Morning news brief
Morning news brief
The death toll keeps rising after a massive earthquake strikes Turkey and Syria. President Biden on Tuesday delivers the State of the Union to a new Congress. Beyoncé breaks a record at the Grammys.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
The earthquake that hit southeast Turkey last night had a magnitude of 7.8. It struck while many were sleeping. And the devastation spread to nearby Syria. Videos showed people running in darkness and rain surrounded by flattened buildings.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now that it's daylight in the Middle East, authorities say at least 640 people have died. Rescue workers say they're only just starting to understand the scale of the destruction.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock joins us now from Lebanon. Ruth, did you feel the earthquake where you are?
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi. I did. It was about 3:20 my time. And I woke up because our whole building was swaying. So my husband and I grabbed our children and ran outside. Of course, you know, we were fine. But then I started hearing just how bad this is in Turkey and in Syria. So the epicenter of this earthquake was just north of Gaziantep. That's a provincial capital in Turkey with a population of about 2 million people. And, A, to put this into perspective for you, the earthquake was so strong that there are reports of buildings collapsed in an area that spans 200 miles around the epicenter.
In Gaziantep, I'm told there's extensive damage in older parts of the city. And then residential buildings have also collapsed in Adana and Diyarbakir and other parts of Turkey. And in these places, people were trying to escape in their cars, but that jammed the roads and just made it harder for emergency services to reach the wounded. And then, to make all this worse, there's a snowstorm in the region at the moment, so people are running outside in the freezing cold. Mosques have been opened as shelters for those that can't go home.
MARTÍNEZ: OK, that's Turkey. What about Syria?
SHERLOCK: Well, the Syrian government says there's been widespread destruction across Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. And the earthquakes also devastated parts of the country that have been taken by the opposition in the civil war that's still going on there. We reached Raed Saleh. He's the head of the White Helmets, a civil defense group that works in these areas.
RAED SALEH: (Non-English language spoken).
SHERLOCK: He says, truthfully, the situation is disastrous. And he gave us a long list of names and towns and villages. And he says, in all these areas, buildings have fallen to the ground. Families are trapped under the rubble. Videos I've seen from this part of northern Syria show a whole street essentially flattened. And as I mentioned, all of this in northern Syria is coming after a decade of war. And lots of people in this part of the country have fled fighting from other areas. And the U.N. says, of the some 4 million people there now, about 3 million can't easily source food. And that was before this earthquake.
MARTÍNEZ: So it definitely sounds like a lot of people need help really fast. How are rescue operations going?
SHERLOCK: Well, you know, what's clear is that rescue operations are going to take time because there is such widespread damage in both these countries. But obviously, time is critical. And the weather isn't helping. In addition to Turkish and Syrian rescue efforts, President Biden has asked the USAID and other aid groups to assess how they can help in the worst hit areas.
Turkey says, in an initial assessment, more than 1,700 buildings have collapsed. In northern Syria, aid efforts are hampered by the fact that four hospitals have had to be evacuated because of the damage. I'm told the rest are totally overwhelmed. And, you know, hospitals in this region have been repeatedly hit by airstrikes by the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia. That drove aid groups to set up clinics underground. That was a protection against airstrikes but has only complicated matters in dealing with this earthquake. One Syrian aid worker I spoke with who operates in these areas says, you know, this is literally the last thing that Syrians need.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Lebanon. Ruth, thank you.
SHERLOCK: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTÍNEZ: The last time President Biden addressed Congress, his party controlled both the House and Senate. Democrats had the power to pass much of his agenda.
INSKEEP: When the president delivers his annual State of the Union speech this week, he'll face a divided Congress. Republicans narrowly control the House after the midterm elections. That new reality will shape his speech, the months that follow and his widely expected bid for a second term.
MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Asma, the president has said he intends to run again. Now, this seems like a place to make it unofficially official.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I mean, sort of. I mean, I do want to be very clear - he has not yet declared he's running for reelection. But it is his intention, he has said. And he certainly won't officially announce anything in a State of the Union speech. But I spoke to a range of former Republican and Democratic speechmakers for this story. And what they told me is that this speech could really lay out the broad contours of a reelection campaign. And they say it is a chance for Biden to deal with any lingering questions people might have about his candidacy.
This is something that former President Bill Clinton did, for example, in his 1995 speech. It came after Republicans took control of Congress. And I was told that he needed to show, you know, he was still standing, could roll with the punches. One of his speechwriters, Michael Waldman, told me that Bill Clinton was able to use the State of the Union that year as a real political opportunity.
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Clinton used the State of the Union addresses when he was in political peril, when he had lost control of the House and Senate - and it really was a rebuke of him - and when people thought he was, politically, a goner. But he drew the contrasts with the Republicans. He reminded people of what they liked about his policies and about him.
KHALID: Now, A, to be very clear, I mean, the question Biden needs to answer is very different from the one Clinton did. Biden did not face a midterm shellacking. But three different speechwriters I interviewed, Republican and Democrat, said the key issue for Biden is his age. He would be 86 at the end of a second term, were he to run. And so even Michael Waldman, who wrote speeches for Clinton, told me part of what Biden needs to do tomorrow night is show he's vigorous and commanding.
MARTÍNEZ: And the political backdrop is different this year - actually, literally different - because Kevin McCarthy is sitting behind him instead of Nancy Pelosi. So how might Biden work that in?
KHALID: I mean, it is an opportunity to draw a contrast. You know, these speeches are about laying out your party's agenda. And that sometimes means painting the opposition in a less flattering light. I spoke to a former George W. Bush speechwriter. His name is Peter Wehner. He told me that is a real delicate balance to strike.
PETER WEHNER: It's tricky to do precisely because you're speaking to an audience that includes the opposition party as well as your own. And you don't want to, as a president, come across as petty or divisive.
KHALID: I mean, it is worth noting here that this is likely to be Biden's biggest television audience of the year. And so some Democrats tell me Biden really needs to convince people what is at stake for the nation.
MARTÍNEZ: Is anything he's been doing or saying lately something we might hear about?
KHALID: You know, I think we've been getting a bit of a preview in some of his recent remarks. You've heard him take a victory lap on the economy. You've heard him visit and seen him visit a number of bridges and tunnels, touting his legislative accomplishments. The White House told me that he will underscore the progress the country has made during a challenging period in history. He also plans to address some key foreign policy issues, such as the war in Ukraine. You know, ultimately, I will say, this is an opportunity for him to talk about what he also still wants to do even if those things don't have any likelihood of getting passed with this Republican House, because it helps, you know, create this contrast again. And that's what speechmakers told me the president needs to do tomorrow night.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks a lot.
KHALID: My pleasure.
MARTÍNEZ: The State of the Union address is Tuesday night. Now, we always bring you live special coverage of the speech. But this year, we're going to give you something extra. Alongside our usual broadcast in English, we're going to give you a second program in Spanish and English. You can listen to me, A Martínez, for that bilingual broadcast with the same in-depth analysis and focus on topics that are important to you. Listen to NPR's special coverage of the 2023 State of the Union address from NPR News. Check with your member station for details and at npr.org.
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MARTÍNEZ: History was made at the Grammy Awards last night.
INSKEEP: Beyonce added four more trophies to her collection, bringing her to a record-breaking 32. She won the extra four for her album "Renaissance," but did not win the most prestigious award, Album of the Year.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Mandalit del Barco is here to explain what happened. Let's start, Mandalit, with Beyonce. What happened?
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, with "Renaissance," Beyonce is now the Recording Academy's GOAT - the greatest of all time.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")
BEYONCE: (Singing) You won't break my soul.
(SOUNDBITE OF "65TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS")
BEYONCE: I'd like to thank the queer community for your love and for inventing the genre. God bless you. Thank you so much to the Grammys. Thank you.
DEL BARCO: But, you know, the night was bittersweet for Beyonce. She didn't win any of the big awards, Record, Album or Song of the Year. And Beyonce fans will tell you that the Grammys have perpetually snubbed her even as she's racked up these smaller awards.
MARTÍNEZ: So who did get those awards?
DEL BARCO: Well, Adele's "Easy On Me" won for best pop solo performance. And Album of the Year went to Harry Styles for "Harry's House."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS IT WAS")
HARRY STYLES: (Singing) When everything gets in the way.
DEL BARCO: And Record of the Year went to Lizzo for "About Damn Time." She dedicated her Grammy to Prince. And she gave a shout out to Beyonce.
MARTÍNEZ: It's almost like Harry Styles lives in my car...
MARTÍNEZ: ...As often as I've heard that song. So what were the biggest surprises?
DEL BARCO: Well, Song of the Year, which most people had expected to go to Adele or Beyonce or even Taylor Swift, instead, it went to Bonnie Raitt. And that was for a song she wrote inspired by the late singer John Prine. She looked totally flabbergasted, standing with her mouth open for the longest time before she accepted her songwriter award. Best New Artist went to 23-year-old jazz vocalist Samara Joy. And J. Ivy, who I profiled for NPR, he won the Best Spoken Word Poetry Album Grammy, the first ever. And actress Viola Davis, she won for the audiobook of her memoir. And so she's now an EGOT, winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, the live performances at the Grammys are usually stuff that everyone talks about the next day. So any standouts this year?
DEL BARCO: Yes, there were. The Grammys are celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year, a global phenomenon that started when DJ Kool Herc was breaking beats on Central Avenue in the Bronx. LL Cool J introduced producer Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre. He inaugurated the Grammys' new Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. And he accepted the honor by honoring pioneers of hip-hop.
(SOUNDBITE OF "65TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS")
DR DRE: It started with a song called "The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel."
DR DRE: Yeah, scratching and mixing on the turntable.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Rapping) I'm trying not to...
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Rapping) Lose my head.
DEL BARCO: Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge. Grandmaster Flash himself took the stage with Run DMC, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Busta Rhymes - all these OG hip-hop heads and newer ones. For those of us who grew up in the earlier days of New York hip-hop, it was such a nostalgic treat seeing them rocking the mic with MCs scratching the turntables, with b-boys dancing - the tracksuits, the suitcase-sized boomboxes. You know, back in the day, the Grammys didn't respect hip-hop, so this felt like a real moment, you know?
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it only took 40 years. That's NPR culture correspondent Mandalit del Barco.
DEL BARCO: Fifty (laughter).
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, 50. Mandalit del Barco, thanks.
DEL BARCO: Sure.
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