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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House has overwhelmingly approved a deal to expand the child tax credit for three years.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is expected to be quickly taken up by the Senate, and if signed into law, it would benefit 16 million kids and could lift as many as half a million out of poverty. The deal, which also contains substantial business tax cuts, is the result of negotiations between Republican Representative Jason Smith and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in a rare moment of bipartisanship for this highly divided Congress.

FADEL: NPR's Eric McDaniel is here to tell us more. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning, good morning.

FADEL: The margins on this vote - 357-70. I mean, what was it about this bill that got so many people who constantly disagree to agree?

MCDANIEL: Well, it was a couple things. You're right, these margins were huge. And I love to be glib about Congress, maybe even more than the average person. This bill does need to still clear some hurdles, namely the U.S. Senate, but it's one of the bills that a lot of folks around the country will really feel.

I do want to acknowledge that the child tax credit here is not quite as robust as its COVID-era counterpart, which lifted roughly 3 million children out of poverty. In fact, that led some progressives that you might have heard of, like Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to oppose the bill. It also contains big tax cuts for corporations, which brought a lot of Republicans along. But folks who know, they're still saying that this bill is pretty monumental, and I think you saw that on the scoreboard last night. It passed with huge majorities of both parties.

FADEL: I mean, I think it's also worth saying, though, it had to pass with huge majorities because a small number of opposition Republicans were ready to kill it, right?

MCDANIEL: That's right. Like we've talked about before, there's a faction of the House Republican conference that sees bipartisan legislating as failure and oppose all but the most staunchly conservative proposals. That opposition from the House Freedom Caucus and their allies, they blocked a procedural step, which meant the deal had to pass under something called suspension of the rules, which is basically a two-thirds majority of the House, which it got, like we said.

But in addition to those progressive oppositions and the opposition from anti-compromise Republicans, there were also some blue-state Republican members, folks like Anthony D'Esposito of Long Island, who hoped to push for more tax relief in places like New York with higher state taxes.

FADEL: Was this bill backed by the top Republican, Speaker Mike Johnson?

MCDANIEL: So this is interesting to me. Speaker Johnson was hesitant to schedule the bill for a vote because of the internal Republican disagreements I mentioned. And when it did get scheduled, he put out a statement praising the tax cuts without mentioning the child poverty measures at all. He did eventually vote for it. But this suspension of the rule stuff, which is just another way to say he needs Democratic votes to get things passed, is really not a tool he likes using because it upsets some people in his party, and it could eventually cost him the job like it did Speaker McCarthy.

FADEL: So there is also bipartisan negotiation over immigration in the Senate, and that was looking promising for a while. But this time, House Republicans could doom the bill. What's different about those negotiations?

MCDANIEL: You're right. These are similar processes in a lot of ways. They're bipartisan negotiations without the involvement of party leaders - sort of a bottom-up thing. But the political pressures are quite different. Immigration is a very visible political issue in the presidential campaign. GOP front-runner Donald Trump has been focused on killing that deal, posting about it online a lot. And the child tax credit has just not gotten that kind of focus for him.

And you see that in Speaker Mike Johnson's rhetoric. After Republicans insisted Ukraine and Israel be tied to this immigration reform proposal, Johnson used his first floor speech as speaker on this floor of the House yesterday to try and kill the immigration deal before it even leaves the Senate. So I think it's true - probably true to say Republicans want to address the very real issues facing the U.S. immigration system - record number of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border. But a lot of them want to see Trump elected more.

FADEL: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thanks, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: A major shake-up appears to be in the works in Ukraine, as tensions between the country's president and the top general there have boiled over.

MARTIN: And that general, who is well respected by Ukraine's allies and beloved by Ukrainians, is at risk of losing his job. And that could divide the Ukrainian public at a crucial time, as Ukrainian soldiers struggle to defend the front line with fewer resources from the West.

FADEL: Joining us now with more is Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with this reported shake-up in the military. What's behind...

KAKISSIS: Yes.

FADEL: ...This feud that has Ukraine's president seem ready to oust the commander of the country's armed forces?

KAKISSIS: So, yeah. So President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had problems for months with General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the military chief he appointed in 2021. And that was before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian media and analysts have said that Zelenskyy wants a military chief who is more loyal to him. Zaluzhny has publicly contradicted Zelenskyy's narrative on the war. And remember; Zelenskyy is a former actor with a powerful communication sense. He's been telling Ukrainians that the country is slowly but surely heading to victory against Russian invaders. While Zaluzhny - he is a lifelong military man. He's a realist. The war is now about to enter its third year, and the front line has barely moved. He says it's a stalemate.

Now, Zelenskyy's spokesman has denied that Zaluzhny has been dismissed, but a source close to the government confirmed to NPR that Zelenskyy did ask Zaluzhny to resign earlier this week but that the general refused. Zelenskyy can also fire Zaluzhny outright. As president, he has the right to do that. But that likely means a very public backlash.

FADEL: We describe Zaluzhny as beloved. I mean, if you could just tell me, how popular is he with Ukrainians?

KAKISSIS: So General Zaluzhny is more popular than President Zelenskyy in some public opinion polls - sometimes a lot more popular. Under Zaluzhny's military leadership, Ukraine was able to defend itself in the early days of the war, and Zaluzhny also led counteroffensives in 2022 that pushed Russian troops out of large parts of occupied land. Ukrainians call him a hero. I haven't met a single Ukrainian who does not rave about him, and the soldiers I've met worship him. They say they trust him with their lives. They talk about how moved they were when he knelt at the coffin of a young and well-known fallen soldier. They tell me, he cares about us.

So if Zelenskyy does fire Zaluzhny, it would be very unpopular, and that would be good news for Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov predicted to reporters that divisions between Ukraine's civilian and military leadership will only grow as Russia's war on the country continues.

FADEL: So what you're describing might be good for Russia, would hurt morale in Ukraine - this coming when future military and financial aid from its two biggest backers, the U.S. and the European Union, still in limbo. So it's not a good time for divisions like this, right?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. Well, the leaders of the EU's 27 member states are meeting today in Brussels to once again try to pass a Ukraine aid package that's worth about $54 billion. It was held up in December by only one vote, Hungary's pro-Kremlin prime minister, Viktor Orban. The EU and Ukraine have been trying to lobby him to lift that veto. We'll see if that happens today.

Meanwhile, several European leaders are saying, you know, we've let down Ukraine by not following through on our promises - on other promises, like delivering a million artillery ammunition rounds last year. The EU now says it's hoping to reach just half that amount by next month at the earliest. Russia, by the way, is firing three or four times more ammunition than Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are rationing ammunition, so that's not good for them on the battlefield.

FADEL: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thank you, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: TikTok users are waking up to a new reality this morning. The world's largest music company is pulling its catalog from the social media platform TikTok.

MARTIN: The move by Universal Music Group coincides with contract negotiations that have gone public and become acrimonious. The impact across the music industry could be huge.

FADEL: Here with us to discuss the conflict is Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. Welcome back, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having me.

FADEL: OK. So how big a deal is this? I mean, what type of artists, how much music is affected here?

THOMPSON: Well, we're talking about some of the biggest artists in the world. The tendrils of Universal Music Group extend to countless big-name stars - Billie Eilish, BTS, Drake, Lady Gaga. I could fill this entire segment just listing names. But I do have to note that Taylor Swift's music is also included here. In 2024, every news story about music has to include at least one mention of Taylor Swift. That is practically the law.

(LAUGHTER)

FADEL: I feel like that's true.

Posts on TikTok often have a lot of music in them, so how would this process work?

THOMPSON: Well, TikTok has license agreements with labels and artists, so users can access a searchable library of authorized songs. So the first Universal move here is to simply demand that its library be removed from what TikTok can offer. It's not necessarily a matter of throwing a switch, but that's the first step. From there, you're looking at things like takedown notices, old posts getting blocked because they have unauthorized music in them - that sort of thing. It'll be kind of piecemeal. That's going to unfold over time, depending on how contract negotiations play out.

FADEL: OK. So wait; are we eventually going to be seeing all these TikTok dance challenge videos with just people dancing in silence?

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Well, it'll depend on how long this drags out. It'll depend on the song and the artist that we're talking about. I do like the idea of people sort of shuffling in silence...

FADEL: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...But those videos are more likely to just be blocked, so users will see broken links instead of the dance moves they crave.

FADEL: So what are Universal's demands? What do they want?

THOMPSON: Well, the open letter that they put out names what it calls three critical issues. And those issues are compensation - how much money TikTok pays Universal and its artists - plus artificial intelligence and online safety. And those are all huge issues. TikTok's CEO was just grilled in Senate hearings about online safety as recently as yesterday. But I suspect that what Universal really wants here is a lot more money to grant access to its catalog, plus reassurance that TikTok is combating AI simulations of its artists, music and likenesses. The entire entertainment industry is very concerned about AI rendering human artists obsolete as technology improves.

Now, it's also worth noting that in the short term, this does have a serious impact on Universal's artists. Universal's open letter says that TikTok accounts for about 1% of its revenue, but it's not just a matter of the royalties TikTok pays out. TikTok is a major source of exposure for artists, especially people who aren't household names, and TikTok streams are factored into things like the Billboard Hot 100, so the stakes are high.

FADEL: Has TikTok responded to the demands?

THOMPSON: Well, TikTok released a statement that accused Universal of putting greed ahead of the interests of its artists, basically saying they're denying them this huge promotional platform, which doesn't really speak to most of the issues in Universal's open letter. It may seem like a simple contract negotiation with two sides arguing over money, but the gray areas are huge and the larger issues aren't going away.

FADEL: NPR's Stephen Thompson, of course mentioning Taylor Swift in this music story. Thanks for your time, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Leila. 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.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.