The Inside Story-New Congress, New Challenges TRANSCRIPT

The Inside Story: New Congress, New Challenges

Episode 75 – January 19, 2023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

After a bruising fight over its leadership …

A new Congress takes over Capitol Hill.

How will divided government impact America’s direction?

From immigration to defending Ukraine ….

Now, The Inside Story --- New Year, New Congress.

The Inside Story:

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Hi. I’m Katherine Gypson, VOA Congressional Correspondent, here on Capitol Hill where the new, 118th Congress is trying to make its mark.

Democrats managed to hold on to control of the U.S. Senate in November’s elections while Republicans took control of the House or Representatives, giving President Joe Biden a divided Congress to work with for the next two years.

And the lengthy battle among House Republicans to choose their leader suggests any agreements with the White House will be few and far between.

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy emerged from an unprecedented four-day battle to become speaker of the House touting Republicans’ accomplishments in their first full week of work.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker:

Government should be here to help people, be able to protect the unborn. We just protected the Strategic Petroleum Reserve where the president can no longer deplete it and sell our oil to China. And we opened the House back up for the public.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

But analysts say the conservative caucus that objected to McCarthy as speaker will continue to be a problem.

Michele Swers, Georgetown University Government Department:

He is in a weakened position. But his biggest problem is that his margin is so small, so he has only a five-seat margin.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Many Republicans object to resetting the nation’s debt ceiling — a stance that could have global consequences if America's credit rating suffers as a result.

Rep. Tom Cole, House Rules Committee Chairman:

The American people elected Republicans to get our fiscal house in order.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

With inflation still high in the United States, Democrats have warned against government spending cuts.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat:

These spending cuts harm families, communities throughout the U.S. that are already struggling with inflation and the cost of living.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Republicans have also already launched multiple investigative committees.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican:

We will counter the Chinese Communist Party with our select committee on China. We will vote to protect every American's constitutional rights, with a new select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

And President Joe Biden and his family are expected to be a subject of Republican investigations, including concerning their financial transactions, despite Democrats’ objections.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Leader:

“Instead of trying to find ways to work together, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to lean into an extreme MAGA Republican agenda which seems to be focused on trying to investigate the president's family, not make a difference in the lives of everyday Americans.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

The Biden administration’s immigration policy will also come under scrutiny….

Rep. Mark Green, Homeland Security Committee Chairman:

If you were asking me my top goals, you know, it's securing that border. It's securing our cyber border.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

….as well as billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Michele Swers, Georgetown University Government Department:

House Republicans are split also. But Speaker McCarthy has indicated he might side with the elements who want to push back on funding.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

But any legislation passed in the House will have to be agreed to in the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate.

One flashpoint that may emerge soon is the cost of supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s attacks.

The US has spent tens of billions of dollars in military, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.

But several Republicans in Congress are questioning the amount of money being spent.

VOA Politics and Policy reporter Veronica Balderas Iglesias explains.

VERONICA BALDERAS IGLESIAS, VOA Correspondent:

As Ukraine mourns the victims of Saturday’s Russian missile strike in the city of Dnipro, U.S. President Joe Biden and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte decried Moscow’s aggressions during a bilateral meeting in Washington.

President Joe Biden:

Russia is just continuing to act in ways that are almost unbelievable, and the brutality with which they’re acting.

VERONICA BALDERAS IGLESIAS:

Rutte announced more support for Kyiv.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands:

We have decided to spend another $2.5 billion on helping the Ukraine war effort.//We have the intention to join what you were doing with Germany on the Patriots project. So, the air-defense system, I think that is important.

VERONICA BALDERAS IGLESIAS:

Also on Tuesday, circulating on Russian social networks -- what looked like images of a makeshift memorial in Moscow for the Dnipro victims.

At the government level, however, more promises of military might by Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu.

Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister:

Strengthen the combat component of the Navy, the Aerospace Forces and the Strategic Missile Forces.

VERONICA BALDERAS IGLESIAS:

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov left the door open, however, for high-level talks between Russian officials and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin Spokesman:

It can be excluded of course. This dialogue is useful. I don’t know the exact dates.

VERONICA BALDERAS IGLESIAS:

Near Romania, meanwhile, NATO expanded its surveillance of Russia’s military activities with the deployment of three new planes.

And on the ground in Ukraine, the International Atomic Energy Agency set a permanent presence to help safeguard key nuclear facilities.

Veronica Balderas Iglesias, VOA News, Washington.

HEATHER MURDOCK, VOA Correspondent:

We arrived back here in Ukraine yesterday and we're now in the Lviv in the western part of the country. Lviv is far from the war, but it is still the frequent site of attacks on infrastructure, and is a main destination for internally displaced people and war wounded. This hospital specifically treats soldiers and civilians who have lost limbs mostly from bombings and landmines. And there are hundreds of people on their waiting list.

We're recording today from Dnipro in Ukraine. And right behind me is a makeshift memorial for more than 40 people that died in a moment of this building on Saturday. Today, we met some people who survived the bombing. One man told us that he only heard silence with a blast. And then he realized he was bleeding. He could then hear the screams of women and children and realize that he had to go outside. Once he got outside situation was even more horrifying. He could see cars and his building on fire. Then about 20 minutes after the initial blast his building collapsed. Now he and about 300 Other people are homeless. Reporting from Dnipro in Ukraine, this is Heather Murdock, VOA news.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Republicans in the House of Representatives also have their sights set on investigating President Biden’s immigration policy.

Controlling the flow of migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico has been a challenge for decades and topped the agenda for Biden’s meeting with the leaders of neighbors Mexico and Canada.

VOA White House Correspondent Anita Powell was in Mexico City for the summit.

ANITA POWELL, VOA White House correspondent:

Amistad, bonhomie, Friendship.

In all three languages, the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. made a show of unity as they met Tuesday in Mexico City.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

We’re true partners, the three of us, working together with mutual respect and genuine like for one another to advance a safer and more prosperous future for all of our people.

ANITA POWELL:

But the issues on the table are not as easy.

Irregular migration, illegal drugs, climate change and trade disputes are front and center,as the Mexican president pointed out as he openly challenged Biden to expand economic cooperation.

Andres Manuel López Obrador, Mexican President:

This is the moment for us to determine, to do away with this abandonment, this disdain and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is opposed to the policy of the good neighborhood of the titan of freedom and liberty, FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And starting with you.

ANITA POWELL:

Biden fired back.

US President Joe Biden:

The United States provides more foreign aid than every other country just about combined in the world, to not just the hemisphere, but around the world. Unfortunately, our responsibility just doesn't end in the Western Hemisphere. It's in Central Europe, it's in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It's in Southeast West Asia.

ANITA POWELL:

On Tuesday, the U.S. announced a range of outcomes, which included plans to collaborate on supply chain issues and semiconductor development; modest commitments to reduce methane emissions from the solid waste and wastewater sector and more clean energy collaboration.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister:

To put it simply, we are, and always will be, stronger together. The world today is facing a lot of uncertainty with the rise of authoritarian leaders causing global instability and the high cost of living putting stress on families at home. It’s important that we come together as leaders and as friends to look at ways to make our economies more resilient.

ANITA POWELL:

Irregular migration is also a thorny issue, especially after Biden launched his trip Sunday with his first presidential visit to the busiest port of entry in the U.S., in El Paso.

The leaders also reiterated their commitment to “safe, orderly and humane migration” through the expansion of legal migration pathways, a range of collaborative measures and better communication, both among one another and with the public. They also agreed that illegal trafficking in arms, drugs and people is a shared threat and committed to work together on the challenge.

So, was this summit a success? Mexico watchers say that’s a tough question.

Andrew Rudman, Wilson Center:

Trilateral summits rarely yield major announcements or resolution of issues and given that the issues that the three leaders talked about are complex and longstanding I think it's not surprising that there was not some explosive announcement in their communique or in their press conference. But I think having said that, the fact that they meet on a regular basis and that they identify priorities for their administrations to pursue for the coming year, I think that is important.

ANITA POWELL:

But, as the leaders highlighted, this is a continent with great potential – and great challenges. Will this summit move the needle? Time will tell.

Anita Powell, VOA News, Mexico City.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

More than 100 radio stations shut down last year in Venezuela under the weight of stiff government regulations and random threats of violence.

Now, proposed laws to regulate social media adds to the pressure on journalists there.

From Caracas, VOA’s Alvaro Algarra has our press freedom spotlight.

ALVARO ALGARRA, VOA Correspondent:

Media censorship has risen to new heights in Venezuela, with a record number of radio stations closed, even as the Venezuelan journalists association CNP documented marginally fewer physical attacks in the past 12 months.

Edgard Cardenas, CNP Secretary General:

There is a policy of censorship, persecution of the media. Although it is true that physical aggressions against journalists decreased, we saw an increase in radio station closures from 4 in 2021 to 104 in 2022.

ALVARO ALGARRA:

The state communications regulator cited licensing breaches for many of the closures, and lawmakers in 2022 denied the action was related to the broadcasters’ content.

But Carlos Correa, director of the free expression nonprofit Espacio Público, says the moves appear to be part of a policy to limit independent media.

Carlos Correa, Espacio Público Director:

This year we have documented the highest number of closures since 2001. This situation indicates that the government seems to be trying to reconfigure the ownership structure of these stations.

ALVARO ALGARRA:

Adding to worries for journalists are new efforts by President Nicolás Maduro’s government to reform media laws.

The national assembly is discussing proposals on regulating social media, including requiring platforms to have an in-country office to handle complaints.

Delcy Rodriguez, Vice President:

We are going to regulate and control because in recent years Venezuela has been a victim of psychological warfare through messages on social networks.

ALVARO ALGARRA:

But reporters working in an already restrictive environment are wary of the plans.

And Carlos Julio Rojas, an independent journalist and member of the National Press Workers Union, says pro-government supporters sometimes use social networks to generate smear campaigns against those in media.

Carlos Julio Rojas, journalist:

We have seen how the Nicolás Maduro regime’s dominance over communications continues to get stronger. What’s their end goal? To close that last space that exists for freedom of expression?

ALVARO ALGARRA:

If passed, the bill could add to Venezuela’s already poor ranking on the global Press Freedom Index. The watchdog Reporters Without Borders says media there work in a restrictive environment, with policies that “threaten the full exercise of independent journalism.

For Álvaro Algarra in Caracas, Venezuela, Veronica Villafañe, VOA News.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Threats of violence and government intimidation has many journalists fleeing Nicaragua --- finding safety in neighboring Costa Rica.

From its capital San Jose, our Donaldo Hernandez shows us how a media non-profit organization is helping these exiled journalists.

DONALDO HERNANDEZ, Reporting for VOA:

In search of protection, this group of Nicaraguan journalists arrived in Costa Rica halfway through 2022.

Like many of their colleagues back home, they risked arrest or harassment by Daniel Ortega’s government, as it cracks down on the media and opposition voices.

In the past two years, authorities have seized the headquarters of the historic La Prensa, resulting in the entire staff fleeing, and revoked licenses for several television and radio stations.

Helping the exiled journalists adjust is the Institute of Press and Freedom of Expression or IPLEX, a Costa Rican nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Central American journalists.

Marco Barquero, Project Manager, IPLEX:

Our goal is to help them in their legalization process and to promote a more orderly migration for Nicaraguan journalists.

DONALDO HERNANDEZ:

More than 150 journalists have been forced to leave Nicaragua in the past four years, the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua collective says.

Barquero is in close contact with many of those who recently arrived in Costa Rica.

Marco Barquero, Project Manager, IPLEX:

Through all IPLEX programs, we have helped 62 Nicaraguan journalists and one Salvadoran journalist.

DONALDO HERNANDEZ:

The nonprofit offers aid and temporary protection as journalists integrate into Costa Rican society.

Raúl Silesky Jiménez, President, IPLEX:

The Home Refuge program covers airfare, transportation, insurance, food, shelter, internet, per diem for food and basic necessities to sustain them for a while.

DONALDO HERNANDEZ:

For journalist Alberto Miranda, the support made a big difference. Miranda says he has been assaulted by police and threatened with arrest. He also received death threats.

In 2021, he decided to leave for Costa Rica. But for the first six months, he could not find work.

Alberto Miranda, Journalist:

I can tell you that this program represents an important support for Nicaraguan journalists when we arrive in Costa Rica, often in a situation of economic vulnerability.

DONALDO HERNANDEZ:

Miranda now works for the news website Nicaragua Investiga. IPLEX wants all journalists to be able to continue to report.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Nicaragua’s media “endure a nightmare of censorship, intimidation and threats.” But even from exile, the country’s journalists work to keep news flowing.

For Donaldo Hernández, in Costa Rica, Verónica Villafañe, VOA News.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

For those who overcome the hurdles to enter U.S. legally, settling into American life and finding a welcoming community can be a challenge unto itself.

VOA’s Senior Washington Correspondent Carolyn Presutti found one in an unlikely place, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

CAROLYN PRESUTTI, VOA Senior Washington Correspondent:

Karthick Radunath Palanimalai is a software consultant. After he arrived in the US on an L1 visa, he says he got no help from the city to get settled. Instead, he relied on the Indian community.

Karthick Radunath Palanimalai, Colorado Springs Immigrant:

They helped me to get the apartments and, you know, to the work nearest to the place and then the grocery shops or whatever things. So they really helped me for the first three months.

CAROLYN PRESUTTI:

Jackie Jaramillo of Centro de la Familia says newcomers like Palanimalai, and especially immigrants in Colorado Springs, are often invisible and isolated.

Jackie Jaramillo, Centro de la Familia Co-Founder:

It's very difficult. There are a lot of institutional barriers. And there are cultural barriers. There's definitely racism. A lot of our people are -- a lot of the immigrants that we serve -- are victims of crime.

CAROLYN PRESUTTI:

That is why some found it surprising when the George W. Bush Institute ranked the city 21st out of the top 100 metro areas in the U.S. where immigrants are thriving.

Colorado Springs is best known for the US Air Force Academy and for Pikes Peak at 43-hundred meters. The city government is largely conservative and the Republican party is not necessarily known for migrant-friendly policies.

John Suthers, Colorado Springs Mayor:

I don’t think we have a sign up that says ‘Colorado City, a Great Place for Migrants.’

CAROLYN PRESUTTI:

John Suthers is a staunch Republican and two-term mayor of Colorado Springs. In 2022, the Milken Institute ranked the city ninth in economic performance among large U.S. cities

John Suthers, Colorado Springs Mayor:

We have a huge military defense, is about 40% of our economy. There're an awful lot of jobs in related high-tech, space, cybersecurity, and things like that. And, those are areas where I think a lot of our people who are migrating legally have the expertise in and so they're looking around. Why wouldn't you come to Colorado Springs?

CAROLYN PRESUTTI:

Cullum Clark the George W. Bush Institute’s report called “Immigrants and Opportunity in America’s Cities.” He says several factors were considered in the rankings list.

Cullum Clark, George W. Bush Institute:

Is it a good place to do business, to start a company? Is it a good place to kind of get ahead career wise? Is it a good place to afford a home?

CAROLYN PRESUTTI:

To that, Palanimalai says, yes. His new wife, who also landed a tech job, joined him in Colorado Springs, where they are enjoying the Rocky Mountain life…along with a little bit of home, like playing on the local cricket team. Carolyn Presutti, VOA News, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an outcry for the protection of human rights has echoed throughout the global community.

In its annual report, Human Rights Watch highlights a crisis that extends beyond the war in Ukraine and exists in China, Afghanistan, and Africa.

Details from our Henry Ridgwell in London.

HENRY RIDGWELL, Reporting for VOA:

The Human Rights Watch organization says that following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the global community deserves credit for unleashing what it calls the "full arsenal" of the human rights system — including an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch Acting Executive Director:

We saw immediate responses from the international community to mobilize around key human rights supports, including establishing international justice mechanisms, evidence gathering for war crimes.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

In towns like Bucha and Izium, there is widespread evidence that occupying Russian soldiers tortured, raped and executed civilians. The United Nations Human Rights Council has documented several hundred civilian killings — thought to be a fraction of the total.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

In some cases, Russian soldiers executed civilians in makeshift places of detention. Others were summarily executed on the spot following security checks — in their houses, yards, and doorways.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

Human Rights Watch's annual report also highlights ongoing abuses in China — including the mass detention, torture and forced labor of as many as a million Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Beijing denies the accusations. The report says the U.N. Human Rights Council's increased scrutiny of Beijing's actions is encouraging.

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch Acting Executive Director:

What we have seen for the first time in a very long time is cracks in the authoritarian armor.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

In Iran, protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was detained by morality police have grown into nationwide anti-government demonstrations. Human Rights Watch says the execution of at least four protesters must trigger a stronger global response.

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch Acting Executive Director:

We need to move beyond international solidarity for protesters and need to make sure that governments all over the world are holding Iranian officials to account.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

The report cites increasing human rights abuses in Myanmar – where the authors say the regime is launching assaults on communities across the country that oppose the military coup.

In Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch says the recent African Union-led peace process has resulted in a fragile truce.

Tirana Hassan, Human Rights Watch Acting Executive Director:

Ensuring that there is accountability for the egregious crimes that took place in the Tigray region, for example, is going to be critical for this cease-fire and this truce to actually hold.

HENRY RIDGWELL:

The report says climate change is having an increasing impact on basic rights worldwide. It says governments have a legal and moral obligation to regulate industries such as fossil fuel extraction that are incompatible with protecting basic rights.

Henry Ridgwell, for VOA News, London.

KATHERINE GYPSON:

That’s all we have for now.

Stay up to date VOANews.com.

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Follow me on Twitter at K-GYP.

Catch up on past episodes at our free streaming service, VOA Plus.

I’m Katherine Gypson.

We’ll see you next week for The Inside Story.

Source: Voice of America