News Brief: Impeachment Probe, Ukraine Cease-Fire, College Admissions Suit

Dec 10, 2019
Originally published on December 10, 2019 10:39 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Quote, "This is not a happy day." That is what reporters heard from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel last night as he signaled plans by fellow Democrats to unveil articles of impeachment against President Trump.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We expect to learn this morning what those articles say. They are likely to focus on the president's push to get Ukraine to make announcements that would embarrass Democrats. Daniel Goldman is a lawyer for a House committee.

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DANIEL GOLDMAN: President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security.

MARTIN: Joining us now, NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, who listened in to the hearing yesterday. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what did we learn from yesterday's hearing that could provide some clues about which articles of impeachment we might see today?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, the point of yesterday's hearing was for representatives of the Intelligence Committee to present the findings of their report to the Judiciary Committee. You had one that was a majority report. You had one with a minority report. He had lawyers presenting this to the Judiciary Committee 'cause the Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to write these articles of impeachment. And what it comes down to, really, is this. I mean, we expect there'll be at least two articles of impeachment, one related to abuse of power and bribery and one on obstruction of Congress.

Democrats feel like they've made the case, that they've presented overwhelming and compelling evidence that the president abused his power by pressuring a foreign country to help investigate a political rival to help his 2020 reelection. That's essentially what it comes down to for them. Republicans think that that's just not true. They said that Ukrainian leaders say there was no pressure. The aide was eventually released. And, you know, if you've been following every twist and turn, you probably didn't hear a lot that was new yesterday. But it was really a chance for them to boil down their arguments.

MARTIN: So how did they go about doing that? Because even though people have been following this incessantly, may have heard some of these arguments, this is really a chance for them to try to create something really succinct, to crystallize it in the public's mind, right?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And you didn't have to go much further than the opening statements from Congressman Jerry Nadler, who is the House Judiciary Committee chairman. He opened the hearing, got right to the point. He summed up what he sees as the president's guilt this way.

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JERRY NADLER: The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, of course, Republicans did not agree with that. Ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia - he was pretty animated through much of the hearing. He accused Democrats of pursuing a personal vendetta. And here he was, saying that impeaching President Trump is all about politics.

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DOUG COLLINS: At the end of the day, all this is about is about a clock and a calendar because they can't get over the fact Donald Trump is president of the United States. And they don't have a candidate that they think can beat him.

MARTIN: So, Domenico, you said at least two articles of impeachment about abuse of power and obstruction. But still, we don't really have an idea of the scope of these, right?

MONTANARO: Right. We expect to hear later this morning what the exact articles will be. One sticking point with Democrats has been whether to bring an obstruction of justice article that hinges on instances of potential obstruction that was laid out in the Mueller Russia investigation - adds a bit of a turn because it doesn't have to do with this Ukraine pressure campaign. But expect Democrats to say what Trump has done as part of a larger pattern of behavior. So we expect a vote in the Judiciary Committee that could take place by the end of this week, then a full vote in the House that Democrats are aiming to get done before Christmas, setting up a Senate trial in January.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: OK. So while the House is announcing articles of impeachment against President Trump for actions that ultimately benefited Russia, Trump will be meeting with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

INSKEEP: Russia is throughout this story, isn't it? President Trump delayed U.S. military aid to Ukraine. That aid is considered critical to Ukraine as it pushes back against a Russian incursion into its territory that began in 2014. Now, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, met face to face for the first time yesterday in Paris. And after that meeting, they announced a cease-fire that is supposed to take hold at the end of the month.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the line. She's covering this historic meeting. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is the first time these two presidents, Zelenskiy and Putin, have met. It's kind of a high-intensity moment for these two leaders to just have, like, a meet-and-greet, right?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. And, you know, the meetings went on for hours and broke up after midnight. So they held their press conference after midnight. And you had this young, you know, neophyte politician meeting with the strong man who's run Russia for 20 years, you know, and continues to create havoc in, you know, Zelenskiy's country, Ukraine. So everyone was watching faces and body language. And right after host Macron spoke, Zelenskiy spoke. And he and Putin were at far ends of the table, you know, separated by President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So, you know, Zelenskiy appeared nervous, but what he said seemed heartfelt. You can listen to him here.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: So, you know, he said he had all of Ukrainians with him in Paris, and he felt their support. He said he had truth with him and the desire for justice and peace in his own country. So that was very powerful. He said the meetings were long, but they were concrete and important and that the dialogue had been unblocked. And Zelenskiy also stated that Ukraine was an independent and free country and that its future will be decided by Ukrainians. And he asserted that the Donbass - that's the eastern Ukraine - and Crimea are part of Ukraine. Now, remember, Russia took Crimea away from Ukraine five years ago...

MARTIN: Right.

BEARDSLEY: ...And is still destabilizing the east.

MARTIN: So how did Vladimir Putin respond to that?

BEARDSLEY: Well, he sat at the opposite end of the table. He sort of - he looked at his notes. He didn't give much facial expression. He spoke at one point of the 38 million Russian-speaking Ukrainians who needed consideration. And, you know, remember, Russia - it's in its interest to keep a constant state of chaos and insecurity and limbo in Ukraine, to make sure Ukraine doesn't go with the West, get its act together, you know? And so Putin wants, you know, Ukraine in its sphere. But there's a new wind blowing, Rachel. Russia is very much suffering under the sanctions that the West imposed after it took Crimea. And analysts say that Putin may be ready to give a little to maybe get something back from the West.

MARTIN: Interesting. OK, so the cease-fire came out, supposed to take hold at the end of the month.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Any other big decisions?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, well, the cease-fire - let's keep in mind there've been 20 of them. So will this one hold? Probably one of the most concrete and important measures is they're going to exchange all of their prisoners before New Year's Eve, as well. And that will be something that can really measure. And then by next March, they say they will withdraw all forces from three conflict zones. And this crisis group will meet in four months and keep going.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we'll see. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Anyone who's ever applied to go to college is probably familiar with this kind of dread.

RAINA ETTIS: My anxiety was really high. You know, it's hard for me to calm myself down, but I knew I had to calm myself down so that I can excel on this test.

INSKEEP: Raina Ettis (ph) is a high school senior in Santa Ana, Calif. And the test she's referring to is the SAT. After taking that test three times, she still is not sure that she's going to get the scores she needs to get into college as a pre-med student. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit argue she should not be facing such anxiety. The suit, to be filed today, seeks to eliminate SAT and ACT test score requirements for the University of California system.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Elissa Nadworny in studio to talk about it. Hi, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Oh, man. That was bringing back my own anxiety.

NADWORNY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I had to take that test at least twice. So I feel for Raina. Who exactly is bringing the suit?

NADWORNY: Yeah. So the lawsuit's being filed by the pro bono firm Public Counsel on behalf of students and a number of advocacy organizations. The complaint draws heavily on research that shows a much stronger connection between test scores and income rather than college success. And it's essentially saying requiring these tests in admissions - it's no longer a policy decision. It's now a legal one. The suit claims that by requiring these tests, the admissions process is illegally discriminating against applicants on the basis of race and wealth. And therefore, it's denying them equal protection under the California Constitution.

MARTIN: Because people with more access to resources to prepare for the test had an advantage.

NADWORNY: ...Get better scores.

MARTIN: Yeah. So, I mean, could this really force the UC system to abandon the tests? That would be huge.

NADWORNY: Potentially, yeah. So what's interesting is that about 50 years ago, the University of California was one of the first schools to adopt the SAT as a requirement for admissions. Actually, the companies behind the SAT lobbied them pretty hard back then. And in doing so in the late '60s, they signaled to other schools across the country to do the same. So they set this national precedent. And back then, there was a lot of debate within the system whether or not they should require these tests. Just last year, the president of the UC system ordered a task force to study the use of standardized tests in admissions. A few leaders have come out against including these tests, like the chancellor of UC Berkeley. A spokesperson for the UC president says they're waiting for the results of that task force before they make any big changes.

MARTIN: What about the companies who make these standardized tests? I bet they have an opinion here?

NADWORNY: The ACT folks say the test is not biased, that, quote, blaming standardized tests for differences in educational quality and opportunities will not improve educational outcomes. The College Board, which is behind the SAT, says grades and test scores are all pieces of the puzzle. Colleges shouldn't take one metric in isolation.

MARTIN: So is the suit really necessary? Because aren't there are a lot of schools already dropping the standardized tests?

NADWORNY: Yeah. So 2019 was a big year for schools going test-optional. Nearly 50 schools announced new policies forgoing the test. If the University of California, which is a big system with more than 250,000 students, were to follow suit, that would be a really big deal. But the test - going test-optional - it's just one piece. So the entire admissions process is rife with inequality. A lot of it stems from K-12. You know, we know that schools that serve nonwhite students tend to have fewer resources and not as many AP or advanced courses.

MARTIN: NPR's Elissa Nadworny. Thanks so much, Elissa.

NADWORNY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.