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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Eighty-seven percent. Russia's electoral commission says that's how much of the vote Vladimir Putin won, giving him another six-year term as president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well, that's what they say. Putin is thanking citizens of his country for their support and trust after Russia's three-day presidential election ended. Western countries and Russia's opposition are saying the vote was neither free nor fair, particularly since Putin's chief political opponent is dead.

MARTIN: NPR's Charles Maynes has been following the election from Moscow, and he is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So I understand that Putin held a late night press conference after the vote. What did he say?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, going into this election, it was clear the Kremlin sought not just this massive victory but a historic turnout, one that would show that Russians were united by behind Putin despite more than two years of war in Ukraine. And speaking last night, Putin took a victory lap. He rejected charges the elections were undemocratic and said Russians had rallied behind him when confronted by threats from Ukraine and a hostile West. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here, Putin says, "when we're consolidated, it's clear that no matter who wants to intimidate us or suppress us, nobody has ever succeeded - not in history, not now and not ever." And we saw Putin double down on the war effort, saying Russia would reach its goals in Ukraine and even suggesting Moscow may take more territory than it already has, what Putin called a buffer zone, to prevent against Ukrainian rocket attacks into Russia proper. He also made dark warnings, not for the first time, that NATO's deepening involvement in Ukraine risked a global catastrophe, a World War III, in his words. And of course, that comes as some in the West have questioned the wisdom of continuing to give arms to Ukraine. So you could look at that as him trying to tip the scales in that debate.

MARTIN: I understood that Putin finally addressed the death of Alexei Navalny. That's, of course, the Russian opposition leader who died in a remote prison colony last month. What do you say about that?

MAYNES: Yeah, he did, you know, even saying Navalny's name, something Putin very rarely does. Putin called Navalny's death a sad event, but something that happens in prisons. He also confirmed press reports that he had signed off on a prisoner swap that would have freed Navalny. On the condition, Putin said, that the opposition leader never returned to Russia. But Putin said, unfortunately, Navalny died before the deal went through, calling it - that's life. Now, it must be said that Navalny's allies and family have relayed a similar story, but with a key plot difference. They argue that Putin ordered Navalny's murder to take him off the table from any trade.

MARTIN: So turning back to the vote itself, do you have a sense of what Russians think of the result and also other countries?

MAYNES: Well, you know, it's been kind of a split screen experience depending on your politics. You know, there's certainly Russians, many of them older, who say Putin won because he's the best candidate. He's a strong leader. But they choose to ignore, of course, fellow citizens who say that this race took place in a repressive environment with state control of media and only hand chosen rival candidates allowed to run. Meanwhile, internationally, there are all these divisions. You know, Western countries condemn the vote. Election monitoring groups have raised a host of concerns over vote rigging to give Putin this record landslide. And yet Russia will say it has plenty of friends out there, Powerful nations like China congratulated Putin on his win, and so did North Korea.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you.

MARTIN: Former President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric is making news again, and it's not because of some big policy idea.

INSKEEP: It's for his words at a campaign rally, which we will hear and discuss. Trump spoke near Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend, and this is the way he described people who went to prison for attacking the United States Capitol in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You see the spirit from the hostages. And that's what they are, is hostages.

INSKEEP: Trump often repeats a story about other countries emptying their prisons to send people to the United States. His campaign has never been able to name such a country, but Trump talked about the people he imagined coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: If you call them people. I don't know if you call them people. In some cases, they're not people, in my opinion.

INSKEEP: He also repeated a campaign promise focused on asylum-seekers and people in this country illegally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to get them out fast. We're going to have the largest deportation effort in history.

INSKEEP: Those are the kinds of remarks Trump makes at rally after rally. Over the weekend, he also said something about a bloodbath.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us now to talk more about this. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So start with what did he say and what did it mean?

MONTANARO: Well, so Trump was talking about China potentially opening car plants in Mexico and then trying to sell those cars in the United States. Let's take a listen to part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the line.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: And you're not going to be able to sell those guys if I get elected. Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole - that's going to be the least of it. It's going to be a bloodbath for the country. That'll be the least of it.

MONTANARO: You know, so it's pretty clear he was talking about the auto industry, and his campaign clarified to say as much in a statement after the event. But, you know, this is what Trump does. You know, he throws out this kind of violent, graphic language. He knows it's going to get a rise out of people, especially on the left, and generate headlines. Then he can wave his hand and blame the media for creating some false narrative. You know, but while many are litigating what he meant by those comments, as we heard earlier there, going less noticed in the same rally is Trump standing there and saluting January 6 rioters, calling them hostages and patriots and saying their prosecutions are a disgrace.

MARTIN: So say more about these other comments. And also, if you talk about the way he described immigrants in those other clips that we just played.

MONTANARO: Yeah, in an interview with Fox News' Howard Kurtz this weekend, Trump also said that he was thinking about proposing a federal ban after 16 weeks for abortions as something of a middle ground, he said. But he also praised the Supreme Court's highly unpopular decision to overturn Roe.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEDIA BUZZ")

TRUMP: Look, a lot of things were done with Roe by killing it. No. 1, we brought it back to the states.

HOWARD KURTZ: Which was, of course, your justices to the Supreme Court who made that possible.

TRUMP: They did.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TRUMP: And, you know, they did something that from a lot of standpoints is extremely good.

MONTANARO: You know, the practical results, obviously, of overturning Roe has meant that states have passed extremely restrictive laws banning abortion. That's put Republicans on the defensive in election after elections since the Dobbs ruling two years ago, as Trump himself acknowledged. But given his appointments to the court are the reason for overturning Roe, it's going to be hard for him to get out of the same box his party has been in. And Democrats are happy to remind people of that, promising to spend millions of dollars on ads and hoping they can mobilize voters that they so desperately need.

MARTIN: OK, in the time we have left, let's talk about the Democrats. They do need to start moving voters in President Biden's direction. How is that going?

MONTANARO: Well, he's got a lot of work to do. He's behind in swing states, and in an average of the polls his approval rating right now is lower at this point than for any president seeking reelection in the past 50 years or more. And he's fighting a two-front battle, one from Trump and one from third-party threats. It's all making for a lot of tension among Democrats, who can't understand why comments like the ones we heard from Trump, you know, are not making, you know, people not want to vote for him. And, you know, they really think Trump should be seen as more of an urgent threat.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Sticking with the Democrats now, Vice President Kamala Harris is also facing a lot of scrutiny this election year.

INSKEEP: She expects to be on the ballot this fall alongside President Biden, and she's making high-profile campaign stops. Last week in Minnesota, Harris toured a clinic that provides abortions, which was a first for any president or vice president. On Saturday, she will walk the halls of the high school in Parkland, Fla., that was the site of a mass shooting in 2018.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is with us now to tell us more about that. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So talk about the vice president out on the trail. What's she been up to?

KHALID: Well, she's been out a lot, more than two dozen trips just this year. You know, one of her primary jobs this campaign season is to travel the country for Biden. That's what Jim Messina told me. He ran Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

JIM MESSINA: The vice president serves as the president's chief surrogate, especially in the battleground states. What I learned when I ran President Obama's campaign is that, you know, the president has a day job. Crisis has come up and they just cannot campaign as much as their opponent.

KHALID: And so in steps the vice president.

MARTIN: So in talking about issues like abortion rights and like gun violence prevention, which is obviously the focus in visiting Parkland, who is she trying to reach?

KHALID: She's trying to energize the base of the Democratic Party. The Biden campaign believes that Harris has unique demographic appeal. Take a listen to Harris' chief of staff for the campaign, Sheila Nix.

SHEILA NIX: She's really been mobilizing a lot of the voters that we need, you know, especially in the Biden-Harris coalition, like young people, women, voters of color.

KHALID: And, Michel, you know, this is something I hear from a lot of people. The thing is that both Harris and Biden, though, broadly have low poll numbers. Terrance Woodbury polls voters of color. And he told me that since 2020, Harris' approval rating has largely been tethered to the president for good or for bad. One thing, though, that he has noticed is that she seems to be overwhelmingly popular with super voters, and so her job is to mobilize the activists in the party.

To that point, you know, Harris has held some 80 events on reproductive rights since the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned. And this, I will say, is kind of the main issue where you really see her take a lead over President Biden. But I think one thing to keep in mind when you talk about trying to mobilize activists is that that has become more complicated in recent months because of protests about the war in Gaza.

MARTIN: And also, we've talked a lot about voters' concerns about Biden's age on this program and a lot of media outlets. Although, I do have to point out again, he's only four years older than his opponent, Donald Trump. But he's 81. The argument is he's too old for a second term, according to some. How does that affect Harris as she's out campaigning?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, Michel, it is the underlying subtext to everything. And so, you know, how she navigates somewhat polarizing issues, whether that's the war in the Middle East or issues like immigration, I would say matter more than normal because she is running alongside the oldest president in American history. And so if something happens to him, she'd take his place. She has said that she's ready, but it's not just about saying it, it is about convincing people that that is true without actually having the power to set the policies that she's talking about.

I spoke to an aide of former Vice President Mike Pence's, Devin O'Malley. And he argues that because the job of the VP is somewhat limited, you've got to convince people you're competent not necessarily by what you do, but through your words, how you communicate. And Republicans like O'Malley say Harris gets tripped up in her words. So part of the Democrats' reelection bid will require them tackling this head on, because the flip side to the Joe Biden age question is the Kamala Harris competency question.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: Always good to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMMONCONTACT'S "STEREO-X 5:15 PT 1") 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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.