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News Brief: Trump Speaks Out About North Korea, Opioid Crisis


You never know when the spirit is going to move the president to take questions from the press.


That's right. President Trump weighed in on multiple issues with reporters during his working vacation at his New Jersey golf course. He made no apologies for his tough talk about North Korea.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough.

CHANG: So how does all of this look to Republican Party voters?

MARTIN: There is one man to call on for the answer to that question. He is Don Gonyea of NPR. He is in Iowa, where he's been talking to voters. Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: So you've been at the Iowa State Fair, probably not a lot of talk about the threat of nuclear war, I would hope. But even so, when you when you chat with folks, do they have thoughts about how the president is managing the North Korean crisis right now?

GONYEA: It's - you might be surprised how, once you start talking about Trump, how people bring this up. This is really the topic of the past couple of days. Again, I was looking for people who voted for Trump to see how that support is holding. But I heard a lot of things - like North Korea's leader isn't rational, so maybe this is the the only way to get his attention. People expressed a lot of worry, especially baby boomers who talk about doing those duck-and-cover drills when they were kids.


GONYEA: You know, they say it's a scary situation. I heard everything from people hoping the generals don't let the president do anything impulsive to suggesting pre-emptive action to wondering why China and Russia aren't doing more.

MARTIN: So in his back-and-forth with the press yesterday, he also - again - used the moment to push against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's been calling him out on Twitter recently for failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Let's listen to the president.


TRUMP: Mitch, get to work, and let's get it done. They should have had this last one done. They lost by one vote.

MARTIN: So when you've been talking with people there in Iowa, do you broach the subject of health care?

GONYEA: I do. And the name Mitch McConnell comes up a lot. Most of the blame...

MARTIN: Are they mad at him?

GONYEA: You know, most of the blame for health care not succeeding - not getting passed is focused on Congress and Republicans for not working with the president closely enough, not getting it done because they were so close. There isn't a lot of finger pointing at Trump from these particular folks I've been talking to. But they do say Trump needs to learn from it, and there's a lot of frustration - while they're no fans of Mitch McConnell - that these two guys can't figure out how to work together. They've got a majority, for God's sake, somebody told me.

CHANG: I do have to say that the tweets - Trump's tweets against McConnell haven't been, like, brutally demeaning the way some of Trump's other tweets against lawmakers have been.

GONYEA: Yeah, that's a very good point.

MARTIN: Yeah, I guess that's a silver lining for McConnell.

CHANG: (Laughter).

MARTIN: And so just in general, Don, quickly - supporters still have faith that the president can move forward with a legislative agenda that has clearly been stalled?

GONYEA: Yes. But here's the other thing you hear more than anything else - more than North Korea - is that the drama coming out of the White House really does need to stop. One guy said - look, he says, not a lot of good ever comes from excessive drama in your life or in politics. And everybody just about says Twitter needs to be controlled, as far as the president goes.

MARTIN: NPR's Don Gonyea reporting from Iowa. Hey, Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

MARTIN: So in that same exchange with reporters, the president also brought up the opioid crisis yesterday, Ailsa.

CHANG: That's right. The other day he got a briefing from the White House commission looking into the opioid epidemic. And they asked the president to declare it a national emergency. The president did not at that time. But then yesterday, in a seemingly offhand comment, he says this.


TRUMP: The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency. It's a national emergency.

CHANG: Now, opioid addiction has devastated communities across this country, and overdoses and deaths have been steadily climbing.

MARTIN: Yeah, so the president's been trying to put a rhetorical focus on this. But is this an emergency in word or in substance? Alison Kodjak covers health policy for us. She's in the studio. Is this the president just speaking off the cuff, or is this really going to happen?

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: It's a little unclear at this point. I mean, normally, when a president or an administration official declares an emergency, it comes with a citation of the legal authority. You know, the Public Health Services Act allows them to do it.

MARTIN: Because it unlocks funding. Right?

KODJAK: Yeah, it can unlock funding. It can give them powers. And this one so far hasn't had that. The White House followed up with a statement where they said they want the administration to use all the powers they have. But they haven't sort of said this is an emergency under this law for this amount of time that allows us to do this. So we're still waiting to find out specifically whether they're going to do that.

MARTIN: OK, so it could be a case with the president rhetorically getting ahead of the policy.

KODJAK: Right.

MARTIN: So let's talk about whether or not this has happened before. Is there precedent for declaring a national emergency against - drugs is really what we're talking about.


MARTIN: I mean, it's the crisis in general but specifically prescription drugs.

KODJAK: Well, there's precedent on the state level. Already, several states have declared statewide emergencies regarding this opioid crisis. There have been, I think, six states. And that brings them a little bit of extra power - not a lot of extra money. So states can then allow more and more people to get access to what's called naloxone. It's a drug that reverses an opioid overdose. Some states have used it to track overdoses in real time. I know Maryland does that, where they get reports every day of exactly where there are overdoses, so they can kind of track where the really potent drugs are.


KODJAK: But it hasn't come with a lot of federal money. So if the president actually declares an emergency, that could bring money. That could bring power, too. And the power is they could wave a variety of laws and regulations so that they can actually change how medical officials respond, emergency responders respond.

MARTIN: Yeah. So it could make a difference if it actually happens.

KODJAK: It could make a difference. It could make treatment more available. There's a lot of things that could happen.

MARTIN: All right, NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak breaking it down for us. Thanks, Alison.

KODJAK: Thanks.


MARTIN: And we're going to end this Friday morning with a little tech news. Uber is back in the news and not in a good way.

CHANG: That's right. Uber's founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick, is being sued for fraud by one of the company's earliest investors, the venture capital firm Benchmark Capital. Kalanick resigned as CEO in June after a series of controversies, one of them being widespread allegations of sexual harassment at the company.

MARTIN: OK, Teddy Schleifer joins us now. He is the senior money and influence writer for Recode. He joins us on Skype. Hey, Teddy.

TEDDY SCHLEIFER: How's it going?

MARTIN: It goes well. What is the allegation against Kalanick?

SCHLEIFER: So the allegations kind of center on a series of moves that the venture capital firm, which is called Benchmark Capital, which is one of the most well-known firms here in Silicon Valley. They say that basically Kalanick, in mid-2016, undertook a series of moves that were meant to eventually kind of embolden his power on the board of directors. They say that, you know, he increased the number of board seats, which he did, as part of this kind of clever, you know, five-part strategy. And he's playing some chess to basically - ultimately, when he would have to resign from the role, he'd be able to have more power down the line.

And where the fraud comes in here is they say that Kalanick was kind of hiding all of these problems that you just mentioned, you know, including the sexual harassment allegations, and that, you know, Travis Kalanick was increasing his role but not being honest with the board of directors.

MARTIN: So there had been suggestions that Kalanick could at some point return to Uber.


MARTIN: Is that still possible?

SCHLEIFER: You know, one of the - Uber had sent out word earlier - sorry - late last week that is - that's not in the cards, right? Uber, you know - obviously, you know, there's a kind of this fabled Silicon Valley - right? - everyone from Steve Jobs, who Kalanick has compared himself to, where, you know, the CEO is ousted and he comes back in a righteous...


SCHLEIFER: ...A righteous, you know, tirade and reclaims what is his. And it's kind of this myth of the founder - right? - that's always been kind of a key part of the legend here. And, you know, Uber put out word, as speculation mounted that he was going to try and return, that that's not in the cards. And he has been now told - and now that Uber has announced publicly that he's not returning but I'm sure that will not kind of quiet a pretty aggressive and ambitious Travis Kalanick.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for the company? I mean, if they're pushing Kalanick further away, is that a good thing? Or does a lawsuit like this just cast another shadow on this company that's had so many problems?

SCHLEIFER: Well, it's certainly going to make things messy. Right? I mean, obviously, you know, Uber has other lawsuits that it's currently managing. And now this is one that is totally, you know, to a certain extent, self-inflicted. Benchmark has basically announced that we're going to file a lawsuit against our own former CEO. I guess Benchmark would argue that this is what's best for the company in the long term. We're looking out for the value of the company overall, even if that means that, in the short term, we're going to have yet another lawsuit, yet another scandal and, you know, the ownership struggle and the power struggle is going to remain in the news for months. So this is going to get pretty hairy.

MARTIN: Yeah. And meanwhile, they're still looking for a new CEO.


MARTIN: Recode's Teddy Schleifer, from San Francisco, covering this story for us this morning - thanks so much, Teddy.

SCHLEIFER: Cool, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ILLA J'S "R U LISTENIN'?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.