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Morning News Brief: Macron U.S. Visit


This is just too familiar - isn't it? - someone using a vehicle to mow down a crowd of pedestrians. We've seen it before, and now we've seen it in Toronto, Canada. Ten people are dead. At least 15 are injured.


Now, police in Toronto say they have captured a suspect. He's 25 years old. His name is given as Alek Minassian of suburban Toronto. The police chief there, Mark Saunders, said the driver's actions appeared deliberate.


MARK SAUNDERS: At this particular point in time, there's nothing that does affect the national security footprint. We are looking very strongly to what the exact motive or motivation was for this particular incident to take place.

GREENE: OK. We have one of the journalists who's been covering this on the line with us, Molly Hayes of The Globe and Mail in Canada.

Hi, Molly.

MOLLY HAYES: Hi. Good morning.

GREENE: So how did this all unfold yesterday?

HAYES: So it was a really nice day, kind of one of the first nice days we've had after a long winter. So it was a really busy intersection, a lot of people out having lunch at work or just walking around with friends. And witnesses describe this van just seemingly coming out of nowhere and mounting the sidewalk. A lot of people, as you can imagine, thought that something had gone wrong with the car or maybe there was a medical injury.


HAYES: And it sounds like people were just kind of stunned, deer-in-headlights style, which sounds horrible. But there was almost 3 kilometers - or I guess just under 2 miles - that this van drove almost entirely on the sidewalk, striking...

GREENE: Oh, that's a long stretch. I didn't realize it was quite that distance.

Who do police think did this? What do we know about this suspect?

HAYES: So there's just still so much uncertainty at this point. So we did learn late last night that there was an arrest. So - 25-year-old Alex Minassian - we know so little about him at this point. It seems that his social media profiles had been pulled down earlier in the afternoon. We do have some descriptions of an Alex Minassian that's emerging who sounds like a quiet guy, a former college student in the area. Some people described him as maybe having some social issues. But this wasn't something that anybody would have expected.

GREENE: For - and it looks - I mean, this seems reminiscent of some of the attacks by ISIS supporters in other cities. I mean, I think of Nice and Berlin and London. But the authorities seem to be saying this was not a threat to national security at this point.

HAYES: Yeah. They haven't given any indication at this point to suggest that. But hopefully, we're going to learn more in court when Mr. Minassian makes his first appearance this morning.

GREENE: Molly Hayes of The Globe and Mail in Canada covering that act of violence in Toronto yesterday.

Molly, thank you. We appreciate it.

HAYES: Thank you.


GREENE: All right, President Trump's nominee for secretary of state badly needed one Kentucky senator in his corner.

INSKEEP: And, in the end, Republican Rand Paul came through for Mike Pompeo, changing his mind and voting to support him in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday - an unexpected win for the White House. Pompeo had been expected to be the first nominee with an unfavorable recommendation ahead of his confirmation vote by the full Senate. But now he's got a majority on the committee.

And just as one Cabinet member found sure footing, another one started to slip. The Washington Post reports that the Senate will delay the confirmation hearing for Ronny Jackson to head Veterans Affairs amid concerns about his qualifications.

GREENE: All right, we have NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley with us.

Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Well, let's start with Pompeo. What brought Senator Paul around here?

HORSLEY: Well, Paul says he wanted assurances that Pompeo agrees with President Trump that the war in Iraq was a mistake and that the U.S. must end its involvement in Afghanistan. Senator Paul says he got those assurances. And that's why he changed his vote. Of course, the president's own views on the Iraq War have evolved somewhat. He was initially a supporter, though he campaigned against it. And he has been increasing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.

So it's not really clear what these assurances that Senator Paul says he got mean on a practical level. In any case, Mike Pompeo was likely to be confirmed by the full Senate. We had three red-state Democrats who'd come out in favor of him before Paul reversed himself. But Paul's turnaround does mean that Pompeo avoids the stigma of being the first secretary of state to have gotten a negative vote in the foreign relations...

GREENE: Avoids making history in a way that the administration really did not want to see.

So another nominee, Ronny Jackson - this is the White House doctor who a lot of people were surprised was President Trump's pick to lead Veterans Affairs. It sounds like he might have his confirmation hearing delayed now. Why would that be? And what are the lawmakers concerned about?

HORSLEY: Well, there were already questions about Dr. Jackson's managerial experience. He is, by all accounts, a very capable doctor. He's taken care of three presidents and their families. He has a distinguished military record. But the question was - does he have the chops to run the nation's second-biggest federal agency behind the Pentagon? The VA has some 360,000 employees. It's responsible for the care of 9 million veterans.

Also, Dr. Jackson is something of a mystery on the big policy question facing the VA, which is how big a role the private sector should play in caring for veterans. The big veterans service organizations are very concerned about what they see as a push towards privatization. So they were already going to be some tough questions facing Jackson at his confirmation hearing. And now we are hearing from senior aides on Capitol Hill of some serious but unspecified allegations that have surfaced. We may learn more about that in the coming days. But unlike Pompeo, Jackson's confirmation does not appear to be growing more likely with age.

GREENE: And the last question I have for you, Scott - do you get to cover this state dinner tonight?


HORSLEY: Only by remote control.

GREENE: Only by remote control. All right, so this is French President Emmanuel Macron in town. This is the first state dinner that President Trump has held. Right?

HORSLEY: Yeah, lots of pomp and ceremony. There was a military arrival ceremony at the White House; an intimate dinner at Mount Vernon; a helicopter tour of Washington and then the big Franco-American state dinner, featuring rack of lamb and jambalaya; also some serious policy discussions on tap - most notably, the fate of the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump wants out. European allies want the U.S. to stay in.

GREENE: All right, a lot to talk about over jambalaya. NPR's Scott Horsley.

Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: Now, many in the world are watching this visit by President Macron very closely - for one, to see if the French leader can convince President Trump that the U.S. should stay in that Iran nuclear deal.

INSKEEP: Yeah. We talked about that last night here in New York with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is visiting from Tehran. And he is certainly one of the people hoping that President Macron can change Trump's mind.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: We hope that President Macron uses his visit to the U.S. to impress upon President Trump that this deal, as it stands, is in the interest of both the United States and the rest of the international community and they will be much better served if they were to respect the terms of the deal.

INSKEEP: So a spotlight moment for the French president. But for all of his prominence abroad, he faces some trouble at home, slipping popularity among the middle class and a wave of strikes and demonstrations.

GREENE: And let's learn more about that with Sylvie Kauffmann. She's the editorial director of the French daily newspaper Le Monde. She joins us on Skype.

Sylvie, good morning.


GREENE: So Emmanuel Macron was elected - what, I guess it's been barely a year ago? - as a disruptor, which I guess you could say about President Trump as well. So they've got some things in common. But the kind of changes they were bringing to their country is very different. Right?

KAUFFMANN: Yes. I think the way they came to power may be comparable in some ways. And they both like to see themselves as disrupters of the traditional political system. But their views on the political outlook of their respective countries and, indeed, on the global order are very, very different. And this what makes, probably, this relationship so interesting because it's paradoxical.

GREENE: It's unlikely. I mean - and Macron seems to pride himself on having an unexpected alliance or friendship with President Trump in some ways. He's the only European leader who seems to have an easy rapport with President Trump. So I wonder - I mean, does that help him at home with French voters or hurt him?

KAUFFMANN: I don't think it helps him particularly. It doesn't hurt him either. People understand that Macron is a pragmatist and that he - his foreign policy's a very, very big part of his ambition. He wants France and Europe to be active on the global scene. And he's on the kind of mission to save the multilateralist system. And - which is - as soon as he set foot in Washington yesterday at Saint Andrew's Air Base (ph), he mentioned multilateralism. This is - he said, we are the guarantors of modern multilateralism.

So he wants to engage President Trump. But he wants to engage him to stay within this multilateralist system.

GREENE: So he has a lot of pressure on him on this trip.

KAUFFMANN: There is a lot of pressure because he - obviously, as you mentioned earlier, he wants to push this Iran trade - this Iran nuclear agreement. And he definitely wants to convince President Trump to stay within this agreement as Chancellor Angela Merkel will try as well at the end of the week when she comes to Washington. So there's a very...

GREENE: She is also coming to Washington as well.

KAUFFMANN: Yes, there's a very concerted European effort, too...

GREENE: All right.

KAUFFMANN: ...On this field.

GREENE: Sylvie Kauffmann, thanks so much.

KAUFFMANN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.