News Brief: Stephen Miller, Israeli Election, Brexit Emergency Summit

Apr 10, 2019
Originally published on April 10, 2019 9:51 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There are more departures at the Department of Homeland Security. The second-in-command there, Claire Grady, offered her resignation last night. And she'll be leaving office today, the same day outgoing secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is departing.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Grady's exit paves the way for Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of the U.S. Borders - Customs and Border Protection Agency. He's going to take over as the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary. This is all part of a shift by President Trump, who says he wants an even tougher approach to immigration. That shift appears to be heavily influenced by the president's senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

GREENE: And let's learn more about the man who seems to be behind a lot of the president's border policies inside the White House. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to talk about him.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So who is Stephen Miller?

LIASSON: Stephen Miller is a young White House aide who's been with Donald Trump since the beginning of the campaign. Before that, he worked for former attorney general Jeff Sessions in the Senate. And Miller has been an immigration restrictionist since long before Trump ran.

He has an interesting background. He grew up as a teenage conservative contrarian in liberal Santa Monica, Calif. And then he became a right-wing media star when he was a college student at Duke University.

But he got an opportunity with Trump. Now he's the strongest voice inside the White House on immigration. The president has tasked him with this, said he's in charge of immigration policy. He really knows his brief. He's also been one of the most fiercely loyal defenders of Donald Trump on television. And here he is in...

GREENE: Which Trump loves. I mean, that's very important to be in...

LIASSON: Yes, very important. Here he is in 2017 talking about the Muslim ban, which is the first big restrictionist immigration fight that the president picked.

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STEPHEN MILLER: Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

LIASSON: So, yes, the president's powers on immigration are substantial. But they also have been questioned by other institutions, like Congress and the courts. And one of the reasons that Donald Trump was so frustrated with Kirstjen Nielsen was that, even though she didn't push back against his immigration goals, she would explain to him, on occasion, that some of what he wanted to do was probably unconstitutional. She was a reality check he didn't want.

But now, with the house cleaning at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump gets to remake the personnel in charge of immigration more in his own image. And Miller will be guiding that.

GREENE: OK. Well, if he's - I mean, he's remaking the personnel and, in theory, remaking the policy to make it tougher. But what exactly would that mean? What would it look like?

LIASSON: Some of the things that the president wants we know about. He wants a wall. He wants to stop the immigration lottery. He wants to stop chain migration. There's been some talk at the White House about creating an immigration czar.

The president has also talked about maybe stopping the asylum process altogether or closing the border, putting punitive tariffs on Mexico if they don't stop immigration. And what he wants to do is find deterrents to make it harder for asylum seekers to get in so that he can stop this surge at the border.

GREENE: That's something - I mean, the kinds of things you're talking about - even without Kristen Nielsen as the reality check, like you said, I mean, there's another reality check, which is Congress, right?

LIASSON: Right. And the president has been either unwilling or unable to make a deal with Congress. But White House officials believe that just changing some regulations at DHS, they could accomplish a lot. For instance, they'd like to toughen up the criteria for credible fear. They believe that immigration officials have a, quote, "reflexive tendency to believe asylum seekers." They want DHS to give fewer work permits to people in the asylum process. The White House believes, even without congressional action, that would make a big dent in the numbers of asylum seekers and asylum winners.

GREENE: OK. So some executive moves that the president could theoretically make here. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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GREENE: All right. Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival after one of the closest-fought elections in Israeli history.

MARTIN: Yeah. Israelis went to the polls yesterday, cast their votes. Exit polls showed a race too close to call. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, declared victory at their respective rallies last night. The question now is who is better positioned to form a government?

GREENE: All right. Let's turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin, who is in Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what is the latest here? I mean, does Benjamin Netanyahu have a clear path to victory here?

ESTRIN: It looks like Netanyahu has the best chances. Over 90 - over 97 percent of the votes have been counted, and it looks like the prime minister is set to extend his term. He and his centrist challenger, the retired general, Benny Gantz, were tied in the number of seats they won so far, as the votes have been counted.

But to become prime minister, you need to form a coalition of parties that adds up to a majority in parliament. And there is a clear majority, so far, of right-wing parties that won. And that would make it easiest for Netanyahu to form the government.

GREENE: What did this election feel like on the streets, I mean, as you were speaking with Israelis as they were voting yesterday?

ESTRIN: It was really interesting. I think, when I spoke to people voting for Gantz, the centrist, they seemed resigned to the fact that he didn't have a great chance of unseating Netanyahu. But they thought, well, if anyone had a chance to do it, he would. And here's what a left-wing voter, a 43-year-old woman named Yael Levine (ph), told me.

YAEL LEVINE: I have very little hope, but we have to have hope. We just have to hope that even center parties can move us forward.

ESTRIN: And the Netanyahu voters I met were actually very confident in him. And they said Israel's economy's doing really well. People are feeling secure here. And when I asked, well, what about the corruption allegations that Netanyahu faces? Well, listen to what Tzvi Gudin (ph), a 29-year-old voter, said.

TZVI GUDIN: Right now, everything is clear. For me, until there'll be a trial, there'll be a sentence, he's to me as clear as snow.

ESTRIN: So a lot of Netanyahu's voters said to me they didn't really care or they were skeptical about the allegations.

GREENE: What about the mood among Palestinians, at this moment, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? What are they saying?

ESTRIN: Well, Palestinians in the Palestinian territories don't have the right to vote in Israeli elections. And Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said that the results look bad for the prospects of ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Here's what he said.

SAEB EREKAT: They want their occupation to be endless. And they want us to live under a continued, deeper apartheid system than the one that existed in the darkest hours of South Africa's apartheid.

ESTRIN: And actually, just days before elections, Netanyahu vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he's re-elected. And that could make it impossible for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace deal.

GREENE: So, Daniel, assuming that Netanyahu remains in power - I mean, one of the voters you spoke to brought up, you know, until there is a trial, talking about these corruption allegations looming over him. Do those allegations pose a threat if he stays in power for now?

ESTRIN: They could, David. Within months, Netanyahu is likely to face an indictment. Once that happens, it could spell the beginning of the end for him. At least one of the parties expected to join a possible Netanyahu government may not stay by his side. And Netanyahu's own party could start preparing for the day after.

GREENE: All right. The latest on that very close Israeli election yesterday - NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: Sure thing.

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GREENE: Well, here's a headline - Brexit remains a total mess.

MARTIN: Yes, it does. Politicians in the United Kingdom still cannot agree on a way to leave the European Union, which is why the prime minister, Theresa May, is heading to Brussels today to ask the EU for yet another extension. This is before the clock runs out on Friday morning. Recently, she's been in Berlin. She has been in Paris trying to get support from German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.

GREENE: And let's turn to our own Mr. Brexit - Frank Langfitt in London. Hi, Frank. You interested in...

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey...

GREENE: ...Covering something else at some point (laughter)?

LANGFITT: At some point, but we'll have to see how tonight goes.

GREENE: Well, what exactly is the prime minister asking for this time?

LANGFITT: She - well, she wants a short extension to June 30. And the reason is just as you guys were mentioning - she needs more time to find some consensus in this country on how to leave the European Union. She's also under a lot of pressure from Brexiteers here to just get out as soon as possible. And the other thing is she wants to avoid having to seat U.K. members in the European parliament. The new parliament opens in early July. So that's what she's asking for.

GREENE: Well, what kind of response is she going to get from European Union leaders who, I mean, have been getting impatient for...

LANGFITT: Yeah. They're...

GREENE: ...Like, forever now.

LANGFITT: Exactly. Well, the EU is exasperated. But we are expecting that there will be some kind of extension. And that's because the EU, as we've said before, doesn't want the U.K. to crash out of this trading block with no arrangements or plans on Friday night.

Also, the EU, though, is going to want to hear some kind of plan on how to break this deadlock in the British parliament. Donald Tusk - he's the president of the European Council - he is suggesting a long extension, could be up to a year. And one of the reasons for that is he wants to avoid the U.K. just continuing to blow through these deadlines, which we've been talking about, and also, frankly, dominating the EU agenda.

Now, any kind of extension would probably have conditions, and one would be to keep the U.K. from disrupting the EU while it remains inside. There's a concern here that once the prime minister - Prime Minister May - leaves, a Brexiteer prime minister could come in and actually try to muck things up in the EU. So there are going to be probably some pretty tough conditions if there's any extension.

GREENE: Frank, can I ask you this? I mean, you have these EU leaders. And what we've heard is that no one wants to be that veto necessarily who forces...

LANGFITT: Oh, no. I don't think so.

GREENE: ...Britain out, I mean...

LANGFITT: No.

GREENE: ...And crash. But they all have to respond to their own voters as well. I mean, we know that Brexit's divided British society. What is the view from the European continent of all this?

LANGFITT: It's really interesting, David. I was in Copenhagen over the weekend, and I was talking to Danish friends. And the response that I got was people cannot believe the bitterness, the anger, the chaos that they've seen in the parliament here that many in Europe really admired for a long time. Another pointed out that the U.K. is Denmark's closest ally, and he just feels really sad about it.

Interestingly, the chaos of Brexit has actually helped the EU's image on the continent. I was speaking last week to George Papaconstantinou. He's the former finance minister for Greece. And this is what he said.

GEORGE PAPACONSTANTINOU: Brexit has made Europeans realize more clearly what they have. It has made people realize that peace, prosperity and a common destiny that we've all been taking for granted for such a long time is something brittle that, if you don't protect and nurture, you could lose.

GREENE: Wow. That's quite reflective about this moment. What an interesting view to hear.

LANGFITT: It is. And I think that, really, in some ways, in the short run, Brexit has actually been good for the EU.

GREENE: Tonight in Brussels, another big decision on the U.K.'s long and - can we say - tortured path out of the EU. And NPR's Frank Langfitt in London will be covering it. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.