News Brief: Boeing Latest, Trump Border Trip

Apr 5, 2019
Originally published on April 5, 2019 7:17 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When a passenger jet crashed in Indonesia last year, Dennis Muilenburg said what airline executives commonly say.

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DENNIS MUILENBURG: The bottom line here is the 737 Max is safe.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Boeing CEO told Fox Business that pilots have the instructions they need.

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MUILENBURG: We ensure that we provide all of the information that's needed to safely fly our airplanes.

MARTIN: Now, after a second crash, Muilenburg is forced to say something else. Ethiopian investigators say a 737 Max plane crashed even after pilots followed all the directions.

INSKEEP: NPR's Russell Lewis covers aviation, has been following this story. Russell, good morning.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the Boeing CEO saying now?

LEWIS: Well, you know, we heard their tenor change yesterday, certainly - I mean, after a barrage of news coverage from that preliminary report that basically showed, in fact, that the pilots, as we say, of that second doomed flight in Ethiopia did indeed, you know, follow Boeing procedures. And even doing that, they still could not control the jet before a crash. Boeing's public statements - I mean, they definitely shifted. I mean, they put out a statement late in the day. Here's their CEO, Dennis Muilenburg.

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MUILENBURG: It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it.

LEWIS: You know, and to be honest, really, that's what Boeing has been doing in the past few weeks. There have been these daily test flights out of Seattle. I've actually been following their flight profiles on a - and watching, specifically, the radar returns that show the pace and the varying speed of their flights, watching them climb and descend and how the speed changes as that plane descends rapidly.

INSKEEP: Muilenburg was on one of those planes, wasn't he?

LEWIS: He was. Yeah, he was on the 737 Max 7. And Boeing didn't announce it before he went on it, but he was - that they released pictures afterwards of showing him in the cockpit during that flight.

INSKEEP: That would've been pretty dramatic had they said in advance, and we could've all followed it with suspense. But we do have this situation where Boeing is acknowledging responsibility, and hundreds of people have been killed. How might they be held accountable?

LEWIS: Well, you know, I mean, you always see these sort of legal challenges that come out. It happens after any plane crash. But, you know, it feels different this time because I think that this is a crash that people are coming to the realization that probably shouldn't have happened. I mean, you're hearing calls from safety advocates and others who really, frankly, are asking tough and legitimate questions about why didn't Boeing ground the 737 Max jet after the first crash, the one in October in Indonesia that went down under similar circumstances.

You know, now we're hearing news that the family of one-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, whose niece Samya Stumo died in the Ethiopian Air crash - here he is speaking on NPR's All Things Considered.

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RALPH NADER: The aerodynamic design should not be such that it puts unfair and preventable burden on pilots in a whole host of configurations. That's why I'm calling for a recall, not just continued grounding.

INSKEEP: Of course, Nader first became famous as a consumer advocate.

LEWIS: Absolutely, and this is right in his wheelhouse.

INSKEEP: Well, is flight control software the only problem that Boeing has here?

LEWIS: No. I mean, almost all of the attention has been focused on this anti-stall system that basically automatically lowers the plane's nose under some circumstances to prevent an aerodynamic stall. We know that something went wrong. But late yesterday, Boeing said that as part of its process, you know, its engineers found another issue that they wanted to fix. It identified another aspect of the software that they say is unrelated to the anti-stall system.

They say they're going to address it as part of the software update. They call it a minor issue, and their engineers claim that they have a solution to fix it. It's probably the sort of thing that happens a lot of the time, but it's something that a lot of attention is being focused on right now.

INSKEEP: Russell, thanks for talking us through this.

LEWIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Russell Lewis.

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INSKEEP: President Trump plans to visit the Mexican border today, amid a series of shifting threats against Mexico.

MARTIN: Now, the president's been dropping his threats almost as soon as he makes them. He talked about closing the border last fall and didn't. He spoke of it again in recent days, but backed off. Those threats and his latest one do reveal something significant about the president's theory of U.S. problems on the border. He says Latin American nations are deliberately sending migrants to the U.S. and that they'll stop if the punishment is severe enough. The president made this explicit in the latest version of his threat, giving Mexico one year, or its auto industry will pay.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If the drugs don't stop - Mexico can stop them if they want - we're going to tariff the cars. The cars are very big. And if that doesn't work, we're going to close the border. But I think that'll work. That's massive numbers of dollars.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following all this. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why does the president keep making such grandiose threats and then dropping them?

DAVIS: Well, there is a pattern of behavior here. You know, it was the second time just this week that the president made a big pronouncement and then had to walk it back on closing the border and then also on having a health care vote before the election...

INSKEEP: Wow.

DAVIS: ...Two things that his allies on Capitol Hill walked back for him. You know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not one to publicly criticize the president, but when it came to the question of closing the border, he did weigh in publicly. And this is what he said earlier this week.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: We certainly have a crisis at the border. I think the president's right about that. Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country, and I would hope we would not be doing that.

DAVIS: It's important to remember that about $2 billion in goods cross back and forth between the U.S.-Mexico border every day, and business groups were warning the administration that it could affect up to 5 million American jobs.

INSKEEP: So the president's theory of the case is, I'm going to fix this problem if I can just make other people feel enough pain. And his own allies are telling him, actually, you would make the United States feel pain.

DAVIS: It would. And also, it could threaten the president's broader goal. Remember, he's trying to renegotiate the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, a trading partner. And a lot of his allies said, if you do this towards Mexico, Mexico could walk away from those talks, which is a big goal for your administration.

INSKEEP: Well, why is he going to the border today, and why particularly Calexico, which is on the California-Mexico border, we should note, in agricultural areas?

DAVIS: So the president is going there because he wants to tout a section of wall there. It's just over two miles. The administration needs a little bit of a fact-check here because they have been promoting this trip as visiting new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is not, in fact, new wall. This is essentially rehabbing what had been existing barriers there. It's now - it is what is known as bollard fencing. And it was part of a dilapidated barrier that had existed for decades. This was a project that was in the works before he became president, but it is brand new fencing. And I think for the president, who cares a lot about optics and visuals, it'll be good for him to go and stand in front of the wall and say, this is being built.

INSKEEP: So we should note again that the president, in his various actions or threatened actions, is meeting resistance from his own party. Where are Democrats in all of this?

DAVIS: House leaders voted this week to authorize a lawsuit against the president for his national emergency declaration. They got one step closer to fighting him in court. You know, they also tried to fight him in the Congress. They passed a resolution to try and overturn that national emergency declaration to build the wall, but he vetoed it.

INSKEEP: Can House leaders alone, without the Senate - they can sue the president on their own?

DAVIS: They can because the House as an institution can bring suit against the president. And the five leaders of the House voted. Of course, it fell along party lines.

INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: So how is all this being viewed on the other side of the border? Well, NPR's Carrie Kahn is there. She's in Mexico City. Good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How do people in Mexico respond to all of this?

KAHN: Well, the president has consistently - he's just taken the same tone with - about President Trump's threats. He keeps saying he won't be provoked, and he won't be - and he will be, quote, "prudent" in his reaction. He wants a peaceful relationship with the U.S. So he just won't - he won't address the daily tweets. But when pushed in his press conferences, though, by reporters, he does say - the strongest thing he'll say is he thinks that closing the U.S.-Mexico border will not serve anyone's interest.

INSKEEP: Well, there's also the question of countries south of Mexico. The president has said he's cutting off something like $450 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. What do you hear from those countries where I know you've done a lot of reporting over the years?

KAHN: There's a lot of concern about what's happening. And that is the amount that was allocated in fiscal year 2018. So that money is still coming through the pipelines, and that will be split between the three countries. Many people just say they're just so worried, and they say it's going to be counterproductive to cut these programs that are already ongoing.

I talked to this one 16-year-old boy who lives in Guatemala's capital in a particularly violent neighborhood. He's - his name is Randall Gonzalez. He was pretty articulate for a teenage boy. But he said in his program, which was granted money from USAID through Mercy Corps - and it gets about $40 million spread out over five years. They work in more than 100 communities and schools. And he was just telling me about his walk to school. I asked him what it's like - says he has to go past this gang household two doors down from him. And once he gets into school, he just breathes a sigh of relief. He says it's his sanctuary, and the programs that are there have changed his life. He says he's more confident, he's taking on leadership roles and he would never join a gang.

RANDALL GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: I was asking him what he thought of the cuts by President Trump, and he said he thinks it's selfish of him to cut them off, especially just as he and his friends are making a change in their community.

INSKEEP: (Speaking Spanish). That's something egoistic. That's essentially what he's saying there in Spanish?

KAHN: Something - it's selfish.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Selfish - oh, my goodness.

KAHN: That's his words.

INSKEEP: OK. His words, of course. So this is a specific person who says he is benefiting from U.S. aid. What happens to programs like the one he benefits from if that money is cut?

KAHN: That's a big question, and I talked to the head of Mercy Corps there who runs this program that Randall's in. It's the country director. His name is Marcelo Viscarra, and he said there's no big donor waiting in the wings that could help them out. And he doesn't know what he's going to do, and he said it would be heartbreaking. He just - he kind of choked up when I asked him what he would tell these schools. And he said the day he has to walk in and tell them - these recipients - would just be a heartbreaking him - heartbreaking occasion for him.

MARCELO VISCARRA: I can't imagine going to those schools and tell them, hey, we have to shut everything down. We have been working so hard.

INSKEEP: Although I want to try to be clear on this, Carrie Kahn, about what has and hasn't happened because, as we've noted, the president repeatedly makes threats and then backs away from them - you're saying he's cutting off this aid or saying he's going to cut off this aid in the future. But right now, the money is still flowing because it had already been allocated. Is that right?

KAHN: That's right, but he has directed the State Department to cut the funds. I spoke to a congressional aide who says daily, they're asking the State Department how this is going to happen, more specifics, when this will happen. And he says so far, there haven't been any answers. And so they just - there's a lot of questions they don't know. But the president has directed the State Department to cut those funds.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks for your good reporting - really appreciate it.

KAHN: You're welcome. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.