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News brief: Cheney's political future, Colorado River crisis, back to school

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Liz Cheney lost her primary in Wyoming on Tuesday night. Her choice to take on former President Trump's lies about the 2020 election and his role in fomenting the attack on the Capitol on January 6 cost her her seat in Congress.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Harriet Hageman won the primary. She is a Republican backed by the ex-president. But Cheney indicates she is not giving up her goal of making sure that Trump never returns to the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: This primary election is over, but now the real work begins.

FADEL: Joining us now with the latest is NPR's congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh.

Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So Cheney's loss - it was expected. And she gave this impassioned concession speech. What did she say?

WALSH: Well, she said she could have easily won reelection to this seat if she had stuck with Trump. You know, not too long ago, Cheney was considered to be on a path to potentially become the first female Republican speaker of the House. But that all changed with her very public break with Trump. She said last night, no public office was worth backing his attacks on democracy.

Here's Cheney last night talking about some of the GOP candidates on the ballot this year threatening to ignore the will of voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: Our nation is barreling once again towards crisis, lawlessness and violence. No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.

FADEL: And what did Hageman say about her win?

WALSH: She argued Cheney needed to be replaced because she was out of step with voters in the state. Let's take a listen to her speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRIET HAGEMAN: By our vote today, Wyoming has put the elites on notice. We are no longer going to tolerate representatives who don't represent us.

WALSH: Hageman also thanked Trump, as well as other GOP leaders, like Kevin McCarthy, who pushed Cheney out of her House GOP leadership job.

FADEL: Clearly, from Cheney's speech, she's not planning to disappear from public life. We heard her say, now the real work begins. What's next for her?

WALSH: Well, she's still the vice chair of the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. That panel continues to interview witnesses and is expected to hold more public hearings this fall. That position really still gives Cheney a very public national platform for several more months.

FADEL: But what about beyond that? Does Cheney have political aspirations to run against Trump in 2024?

WALSH: You know, she's certainly been making moves for a possible presidential campaign. It's unclear whether she would remain a Republican or potentially launch an independent bid. She's raised a ton of money - about 14 million just for that House seat. And she's spent about half of it. She's built a significant donor network from people around the country. Cheney didn't make any announcement in her speech last night, but Republicans close to Cheney tell me she's expected to establish some sort of political operation that could support her traveling around the country and continuing to speak out against Trump. But any challenge to Trump in a Republican primary would just be another big uphill battle for Cheney. He's still very popular with the base.

FADEL: So before I let you go, we've got to talk about Alaska. Alaskans voted yesterday, too. Former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was on the ballot running for a House seat. Some of the results are in. What do we know?

WALSH: Right. This is the seat of the late Alaska Congressman Don Young, who died in March. According to the Associated Press, Palin did advance in the open primary, so she'll be on the ballot in November. We won't know the results of the separate race to fill the remainder of Young's current term. Alaska has a complicated election system, and those results aren't expected until the end of this month.

FADEL: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks so much.

WALSH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: A water crisis on the Colorado River is getting worse.

INSKEEP: Yeah. New federal forecasts show the nation's two largest reservoirs are at record lows. They are both on the Colorado River in the American West, and they put the water supply of 40 million people in jeopardy. Federal water managers say they need to cut the water that they allocate to Arizona, to Nevada and also to Mexico, through which the river also flows.

FADEL: Reporter Luke Runyon from member station KUNC joins us to explain the latest.

Thanks for being here.

LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: Hi. Good to be here.

FADEL: So, Luke, how significant are the cuts that were announced yesterday, and who do they affect?

RUNYON: Well, these new cuts come on top of already existing ones. So next year, Arizona is going to have to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River by 21%, Nevada by 8% and Mexico by 7%. And obviously, Arizona bears the greatest burden here. Farmers in central Arizona have already seen their supplies from the river shrink. But it's not like taps are going to go dry. The state has substantial water reserves, and it isn't solely reliant on the Colorado River. These new cuts are not anywhere close to bringing the entire river into balance, though.

Here's Tanya Trujillo. She's the assistant secretary for water and science for the Interior Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TANYA TRUJILLO: Without prompt, responsive actions and investments now, the Colorado River and the citizens that rely on it will face a future of uncertainty and conflict.

FADEL: OK. So let's talk about what actions could be taken. Earlier this year, the federal government told all seven states that use the river to come up with a regional plan with more significant water cuts. But yesterday was the deadline, and still no plan, right?

RUNYON: Right. So in June, the federal government told states they had two months to come up with that plan. They've been in talks since then, which have been slow and tense at times. And it's important to note that there isn't one person or agency that manages the Colorado River. Instead, you have this mishmash of agreements and laws and Supreme Court decrees that spell out how the river is divvied up. And that kind of loose governance doesn't really lend itself well to managing a crisis. The federal government did say in June that if the states didn't succeed, that they would take action to protect the Colorado River reservoirs. And in their announcement yesterday, they didn't get any more specific about what that action might end up being.

FADEL: So what happens next?

RUNYON: Well, the talks among the states are going to continue. Some water districts saw the government's announcement as a sort of deadline extension to keep working on that more regional plan. The federal government continues to say that in order to bring the river into balance, it's going to take conservation from all seven states and every sector. But of course that's easier said than done, and it's unclear just how aggressive the federal government wants to be about managing the crisis.

FADEL: Let's zoom out for a second. How did this crisis get so bad?

RUNYON: This is really more than two decades in the making. The Colorado River has been on the decline since the year 2000. Climate change is warming the region, and the river just has less water in a year to year. Meanwhile, demands for water haven't gone down to match that new reality. And figuring out who is going to have to use less water along the river to find that balance is where you find the most intense debates.

FADEL: Luke Runyon of KUNC.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Across the U.S., more than 50 million children have returned or are returning to classrooms for the new school year.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Good morning.

ERRICK GREENE: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Good morning.

GREENE: Are these second-graders?

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: What grade y'all in?

GREENE: Is this second grade?

INSKEEP: At North Jackson Elementary in Jackson, Miss., students got a special visit on their first day from the superintendent, Dr. Errick Greene.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: They know.

GREENE: Third grade.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: What grade?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: First.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: First grade (laughter).

GREENE: No. No. No, not first grade.

INSKEEP: So began the third school year in the shadow of COVID-19, and we wondered what stories will define this school year.

FADEL: NPR's education correspondent Cory Turner went to Mississippi to find out. And he joins us now.

Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Cory, why'd you choose Jackson?

TURNER: Well, over the pandemic, I interviewed Superintendent Greene, who we just heard, a few times. And I - honestly, I found Jackson's story really interesting. Jackson Public Schools serve about 21,000 students in Mississippi's capital city. And there're just a lot of things happening there right now that I think will resonate with educators and families all over the country.

FADEL: So let's start with the educator side of the story. What did you hear?

TURNER: Producer Jeff Pierre and I spent the first day of school shadowing Superintendent Greene as he visited a bunch of schools. So in one first-grade class, he watched a 6-year-old. Her name was M'Lyah. She was coloring with her crayons.

GREENE: Look at that. You're better than me.

TURNER: M'Lyah loved the attention. And she proudly showed off her sparkly silver-and-orange fingernails.

M'LYAH: I got it done at the nail store.

TURNER: At every school, he also made sure to thank cafeteria workers. And here he is celebrating one of the school's custodians.

GREENE: I know this is a big job.

UNIDENTIFIED CAFETERIA WORKER #1: Well, no.

GREENE: And we got a lot...

UNIDENTIFIED CAFETERIA WORKER #1: It's all in a day's work.

GREENE: I know.

UNIDENTIFIED CAFETERIA WORKER #2: Yeah.

GREENE: Listen, I know you got it. But I want you to know that we see you.

TURNER: You know, Leila, the tight labor market has meant custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers in Jackson and lots of other places can often find better pay outside of school. And the stress of the pandemic and low pay has also driven out some teachers. Though I will say that Mississippi did just pass a pretty big teacher pay raise.

FADEL: Let's talk about learning. You've done a lot of reporting, Cory, on how districts that were remote for much - or all - of the 2021 school year have some pretty big drops in student test scores. What's the story in Jackson? What did you find there?

TURNER: Reading and writing scores dropped. And math scores, I think it's fair to say, fell through the floor. But last year, the district carved out regular periods of time in students' schedules for some pretty serious academic intervention. And the good news is that new data that hasn't been released yet from the spring suggest that the district has made up a lot of and maybe even most of the ground that it lost previously.

FADEL: OK, Cory. But COVID-19 hasn't gone away. How is the school approaching COVID this year?

TURNER: Yeah. So Jackson Public Schools did require masks all year last year, which was pretty unusual. And it still allowed some students to work remotely. This year, though, like most districts, it's not doing either. But I will say, this is important. You know, three years into the pandemic, COVID policy in schools now isn't just about masking; it's about addressing the emotional toll on kids. So the district in Jackson has a new social-emotional learning program, with teachers starting every day checking in with kids and working with them to name and manage their fears and frustrations. I had one school counselor tell me, last year she started a grief group for kids who lost a loved one to COVID. You know, no one thinks this year is going to be easy. But the schools are open. The kids are back. And everyone I spoke with is eager to just get going.

FADEL: NPR's Cory Turner. Thanks so much.

TURNER: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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