Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Under pressure from far-right Republicans in his party, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
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KEVIN MCCARTHY: These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption, and they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
House Republicans have already been investigating the Biden family for months and so far haven't found any clear evidence of corruption. The White House dismissed the investigation as extreme politics at its worst.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Susan, now that it's a formal inquiry, what changes?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: You know, there isn't anything dramatically different today than there was yesterday. These investigations have been and will continue to be run by two Republicans, James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Republicans say that they hope the seriousness and the weight of an impeachment inquiry will prod the White House to be more forthcoming with things like document requests and requests for testimony, but all of that obviously remains to be seen.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. So what exactly are Republicans alleging about the president?
DAVIS: Well, McCarthy outlined yesterday that Republicans are going to focus the inquiry on any of Biden's official interactions with his son's former business, and specifically work with foreign clients like Burisma. That's the former Ukrainian energy company. They also want to look at money that's been paid to Biden family members for work they've done with foreign entities, as well as whether Hunter has been given any special treatment by the Justice Department in their ongoing investigation of him.
Altogether, Republicans believe they can paint this picture of corruption against Joe Biden. But again, there hasn't really been any concrete evidence that they can point to yet in attempting to make this case that the president benefited financially, or his family did, from official actions.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, if the House were to pass these articles of impeachment, it would force the Senate to hold a trial. So what's been the GOP Senate reaction to that possibility?
DAVIS: It was pretty lukewarm on Capitol Hill yesterday. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously voiced some skepticism about the merits of moving ahead with an impeachment process. Yesterday, he essentially said the Senate's just going to focus on the legislative agenda and wait and see what the House does.
Mitt Romney - he's one of the seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. He said he thought there was enough there to merit an investigation but that the case had not yet been made for an impeachment.
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MITT ROMNEY: There's been no allegation of a high crime or misdemeanor that would meet the constitutional test. So that's a very different matter, and we'll see if that arises.
DAVIS: There's almost no chance any of this ends in a Senate conviction. The Senate is controlled by Democrats. And skepticism from senators like Romney, who would be in the orbit of potentially gettable senators, I think makes that pretty clear.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it doesn't seem like a coincidence that Kevin McCarthy made this announcement at least as one member of his party, Matt Gaetz of Florida, was threatening to force a vote to remove him from the speaker's office if he didn't make this exact move, right?
DAVIS: Right. And it doesn't come from a move that makes the speaker look particularly strong in his job at this moment. All of this is going to be a test for McCarthy - not just how he manages an impeachment inquiry, but also how he's going to avoid a government shutdown in a way that doesn't provoke a revolt from other far-right members of his conference who might try to remove him for the job depending on what spending bills he brings to the floor and what they have in them. So how he navigates all of this and whether he can succeed and also keep his job is going to dominate Capitol Hill in the weeks and certainly the months ahead.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis, thanks for keeping track of this.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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MARTÍNEZ: Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Russia's Far East today. And the venue said a lot about at least one likely subject of their meeting.
FADEL: They're meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, almost 5,000 miles east of Moscow. Russian state media say Putin gave Kim a tour of the space launch facility.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Charles Maynes is following the meeting from Moscow. That's because Western journalists were not invited to the summit. Charles, so what can you tell us about what's happening there?
CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Well, you know, Kim's state visit comes at Putin's invitation, and the setting was really designed to impress. North Korea's recently failed to launch its own satellites, so it was with great interest that Kim got a close-up tour of Russia's Vostochny launch pad. Let's listen in a bit.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).
MAYNES: So here, as Putin looks on, an unnamed member of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, gives Kim a how-to lesson on launch procedures, saying Russian rockets don't sit directly on the launch pad, but are suspended by harnesses.
Putin and Kim later gave official introductory remarks, Putin welcoming Kim and Kim expressing gratitude for the warm reception. And then Kim really got right to the point. He said North Korea supported Russia as it defended its sovereignty against an imperial West, clearly, in his mind, led by the United States. Even more to the point, North Korea just hours earlier fired two ballistic rockets in the direction of Japan, a U.S. ally.
Today, the leaders have plenty of opportunities - or had; they just finished their talks - to explore those themes and more, both in one-on-one as well as wider meetings with their military, economic and foreign policy teams. That said, much of the content will remain secret. The Kremlin says there will be no press conference to speak of.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, North Korea for a long time has been an international outcast. And since invading Ukraine, Russia also finds itself shunned by the West. So what do the two leaders stand to get out of this relationship?
MAYNES: Well, this has all been parsed as neighbors doing what neighbors do - you know, deepening relations and developing cultural and economic ties, as well as discussing regional issues of concern. But why now? The answer is clearly Ukraine and Russia's wider conflict with the West that's come out of it. You know, the U.S. says this meeting is about Russia trying to gain access to North Korea's vast weapons stores - in other words, to feed the Kremlin's military campaign in Ukraine. Putin made clear once again in comments this week he sees this war as grinding on over the long haul. So, indeed, if, as it appears, Russia is after North Korean arms, the question is what does Kim want in return? Putin addressed this issue head-on when asked by a Russian reporter. He said, that's why we're here at this Cosmodrome. So at least part of the answer seems to be North Korea wants Russian advanced technology.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So if this is some kind of quid pro quo, what is Russia willing to give North Korea? And is there a line as far as what they're unwilling to give?
MAYNES: Well, you know, ultimately, we'll just have to see what comes out of this. But there do seem to be limits to what the Russians have on offer. Putin and Kim's opening comments were against a backdrop at the Vostochny Cosmodrome that featured orbital stations and satellites, but notably, no rockets, no weapons. You know, Russia, a nuclear superpower, frankly doesn't have a lot of interest in helping North Korea's nuclear program if merely because it doesn't want to see the Korean Peninsula, which borders Russia, after all, turned into a nuclear battleground. You know, as my colleague Anthony Kuhn reported from Seoul yesterday, another concern here is that if Russia gives North Korea aid in terms of weapons technology, that could push South Korea into sending weapons to Ukraine, something the U.S. has been pushing for. So whatever deals Moscow puts on the table, whether it's tech or food aid or some kind of sanctions relief, it's likely to be a balancing act.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Charles Maynes. Charles, thanks.
MAYNES: Thank you.
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MARTÍNEZ: Officials in Libya say the bodies of more than 2,000 people have been recovered in the city of Derna.
FADEL: A storm devastated towns and cities along the coast of northeastern Libya. It ruptured dams, caused a torrent of water to flood entire neighborhoods. And already, Libya is decimated by more than a decade of conflict, and it's a country divided between two rival governments.
MARTÍNEZ: For more on how that may complicate the recovery, we're joined now by NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Ruth, what can you tell us about the scale of the disaster?
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, you know, A, how bad this is is really becoming clear just now, days after the storm. So with phone lines down and the chaos caused by the destruction, information has been hard to get. But Anas El Gomati, who's the director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan think tank, he's been getting a picture from residents inside Derna city. And he called the scale of the damage epic and said it's like nothing Libya has seen in its modern history.
ANAS EL GOMATI: It's torn through half the city, a quarter of it still submerged in water. Images and videos that are coming out are of people who have left their home and are wandering the streets, have stopped looking at the streets and they're now all just facing the ocean, looking for bodies that might emerge of loved ones and friends and family. It's horrific.
SHERLOCK: Health officials say more than 2,000 corpses have been collected as of this morning in the city, and rescuers expect that toll to rise still. There's footage showing bodies filling a yard of a hospital and more videos showing mass graves as well.
MARTÍNEZ: Wow, what an awful, awful picture. I mean, how is the rescue going so far?
SHERLOCK: Well, you know, the problem is access to the affected areas has been so hard. With roads cut off, there was very little help to get to Derna for the first 36 hours after the storm. Now responders are in the city. Farag El-Hassi of the Libyan Red Crescent - he's in the organization's emergency response room. And he told me they're getting calls from people still stranded in the storm debris or trapped under the rubble. And they're also looking at how to cope with all of those that have lost their homes.
FARAG EL-HASSI: We're estimating the numbers of the people - I believe more than 20,000 people will be internally displaced. Our rescue team are currently still working crazy hours conducting rescues and research.
SHERLOCK: Yeah, so he's saying, you know, more than 20,000 people have become internally displaced by this situation. So it's a huge challenge for rescue services in a country that's already torn up by war.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Tell us more about that. How could that possibly affect the scale of this disaster?
SHERLOCK: Well, you know, this is a country that's been devastated by conflict since 2011 when rebels backed by NATO removed the dictator, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. Now the country is ruled by rival governments. And all of this has left it impoverished and lacking in services. And in this context, the dams broke that caused the flood in Derna - simply hadn't been maintained and they'd become worn down and flimsy. And you have to add to this picture that meteorologists say this storm was of a particular strength. There was 16 inches of rain dumped on eastern Libya in a short time. But they say the intensity of the storm fits with a pattern of more extreme weather caused by man-made climate change. So that's a new dimension that Libya may now have to keep facing in the future as well.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Ruth, thank you.
SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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