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News Brief: Trump Trip To Arizona, Primary Elections, Gene-Editing Patient

Jun 23, 2020
Originally published on June 23, 2020 9:24 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, his first campaign rally in a while was a bit of a bust. Today, President Trump will try again.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's going to Arizona to talk about his southern border wall. He's giving a speech to thousands of young people. But he is doing this in a state - one of many - that is seeing a rise in cases of COVID-19.

GREENE: Let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, who is following the president's activities this week. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So take us through the day in Arizona.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he's going to start in Yuma to mark progress on the border wall. The wall's been a signature part of his time in office, as is his push to keep undocumented migrants out of the United States. You know, it's a message aimed at energizing his base in a state ahead of the election. He's then going to go to Phoenix to give a speech to young supporters in a large church.

This is all on the heels of the rally in Tulsa on Saturday, as you mentioned, where turnout was lower than the campaign planned. But the president really is trying to rev up his campaign and kind of move past the damper that the pandemic put on the economy and, frankly, his reelection message.

GREENE: Well, so he's doing this in a border state just after signing an executive order yesterday on immigration, right? And this is an executive order that, really, is related to the coronavirus outbreak.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. That's right. It's an order that responds to job losses caused by the pandemic. Basically, it freezes new immigration until the end of the year, extending a measure the White House put in place in April.

It also restricts new visas for temporary workers in the tech sector and management positions, and even for some foreign students who provide child care as au pairs. The White House says that it will mean about 525,000 jobs are protected for Americans. And it's being welcomed by people who want to see less immigration, especially when jobs are in short supply.

GREENE: But these kind of moves are usually not welcomed by the business community, which can get up in arms with orders like this. What are they saying about this one?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, say the visa suspensions will - right - hurt economic recovery. It will affect tech companies and other businesses that rely on foreign workers to fill jobs because, they argue, there aren't enough U.S. workers to fill those roles.

And it will also affect other people who count on some of these foreign workers so they, themselves, can go to work. I talked to Dawn Gile (ph), who runs a network for military spouses. She's had four au pairs during the past 20 years while her husband has been on active duty.

DAWN GILE: His schedule is not like the typical type schedule. And for me, I work full-time. I need flexible, in-home child care that the au pair program provides. And by removing that, it's frustrating for us and scary for us because we don't know what we're going to do for childcare, especially given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and daycares being closed.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, so there are a lot of concerns out there. But President Trump, in his order, said many of these J visa holders in this category compete with young Americans for jobs. And the unemployment rate is particularly high for young Americans ages 25 and under. And that could actually also be something that President Trump talks about during his speech in Phoenix.

GREENE: All right. So President Trump giving that speech in Phoenix, visiting Arizona today. And NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez will be watching. Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So this Tuesday is primary day in a number of states.

MARTIN: Right. So in two of the most notable races, there's something interesting happening. Newcomer Black Democrats are mounting progressive challenges against white candidates who are backed by the party establishment.

GREENE: And we want to bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro to talk about these races. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, guys.

GREENE: So take us through who is voting today, where this is happening.

MONTANARO: We've got five states voting today in primaries in the South - in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi - and also in New York. The big races people are watching are in Kentucky and New York where we have those two races that you mentioned.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about Kentucky. I mean, talk politics in Kentucky. It's hard not to mention Mitch McConnell, right?

MONTANARO: Right. You know, and this is the Democratic primary for the Senate. And the winner would take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It's been a wild race, frankly, between State Representative Charles Booker and Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot. We've really seen a change in trajectory in this race since the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Taylor is the Black woman who was shot and killed by police after they used a no-knock warrant to get into her apartment.

Before Taylor's death, McGrath was the overwhelming frontrunner. She'd taken in $41 million for this race, which is huge for a Senate race, and had the backing of Democratic Party establishment figures. That's all changed. Booker, who's Black, has taken a real leadership role in speaking out after Taylor's death and taking part in Black Lives Matter protests. He has all the momentum now and at least one poll showing him ahead. High-profile progressives have come to his backing - think about, like, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren. And Booker has a new video out that really encapsulates a lot of messages that national Democrats are trying to push now about working-class economics, protests and Black Lives Matter. Here's a bit from that.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CHARLES BOOKER: Finally, the power of the people is beginning to show. We've seen who keeps society running, it's the black janitors, the brown cashiers, the white folks stocking the shelves. The essential people are rising up.

MONTANARO: Now, look; I mean, while this primary is interesting - it's going to get a lot of attention because of who the winner will face off with. But this is Kentucky in a presidential year, a state Trump won by 30 points in 2016. So whoever wins is going to be an underdog against McConnell.

GREENE: But, I mean, as Rachel mentioned, I mean, this dynamic is not just in Kentucky. This dynamic playing out in this race we're seeing in New York state as well, right?

MONTANARO: That's right. Especially look at this challenge to longtime Congressman Eliot Engel in New York. He's the House Foreign Affairs chairman. He might be best known for trying to grab the best seat during State of the Union addresses when there's a Democratic president. You'd always see him right there for the cameras when President Obama would walk in.

GREENE: Oh, that's right.

MONTANARO: But Engel represents the Bronx, parts of southern Westchester County. He's been in Congress for more than 30 years, close to establishment leaders. But he's got his hands full with Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal from the Bronx. He's been endorsed by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. And this race really took a turn after this hot mic moment from Eliot Engle. He was caught on tape by News 12. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIOT ENGEL: If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care.

RUBEN DIAZ: Say that again.

ENGEL: If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care.

MONTANARO: So he's saying if he didn't have a primary, he wouldn't even care. But he wanted to be able to speak there. And this is a big deal for him. Once this came out, Bowman started to raise a ton of money. He was able to speak out a lot. And, look; he's got all the momentum in this race. And I don't think anybody should be surprised if he winds up winning.

GREENE: All right. A lot to watch today on primary day in several states around the country. NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: You got it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. We're going to bring you now the latest on CRISPR. This is a story that our science desk at NPR has been closely following now for the last year or so.

MARTIN: Yeah. So just a reminder, CRISPR is this revolutionary gene-editing technique. And a woman named Victoria Gray volunteered to become the first patient with a genetic disease to get treated in the U.S. using CRISPR.

GREENE: And NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has had exclusive access to watch her progress. Hi there, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So introduce us to Victoria Gray. And talk to us about what she was getting treated for.

STEIN: Sure. Victoria, she's 34 and lives in Forest, Miss. She was born with sickle cell disease. It's a terrible genetic disease that turns red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen, into deformed sickle-shaped cells. They get jammed inside blood vessels causing horrible attacks of pain and other complications that often cut life short.

Doctors took cells out of Victoria's bone marrow, rewrote a gene in the cells with the gene-editing technique CRISPR and infused billions of these modified cells back into her body. And it looks like it worked. She hasn't had any of those awful pain attacks since she got treated, hasn't needed any blood transfusions. It's essentially transformed her life. Here's how she describes it.

VICTORIA GRAY: It's hard to put into words, you know, the joy that I feel and being grateful for a change this big. It's been amazing.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, it's great to hear that. Still, I just can't imagine what she's been through with this treatment, I mean, given that we're in the midst of a pandemic and so much else in the country right now.

STEIN: Yeah. You know, like the rest of us, life hasn't been easy. Right after she got home from months in the hospital recovering from the treatment, her husband got deployed by the National Guard, leaving her home alone with three kids. And then the pandemic hit and she lost a great aunt, a pastor from a childhood church. Friends of hers have been getting sick.

And even though her immune system is still weak, she has to keep going out, you know, to do things like buy groceries. And then George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota, triggering all the nationwide protests. So she's had to explain all that to her kids.

GRAY: It's a lot. So it hasn't been easy.

GREENE: I'm getting a sense she's a very resilient woman, Rob.

STEIN: Oh, yeah. She really is. I mean, she's had to deal with so much. And she's just, you know, so grateful for this treatment. She doesn't know how she would've coped with all this the way she was before the gene-edited cells. She would've been too weak to care for her kids. And she probably would've ended up in the hospital. Let's listen to a little more of what she told me.

GRAY: It gave me hope when I was losing it. So I feel joy, you know, knowing that there is hope.

STEIN: Now, you know, Victoria, she's just one patient. And doctors will have to follow her for years to make sure the treatment continues to be safe and keeps working. But because her gene-edited cells have been working so well for so long, they're increasingly confident they will keep helping her and that this gene-editing technique, CRISPR, can help other patients, too, with sickle cell disease and with a long list of other diseases as well.

GREENE: All right. CRISPR, it's a story that our science desk has been following for some time. And we'll continue bringing you updates. That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with the story of one woman who has gotten this treatment. Rob, thank you so much for all your reporting on this.

STEIN: You bet, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.