News Brief: Democratic Candidates, Education Probe, Border Detainees

Feb 13, 2020
Originally published on February 13, 2020 8:53 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Contests in New Hampshire and Iowa have done little to resolve the Democratic Party's divisions between moderates and progressives.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are hoping to carry their momentum to Nevada and to South Carolina. These three candidates span the party's ideological spectrum. So what does this tell us about what Democratic voters want?

MARTIN: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea is with us now. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: Start off by just giving us the lay of the land. I mean, we've got Bernie Sanders winning the popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He's got momentum right now. Meanwhile, in the other lane, the person who had been the front-runner for the so-called moderates in this race, Vice President Biden, did not do well in either state. So where does that leave, in particular, the Democratic Party establishment?

GONYEA: Well, it's up for grabs, to say the least. Maybe Pete Buttigieg is the center-left candidate who's done the best so far - at least in voting. But he could have a bumpy road in South Carolina and Nevada, where the African American and Latino votes play a much larger role. There's Amy Klobuchar, who's also more to the center in policy and temperament. She's rising but, again, still hasn't established herself. Maybe the big wildcard is Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. He certainly embodies the establishment in his manner, in his look with those suits he wears. But he's not been a Democrat for very long. Still, he's got the money to help him stake that claim.

MARTIN: Right. So speaking of the former mayor of New York City, he hasn't even been on a ballot yet. I mean, he just decided to forego Iowa and New Hampshire. He's going to appear on his first primary ballots on Super Tuesday on March 3. How is that expected to confuse, complicate the (laughter) situation?

GONYEA: (Laughter) It's guaranteed to? How's that?

MARTIN: Right.

GONYEA: And I'm actually following Bloomberg this week, and we are in the South. We're in North Carolina right now - Tennessee, two stops yesterday, then to Texas tonight. It is interesting that polls show Bloomberg has decent support among African American voters, again, despite his support for that stop-and-frisk policy when he was mayor of New York and a tape that surfaced this week where he was talking about racial profiling in positive terms.

He's since said that those words don't really reflect who he is as a businessman and as someone who governed in New York. But he has also, this week, picked up endorsements from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as some prominent black mayors.

MARTIN: Yeah.

GONYEA: And that cuts into some support that had been assumed to be Joe Biden's.

MARTIN: So what about his money? I mean, his money is helping him, right? He's able to put all this money into TV ads. At the same time, it's a little bit of a double-edged sword because Democrats don't so much like the idea that someone can just come in at the last minute and spend all this cash.

GONYEA: Well, he spent, like, 350 million so far...

MARTIN: Right.

GONYEA: It's an issue for Democrats, especially progressives. There have been protests at Bloomberg events about billionaires. But listen to this undecided voter who was in Chattanooga. His name's Tom Paulsin (ph). I asked him about Bloomberg and the claims that he's maybe trying to buy the presidency.

TOM PAULSIN: I want to see Trump beat. I don't care if it takes - it's going to take a lot of money anyway, though. The costs of the campaigns these days are just out of sight.

GONYEA: So it's almost like he says Trump's a rich guy, you got to fight fire with fire.

MARTIN: NPR's Don Gonyea traveling with the Mike Bloomberg campaign, following him.

Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. The U.S. Department of Education announced late yesterday it is investigating two elite U.S. universities. We're talking about Yale and Harvard.

GREENE: Right. And here's the reason - the government says they potentially failed to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts. This move is part of a broader crackdown pushing colleges and universities to be more transparent about benefits they are getting from organizations and governments in China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Russia, among other places.

MARTIN: All right. To help us make sense of this, we've got NPR's Cory Turner in studio.

Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what exactly is the Ed Department saying Harvard and Yale did wrong?

TURNER: Well, it's saying they violated a part of the Higher Education Act. It's called Section 117. And it says colleges and universities have to report to the U.S. government any contracts or gifts from foreign sources if they're worth more than a quarter of a million dollars.

MARTIN: OK.

TURNER: So in the case of Yale, though, the department says the school apparently failed to report at least $375 million in foreign gifts and contracts and chose not to report any gifts over the last four years. And the department says, similarly, it's also concerned that Harvard hasn't fully disclosed all foreign gifts or contracts.

MARTIN: Is it just Harvard and Yale?

TURNER: No, not by a long shot. And we should say - we reached out to both Harvard and Yale, and they confirmed to NPR that they have received this notice of investigation. They are preparing to respond. But the government has absolutely been looking into a lot of other schools, including Georgetown, Texas A&M, Cornell, Rutgers, MIT, Maryland. This is a widespread problem. The department says since July 1 of just last year, its enforcement efforts have triggered the reporting of approximately $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money.

MARTIN: So what's the Trump administration really concerned about?

TURNER: Well, it's concerned about a few things - espionage, certainly - it wants to protect U.S. intellectual property and research. It also wants to make sure foreign governments aren't exercising undue influence. And its chief concern here seems to be China.

Remember, the chair of Harvard's chemistry department was arrested for allegedly lying to Defense Department investigators about lucrative research contracts he may have had with the Chinese government. There was a Senate investigation last year. It found nearly two-thirds of U.S. schools that received more than that threshold - a quarter of a million dollars - from what it calls a propaganda arm of the Chinese government failed to report it.

This Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, it also requested the financial records from about a hundred U.S. schools. And it found that this extension of the Chinese government directly contributed $113 million to these U.S. schools - more than seven times the amount they actually reported. And so as a result, Rachel, basically the Senate kind of brought the hammer down on Ed for not enforcing the law. And so the department's basically bringing the hammer down on schools now.

MARTIN: So how are schools defending themselves? This seems like a big oversight.

TURNER: Well, (laughter) here's the thing. So I spent a lot of last night on the phone. No one denies that this is a problem. There's lots of foreign money flowing into campuses. But there are also lots of reasons for it. No. 1, state funding for higher ed still hasn't really rebounded since the Great Recession - but also that a lot of cutting-edge research, they say - these contracts, they're not about money; they're about collaboration. So they're important. They simply need to report it.

But I also heard a few people being critical of the Ed Department, saying, yeah, this law has been on the books since the '80s, but the Ed Department never actually regulated it. They never wrote any rules to make clear to schools, this is what you need to report and this is how you need to do it. So there's plenty of blame to go around.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Cory Turner with us on that story.

Thank you so much.

TURNER: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection made a surprising admission this week. It was about the agency's Seattle field office.

GREENE: Yeah, officers at a border crossing in Washington state were pulling aside Iranian Americans, including green card holders. The people were held for hours, and this generated a ton of backlash. CBP is now conceding that the leaders of the Seattle field office were, quote, "overzealous." Immigrant advocates are warning that this problem is actually widespread.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and has been following this and joins us now.

Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So you do not hear this a lot, CBP acknowledging mistakes. What happened?

ROSE: Right. This is significant. This event, as you say, happened a little more than a month ago - right after the U.S. airstrike, you may remember, that killed a top Iranian general.

MARTIN: Right.

ROSE: Tensions with Iran were rising. And Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington put out the word for its field offices to be more vigilant. But this field office, in particular, in Seattle had a very strong reaction. It was stopping all Iranian Americans at this major border crossing between Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle. It was holding them for questioning for hours, some of them quite late into the night. And Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan now says that was not what his field offices were instructed to do.

MARK MORGAN: In that specific office, leadership just got a little overzealous. That was not in line with our direction. And so that was immediately corrected, and it was very unique to that one sector.

MARTIN: Corrected? But that still meant that American citizens were detained for hours on end. I mean, do we know what will happen to the officers who were involved?

ROSE: Well, Morgan did not say. He only said that the situation was immediately, quote-unquote, "corrected," as you just heard. CBP actually denies that they were detained, also. That's sort of a dirty word for CBP. They say they were held in question. And you know, we should say, border officers have broad discretion at ports of entry. They have a mandate to protect the country, and they can reject foreign travelers even if that person has a valid visa.

What border officers cannot do, however, is target certain nationalities for additional scrutiny. They need something more specific as the basis for their suspicion. And it appears, in this case, that the Seattle's field office kind of skipped over that second step.

MARTIN: So Morgan is saying, essentially, this was an isolated mistake in the Seattle field office. But this has happened to other Iranian travelers with valid visas at different ports of entry, right?

ROSE: Well, exactly. In particular, students from Iran who are coming to the U.S. to study have been - say they've been subjected to extra scrutiny. We know of nearly 20 cases of students who've gone through security vetting by U.S. authorities and issued student visas and then landed at airports in the U.S. only to be turned around and sent back to the Middle East. I spoke to one of these students, a young woman from Iran who was planning to study at Harvard Divinity School.

She was questioned for hours by CBP officers in Boston and never did understand why she was eventually rejected. She's now banned from coming to the U.S. for five years, although she is fighting that in court. CBP says there is no connection between what happened in Seattle and what happened to these students around the country. But advocate groups, including the ACLU, are not so sure. They are suing to try to get more information about what happened.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Joel Rose for us.

Thank you, Joel. We appreciate it.

ROSE: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.