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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Culture wars are holding up an effort to approve military spending.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, the House of Representatives was supposed to vote this week on the authorization of $886 billion to pay for the U.S. military. But some Republicans want to amend the big authorization bill to shape military policy on things such as abortion access, transgender health care and diversity and recruiting. Now, that's triggering a warning from Representative Adam Smith, top Democrat in the House Armed Services Committee.

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ADAM SMITH: A small group of people isn't just saying we want to vote on things that we care about. They want to say, if we don't get what we want, we'll tear the whole thing down.

INSKEEP: Marianna Sotomayor is a congressional reporter for The Washington Post, has been watching all of this. Good morning.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so how many Republicans are trying to make culture war changes to this bill, and who are they?

SOTOMAYOR: There are several in the far-right flank of the Republican conference who would like to amend the NDAA. I think the most notable issue is that there are dozens of House Republicans - some in the far right, some in the more mainstream Republicans - in the conference who actually want to change an abortion Pentagon policy, to actually reverse a policy that reimburses service members for travel expenses if they get an abortion. Now, this is a pretty controversial issue. There are some Republicans, like Nancy Mace, who has said she will vote against this provision. Republicans, of course, can only lose four votes. But more notably, Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar said yesterday that if that amendment is adopted, that would likely be a red line for the party, meaning Republicans will have to rely on 218 votes to pass it through their own majority.

Abortion isn't the only contentious issue. There are several others, including on LGBT rights, that are particularly targeting trans service members. And there's other issues too, like rolling back diversity and inclusion initiatives, many of which are worded in the latest Supreme Court affirmative action ruling. And I should also mention there's a lot still focused on foreign policy. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a ton of amendments going after Ukraine funding. One of them is also included in part of this amendment process.

INSKEEP: I want to follow up on one of the measures that you mentioned - military funding for service members who travel to get an abortion. This is essentially a follow-up to the Supreme Court's ruling on abortion rights - correct? - because now abortion is legal in some states, illegal in other states. If you're in a state on a base where abortion is illegal, the military will pay for you to travel. And the House members, some of them, don't want that to happen. Is that right?

SOTOMAYOR: That's exactly correct. Congresswoman Nancy Mace, again, who has been extremely outspoken about preserving abortion rights and saying that any kind of infringement on that will be damaging for the party because women are just not going to be voting Republican, she was passionate when I talked to her about having to vote down this amendment. And, you know, she's not a vulnerable Republican, but this puts a lot of swing-district Republicans, particularly those in districts that Biden won in 2020, in pretty perilous positions. They don't want to vote on any kind of - whether it's abortion or other social issues that could put them in a pretty tough spot in the reelection campaigns.

INSKEEP: And this is even Republicans who oppose abortion rights generally. They don't want to bring it up in this bill, which is also about - mainly about weapons and pay for service members and funding the military and military operations around the world. It's something that needs to pass. So what does House Speaker Kevin McCarthy want? Is he trying to get this bill through?

SOTOMAYOR: That is exactly what he's trying to do. And he's walking a pretty thin line here, as he has often been seen on different issues. But, of course, the NDAA is bipartisan. It's actually one of the very few must-pass pieces of legislation that actually do pass with Democratic and Republican votes. That could be in peril if a number of amendments do get introduced into the underlying bill, which, as you says, focuses a lot more on what the Pentagon can do.

Now, of course, this bill is going to change because the Senate is involved here. They are drafting their own version without any of these poison pill amendments. And eventually, if any of these amendments get included into the bill, it's likely it will get stripped out. At that point, it's going to be difficult for McCarthy to convince the far right to support this piece of legislation if their priorities are not included.

INSKEEP: Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

SOTOMAYOR: Thanks for having me.

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INSKEEP: Guatemala's presidential election is getting even more complicated.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, we've been talking about the Central American country, which is one of the sources of migration to the United States. The country held the first round of a presidential election surrounded by chaos. Last night, officials finalized the results of that first round, leaving two candidates for a runoff. But a court says one of the two candidates is disqualified. So what does that mean?

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us. Hey there, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did Guatemala get to this point?

PERALTA: The first round of elections was total chaos. As you guys mentioned, courts disqualified three leading candidates in decisions that were widely viewed as political, and that they were seen as a ploy by the country's political elites to remain in power and assure that they would never be tried for corruption, as they had in the past. And a lot of Guatemalans had lost hope. They viewed most of the nearly two dozen candidates as corrupt, and they were sure that the political elite would get their way, that one of them would win.

But the results, Steve, were stunning. Yes, Sandra Torres, a former first lady who was at one point jailed on corruption charges, came in first. But second came Bernardo Arevalo, who's a reformist who ran on an anti-corruption campaign and who also happens to be the son of Guatemala's first democratically elected president. No one expected that, not even his party. But almost as soon as that happened, the political elite went into overdrive trying to overturn the results. They banded together to pressure the courts to pressure the electoral commission not to certify the votes.

INSKEEP: So the effort to stop this reformist candidate seems to be a source of the chaos. But is it working for the elites?

PERALTA: Well, I mean, remember how I told you that the courts had thrown out promising candidates before the first round of elections? Well, they're trying that again. Prosecutors accused Semilla, the party of the reformist candidate - they accused the party of fraud, and a court ordered electoral authorities to stop him from participating in politics. But then things got more complicated. Just after that court decision, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal certified the results of the first round and said that Bernardo Arevalo, the reformist, would indeed move on to the second round. Arevalo was on CNN en Espanol last night, and he said this was a done deal. Let's listen.

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BERNARDO AREVALO: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: He said they would not obey a spurious and illegal decision that came from a court known for making political decisions.

INSKEEP: Nonetheless, it is a court. It's made its decision. So where does that leave us for the second round of the election?

PERALTA: That is the question that everyone in Guatemala is asking themselves. Electoral officials were asked if they would listen to the court, and they had no good answers. They said they didn't know if the court order held any sway. So the best answer I can give you is that this election is in limbo. But the bigger picture here is that over the last decade, Guatemala has suffered major blows to what used to be a promising democracy. And just a couple of months ago, there was very little hope that Guatemala's democracy could be saved. But this election has actually become a real test with huge stakes. It's an election that might very well mark the end of Guatemala's democracy, or it could give it another chance.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thanks so much.

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INSKEEP: People on social media have intently followed a war between platforms.

MARTÍNEZ: Twitter is a huge cultural force, the arena for news and politics. But just as the platform is disrupted by the erratic moves of new owner Elon Musk, a new platform is attracting a lot of users. Threads has become the most rapidly downloaded app ever. It's run by the folks who make Facebook and looks a lot like Twitter, but its managers say they do not want to emphasize news and politics.

INSKEEP: Well, how does that work? NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn is here. Bobby, good morning.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we're talking about Meta, which owns Facebook, which owns Instagram and also now runs Threads. Why would they avoid news and politics on that platform?

ALLYN: Well, Meta learned long ago that if they de-emphasize politics and news, they could make more money. When people share content about influencers, about celebrities, or when people are chatting about or sharing photos about friends and family, that's what really keeps people engaged. That's what keeps people scrolling, and that's what keeps the advertising dollars rolling in. So Meta executive Adam Mosseri, when he announced that Threads was going to not put an emphasis on news and politics, he had an eye towards making more money, honestly. But he also, you know, thought that that would be a way to avoid nasty political debates and avoid scrutiny.

INSKEEP: As I'm listening to you, though, I'm thinking about a reality of social media. We're told that we make it - we make social media. But really, the experience is shaped a lot by the companies and their algorithms and which posts they promote or which posts they downgrade.

ALLYN: That's right. I mean, Facebook, years ago, made a decision to down-rank hard news and instead put the emphasis on interactions between friends and family - wedding announcements, vacations and the like. And that's what really keeps people engaged. I mean, politics and news is what made Twitter so relevant and so powerful - quite the opposite. I talked to Alex Stamos. He's the former chief security officer at Facebook, and he says, you know, Threads can try to turn the algorithmic knobs up or down on different types of discussions - you know, downplay links to news stories on the main feed. But Stamos, who now leads Stanford's Internet Observatory, says that so many people coming over from Twitter, it's really just a matter of time before Threads becomes like Twitter. He calls it a real battleground or, as he exactly put it, quote, "an intellectual gladiator coliseum."

ALEX STAMOS: Lots of political commentators have gotten very used to the blood sport of Twitter, and they're going to want to bring that kind of fighting over to this new community. And whether or not the platform can actually shape that is a really open question.

INSKEEP: If Threads manages to tamp down the ugliness, what would be there instead?

ALLYN: Threads - it can become, and it kind of already is, overrun with influencer content, with memes, with jokes, with people just tweeting kind of about very trivial affairs. It's lighter fare, right? And Threads wants to keep it that way. But let me summarize what Sol Messing told me. He's a former top researcher at Facebook. And he says if news and politics are de-emphasized, it's hard to imagine how the app doesn't make society dumber. But it's even more serious than that, Steve. Now, as an academic at NYU, Messing has researched how social media shapes the public's understanding of news and events and politics. And, you know, what you and I and everyone see on social media influence what we think about the world. And here's what his recent findings have found.

SOL MESSING: When folks see more political content in their news feeds, they tend to become more interested in politics. They tend to develop more consistent policy preferences. They tend to report voting at higher rates.

ALLYN: Yeah. So Messing is saying that if Threads does displace Twitter, the politics and news go to the wayside, the public could become less engaged with policy and politics, and - you know what? - they might even vote less. A big debate is happening now, though, Steve, if we really try to zoom out, and it's, what responsibility does Meta have to encourage civic dialogue around news and politics? And Meta is saying it doesn't have much responsibility, right? CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he wants Threads to be a friendly refuge on the internet. But we shall see how that shakes out.

INSKEEP: NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn, thanks so much.

ALLYN: Thanks, Steve. 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.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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