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Morning new brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden says he wants to avoid a wider war in the Middle East.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But over the weekend, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory airstrikes against militias in three countries, adding to fears of a broader conflict. This follows an attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan. Against this backdrop, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be crisscrossing the region again this week.

FADEL: For a closer look, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Greg, let's talk about the why here. Why has the Israel-Hamas war really roiled the region and led to these armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen getting involved?

MYRE: Yeah, so whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heats up, it inflames passions in the wider region. And inevitably you see these various players act to show solidarity with the Palestinians in their quest to end the occupation and achieve statehood. So this has been building for months. In Yemen, the Houthi militia keeps firing on commercial ships in the Red Sea. In Iraq and Syria, militias have been firing at U.S. bases and killed these three American soldiers we just mentioned. So despite Biden's reservations, these American deaths prompted him to order the airstrikes against the militias in Iraq and Syria on Friday and the Houthis in Yemen on Saturday. And once again, here we are. The U.S. is very much involved in a Middle East conflict.

FADEL: So the U.S. strikes in these three countries, will this escalate or de-escalate the current fighting?

MYRE: So the aim is to de-escalate. The message the U.S. is trying to send is that it will use serious firepower in an attempt to make these attacks stop. But that's not necessarily how the message will be received, especially in Iran, which supports all these militias we've just mentioned. I spoke about this with Paul Salem, who heads the Middle East Institute in Washington.

PAUL SALEM: It's quite clear that Iranians are willing to fight to the last Arab. Their proxies get hit, that doesn't really affect them directly. I think Iran will continue this medium level of on-and-off escalation.

FADEL: OK, but what are the chances that we see direct confrontation between the U.S. and Iran if this continues?

MYRE: Yeah, Leila, that's certainly the big worry, the bright red line that neither the U.S. nor Iran is prepared to cross so far. The U.S. has not hit Iranian territory, even though the U.S. holds Iran responsible for providing these militias with weapons, money and training. And Iran is calling these U.S. strikes a strategic mistake, but it's not threatening to attack the U.S. at this point. So right now, the U.S. and Iran are being careful to avoid direct confrontation, but it's a very dangerous game.

FADEL: Yeah.

MYRE: There's now this full-scale war in Gaza, four months old. And we have attacks taking place in six other countries now.

FADEL: Now, Israel and Hamas are discussing a possible cease-fire, maybe temporary - hostages for prisoner swaps, the fighting stops. Would this lower the temperature in the wider region?

MYRE: You know, Paul Salem thinks so. Here he is again.

SALEM: I think the Biden administration is well aware that the best way to de-escalate wider conflict in the region is to get to a temporary and then eventually permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

MYRE: Of course, getting to that cease-fire, even a temporary one, is far from certain. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu says his goal is destroying Hamas. Hamas wants a permanent cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops. And I'll just end on a cautionary note from CIA director Bill Burns, who just wrote an essay saying, quote, "I have spent much of the last four decades working in and on the Middle East, and I've rarely seen it more tangled or explosive."

FADEL: Wow. NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: After months of talks, a bipartisan trio of Senate negotiators has released a $118 billion bill meant to address national security at home and abroad.

MARTIN: The 370-page bill changes immigration laws to reduce the record numbers of migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico. It also includes money for two key allies at war, Israel and Ukraine. But House speaker Mike Johnson is already declaring the bill dead on arrival in the House.

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now to talk about the details. Good morning, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what's in the deal?

WALSH: Well, this bill has some pretty major changes to border policies. It's not a comprehensive immigration bill, it focuses mainly on tamping down and managing the record number of migrants we've seen crossing the southwest border over recent months. It has a new requirement for the president. He would be mandated to effectively shut down much of the southwest border to any new asylum claims once the number of migrants approaching the border hits 5,000 people or migrants on average per day over the course of the week.

This proposal makes it harder for people to claim asylum. It does speed up the process for those going through the system. But it also includes something that governors and mayors of cities like New York and Denver have really pushed for, work permits for those who do gain entry to the U.S. It has about $20 billion to implement these new security law changes. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy talked about the main goal in a call with reporters last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS MURPHY: The bill reforms the asylum approval process and system so that claims are heard in six months, not 10 years, as is often the case today.

FADEL: And what about money for Ukraine and Israel?

WALSH: Right. This bill has about $60 billion for Ukraine. That's what President Biden requested last year. Republicans insisted any new money for Ukraine had to be linked to border security. There's also about $14 billion in security aid for Israel and $10 billion for humanitarian relief for civilians affected by both wars.

FADEL: OK, so the big question is, does this have enough bipartisan support to move forward in the Senate?

WALSH: It's unclear right now. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is teeing up a test vote for this Wednesday. But in the hours since the bill came out last night, there's really been a lot of criticism from both the left and the right. Some outside immigration advocates are saying that some of the proposals to expedite asylum are positive, but they oppose this mandatory trigger to shut down much of the border. A series of Senate Republicans have already declared they're going to vote no. We've heard from some progressives saying the bill is too punitive. They need about - they need 60 votes to advance this bill in the Senate.

FADEL: Well, on top of all that, it's an election year.

WALSH: Right.

FADEL: It's rare for major bills on policies as complicated as immigration to get through. What are the prospects?

WALSH: Not great. I mean, President Biden did say last night, get this bill to his desk and he will sign it. We've seen recent polls showing Biden's handling of the border is really a weak spot politically for him, and he's increasingly been leaning into much tougher border policies. But former President Trump, the likely 2024 Republican nominee, really wants to wield this issue against the president. He's been urging Republicans to derail the bill. House speaker Mike Johnson said it's dead on arrival.

FADEL: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: In the midst of flash flood warnings and a vast storm system, the Grammys were handed out in downtown Los Angeles last night.

MARTIN: And the big winner was Taylor Swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANTI-HERO")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) It must be exhausting always rooting for the antihero.

MARTIN: The Grammy ceremony was dominated by women artists.

FADEL: And joining us to talk about all this is another woman, NPR's Mandalit del Barco. Hi, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: OK, so Taylor Swift taking a lot of Grammys home. Tell us about that.

DEL BARCO: Yeah, well, Taylor Swift actually made history by becoming the first artist ever to win the Grammy for Album of the Year four times.

FADEL: Wow.

DEL BARCO: And in doing that, she surpassed Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 66TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS)

SWIFT: All I want to do is keep doing this, so thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to do what I love so much.

(CHEERING)

SWIFT: Mind blown. Thank you so much.

(CHEERING)

DEL BARCO: Mind blown. And, you know, she also surprised all her fans, the Swifties, by announcing her next album is dropping on April 19. But, you know, Leila, in addition to Taylor Swift, it was a really big year for female artists, who won in all nine of the big categories handed out during the televised ceremony. Miley Cyrus, she gave a fabulous, mic-dropping performance onstage. And she won two Grammys, Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance of the Year. Then Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O'Connell picked up the Song of the Year for "What Was I Made For?" from the "Barbie" soundtrack. And other winners included R&B singer SZA, Colombian singer Karol G and R&B star Victoria Monet, who won for Best New Artist.

FADEL: So the Grammys are known for their live performances. What were the big highlights?

DEL BARCO: Well, there were some really poignant performances by legends, including Billy Joel making a comeback on the piano and Joni Mitchell, who at age 80 had never before performed at the Grammys.

FADEL: Oh.

DEL BARCO: Annie Lennox sang in tribute to the late Sinead O'Connor, and afterward she made a call for peace and a cease-fire in Gaza. You know, another live performance that was really a highlight was when Tracy Chapman took the stage with country singer Luke Combs to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 66TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS)

TRACY CHAPMAN AND LUKE COMBS: (Singing) And I had a feeling that I belonged. I had feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

FADEL: Beautiful. So some amazing performances, women sweeping at the Grammys. But there are always strange and unusual moments. What were they last night?

DEL BARCO: Yeah. Well, during the pre-televised ceremony, when most of the Grammys are handed out, Atlanta rapper Killer Mike won three awards. And then he was handcuffed and arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault. He was released last night and I'm sure we're going to get more details today. But, you know, another thing that happened onstage during the televised ceremony, one speech went in a really unexpected direction. When Jay-Z accepted the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, he called out the Grammys for neglecting to honor some Black musicians, specifically his wife, Beyonce. Let's hear what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 66TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS)

JAY-Z: We love y'all. We want y'all to get it right. At least get it close to right. Obviously, it's subjective because, you know, it's music and it's opinion-based. But, you know, some things - you know, I don't want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone and never won album of the year. So even by your own metrics, that doesn't work.

DEL BARCO: You know, last year, Beyonce lost to Harry Styles in that top category. And Jay-Z really questioned the Recording Academy while he still accepted his trophy.

FADEL: All right, Mandalit, thanks so much for that.

DEL BARCO: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: In California, millions of people are under flash flood warnings, and the National Weather Service is urging people to stay home. That's in the face of a life-threatening storm that's bringing torrential rain and snow. The governor, Gavin Newsom, has declared a state of emergency, and we're watching and reporting as the storm moves across the state. You can get updates by tuning into our radio show, MORNING EDITION, or by visiting us at npr.org. 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.