Morning news brief President Biden and Donald Trump win Michigan's primaries. House Republicans are expected to hear privately from Hunter Biden. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states consider fetal personhood bills.

Morning news brief

Morning news brief

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President Biden and Donald Trump win Michigan's primaries. House Republicans are expected to hear privately from Hunter Biden. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states consider fetal personhood bills.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What message will Joe Biden take from Michigan's primary results?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president easily won the Democratic primary last night, while Donald Trump dominated the Republican side. Here is Biden's challenge. More than 100,000 people took the time to vote for nobody. More than 13% of Democrats voted uncommitted to protest Biden's handling of the conflict in Gaza.

MARTIN: Here to break down the Democratic results, as well as Donald Trump's victory in the Republican primary, is NPR political reporter Elena Moore, who is in Detroit. Good morning, Elena.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So let's hear more about last night's results on the Democratic side. How did Mr. Biden do?

MOORE: He received over 600,000 votes as of 5 a.m. Eastern this morning, according to a count by The Associated Press. The uncommitted option was second to that. A group called Listen to Michigan wanted Democrats to send a message that way. Basically, Listen to Michigan is advocating for Biden to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire and stop sending U.S. aid to Israel. And organizers say Biden is at risk of losing key support in the general if he doesn't do that.

MARTIN: What does your reporting suggest that this means for the president going forward?

MOORE: Well, the group's goal was to get more than 10,000 votes, which was the margin Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by in 2016. And notably, Biden won Michigan in 2020 by more than 150,000 votes. But a few caveats here, Michel - it's not uncommon to get several thousand uncommitted votes. In 2012, which was the last time an incumbent Democratic president was on the ballot, uncommitted got more than 20,000 votes. In 2008, over 200,000 voted uncommitted as part of a movement to support President Barack Obama's candidacy, who was not on the state primary ballot.

So last night, I asked Michigan State Representative Abraham Aiyash why this moment is different.

ABRAHAM AIYASH: I think anyone that has come out uncommitted this time around came out with the intention of sending the message that we do not want a party that is led with a lack of humanity for the Palestinian people.

MOORE: Michigan has a substantial Arab and Muslim population, especially in the southeast portion of the state. And organizers from these communities talk about the pain and anger folks are feeling.

And what's notable from Tuesday's results is this is the first major test for how voter attitudes towards Biden's handling of Gaza could affect outcomes. And anecdotally, all week I've been speaking with young voters about the violence in Gaza, and it's really resonated with them. And that's a key constituency in Michigan and generally for the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: You know, agreed. I mean, we've been hearing from our colleagues Leila Fadel and Don Gonyea, you know, all week on the program, hearing very similar things.

OK, before we let you go, the Democratic primary was not the only one. There is still a contested Republican primary. The former president, Donald Trump, won there. But what about his challenger, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley?

MOORE: The Haley campaign actually highlighted the division on the Democratic side after her loss last night, calling it, you know, a sign of Biden's weakness in November. But nevertheless, you know, Trump has another win under his belt, making the window of viability even smaller for Haley.

But, you know, she's continuing on. The campaign has stops planned in different states ahead of Super Tuesday, which is - you guessed it - Tuesday. And that will be another major test for Haley. Over a third of the total delegates are on the line in next week's contests, and the former South Carolina governor has yet to win a sizable number or any state.

MARTIN: That is NPR political reporter Elena Moore. Elena, thank you.

MOORE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Hunter Biden once stood outside the U.S. Capitol and vowed he would only testify about his business dealings publicly, never behind closed doors.

INSKEEP: So much for that. In a House hearing room today, House Republicans are expected to hear privately, as they wanted, from one of their long-standing political targets. It's a moment in their impeachment inquiry into the president's - or rather, Hunter Biden's dad.

MARTIN: Justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is with us now to tell us more about what is going on today. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right, so congressional Republicans have been, you know, so focused on Hunter Biden for so long. Now they get to talk to him. What do they want to ask?

LUCAS: Well, you're right that House Republicans have made Hunter, in many ways, the main character in their impeachment inquiry against his father. They've devoted a ton of time, a ton of effort trying to dig into Hunter's business dealings, particularly the work that he's done overseas. They will undoubtedly ask him about a deal he made with a Chinese energy company, about his work with a Ukrainian energy company. Other business deals will no doubt come up.

And all of this Republicans are going to try to funnel into their working theory of the case here that President Biden somehow played an active role in or somehow benefited from the business dealings of his family members, Hunter, of course, chief among them. At this point, though, it has to be said, months in, Republicans have not turned up any concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the president's part. So for Republicans, there is a lot riding on this deposition today.

MARTIN: Is there a sense of how Hunter Biden will answer their questions?

LUCAS: Well, Hunter's talked publicly about a lot of his business dealings, certainly about his struggles with addiction. So a lot of this is ground that's been covered to one degree or another. But a source familiar with the matter tells me that Hunter will tell lawmakers that his father was not involved in his business affairs. That echoes what James Biden, the president's brother, told Congress last week in his own deposition. I'm told Hunter also is expected to acknowledge that he made mistakes, that he's had his own struggles with addiction, stuff that has been well documented.

He's also expected to push back against the whole impeachment effort, to tell lawmakers that, in his view, it's based on lies. I expect that he'll point to the recent criminal charges against Alexander Smirnov. He's the former FBI informant who allegedly fabricated claims of a Biden bribery scheme, a scheme that has been central, of course, to the Republicans' impeachment effort here.

MARTIN: Now, remember, we said that Hunter Biden had said publicly he was never going to testify privately. He would only testify in public in an open session. Do you have a sense of why he agreed to testify privately?

LUCAS: Well, his team was worried about selective leaks. That was part of the fight over this whole deposition. It's worth noting that Republicans were threatening to hold him in contempt of Congress. The two sides ended up working out an agreement for today's deposition. The deposition will not be videotaped, I am told. The transcript will be released as quickly as possible. That was another part of this agreement. And those two points seem to address Hunter Biden's concerns.

MARTIN: You mentioned Alexander Smirnov. That's the informant, of course. He's accused of lying about the Bidens to the FBI. Where is he now?

LUCAS: So he's in California. He's been ordered to remain in jail there, pending trial. He's pleaded not guilty to the charges. But there are still questions swirling about his contacts with Russian intelligence. Prosecutors say that those contacts are extensive. They say they aren't benign. And they raise questions of whether some of the information that Smirnov was giving the FBI could have been false info fed by the Russians. The Smirnov case certainly undercuts one of the main allegations that Republicans have made in their impeachment bid, but it has not killed that impeachment bid.

MARTIN: So where does this proceeding go from here?

LUCAS: That's a good question. Democrats say it should be all over and done with. But House Republicans leading this probe say that their investigation doesn't rest solely on the Smirnov claims. They say they have other leads that they are pursuing. And it's also worth noting that they are under a lot of pressure from their base to keep this going.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: The Alabama Legislature could vote soon on whether to protect in vitro fertilization treatments.

INSKEEP: IVF treatments there are largely on hold after the state Supreme Court said fertilized eggs have the same rights as children. It's not just Alabama where lawmakers are debating whether a fetus is a person.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryland Barton is with us now with the latest and also some broader context about this. Good morning.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. So let's start with the new development in Alabama. We've been waiting on bills to be introduced to address last week's state Supreme Court ruling. And I take it we now have them.

BARTON: Yeah, we do. So just a quick reminder how we got here. This all stems from a lawsuit by three Alabama couples whose frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed by a fertility clinic. Justices ruled that an 1872 law allowing parents to sue over the death of a child applies to, quote, "unborn children." This immediately raised concerns about in vitro fertilization in the state.

There's a lot of pressure to come up with a quick legislative fix for this, and yesterday afternoon, state Republican lawmakers proposed two bills that would exempt IVF from the effect of the ruling. However, one key measure no longer includes a definition of viability for an embryo. That's - that bill's author told Troy Public Radio he took that out of his draft in order to get the bill passed. That means even if this bill becomes law, frozen embryos would remain children, as defined by the state Supreme Court.

MARTIN: So, you know, this ruling has gotten attention far beyond Alabama. Why is that?

BARTON: Yeah. So because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to abortion, ever since that ruling two years ago, states have been in charge of regulating abortion, and advocates have been on the lookout for anything that further erodes reproductive rights.

And, of course, this is also a big election year, and Republicans are worried about this issue. So shortly after the ruling, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump said he supports IVF. And in a memo obtained by NPR, the fundraising arm for the Senate Republicans warned their candidates that the ruling could be, quote, "fodder for Democrats hoping to manipulate the abortion issue for electoral gain."

MARTIN: Is there a sense that what happened in Alabama could affect other states?

BARTON: Well, not directly, but it does raise these questions about fetal personhood. And since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republican policymakers in some states are trying to restrict reproductive rights through this fetal personhood mechanism.

I spoke with Candace Gibson. She's the state policy director at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights and tracks abortion legislation. She says the Alabama decision could reverberate in other states.

CANDACE GIBSON: I am fearful that other anti-abortion judges and lawyers will be emboldened by this ruling and trying to really replicate those efforts. I would be surprised if they didn't.

BARTON: In fact, 14 states are already considering fetal personhood bills now, though they try to do it in different ways.

MARTIN: So what different ways?

BARTON: So Republican lawmakers in Colorado and Iowa proposed bills this year that would define personhood as beginning at fertilization when it comes to homicide and wrongful death laws, and that includes no exceptions for IVF. At least six states have bills that would allow women to seek child support for fetuses. Georgia already has a law like that on the books. And although these proposals don't explicitly have anything to do with IVF, reproductive rights advocates say that even granting limited protections to embryos and fetuses could have broader implications, like we saw in Alabama.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryland Barton. Ryland, thank you.

BARTON: Thank you.

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