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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russia says it's leaving a deal that made it possible to ship grain out of Ukraine to other countries around the world.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Now, that is one of two big stories today, the other is an attack on a bridge. Russia blamed Ukraine for explosions that seemed to have taken a bite out of the only bridge connecting the Russian mainland to Crimea. That's the peninsula that Russia seized almost a decade ago and that Ukraine wants back.

INSKEEP: So much to dig into here, so we've reached out to NPR's Charles Maynes, who's following it all from Moscow. Hey there.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's remember. So we're talking about grain shipments that go through the Black Sea out of Ukrainian ports. Russia has allowed them through the war zone up to now. So why would Russia pull out?

MAYNES: Well, President Putin had been signaling he wanted to suspend Russian participation in the agreement, which formally ends today either way. And remember, this deal, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, allows safe passage of grain from Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea. The problem is President Putin has said the deal was one-sided. It only benefited Ukraine. And Putin said that months of negotiations had done nothing to address Russian complaints, and those are this - that Western sanctions on - not on food, but on things like shipping and insurance and banking essentially prevented the export of Russian grain and fertilizer. And today, the Kremlin's spokesman said Russia was suspending participation until those snags are resolved.

INSKEEP: Oh, suspending participation until the snags are resolved, so maybe this is not the end of that story.

MAYNES: Yeah, we'll have to see.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And at the same time, we're following this other story. We only have information from Russia at this point about an apparent attack on this bridge. What are they saying?

MAYNES: Well, we heard from Russian media this morning saying two explosions hit the Kerch Bridge - that's the bridge that connects southern Russia to annexed Crimea - early morning Monday. And there have been theories circulating as to how that may have happened. Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said it involves so-called sea drones. These are some kind of watercraft. Now, witness video online does appear to show a section of the road partially collapsed. Although, a parallel railway track seems undamaged.

Local authorities have also identified the victims. They say two people died. But a teenage girl was injured and left orphaned after her parents' car was apparently hit from the impact of whatever caused this damage. And Russia has made clear who they think is responsible as well. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of carrying out a terrorist attack with help, she said, from American and British intelligence.

INSKEEP: I guess it's true that this bridge is used by civilians, but what is the military significance of it as a target?

MAYNES: Well, it's a key supply line for Russian forces operating in southern Ukraine. It's also, certainly, a potent symbol of Moscow's hold over Crimea, the territory Russia, of course, illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, so much so that President Vladimir Putin personally drove the first vehicle over the bridge when it opened in 2018 to much fanfare. And for all those reasons, Ukraine has said the bridge is a legitimate military target.

Now, portions of the bridge were destroyed in a blast last October that Moscow blamed on Kyiv. Ukraine has been a bit more coy about what role it may have played then and now. But this latest apparent attacked has halted traffic along the bridge. And, remember, despite the war, this is peak summer travel season, and Crimea has these beautiful coastlines. Travelers have been told to find alternative routes into mainland Russia. In practical terms, that means they've been told to drive up north through the occupied Ukrainian territories - in other words, through the front line.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes. Thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Long before any people vote in the 2024 presidential election, their money votes.

MARTÍNEZ: The latest campaign finance numbers are in. They show the enthusiasm of both large and small donors. So who's ahead?

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been counting. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: All right. Who has the most money?

KEITH: So for this quarter, from April through June, President Biden has raised $72 million. That does include fundraising by the Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committees because Biden's campaign is working hand in hand with the DNC. That is a distinct advantage the incumbent has over Republicans, who don't have party backing until there's a nominee. I spoke with Biden campaign co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg, who said that the president got donations from about 400,000 individuals.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Ninety-seven percent of those donations are under $200, with the average at $39. Those are stunning numbers. You know, in two days in San Francisco, President Biden raised over $10 million.

KEITH: That 10 million in two days was raked in at tony fundraising events, where contributions absolutely did not average $39. And it is worth noting that while Biden raised almost as much as all of the Republicans combined, he is short of what presidents Obama and Trump raised at this point in their reelection bids.

INSKEEP: OK, wow, a lot of numbers there. But you're telling me that his fundraising is behind where the last two incumbent presidents were when they were seeking a second term and were at this point in the cycle. So he's behind that but, you said, ahead of all the Republicans. How are they doing?

KEITH: Well, former President Trump, who's running again, their campaign says they raised $35 million. But the filing from this weekend only gives a partial picture, 18 million, most of it transferred from a joint fundraising committee, which hasn't filed its numbers yet. He does come with a fundraising advantage, a large base of voters and small-dollar supporters who are on automatic payment plans. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised $20 million in fewer than 40 days in the race. But he also spent roughly $8 million, which is a lot. Several news outlets are reporting that he is shedding staff and trying to make a course correction. But on Fox News this weekend, he defended his campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: The No. 1 thing I hear from people is this. When they come up to me, they're like, yeah, you know, I knew you did good in Florida. You know, I heard good things, but I hadn't seen you yet. And now that I've seen you, I'm for you. And so that's going to be what we're going to do over the next six months.

KEITH: Former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both announced in June, early June, they raised $1 million and $1.5 million each. Those are pretty small numbers for the anti-Trump candidates - just a bit of perspective. Robert Kennedy Jr., who's running in the Democratic primary - he traffics in conspiracy theories and is in the middle of an antisemitism scandal at the moment - raised $6 million in the quarter, more than twice as much as those two big-name Republicans combined.

INSKEEP: Wow, interesting revelation there about who can raise how much money. So what else do you learn from this?

KEITH: You know, it can be an indicator of enthusiasm for a campaign, in particular the small donors, the grassroots donations.

INSKEEP: Right.

KEITH: A lot of these campaigns are coming up short in that area. Here's an example. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was speaking at the Turning Point Action Conference over the weekend and started talking about the soccer great Lionel Messi, who's coming to the professional team in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCIS SUAREZ: Anyone who wants to see him play his first game - I think it's July 21 - we have - what's that? Just give a dollar, Venmo.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

KEITH: He needs those dollars to make the debate stage. There's a threshold and he's nowhere near close.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Today, a special legislative session begins in Montgomery, Ala.

MARTÍNEZ: The Republican-led legislature is supposed to draw a new map of congressional voting districts. The U.S. Supreme Court said Alabama's current map likely weakens the power of Black voters in Alabama.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is covering this story. Good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What led Alabama to this point?

WANG: Well, after the 2020 Census, Republican state lawmakers approved a new map with only one majority-Black district. And that means there was only one district where Black voters had a realistic chance of electing their preferred candidate to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives. That's one district out of seven districts for a state where more than 1 in 4 people are Black. So a group of Black voters, along with other groups in Alabama, sued. And a lower federal court said last year, this is not a close call. This map likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And one majority-Black voting district is not enough because you can draw two.

INSKEEP: You said that, that ruling was last year. So why is Alabama acting only now?

WANG: Well, the Alabama Republicans appealed this case to the Supreme Court and turned this into an even bigger legal fight over Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and whether race can be considered when redrawing voting maps. And ultimately, the Supreme Court's ruling last month didn't make any changes to race-based redistricting and basically said, we agree with the lower court. Alabama should draw a new map with more than one majority-Black district. But of course, that Supreme Court ruling didn't come until months after last year's midterm election. So the fact is, Alabama voted last year with illegally drawn voting districts.

INSKEEP: Oh, which would give, if you look at the partisan difference, Republicans an extra seat advantage in what turned out to be a very, very close congressional election. What was the Supreme Court's rationale for waiting?

WANG: Well, here's where we get into some of the legal weeds here. When the Supreme Court decided to take up this Alabama case back in early 2022, it also put a pause on the lower court's order for a new map to be drawn. And one of the conservative justices, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote an opinion. And it talked about this vague legal idea. Court watchers call it the Purcell principle. And the idea is that federal courts should not make changes to voting rules close to an election to avoid confusing voters.

But exactly how close is too close to an election? The court has not been clear about that. And there was enough time to draw a new voting map, a new congressional map, last year, which probably would not have confused voters who were expecting a new map anyway. I talked to Gilda Daniels, a former Justice Department official who now teaches at the University of Baltimore's law school. And Daniels told me the Supreme Court put the voting rights of Alabamians at risk.

GILDA DANIELS: We can't get in a time machine now and go back and say, OK, you now have an additional district. Now vote under this fair and equitable map, this nondiscriminatory map. We can't go back. We can only go forward.

INSKEEP: They cannot go back and revote the 2022 election where Republicans got this little advantage. But how could a new map change the next election?

WANG: Well, the groups who filed the lawsuit over Alabama's current map are looking to see if there are two majority Black voting districts in this new map. And if there are, that opens up the possibility of Alabama doubling the number of Democrats representing the state in the U.S. House of Representatives from one to two. And there may be ripple effects from the Supreme Court's ruling in this Alabama case, you know? More House seats could be at play because new maps may be coming from other states, including Louisiana and Georgia.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks.

WANG: You're very welcome, Steve. 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.
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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