News Brief: Tax Overhaul, Roy Moore Wins In Alabama, Saudi Arabia Lets Women Drive
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Big news after an Alabama Senate primary - President Trump's candidate is out. The antiestablishment candidate, Roy Moore, is in.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Yeah, Trump and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had campaigned right up until the last minute against Moore, but they couldn't seem to rally their supporters to their preferred candidate. Instead, voters heeded the call from figures like Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Debbie Elliott has followed Moore's political career and this campaign. She's on the line now from Orange Beach, Ala.
Hey there, Debbie.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So I mean, looking at this, it seems like Trump's base broke from the president and voted for Roy Moore, which suggests - I mean, could we say that Moore is sounding more Trumpian than Trump himself?
ELLIOTT: Well, you could say. He definitely sounded Trumpian on the campaign trail. He ran this outsider campaign, promising at every turn to drain the D.C. swamp. We'd heard that before.
ELLIOTT: And even last night in his victory speech, he echoed Donald Trump on the campaign trail saying, together we can make America great. You know, Roy Moore was already a popular figure in Alabama, though, so there's that going on. He has broad support, particularly in rural areas. If you look at the numbers, that's where he was strongest.
And he's, you know, controversial. He's known as the Ten Commandments judge. He's a religious conservative. He gained fame because he has been fighting his whole career for what he calls the public acknowledgement of God as the foundation of government. He was twice removed as Alabama chief justice for defying federal court orders, once for not taking down this giant, washing machine-sized monument of the Ten Commandments that he had put in the Alabama Judicial Building and then again, once he was re-elected to the office, when he told state judges that they were not bound by the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling.
GREENE: Well, so if you have people like Sarah Palin and people who worked for Trump - I mean, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka - out there campaigning for Moore and this candidate wins - the president's candidate does not - who holds sway right now over the president's base?
ELLIOTT: Well, I might say the base. You know, certainly voters here in Alabama do not like being pushed into anything by what they perceive as power brokers from Washington. Right? So the more the GOP establishment sunk money into fighting Roy Moore, the better he seemed to do here. And now, looking ahead to next year's Republican primaries, it seems like there's an insurgency afoot. Steve Bannon has been in Alabama this week with Moore, and he's pretty much declaring war on Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment. He talked about it a little bit last night.
At the same time last night from the president, we saw a tweet saying congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back and ran a good race. Roy, win. So - and then, later, he deleted all of his prior tweets that were supporting the appointed incumbent, Luther Strange.
GREENE: The president deleted his tweets...
ELLIOTT: He did.
GREENE: ...Supporting the guy who lost? Wow.
ELLIOTT: Yeah. So he is - he's all in for Roy Moore now and has somewhat erased his support from the past.
GREENE: All right. And now we're all going to be watching as this traditionally conservative state will have the actual race between Roy Moore and a Democrat, Doug Jones.
ELLIOTT: Right. And that's an uphill battle in Alabama. The state has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate for about, you know, a quarter of a century now.
KELLY: And this all raises the really interesting question of how all in President Trump and establishment Republicans are going to be for Roy Moore as he goes up against his Democratic challenger.
GREENE: Yeah. And all these questions about the dynamic in the Republican Party...
GREENE: ...Will continue.
NPR's Debbie Elliott - thanks a lot, Deb.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome.
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GREENE: All right, we're going to turn now to one of President Trump's big campaign promises, to help millions of middle-class Americans. This was the president speaking yesterday at the White House.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will cut taxes tremendously for the middle class, not just a little bit but tremendously.
KELLY: Well, today the president unveils his plan to overhaul the U.S. tax code.
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TRUMP: That includes nearly doubling the standard deduction that most families take on their taxes and increasing the child tax credit, which families really want and have been talking about it for a long time.
KELLY: So that's what the president says he wants to happen with taxes. Meanwhile, David, he's also been talking about Puerto Rico and what role the federal government can and should be playing there in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Trump says he's going to go visit Puerto Rico next week.
GREENE: All right we have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us. Hey, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So I know we're all going to be bringing out the calculators as we see the details of this plan come out today. But can you just set up this moment for me? I mean, the president, Republicans - they suffer another defeat on health care. This is an important test for them.
KEITH: It absolutely is. And a lot of Republicans say, well, health care was hard, but we can do taxes. Taxes will be easier. We're Republicans. We do taxes. But taxes are hard, too.
GREENE: They're not easy.
KEITH: Overhauling the tax code hasn't been done in 30 years, and there's a reason for that. So what we're hearing - and this has been the result of negotiations between top Republicans in the White House for months. And this rollout is something that they've been heading towards. The word is that the income tax rate would drop from - the top income tax rate would drop from about 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The corporate rate would fall from 35 percent to around 20 percent. There are a lot of details yet to be filled in that we aren't even expecting to get later today when we get some more details. And those details will really determine whether this is a middle-class tax cut, as the president has been promising, or whether it ends up primarily benefiting the wealthy.
GREENE: OK, couple other big questions there to answer as we get this plan. Let me turn our attention to Puerto Rico. I mean, some of the reporting from there that we've heard, Tam - I mean, the devastation there is unimaginable. And the president now announcing he's going to visit next week. How has his response to this been perceived?
KEITH: So over the weekend, the president took a lot of heat for tweeting more than 15 times about the NFL without a single mention of the people suffering in Puerto Rico. And this was a shift from previous hurricanes that hit the mainland U.S. that got a ton of Twitter attention from the president. His Twitter drought ended on Monday night. But Twitter affects perception. And real life is different, but Twitter affects perception.
So FEMA has been on the ground; the U.S. military has been mobilized. More help is on the way. But seemingly sensing the narrative problem, the president made a big show yesterday of talking about Puerto Rico, bringing in the FEMA director, doing a video link with the Puerto Rican governor. But Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, says the situation is dire and that there could be a real humanitarian crisis if more is not done quickly.
KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith - Tam, thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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GREENE: OK. Now we turn to a breakthrough for women in Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, the kingdom announced they are ending a ban on women driving. Women's rights activists called this move amazing.
KELLY: Madeha Al Ajroush is one of the women who spent decades protesting Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. Here's how she described it to NPR back in 2011.
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MADEHA AL AJROUSH: It's like a person being cut off - their legs are cut off, and the wheelchair has been taken away from them. And you're completely dependent on one gender.
KELLY: Well, as of next summer, she will be able to drive without fear of reprisal. So this is a big deal for women in Saudi Arabia. And it is already prompting questions about some of the other changes that women have been pushing for there.
GREENE: NPR's Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR, and she has reported on efforts to lift this ban in Saudi Arabia. She joins us.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
GREENE: Seems like a very big deal - why is this happening now, at this moment?
AMOS: It's a big deal. The young and powerful crown prince, the son of the king, he's been signaling this move for a while. Now, there's some irony in the announcement yesterday. It comes a week after a senior cleric said that women shouldn't drive because they have a quarter of the brain power of men. Nevertheless, the activists, some of them who went to jail to protest this ban, they have been euphoric on Twitter. And so they think that it's a big deal.
GREENE: And the protests against this driving ban - I mean, they go back years. Right?
AMOS: 1990. About 40 women dismissed their drivers and drove on the capital streets of Riyadh. I was in Saudi at the time. I was covering the first Gulf War. So you know, the place was packed with American soldiers. There were female soldiers. I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the protest. But all of the - I didn't meet any of these protesters for 25 years. They lost their jobs. They couldn't travel outside the country. And there wasn't another protest till 2011.
GREENE: That's extraordinary. What is the wider context, then, of this moment? I mean, the Saudi king has instituted this reform package that's known as 2030. How does this decision play into all of that?
AMOS: You know, there's a lot of economics in this. First of all, there's 800,000 drivers for women. And this is a country that would like Saudis to have these jobs. You have women who are the majority of college graduates. They want to get them into the workplace. They need to get them into the workplace, and they have to be able to get there. Now, Uber has kind of changed the game a bit. People can just call up a car and get in it. But this is an economic measure as much as a social measure.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Deborah Amos talking to us about the lifting of a driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia, a big moment in that country.
AMOS: Thank you.
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