Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
President Biden leaves this afternoon for a trip to the Middle East. Here's White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
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JOHN KIRBY: It will be a quick trip over the course of a single day, but it comes at a very critical time, and there is an awful lot on the agenda.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Indeed there is. The White House says Biden wants to reaffirm U.S. solidarity with Israel. Israelis, of course, are in a war against Hamas, which escalated with this month's attack from Gaza into Israel. In meetings with Israeli leaders, the president also plans to emphasize the need to get humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza. Israel cut off food, water and electricity to more than 2 million people.
MARTÍNEZ: We're joined now by NPR Senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who'll be traveling with the president. Tam, where's he going? Who's he seeing?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Biden will go to Tel Aviv and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And there is a lot for them to discuss, starting with Israel's military strategy as they respond to those brutal attacks from Hamas. And that also includes plans to secure the safe return of hostages, including Americans, being held by Hamas. They will also talk about what Israel needs from the U.S. in terms of military assistance. And Biden also wants to talk about the situation for civilians trapped in Gaza. Kirby was asked whether Biden might require assurances on that front in exchange for military aid.
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KIRBY: We are not putting conditions on the military assistance that we are providing to Israel. They have a right to defend themselves. They have a right to go after this terrorist threat, and we're going to continue to do everything we can to help them do that.
KEITH: Kirby did emphasize that avoiding civilian casualties remains a top U.S. priority.
MARTÍNEZ: And I know the president has been talking about establishing a corridor for humanitarian aid for a few days now. Any signs at all that that might be happening?
KEITH: Yes. The administration has been pushing for this humanitarian corridor to get aid in and to help people get out, including U.S. citizens. Biden will be talking about this on his second stop in Amman, Jordan. There, he'll meet with Jordan's King Abdullah, President El-Sisi of Egypt and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt controls a key part of the Gaza border but has been reluctant to open it, so Biden meeting with the Egyptian president is significant. And last night, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the president's trip to Tel Aviv, he had just come out of hours of meetings with Netanyahu. And Blinken said that the United States and Israel had agreed on aid to Gaza. Still a lot of details missing there.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, lots missing. You know, I remember back in February when President Biden went to Ukraine, it was a surprise. I mean, no one knew about it. Is it unusual for the president to announce this trip, considering Israel is at war?
KEITH: Yeah, normally when a president visits a war zone, it is done in secrecy. And as you say, when Biden went to Ukraine, he took a 10-hour train ride to get to Kyiv with virtually no one in the world knowing about it until he was there. But this trip is very much out in the open. The White House says that Kyiv is and was under a risk of bombardment in a way that Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, are not. We expect Biden will only be on the ground for a few hours, but it will be long enough for him, who believes in the value of face-to-face meetings, to have these conversations about difficult issues. Obviously, there are political benefits at home. Americans are behind the idea of showing strong support for Israel. Also, I'll note that Biden's trip to Kyiv has already been featured in a campaign ad for his reelection.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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MARTÍNEZ: Aid groups in Gaza are warning that the enclave is near complete collapse.
INSKEEP: Hundreds of thousands of people need food, water and medicine at a minimum. Many people have fled their homes, and hospitals say they will soon be unable to care for people.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Jerusalem. Peter, so let's start with what's happening with getting that aid into Gaza.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, that is, of course, a huge issue, getting humanitarian aid from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing to the Gaza Strip. Trucks have headed from the Sinai toward the crossing, loaded with aid to replenish the rapidly dwindling supplies in Gaza. But there are reports this morning that Israeli forces bombed the Rafah crossing again. There had been some questions about who was holding up this aid delivery. This morning strike makes clear who at least one of the parties is. There have been intense diplomatic efforts on this front, as we heard, and those are expected to continue. One Israeli concern, according to some reports, is that all the aid trucks have to be searched for fear they might be carrying weapons into the Gaza Strip. Other reports say that could be one issue. It's not clear if that's the only one. Aid workers are warning that time is running out before a huge humanitarian crisis unfolds in Gaza. They say people are drinking unsafe water, and virtually everything they need is in short supply.
MARTÍNEZ: Wow, OK, so that's the aid. What about the war itself?
KENYON: Well, the Israeli military, the IDF, says its forces killed Osama Mazini, who Israel says was a key official responsible for prisoners taken by Hamas and also, quote, "directed terrorist activities against Israel." On a more general level, the IDF says it's been launching strikes both in the Gaza Strip and against Hezbollah targets and infrastructure in Lebanon in response to Hezbollah fire targeting Israel. Now, on the Palestinian side, the Ministry of Health continues to report on dead and wounded from the Israeli strikes. The latest report says dozens were killed, dozens more wounded by strikes at the Rafah crossing and at Khan Younis. Also, it reports some 1,200 reports of people trapped under the rubble of homes hit by airstrikes. The ministry says, quote, "we hope that some of them are still alive."
MARTÍNEZ: Any word from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
KENYON: Well, yes, he was addressing lawmakers yesterday in the Knesset that he was - told them he was issuing a warning to Hamas, and particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon. He said, quote, "don't test us in the north. Don't make the mistake of the past." That's a reference to the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Today, Netanyahu warned the price you will pay will be far heavier. He was then interrupted by air raid sirens and had to leave for a shelter along with Knesset members.
MARTÍNEZ: Iran is believed to be a prime benefactor to both Hamas and Hezbollah. What have they said?
KENYON: Well, of course, the rhetoric from Iranian officials has been steadily escalating. Just today, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is quoted as saying "those living in Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine are not civilians," he said. He said they're mostly armed. He also called for Israeli officials to be, quote, "tried for their crimes." Separately, Iran's foreign minister is warning that, quote, "preemptive action is possible" if Israel does appear to be launching a ground operation. It's not clear what that preemptive action would be constituted of. Iran has been seen for years as a main benefactor of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Tehran says it's supplying funds, not weapons, but there's little doubt that's what most of the money is used for. And of course, the ability of Hamas and Hezbollah, both groups, to receive caches of weapons has long been a point of great frustration for both Israel and the West.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Thanks for sorting this out, Peter.
KENYON: Thanks, A.
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MARTÍNEZ: All right. Back in Washington, the House is on track to vote later today to possibly elect a new speaker.
INSKEEP: The Republican nominee is now Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who is popular with the Republican Party base for his inflammatory rhetoric, and he has Donald Trump's endorsement. Here he is yesterday talking with reporters.
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JIM JORDAN: I feel real good about the momentum we have, and I think we're real close. So the vote is going to be tomorrow.
INSKEEP: It's unclear that he can lock down that majority since only Republicans would vote for him.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Sue, if all members are present and voting later today, Jim Jordan will need 217 votes to become speaker. So how close is he to getting those votes?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: He appears to be closing the gap. There's still clearly some holdouts, but the vote seems to be moving in his direction. As of Friday, 55 Republicans had said in a secret ballot that they did not want to support him for speaker. But since then, endorsements have been trickling in. Just one example, Ann Wagner is a Republican from Missouri. Last week, she swore that she would, quote, "absolutely not" support Jim Jordan for speaker. She put out a statement yesterday saying she would, in fact, support Jim Jordan for speaker. But the math is still really tight. He can only lose four Republican votes and still get the gavel. Even Jordan's closest allies conceded going into the likely vote today that it could take multiple ballots to get him there.
MARTÍNEZ: So what are the main holdups, then, among Republicans about having Jim Jordan as their speaker?
DAVIS: A lot of the resistance comes from appropriators and defense hawks. Appropriators, of course, are the ones that write the annual 12 spending bills. They're worried about a shutdown. And Jordan has a history of opposing the very spending bills that you need to pass in order to avoid doing that. He's also always been sort of indifferent to spending cuts, and that makes defense hawks get a little nervous. He's also been skeptical of Ukraine aid, which is a big priority for those lawmakers in particular. The aid has been delayed getting through the House because of conservative opposition from people like Jim Jordan. And there's a lot of frustration among defense hawks because a lot of the Ukraine aid money is actually money that would be spent here in the U.S. It goes to defense manufacturers to replenish U.S. weapons systems, because the U.S. is donating a lot of its old weapons and equipment over to Ukraine.
MARTÍNEZ: And as far as Democrats go, how in line will they be on a vote today?
DAVIS: Democrats also met last week. They unanimously agreed that their leader, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, would be their nominee, and they are all expected to vote for him on the floor. So no Democratic support expected today.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. It's been two weeks, two weeks without a speaker. No legislation, nothing can move through the House until there is a speaker. If he is elected today, what would Jim Jordan's first order business be?
DAVIS: Well, the Hamas attack on Israel has obviously scrambled the legislative agenda. They're - at the top of the list would be Israel related items. There's a resolution condemning Hamas for the attack that both chambers would like to pass relatively quickly. The question of whether he would allow Israel aid to be linked to Ukraine aid is a question that Jim Jordan has not answered, even though he's been asked it repeatedly, although he is publicly saying that he would support moving fast on Israel aid and would like to keep those two issues separate. And of course, A, you've heard this before, there's a government shutdown deadline looming. The current stopgap runs through November 17. None of the annual 12 spending bills have been approved yet. So Jim Jordan is going to have to very quickly go from being the lawmaker that tends to oppose spending bills to being a lead negotiator in finding consensus to pass bipartisan spending bills to keep the government open.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Susan, thanks.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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