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News Brief: Trump's Base, Chicago Police Trial, Syria Bombing


President Trump famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.


Well, now a survey shows a portion of his base support is a bit less solid. This is from the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. To be clear, this is one survey. We don't know if this is temporary. But this slip comes during a government shutdown and also after the resignation of key officials.

INSKEEP: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here.

Domenico, good morning.


INSKEEP: Hey. What are the numbers?

MONTANARO: Well, the president's approval rating is back down to 39 percent - down from 42 percent last month. And it is the result, underneath that, of some slippage with some key parts of his base. For example, in December, suburban men and white women without a college degree had approved of the job the president was doing. Now they don't. And he's also down with white evangelicals and slightly even with Republicans overall. You know, as we noted, it might be temporary. But the poll does show that the president is not faring well during this shutdown.

INSKEEP: Well, the president has seemed to assume that funding a wall, which is his demand for reopening the government, is the most important issue for his base supporters. Could he be wrong?

MONTANARO: Well, I think one of the potential problems with that is that they also want to see the government function. And Trump's base mostly blames Democrats for the shutdown. But 61 percent of people overall say that during this shutdown, they have a more negative opinion of President Trump. That includes almost a quarter of Republicans, 40 percent of white evangelical Christians and 55 percent of whites without a college degree. Overall, the president is shouldering most of the blame for the shutdown. I mean, that's up from when the shutdown first started. And 70 percent of people - 70 percent - think that shutting down the government to reach a policy solution is just bad strategy.

INSKEEP: Wow, 70 percent. So let me ask about this, Domenico. If you follow the president's approval rating over the past couple of years, his approval goes up a little; it goes down a little. Sometimes it's in the high 30s. Sometimes it gets up to the low 40s. It's stayed right in that range. You're telling us it's gotten back down into the high 30s again, which is the lower end of that range. But is there any sign he could be headed out of that range as the 2020 presidential campaign begins?

MONTANARO: So we started to ask a couple 2020 questions just to sort of get a feeling, a thermometer, a little bit of a temperature reading of what might be happening in next year's elections. And what really jumped out here is that just 30 percent said that they would definitely vote for President Trump for re-election. But the percentage of people saying that they definitely would not vote for him was 57 percent. You know, a president up for re-election normally wants to be close to 40 when it comes to definitely vote for and definitely under 50 (laughter)...


MONTANARO: ...For those who say...

INSKEEP: Fifty-seven percent say, no way will I vote for this man for president in 2020.

MONTANARO: Right. And sometimes these numbers definitely close. President Obama was in a range that was not great for him. Forty-eight percent in 2010-2011 said that they would not vote for him. But that's about the percentage that wound up not voting for him. About 47 percent didn't vote for him in 2012, not 57 percent.

INSKEEP: OK. So that does not look good - at least at this moment, at least in this one survey for the president. Of course, he's not the only person up for re-election in 2020.

MONTANARO: No, he's not. You know, Republicans in the Senate are the ones who are, you know, taking a lot of the pressure here during the shutdown. There have been a few cracks among Republicans who have come out and said that they want the shutdown to end. But you know, Mitch McConnell - also up for re-election - he's somebody who has really been careful not to weigh in too much. But we're going to see if that's going to continue because a lot of people see him as one way out.

INSKEEP: OK. Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro.


INSKEEP: All right. Two police officers and a detective are accused of a cover-up in Chicago.

GREENE: Yeah, this involves the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. McDonald was 17 years old when he was shot and killed by Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Sixteen shots and a cover-up, 16 shots and a cover-up.

GREENE: Protests swept Chicago after that shooting. Protesters chanted, as we hear, 16 shots and a cover-up - after police released dashcam footage of the teenager walking away from the police when the first bullet struck. Activists say the trial of the shooter's colleagues are spotlighting a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department. And a judge is set to announce a verdict today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cheryl Corley is covering this case.

Good morning, Cheryl.


INSKEEP: How did the officers allegedly cover up?

CORLEY: Well, the prosecutors say that all three of these people falsified police reports and they did so to protect Jason Van Dyke. They said in those reports, specifically, that Laquan McDonald threatened police officers with a knife before he was shot. Video from a police dashcam video contradicted that - actually showed McDonald walking away from police. So these officers are accused of three things - obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.

INSKEEP: And I suppose part of the evidence here is that Jason Van Dyke - the officer you mentioned, the man who pulled the trigger - has already been convicted. There's no question about that part of the case, that there was a crime. And you're saying that it was allegedly not in the police reports that they filed.

CORLEY: Absolutely. And he gets sentenced tomorrow for that, but absolutely. He was convicted. People saw that video. And that video was also a big part of this case, as well.

INSKEEP: Now, how - if at all - does this reflect the broader police culture in Chicago or elsewhere?

CORLEY: Well, I would say first, Steve, I want to talk about Officer Dora Fontaine. She was a key witness in this case who says she found out that her statement about the case included false comments that weren't made by her. And she says she's had to pay a price for coming forward - that she was taken off the streets, that she was assigned to desk duty. And on the witness stand, she explained why.


DORA FONTAINE: Other officers were calling me a rat, a snitch, a traitor. If I was at a call and I needed assistance, some officers felt strong enough to say that I didn't deserve to be helped.

CORLEY: So if you talk about the so-called code of silence by police, that's been a real big concern for years in Chicago. The U.S. Justice Department investigated the city, spurred by the Van Dyke shooting. And they issued this really scathing report a couple of years ago, said there's been a pervasive code of silence affecting police misconduct cases here. And...

INSKEEP: And what we're hearing from that witness is effectively that claim. She's saying that other officers pressured me if I tried to say anything.

CORLEY: Yeah, absolutely what she's saying. You know, it's not just Chicago, though. It's a problem for other police departments, too. But this conspiracy trial and the Van Dyke trial have just really put a spotlight on what's been happening here. And there's been really some sustained public outrage about what happens to folks who do come forward.

INSKEEP: Cheryl, thanks.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley.


INSKEEP: All right. We now know that four Americans are dead in Syria, including two service members, after an attack that was claimed by ISIS.

GREENE: Yeah, two service members as well as an interpreter and a civilian Pentagon employee among those killed. This is just days after the U.S. said it was beginning the troop withdrawal that President Trump ordered from Syria last month. At the time, he said ISIS was defeated. Well, ISIS says this attack in the city of Manbij was carried out by one of the group's suicide bombers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from neighboring Iraq, where remnants of ISIS also pose a threat.

Jane, what are people saying about this attack?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, they're essentially saying that this really complicates President Trump's decision to pull those U.S. troops out of Syria because, we'll recall, that decision was based on the assumption that ISIS was defeated. And if this was ISIS, the attack, this is probably not what defeated looks like because it isn't really just about the soldiers and civilians killed. It's about the instability. So at one point, ISIS controlled about a third of Iraq. And with U.S. help, they still have thousands of troops fighting remnants of them. So one government spokesman here says this emphasizes it's still a threat.

And then we have to mention Turkey, which also gets a vote in this. The Turkish government issued a statement after the attack, saying that they wanted to press ahead with an agreement with the U.S. for military action in Manbij, that agreement from last year. The Turks, though, are in a campaign against a Syrian-Turkish group that they consider terrorists. So they're actually seen as potentially part of the problem rather than the solution here.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask; the reason that we think that ISIS is responsible for this attack is only because ISIS said so. Is it clear that ISIS did commit this attack that it claims?

ARRAF: It's not clear, no. But we have to point out, too, this is a hallmark - a particularly effective one - of ISIS, the suicide vest. You know, at one point in Iraq, forces here - security forces were facing dozens of suicide bombings with suicide vests every day. So I spoke to a senior U.S. military official who doesn't want to speak publicly who says it's too early to say because they're still investigating but also because there are claims of responsibility emerging from other groups. And there, that's particularly tricky because there are all those other theories floating around not based on evidence.

INSKEEP: Now, we have to mention that on...

ARRAF: And there's no word yet on what the White House thinks.

INSKEEP: Well, now we have to mention that at about the same time or on the same day as we learned of this attack, we heard from Vice President Mike Pence, who gave the standard administration statement about this. Let's listen to a bit of that.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.


INSKEEP: OK. Obviously not defeated or not fully defeated - but ISIS has been substantially reduced. Is it fair to say that much, Jane?

ARRAF: So absolutely fair to say it's been substantially reduced. Now, Pence went on in a tweet later to say they've crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. So yes, they have crushed the physical caliphate. But the point is - and that's the point shared by his own military people - they haven't eliminated ISIS as a threat. And that's really what we're talking about here, the potential to regenerate and launch attacks like this, which are incredibly destabilizing and feed on the tension between various groups in a very complicated region.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jane Arraf.

Jane, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.