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News Brief: Hurricane Dorian, Democratic Debate, Ireland And Brexit


It looks like Puerto Rico has been spared the worst of Hurricane Dorian this morning. People there are breathing a sigh of relief.


Yeah, with memories of Hurricane Maria from 2017 still top of mind, people in Puerto Rico were obviously anxious as this storm approached. Yesterday, though, Dorian barreled past the island, moved over the U.S. Virgin Islands and is now headed north. The storm is gaining strength, and forecasters warn it could strike Florida in coming days.

GREENE: NPR's Adrian Florido is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he has been monitoring developments in the storm's path. Hey, Adrian.


GREENE: What's it like there? It sounds like Puerto Rico was mostly spared.

FLORIDO: Yeah. Thankfully, there were no reports of major damage here. There were widespread power outages in the U.S. Virgin Islands and reports of more limited outages here in parts of Puerto Rico. The main island of Puerto Rico was even spared any heavy rain or winds, thankfully. There are two small island municipalities off of Puerto Rico's eastern coast, Vieques and Culebra, that did get more rain and wind, a little bit more of a direct impact, but also mostly came away unscathed.

GREENE: And the Virgin Islands - I mean, it sounds like they had it pretty rough, but how bad was it there?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean, there are also not yet any reports of major damage there except for those widespread power outages. I understand that, you know, work is underway to get power restored there. But it seems like, thankfully, the Virgin Islands were also not terribly affected.

GREENE: Talk about the feeling in Puerto Rico and the anxiety there leading up to this just because of the memories of Hurricane Maria. I mean, was there a sense that the island was better prepared for this one if it got bad?

FLORIDO: Well, people were definitely worried. On Wednesday, you know, everything was shut down, and people hunkered down. The streets were empty. I think people were doing their best to tame the emotions the talk of any major storm brings back about the horrible experience of Hurricane Maria and all of the suffering that people endured during and after that storm.

In terms of preparation, the government said that it was better prepared. It seems to have taken a lot of steps to improve on what was that terrible response to Hurricane Maria two years ago. And, you know, Dorian was seen as a test for the new governor, Wanda Vazquez, and she said that she believes that local and federal agencies came together and, if things had gotten worse, they would've been able to handle it. But because the effects of Dorian were limited, it's hard to say for sure whether the government would, in fact, have responded effectively.

GREENE: It's so interesting. I mean, I've been through hurricane moments, like in Florida, where you really brace and you batten down the hatches and you get ready and then the storm is not so bad. It can actually take some time to get back to life again, even if the storm wasn't terrible. Is that what it feels like on the island today?

FLORIDO: Yeah. I mean, you know, life is expected to resume as normal today. Originally, schools and government offices were supposed to be closed today because it was expected the impacts of the storm were going to be much greater than they actually were. But last night, the governor reversed that decision to close schools and government offices, so people will be going back to class, coming back to work. Stores will be opening up again. And the rhythm of life is expected to resume as normal here.

GREENE: And now, I guess, we're just following the path of the storm in the coming days, and it looks like Florida could be a real target, potentially.

FLORIDO: Right. So Dorian is heading north through the Atlantic and is on a path toward Florida's eastern coast. It is expected to come ashore sometime late Sunday or early Monday. And it's also gaining strength. It's currently a Category 1 hurricane, but it's expected to grow as large as a Category 3 storm by Sunday. So Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency. And it seems that Florida is doing its best to start getting ready for the impact of that storm over the weekend.

GREENE: OK. Obviously, we'll be monitoring the path of the hurricane in the coming days. NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this morning. Thanks so much, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, David.


GREENE: All right, so the pool of Democratic presidential candidates is shrinking.

MARTIN: Indeed. So the deadline for candidates to meet the DNC's polling and fundraising thresholds for the debate was midnight. And many of the more familiar names - we're talking about former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - they all made the cut. But several candidates did not. The next debate is going to take place in a couple weeks in Houston, Texas.

Meanwhile, we should mention, not insignificant, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who had never been able to get a lot of traction in the polls, has pulled herself out of the race altogether.

GREENE: OK, we have NPR's senior political editor Domenico Montanaro with us. Hi, Domenico.


GREENE: All right, so this is what happens when a campaign moves along. You have fewer and fewer candidates. It's going to be a smaller group in Texas next month. Rachel mentioned Biden, Sanders, Warren made the cut. Who else is going to be there?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I'll just go through them quickly. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris from California, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Obama Housing Secretary Julian Castro, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who recently rebooted his campaign in El Paso, Texas, where he's from, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. So there you go - just half the candidates from the first round of debates.

GREENE: Is this important? I mean, can these candidates who made the list say this is a significant moment - you know, I'm still here - as this reaches this stage?

MONTANARO: Absolutely, and we've seen several candidates drop out, so this - these debates have really had sort of a winnowing effect of being almost the first primary, replacing some of those early states, because people have started to drop out.

And, you know, it's significant that they got here because there's tougher qualifications for this than these earlier debates. They needed 2% in at least four national or state polls, 130,000 donors across 20 states. They needed at least 400 unique donors in each of those states. So this really does represent a group that's been able to, over these several months of campaigning, be able to distinguish themselves, raise their profiles and show some significant grassroots support.

GREENE: And then we have candidates who didn't make the cut who are raising some questions about how this whole thing was handled.

MONTANARO: Right. You know, you had, for example, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who was on Fox News complaining about the process. Let's listen to some of that.


TULSI GABBARD: The whole thing gets a little bit confusing, and you've got to jump way down into the weeds of the numbers and the statistics, but I think the bigger problem is that the whole process really lacks transparency.


GABBARD: People deserve having that transparency because, ultimately, it's the people who will decide who our Democratic nominee will be and, ultimately, who our next president, commander in chief will be.

MONTANARO: You know, that was a pretty familiar kind of complaint that you heard from her as you heard from other candidates and what you've heard in past years, frankly, for people who don't make debate stages. But, you know, to be honest, the Democratic National Committee's guidelines for making these debates have been pretty well-known for some time. Gabbard just didn't meet them. So, you know, that's really what's happened with her campaign. And she'll have a chance to make it for the next month.

GREENE: All right, so in Houston, we'll have this group of 10 candidates, and this will be the first time Warren, Biden, Sanders will all be onstage together, yeah?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's really notable that the three of them are onstage together for the first time. You know, they represent very different wings of the party from a policy and a tactical perspective. I mean, some would call it a reset versus revolution, with Biden being the reset and Sanders and Warren being revolution. We'll see if they all wind up going after Biden again.

GREENE: NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.


GREENE: All right, we're going to talk now about Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with the queen's blessing, will suspend Parliament next month.

MARTIN: Yeah, the move is going to limit the amount of debate that can happen over how the United Kingdom will sever relations with the European Union under Brexit.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We're not going to wait until October 31 before getting on with our plans to take this country forward. And to do that, we need new legislation. We've got to be bringing forward new and important bills. And that's why we are going to have a queen's speech, and we're going to do it on October 14. And we've got to move ahead now with a new legislative program.

MARTIN: That voice there - clearly, the voice of Boris Johnson, the U.K. British prime minister, who is giving his justification for the suspension.

But all of this is raising intense pressure on the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the European Union, and its neighbor, Northern Ireland, which is a province of the United Kingdom. The open border that separates these two has come under question as part of the Brexit negotiations. If the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a Brexit deal at the end of October, there could be a disruption at that historic border.

GREENE: And what could that disruption mean, and what could it do? Let's ask Hugh O'Connell, a political reporter at the Irish Independent, who's on the line on Skype from Dublin. Good morning, Hugh.


GREENE: Remind us the history here. For people who aren't familiar with it, why is this border so important and in so much focus?

O'CONNELL: Between 1969 and 1998, there was a conflict in Northern Ireland known as - we call it the Troubles here. And as part of that conflict was that - which was effectively a sort of an uprising of sorts by nationalist people in Northern Ireland who wanted to get Britain out of the North. There was a very bloody conflict. Thousands died. And the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was a hard border, which meant there were checks. There was army checkpoints. There was infrastructure in place, customs checks. People couldn't move freely back-and-forth across the border every day, although they tried, but they often failed or they often experienced long delays.

But with the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, all that started to change. And for the past 20 years, the border has been a porous border. And, in fact, people go back-and-forth every single day. People who live in the Republic of Ireland can go to school in Northern Ireland. People who live in Northern Ireland can work in the Republic of Ireland. So they're traveling back-and-forth every day. There's a lot of trade that goes back-and-forth, millions of liters of milk. That is milk from cows in Northern Ireland is brought down across the border into the Republic of Ireland to be processed and sent into your supermarkets.

GREENE: So people have just come to live that way, it sounds like. So I guess I wonder - I mean, it's a representation of peace, that open border. If - how are people reacting to this suspension of Parliament on both sides if they feel like this might bring that hard border back?

O'CONNELL: Well, people aren't very happy about it. For the past three years, Britain's decision to leave the European Union has had massive implications for the border. And the decision to suspend Parliament creates the possibility that Britain - or rather increases the possibility that Britain will crash out of the European Union on the 31 of October, 9 weeks from now, and that that hard border will begin to return again with checkpoints, infrastructure and all the sorts of things that people on this island thought they had seen the last of.

GREENE: Thought they had moved past. Hugh O'Connell, political reporter at the Irish Independent, joining us from Dublin. Thanks so much, Hugh.

O'CONNELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK SONG, "IN MY THOUGHTS (REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Hugh O'Connell