News Brief: Southern Border, New Chicago Mayor, Democrats' Fundraising

Apr 3, 2019
Originally published on April 3, 2019 7:22 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What does the flow of migrants really look like at the U.S. southern border?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, we got a reminder in recent days that what U.S. officials call a crisis is a mixture of reality and also political stagecraft. Last week, President Trump threatened to close the border. That threat seized headlines, just like his previous threats to do the same thing. Once again, officials have now backed off that threat, at least for the moment. They say Mexico is stepping up to help with the influx of asylum applicants. But it is true that U.S. border officials are receiving large, large numbers of people.

INSKEEP: Which you've been watching, David. So what have you been seeing?

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, you know, Steve, we've been talking about the focal point was a bridge that runs from Juarez, Mexico, here into El Paso. Now the area under that bridge has been cleared. They've moved a lot of migrants to an area of tents nearby. But there were these images of families from Central America being held behind barbed wire there. And even though that area has been moved, no one is suggesting that the rate of border apprehensions - the numbers of people crossing - is going to slow down any time soon.

INSKEEP: Well, what is driving those numbers?

GREENE: Well, you know, you ask different people, you hear different people emphasize different things. U.S. officials say that smugglers in Central America are really active right now. I mean, they're marketing themselves to families in Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala, saying that the U.S. border is, essentially, open to families who arrive with their own children. And that's really an important thing to know. If you bring your own child with you, you are generally being processed within a few days and set free into the United States with a court date scheduled. So word seems to be spreading about that.

And, Steve, I'll also tell you - I spoke to our colleague John Burnett, who is reporting, as we speak, in Mexico, right near the border with Guatemala. He says there's been a lot of information spreading on social media suggesting to people that President Trump could close the border at any moment. The message being - if you're going to make this trip, now is the time to do it.

INSKEEP: Oh, so the president's regular threats - that get headlines - to close the border may actually drive people to hurry up and make the journey. But when people get where you are - and end up under a bridge or in a detention center or out on the street - are they saying they made the right decision?

GREENE: Well, I think they're grappling with that. I mean, we've been hearing from some asylum-seekers who just didn't seem to grasp how difficult the journey is, including after their crossing into the United States. We spoke to one man from Honduras. He - we're not going to give his name for security reasons. But it was at a church here in El Paso. He was with his two kids, a girl - 11 years old - a boy - 12. And he - his family had been held under that bridge for four days after an 18-day bus trip from Honduras.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) I spent eight days - four days under the bridge and then they took me to jail. It was a very cold place. We were on the cold floor. If I knew we would be going through all this, I would have not come. Money is not everything in life, but we risk a lot for our children and for their future.

INSKEEP: Are you hearing a lot of people saying they wish they hadn't made the journey?

GREENE: I wouldn't say a lot. I mean, many families - they look exhausted but really relieved to be here and getting help from nonprofit groups and shelters. One Salvadoran mom we met - I mean, she made this extraordinary journey, walking some of the way through Mexico just in torn socks. She had a 5-month-old son who nearly died - I mean, fever, vomiting. Someone asked her, like, why would you do that? How dare you bring a baby through this experience? And she said the gang violence was so awful in El Salvador, she just had no choice.

INSKEEP: OK. David, thanks for your reporting there. And let's move on now to some other news.

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INSKEEP: News about Lori Lightfoot, who was a relative unknown in Chicago politics. Until recently, she had never held elective office. And when she announced a campaign for mayor last year, she was in a crowded scrum of 14 candidates.

GREENE: Yeah, but then last night, she made history. She secured victory in the nation's third-largest city. The former federal prosecutor who worked in police oversight is becoming the first black woman and openly gay person to win this office. And she spoke to her supporters after the results were announced.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: You know, when we started this journey 11 months ago, nobody gave us much of a chance. We were up against powerful interests, a powerful machine and a powerful mayor.

GREENE: The mayor Lightfoot is speaking of is, of course, Rahm Emanuel. His popularity suffered in his second and final term as he was grappling with the city's financial woes and also an increasingly volatile relationship between the police and the black community.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cheryl Corley has been covering this story from Chicago.

Cheryl, good morning.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How did this person emerge from that crowded field of 14 candidates?

CORLEY: Well, Steve, it was just incredible. As you mentioned, Lori Lightfoot's never held political office. She has held a variety of positions in city government, though. And Rahm Emanuel actually appointed Lightfoot to head the Chicago Police Board, the independent agency that rules on disciplinary cases of police. And Lightfoot began this journey, in part, because of a 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager - Laquan McDonald - by a white police officer. It spurred a lot of protests in Chicago, the ouster of a lot of city officials, and led to Lightfoot declaring a run for mayor. And she promised to get rid of city hall corruption and to help low-income and working-class people. And that kind of made an impact. She promised to make change.

And when Mayor Emanuel decided not to seek a third term, lots of other people declared a run for mayor after that - as you mentioned, 14 people in all. And Lori Lightfoot was one of the top vote-getters, along with Toni Preckwinkle, who is the chairman of the Democratic Party here. And...

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask you, Cheryl Corley, if I can - how...

CORLEY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Is it that the mayor-elect intends to address this closely followed relationship between the city and its police?

CORLEY: Well, she was the chair of a police accountability task force, which really blasted the police department and led to a Department of Justice investigation. And during the campaign, she promised to adhere to a consent decree, which came out of the Department of Justice investigation - or which was, at least, spurred by it. And that calls for a detailed list of reforms.

And Lori Lightfoot says it's going to take a lot. And that consent decree calls for more training for police. But she says there is another fact that must not be ignored when it comes to how officers act in particular neighborhoods...

INSKEEP: Let's listen.

CORLEY: ...Here's what she had to say.

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LIGHTFOOT: We also know that if - our police officers are culture illiterate, which stems from the fact that we are - live in one of the most segregated cities in the country. We recruit from those segregated neighborhoods. And we do not adequately, in my view deal, with the fact that race matters in policing.

INSKEEP: Didn't she also talk about entrenched poverty as she was claiming victory last night?

CORLEY: She did, indeed. And she talked about the differences about the - how the West Side and South Side of the city are treated differently than the downtown area. So she's going to have a lot of things that she wants to focus on as she comes into office.

INSKEEP: Cheryl, thanks so much.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cheryl Corley.

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INSKEEP: OK. It takes votes to win an election, but it takes money to compete for them. And this week, we have new fundraising details from high-profile Democrats.

GREENE: That's right. These numbers are for the first quarter of the year. The Bernie Sanders campaign - Tuesday - announced that it raised more than $18 million from half a million donors. Kamala Harris raised 12 million. And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg - largely unknown before his presidential campaign announcement - has taken in $7 million.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been following the money primary.

Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we mentioned a couple of high-profile numbers there. What stands out to you?

LIASSON: Well, all those numbers are pretty eye-popping - shows you the enthusiasm of the Democratic base. They're willing to open their wallets. But I would say Bernie Sanders, of all the declared candidates, is the frontrunner, not only in polling but now in fundraising - $18 million, half a million donors. That is a tremendous amount. Now, history tells us that Democratic frontrunners don't usually stay that way. But that's where he is today.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about the different ways that people talk about fundraising and politics. You will say the person who raised the most is the frontrunner, in a way. Other candidates will say you don't need to raise the most, but you need to raise enough. How much does the money really matter?

LIASSON: Well, money matters. Of course, he's raised the most, and he's at the top of the polls right now.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LIASSON: But if you ask President Jeb Bush if a lot of money matters...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LIASSON: You'll find out that it doesn't really make the difference. But it's the signs of...

INSKEEP: He raised a ton of money - we should remind people...

LIASSON: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...In 2016...

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: ...And got nowhere. Right.

LIASSON: It's a sign of grassroots support. It is very important. And it's not a guarantee that you're going to be the nominee, but it means you can scale-up your operations. And especially if you're raising money in small amounts, you can go back to those people again and again.

INSKEEP: You know, there would be a time in presidential primaries where we would presume, looking from the outside, that it's bad for a party to have a fragmented field and a huge number of candidates. But are there Democrats who are looking at this as promising, to have so many people who are all strong and fundraising and clearly have a strong support base building up?

LIASSON: Yes, absolutely. It's a sign, as I said, of overall Democratic enthusiasm. People are turning out for these events to see the candidate. They're willing to open their wallets. It shows you that the Democratic base is energized and willing to do more than just cast a vote. They're willing to give money and work.

INSKEEP: How does that compare to President Trump's fundraising?

LIASSON: Well, President Trump has raised a tremendous amount of money. He's the first president to raise money in his first two years. By the end of 2018, the Trump campaign had raised about $68 million. Two additional political action committees that function as joint fundraising committees with the Republican Party had raised an additional 100 million. So that is a tremendous amount of money - shows you the power of incumbents. It's one of the reasons why it's so hard to beat an incumbent president. In recent memory, only two have been defeated - Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.

INSKEEP: I'm also looking at this figure. The president has not only raised almost $68 million. It's said that he's spent well over $50 million already, in the early phases, promoting his re-election.

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.