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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden heads to Detroit today to support striking autoworkers.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in history, but his administration is also trying to work with car companies on climate goals and other priorities. So how is he going to walk that line?

INSKEEP: And is he going to walk on a picket line? Let's ask NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea, who joins us from his home in Detroit. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the president doing so far as you know?

GONYEA: We don't know exactly what the drill will be. We do know he will be on the picket line. We know that much. But there are a lot of questions. Will he march with a placard? Will it be more of a meet-and-greet with workers filing past him? We do know that UAW President Shawn Fain will be there. He invited Biden to come. And, I'll just add, he did so despite the fact that the UAW has not yet endorsed Biden for reelection. Just yesterday at the White House, Biden was asked about the trip. Here's his answer.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on. And I think that now that the industry is roaring back, they should participate in the benefit of that.

INSKEEP: I just want to know, Don - I looked this up. President of the United States is not a union job. It'd be very small union if it was a union job. Is it rare for a president to stand on a picket line?

GONYEA: Careful listeners may know I've been covering the UAW for a long time, right?

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm a careful listener. Yes, I do know. Go on.

GONYEA: I've not seen anything like this. I've seen presidential candidates - candidates - greeting striking workers. I've toured factories with candidates. I've gone to union halls and picket lines with senators. But we can't find any record of a U.S. president visiting a picket line, talking to striking workers there. So that alone makes this a big moment - right? - for the UAW and for all unions, really. Picket lines are hugely symbolic. It means something to have a president actually show up.

INSKEEP: Is he really involved in the negotiations, though?

GONYEA: He has kept open lines of communication with the auto companies, according to the White House. But this is the job of the negotiators, not the president, to find a deal. It's a balancing act. He wants unions to get good contracts, but he also wants these companies to be able to lead the world in electric vehicle production. So that's a big challenge.

INSKEEP: There's also a partisan contrast here because Donald Trump is going to be heading to Michigan before long. And I want to ask about that, Don. I've been reading this book by David Leonhardt called "Ours Was The Shining Future." It's like a history of the American middle class in the 20th century, and it talks about the 1930s when there was a president of Congress who supported and fostered the union movement. There was a big autoworkers strike that was a big part of that, so that's my question now. If Biden is pro-union, as he says, has he been able to actively make the environment easier for unions?

GONYEA: Those were the 1936-37 sit-down strikes in Flint, Mich., a seminal moment for labor. Roosevelt was a huge help back then to the UAW. Biden has changed the environment for unions. The NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, is much friendlier to unions. Biden also supports something called the PRO Act, which is called Protect the Right to Organize. That's big for labor. And Republicans in the past always support so-called right to work laws in states. Biden has opposed them, so he has indeed been a friend, if not perfect.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks so much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Good talking with you.

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INSKEEP: Here in Washington, lawmakers return to the Capitol with just four days to go until the country faces another government shutdown.

MARTIN: If it happens, it would be the fourth such shutdown in the past decade. The last one was in 2019. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he remains hopeful that a short-term funding bill can be passed before the deadline.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Susan, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How does this keep happening?

DAVIS: You know, this situation is unique in that it wasn't supposed to happen at all, Steve. If you recall, House Speaker McCarthy and Joe Biden cut a budget deal back in late May. It raised the debt limit for two years and set spending targets for the same time. The goal was to get us past the next presidential election without any of these kind of standoffs. Within days of that being signed into law, McCarthy essentially walked away from the deal under pressure from the right and said he would pass bills at lower target levels. The Senate upheld their terms of the deal, and since then, McCarthy has been trying and failing repeatedly to try to prove that he can pass things on Republican votes alone.

INSKEEP: OK, Republican votes alone - very narrow majority, so he has to keep almost all the Republicans together. But, you know, just a guess, it could be that there's 400 of the 435 votes in the House to pass at least a temporary extension. Why doesn't McCarthy just ask for some Democratic votes and go ahead?

DAVIS: He still could. You know, these stopgap bills are routinely passed with bipartisan support. The vast majority of lawmakers on Capitol Hill do not want to be in this shutdown scenario, but doing so for McCarthy also opens up a very real risk that a member from the far right - most likely Matt Gaetz of Florida 'cause he's been the loudest on this - would try to introduce a resolution to throw him out of the speakership if he aligns himself with Democrats to try to pass these spending bills or even a stopgap.

INSKEEP: OK, I get this. I remember when McCarthy was elected speaker, he had to give his critics the power to more easily oust him. But I really have a question here. Are we really heading for a shutdown - based on what you said, are we really heading for a shutdown because Kevin McCarthy wants to keep his job?

DAVIS: You know, I can't presume how he navigates out of this, but it is absolutely true that Congress has got itself into this point because of leadership decisions he has made. And his leadership could be on the line depending on how all of this shakes out over the course of the next weeks and months. I think this is all why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken a very different view of this. He said just last week that shutdowns have historically been, quote, "a loser for Republicans." And I think that view is shared pretty widely by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: But McCarthy, even in a private meeting, dared his colleagues, go ahead, submit the resolution, you know, try to fire me if you can. Why doesn't he just tell them that and then go ahead and do what he thinks he needs to do?

DAVIS: You know, a lot of times on the Hill, four days sounds like a short time, but in these shutdown standoffs, it can still be a lifetime. I think a lot of times leadership likes to prove they exhausted every option before the most realistic one has to pass. And the most realistic one is that a stopgap spending bill in divided Washington will need both Republican and Democratic support to get through a Democratic Senate and be signed by a Democratic president.

INSKEEP: You mentioned McConnell having a different opinion of this. And of course, Senate Republicans have cooperated with Democrats and done their job. Are there some House Republicans who think that a shutdown would be politically good for their party?

DAVIS: There is a small number of fringe, hard-right Republicans who do not think that the politics of a shutdown would be that bad. These Republicans tend to represent very conservative districts. Bob Good of Virginia is one Republican who has very publicly said, I don't think a shutdown would be that bad for us. That's a fringe view. I do not think that that is a majority view of either Republicans or any lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And shutdowns also tend to be very bad for the economy. And I think Republicans campaigning are trying to present themselves as the party that is better for the economy.

INSKEEP: NPR's political correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, I hope you get sleep when you can over the next few days, since there might be some nights when you don't.

DAVIS: Thanks, Steve.

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INSKEEP: OK, ever since Donald Trump's failed effort to overturn his election defeat in 2020, we've heard stories about threats and harassment for local officials who run elections.

MARTIN: It's becoming clear that many of these officials have decided they just don't want to put up with that anymore. A new report out today says that in some states, more than half of the local election officials have left their jobs since 2020.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR voting correspondent Miles Parks has that story. He's in our studio, Studio 31 here in Washington. Good morning, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the facts?

PARKS: So this group, Issue 1, which is a democracy-focused advocacy group, has basically been tracking since 2020 election officials leaving their jobs. And they looked at Western states, the 11 states that make up the Western United States, and found that half of voters live in a jurisdiction where the chief local election official will be new in 2024 compared to 2020. And that is almost certainly tied to the environment changing specifically around election conspiracy theories.

INSKEEP: OK, when we hear more than half of officials in some states have left their jobs, what are you hearing from some of those people?

PARKS: Yeah, I talked about it for a while with Josh Daniels, who ran elections in Utah County, Utah. He's a Republican, but he decided not to run for reelection in 2022, specifically because of these election conspiracies. He said he's spent hundreds of hours over the last couple of years researching and debunking these sorts of theories that just kept popping up from voters.

JOSH DANIELS: It really was like, you know, the twilight zone of government service, Groundhog Day, as it were, that every day you wake up and it's the same thing over and over again. It doesn't matter how much information and data you share. It doesn't matter how many concerns you answer. There will just be a new group of critics to again dish out the new conspiracy of the day.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about this guy's location 'cause he's in Utah, which is not the most Trumpy of states. But I guess if you have even 100 or 1,000 conspiracy theorists in your state, that can keep you really busy. Are there places in this country where it's even worse than in Utah?

PARKS: What we seem to be seeing is that it's worse in places where threats are the worst. That's swing states, places with competitive districts. In Arizona, 55% of the local chief election officials will be new in 2024. In Nevada, that number is 59%. Kim Wyman is the former Republican secretary of state of Washington. I talked to her about this. She told me basically county clerks gritted their teeth, pushed through 2020, in a lot of cases through 2022, but that this is not a sustainable work environment. She got emotional talking to me about it.

KIM WYMAN: Everybody kind of hunkered down, and you just began to believe it was just you. And I think now three years later, we're talking about it, and we're realizing we went through trauma.

PARKS: You have to remember, Steve, these county clerks are often not paid very much money, and a lot of times they have other responsibilities in addition to running elections. So then you add in this threat environment, and it's just too much for a lot of people to take.

INSKEEP: What does all this mean for 2024?

PARKS: Well, you know, people in new jobs make more mistakes. So what I kept hearing from experts is that they expect new clerks to make more human mistakes. In a normal election scenario, there are all sorts of checks and balances to make sure those mistakes don't translate to results.

INSKEEP: Sure.

PARKS: But nowadays, you know, human mistakes can mean more conspiracies.

INSKEEP: Oh, something went a little wrong. It didn't actually matter, but it's going to be grist for someone to talk about.

PARKS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Miles, thanks for coming by. Really appreciate it.

PARKS: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Miles Parks. 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.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, 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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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