News Brief: Government Shutdown Looms, SUV Plows Into Australian Crowd
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So in Congress, that big tax vote is over. Next up on their to-do list - keeping the federal government actually running over the holidays.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Right - kind of a big deal. So this is a race against the clock, as it so often seems to be, with the government set to shut down on Friday if they don't make this happen. For now congressional leaders are looking to pass a sort of stopgap measure to keep the government running, at least till January, which would push off some tough spending decisions until the new year.
GREENE: All right, we have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: All right, so we've all been talking about this as a big showdown not just over money and keeping the government running, but over some major disagreements in terms of issues and policy, right?
KEITH: That's right. And most of those major issues as relates to policy are probably not going to get decided in the next 48 hours. Much of that is likely to get pushed off. We basically know how this movie ends. We don't...
GREENE: We've seen it before, you're saying?
KEITH: We've seen this movie before. We just don't know exactly which plot twists there will be before we get to that ending, which is, you know, the government open for business and functioning and people enjoying their holidays. There could be some plot twists along the way. One big issue is that House Republicans are very concerned. They want more funding - even possibly a full year's funding - for defense in this stopgap measure. They're not going to get that. And so one question is whether that introduces some additional drama. But perhaps I could just run through what is in this this short-term spending measure.
GREENE: Yeah, that'd be good.
KEITH: Yeah - that we've gotten the legislation overnight, and the House Rules Committee will be taking it up this morning. Essentially, what it does is it funds the government through January 19. It also has a short-term extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, funding it through the end of March. And it also has VA program funding and VA health care funding. And it extends the FISA program, which is warrantless surveillance for foreigners abroad, even when they're talking to Americans. That's been controversial and could be controversial in this, too.
GREENE: OK, so I know that the children's health program, CHIP - that was something that a lot of lawmakers were insisting gets done and gets funded as part of this. But there were some other issues, too, like, what about immigration? Wasn't that something that many Democrats wanted? They wanted to debate and find a resolution to protect the so-called DREAMers in the country.
KEITH: Yes. And it looks unlikely for that to be part of this discussion. That is one of those things that is in all likelihood getting pushed to next year. And there are some young people who are known as DREAMers who are going to be coming to the Capitol today to protest not the Republicans but Democratic leadership who they say are letting them down on this.
GREENE: And what about disaster relief? I mean, and people in states like Texas and Florida have been saying, you've got to give us more relief and got to do it now.
KEITH: There is a separate bill that they are expected to take up - $81 billion for disaster relief for hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the wildfires in California.
GREENE: OK, so some things handled separately, but it does sound like there's going to be that stopgap bill to keep the government running unless there are plot twists, as you said.
KEITH: Which there always are.
GREENE: ...Which there always are. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, we appreciate it. Thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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GREENE: I want to turn to a situation now that is unfolding this morning in Australia.
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MARTIN: That's the sound of panic in Melbourne today after a vehicle drove into a crowd of people, injuring more than a dozen. Here's Victoria Police commissioner Russell Barrett.
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RUSSELL BARRETT: Police arrived at the scene within minutes and have arrested two men. At this stage, we believe it's a deliberate act. However, we do not know the motivation.
GREENE: All right, let's turn to Danny Tran, who is a reporter for ABC News, on the line from Australia.
DANNY TRAN: G'day (ph), how are you?
GREENE: I'm good, thank you. It sounds like people in Melbourne are not so good. What happened here?
TRAN: No, certainly not. What we do know is that earlier this afternoon, a white four-wheel drive drove through a crowd of pedestrians before crashing into a tram stop. Fourteen people were hurt. Several are in a critical condition. And as we just heard from Russell Barrett, Victoria Police commander, two men have been arrested.
GREENE: And were these - I've been reading that these were Christmas shoppers. Is that what was going on in this part of the city?
TRAN: Look, more than likely, the area that we're talking about is right near one of the busy - or probably one of the busiest train stations in Melbourne. It's Flinders Street Station. And what we do know is that a lot of those people probably would've been going about their day. It's a major point where people - to get across and around the city, and more than likely, they have been Christmas shopping, and more than likely, they were either going somewhere or heading on the way home. And that's how this incident unfolded.
GREENE: OK, so - so early, we don't know a lot, but police calling it a deliberate act in an area of the city where, you know, we presume a lot of people were doing shopping at that time of year. Do we have any word on the victims and who they are?
TRAN: Look, we have some details. And very sadly, the injured includes preschool-aged child with a head injury who's been taken to our Royal Children's Hospital. He's in a serious - or they are in a serious condition. And other people - a total of 14 people have been injured, several critically. And more details about that haven't come out yet.
GREENE: And two men arrested - is that all we know or are we beginning to hear who they might be?
TRAN: So far, we're - I'm actually sitting, waiting for the premier of Victoria to come and address the media. And more details might come out, but at this stage, all we know is that two men, including the driver, have been arrested. So that's yet to happen.
GREENE: Danny, I know we've obviously seen incidents like this elsewhere in the world. And again, it's so early to even, you know, contemplate what may have caused this. But are Australians familiar with acts of violence like this?
TRAN: Look, they are, and very unfortunately, Melburnians have been on high alert for a pedestrian attack since a driver - he's currently before the courts here - ran down pedestrians in the busy Bourke Street Mall in January. That's a key shopping precinct, and people regularly - they often walk up and down there doing their shopping. And it's one of the (unintelligible) of Melbourne. And as a result of that, the Victorian government put up a lot of - several safety measures around the city, including concrete ballasts to stop cars from entering certain pedestrian-filled areas. But, unfortunately, it appears that something like this has happened again so close to Christmas.
GREENE: All right, Danny Tran is a reporter for ABC News in Melbourne, Australia, this morning. Danny, thanks.
TRAN: Thank you.
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GREENE: It's looking like we could see a big showdown at the U.N. General Assembly today.
MARTIN: Yeah, this is all about the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which upended decades of U.S. Mideast policy. It made Israel happy. It rankled a lot of U.S. allies, though. Today, the U.N. is going to vote on whether that choice by the Trump administration was right or wrong. Yesterday, at a cabinet meeting, President Trump said any country that votes to condemn the U.S. on this could see their aid cut.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against this. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care.
GREENE: Tough talk there from President Trump. We're joined now by NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So this vote is actually the climax of a few days of voting on this, right? Remind us of the broader context here.
ESTRIN: Well, on Monday, every single nation in the U.N. Security Council except for the U.S. voted in favor of a resolution that would deem President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital as null and void. And the U.S. vetoed that resolution. But then Tuesday and Wednesday, nearly every country voted in favor of resolutions on Palestinian rights. And now today, there is an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly where countries are going to be sidestepping the U.S. veto and - at least trying to - on this same issue about Jerusalem that the U.S. vetoed.
GREENE: Well, we have that threatening language from President Trump. You have U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley saying she's going to be taking names when the General Assembly votes today. Do warnings like this make a difference?
ESTRIN: Well, if Trump really does cut off funding to countries that vote for this, it would be a serious blow, and especially to countries that are very outspoken against Trump's Jerusalem decision and that rely on a lot of U.S. aid, like Egypt, and Jordan and Pakistan. But Pakistan's foreign office told NPR that Pakistan does plan to vote in favor of this resolution. And Palestinian officials who have been courting votes say they expect that the vast majority of countries are going to vote for it, you know, despite Nikki Haley saying that she's going to take all their names down. Here's what Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says.
HANAN ASHRAWI: The browbeating and the bullying and the very cheap blackmail exercised by President Trump and Nikki Haley will backfire because you don't buy people. You don't buy countries. There are some things that are not for sale.
ESTRIN: And one thing that's not for sale for many Arab and Muslim countries is Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause.
GREENE: And just briefly, Daniel, what are Palestinians trying to achieve with this vote today?
ESTRIN: They want a symbolic victory. They want to show the U.S. that the majority of the world backs the Palestinians' positions. And this is part of a bigger diplomatic move the Palestinians are making to try to sideline the U.S. in the peace process.
GREENE: OK, NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting for us in Jerusalem this morning. Daniel, thanks. We appreciate it.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
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