Morning News Brief: Health Care, Transgender Service Members, Foxconn, Charlie Gard

Jul 27, 2017
Originally published on July 27, 2017 7:45 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Senate Republicans are a little like the dog that finally caught the car. Now that they know their health care votes could actually become law, it's hard to know what to do.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So this is what happened. The Senate yesterday voted down a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It is the same measure, though, that Republicans once passed back in 2015. Of course, this is when it didn't really matter as much because they knew President Obama was just going to veto this thing.

Now the question is, what can pass? A vote today is on something that is being called, quote, "skinny repeal," which just rejects the parts of Obamacare that are most unpopular. Democrats remain opposed to all this. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch blames them for the difficulty in getting anything passed.

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ORRIN HATCH: I have no idea what's causing these difficulties other than the hatred of Donald Trump by the Democrats. They don't want him to be successful.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ron Elving has been following this debate. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so Democrats are opposed to everything, but Republicans have more than 50 votes. Is the skinny repeal going to do any better than the other GOP options have?

ELVING: It should because it's really been the leadership focus for the last several days. Yes, they lost seven of their number on the straight repeal, as you say. They lost nine Republicans on their actual repeal and replacement bill - a full plan that they'd been working on all this time. So with skinny repeal, they hope to cut their losses to just the two votes they can afford, and they should certainly get close to that. This is really their last chance to get something over to the House - just a shell bill, really, that would keep...

INSKEEP: Is that the actual Republican plan, as Democrats have charged, to just pass anything - anything at all - and then you can get over to negotiate with the House, which has already passed something, and they can actually write the bill in what's called a conference?

ELVING: Yes, exactly. And that would keep the whole business from dying on the doorstep of the Senate Republicans.

INSKEEP: Why are Democrats offering hundreds of amendments of their own?

ELVING: You know, it's true, as Orrin Hatch says, that they are not providing any support for the president or for the bill or any of the bills that have been before the Senate. But perhaps some of them do remember that's the exact same level of support that Barack Obama got from the Republican members of the Senate eight years ago, when Obamacare was passed. But the other reason there are so many - and by the way, Steve, there are more than 360 amendments that have been filed, not to say that they're...

INSKEEP: Can't wait for all the votes on those, but go on.

ELVING: They're not going to do that. They're not going to get anywhere near that number. But even a healthy slug of that is going to take us through tonight and into tomorrow. And the big reason for it, and it's not just the Democrats - a lot of Republicans putting in amendments, too - it's because so few people have really had much chance to get involved in the process thus far. The bill was written on the Senate side by a small task force of Republicans that included no Democrats at all, no women among the Republicans at all, and which met in - behind closed doors.

INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about, Ron Elving. Amid the health care debate, the president announced on Twitter yesterday he's going to ban transgender people from serving in the military. And spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained this way.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The decision is based on a military decision. It's not meant to be anything more than that.

INSKEEP: President Trump said it was a cost issue. The military has actually said the cost of transgender assignment surgery was actually relatively small. But this is the thing I want to ask about. What do you make of lawmakers telling Politico and other news organizations that they wanted something way more limited than this, Ron, that they wanted a ban on paying for gender reassignment surgery but the president just went much farther than they asked?

ELVING: The assignment surgery - the reassignment surgery is really where the costs are. Otherwise, the other costs for transgender members of the services appear to be less than what the Pentagon budgets for Viagra and Cialis. So there's also a readiness question here, which the Pentagon is still studying. That study is due out in December. But the president did seem to jump the gun here.

We should note that questions about the transgender issue had been holding up, or have been holding up, a specific spending measure that also includes money to begin building the Mexican border wall that the president wants. And the president would like to see that particular issue moving along and that spending bill getting approved...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ELVING: ...Before the House goes home for its August recess.

MARTIN: Also, just speaking of recesses, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been on vacation - was on vacation when the president tweeted this out. He is someone who has gone through these debates about, quote, "social change" in the military before he knows how complicated they are. Surprising that he would have been out-of-pocket for this.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you both.

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INSKEEP: All right. This next news allows President Trump to claim a win for manufacturing jobs.

MARTIN: His deal as president-elect to preserve Carrier jobs in the state of Indiana was mixed at best. Some jobs were saved for a time, though thousands of jobs at other firms have since left Indiana.

The latest announcement involves Wisconsin. The Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn plans to open a factory there and made the announcement at the White House.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When this investment is complete, Foxconn has the potential to create more manufacturing jobs than we've seen in many, many decades.

INSKEEP: Tony Romm is the senior editor of policy and politics at Recode, which covers technology. Hi there.

TONY ROMM: Hey. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: So the president spoke of a potential to create 13,000 manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin. Is that a sure thing?

ROMM: No, it's certainly not a sure thing. But let's start with the specifics. The plan is to have Foxconn invest about $10 billion here in the United States, starting with a major factory in Wisconsin that'll manufacture LCD screens, you know, the things that help your smartphone have displays and power car dashboards and other various technologies. But 13,000 is a very optimistic target, and it really depends on whether Foxconn gets some of the tax incentives and other perks that it's been promised to set up shop in Wisconsin in the first place.

INSKEEP: OK, Foxconn - obviously this is a company that makes stuff for Apple, makes stuff for Google. It's a big and important company, but doesn't it also have something of a dark reputation?

ROMM: Yeah, it's something of a quiet giant. I don't think most Americans really know that Foxconn exists, but it came about in the 1970s. And these days, it puts together some of the technologies that consumers know most, whether it's iPhones or Xbox Ones.

But its big footprint really hasn't come without controversy. And for years, it's been dogged in China, where it has a good number of factories, for the way that it treats its workers. There are labor activists that feel that Foxconn has mistreated those employees and overworked them. And there were a spate of suicides at the company in 2010 that led a number of its partners, including Apple, to begin to audit its working conditions.

INSKEEP: Wow. Well, how did Wisconsin get Foxconn to say it would build a facility in that state?

ROMM: Well, lots of money, or at least the promise of it. Governor Scott Walker, who was on hand for the unveiling at the White House yesterday, said he would provide about $3 billion in incentives, including tax credits tied to Foxconn's pledges for job creation. But at the end of the day, that's going to come down to state lawmakers who have to approve it.

INSKEEP: OK, so not quite a done deal. Tony Romm, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

ROMM: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: He is the senior editor of policy and politics at Recode.

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INSKEEP: For the people around Charlie Gard, one decision remains - where he will end his life.

MARTIN: Yeah, the parents of the British child have been in a legal fight with doctors and the government over the baby's fate.

His rare genetic disease weakened his muscles and his organs, and he is on life support now. A British court denied his parents' request to take him to the U.S. for an experimental treatment. They said that the benefits just didn't outweigh the risks of that treatment. Now, Charlie Gard's parents are waging one more fight...

INSKEEP: Which NPR's Joanna Kakissis is covering from London. And, Joanna, what do the parents want?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: They're fighting over where he should spend his final hours. His parents wanted to take him home, but his doctor said, you know, he needs special care so he doesn't die in pain. So a judge ruled that Charlie should go to a hospice and that his ventilator should be turned off there. His parents want to keep him alive for another week to say goodbye, so the judge has given them until today to work out an end-of-life plan for Charlie with his doctors.

Under British law - I just wanted to say one thing - under British law, it should be noted that parent - parental rights in the treatment of critically ill children are not absolute. If parents and doctors disagree on treatment options, it's up to the court to decide what's in the best interest of the child, and as you noted, the courts have consistently sided with the doctors.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and that's what's - what's been playing out in decision after decision, and one more decision to go. We did hear from Charlie Gard's father, Chris Gard, earlier this week. And I want to listen, Joanna, to one thing that he said.

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CHRIS GARD: His body, heart and soul may soon be gone, but his spirit will live on for eternity. And he will make a difference to people's lives for years to come. We will make sure of that.

INSKEEP: How will they make sure of that, Joanna Kakissis?

KAKISSIS: Well, they're planning to use nearly $2 million in donations to start a foundation in his honor. Thousands and thousands of people donated because they felt for the parents so strongly, and the money was intended to be used to take him for the treatment. But now they're going to take that money and start a foundation in his honor.

They feel very strongly that this case should resonate in the United Kingdom and abroad. And though there have been no concrete proposals for change in the law, this case has illustrated to people the limits of parental control when a child is dying, and that's why it's caught on all over the world. That's why everybody from the pope to President Trump have weighed in.

INSKEEP: Is this a story that people talk about all the time if you're in London?

KAKISSIS: People talk about it a lot. I think they find it very frightening. At the same time, they - I think a lot of people do understand that the doctors are also in a difficult position because the doctors do also want what's best for the child. Yeah, it's a - people talk about it.

INSKEEP: Joanna, thanks very much for talking about it with us, really appreciate it.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "1000 ARMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.