News Brief: Trump Visits Japan, European Parliament Elections, Opioid Case

May 27, 2019
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's disagreement with Japan's prime minister demonstrates his personal brand of diplomacy.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. The president has been visiting Tokyo. He met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Their summit came after North Korea tested missiles. Now, Japan and key figures in the Trump administration say that testing violates U.N. resolutions, but President Trump says he's not bothered by it.

INSKEEP: One of many things heard by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who is traveling with the president - is currently in Japan. Hi there, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: So we should mention, the news conference at which the president made that remark next to Shinzo Abe came after a lengthy meeting. What came out of it?

RASCOE: So really, this trip overall was about showing how close the U.S. and Japan are, how close Trump and Abe are. And that was on display here at the press conference. Abe, in particular, was very complimentary of Trump. He repeatedly said how he wanted to praise Trump for taking a new approach with North Korea. He even said that Trump was responsible for cracking Kim Jong Un's shell of distrust. But, as you mentioned, there were some divisions there. Trump downplayed North Korea's latest missile launches. And Abe had this to say.

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PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: (Speaking Japanese).

INSKEEP: I guess we should do a little translation here...

RASCOE: For those that don't speak...

INSKEEP: Yeah. Go ahead, please.

RASCOE: Yeah. For those that don't speak Japanese, he called the test a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution. And he said it was regrettable that this happened. So even though the countries are saying they're on the same page - and, largely, they do seem to be - there are some differences there.

INSKEEP: What else was the president saying as he stood next to the Japanese prime minister?

RASCOE: Well, over and over again, Trump was talking about how he expects to make all these deals on national security or on trade with various countries. What you didn't hear was how he will actually make it happen. He said he expects an agreement with China. Here's more on that.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think sometime in the future, China and the United States will absolutely have a great trade deal. And we look forward to that.

RASCOE: But he didn't say how those two countries will be able to come together. Talks have really fallen apart. The countries are now trading tariffs and retaliating against each other. He's also talking about a quick deal with Japan and said there may be a big announcement on this by August.

But he didn't say how those countries are going to come together on the issue of car imports. Japan does not want tariffs. And Trump has said that he's looking at that. He's considering it, and he hasn't taken that off the table.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one thing that was said there about China, Ayesha. Is this correct? The president also said China wants to make a deal. They're ready to make a deal with us, the United States, but we're not ready to make a deal. Did he say, again, he's comfortable just having higher and higher tariffs against China?

RASCOE: That was much of what he was saying. Obviously, he continues to state inaccurately that China is paying all the tariffs. It is importers who are paying - U.S. importers who are paying the tariffs. But he basically is now kind of saying that China wishes they would have made the deal; they're kind of suffering. And we - and now we're not ready to make a deal. They have to kind of come to us, basically - or come to the U.S. to make the deal.

INSKEEP: But the U.S. is selling a bunch of F-35 fighter planes to Japan.

RASCOE: Yeah. So this is a product of Japan's efforts, obviously, to build up their military, but also to win over some favor from the U.S. and lower that trade deficit which Trump is so concerned about. So this is a way - these F-35s are not cheap. And so they cost a lot of money.

INSKEEP: OK. Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

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INSKEEP: OK, huge election result here - centrists in Europe have lost their majority.

KING: That's right. Over the weekend, the European Union held parliamentary elections. Nationalist and far-right parties gained seats, but they did not win in a landslide that a lot of people had predicted. Liberals and Green parties also did very well. And it's notable that this was the highest turnout for European elections in 25 years.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been following the elections from Rome. Hi there, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you make of all this?

POGGIOLI: Well, the bottom line is, as you said, the populists did well in some countries. But those fearful forecasts of a hard-right victory across the EU did not pan out. One reason seems to be a very high turnout - overall, something like 51% compared to 43% five years ago. And that's apparently thanks to young, pro-EU voters who cast ballots for Greens. Those parties scored very well in Northern Europe.

The populists did succeed in depriving the center-left and center-right parties of the majority they held for 40 years in the European Parliament. They've gained 5% from the last EU elections. But populists are expected to get only around 25% of Parliament seats. Nevertheless, there were some standout populist victories.

Here's the victorious Matteo Salvini, Italian deputy prime minister and leader of the hard-right League.

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MATTEO SALVINI: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: So, clutching a rosary, Salvini said, "not only is the League the top party in Italy. Marine Le Pen is the top party in France. Nigel Farage is the top party in the U.K. So Italy, France, the U.K. - it's a sign of Europe that's changing." And, you know, Marine Le Pen's hard-right party came in ahead of the party of French President Emmanuel Macron, the champion of a stronger EU. And the League, here in Italy, scored 34%, and that makes it the biggest party in the EU Parliament.

INSKEEP: Well, what is driving the far-right in multiple countries to gain?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, EU bureaucrats have been accused of dealing very poorly with many recent issues. There was the economic stagnation following the global financial crisis, very high unemployment rates, especially among the young in Southern Europe, mass-casualty terrorist attacks that raised concerns over lack of security - but of course, most of all, the refugee crisis that led to an influx of unprecedented numbers of migrants in Europe.

Populists have fueled fears and anxiety over what they call an invasion. Here's the autocratic prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, whose party scored more than 50% in the EU vote.

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PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN: We reject migration. And we would like to see leaders in position of European Unions who reject the migration, who would like to stop it and not to manage it.

INSKEEP: OK. Sylvia, from that one quote, we can figure out what far-right means in Hungary. But does it mean the same in all European countries? What do they all stand for?

POGGIOLI: No. There's a - you know, they're not united on all issues. For example, Italy's Salvini wants much looser rules on budgetary discipline. That's rejected by German and other North European populists. Salvini also wants other member states to take in many of the refugees that are in Italy. Hungary's Orban and other East Europeans rule that out. So they won't be able - the populists won't be able to reshape the European Union in their image, but they could seriously obstruct and slow down the whole legislative process.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks for your insights.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

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INSKEEP: In this country, the state of Oklahoma has settled with a second pharmaceutical company for its role in the opioid crisis. Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals will be paying the state $85 million. That follows an earlier settlement with Purdue Pharma, the makers of the painkiller OxyContin, for $270 million.

KING: Yeah, this case against Teva isn't unusual. It's one of hundreds happening across the country. Local and state governments are suing the drug industry. They say the companies marketed and incentivized the sale of opioids, and that contributed to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths across the country. In the state of Oklahoma alone, thousands of people have died.

INSKEEP: We're joined now by Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio, who covers opioid litigation for NPR - which, Brian, I guess, gives you a lot to do.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah, there's a lot these days.

INSKEEP: And good morning. How important is this latest settlement?

MANN: Well, there's a big practical side to this, Steve. Local governments in Oklahoma will now get some cash to help pay for things like law enforcement and rehab programs that could save lives. But this is also part of a growing trend, with drug companies around the U.S. trying to get out from under this legal and public-relations cloud. They're accused of getting millions of Americans hooked on opioid medications through the use of this aggressive and misleading marketing. And that's just been a huge burden on the entire industry.

INSKEEP: Now, the news here is out of Oklahoma. But we should note there are many governments - state and local governments - in many states who are suing pharmaceutical companies. And I gather you've been travelling around talking with people in some of the areas that are suing.

MANN: That's right. I traveled out to Summit County, Ohio, to see how that local community is dealing with this and the costs. And I spoke to Richard Milhof. He's struggled with addiction himself. And says a lot of his neighbors got hooked on these prescription opioid medications.

RICHARD MILHOF: A lot my friends are passed away. They've overdosed and died...

MANN: I'm very sorry. I hope...

MILHOF: Almost every single friend that I had, that I grew up with, is dead because of it.

INSKEEP: Wow. One sense of the human cost. And then there's the dollar cost in government after government after government.

MANN: That's right. This heavy burden is falling on local governments around the country. They're paying for everything from law enforcement to, you know, needle exchange programs. I spoke with Donna Skoda, who heads Summit County's public health department. And she told me about kind of a surprising aspect of this, Steve. The county's budget exploded because of the need for new foster care.

DONNA SKODA: The increase in the number of children they've had to take for safety reasons, I mean, it's just doubled - and then not to mention the children that have been orphaned. So it just complicates everything. But it has been devastating.

MANN: In this one Ohio county, taxpayers have spent nearly $70 million the last few years responding to this crisis. Local officials across the U.S. say this is the kind of financial burden that Big Pharma should pay for.

INSKEEP: Brian, I think your reporting is suggesting to us why it might be that not all pharmaceutical companies have settled their lawsuits - because they might face lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit in city after city and state after state, right?

MANN: That's exactly right. And of course, back in Oklahoma there is still a suit there against Johnson & Johnson, one of the nation's biggest corporations, the biggest drug maker. They've denied any wrongdoing. But, you know, if big firms like this are found liable for cleaning up the opioid mess, the payouts could grow fast from the millions of dollars into the billions. So this is going to be watched very closely.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.