News Brief: Border Wall Emergency, Chicago Election, Walmart Greeters

Feb 26, 2019
Originally published on February 26, 2019 10:31 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When banks check their finances to see how they would do in a crisis, it's called a stress test. Think of today as a stress test for one part of the Constitution.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. Article I, to be precise, which establishes the powers of Congress. Many lawmakers in both parties say the president improperly seized those powers, spending money Congress denied him to build a border wall. The president claimed this authority by declaring a national emergency, and today House Democrats are expected to pass a resolution that would cancel that emergency. In the Senate, some Republicans also oppose the president. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski spoke to TV station KTUU.

LISA MURKOWSKI: I probably will be supporting the resolution to disapprove. Not because I disagree with the president, but because I think it's so important that there be clearer lines when it comes to the separation of powers.

INSKEEP: Separation of powers. Getting back to that Constitution. Tamara Keith is NPR's White House correspondent and co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast, and she's with us once again. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How's this process work?

KEITH: So this process was actually written into the law, the National Emergencies Act, that gave the president the power to declare a national emergency. It also gave Congress the power to roll it back, to terminate it. And so the House is voting today. It's expected to pass because Democrats have a strong majority in the House. Then it goes to the Senate. Now, if you have watched Congress a lot, you know that often the Senate stalls or doesn't take up legislation. Well, they can't do that with this one. This is what's called a privileged resolution. It means it is on a fast track to a vote on the floor of the Senate.

INSKEEP: But Republicans who have generally supported the president still have a majority in the Senate. How many Republicans, besides Lisa Murkowski, who we just heard, are willing to defy the president, vote against him here?

KEITH: Well, before he declared the emergency, there were a lot of Republicans telling him not to do it, that it would be usurping the congressional power of the purse. Since then they've been a little bit more quiet about it or have said, well, gosh, I really don't like it, but I don't know what I'm going to do. Last night, posted on The Washington Post website, an op-ed from Thom Tillis, who's a Republican senator from North Carolina. He wrote an editorial saying that as a member of the Senate, he has grave concerns when his institution looks the other way at the expense of weakening Congress's powers.

He says that he supports the president wanting to build the wall but that he believes, quote, "it is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century." What we don't know is how many other Republican senators there are like him.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, who has been notably supportive of the president after being notably critical of him during the presidential campaign. He gave an interview to The New York Times recently in which he said, not for the first time, that he supports President Trump 'cause he wants to be relevant, wants to get things that he thinks are important for the country. Also acknowledged that he wants to get re-elected, and there are a lot of Trump supporters out there. How reluctant are Republicans to cross the president, even at this moment when he's very unpopular?

KEITH: Well, it depends on what state they're in and how red and Republican it is. But just before we go, very important to note that the president has said he will veto it if it gets to his desk. And it's not clear that there are really enough people of either party to add up to a veto-proof majority.

INSKEEP: You would need a lot of Republicans to make a veto-proof majority.

KEITH: A whole lot.

INSKEEP: Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. She speaks to us, by the way, on this day when the president himself is out of the country visiting Vietnam this week for a summit with North Korea's leader.

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INSKEEP: Voters in Chicago go to the polls today to select their mayor, and they have a lot of choices.

GREENE: Like, a lot of choices. We're talking about 14 candidates, a record 14 candidates running to succeed former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is stepping down after two terms as Chicago's mayor. Among them is Bill Daley, another former White House chief of staff under Obama. His father was also mayor, as was his brother. But polls show that this race is still wide open in a city that is facing some significant challenges.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Schaper is in Chicago and trying to keep track of the candidates. Hi there, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So wow - you have almost as many mayoral candidates as there are potential presidential candidates in 2020. So how are you handling this?

SCHAPER: Yeah. And enough flavors of ice cream, too. Yeah. You know, one reason for this wide-open race this year is that there's no incumbent. This is only the fourth time in the last century that a sitting mayor wasn't on the ballot. Last time was 2011, when Rich Daley chose not to run for re-election. But had Rahm Emanuel actually chosen to run again, there were several candidates already lining up against him feeling he was vulnerable, particularly because of the fallout of the Laquan McDonald case. You remember, Laquan was the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer. The trials of the police officer just happened last fall. Many people are unhappy with it, even though he was convicted with a sentence.

So when Rahm got out of the race, even more candidates jumped in, including Bill Daley, as you mentioned, and a couple of other local political heavyweights - Toni Preckwinkle, who's president of the Cook County Board and chair of the county Democratic Party, Suzanna Mendoza, who's the state comptroller and has some labor support behind her, as does Preckwinkle. Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, who's been pushing hard for police reform. There's a former police superintendent, a millionaire business owner. The list goes on and on - even a young progressive who was endorsed by Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.

INSKEEP: Sounds like police conduct is quite central to this campaign.

SCHAPER: It's a really big issue, and it's a really big issue particularly among younger voters, who have kind of rallied and mobilized and tried to recruit people to register to vote. They turned out in very strong numbers in the November midterm elections, and the turnout for this election is a little questionable. Steve Valles is with Chicago Votes, which is a nonpartisan group that works to engage young adults in politics.

STEVIE VALLES: If young people turn out and vote, we could elect the most progressive mayor in Chicago's history.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, Chicagoans could also elect another Daley. We're curious, David, when a Daley is running, do they just use the same Daley signs, campaign signs, around town they've been using since the 1950s?

SCHAPER: No. No. See, they have a lot of money behind by these candidacies so they're able to print up new signs every election. So none of them are faded. And there is kind of a trend here. Even Bill Daley is trying to almost out-progressive some of the other candidates in this race, trying to make him seem not as much like his father and his brother, who many people feel left the city with a legacy of inequality across the city and even racism, as many cities in the North do.

But, you know, all of the candidates are kind of trying to out-progressive one another. Be - you know, shoulder progressive credentials. And it's part of this trend that the Democratic Party is experiencing all across the country, as we saw in the November midterms. This could just echo those very similar themes across the country.

INSKEEP: David, thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

SCHAPER: My pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Schaper is in Chicago, which holds a mayoral election today.

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INSKEEP: Walmart, which is the largest private employer in the United States, is making a big change.

GREENE: Yeah. It's a change that people who know Walmart and shop there will really, I mean, notice. The retailer confirmed to NPR that it is now eliminating its trademark front-door job of people greeters in stores across the country and replacing them with this new position they're calling customer hosts. And this change in job requirements for the new position appears to be disproportionately affecting workers with disabilities.

INSKEEP: And with us in our studios is NPR business correspondent Alina Selyukh. Hi there. Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: And you've been talking with some people with disabilities who've been Walmart greeters.

SELYUKH: I have spent the past week hearing from greeters who are essentially expecting to lose their jobs on April 25 or 26. All of them are people with disabilities. And they're worried because the new job of this host has requirements that can be pretty impossible if you're in a wheelchair. I read the job description, and it says you must be able to, for example, lift 25 pounds or stand for long periods of time. And then to qualify for other jobs at the store, workers say they've been told that they must be able to climb a ladder - same issue. And this...

INSKEEP: The whole idea is to help people move around a crowded store and get stuff down.

SELYUKH: And do a variety of things, including help shoppers load things into their carts. It varies by store. And this change is happening in about a thousand stores. And I've spoken to workers from five states, and one of them was Mitchell (ph) from Alabama, who's been a greeter for four years.

MITCHELL: It gives me a place to go every day where I'm not sitting home. I'm able to work. I want to work. I want to be out in society.

SELYUKH: We're not sharing Mitchell's last name because he's worried about retribution.

INSKEEP: Absolutely. What is Walmart saying when you go to them with these concerns you've heard?

SELYUKH: Yeah. Walmart has acknowledged the unique situation of workers with disabilities. And so the company actually told me it's now deciding to give greeters more time beyond April 25 to figure out their job situation. And, you know, Walmart is huge. It is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities. And the Americans with Disabilities Act does not preclude companies from changing job descriptions as they need. What the law does require is for companies to provide, quote, "reasonable accommodations," as long as the worker can do the essential functions of the job.

INSKEEP: I have to say, though, this is one of the defining features of Walmart, is the Walmart greeter. It's got to be one of the few jobs in retail where everybody in America knows the name, the name of the job, Walmart greeter. Is this a huge change for Walmart?

SELYUKH: It is. But it is currently just the latest wave of this. Walmart has been making this change in about a thousand stores already. It's been happening since 2016. And to be honest, the frustrating part is that none of the workers I've talked to have actually seen any kind of document explaining this policy and its rollout. I spoke to the family of two workers who were affected by this last year. They're actually cousins, Joe and John Wirth, both of whom use wheelchairs, and say they both lost their jobs as greeters in April. Here's John.

JOHN WIRTH: They were like, good luck with whatever you decide to do. And just a handshake. And that made me feel like, oh, OK.

SELYUKH: Well, he's clearly not OK. He's pretty distraught. It's messing up his income, his independence. He says back in April, he took two buses to work, like he usually does, only to discover his badge didn't work. The Wirth cousins have a claim against Walmart with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Michigan. I know of two other claims in Texas and Wisconsin, and a lawsuit in Utah. Walmart has not commented on those to NPR.

INSKEEP: Alina, thanks for digging into this. Really appreciate it.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.