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News brief: Supreme Court winds down, Biden news conference, election deniers

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been a blockbuster term for the Supreme Court. And today, the newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will be sworn in, replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The court will also issue opinions in its two remaining cases, which we have been watching closely. One involves the remain in Mexico policy, and the other centers on the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

MARTINEZ: Joining us to discuss the cases is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. All right, Nina, so what are these cases about?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, remain in Mexico is a Trump-era policy that required asylum-seekers, mainly from Central and South America, to either be detained in the U.S. or sent to Mexico, where they've lived in squalid camps while they wait for months, and some of them years, before they have their asylum claims reviewed. Last June, a year ago, the Biden administration tried to end the policy and substitute its own. But a Trump-appointed federal district court judge ordered the administration to restart the Trump program. And the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Today, the Supreme Court decides whether those lower court judges overstepped their authority, whether, as the Biden administration claims, the president has broad authority to make and revoke immigration policy under federal immigration law and under the Constitution's authority to conduct foreign policy - or in the alternative, whether the Biden administration overstepped its authority.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, the second one is a huge environmental case, as I understand it.

TOTENBERG: Yep, because the decision could hamstring the EPA's efforts to regulate carbon emissions that cause climate change. Specifically, at issue in the case are rules adopted by the Trump administration and the Obama administration to deal with carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those are the single biggest cause of carbon emissions in this country. The Obama plan was broad, the Trump one narrow. The Obama plan was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court and then revoked by the Trump administration.

But amazingly, most utilities continued to abandon coal because it was just too expensive. And even without the regulation in place, the Obama reduction targets for carbon emissions were met 11 years ahead of schedule. Now, what's so interesting about this case is that neither the Obama nor Trump plan is in effect. And the Biden administration doesn't have a plan on the table yet. But the Supreme Court still reached out to hear this case. And all indications are that to one degree or another, it's going to make it much harder to regulate carbon emissions and potentially many other things as well using this case as a vehicle, which has, of course, totally spooked environmentalists.

MARTINEZ: Now, the court is also set to issue an orders list. What do we expect there?

TOTENBERG: The court will announce some cases that it plans to take up or not take up next term. One big case that we're watching involves elections. It's from North Carolina. And it involves what's called the independent state legislature doctrine. Get used to that. Basically, the theory could reshape how the United States conducts federal elections. It would give state legislatures independent power that's not subject to review by the state courts. It would also allow them to set election rules that are at odds with their own state constitutions, giving them unfettered power to draw gerrymandered congressional maps, among other things. If the court does take that case, it will add to what's shaping up as another blockbuster term, with cases testing affirmative action in college admissions, gay rights in terms of equal access to commercial services and now, potentially, the election case - sometimes referred to in legal circles as the 800-pound gorilla.

MARTINEZ: All right. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thanks a lot.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

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MARTINEZ: President Biden is wrapping up a week of high-level meetings with allies in Europe.

MARTIN: Russia has been the focus. And the president says NATO and the G7 have sent a unified message. But that message has been overshadowed here in the U.S. by other big news events. Before he leaves for home today, President Biden will face questions at a press conference.

MARTINEZ: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now from Madrid. Tam, how's the trip gone for President Biden?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, you know, he has had some success here at the NATO summit. Most notably, Turkey dropped its opposition to the application from Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. And the White House says that during this trip, President Biden played a big part in that. He called the Turkish president on Tuesday and talked about Turkey's concerns about Finland and Sweden. And he said that this would be a great opportunity to resolve all of those issues so that the two presidents could sit down together and talk about other things at the NATO summit. And then that is exactly what happened.

The White House insists that there was no sweetener offered by President Biden. Though, we do know that Turkey has been eager to buy U.S. fighter jets. And the Defense Department is saying that it supports that. That is something that would have to work its way through the contracting process. And Congress would need to sign off. But that is something I am sure President Biden will be asked about at the press conference today. Like, were there really no sweeteners?

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Now, while he's been away, focused on NATO and Ukraine, there's been a lot happening back home. Has that affected his trip at all?

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, he has mostly just kept his head down here and stayed focused on these summits. I have been struck by just how little we've heard from him other than occasional brief remarks at the start of a meeting. He hasn't given any major speeches or addresses. He's barely responded to shouted questions. And this trip started and will now end with big Supreme Court decisions. First, the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, that happened the day before he left. It has dominated the news - you know better than I do - in the U.S. ever since. And there's been a lot of frustration from his supporters that he hasn't said more about it in the last week. And now we know that there are going to be big decisions on immigration and environmental regulations today as he heads home. There was also that January 6 hearing on Tuesday with stunning revelations that really overshadowed that news about Finland and Sweden clearing the hurdle to join NATO.

MARTINEZ: You know, it's been a minute since President Biden's had a formal news conference. What do you expect he'll be asked today?

KEITH: Yeah. The last major news conference that Biden held, I was actually there. It was in March. It was also at the end of a NATO summit, that one in Brussels, so it has been a long time. This will be the first time that Biden has faced questions - that weren't shouted from a distance, at least - on what he plans to do now that abortion rights have been overturned. He did set up a commission some time ago to examine the Supreme Court. But he's never said whether he supports changes like term limits. So you can expect he will be asked about that.

He might be asked about the economy. People's lives are really being affected by high gas prices and food prices. And some of that is being driven by big, global forces. But there was not a lot of obvious or immediate progress on those issues in these meetings that Biden had this week, at least they didn't talk about it much publicly. A new poll yesterday from the Associated Press showed 85% of people say the country is on the wrong track. That includes nearly 8-10 Democrats. So there is a lot of discontent ahead of the November elections. He could get asked about that. And I expect he could even be asked if he still plans to run again in 2024.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Tamara Keith in Madrid. Tamara, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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MARTINEZ: All right. For weeks now, we've been hearing from the January 6 committee about the efforts to subvert democracy using false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

MARTIN: A new NPR investigation that's out today explores how election denialism has evolved into a sprawling nationwide movement.

MARTINEZ: NPR voting correspondent Miles Parks is here to discuss the new findings. So what'd you find, Miles?

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: So we found a real shift, A. For most of 2020, misinformation about elections was really headquartered in Donald Trump's Twitter account. But now the baton has sort of been passed to this core group of what you might call election denial influencers. These are people who have spent the last 18 months building large followings, claiming things like they found formulas that show how the 2020 election was rigged and things like that. Of course, these sorts of claims have all been debunked many times by paper ballot, hand counts, by audits, even by former President Donald Trump's own attorney general, Bill Barr. But still, these voter fraud evangelists have spent the last year and a half meeting with groups of concerned citizens in backyards, in hotel conference rooms, in car dealerships all across the country, spreading the gospel of voter fraud.

MARTINEZ: All right. So tell us about these people and where they've gone.

PARKS: They've really been everywhere. Our investigations team tracked them using social media data and local news reports to map this out. And we found a core group that appeared at more than 300 events across the country, traveling to almost every single state. Here's sound of one of them, Seth Keshel.

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SETH KESHEL: Now I will say this, I went to 46 states in 2021, most of them beginning in June when my Telegram channel took off. Somebody named Donald J. Trump put me out a few times. And then things changed in my life.

PARKS: NPR also tracked My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, as well as two other election denial influencers named Douglas Frank and David Clements. Now, this would be one thing if these were just events to just keep the lie alive that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. But they're not. These events often end with actionable items, things like telling people to go knock on doors in their neighborhoods to find election fraud. An NPR editor attended one meeting with David Clements where he told the audience to go to the offices of their county commissioners. They respond to fear, he told them.

MARTINEZ: Wow, respond to fear. Now, you also found, throughout their travels, they met with a number of lawmakers. Tell us about that.

PARKS: Yeah. So we found that over this time, these 18 months, they met or appeared with at least 78 lawmakers at the federal, state and local level. Many of these people will have a role in how future elections are run and even certified. Some of these lawmakers were already sympathetic to these sorts of claims, but others were skeptical. It's clear that part of this strategy is to get an audience with people who decide how voting works. These people also met or appeared with more than a hundred candidates who are running for election at some level of government this year. It's worth noting, A, that this reporting really confirms what we've been seeing on the ground for the last two years, that this fervor about fraud in this portion of the right is not going away as we head into midterms, you know? And as I talked to local election officials, they're really struggling with how to counter. And I talked to the secretary of state of Michigan, for instance, who said that each time there's an election denial event in Michigan, her office receives an uptick in threats and harassment.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Miles Parks. You can hear more on this investigation tonight on All Things Considered. Miles, thanks a lot.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.
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