NOEL KING, HOST:
It is two weeks until congressional elections, and President Trump has been leaning into some suggestive rhetoric.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, they have a word - it sort of became old-fashioned - it's called a nationalist. And I say really, we're not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I'm a nationalist, OK? I'm a nationalist.
KING: That was the president speaking at a rally in Texas. Now, the word nationalist can mean different things, but as the president seemed to be suggesting, it is often taken to mean white nationalist.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And in supporting Senator Ted Cruz, the president worked to fire up core supporters by stoking fears of immigration. Border crossings remain well below historic highs, but recent dramatic TV images of a caravan of several thousand people fleeing Honduras gave the president an occasion to smear Democrats, who want legal status for people in the U.S. without permission.
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TRUMP: As we speak, the Democrat party is openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation. That's what's happening.
KING: NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is in studio with us this morning. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
KING: All right, so midterms are two weeks away. How is this message, including that use of the word nationalist, likely to play with Republican voters?
DETROW: Well, this has been President Trump's instinct all along - to play up immigration fears going into the midterm. At one point, he hinted that he wanted to see a government funding shutdown over that border wall in the fall. Congressional leaders on the Republican side have wanted to focus on that strong economy. But President Trump sees this type of immigration and crime, really fearmongering, as key to his presidential election. And he's never felt the need to do anything but rev up his core base. Of course, we should point out the key races that are probably going to decide control of the House aren't being played out in the Trump base part of the country. They're in the suburbs in high-income, high-education areas where this doesn't really play as well.
KING: You've been out on the campaign trail in recent weeks. How often are you seeing illegal immigration come up, and how often does it come up in the kind of tone that the president was using in Texas?
DETROW: Sure. Well, I was actually in some Western states last week covering a Senate race in Nevada and a key House race in Utah, and there are a lot of immigrants there and a lot of people sympathetic to immigrants. And President Trump's approach really isn't too popular, and in those places, Democrats are very happy to have this discussion, criticize his decision to try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, criticize his policy of separating families who entered the country illegally. Jacky Rosen - Democrat running for Senate in Nevada - really talked about this a lot, saying that she would try to stop all those policies.
KING: But does it motivate - does it motivate Democratic voters?
DETROW: I think it does, but I think - go back to how President Trump views the world.
DETROW: He views himself as occupying the White House. He sees that this was a key thing that he talked about in 2016 that worked, and in his mind, he's a very successful president. So he's going to try and keep doing that over and over again.
INSKEEP: I think it's valuable whatever your views of immigration might be to get a couple of numbers on the table. The president has talked a lot about this caravan, an estimated 7,000 people, some of whom will head toward the United States based on past caravans. They'll seek legal entry. We're in a point in history where the number of legal, permanent residents admitted to the U.S. each year is over 1 million. The number of people stopped at the border, the southwestern border, each month is 35,000 to 40,000. This few thousand people is not actually a significant change - a significant flow of people. It's not overwhelming the country at all, although it is a dramatic human story.
DETROW: And we should say that in the past, caravans like this, when they get to the border, they present themselves at ports of entry and apply for asylum. They're not storming the border like the president is suggesting.
KING: NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks so much.
DETROW: Thank you.
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KING: All right. President Trump says he plans to end a 30-year-old arms control treaty with Russia. This is a treaty that helped mark the end of the Cold War.
INSKEEP: Yeah. He sent National Security Adviser John Bolton to Moscow, where he's scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin today. Trashing the treaty is a sign that world powers could be returning to an arms race mentality.
KING: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel is with us in studio. He's been reporting on this new class of missiles that could help to define that race. They're known as hypersonic weapons. Good morning, Geoff.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What is a hypersonic weapon?
BRUMFIEL: Well, the first thing to say is it is not covered by this arms control treaty or actually any treaty because it's still in the research and development phase. But essentially, this is a weapon that can go very, very fast - five times the speed of sound or more. And not only that, but it can fly like an airplane. So this is an incredibly fast, potentially very stealthy weapon that can sort of maneuver around defenses to strike its target.
KING: So kind of a worrying weapon if weapons are something you worry about.
BRUMFIEL: Weapons are always worrying.
KING: Yeah. You've been to the Air Force's testing sites. How far along are countries in actually producing these kind of weapons?
BRUMFIEL: Right. So I went to one of the Air Force's wind tunnels where they're doing some prototyping. And I actually can't tell you much because the morning I showed up, I got a text message. They told me we're doing classified testing today. We won't let you in. But they did let me talk to some of the people there, and what I can say is that they are definitely increasing the pace of testing, and they're not the only ones. The Chinese and Russians are also doing a lot of testing. China did a test back in August. Russia was talking about its tests earlier this year. So this is a weapon that appears to be on the fast track at least among the world powers.
KING: I mean, that brings up a really interesting question, right? Is - are we seeing the beginning of a kind of new arms race, do you think?
BRUMFIEL: Well, Mike Griffin, who's the head of the Pentagon's R&D sort of division, was talking about hypersonic weapons last month, and this is what he had to say about it.
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MIKE GRIFFIN: We did the groundbreaking research. They've chosen to weaponize it. We need to respond.
BRUMFIEL: And the they there is China and Russia. So basically, I mean, that does sound a bit like an arms race to me. We started it. They're keeping to do it, so we got to keep going. You know, I think that this is a case of everyone is investing heavily in a new weapons technology. And it's not the only case. Russia is developing a lot of new systems right now, some of which are pretty wild.
INSKEEP: Can I just ask - what is the point of a hypersonic weapon, a missile that gets to its target even faster? Is it just that missile defenses, which don't always work anyway, would work even less with a superfast weapon?
BRUMFIEL: Well, exactly. I mean, this is a good question. Arms control experts say there isn't much point of the U.S. developing one. We already have a lot of capabilities. China and Russia are definitely just perennially worried about missile defense. And so they see it as a way to get around U.S. missile defenses, especially in the future as our missile defenses grow more sophisticated.
KING: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Geoff, thanks so much.
BRUMFIEL: Thank you.
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KING: All right. Saudi Arabia is still trying to get its story straight on what exactly happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Turkey has been slowly releasing details about his murder.
INSKEEP: Slowly. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said today he will reveal what happened to the Saudi critic and journalist when he went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey to obtain marriage paperwork on October 2. This issue, as you may know, has become the center of a tense relationship between two regional powers, and Erdogan could see this as an opportunity to gain some leverage over the de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon is with us from Istanbul, where he's been following this story. Hi, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.
KING: All right. So why has President Erdogan taken such an interest in what happened to Jamal Khashoggi?
KENYON: Well, basically, he doesn't have any choice. I mean, the world is focused on this killing in Istanbul. One newspaper columnist wrote last week or so Turkey's not the bad guy this time. As you noted, this has not been the greatest place for journalists. Other commentators have tried to make a distinction between jailing journalists and killing them. But anyway, there's been this steady drip of evidence from the Turkish investigation. And analysts say it's very much in Turkey's interest to be aggressive, thorough, go wherever the evidence leads. So far, it's pointing towards Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was a steady government critic. He had a column in The Washington Post. And the question still remains - was it a rogue operation as Riyadh claims, or did the Saudi leadership have a hand in ordering it? The Saudi foreign minister has basically repeated in Indonesia that they want to hold those responsible to account. The Turkish foreign minister today raised the possibility of an international investigation, possibly by the United Nations.
KING: And meanwhile, Erdogan is saying we have more information, and we're prepared to release it. Do we know what Turkey's got?
KENYON: They have been giving little bit out day by day. There is no one that I know who's seen it all who's talking publicly about it. The CIA director was dispatched to Ankara, presumably to see and hear what exactly Turkey does have. But basically the evidence we are seeing calls into doubt the Saudi's story that this was a brawl, it was an accident, rogue killers that has nothing to do with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. We're seeing evidence of calls from the consulate to a key adviser to the crown prince and a report even that he ordered the killing. Plus, there's been footage of a Saudi consular official burning papers the day after Khashoggi's killing and also footage of an apparent body double, a man dressed in Khashoggi's clothes leaving the consulate on the day he went in. So that all speaks to premeditation and attempts to cover up.
KING: Is Erdogan using this situation as an opportunity to kind of confront Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman?
KENYON: We're going to watch that closely. It's an important aspect of all this. Saudi Arabia and Turkey - longtime regional rivals, different foreign policy views. Now, the Saudis, along with the Israelis, have been seen as America's top allies in the Middle East. Turkey's an important ally, part of NATO. Now, with this widespread international criticism of Saudi Arabia, this could be an opportunity for Erdogan to raise Turkey's star a bit as a key Muslim power, vital Mideast player. It would, if that happened, be something of a jolt to U.S. foreign policy, though. I mean, Turkey could never replace Saudi Arabia as a U.S. partner in confronting Iran, for instance. So it's not clear this will fundamentally alter the regional power structure, but people will be watching it closely.
KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much.
KENYON: Thanks, Noel.
(SOUNDBITE OF ESMERINE'S "A RIVER RUNS THROUGH THIS CITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.