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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is returning to the nation's capital today. He's set to appear before a federal judge on new criminal charges related to January 6.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Trump faces four new felony counts stemming from his efforts to hold on to power after the 2020 election At the same time, he's running for president.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here to talk about how he's trying to balance those objectives and to pay for them. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what do we expect to happen in court today?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump's being charged with four crimes, including leading a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstructing an official proceeding. He's expected to plead not guilty to all of them. His lawyer, John Lauro, talked to our own Sacha Pfeiffer on All Things Considered yesterday, and he says that Trump is protected by the First Amendment and that the Justice Department is trying to criminalize free speech.

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JOHN LAURO: It's a very straightforward defense, that he had every right to advocate for a position that he believed in and his supporters believed in.

ORDOÑEZ: Of course, Leila, prosecutors paint a much different picture.

FADEL: Right.

ORDOÑEZ: In the 45-page indictment, they say Trump can advocate for his position. They say he can even lie about the results. But they say he can't use the tools of government and enlist co-conspirators to try and prevent a core function of democracy. That's the peaceful transfer of power.

FADEL: And this case against Trump is one of many, and defending himself can't be cheap. How is Trump paying all his lawyers while also funding an expensive presidential campaign?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's all tangled together, and defending these cases has been a drag on the campaign. I mean, Trump's leadership committee has spent more than $40 million on legal costs just this year, according to The Washington Post. But he's making a lot of money as well. The campaign uses these challenges to really flood the inboxes of supporters to help fund the defense. And we've seen the numbers, and it's been pretty fruitful.

FADEL: So it's been fruitful to his finances. He's making money off it. But what about to his campaign? What's his messaging on this - his third criminal indictment?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it's kind of just all added to the mix. I mean, Trump points to the charges to push his claims he's a political victim. He's been on social media, even this morning, tweeting about free speech. And I'm sure he'll bring it up in Alabama and South Carolina, where he's expected to speak later this week. Leila, one popular line that he likes to repeat, and I bet we'll hear it soon, is that federal prosecutors are not coming after him. They're coming after you. He means the voters, of course, and that he's standing in the way. And it's a line that often gets a lot of applause.

FADEL: You know, his rivals have been reticent to speak against him, some even defending him. But we did hear from former Vice President Mike Pence. Has this indictment changed those dynamics now?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, we did hear some of the sharpest language yet from Pence yesterday.

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MIKE PENCE: President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution, but I chose the Constitution and I always will. I really do believe that anyone who puts themself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.

ORDOÑEZ: It's interesting because Pence has been resistant to speak out against Trump, and most of his rivals continue to be. And that's because of Trump's popularity with the Republican base. Both Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Tim Scott, for example, they accuse the Biden administration of weaponizing government. So it's going to be interesting to see whether Pence benefits from the tough talk or is politically hurt by it.

FADEL: White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Leila.

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FADEL: July was the hottest month ever recorded on planet Earth.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, those record high temperatures are fueled by climate change, and scientists say it's only going to get hotter. That is unless leaders of the world's most powerful countries step up to curb emissions. But for the most part, they're not. And in the U.S., a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that it's largely because one political party is turning away from the climate crisis.

FADEL: Joining us now to talk about that and more in this latest survey is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

FADEL: All right. So let's get to climate change and the party we're talking about - Republicans. What did Republicans we talked to say about the climate crisis?

MONTANARO: Well, we asked people a few questions about climate change, including one that I think is really key for why so little is getting done in Congress to address the problem, and that's exploring this tension between climate change and the economy. Now, climate change is costing the country and the world billions of dollars in disaster funding and preparation. But Republican messaging to their base has been about the potential short-term cost of climate change. So we asked if priority should be given to climate change, even at the risk of slowing the economy, or to the economy, even if it means ignoring climate change. The results really were eye-opening, I thought. Overall, a majority of people said climate change should be the priority, including a majority of independents. But here's the rub. Three-quarters of Republicans said the opposite. In fact, as the days have gotten hotter, Republicans have only increased in feeling this way - up 13 points in the last five years.

FADEL: Wow.

MONTANARO: A lot of that could be attributed to the way former President Trump speaks about the climate crisis - you know, the leader of the Republican Party over the last several years. The science is settled. The evidence is clear. But he's downplayed its effects, and we've seen that base that loves him so much seem to really lap up everything he's had to say.

FADEL: But, I mean, like you said, the science is settled. Don't most people see climate change as a major threat, not just to the country but to the world we live in?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, most people do, you know? But only a small minority of Republicans do, and you need Republicans and Democrats to be able to agree on something to get something done. Seventy percent of Republicans in our poll said that climate change is either just a minor threat or no threat at all. Overall, majorities of respondents also said climate change is having a serious impact and having at least some effect on their communities now. But 80% of Republicans said climate change will, in the future, only have a minor impact or, in their communities, none at all. The only potential glimmer for climate change action here is that younger people are more likely to say that they see climate change as a major threat.

FADEL: OK. So this was a fairly wide-ranging poll, beyond just climate change. And it dealt with how people also view institutions in this country like Congress, where these climate laws would be made. What did it find?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, institutions are really suffering right now. I mean, Congress has among the lowest ratings we've ever tested - just 22% said they have some confidence in Congress. The Supreme Court continues to get poor ratings. Even the FBI, which had been so vaunted for so long, has become really split with people - with Republicans not trusting it, Democrats trusting it. And we've seen that there's been all these indictments of former President Trump, and it's really been in the middle of all of our politics.

FADEL: And we have a presidential election coming up. What about politics? How are people viewing the parties and President Biden?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, people don't like either party, you know? And President Biden is getting really middling approval ratings, just a 41% approval rating. Somebody's got to win in 2024, even though people don't seem to like President Biden or former President Trump. This spells a lot of volatility, and we shouldn't be surprised by any surprises that come forward in the 2024 election.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.

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FADEL: Ukraine is struggling to find a way to export its grain as Russia repeatedly strikes its ports.

MARTÍNEZ: Drones and missiles have hit Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea for the last couple of weeks, ever since Moscow withdrew from a deal safeguarding ships carrying Ukrainian grain exports to world markets. And Russia is now targeting a main alternative route for that grain at Ukraine's ports on the Danube River.

FADEL: Joining us now from Kyiv to talk about this is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us about these ports on the Danube River. How important have they become to Ukraine's exports?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, since Russia pulled out of that deal of protecting container ships in the Black Sea, the river ports of Izmail and Reni have become essential to keeping grain exports moving. These ports are located on the lower Danube River in the far southwest of Ukraine. The Danube is the largest river in the European Union. It starts in Germany and runs through Eastern Europe, and it forms part of Ukraine's border with Romania, a member of NATO and the European Union. The Danube also empties into the Black Sea, but in a part of the sea that is very close to Romania and, of course, NATO. And so until now, it felt more protected than other ports on the Black Sea.

FADEL: OK.

KAKISSIS: And I should say that before the war, these Danube ports were hardly used. They are much smaller than the Port of Odesa, for example. But now they account for at least a third of grain exports, according to Ukraine's infrastructure ministry. Ukraine is also trying to transport grain by rail and road, but that's very expensive.

FADEL: And what kind of damage have the Russian strikes on these river ports caused?

KAKISSIS: Well, on Wednesday, Russia used drones to hit Izmail, which is Ukraine's main inland port. It's right across the river from Romania. The drone attacks destroyed buildings in the port and also stranded ships preparing to load with Ukrainian grain. Ukraine's infrastructure ministry said that these attacks also damaged and destroyed almost 40,000 tons of grain that was supposed to be going to countries in Africa, as well as to China and Israel. Global food prices shot up. And, you know, the attacks, you know, really scared people in the city of Izmail. I spoke by phone with Mykola Kapliienko, who lives in Izmail and works at the local university. And he said this remote corner of Ukraine was largely spared during the war, and now it feels almost like a front line, and a front line just across the river from NATO and the EU.

MYKOLA KAPLIIENKO: It's also dangerous for the EU, I guess, because sometimes, you know, the drone can miss. The territory of Izmail port is, like, 200 meters from the territory of the European Union.

KAKISSIS: In other words, he says an errant missile or drone could strike Romania.

FADEL: And now you mention this 40,000 tons of grain that was damaged that was supposed to go to other countries. Ukrainian grain is a vital food source for many countries, especially in Africa. What options does Ukraine have at this point to get the grain to countries that need it?

KAKISSIS: So Ukraine's leaders are asking their allies for more help, like, to beef up air defense around these Danube ports. And Mykola Kapliienko, the Izmail resident I spoke to, he said, you know, they understand that the Ukrainian military may not have the resources now. So he says local residents are actually trying to crowdsource to help pay for air defense equipment. Meanwhile, with exports, the alternatives - transporting this grain via train or road - that's much more expensive and not very efficient, as I mentioned earlier. A lot of countries are relying on this grain, and Ukraine wants to show the world that Russia is using food as a weapon in this war.

FADEL: A weapon in this war. Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thank you, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You are welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.