News Brief: Impeachment Trial, China Coronavirus, Rohingya Ruling

Jan 23, 2020
Originally published on January 23, 2020 7:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're heading into the second day of opening statements in President Trump's impeachment trial. Yesterday, Democratic House managers began walking senators through their arguments.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. The senators sat for almost nine hours while Democrats laid out their case against the president. Later on, here's how Democrat Adam Schiff summed it up.

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ADAM SCHIFF: It was an exhausting day for us, certainly. But we have adrenaline going through our veins. And for those that are required to sit and listen, it is a much more difficult task. And of course, we know our positions. You have the added difficulty of having to weigh the facts and the law.

GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR White House reporter Ayesha Roscoe with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: All right. So Schiff warned senators that this is just the beginning. There could be what he says is some very long days to come. Let's talk through what ground he covered and - he and the other House managers covered yesterday.

RASCOE: So they began walking through all the things they had learned from the people who testified in the impeachment investigation. And each of the House impeachment managers retold the story of what happened in their own way. They focused on different elements of the president's phone call with Ukraine's president - you know, the one where he asked for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden - and that freeze Trump put on Ukraine aid. There was also more sweeping talk about the big picture and what's at stake. Here is Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

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HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Vladimir Putin is above the law in Russia. Erdogan is above the law in Turkey. Kim Jong Un is above the law in North Korea. But in the United States of America, no one is above the law - not even the president of the United States.

RASCOE: And that's a point that Democrats seem to want to drive home - that this is not just about impeachment but this is about the nature of our democracy.

GREENE: What did it feel like inside the Senate chamber?

RASCOE: Well - so we have our colleagues who cover Capitol Hill. They were in the press gallery watching the action where apparently there was - some senators were taking notes, but at least one was maybe doing a crossword puzzle. Sometimes (laughter) senators would take breaks, walk into the cloakroom, getting a bite to eat or having a coffee.

At one point, there was a protester in the public gallery, but it was very briefly - a brief interruption and it was quickly stopped.

Mostly, though, it was just a series of long monologues. And the House managers did use President Trump himself - clips of him to help drive their points home. But Schiff did acknowledge that it is going to take a lot of patience for these senators to sit through this for another several days.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, what about President Trump? What about his defense team? How have they been reacting to this so far?

RASCOE: The president was traveling back from Switzerland, and he was tweeting arguments from his supporters. Factbase, a website that tracks the president's words and tweets, said he actually had a record day yesterday. By 6:30 p.m. yesterday, he was up to 142 tweets. That's beating his previous record as president. So you had him really trying to get this messages about the impeachment trial even though he wasn't in the U.S. for most of the day.

GREENE: And briefly, what happens today?

RASCOE: Democrats have 24 hours over three days - they used some of that yesterday. What they will seem to want to get into now is the constitutional basis for impeachment. But they're expected to wrap up on Saturday. And President Trump's defense team will get their turn on Saturday.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe covering it all. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

GREENE: For more coverage on all things impeachment, be sure to check out NPR's Politics Podcast.

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GREENE: All right. So that city at the epicenter of a deadly virus outbreak in China has now been put on lockdown. Residents of the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which is home to more than 11 million people, have been urged not to leave the city to contain this outbreak.

KING: Now, to that end, Chinese authorities have shut down all transportation inside of the city. And they've also canceled all flights and train travel out. Six-hundred people are now infected; at least 17 people have died. Still, the World Health Organization has not declared this a global health emergency. They say they need more information, but their experts are going to meet later today.

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, hey.

GREENE: So this keeps spreading rapidly. Do we know why this is happening?

FENG: It's because human-to-human transmission of the virus is now possible, say Chinese health authorities. And that allows the virus to spread way more quickly. On the ground, of course, there is the suspicion that this jump in numbers is actually just because there's been belated reporting of what's really happening on the ground. British researchers have suggested that, based on similar outbreaks, there should be about 4,000 cases of the virus in China now. And that's far higher than the 600 or so cases China has confirmed today.

Part of the reason, though, behind maybe the lower-than-expected numbers may be just be how thinly stretched Wuhan's hospitals are. Yesterday, I noticed that hundreds of people on social media were saying they had a fever, they thought they might have the virus. And they wanted to get screened, but they were turned away from hospitals because there just weren't enough doctors to test them. I went back to find these people this morning to call them and these posts had been deleted.

GREENE: And we also now have what seems to amount to a quarantine of this city of millions of people. What is that like? And is that expected to help contain this?

FENG: It's too early to say. But I do have to say there's pretty widespread public support for this quarantine despite the inconvenience. People have been calling for more drastic measures, especially since this Saturday is Chinese - Lunar New Year. It's a major holiday. It's a week during which hundreds of millions of people travel. And without this quarantine, there was the real fear that Wuhan might increase the outbreak.

It's not a total lockdown yet, though. People were still allowed to leave by car this morning, though they were being screened. Some highways are now being just blocked off. But for those that stayed, they're now there for the long haul. They have emptied out all the store shelves of hand sanitizer and face masks. I talked to a resident of Wuhan today who only gave his last name is Wang (ph). And he says, the sudden shift towards more aggressively managing the public health crisis has really raised public awareness in the city.

WANG: (Through interpreter) Back then, people weren't taking things seriously at all. They still gathered to play cards or go to clubs. But gradually, as more cases were announced, you could feel the public beginning to care.

FENG: The question, though, really is now that the virus has spread to basically every Chinese province, including the city of Hong Kong - even though Wuhan is where most of these cases are concentrated, it's not clear how effective a quarantine of just Wuhan is going to be given that a lot of cases are in other cities.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Emily Feng reporting on this outbreak in China. She's our Beijing correspondent. Thanks so much, Emily.

FENG: Thanks, David.

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GREENE: So is Myanmar conducting a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims?

KING: A court ruling this morning in The Hague is the next step toward answering that question. The International Court of Justice heard a case brought by the African country of Gambia on behalf of an organization of Muslim-majority countries that accuses Myanmar of committing genocide.

GREENE: And let's turn to reporter Michael Sullivan, who's been following this story for some time. He joins us from Thailand. Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So can you explain this court decision in The Hague to us and what it means?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, I think we need to make clear that this is in no way a final decision on the allegations of genocide. That could take years. But this was about provisional measures requested by Gambia - basically a restraining order compelling Myanmar not to abuse the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar's Rakhine state. And the court granted several of those measures today and said that the Rohingya in Myanmar are still in danger and should be a protected group.

So these measures will apply, in theory, to the couple hundred thousand Rohingya denied the most basic freedoms, including freedom of movement, many living amongst detention camps. And they'll also compel Myanmar to preserve evidence of any alleged crimes committed during the 2017 exodus, including rape, murder and torture. The measures don't really help the roughly 740,000 Rohingya who fled the brutal Myanmar military crackdown in 2017 and are now living in camps in Bangladesh and probably will be for quite some time.

GREENE: So this ruling today comes just over a month after Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, went personally to The Hague to defend her country and its actions. Did that just not have any impact on the court as they thought about what they believe is happening here?

SULLIVAN: It didn't seem to. I mean, she went and, in fact, asked them to drop the case, claiming that no genocide or genocidal acts had taken place. She did admit that, in her words, disproportionate military force may have been used against the Rohingya and civilians killed. But she basically said our government was investigating these claims and asked the court to allow that process to play out.

And in fact, earlier this week, a Myanmar government panel appointed to look into such allegations basically came to the same conclusion - probable war crimes committed by the military but no genocide.

GREENE: Well - I mean, is Myanmar likely to go further and comply with whatever provisional measures this court is calling for given that Myanmar has stonewalled in the past when it's come to this?

SULLIVAN: (Laughter) Yeah, good question. I mean, it acknowledges the authority of the court and therefore is obliged to cooperate. And the timeframe is four months to comply. If that doesn't happen, the matter could be sent to the U.N. Security Council for further action. But Myanmar has a friend there, China, which would probably block any effort to make Myanmar comply, even if it wasn't satisfying the terms of the provisional measures, David.

GREENE: Reporter Michael Sullivan. Thanks so much, Michael. We always appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.