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Morning News Brief: Spain Attack, Trump's Week, 'Boston Free Speech' Rally


Two more terrorist attacks taking place in Europe where vehicles were used as weapons.


Yeah, the first one was in Barcelona last night. Then early this morning, another attack was thwarted further down the coast. In Barcelona, a driver rammed a van into crowds of people in the city's historic Las Ramblas district. The van reportedly swerved back and forth, mowing down pedestrians, killing at least 13 and injuring more than a hundred. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. And then hours later, Catalan police foiled a second vehicle attack about 70 miles south in the town of Cambrils.

GREENE: And we have NPR's Frank Langfitt on the line in Barcelona. And, Frank, you're based in Europe to cover all things Europe.


GREENE: But this is almost becoming your beat now...

LANGFITT: I'm afraid so.

GREENE: ...Sadly. Yeah. So bring us up to date on where you are Barcelona. There have been some arrests, right?

LANGFITT: There have. They arrested a Moroccan man who - not here in Barcelona but elsewhere. His identification documents were used to rent the van in the attack here in Las Ramblas. And the Barcelona police are saying the driver of the van here in Barcelona, he escaped on foot. And they're actually still looking for him, David.

GREENE: Well, then we have this second attack.


GREENE: What happened and how certain are the authorities that they were connected?

LANGFITT: The police are very explicit. They say it is connected to the Las Ramblas attack. This attack happened early in the morning, as you were saying. Police set up a roadblock in Cambrils. It's a seaside resort south of Barcelona. Five men drove through the roadblock about 3 a.m. in the morning.

They hit pedestrians and a police officer and then flipped the vehicle. Then they get out of the car. They stabbed another pedestrian. Police shot and killed all five of these men. And they were wearing fake explosive vests, which, as you were saying, this was actually something you saw on the London Bridge attack back in June in London.

CHANG: There's been several vehicle attacks in Europe recently, right? There was Bastille Day in Nice, France, the holiday market in Berlin, you just mentioned London Bridge this June.

GREENE: Yeah, it's just - it seems to be a strategy that ISIS might be turning to. Well, Frank, now we have this house explosion...


GREENE: ...That happened early Thursday in a different coastal town. That's connected as well?

LANGFITT: Yeah, this is all happening really within about a three-hour drive on the northeast coast of Spain. And they do think this is connected as well. The interior minister in Catalonia, he said this explosion occurred in a town called Alcanar. They believe, police, that a jihadist cell was working, preparing explosives there. The explosion was huge. If you've seen the video, it actually leveled the house.

It killed what the police believe was one of the bomb makers and injured five others. And the driver of the car in Cambrils - which, you know, was the event that happened early this morning - they say is connected to that explosion. So they're connecting the dots to these three big events that have happened in a very, very short period of time here on the northeast coast of Spain.

GREENE: Well, events that - you know, who knows what is happening right now? We have someone, as you said, on the loose. We have a jihadist who was working to prepare explosives. I mean, what - how are people feeling? They have to be on edge.

LANGFITT: Well, it's really, really interesting, David. I was just out on Las Ramblas moments ago, and the crowds are out. It's just about a maybe fifth of what would be normal. It's usually incredibly jammed. People are somber. But I was talking to a guy named Cesar Castro (ph). He runs a clothing shop. He said he's not surprised by this. Especially after the attacks in London and Paris, he says it was in the air. This was bound to happen. So there is a sense of - I mean, people are shocked but not surprised.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting in Barcelona this morning. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, David.


GREENE: And I'll say, here at home, this - I mean, it's safe to say this has been a pretty awful week for President Trump.

CHANG: That's definitely safe to say. First, he got slammed for his controversial remarks on Charlottesville. And then as one CEO after another quit the president's manufacturing council, the president disbanded that. And then some Republicans really started to speak out. Here's Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on "Vice News Tonight" on HBO. He talked about how Trump reacted to Charlottesville.


TIM SCOTT: I'm not going to defend the indefensible. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to be clear and to be concise and succinct. His comments on Monday were strong. His comments on Tuesday started erasing the comments that were strong. What we want to see from our president is clarity.

CHANG: And clarity is exactly what we did not get from White House adviser Steve Bannon. He gave a freewheeling interview this week contradicting the president's stance on North Korea.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I mean, President Trump has had challenging weeks before. Talk about this week. How big a blow is this stuff?

HORSLEY: Well, it's significant. It's not only Tim Scott. We also heard very critical comments from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee yesterday. And then Trump himself has picked a fight with two other Republican Senators, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. That's four in a chamber where the GOP doesn't have a whole lot of votes to spare as it is. We've also seen fallout from the business community.

Yesterday, the president was forced to disband a third business advisory council - this one on infrastructure - as people were defecting. We've also had big charities canceling plans to hold gala events at Mar-a-Lago, the president's private club. So that's hitting the Trump Organization where it hurts, in the pocketbook. And then finally on the cultural front, Kevin Durant told ESPN last night that if Trump invites the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to the White House, he will boycott.

GREENE: Well - so, Scott, I mean, even in the most difficult moments, we often say that polls suggest that President Trump still has his base supporting him strongly. Is that still the case? Does he still have solid support from somewhere?

HORSLEY: It's maybe a little shakier than it was, but he certainly does. One thing to remember is that there's been reports of lots of private hand-wringing among the White House staff. But we haven't actually seen any defections from the staff - at least not yet. That could change. And then as you say, perhaps more importantly is the base of support in the public.

There has certainly been some erosion, but it hasn't gone to zero. Some interesting voices yesterday on All Things Considered not from neo-Nazis, but from ordinary Trump voters in Wisconsin who are still standing behind him. You have to remember this is a president who has survived a lot of tough weeks in the past...


HORSLEY: ...Even after being written off for dead by the political-chattering classes and come back from it.

GREENE: Can his agenda survive? What - can he get anything done after weeks like this?

HORSLEY: You know, that's a good question. In his very critical comments yesterday, Senator Corker said our nation needs the president to be successful. There are a lot of tough challenges ahead just to take Congress. There are tough votes ahead to raise the debt ceiling. That was not going to be easy under any circumstances, and it's going to be harder now. The Republicans still want to pass tax overhaul. That's a political minefield, and the president's ability to shape that is going to be challenged. And Trump himself is still talking about wanting to get Obamacare repealed. That was a lonely cause before. It's perhaps lonelier now.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks as always.

HORSLEY: You're welcome, David.


GREENE: And, Ailsa, people in Boston are heading into this weekend feeling a lot of angst.

CHANG: That's right. There's a rally planned for Saturday that's getting a lot of attention since Charlottesville. Organizers say it's to support free speech, but civil rights advocates say the rally has connections to white nationalism. And it'll be a platform for racial hatred, they say. So now counterprotests are being planned, and there are real concerns about a repeat of Charlottesville.

GREENE: OK, let's try and figure out exactly what this event is. Let's turn to Bruce Gellerman from member station WBUR in Boston. Good morning, Bruce.


GREENE: So tell us more about who exactly is organizing this this, quote, "free speech event."

GELLERMAN: Well, they call themselves the Boston Free Speech Rally. It's kind of a coalition of libertarians, they say, classical liberals, classical conservatives and supporters of Trump. And they've - this is actually the second rally they're holding. They held one in spring, which only had about a hundred people there.

So - and there was shouting and screaming back and forth between them and some other counterdemonstrators, but no real violence at all. The demonstrators - the people who are putting this on have disavowed violence. They say they have nothing to do with, you know, the United - the Right Rally in Charlottesville. And Mayor Marty Walsh here in Boston, he says he's got zero tolerance for any kind of violence. Here's Walsh.


MARTY WALSH: You can have your free speech all day long. But let's not speak about hate. Let's not speak about bigotry, racism. Let's not speak about that.

GELLERMAN: And the organizers...

GREENE: Yeah, go ahead.

GELLERMAN: Well, the organizers say - no, the organizers say, you know, they're disavowing any violence or bigotry or racism. They've actually said, you know, we're nothing about that. And they've had nothing but praise with their meetings with the Boston police.

GREENE: But I mean, just those events in Charlottesville, those images and those memories still on the minds of so many people. The city - I mean, what are they doing to make sure that nothing gets sparked here, that this rally remains calm?

GELLERMAN: Well, the city has issued a permit to, you know, the ralliers but with very stiff conditions. They're going to be inspecting all backpacks. They're telling people not to bring backpacks. There's no bats, no weapons. And they're going to be using barricades, which are used commonly here to separate people from the - from each other. There's actually going to be a corridor around the bandstand where the rally is taking place so there can be kind of no contact. And, you know, Boston's very smart. This is Boston strong, Boston smart. The police know how to handle large crowds here in Boston.

GREENE: Is the crowd supposed to be large?

GELLERMAN: Oh, yeah, they're expecting - well, the people that are putting on the free speech rally say between 700 and 1,000 people. But the counterdemonstrators estimate between 10 and 20,000 people.

GREENE: Oh, wow, so this is going to be quite an event to cover.


GREENE: OK, Boston looking at - with some angst at a free speech rally taking place over the weekend, speaking about it with WBUR's Bruce Gellerman. Bruce, thanks very much.

GELLERMAN: You're welcome, David.


Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Bruce Gellerman