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News Brief: Results Of Montana Special Election, Trump Trip Winds Down

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Republican Greg Gianforte now has two obligations in front of him, one, to face an assault charge in court and the other to represent Montana in Congress.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we should say this race was already getting a lot of national attention even before Gianforte went after that reporter. The election was seen as something of a bellwether on health care. The Republican bill currently up for debate in the Senate was a key issue in this race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG GIANFORTE: Tonight, Montanans are sending a wakeup call to Washington, D.C., establishment.

MARTIN: Even so, the race was closer than Republicans may have wanted it to be in this conservative district.

INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis has come into our studios once again. She covers Congress. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Wow, Republicans must be relieved.

DAVIS: They are, although, you know, Gianforte was always favored to win this election.

INSKEEP: It's Montana.

DAVIS: And the fact that the confrontation with the reporter happened the eve of the election I think didn't really have ultimately an impact at the end of the day. And the important thing to remember with Montana is it's an early voting state, and most voters had already made up their mind.

INSKEEP: So let's just remind people. For those who didn't see this, this was an overwhelming story yesterday.

DAVIS: Yeah.

INSKEEP: But Gianforte, congressional candidate, is confronted by a Guardian reporter. Actually, the Guardian reporter just asked him a question, and he body slammed him according to audiotape.

DAVIS: And he's been charged with a misdemeanor assault.

INSKEEP: So he still does face a court date in addition to a congressional swearing-in.

DAVIS: He does, although, you know, you can be - you can face charges and still be in Congress. That doesn't eliminate him from that. He did apologize in his election victory speech last night. He said, I made a mistake, and I'm sorry for it. And he apologized to the reporter. And that is essentially what Republican leaders were asking him to do is apologize and move on.

INSKEEP: So, Susan, you're in this profession - political reporting - where no event is ever just about itself.

DAVIS: Right.

INSKEEP: It's always about the future. You know, what does this mean for the 2024 election? So what does this special election...

MARTIN: So what does this mean?

DAVIS: So what does this mean?

INSKEEP: Exactly. What does it mean for the 2018 midterm is where I'm going with this. What does it mean for the 2018 midterm is where I'm going with this?

DAVIS: So here's always my caveat about - I am always hesitant to draw grand conclusions from relatively minor events. That said, I think we should look at these special elections collectively, the ones - the one that occurred in Kansas and the one that's still ongoing in Georgia.

One of the indicators we are seeing from these elections is that Democrats are outperforming. The Democratic base is excited. They are showing up. There is encouraging signs there for Democrats, but candidates matter. And Rob Quist, who was the Democrat in Montana, was not a particularly strong candidate. And in Montana, Democrats can win statewide.

MARTIN: Jon Tester.

DAVIS: They have a Democratic governor. They have a Democratic senator.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: So the challenge for Democrats is they are going to need to be able to find the candidates that can win in these places. Close just doesn't matter.

INSKEEP: One other thing to ask about. Ben Jacobs, The Guardian reporter, when he got body slammed, according to witnesses, was trying to ask about the Republican health care bill. Didn't get much of an answer, but there that bill is. It's going to be considered by the Senate. How big a deal is that going to be politically in the days ahead?

DAVIS: I would say that if Gianforte doesn't like reporters putting microphones in his face to ask about CBO reports, he's going to have a really difficult adjustment period on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DAVIS: The health care bill is in a little bit of limbo. It's in the Senate right now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week said that he doesn't have any bill yet that can get 50 votes. I would also note that in Montana, Gianforte won that race without ever taking a position on the Republican health care bill.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Sue, thanks very much, really appreciate you coming by.

DAVIS: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Susan Davis, who covers Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, Rachel, President Trump is finishing an overseas trip, his first.

MARTIN: Yeah. It was a big one. Yesterday, he met with NATO leaders. And if you were online, you may have seen this light up. It was this handshake standoff between the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Donald Trump. Neither seemed to want to let go. And also...

INSKEEP: They're so similar politically, that naturally they would...

MARTIN: Yeah, right. So then there was also this Internet meme about Donald Trump shoving aside the leader of Montenegro in this kind of group gathering. He also though - the president delivered a substantive speech.

He repeated his complaint that the U.S. is bearing more of the burden when it comes to defense spending on NATO. Today, he's going to meet with some of those same leaders when the G7 gets together. Those are the heads of some of the world's leading economies.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president. She's in Sicily. Is that right, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I am. I can almost see the ocean.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's right. You can almost see the ocean from where you are. That's great. The Mediterranean, to be precise, not to correct you, but anyway.

KEITH: Yeah. Water, I see water.

INSKEEP: So world's leading economies - many of the world's leading economies also leading democracies, so what do they have to talk about?

KEITH: They have a lot to talk about. And two things that we know they are likely to talk about are climate change. Basically, this whole trip, ever since President Trump left the Middle East, has been a series of leaders trying to buttonhole him on climate change and the Paris climate accord and trying to convince him that America should not pull out of Paris.

And the president has said that he will make his decision on that when he gets back home and that he's interested in hearing from the G7 leaders. Whether he's interested in hearing from them on it or not, he's going to hear from them on it. The other thing is this used to be the G8. Now it's the G7 because Russia got booted out after going into Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEITH: And Russia sanctions are something that could be discussed. One of President Trump's advisers said yesterday that he was asked about the U.S. position on Russia sanctions, and he said that the president is looking into it right now and that the U.S. doesn't have a position one way or another. Other leaders say that they believe that the U.S. actually is in line with the rest of these countries when it comes to Ukraine and not lifting sanctions on Russia.

INSKEEP: I want to ask something about this NATO meeting yesterday because, as Rachel mentioned, the president did a little bit of preaching on defense spending. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.

INSKEEP: Are they all on the same page now, Tamara?

KEITH: Well, actually, there was unanimous approval of a plan to do a better job of burden sharing and doing their fair share to get to a place where they more equally share the burden. And also, they agreed as a coalition, as an alliance to join the global coalition against ISIS.

So, in fact, President Trump got what he wanted, though they didn't necessarily get all that they wanted because he didn't stand up and pledge what they had asked and wanted him to pledge.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, and uttering those words. Like, as an American president, it is tradition, it is protocol that when you're with NATO, you talk about Article 5. You talk about collective defense. That's the whole reason for the alliance. If one country's attacked, everyone comes to their aid. And because he didn't say those words, it's still likely that relationship is going to be tense moving forward.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith is traveling with the president. Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Now, let's continue focusing on the Manchester bombing and the investigation, the aftermath. Libya has become the focus now.

MARTIN: So Salman Abedi. He's the man responsible for the bombing in Manchester. He reportedly had spent four weeks in Libya just days before going back to Manchester and carrying out that attack. Now, his father and brother have been arrested in Libya's capital.

INSKEEP: Sudarsan Raghavan is a reporter for The Washington Post, and he's in the Libyan capital. Welcome to the program.

SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: So what do investigators want to get out of Libya?

RAGHAVAN: Well, I think what they really want to find out when they do get here is to what extent that the brother, Hashem Abedi, and perhaps even the father might have been involved, had any connections with the bombing. Hashem Abedi, the brother, has already spoken with the - with authorities who arrested him. And they - he's informed that he was in touch with Salman Abedi in the days before the attack. And he had prior knowledge that - of the attack, when it was going to happen.

And he even told authorities here that Salman had planned the attack before he'd even arrived in Libya. So I think investigators are really going to focus on this - these connections, whether or not Salman Abedi had accomplices in Libya, whether he was - received bomb-making training here when he was here. Those are the kinds of questions they're going to want answered here.

INSKEEP: I think you've given us a little bit of news. So he was talking about the bombing in Libya. People knew that this bombing could come, but we don't know if he was doing any active planning or participation. There was participation of other people in Libya. Is that right?

RAGHAVAN: Well, the brother had told authorities that he had knowledge of the bombing beforehand - before, you know. And he had told the authorities here that the bomb - that the attack was planned even before he had arrived here on April 17. So when he left here, when Salman Abedi left here on May 17 to head back to the U.K., from what we gather here, everything had been already in the works and well planned for this - for the bombing.

INSKEEP: So when we talk about asking investigators, authorities in Libya what they know - how to put this - is there anyone to ask in Libya, given how chaotic the country is?

RAGHAVAN: That's to be a big challenge for - because, you know, there's so many armed groups here who control different areas. It would be very difficult for British investigators to move around. Plus, the British haven't had an embassy here for more than two years, so that's going to cause problems with no serious contacts on the ground.

The other big issue is the very authorities - it was a militia that actually captured Hashem Abedi and the father. And they've been accused by human rights groups of perpetrating abuse - of abusing prisoners, so that could potentially raise serious questions about their discussions with the authorities here. So these are all the things that the British investigators, if and when they do arrive here, will have to manage.

INSKEEP: Really complicated situation ahead for investigators. And Sudarsan Raghavan of The Washington Post is there via Skype. Thanks very much for joining us, really appreciate it.

RAGHAVAN: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: And we'll bring you more on that investigation as we learn it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE - INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.