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News Brief: Midterms, Census Question, Sanctions On Iran


Ohio, Indiana, Missouri - President Trump has a full day of campaigning scheduled before Election Day tomorrow.


Yeah. And he's been all over the place over the weekend. He was in Montana, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee. He's been talking up the economy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And by the way, did you see those numbers on Friday?


TRUMP: These are big numbers. America now has the hottest economy on earth.

GREENE: OK. And the president is also sounding pretty bullish on his party's chances of keeping, maybe even expanding, their majority in the U.S. Senate, though not so much when it comes to keeping control of the House.

MARTIN: All right. NPR politics correspondent Asma Khalid has been traveling with the president in these final hours, and she joins us now to talk about what she has seen and heard. Hey, Asma.


MARTIN: So over the past couple of weeks, we have definitely heard the president lean into immigration as a theme. But we heard him just there touting the economy. How has he struck that balance, if there has been a balance?

KHALID: Well, he has been touting the healthy economy, it seems like, more lately. You know, he's speaking about the record number of jobs. He's even talking about the tax cuts again. He likes to say that Democrats create mobs, Republicans create jobs. That's a line that we heard quite a bit. But he also, you know, as you mention, veers back into talking about cultural issues, particularly immigration. And he's trying to rally his base with threats, whether they're real or not, that if Democrats take over Congress, we'll see more people coming into the country illegally to commit crimes.

You know, Rachel, what I thought was really interesting, though, is that over the weekend, we also saw former President Barack Obama campaigning in Indiana and Illinois, and he described this election as kind of a test of our character. You know, he said that Trump was fearmongering over immigration. And he in fact accused Republicans of blatantly lying about their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act's protections for preexisting conditions.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that Barack Obama was in Indiana trying to shore up support for who is - Joe Donnelly, who's really become, like, an embattled Democrat fighting for his seat. And President Trump trying to capitalize on that.

KHALID: Yep. You know, and he's also going to Indiana today. He'll also be going to Missouri. And really, that is precisely his goal, right? He really wants to flip those Democratic seats. Missouri and Indiana are two of the closest Senate races in the country, with Senator Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly. These are both incumbent Democrats, and these are both states that Trump won by about 20 percentage points in 2016.

One note, though. He's also going to Ohio today to focus on the governors' race there, and that's why he was in Georgia over the weekend. You know, Trump's strategy is really to focus on places where he thinks he has the ability to sway the electorate.

MARTIN: Right. And we've seen that that hasn't necessarily been in House races. That's where Democrats feel an advantage. So you also have been reporting all year about demographics, different voter groups. So as a result of what you have been learning, what are you looking for in the election tomorrow?

KHALID: Well, early in the night, the No. 1 thing I'll be watching for are issues - health care versus immigration. These are two top issues we've seen in polling, and they've largely become a proxy for partisan partisanship. No. 2, real quick, I want to focus on the margins for two key demographics - white women and married women, in major part because the important races for the House are going to be fought in districts where the suburban women vote is key.

MARTIN: OK. Great. We'll look out for that. Asma Khalid. She is co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Thanks so much, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome.


MARTIN: OK. A trial is going to start today that could determine whether a controversial new question will stay on the 2020 census.

GREENE: Yeah. It's a straightforward question, but there's so much packed into it, especially in this political moment. The question is, is this person a citizen of the United States? Six lawsuits have been filed in an effort to get the question removed, and the first trial starts today in New York City. No matter which side wins, this issue is really likely to be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: NPR national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang has been covering these lawsuits since the beginning and joins us now. Hey, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning Rachel.

MARTIN: All right, Hansi. There are going to be people out there who are listening to this who say, wait, isn't the whole point of the census to count the number of U.S. citizens? So explain why this additional question is such a big deal.

WANG: The census is a head count of both U.S. citizens and noncitizens. You know, who is counted is not based on citizenship. It's actually based on who's living here. And so asking about...

MARTIN: People in America, regardless of citizenship.

WANG: Exactly. Any person who is living in the country. And so asking about citizenship status - right now there is a body of research that the Census Bureau is putting out that is suggesting that this will lead to possibly a bad count, inaccurate information being collected. And the reason for that is that many people are scared of this question. There were focus groups conducted, and many people think that this question, they think that this is a way for the government to locate undocumented immigrants. And that's going to make the Census Bureau's job very, very hard. Their job, again, is to count everyone once and where they live. And, you know, it's not only their job. This is a constitutional requirement.

MARTIN: So the fear is that people just wouldn't answer the question, would lie about how many people are actually living in their household, for fear of some kind of repercussions about their citizenship?

WANG: Exactly. Or try not to answer at all.

MARTIN: So why then was this added? Why is it that the Trump administration wants this question in there?

WANG: That is one of the main questions in these lawsuits. What the Trump administration has said, you know, back in March when this question was announced, that this was for the Voting Rights Act - better enforcement of protections against racial discrimination, that this was a request coming from the Justice Department and the Justice Department needed more detailed data about citizenship. But just last night, I've seen court filings from testimony from the head of the Justice and Civil Rights Division, John Gore. And he testified that this citizenship question is not necessary for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Also the Census Bureau, after they received this request, they urged the commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census and also he was the one who decided to put this question onto the census, they urged him to pick an alternative to adding a citizenship question, an alternative way of collecting citizenship data that would be more accurate and costs less money. But the secretary really, really wanted to get a citizenship question onto the census.

MARTIN: So what are you going to be looking for? As we noted, there have been several lawsuits filed. This is the first one, starting today. What are you going to keep your eye on?

WANG: We're going to look for exactly, you know, what this judge rules. This is not going to be the final word. This is going to be really the beginning of a process that will go, very likely, all the way to the Supreme Court. The Census Bureau wants to have an early ruling, but it may not come until June when rulings are due by the Supreme Court. And that really puts pressure on the census because forms are supposed to be printed starting in May.

MARTIN: Wow. Right. So it just takes so much money and so much time just to get the census printed and ready to go, they're going to - there's some urgency here in getting this decision made.

WANG: Exactly.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, thank you so much. We appreciate it, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. Next, to Iran, where the U.S. has turned up the pressure once again by reimposing economic sanctions.

GREENE: Yeah. So let's get up to speed here. President Trump announced the return of sanctions six months ago. That's when he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. That was the deal that required Iran to stop its nuclear program, and in exchange they could open up their economy to foreign trade and business. Well, some sanctions went back into force in August, but the ones taking effect today target Iran's major economic lifeline, its oil and gas exports.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon covers Iran and joins us now from Istanbul. Peter, how painful are these sanctions likely to be?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, we're talking about a serious loss of oil revenue, certainly. The estimate is that Iran stands to lose about a million barrels a day in lost sales. The shipping industry, the financial sector, insurance, they're all being hit, as well, in this round of returning sanctions. So far, Tehran's been pretty defiant about all of this. President Rouhani says Iran will ignore the sanctions, keep selling its oil. He says it's the U.S. that's isolated, not Tehran. None of the other signatories, it's true - Russia, China, Germany, France or Britain - support this move. However, at the moment what's happening is Iran is scoring political points while the U.S. is inflicting real economic pain.

MARTIN: I mean, isn't Rouhani right to some degree? I mean, can't Iran just keep doing trade, keep selling oil and gas to the European countries that have stayed in the Iran nuclear deal?

KENYON: That actually is a big question. They can do that to a limited extent, probably. But while countries are vowing to defy these American sanctions, it's probably more useful to look at what the companies are doing. They're the ones who would be spending the money, and dozens of companies have already cut off their business with Iran explicitly because they're worried about losing access to the U.S. market. It includes French, Indian, Norwegian oil companies, the shipping giant Maersk, a whole bunch of European and Asian car companies, airlines, banks, construction, telecom firms. I mean, the list goes on. These sanctions are clearly having an impact.

MARTIN: So the European governments can say all they want about wanting to keep trading business open with Iran as part of the nuclear deal, but they can't control their private corporations who say, listen, we don't want to jeopardize our U.S. markets and so we're going to curb our...

KENYON: Exactly, and that's where the bottom line is. Yeah.

MARTIN: Interesting. So returning the U.S. to a more hardline position on Iran has not exactly been something President Trump has kept a secret. He's wanted to do this for a long time as part of his broader Mideast foreign policy. But this move at this moment, this is a little awkward, is it not? Because it happens to directly benefit Iran's chief rival in the region Saudi Arabia.

KENYON: Well, that's exactly right. And Saudi Arabia is currently engulfed in a scandal, the killing of a Saudi journalist inside the Saudi consulate here in Istanbul. So the troubles in Riyadh are seen in Iran as something of a gift. Officials there, government media, have been very busy condemning the Saudis over this killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who dared criticize the Saudi government.

President Trump, meanwhile, says he doesn't like hearing about things like murders inside consulates, but he's not willing to punish the Saudis by canceling arms sales, which is a move other countries are considering. There's even a lawsuit about it in the U.K. Analysts are wondering if this furor will then die down and the Saudis will resume their role as the main ally in the region along with the Israelis. But the other question is whether this impacts other issues, like the ongoing war in Yemen, essentially a proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon for us this morning. Peter, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.