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News Brief: Government Reopens, 'El Chapo' Trial

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What, if anything, really needs to be done at the southwestern border?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That's the question that led to a government shutdown. The question remained unanswered when President Trump gave up and agreed to end the shutdown on Friday. Lawmakers gave themselves three weeks to work out a border security deal. The president's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told CBS, the fight isn't over.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MICK MULVANEY: Keep in mind, he's willing to do whatever it takes to secure the border.

INSKEEP: The president spoke of another shutdown or declaring a state of emergency to get the money from elsewhere. He is still demanding that Congress pay for a wall, the construction project that he once promised Mexico would pay for. Beyond the symbolism of that demand, there is a whole range of border issues - what technology to use, how to manage asylum-seekers and much more.

MARTIN: All right. We are joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So is it fair to say we are exactly where we were before the shutdown began?

KEITH: More or less, except that now America and federal workers and Congress and the president have all lived through the longest government shutdown, partial government shutdown in U.S. history, and it wasn't pretty. And that might affect how everyone views the possibility of another shutdown in the future, a future that is not that far away. You know, the question before the shutdown began was, more or less, what is a wall?

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

KEITH: What will President Trump accept? Is it steel bollard? Is it replacing old fence? Is it only new wall? Does it have to be concrete? Can it be steel slats?

MARTIN: And there's still no agreement on that definition.

INSKEEP: There really isn't. And there's been a whole lot of fighting about a wall, Nancy Pelosi still saying, have I not been clear? - there will be no wall. But there's always been some nuance below the surface of that. Congresswoman from Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, was on Weekend Edition Sunday yesterday, and here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DONNA SHALALA: There always has been flexibility about fencing that needs to be strengthened. This is not a rigid position by the Democrats.

MARTIN: I mean, in fact, I mean, it's been pointed out several times - I'm sure you and I have had this conversation - Democrats have funded border security, even in excess of the $5.7 billion that President Trump wants for this wall. So they're on board with putting more money down there. It's just the idea of funding what is President Trump's fundamental campaign promise. They don't want him to have that win.

KEITH: They do not want to call it a wall. They do not think that $5.7 billion should be spent on wall alone. President Trump seems to be saying in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said that he still wants the wall. Asked if he would accept $5.7 billion in the next round of - less than $5.7 billion in the next round of negotiations, according to this Wall Street Journal article, he said last night, I doubt it. I have to do it right.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember that this is only one of an incredibly broad range of border security issues and, arguably, not even the most important one. There are so many questions - how many judges do you have? How many border guards do you have? What are the rules under which they operate? What happens with asylum-seekers?

What has made this so intensively difficult is that the president has insisted that the wall is the most important thing, and it has symbolic importance both for him and for Democrats. But even people around the president have complained that there's so much focus on the wall, that it's only the president himself who keeps bringing it back to that.

KEITH: And there's this 17-member conference committee of members of Congress, appropriators, people who like to make deals, who are skilled at making deals, who are going to get together and look at these priorities. The question, though, is in the end, if they come up with something, is it something that President Trump will be willing to accept?

MARTIN: Right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith for us this morning. Tamara, thank you. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So meanwhile, federal workers are finally getting back to work for the first time since the shutdown started. NPR's Brakkton Booker has been talking to some of them here in the Washington area, and Brakkton's in our studio. This has got to be an unsettling time, Brakkton, for these folks.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Yeah, to say the least. You heard Tamara Keith describe the shutdown as not being pretty. I think a lot of federal workers who've gone 35 days without getting paid and 35 days, you know, of working and not really knowing when the next paycheck is coming, it was downright brutal. I mean, some people expressed some excitement about going back to work. But really, it was relief. Some people said that they were depressed because they really didn't know when that next paycheck was coming.

I talked to Terry (ph), who is a federal worker who works as a janitor in the Smithsonian here in Washington. She says lawmakers don't have any empathy for her or the rest of the federal workforce. And here's what she had to say.

TERRY: My thing is I don't like being used. And that's what we feel like. We're being the ones pulled apart and plucked apart and left out to dry when these people that are making these decisions don't have the financial worries that we have.

MARTIN: Right. A lot of these people, just living paycheck to paycheck. And when those paychecks don't exist, what are they supposed to do? And these are supposed to be stable jobs, right? Like, for generations, working for the federal government was supposed to be the thing that gave you peace of mind.

BOOKER: Right.

MARTIN: Are these people suggesting it might not be that anymore?

BOOKER: Well, now they're suggesting that perhaps maybe the government is not that stable. And some people are starting to look, or at least have conversations about looking to the private sector, especially those households that have both husband and wife working in the federal government.

MARTIN: Dual incomes that are tied to...

BOOKER: That are tied to...

MARTIN: ...Politics.

BOOKER: ...The government. Yes. Exactly. So I spoke with Andrea Jensen (ph). She works for the Department of Energy. Her husband works for the Federal Aviation Administration. And she said, you know, the shutdown really had her thinking, like, maybe it's not a really good idea to have both of them working for the government. Here's what she had to say.

ANDREA JENSEN: Seems like there's more job security in not working for the same agency, or having one person in private industry and one person in the government.

BOOKER: So virtually all the federal workers I spoke to have no confidence that three weeks from now we're not going to be in the same predicament. So people are starting to budget. People are, like, really going to spend money on things that they absolutely have to spend money on and try to squirrel away the rest.

INSKEEP: I want to note something quite profound that has perhaps happened over the last month or a little bit more. And Tamara Keith alluded to the fact that the pain of this shutdown has to be part of the political calculation as President Trump decides if he wants to shut down the government again in a little less than three weeks here. Federal workers have been portrayed as faceless bureaucrats, as evil elites, as out-of-touch beltway types. But for the last 30 days, we have seen federal workers as people that Americans at large can relate to, people who were caught up in broader problems of income inequality, people who don't have a lot of money in the bank.

Americans have related, I think, to this pain, according to surveys, and that is something that lawmakers will have to consider if they think it's going to be a good idea to shut down the government again.

MARTIN: Speaking of these people, though, Brakkton, just real quick. They're supposed to get backpay, right?

BOOKER: They're supposed to be getting backpay. It could come as early as this week. But, look. Payroll employees were also furloughed. So we're thinking maybe it takes a little time to get the systems back up and running. So maybe by the end of the week, they all...

MARTIN: The people who send the paychecks out weren't working.

BOOKER: Yes. Absolutely.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Brakkton Booker, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

BOOKER: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK. So today is another inflection point in the trial of drug kingpin Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.

INSKEEP: The prosecution rests its case today. Federal prosecutors have presented dozens of witnesses to testify over the past three months, and now it is the defense's turn. Guzman faces 17 counts linked to running the world's largest drug trafficking organization and has already been convicted, of course, of crimes in Mexico.

MARTIN: All right. We've got Keegan Hamilton on the line. He is U.S. editor for Vice News. He hosts a podcast, called, "Chapo: Kingpin On Trial." So he's been following this real closely. Keegan, thanks for being here.

KEEGAN HAMILTON: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The prosecution is about to have its last act here. What are you expecting?

HAMILTON: So they've got their last cooperating witness on the stand. He was a former bodyguard and hit man for El Chapo. He should finish up sometime this morning, and they'll have two law enforcement witnesses and then that's it. Then it's the defense's turn, at which point they may or may not call their defendant, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, to testify in his own behalf.

MARTIN: Do you know what the pros and cons are of having Guzman up there?

HAMILTON: Well, the cons are obvious and large. And that is that he opens himself up to cross-examination from the government, when they can ask about basically all of the evidence that's been heard, all of these crimes that he's accused of. Anything that came up in the testimony could potentially be fair game. He can either, you know, open himself up to perjury, which is the least of his problems. The pros for the government is that they - he can essentially get the last word. I mean, he's heard, you know, dozens of his former associates get up and testify against him. This would be his chance to tell his side of the story.

MARTIN: What has it been like watching him through these proceedings?

HAMILTON: You know, for the most part, he has been pretty cool and collected. He's, you know, in some cases, staring down the witnesses. He's taking notes, passing it to his attorneys. He's flirting with his wife and the audience of the courtroom. But there have been a couple moments when the testimony was really devastating where he almost hung his head a little bit, and it seemed to sink in that the case was not going as he hoped it would go.

MARTIN: Can you give us some description of just some of the moments that have stood out? I mean, there have - this is an exceptional trial in so many ways. But the jury, just when you think they can't be shocked anymore, they're presented with evidence that does just that.

HAMILTON: The end of last week was particularly shocking. You know, we've heard references to murders and violence throughout the trial. But the testimony from his former bodyguard and hit man that, you know, described him as personally committing torture and murder, just some very graphic and gruesome descriptions of people being buried alive, tortured. It really sunk in. You had thousand-yard stares in the eyes of the jury. And I think everybody in the courtroom who thought they'd heard it all was shocked by what they were hearing with that witness.

MARTIN: That Guzman himself was committing these atrocities?

HAMILTON: That he was personally pulling the trigger on at least three murders and was, in some cases, beating rival cartel members who had come into custody of the Sinaloa Cartel. It was pretty disturbing stuff.

MARTIN: Is there any way he is not convicted on all these counts?

HAMILTON: It's hard to see a way. I think the defense, at this point, is hoping for a mistrial or a hung jury or something along those lines that gets him out of this without a full acquittal.

MARTIN: Keegan Hamilton of Vice News talking about El Chapo's trial. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

HAMILTON: Thanks again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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