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News Brief: U.N. General Assembly, Migrant Deportation, Book Review: 'Peril'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Suppose you were a U.S. diplomat attending this week's session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. You'd have no shortage of things to do.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Do you focus on the U.S. role in the crisis in Afghanistan? Do you try to repair relations with France? The country recalled its ambassador after the U.S. cut France out of a submarine sale to Australia. Or do you just try to avoid getting COVID? U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield wants to make sure the meeting is not a superspreader event.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I will get my COVID test at the COVID testing and vaccination van that will be set up outside the U.N. before I engage in meetings at U.N. headquarters.

INSKEEP: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen will be covering this week's meeting. Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: It sounds like this dispute with France is really just about money. They were cut out of an arms sale. But what more is at stake here?

KELEMEN: I think more is at stake. You know, the Biden administration likes to say that America is back, that it cares about alliances, unlike the previous administration. But this dispute really undercuts that whole message, Steve. You know, the U.S. announced a partnership with the U.K. and Australia and left France totally in the dark. France lost out on a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia, which is now purchasing nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. And I spoke over the weekend to a former French ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, and he says it's not just about losing an arms deal. It raises a lot of questions about U.S. attitudes toward Europe. Take a listen.

GERARD ARAUD: Basically, the U.S. - and it's not Biden. It's not Trump. But the U.S. basically don't care about Europe.

KELEMEN: What the U.S. does care about is countering China. It wants partners in that effort. So I think the Biden administration really has some cleanup to do here.

INSKEEP: How is President Biden himself likely to address such matters when he speaks on Tuesday?

KELEMEN: Yeah. Well, you know, he will probably talk about China in his speech. Or at least he'll talk about upholding the rules-based international order. That's kind of diplomatic speak for countering China because the U.S. wants China to uphold the rules that others do. He'll also talk about, you know, a return to multilateralism. He's going to chair a meeting on COVID-19 on Wednesday. That summit's going to be virtual. And that's going to be an issue that really resonates more with the people attending the U.N. General Assembly because, you know, some countries in Africa have less than 2% vaccination rates. So a big topic of that summit is going to be this uneven global distribution of vaccines.

INSKEEP: I guess it's appropriate that a meeting on COVID would be virtual. And we heard about the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. saying she's going to be getting her COVID tests. How else is the U.N. managing this gathering?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, a lot of it is going to be in this weird hybrid mode. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken is going to stay longer. He is going to have some meetings in person, and he has a lot to discuss. There's going to be things like meetings about Afghanistan, though no talks with Afghanistan's new rulers 'cause the Taliban aren't coming. There are going to be talks on Iran because Iran's new foreign minister is making his U.N. debut. So there's going to be a lot of discussions on the sidelines but maybe a little bit more online.

INSKEEP: Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

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INSKEEP: Apparently, President Biden cannot cram quite so much of his agenda into a single bill in Congress.

MARTIN: The president has been trying to do just that. Senators have one shot this fall, one bill they can pass without Republican support. It's a budget measure exempt from normal filibuster rules, and that's why Democrats have been trying to cram in provisions addressing everything from climate to taxes to immigration. Last night, though, the Senate parliamentarian, who is a referee of Senate rules, said immigration changes do not belong in there.

INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and is on the line. Joel, good morning.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What does this ruling say?

ROSE: Well, so Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian - you know, it's her job to interpret the Senate's own rules and to decide what can be part of budget reconciliation. And in this case, she said, no. Immigration amounts to a major policy shift. These changes that congressional Democrats wanted to see - she decided that they're a major policy change, one that has relatively little to do with the budget and therefore cannot be included in budget reconciliation.

INSKEEP: So what does that mean?

ROSE: Well, it's a serious blow to Democrats' hopes of getting an immigration overhaul done. They were hoping to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, including so-called DREAMers but also farm workers and other essential workers. And reconciliation would have allowed Democrats to pass that without any Republican votes in the Senate. Without budget reconciliation, the Democrats can't get around a Republican filibuster. The Democrats and their allies say they're disappointed, but they were not really surprised. Senators including Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin say they have alternative proposals that they will try to present to the parliamentarian to change her mind.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see where that goes. Of course, that's all about long-term policy changes, efforts to change what the immigration system looks like in two years or 10 years or even 20 years. But at the same time, we've got another immediate crisis at the border, certainly one that looks like a crisis - images that I've been seeing on social media of a giant crowd of people at the border in Del Rio, Texas. What's going on?

ROSE: You're right. There are still more than 10,000 migrants, many of them originally from Haiti, camped out in squalid conditions under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas. They crossed the Rio Grande into Texas and had been waiting on the U.S. side, hoping for a chance to ask for asylum. Yesterday, the Biden administration began putting some of them on planes and flying them out of the U.S. Here is Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz speaking to reporters yesterday in Del Rio.

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RAUL ORTIZ: We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States, consistent with our laws and our policies.

ROSE: Ortiz said immigration authorities have removed about 3,000 people from this makeshift camp already. The Department of Homeland Security says just over 300 have already been expelled on removal flights to Haiti. And Ortiz laid out a pretty aggressive timeline, hoping to get all of the remaining migrants out of Del Rio within a week.

INSKEEP: You just said migrants from Haiti. How did they end up there?

ROSE: This is a great question. Many are originally from Haiti but had been living in South America. Some say they're trying to cross in Del Rio because that area is safer than other parts of the border. And they're hoping to start a better life in the U.S. The Biden administration is responding by publicly trying to deter these migrants from crossing the border. The message to would-be migrants is we will quickly expel you under Title 42. That is a public health order that was put in place by the Trump administration that gives immigration authorities a lot of power to expel migrants. But Title 42 infuriates immigrant rights advocates. They say it's illegal and particularly cruel to invoke it against these migrants in Del Rio, when Haiti is still reeling from a major earthquake and a recent assassination of its president.

INSKEEP: Joel, thanks so much.

ROSE: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose.

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INSKEEP: The latest book about the Trump presidency, co-authored by Bob Woodward, is a speed tour of the election year 2020.

MARTIN: It's called "Peril." And it examines the transition period between presidencies when Trump refused to concede and mounted challenge after challenge to try and overturn the election results. The book also digs into President Biden's first months in office and how his decades in politics and his personal experiences inform his leadership.

INSKEEP: Woodward co-authored this book with Robert Costa, a colleague in The Washington Post. NPR's Ron Elving has been reading the book, called "Peril." Ron, good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you learn?

ELVING: One big theme is the contrast between the personalities. Trump is the sun in his own solar system, the most compelling figure in national politics and unforgiving of all who fail to please him. Biden is largely his antithesis in this book - collegial, eager to accommodate, a natural negotiator. Trump seems to be entirely free of empathy. Biden, it seems at times, may have too much.

INSKEEP: And you're emphasizing for us this is about the transition. So it becomes about both presidents, one who's on his way out, the other who's on his way in. What do you learn about these moments that were so tense at the time?

ELVING: The heart-stopping drama of January 6 is what really sticks out, the day of the riot that breached the Capitol and threatened the members of Congress. The authors here take us through that day both within the White House and among the terrified office holders evacuating the Capitol, including Vice President Mike Pence, who did what a constellation of conservative legal stars told him he had to do, certifying the results, and then heard the rioters chanting, hang Mike Pence.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Pence was one of the officials who appeared to be trying to preserve the constitutional order. There's been a lot of news made in the past week. We've already discussed on NPR the news about General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was making phone calls to China and elsewhere, trying to reassure everyone that the U.S. was stable. But there's another set of people to ask about, and those are Republicans around President Trump, whether they were pushing back against him or, in some ways, enabling or accommodating him. And a lot of those Republicans are still on the scene. What is suggested in this book about the future of the Republican Party, which rests with a lot of those Republicans, Ron?

ELVING: Clearly, it means that every Republican official or candidate has to reckon with Trump and the grip that he has on so many Republican voters and donors. That will be a threshold issue in the 2022 midterm elections, when Trump will not be on the ballot but will almost certainly be on everyone's mind.

INSKEEP: Huh. One other thing I want to ask about - I believe I saw the other day that Bob Woodward marked his 50th year at The Washington Post. He's got a co-author who's a good deal younger but very well-sourced himself. Is he passing the torch?

ELVING: Right now, it's just great teamwork and a remarkable access team, but all torches must eventually be passed. And the brighter the torch, the more important the passing. We may be seeing the start of that process here.

INSKEEP: Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.