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Morning News Brief

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You remember that White House meeting last week where President Trump used some choice words?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I vaguely recall some news coverage of this. But...

GREENE: But we're famous on Twitter for using a word we never expected to say on the air...

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: ...I would say.

MARTIN: All right. So let's take a step back and remember why this meeting was called in the first place. A bipartisan group of senators thought that they had an immigration deal. It included a fix for young immigrants who were protected by DACA - this is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program - and it expires in March. And it seemed like President Trump was open to this deal, and then he nixed the whole thing.

GREENE: And then there hasn't been much progress at all since then, despite this big deadline coming on Friday. Congress needs to pass a spending bill by then or the federal government will shut down.

MARTIN: All right. So that can - can that be avoided? Late last night, Republicans in the House proposed a plan, a short-term spending bill that essentially kicks the immigration can down the road. And the bill, though, might have some appeal for Democrats.

GREENE: All right, let's get some details of this from NPR's Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, there.

GREENE: OK. So what is in this short-term spending bill that may be the key to preventing a shutdown?

LIASSON: Right. Well, here we are, just a couple days away from a shutdown. And this bill would extend government funding until February 16. So it's just a very short-term bill to buy Congress some time to work out the most difficult issue, which is the immigration issue - which is not included in this funding bill. What it would do - it would extend the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, for six years. It would extend some delays of Obamacare-related taxes. And it would include a provision to provide more money for missile defense, which should appeal to conservatives.

GREENE: OK. But you hear about CHIP there. This is Republicans saying we're going to give Democrats some things that they want. But they're not going to deal with immigration at this point. So this goes to the House floor - when? - Thursday, right? Could this pass?

LIASSON: Yes, that's what we're - it's expected to go to the House floor on Thursday. The question is - would Democrats vote for this, and do Republicans have 218 votes on their own - without Democrats - to pass it? They did pass the last short-term funding bill all on their own. They didn't need Democratic votes. But the Freedom Caucus, the conservative group of House members, hasn't signed on to this yet. And then of course the question is - what happens when it goes to the Senate? - because there, they do need 60 votes. They would have to have Democrats supporting it because, unlike the tax bill or judges, this bill will take compromise.

GREENE: So it sounds like a lot of this is Democrats having to decide if they want to put down the marker now and say, we would hold up the government and shut it down over immigration, or whether they feel like they could wait and have that debate sometime soon.

LIASSON: That's right because the deadline for the immigration portion of this is March 5. The president - remember - revoked the protection from deportation for the DREAMers. He gave Congress six months to come up with an alternative. That six-month time frame runs out in the beginning of March.

And - you're right. Democrats have to decide - will they have more leverage in March, or do they have more leverage now? There is an internal debate. But most Democrats say let's just buy ourselves some more time and see if we can get a deal a couple weeks down the road.

GREENE: Is this the last chance, this bill that would go to the House floor Thursday, to avoid a shutdown? Or could there be more last-second maneuvering to...

LIASSON: Well, there could always be more last-second maneuvering.

GREENE: That's always, yeah.

LIASSON: But the clock is ticking, and the government shuts down on Friday if it doesn't have a - if Congress can't make a deal.

GREENE: All right, clock is ticking. NPR's Mara Liasson.

Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, some news this morning that is related to a pair of deadly U.S. Navy crashes that we remember from last summer.

MARTIN: Yeah. The first crash happened back in June. This is when a U.S. warship collided with a commercial ship off the coast of Japan. And then the other incident was in August. This is when a destroyer hit an oil tanker near Singapore. And now we know the two commanding officers could actually face charges, including negligent homicide.

So the question - what do these charges say about what actually went wrong in these two events?

GREENE: Yeah. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here.

Hey there, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So I remember we were asking these questions back over the summer like, could anyone be blamed for this? It sounds like that might be happening. So - I mean, who is exactly being charged here?

BOWMAN: Well, in the case of the Fitzgerald, it's the former commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, along with three of Fitzgerald junior officers. And they're being charged with a mix of charges - dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide. Seven sailors were killed in this accident off Japan. And in the second case with the McCain, they're charging - or looking at charging Commander Alfredo Sanchez. He faces, also, similar dereliction of duty charges, hazarding a vessel and also negligent homicide. And in that case of Singapore, 10 sailors were killed in that accident.

GREENE: So we're talking about two different cases. I mean, just so we understand why these people may have been to blame, can you remind us exactly what went wrong in each?

BOWMAN: Well, in the case of the Fitzgerald, I was talking with a retired officer. He said there was a breakdown in ship-driving 101. The officers on the deck misjudged the distance between their ship and the cargo ship. They didn't contact the captain when they were clearly in trouble.

And here's the other thing, David, which is remarkable. Investigators said there was a lack of basic knowledge of radar and the fundamental rules of the nautical road. In the case of the McCain, this is even more startling. There was confusion about who was driving the ship and who was operating the engines. And that resulted in, you know, uncertainty. And then the ship - the McCain actually turned into a cargo ship. And in that case, 10 sailors were killed.

GREENE: Tom, am I crazy? It feels like it is insane to think that the U.S. Navy might not have basic navigating skills to run ships out on the water. I mean, this is a huge moment for the Navy. I mean, did they have to do a lot here to improve operational safety?

BOWMAN: You know, first of all, David, you are not crazy. And there are serious questions raised about, can the Navy sail its ships? The top naval officer Admiral John Richardson met was reporters last fall. And we asked him these questions. He said, we're sending out review teams to the fleet to make sure they have the basic knowledge of how to drive a ship and navigation and the fundamentals of just operating a ship. And Admiral Richardson will appear on Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee to talk about this review and what his investigators have found about, again, sailors being able to sail ships.

GREENE: My God. The Navy having to appear in Congress to answer basic questions about navigating. I mean, that's not going to be a good moment for them.

BOWMAN: No, it's not.

GREENE: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Tom, we appreciate it.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, now to the striking testimony of some of the victims of Larry Nassar.

MARTIN: Yeah, Nassar was the doctor who, for decades, used his position as the primary doctor for the U.S. Olympics gymnastics team and Michigan State University to assault more than a hundred young female athletes. Yesterday in court, one of those victims, Jade Capua, confronted Nassar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JADE CAPUA: We can walk free and radiate the strength that we have gained from your horrific acts, something you will never be able to do.

MARTIN: Nassar's now serving 60 years in jail on federal charges of child pornography. This week, he's in a Michigan courtroom being sentenced on state charges.

GREENE: And one of the reporters following that is Mark Alesia. He is with The Indianapolis Star, part of a team of journalists who broke the original story here.

Mark, welcome.

MARK ALESIA: Thank you.

GREENE: So yesterday, this was just the first day of Nassar's sentencing. I just - listening to the tape there, this is just - this is stunning, hearing from all these victims. I mean, can you just paint us a picture of what's happening?

ALESIA: Yeah. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. I certainly interviewed more than a few victims for the stories. But it's one thing to read some details about what happened to these women and girls in court documents. It's quite another to see person after person after person come up to confront Nassar in a courtroom with just profoundly human stories of really deep pain.

GREENE: We now have, in addition to all of these other women, we have the gymnast Simone Biles who, you know, is such a familiar name. She tweeted this week that she, too, was sexually abused by Larry Nassar. She's not going to be testifying. But I mean, could that have a big impact here?

ALESIA: Well, certainly it has had a big impact just on the public. Simone Biles won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics. And it - she is one of the top Olympic gymnasts of all time. And it seemed like a big deal - and it was a big deal when Aly Raisman, another Olympic gymnast, came out and said she, too, had been abused by Nassar. But now Simone Biles - my goodness. People are wondering when it's going to end.

GREENE: Yeah. And so USA Gymnastics - I mean, they're going to have a lot to answer for as these hearings on the sentencing of Larry Nassar go forward in Michigan.

Talking to Mark Alesia on Skype - he's an investigative reporter for The Indianapolis Star and part of the team that broke the original story about this former doctor a couple years ago. Mark, thanks.

ALESIA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "TONITRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.