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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

House Republicans started the week with a plan to vote on their own spending bill to show the Senate they could pass something and force negotiations to take place over government funding.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spent much of the week battling a handful of hard-line members who were blocking their own party from even debating spending bills. McCarthy, though, downplayed the rift.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: This is a good lesson for America. Why would we quit? Why would we give up? We've got plenty of time here. We're making good progress.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is following this. Deirdre, we're just days away from a deadline to fund the government by the end of the month. Is there any plan at all to avoid a shutdown?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: No. House Republicans met last night to try to get on the same page about how much money overall the federal government should be spending, a really basic question. That was actually decided already in the debt ceiling deal that the speaker and President Biden hammered out back in May. And the Senate is using that overall spending level to craft their bills.

But those hard-line conservatives that you mentioned, they want steeper cuts, and they've been blocking the speaker from even bringing up a bill that's usually the easiest for Republicans to pass - the one that funds the Pentagon. The speaker's giving in to those demands, and last night, he says he has the votes to bring up the defense bill, so the House is planning to do that today. They're also expected to work over the weekend to try to unite Republicans around a short-term spending bill to give them more time to finish the rest of the annual spending bills.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So even if they can't agree on the long-term spending plan, why can't they agree to keep the government open while they debate?

WALSH: There's still this group of five to seven House Republicans who just say they oppose any CR, or continuing resolution, to keep the government open. I spoke with Florida Republican Cory Mills. He wants the speaker to follow through on his pledge to pass all of the spending bills. He wants to see how House Republicans are actually cutting programs that they've vowed to shrink. He says he's a no on any stopgap bill.

CORY MILLS: Until someone's willing to actually make a stand and say, hey, look; I'm not going to continue to support this type of behavior...

WALSH: Right. So...

MILLS: ...Or this reckless and irresponsible spending, or I'm going to hold leadership accountable on the fact that we didn't get the bills out, then it's going to continue.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. The House, in theory, though, could pass a short-term spending bill that would get support from majority Republicans and probably a lot of Democrats. So why isn't that happening?

WALSH: Because McCarthy knows he would put his own job as speaker at risk if he cuts a deal with Democrats. He only has a four-seat majority. And some of his GOP critics are threatening to bring up a vote to oust him if he works with Democrats. Right now, House Republicans are talking about passing a one-month spending bill that attaches border security provisions to it, creates a bipartisan commission to look at the national debt. But it's unclear they even have the votes to get that through. The other headache for McCarthy is that former President Trump came out against that plan last night.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So if they could pass that, is that something that can get through the Senate?

WALSH: No. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has made it clear that the partisan border security provisions on that and other things are just nonstarters. The goal that the speaker and House Republicans have now is to show they can pass something. They've just spent the last week or so at war with themselves. There are some talks happening with a group of House Republicans and Democrats who believe the speaker ultimately will have to cut a deal. They want disaster money, money for Ukraine. But right now, the speaker is just trying to keep Republicans together. That just increases the odds of a shutdown since any deal in divided government needs Democrats.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: The president of Ukraine visits Washington today. Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants to persuade U.S. officials to continue supporting Ukraine's defense against Russia.

FADEL: In an interview with NPR, Zelenskyy says the U.S. and Ukraine share the same values.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Yes, of course, we have the same values - freedom and democracy. And that's why we are fighting against Russia.

FADEL: He faces the military, diplomatic and political challenge of sustaining that fight.

MARTÍNEZ: Zelenskyy spoke with our co-host Steve Inskeep, who's joining us now. Steve, what is his case?

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Essentially, that Russia is so bad that it has to be resisted. He does face stiffening resistance in the United States. There's a majority of Democrats and Republicans who support aid to Ukraine, but there's a faction of Republicans who have included Ukraine aid in this budget crisis, this spending crisis that's approaching a deadline in Washington, D.C.

Zelenskyy told us that some kind of peace - really any kind of peace is impossible now with an invader that holds Ukrainian territory and can't be trusted and shows its values by the way that it fights in Ukraine. He says, in contrast, the Ukraine is supporting democratic values.

MARTÍNEZ: Does he also face concern about being a democratic country? I know he's had martial law in effect since the war began.

INSKEEP: Yeah. They've imposed restrictions on the media. They've delayed parliamentary elections. And, of course, most Ukrainian men can't leave the country, among other rules. And this has led to some questions from Ukrainians, which we heard when talking with people in preparation for this interview. One Ukrainian analyst in Kyiv asked the president, could you ease some of the rules around the media? And he essentially said that's not needed yet; I have a free country.

And our conversation turned contentious when it turned to national elections, which, in theory, should happen in 2024. He said it's hard to hold elections in a war zone where millions of voters have fled the country, which led me to this question.

Given all the complexities that you mentioned, are you able to hold elections next year, as would ordinarily be the case under the law?

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) I'm ready to conduct elections at any time, starting from today - well, absolutely ready.

INSKEEP: So is that a yes, there will be an election?

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) The most important is that our population and our society would really like that to happen and would be ready for that to happen. And so that - those three or four political experts who are working - I don't know - for some money - and they should not be the only one who would want that. But the whole Ukraine would need to want that. That's important.

INSKEEP: So not a definite yes on elections. It depends on conditions. And we also spoke about corruption, A. He just had to remove the entire leadership of his defense ministry over suspicions of corruption. And Zelenskyy said he is fighting corruption because it undermines his case for additional U.S. and European aid.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I wonder - because overnight, Zelenskyy became one of the most well-known people in the world, but under extremely stressful circumstances. Now we see him on TV. Steve, you got to sit a few feet away from him. What were you able to glean about the weight he's been carrying for the last year and a half?

INSKEEP: It is remarkable. When he walks into a room, all attention turns toward him. He is somebody who has been thrust into the center of this global drama. And when you talk to him, you realize, I mean, he's very impressive, but he's one person. He's one person. And you do sense the stress that he is under because he is only as strong as the Ukrainian army is on the battlefield and only as strong as his supporters are in the West. And you see him in New York and now in Washington, speaking in two different languages, Ukrainian and back to English, appealing for that global aid.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep. Steve, thanks.

INSKEEP: You're welcome.

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MARTÍNEZ: The police department in Baton Rouge, La., has temporarily disbanded its Street Crimes Unit as it faces multiple allegations of brutality.

FADEL: Several lawsuits allege that civil rights violations took place in an unmarked warehouse police officers used as an interrogation center. They're accused of beating people. The FBI appears to be getting involved in the investigation.

MARTÍNEZ: Aubry Procell with member station WRKF in Baton Rouge has been following the story. He's here to tell us more. Aubry, so that unmarked warehouse that's been dubbed the Brave Cave - how else is it being described?

AUBRY PROCELL, BYLINE: Well, civil rights attorneys are calling it a torture warehouse and a black site and said it was used because of its low profile and lack of cameras. We first learned about the Brave Cave's existence in late August after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jeremy Lee. The suit says he was beaten at the site by members of the Street Crimes Unit. There's no footage of Lee being beaten, but police body camera footage does show Lee sitting in a wooden chair with his hands bound in this nearly empty warehouse. One official in the mayor's office told me it was a pretty disturbing image. Lee's attorney said he was beaten so badly that the Parish Prison refused to take custody of him until he'd received medical attention at a hospital first. There, they found he had a cracked rib and abrasions to his head. One officer involved resigned shortly after the news broke about this first lawsuit. He's the son of a deputy chief.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. And now since these revelations and this first lawsuit, a woman filed another one this week. What does that lawsuit say?

PROCELL: That one was filed on behalf of Ternell Brown. She was arrested in June after officers found a gun and a bottle of medication in her car. Now, she had a prescription, according to her attorney, and she even tried to show it to the officers. But instead, she was taken to this Brave Cave. There, she was allegedly illegally strip-searched and her body cavities examined with a flashlight. She was eventually released with no criminal charges. And then when she tried to file a complaint with the police department, she says she was turned away. Now, Brown's attorney said they're approaching the situation as a sexual battery.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, how did officials respond to these lawsuits and the revelations of this unauthorized interrogation space?

PROCELL: Well, Chief of Police Murphy Paul and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome seemed to be caught by surprise when the news broke. Shortly afterwards, the mayor appeared on our local talk show "Louisiana Considered."

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SHARON WESTON BROOME: Well, of course I was appalled to hear what was being alleged to take place there at that facility. And as a result of our initial review and based on information that I received from Chief Paul, I decided to permanently close the facility.

PROCELL: Also, the Street Crimes Unit that was using the warehouse has been disbanded while the investigation is underway, with two officers put on administrative leave just this week.

MARTÍNEZ: And how did the FBI get involved with this?

PROCELL: Mayor Broome announced that at a press conference this week. That's new. Chief Paul said that he asked the FBI for help and said his department would cooperate with any federal investigation. But a spokesperson with the FBI office in New Orleans was more vague. They didn't confirm or deny that the agency was investigating.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Aubry Procell with member station WRKF in Baton Rouge. Thank you very much.

PROCELL: Thank you. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.