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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden sent a stark message to Israel over its handling of the war in Gaza. He told CNN the U.S. will stop the shipment of bombs and artillery shells if Israel launches a major offensive on a city crammed with displaced people.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT")

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, in recent months, Biden has sometimes expressed concern about Israel being over the top in its offensive in Gaza, but this is a shift. He's publicly shown unwavering support for supplying Israel up to now.

FADEL: NPRs international affairs correspondent, Jackie Northam, is with us now from Tel Aviv. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with the reaction to Biden's comments where you are in Israel this morning.

NORTHAM: Well, it runs, you know, from anger all the way to a sense that Israel is being abandoned at a time when it needs U.S. support. For example, Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, said this shouldn't be played out in public. Dani Denon, a former Israel ambassador to the U.N., says the government should have ignored U.S. pressure earlier and just finished off the war as quickly as possible. There was a member of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, who said, if the U.S. doesn't give us smart bombs, we'll use dumb bombs and kill more people in Gaza. You know, and then there's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who tweeted that Hamas loves Biden.

So I spoke with Eldad Shavit. And he's a former intelligence official in the military and now with the Institute for National Security Studies, and he said a lot of the criticism isn't fair. Here he is.

ELDAD SHAVIT: The United States was and is still committed to the security and the welfare of Israel, and they invest a lot of - put a lot of efforts to help Israel to conduct this ongoing war.

SHAVIT: The United States was and is still committed to the security and the welfare of Israel, and they invest a lot of - put a lot of efforts to help Israel to conduct this ongoing war.

NORTHAM: You know, still, the Biden administration has been warning Prime Minister Netanyahu not to launch a major operation in Rafah.

FADEL: Right.

NORTHAM: But the military already has made smaller incursions. There's been airstrikes, and Israeli troops seized control of the Gazan side of the border crossing with Egypt. The U.S. doesn't view this as a major offensive yet, but Biden indicated yesterday it's getting mighty close. And meanwhile, there are cease-fire talks taking place, and the U.S. is involved with that. CIA chief William Burns is part of those discussions.

FADEL: Is there a sense that Biden's comments will affect these talks at all?

NORTHAM: It's hard to say. There are commentaries in the newspaper here predicting that Hamas will be less likely to compromise now on these talks because it feels that Israel is more - in a more vulnerable position now that, you know, the U.S. is withholding weapons. So it's hard to say.

FADEL: Now, Biden has shown pretty, at least publicly, unwavering support for the prime minister, even when the prime minister has rejected U.S. calls for, for example, a two-state solution. Will this threat Biden's now making change anything?

NORTHAM: You know, Netanyahu has come under enormous pressure from the U.S. and other allies to curtail the military campaign...

FADEL: Right.

NORTHAM: ...In Gaza. But despite that, he said more than once that it will go ahead with or without help. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.

NORTHAM: Israel wants to take out what it says is the final stronghold of Hamas in Gaza. And, you know, it's the militants, the infrastructure, tunnels and the like. But, you know, there are more than a million Palestinians squeezed into Rafah, and dropping 2,000-pound bombs on the area could have a devastating effect and cause extensive civilian casualties. And Biden mentioned that - in that CNN interview that civilians have been killed by these bombs.

FADEL: NPR's Jackie Northam - thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, has survived a leadership threat.

INSKEEP: Yeah, Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia made a motion to declare the speaker's chair vacant, which any single lawmaker can do. A bipartisan vote rejected that 359-43.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The motion is adopted. Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL BANGING)

INSKEEP: All that legislative speak means Greene lost, Johnson won, and you heard the applause.

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now to talk about the answer to that question. Deirdre, why did Greene call for the vote if she knew it was going to fail?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: She wanted to make the point that the only reason Johnson remained speaker is that Democrats voted with Republicans to reject her resolution and save him. For weeks, Greene has been arguing that the speaker isn't governing the House as a conservative. She criticized his decisions on funding bills, but also especially the vote to allow the foreign aid package to Ukraine, which she opposed. She's had a couple of meetings with the speaker, trying to get him to agree to a series of demands, but he said there was no negotiation. After failing to get any traction with those demands, she went ahead with the vote even though she knew she was going to lose.

After Johnson allowed that vote on money for Ukraine, top House Democrat leaders said last week they would help Republicans kill any procedural vote to try to oust him. There were 10 other Republicans who voted with Greene, but this is the first time a speaker's had to rely on support from the other party to keep the gavel. We're just seeing so many new precedents this Congress.

FADEL: So how did Speaker Johnson respond to the outcome of the vote?

WALSH: He told reporters he's still committed to his conservative agenda, and he hopes this puts this chapter in the rearview mirror and his party can move on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: Hopefully this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined the 118th Congress.

WALSH: But hopefully is the key word there. He still has a razor-thin majority, and there's still a rule that any one member can bring up a resolution to oust the speaker.

FADEL: Right - so it's possible it happens again. Why did Democrats lend their support to Johnson?

WALSH: Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said the vote last night was about voting for more common sense and less chaos and that Americans expect lawmakers to work together to get things done. He said he wasn't worried he was going to regret this decision, but he did say he asked for one thing in return.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: The only thing we ask of our House Republican colleagues is for traditional Republicans to further isolate the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the GOP.

WALSH: Jeffries did predict that, if Democrats keep focusing on the issues, voters would give them the majority in November.

FADEL: I mean, I wonder if this actually has Johnson coming out stronger. After this vote, does anything change for him as he moves forward as speaker?

WALSH: I mean, it did help him rally support among his own members, further isolating Greene. Republicans I talked to were really just venting about how bad this effort looks for the party, showing divisions ahead of the election. And now the speaker is just really doing his best with just a super thin margin. They were complaining that Greene's move steps all over their efforts to focus on other priorities and stressed that Trump supports Speaker Johnson. Trump did release a statement saying he loves Greene, but this effort could hurt his prospects in November. And there's still this rule out there that any one member can remove the speaker. Jeffries was really careful to say he wasn't sure whether Democrats would help again.

FADEL: NPR Deirdre Walsh - thank you, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Republican lawmakers have grilled the leaders of three school districts over allegations of antisemitism in their schools

INSKEEP: If this sounds familiar, it's because lawmakers previously made headlines for questioning antisemitism on college campuses and questioning university presidents specifically. Now they've turned their attention to K-12 public schools, where they say the issue is unchecked.

FADEL: NPR's Cory Turner joins us now to talk about all this, Hi Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So what can you tell us about why these districts were called to the hot seat?

TURNER: Yeah, so there was New York City, which is the largest in the U.S., plus Berkeley, Calif., and Montgomery County, Md., which is just north of Washington, D.C. All three have been in the spotlight for students and, in some cases, staff saying or doing things that could be considered antisemitic. From the get-go, though, these district leaders acknowledged these incidents are happening, but they denied that they are unchecked or pervasive.

And in fact, at one point, David Banks, who heads the New York City Schools, actually warned lawmakers of casting aspersions on an entire system. After all, he said, some members of Congress have made antisemitic statements. When Republicans pushed, district leaders pushed back. Here's Republican Kevin Kiley of California accusing the head of Berkeley Schools, Enikia Ford Morthel, of ignoring antisemitism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN KILEY: If you're not willing to acknowledge the problem, why can we be confident that it's being adequately addressed?

ENIKIA FORD MORTHEL: You can be confident that I am there at my schools every day, in the classrooms. And I am very clear that there have been incidents of antisemitism. And every single time that we are aware of such an instance, we take action.

FADEL: Now, these played out pretty differently than what we saw with the university presidents when they testified on this issue a few months ago. Several of them ended up resigning not long after. But these school leaders pushed back pretty hard on Republican members, right?

TURNER: Yeah. And I don't think Republicans scored any clear political points here. These school leaders were actually, at times, combative. The most heated exchange came with David Banks, again, the New York City chancellor. He got grilled about his handling of a student protest in November at a high school called Hillcrest. Students there targeted a teacher who had declared her support for Israel after the October 7 attacks. Banks said he found the episode frightening - that he had removed the school's principal. At one point, Republican Elise Stefanik of New York thought she had caught Banks in a lie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELISE STEFANIK: You said you fired the principal, and it turns out the former principal of Hillcrest...

DAVID BANKS: I never said I fired the principal.

STEFANIK: You did. A member - you can check the testimony. Ms. McClain asked, you fired her? You said, yes.

BANKS: Fired the principal of who?

STEFANIK: Hillcrest.

BANKS: I never said I fired the principal of - you check the record.

TURNER: And it went on from there. In fact, Banks said he had moved the principal to another job - not running a school. When lawmakers demanded to know why the principal had not been fired, Banks shot back that staff are entitled to due process.

FADEL: And what did Democrats say throughout the hearing?

TURNER: Well, they repeatedly questioned Republicans' political motives for the hearing. Here's Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUZANNE BONAMICI: Many of my colleagues claim to care about the rise of antisemitism in this country. But when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., with burning torches and chanting, Jews will not replace us, the president at the time, Donald Trump, said there were very fine people on both sides.

TURNER: Bonamici went on to list several other things Trump has said or done that could be considered antisemitic and even took a moment to invite her Republican colleagues to disavow those comments, and there was silence.

FADEL: NPR's Cory Turner. Thank you, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.