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Morning news brief

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Emergency crews are on the scene of a major bridge collapse in Maryland. A 1.6-mile-long bridge in Baltimore partially collapsed overnight. Search and rescue is now underway.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A large boat collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, causing multiple vehicles to fall into the water. Here's Baltimore Fire Department Director of Communications Kevin Cartwright.

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KEVIN CARTWRIGHT: We understand that there's as many as seven people in the Patapsco River that we are actively searching for.

FADEL: Right now, it's too early to know how many people were affected, but Cartwright called the collapse a, quote, "developing mass casualty event."

ELLIOTT: We're joined now by WYPR's Matt Bush. Matt, good morning. I understand you are there at the scene now. Let's start by just outlining what we know about what happened overnight.

MATT BUSH, BYLINE: Right. Yeah. Right now, what we know is, around 1:30, a ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge and collapsed parts of it. I'm about maybe a quarter of a mile away from it right now. The problem is, we can't tell how much of the bridge is collapsed, at least from this vantage point, 'cause it's still dark, and there may not be much of the bridge left to see, as a Maryland Transportation Authority person told us here maybe about 20 minutes ago.

ELLIOTT: We know anything about casualties or injuries?

BUSH: There may be as many as seven people or cars into the river right now, but we're awaiting more information.

ELLIOTT: Tell us more about this bridge and how it's used daily. I take it this is a very busy traffic corridor.

BUSH: It is. There are three crossings of the Patapsco River, which goes into downtown Baltimore, off the Chesapeake Bay - three interstate crossings of the Patapsco River. And this is the only bridge. The other two are tunnels - the Fort McHenry Tunnel on Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel on Interstate 895. So this is a very busy - busily used bridge - not just by people in Baltimore, but anyone who has driven up and down the East Coast, particularly between New York and D.C. This is one of the three ways to get through Baltimore on the interstates, and this is the one that's furthest away from downtown. So many people trying to avoid downtown traffic end up using this.

ELLIOTT: So do we know if there were any previous safety concerns about this bridge or the boat traffic below it?

BUSH: No, not at this time. This bridge opened in 1977. Mainly, the most recent conversation about it was whether tolls on the bridge we're going to be going up. So we don't know any of that. Again, the Port of Baltimore is here - obviously one exceptionally busy waterway and cargo shipping area - so a lot of boat traffic coming through here. And again, this is the only of the three crossings of the Patapsco River that's aboveground. The other two are tunnels. So we're going to find out an awful lot more here and be ready to see some things that might be pretty shocking to us once the sun comes up and we can actually see what's left of the bridge.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you for being there at the scene. That's WYPR's Matt Bush. Thank you.

BUSH: Thank you.

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ELLIOTT: The U.S. and Israel, historically close allies, are increasingly at odds.

FADEL: In the latest rift, yesterday, Israel canceled a high-level delegation to Washington after the U.S. declined to block a United Nations resolution for a cease-fire in Gaza. Instead, it abstained.

ELLIOTT: To find out more about what's driving these divisions, we're joined by NPR's Jennifer Ludden, who's in Tel Aviv. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELLIOTT: This was a real break for the U.S. to allow this resolution to go through yesterday. What got us here?

LUDDEN: You know, I would say it is the death toll in Gaza. It's now more than 32,000, according to Gaza health officials. The Israeli public largely supports the war there and the government's goal of destroying Hamas, which, you know, led the October 7 assault that killed 1,200 people, according to Israel. But in the U.S., there has been a shift in opinion. Younger people, especially, are less likely to support Israel. It is also an election year. President Biden has faced serious blowback, especially from Arab Americans, for his support of Israel. The depth of this rift with Israel, I think, was really revealed in a stunning moment earlier this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish and as staunch a supporter of Israel as you can find - he took to the floor of Congress to denounce the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he even encouraged elections to replace him. I mean, that's just something that would have been unimaginable before now.

ELLIOTT: Mmm hmm. U.S. officials are trying to downplay this rift. They say they're actually looking out for Israel's best interest. What is their point here?

LUDDEN: Well, so publicly, the administration is saying it is, quote, "perplexed" by Israel's objection over the U.N. resolution. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said it did not represent a change in the U.S. position. Let's listen.

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JOHN KIRBY: It seems like the prime minister's office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here, when they don't need to do that.

LUDDEN: But behind the scenes, there is a lot of worry. My colleague, Daniel Estrin, obtained an internal State Department memo which said that Israel faces a serious hit to its reputation worldwide over its unpopular offensive war in Gaza - even possible, quote, "generational damage" - but that Israel was denying this. And it said that both Israel and the U.S. face a major credibility problem. And yet, at every turn, we have seen Israel openly defy the U.S. Last week, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken was here for cease-fire talks, Israel announced its largest seizure of West Bank land in decades. Netanyahu has rejected U.S. efforts to avoid a major deadly ground assault in Rafah. He says he's already approved a plan for that, and he will invade whether or not the U.S. supports it.

ELLIOTT: All these disagreements are focused on Gaza. We're closing in on six months now of the Israeli military action there. Remind us - what's the situation on the ground?

LUDDEN: You know, it's really hard to overstate just how desperate it is. Israel controls the entry of food aid trucks. And, for months, there have not been nearly enough. Israel says it does not want the aid to benefit Hamas. But Palestinians say their children cry all day from extreme hunger. They're reduced to eating animal feed. And the U.N. says famine is imminent.

And Israel's military offensive is continuing. It says it's targeting Hamas militants who hole up in places like hospitals. But Gaza health officials say civilians are getting caught up and killed in the fighting, and more homes are being destroyed. People keep evacuating, and Palestinians say there's no safe place in Gaza anymore.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Jennifer Ludden in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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ELLIOTT: Abortion is back at the Supreme Court today.

FADEL: This time, anti-abortion doctors are challenging FDA regulations that make abortion pills more accessible. They've become the most common way women who choose to terminate a pregnancy do so - using a combination of pills approved by the FDA.

ELLIOTT: Joining me now is NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So let's start with the big picture. What's this case about, and what's at stake?

TOTENBERG: Well, you might call this case daughter of Dobbs. That's the Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Only this time, there's more at stake than abortion rights. It's the entire structure of the FDA's regulatory power to approve drugs, continually evaluate their safety and to lift restrictions found to be unnecessary. It's a system that, until now, has been widely viewed as the gold standard for both safety and innovation in this country and abroad.

ELLIOTT: So what's the legal question here?

TOTENBERG: A group of anti-abortion doctors called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine was formed shortly after the Dobbs decision and promptly challenged a variety of FDA decisions involving mifepristone, commonly called the abortion pill. In 2016, after 15 years of monitoring the drug, the agency allowed mifepristone to be used for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy instead of the previous seven weeks. Second, the agency cut the number of required in-person doctor visits from three to one. And lastly, the agency allowed the drug to be prescribed and dispensed not just by doctors, but in states that allowed it also by specially certified midwives and nurse practitioners.

ELLIOTT: So much more widely accessible - now in question. You've been talking with lawyers for both sides. What are they telling you?

TOTENBERG: The anti-abortion group has an interesting advocate at the Supreme Court today. Making the case for the alliance will be Erin Hawley, wife of Republican Senator Josh Hawley. In an interview with NPR, she talked, for instance, about why anti-abortion doctors oppose the change from seven to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

ERIN HAWLEY: There's no question that the child is larger. The pregnancy tissue is larger. And for that reason, the record shows, in several places, that the risk of complications increases tenfold from seven weeks to 10 weeks.

JESSICA ELLSWORTH: Not true - not true at all.

TOTENBERG: And that's Jessica Ellsworth, the lawyer representing Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone. She says that, because of drug dosing changes that the FDA approved as safe in 2016, there have been dramatically fewer complications than when the drug was approved for just seven weeks. Then, in 2021, at the height of the pandemic, the FDA temporarily dropped the in-person medical visit and dispensing requirement. And in 2023, the agency formally adopted that change after it determined there had been no uptick in serious complications.

ELLIOTT: So Nina, the broader medical community has supported the FDA in this case, with major medical groups weighing in. What are they saying?

TOTENBERG: Actually, it's more than that. I can't recall any case like this in which the government regulator, the regulated industry and even the private watchdog group that has often criticized the agency are all on the same side. They see this case as an existential threat to the pharmaceutical industry as a whole and to its ability to develop new drugs and the ability of the FDA to evaluate drugs scientifically and objectively.

ELLIOTT: NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg - thank you.

TOTENBERG: 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.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.