News Brief: SEAL Case, Bloomberg Candidacy, Hong Kong Election
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The civilian head of the Navy is out of a job.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Richard V. Spencer is his name. He was caught between the president above him and the people in uniform below. Now, the original dispute here is clear - the Navy wanted to discipline Eddie Gallagher, who was a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. President Trump wrote on Twitter that Gallagher should escape that discipline. But the resolution here is confusing.
Mark Esper - he's another top civilian, the secretary of defense, Richard Spencer's boss. Mark Esper alleges that the Navy secretary interfered with the military process. He says Spencer tried to work out a compromise with the president, and that was wrong, so Spencer has been dismissed. But having done that, Mark Esper himself decided in favor of the president and said Eddie Gallagher will remain in the service.
MARTIN: OK, we've got NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman with us to help us understand what's going on here because it is confusing. Tom, can you just start off by explaining, based on what Steve just outlined, did the secretary of the Navy lose his job because he publicly disagreed about how to hold Eddie Gallagher, this disgraced Navy SEAL accountable, or did he lose his job because he broke the chain of command in boxing the secretary of defense out, or both?
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: I think it's probably both, and it's really not clear. Again, Esper said he lost faith in the Navy secretary, Spencer. Again, he said he'd talk publicly about having a review board to determine whether Gallagher would remain a SEAL but then told the White House there was a way out; he could retire and keep his SEAL insignia. But what Esper's folks are saying - I'm sorry - Spencer's folks are saying is that Spencer talked to experts, reviewed other similar cases, including the cases of Marines urinating on dead Taliban, and essentially found a compromise out of this. So it's hard to say if it's a chain of command issue or this compromise.
What's interesting, though, is Spencer's letter to Trump basically says to - the president deserves a Navy secretary who is aligned with his views on the future of our force, which is similar, you may remember, to a letter former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote the president nearly a year ago.
MARTIN: Right, but this one even goes further, I would argue. I mean, Spencer is writing here, the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again. And goes on - unfortunately, it's become apparent that, in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief. I mean, what has been the response to all this, Tom?
BOWMAN: Well, that echoes what other officials are saying. There's a great deal of concern in the special operations community about - there have been a number of these cases. So what's going on here? Is it after 18 years of war, the standards have been lowered? Are junior officers and noncommissioned officers looking the other way for wrongdoing? So the head of the Special Operations Command, General Rich Clark, even before all of this mess, decided to put together a advisory board looking at those questions. Do you have a problem in the special operations community? And they expect to come up with a report in the next few months.
MARTIN: Where's Eddie Gallagher in all this? Clearly, he's feeling probably pretty good.
BOWMAN: Well, yeah. Well, Gallagher always said he wanted to retire with his honors. And here he is speaking on Fox News yesterday.
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EDDIE GALLAGHER: I don't know how many times I've thanked the president. He keeps, you know, stepping in, doing the right thing. And I just want to let him know that the rest of the SEAL community is not about this right now. They all respect the president. And what the admiral is doing, showing complete insubordination, is not a good example of good order and discipline.
BOWMAN: And again, what Esper is saying is it's curious because he's allowing Gallagher to keep his insignia, and that's just kind of odd here.
MARTIN: Right. And there are plenty of other military officials who would argue the opposite - that it was Spencer who was upholding the military's conception of good order and discipline. NPR's Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom. We appreciate it.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: All right. In Hong Kong elections, pro-democracy voters turned out in record numbers to deliver a message to China.
INSKEEP: Yeah. Pro-democracy candidates defeated longtime occupants of local council seats throughout Hong Kong. This was seen as a symbolic referendum for the anti-government movement or, we should say, the anti-central government movement. Now, in a statement today, Hong Kong's leader, who is backed by Beijing, by the national government in China, said the government will respect the results of the election. Carrie Lam said the Hong Kong government will, quote, "listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect."
MARTIN: All right. We've got Emily's - Emily's - NPR's Emily Feng on the line from Hong Kong. Emily, you are out in the world. Tell me where you are, first of all.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: We're right outside Polytechnic University, where about 60 of the some newly elected pro-democratic district councilors are trying to negotiate access to this campus. Since Sunday, dozens of protesters have barricaded themselves inside and refused to come out. And these district councilors say their first act in office is to negotiate their way in and bring these people out.
MARTIN: So just talk about the results here. I mean, this is a huge surprise, is it not?
FENG: It wasn't a huge surprise, but it definitely exceeded expectations. Pro-democrats now have 86% of district council seats. If you look at the map of Hong Kong right now, it is all pro-democratic, except for the very fringes of Hong Kong. Voter turnout was the highest it ever has been in any election in Hong Kong history at 71%.
FENG: And so now everyone's looking to 2022, which is when a committee chooses the city's next leader. District councillors don't make policy, but they do have one important responsibility - they make up just one-tenth of that committee that chooses the leader. But there's a lot of excitement. Overhanging that excitement is that a handful of protesters are still trapped on this campus that I'm sitting right outside of. And so today, these district councillors are outside. I went to a lunchtime protest, and I spoke to a 26-year-old financial analyst named Jackson Cheng, who said the elections, for him, were a bittersweet victory.
JACKSON CHENG: I was happy at that moment. But the time I think of what we have paid for such votes - we are paying a lot for such results. So we deserve that. So that shouldn’t be unexpected. It shouldn’t be a surprise.
MARTIN: He's saying there they've paid a lot for such results, huh?
FENG: That they paid in terms of the lives of these protesters who are trapped inside this campus now, and that's why hundreds are here trying to rescue them.
MARTIN: So what is the official reaction from Beijing, from China's central government, if anything, at this point?
FENG: Well, there's been no official state response, but state media has not been pleased. They've accused the, quote, "West" for meddling in the election for these results. Carrie Lam notably, Hong Kong's chief executive, has not come out and made a live statement. She released a statement saying that she would reflect on the election results.
But what the elections show was that the collective power of the Hong Kong people is quite unified. And this is why Hong Kong and Beijing are at an impasse. For Hong Kong, they think democracy works. Yesterday's elections were incredibly orderly. There were no protests. But the results were surprising. They were open-ended and stunning. And Beijing just can't tolerate that kind of political uncertainty.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Emily Feng in Hong Kong. Emily, thanks for your reporting. We appreciate it.
FENG: Thank you.
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MARTIN: Michael Bloomberg says he's in - the former mayor of New York is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
INSKEEP: He's a former Republican, also a former independent, also a businessman, media executive and billionaire. At age 77, Bloomberg has talked of running for president for many years; now he says he really will run and that he will use his estimated $58 billion personal fortune to finance his run. That means he doesn't qualify for the next debate, which does require voter fundraising as a sign of support. Bloomberg will also skip the early primaries and instead set his sights on Super Tuesday - Super Tuesday in March, when a large number of delegates will be in play. He explains his run in an ad this way.
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UNIDENTIFIED SPOKESPERSON: Mike Bloomberg for president - jobs creator, leader, problem solver. It's going to take all three to build back a country.
MARTIN: We've got NPR's Mara Liasson with us this morning. So Mara, tell me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that Michael Bloomberg had already gone down this road and had decided that if Joe Biden was going to run, he wasn't going to do it. So what changed?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I think for Michael Bloomberg, his theory of the case is that both leading candidates of the centrist and left-wing lanes in the Democratic Party have been disappointed - disappointing, and they're both unelectable. Elizabeth Warren - too far to the left; Joe Biden - having trouble performing and raising money. And that's really the impetus for Bloomberg's entry.
I think for many Democrats, he thinks the idea of Joe Biden was appealing, but the reality of Joe Biden has been disappointing. And Biden, of course, is the biggest target for Bloomberg. He's the one that Bloomberg's entry threatens the most. Bloomberg comes in - self-funding, centrist, billionaire Democrat.
MARTIN: Yeah. So his strategy - just skip the early states because it's too late, and he's not going to make the primary debates. Is that a good idea?
LIASSON: Well, we don't know. It's very unorthodox. It's never been done before. But he has many billions of dollars, and that could be a real factor, especially in the primaries after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, where it's less about visiting every county and meeting a lot of voters one-on-one, more about how much you can afford to spend on TV. And he's already spending more than $30 million in television ads.
MARTIN: Right. So it's all about Super Tuesday for him. So I guess my question is what does a Michael Bloomberg voter look like? I mean, who would be his base of support?
LIASSON: Well, that is really a good question because he's not registering in the polls right now. He does have a lot of detractors. Of course, other candidates are saying he's just a billionaire trying to buy his way to the nomination. He's also taken some controversial positions in the past, like stop and frisk, New York City Police Department's policy, which a federal judge determined in 2013 violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities. And he is apologizing for that. Here's what he said.
Oh, we don't have time to play that.
MARTIN: We don't have the clip. But he did. It was a big reversal for him, wasn't it?
LIASSON: Oh, big reversal. He said, I got something wrong. I didn't understand back then the full impact that the stop and frisk was having on the black and Latino community.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson with the latest entry into the already very crowded Democratic nomination process. Mara, thanks. We appreciate it.
LIASSON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.