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News Brief: Conservatives Win Big In U.K. Election, Impeachment Vote, China Trade


It is a landslide victory for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party.


Yeah, it sure is. And this morning, he promised to end three years of political paralysis in the United Kingdom over its exit from the European Union. Here's what Johnson said about the timeline for Brexit.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I will put an end to all that nonsense. And we will get Brexit done on time by the 31 of January. No ifs. No buts. No maybes.

MARTIN: But will he? Will he? Let's ask NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's been covering Brexit since the beginning. Hi, Frank.


MARTIN: So you are out on the streets of London, a good place to be after a vote like this. What are you hearing?

LANGFITT: Well, actually, it's very interesting. I was just at the Institute for Government, which is a political think tank here. And they do see this as, as you said, a massive victory for Prime Minister Johnson. And yes, he's going to be able to get Brexit through. And the U.K. will officially leave at the end of January. He has the votes to do it. He now has a majority of at least 76 seats. That's the biggest since Margaret Thatcher...


LANGFITT: ...In 1987. And the way he did it is sort of remarkable. A very simple message - get Brexit done. Brexit is, of course, infinitely more complicated than that. But it really cut through to a lot of people who were tired of it. And what we saw that was really fascinating, Rachel - and I think the Democratic Party in the United States will probably look at this, as well - is Labour had a big, big what they called the red wall up in the north of England. And that collapsed. The Conservatives were able to make huge gains, just as Donald Trump did in 2016 in the upper Midwest. So a lot of similarities, actually, in Johnson's victory last night and what we saw in 2016 in the United States.

MARTIN: But, Frank, my question is, were those people voting for Boris Johnson? Were they voting to leave the European Union? Or were they voting against Jeremy Corbyn?

LANGFITT: I think they were voting to get out, to move on...

MARTIN: To get out of the EU.

LANGFITT: ...More than anything else. I mean, even people who voted to stay in the European Union in 2016 were so tired of the political paralysis. It's not something this country had seen in many decades. It's been extraordinary. Now, you are correct that Corbyn also - I mean, he did lose this and lost it very badly. This is the worst defeat for Labour since 1935. And a lot of that was he didn't take a position on Brexit, which was extraordinary. It's the biggest issue in the country in a very long time. And also, he...

MARTIN: He didn't take a position?

LANGFITT: He didn't, no. He basically said, I'm going to leave it to the people. I went to the Labour conference on this a couple months back. And it was extraordinary that he wouldn't do it. But he felt that his voters were split. And he didn't want to alienate either side.

So what he basically said is, I'm going to renegotiate a new withdrawal agreement. And then we can take it to a vote. And in this vote, you could also vote to stay in the EU. That did not work. And we now see Labour really has dug itself a very deep hole politically in this country.

MARTIN: Right. So the other big story of election night was the strong showing of the Scottish National Party, which ran on a platform of holding another referendum...

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Yes.

MARTIN: ...About Scottish independence. What happened?

LANGFITT: Well, so they did extremely well. They were 48 out of 59 seats in Scotland. They are going to push for a second referendum. Boris Johnson has said, no way is this happening. And I think, certainly, what we're hearing from analysts this morning is we're heading for a big battle.

Scotland said, we don't want you to drag us out of the EU. We didn't want to leave. And we're not going to do this. And we'd rather split. And so that's what Nicola Sturgeon, the head of Scottish National Party - she wants another referendum as soon as 2021, 2022.

MARTIN: And now Boris Johnson has put another deadline for himself - or he has in terms of Brexit with the EU...


MARTIN: ...End of January, right?

LANGFITT: Well, what he's going to do is leave at the end of January and then leave completely out of a transition period at the end of next year.


LANGFITT: People don't think he can do that. There's not the time.

MARTIN: (Laughter) All right. You're telling me the story lives on.

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Rachel.


MARTIN: All right. In this country, over to the impeachment hearing for President Donald J. Trump. After a whole lot of hours of debate and a lot of predictable remarks, everyone entrenched in their own corner, there was a surprise.

KING: Yes. That's right. Everyone expected the House Judiciary Committee to vote on advancing two articles of impeachment - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - against President Trump. But after 14 hours of debate yesterday, Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler delayed that vote until this morning, which led to some tension between Nadler and ranking Republican Doug Collins.


DOUG COLLINS: I'd like, for the sake of history, the chairman take one more minute...

JERRY NADLER: Does the gentleman wish to appeal the ruling of the chair? Yes or no?


KING: After, Collins said this.


COLLINS: That was the most bush-league play I have seen in my life because they want to simply get it back on the cameras because it's after 11 o'clock tonight, and they don't think enough people is watching.

MARTIN: OK. So NPR's Tim Mak is following all of this and is here to talk about what's next. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So we heard one explanation from Collins there. But help us understand what happened. Why did Chairman Jerry Nadler delay the vote?

MAK: Well, it was very late at night, as we've just heard. The committee had been debating these articles for some 14 hours. The chairman called a recess until the morning. Democrats claimed that they expected to end the meeting and vote on articles of impeachment at around dinnertime last night. But Republicans had a lot of amendments to offer. And this stretched the committee meeting late until nearly midnight. Republicans claimed the delay was because Democrats wanted to convene in the morning when, quote, "ratings would be higher."

MARTIN: I mean, is that true? I mean, did they want more public attention on this?

MAK: Well, it's hard to say. I think that they didn't want to bury this in the middle of the night with a 2 or 3 a.m. vote.

MARTIN: Right, when that has been kind of the rap on Republicans. So we had been expecting the full House on the impeachment articles next week. Is that timeline now going to shift?

MAK: Well, I don't think so. If the House Judiciary Committee passes the articles of impeachment this morning as expected, the full House is expected to still take it up next week. But it's a preview, perhaps, of some of the partisan bitterness that's to come.

MARTIN: All right. So speaking of which, tell us what's going to happen in the Senate. If all this moves according to plan, the Senate's supposed to have a trial in January, right?

MAK: Right. Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a preview of his strategy last night on Fox News' "Hannity."


MITCH MCCONNELL: We'll be working through this process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.

MAK: So that's a notable remark by Senator McConnell there, right? The Republicans are to be the jurors in this Senate trial. And he says he's going to be working closely with the White House's defense.

MARTIN: So all this time, Congress has been insisting, Democrats in particular, that they can pursue impeachment and also legislate simultaneously. I mean, they do have a lot on their plate in coming weeks, right?

MAK: Right. Well, Democrats want to stress that they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

MARTIN: Oh, I was hoping you were going to say that, and you said it (laughter).

MAK: I've been told that so many times by so many lawmakers over the past few days.

MARTIN: They say it. You're right. They say it.

MAK: And that's why I'm telling you. I mean, the House majority is built on these swing districts filled with moderate Dems who want to go back to their districts and say they've done work. So they're going to be voting on a spending deal that funds the government negotiated between the two parties. They'll be voting on impeachment. They're expected to vote on the USMCA trade deal.

MARTIN: Right.

MAK: Each of these items can usually take more than a week, a week under normal circumstances. So they're really cramming in items at the end of the year.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Tim Mak, who can always chew gum and walk at the same time. Thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thank you.


MARTIN: OK. We inadvertently ended up with a theme on today's show - huge stories with historic consequences that have seemed to drag on forever, now starting to show signs of closure. We saw that with a vote in the U.K., with the imminent vote on impeachment and now a potential trade deal between the U.S. and China.

KING: President Trump tweeted yesterday that a big deal with China is very close. And it's interesting timing because the U.S. was about to impose another round of tariffs on Chinese imports this weekend.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's chief economics correspondent, Scott Horsley, with us. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's in the deal?

HORSLEY: There's been no formal announcement from the White House. But we do have multiple news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, who say there's been an agreement in principle between the U.S. and China, under which the United States agrees not only to suspend those December 15 tariffs that were set to kick in this Sunday but also to reduce some of the existing tariffs that are already in place on Chinese imports.

Now, that's a pretty big move by the Trump administration. It's certainly something China has been pushing for. And we don't know exactly what China has agreed to do in exchange. We do know that the White House wanted China to commit to buying a lot more American farm goods. They've also been pushing for some stepped up protection of intellectual property and also increased access for American companies to China's lucrative financial services market.

MARTIN: So I've heard you say these things before. And we have heard a tentative deal is around the corner several times...


MARTIN: ...So what is different this time?

HORSLEY: We have been there before. We were close to an agreement in the spring when China backed away. Then in October, the administration announced that they had a handshake agreement with China that's just going to need to have a few of the I's dotted and T's crossed. There have also been times when both China and the United States have moved financial markets by suggesting movement in the negotiations that really turned out to be mostly an illusion.

So certainly, some caution here is appropriate until we actually see details in writing. What we do know is that both sides were under some pressure to make a deal. And yesterday's 220-point jump in the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows you just how eager Wall Street is to see some kind of resolution here. You know, this trade war has been weighing on a lot of business people. It's very difficult to plan when you don't know what trade policy is going to be.

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: It has depressed business investment. And Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said this week that anything that brings more certainty to the trade arena would be good for the U.S. economy.

MARTIN: And consumers? I mean, we have to pay attention to the fact that - I mean, it is a big shopping season right now. People are paying attention to prices and their own income and the stock market. How is all that affecting people who are trying to buy stuff right now?

HORSLEY: Well, I think this is certainly a note of relief. There were some 160-plus trade organizations that wrote to the president this week, urging him to postpone or suspend the tariffs that were due to kick in on Sunday. Now, to be sure, those tariffs would've hit, you know, items arriving in cargo containers, not the stuff that's already on the store shelves. But there was a fear that news of that new round of tariffs might have put a damper on holiday sales. So there's certainly a lot of relief that there's at least this agreement in principle. But keep in mind, Rachel, this is all just a phase one deal. The big items, liked force technology transfer - those are left for another day.

MARTIN: For another day. It continues. NPR's Scott Horsley for us. Thank you, Scott. We appreciate it.

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

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.