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News Brief: North Korea Fires ICBM, Republican Tax Plan Gains Support, CFPB


We hear this story again and again, but each time, it's just a little bit worse. North Korea tested a missile, and this time it appeared to have the longest range yet.


Yeah, this one reached an altitude of 2,780 miles. That is actually higher than the orbit of the International Space Station. This missile then crashed into the water near Japan. Here's the reaction from U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis.


JAMES MATTIS: The bottom line is it's a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.

GREENE: OK. And the U.N. Security Council plans to hold an emergency meeting today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Elise Hu is covering this story from Seoul. She's on the line.

Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. So you know, at a moment like this, you naturally think - well, what about me? Could this missile strike me? You're there in Seoul. David is in Southern California. I'm in Washington, D.C. What could this missile strike?

HU: Both of you. So in theory, this missile, if flown as a - at a flattened trajectory, could hit as far as Washington, D.C. But if it were loaded with a warhead, it would likely be heavier. So we don't know, in actuality, how far this missile - if loaded with a warhead - could go. But still, this is a significant advance in North Korea's capability - no question.

INSKEEP: Well, you - yeah. And you mention another thing, which is making a warhead that is small enough to fit on the tip of a missile. Is it known that the North Koreans can do that - put it on top of a missile and send it anywhere?

HU: Not quite yet. South Korea and officials here in the region have questioned the ability to miniaturize a warhead and put it on a missile. So that is still a big question about North Korea's program at this point.

INSKEEP: OK. So Americans don't need to head for the shelters today. But this is concerning, clearly, to U.S. officials. How are various countries responding?

HU: Well, there is that U.N. Security Council meeting set for later today that you two just did mention. The allies, Japan and South Korea, join the U.S. in calling for that. President Trump did speak about this yesterday saying, quote, "it's a situation that we will handle." But he offered no details. Analysts believe that with each advance, North Korea has essentially a stronger negotiating position and would be less likely to give up what they've got. So this would mean that the U.S. is going to have to consider what it would be willing to give in order to bring North Korea to the table.

So sanctions of course, you know, have been part of the North - or the U.S. policy. They are heavier now, given the earlier provocations that got us to this point. But China and Russia don't believe that any level of sanctions will really lead North Korea to give up its program. So what you guys are going to hear now is more talks of a freeze on testing or other goals that are short of denuclearization.

INSKEEP: Well, are China and Russia - as far as you can tell - at least really trying? Those, we should remind people, are the two countries that share borders with North Korea. And China is really North Korea's only friend.

HU: That's correct. So China has stepped up the pressure according to U.S. officials. They have said that they believe China is doing more. But there's a lot of folks who say that, you know, leaning on China really isn't the only way to get at this problem. And there is still a long way between what the U.S. wants and what North Korea wants. And so there is a reason why this is called a problem with only lousy solutions.

INSKEEP: Elise, pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

HU: Of course.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul.


INSKEEP: OK, here in the United States, the Senate Budget Committee has passed its version of a tax bill.

GREENE: Yeah. As expected, this was a party-line vote, and Republicans pulled this off after some convincing from President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think we're going to get it passed. I think it's going to pass and it's going to be very popular. It's going to have lots of adjustments before it ends. But the end result would be a very, very massive - the largest in the history of our country - tax cut.

GREENE: OK. So where does this go from here? After this committee vote, now comes a vote on the full Senate floor. And if the Senate approves the bill, it would still need to be reconciled with the House version of the bill.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And we should mention he called it a tax cut. It is an overall tax cut. But whether you get a tax cut depends on who you are and exactly what the final wording of the bill is. NPR's Scott Detrow hosts NPR's Politics podcast and has deigned to come by us here once again this morning - as you so often do, Scott.

Good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You don't deign. You come here...

DETROW: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...It's awesome, appreciated.

DETROW: I'm told to come here.

INSKEEP: Exactly. So they're trying to pass this with only Republican votes. Are they going to get there?

DETROW: They're feeling increasingly confident. And interesting thing about that committee vote yesterday - you got two yes votes from Republicans who had been very critical of the bill and threatened to vote no. That's Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. They both voted yes in committee despite the fact the bill did not change - same bill as before. But they have been given assurances that this measure will change on the Senate floor. There will be amendments addressing their concerns, which have to do with the corporate side of the tax rates and also how this affects the deficit.

INSKEEP: Well, there you go, the deficit. There's different Republicans with different concerns. Right?

DETROW: That's right. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said yesterday - it's kind of like fiddling with a Rubik's Cube, trying to make everybody happy. I've never gotten a Rubik's Cube to work myself.

INSKEEP: Me neither.

DETROW: But McConnell thinks that he can get this done by the end of the week. Couple of things President Trump talked about when he visited with Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday - he said he's on board with a bipartisan effort to stabilize Obamacare markets. That's the Lamar Alexander-Patty Murray bill we've talked a lot about over the last few months. That's big for another swing vote, Susan Collins of Maine, who says that she is hesitant to vote for this tax bill which, at the moment, would repeal the individual mandate - the language that says you have to buy health insurance. She doesn't want to vote for that unless this health care stabilization passes as well. Trump said yesterday he supports it. Of course, he's said before he supports it. He's said before he doesn't support it.

INSKEEP: OK. (Laughter) OK. So this bill passes, it doesn't pass - either way, the government continues running. There's another bill that has to pass, in order to keep the government running, in the next few days. Right?

DETROW: That's right. And there was supposed to be a big meeting yesterday with President Trump and Democratic leaders and Republican leaders. The Democrats did not show up to that meeting, so Trump met with McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But he did make sure to put the two empty chairs right next to him.

INSKEEP: This was because the president tweeted that there would be no deal - he saw no deal anyway.

DETROW: He said he saw a hard time seeing a deal with Democrats. That's despite the fact that last time they were all there to talk about government funding, he very quickly made a deal with Democrats. So Democratic leaders said - hey, if you're not serious about this, we'll just focus with congressional Republicans who are serious.

GREENE: I'm just disappointed neither of you guys can do a Rubik's Cube. I'm thinking some lessons...

DETROW: Can you?


DETROW: Really? Wow.

GREENE: A long time - it takes a long, long time.

INSKEEP: OK. You - show me how...

GREENE: Lessons in order.

INSKEEP: ...A little bit later - a little bit later. David, thanks. (Laughter) NPR's Scott Detrow is here as well.

Scott, thanks very much.

DETROW: I'll practice the cube.


INSKEEP: OK. So we know, for the moment, who is in charge at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

GREENE: Yeah, for the moment - maybe. A federal judge has ruled in favor of the president's pick here. That means that White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is heading to work today as the sole acting director of the CFPB. This follows a few days of confusion - to say the least - as the outgoing director's appointee, Leandra English, also was claiming the top job.

INSKEEP: OK. Renae Merle has been following this story for The Washington Post. She's on the line.

Good morning.

RENAE MERLE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So this is a temporary ruling by the judge - right? - on a temporary replacement for the agency.

MERLE: Yeah. Basically, the judge ruled on a temporary restraining order, basically denying that restraining order. But the underlying legal issue still remains.

INSKEEP: So what does the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do in the meantime?

MERLE: It goes back to what it was doing before, though Mick Mulvaney has been a longtime critic of the agency. So we're probably going to see some changes coming in the next couple of weeks or months, depending on how long this legal battle takes. But basically, the agency's 1,600 employees will wake up this morning and just go to work and do what they were doing before.

INSKEEP: OK. You said that Mick Mulvaney has been a critic of the agency. It is not the first time that President Trump has appointed a critic of an agency to head that very agency. What exactly is his criticism?

MERLE: Mulvaney and other Republicans and the banking industry have basically said the CFPB, which was set up after the financial crisis has been involved in a lot of overreach. They've criticized the aggressive way that the agency has gone after big banks and payday lenders and debt collectors, basically saying that they are stifling the credit markets with their tactics.

INSKEEP: So that sounds good as a general proposition. But of course, supporters of the agency will push back and say - come on, we're going after people like Wells Fargo who had that problem with setting up fake bank accounts - that there are specific accomplishments that the agency has had. Has someone like Mulvaney identified specific cases they would rather not be pursuing?

MERLE: He hasn't gotten into specifics yet. But what people are concerned about is, for example, the CFPB recently put out some rules related to payday lenders. These are the lenders that can charge you up to 400 percent interest. And so now they're concerned that he could say that - kind of rollback those regulations, for example.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - Leandra English, the deputy who sued to be the head of the CFPB - is she still there taking orders now from Mulvaney?

MERLE: Technically she's still there. She's a deputy director. She's even listed on their website as deputy director. But there is a chance - Mulvaney hasn't ruled out whether he or Trump himself could fire her.

INSKEEP: OK. Renae Merle, thanks very much.

MERLE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's a reporter for The Washington Post.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.