since the Cold War. But Turkey made plans to buy a missile defense system from Russia. And the U.S. said if Turkey made that purchase from Russia, the U.S. would not sell Turkey 100 F-35 jet fighters, which it had planned to do. So Turkey basically had to choose, and Turkey chose Russia.

INSKEEP: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is with us now. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would you explain why it would be so bad for Turkey to buy some weapons from the U.S. and some weapons from Russia?

BOWMAN: Well, simply because by having this Russian missile system and Russian technicians to help the Turks operate it, the Russians could've learned how to possibly shoot down the F-35, learn about any vulnerabilities. So the U.S. has said to Turkey repeatedly, there's no way you can be allowed to have the F-35 if you buy the Russian S-400.

INSKEEP: Was there any accusation on the Turks' side that Turkey was just being pressured to buy a U.S. missile defense system instead, say?

BOWMAN: No, not really. I mean, the - they've tried to buy the Patriot system for some time. The deal fell apart with the U.S. But, you know, Pentagon officials really try to downplay any problems between Turkey and the alliance. They said denying the - Turkey the F-35 was unfortunate, but Turkey is still a - an important member of NATO. I reached out to a former U.S. representative to NATO, Ivo Daalder. And he said this whole thing is a big blow to NATO, Turkey's actions will weaken the alliance because it can no longer be part of NATO's air defense system.

So at the Pentagon briefing yesterday, I ran that by David Trachtenberg. He's a senior policy official. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID TRACHTENBERG: I don't want to speculate in terms of what's going to happen with respect to NATO's weakening or strengthening. My only point was that the decisions we're taking here are intended to strengthen the partners and our capabilities in an alliance context.

BOWMAN: And as you can hear, he didn't really answer the question. There are concerns at the Pentagon, Steve, about where all this is going. Officials hope they can get past this with Turkey. But some worry, will Turkey become closer and closer to Russia? And if that happens, can they remain in NATO?

INSKEEP: Well, there you go. I mean, there's an essential problem because you've got this country that is near Russia, that is right in the Middle East. It's strategically placed. It's been a U.S. partner for 67 years. And one more thing - is this correct, Tom Bowman? Turkey had been one of nine countries that was working with Lockheed Martin to build the F-35? Part of the way that this jet is even affordable is because the U.S. is selling it abroad as well as making it for itself. What's this mean for the F-35?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, you're right. Turkey played a very big role and was involved in manufacturing many parts of the aircraft. You're talking billions of dollars in contracts over the coming years. But U.S. officials say these parts will have to be made in the U.S. now or other countries in Europe. They say Lockheed has been planning for this day. And they really don't see - expect much disruption to the F-35 program.

INSKEEP: OK. Tom, thanks for the update.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MECCA:83'S "2AM SAMBA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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