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News brief: Supreme Court abortion shift, Ohio primary, Mariupol steel plant

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Protesters are marching across the United States after a leak suggests the Supreme Court plans to reverse the constitutional right to abortion for the first time in half a century.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden says that this decision, if it holds, would be a radical change that could impact a whole range of private matters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Does this mean that in Florida, they can decide they're going to pass a law saying that same-sex marriage is not permissible? It's against the law in Florida?

FADEL: For more on what overturning Roe v. Wade could mean for American politics, we're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

FADEL: So, Mara, President Biden and other Democratic leaders are vowing to make abortion rights a central issue in the midterm elections this fall. So what's their plan? And will this bring more Democrats to the ballot box?

LIASSON: That's the big question. Their solution is to try to motivate voters to elect more Democrats. We don't know yet if abortion rights are going to be more motivating for Democratic voters than issues like immigration, inflation and crime are for Republicans and independent voters. In the past, abortion rights has always been a bigger motivator for conservatives than for liberals. The question now is, is this potential ruling a tipping point? In the short term, in Washington, there's not a lot Democrats can do to secure abortion rights. Nationally, they don't have the votes to pass something in the Senate that would codify Roe. Even though Republican Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski would presumably support that, there aren't enough votes to break the filibuster.

FADEL: Now, just yesterday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, modeled after a similar Texas law. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it would leave abortion decisions up to the states. So let's talk about other restrictions we could see.

LIASSON: I think that you will see more legislating in conservative states. Some legislators have talked about criminalizing abortion, making it a crime to take a woman across state lines to get an abortion. Some activists on the right have talked about passing national abortion restrictions if Republicans gain control of Congress. But other conservatives are cautious and are waiting for the court to rule.

FADEL: Now, clearly, Republicans and Democrats are reacting very differently to this news. Could you break that down for us?

LIASSON: Yes. On the Democratic side, President Biden, as you heard him in that clip, are warning that the rationale behind this opinion can be used to roll back other rights that are enshrined by the courts that rely on a constitutional right to privacy, like contraception or same-sex marriage. Republicans, on the other hand, have been - at least in Washington, have been very focused on the leak, not the policy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo to its members that was very defensive and encouraged them to be the compassionate consensus-builders on abortion policies and to stress that Republicans do not want to take away contraception or to put doctors or women in jail. It was almost as if they were very aware of public opinion on this and the fact that they haven't won the battle for hearts and minds because polls have consistently shown that public opinion is solidly behind upholding Roe. More than 50% support it, and less than 30% support overturning it.

FADEL: So if the court goes through with this decision, what does it mean for U.S. politics in the long run?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know that, but we do know that it's going to spark this bigger debate that we've been having about whether the United States is turning into a minority-rule country. A majority of the justices on the court were appointed by presidents who didn't get a majority of the popular vote, and in some cases, the conservative justices were confirmed by senators representing a minority of voters.

FADEL: OK.

LIASSON: So I think you're going to hear a lot of talk about that, whether the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College and extreme gerrymandering is leading to minority rule in this country. And we'll find out if voters are comfortable with that.

FADEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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FADEL: Ohio's Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most closely watched elections in the country, as Democrats are hoping to drive more people to the polls.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan won the state's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, setting up a battle against Republican nominee J.D. Vance, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Here he is addressing supporters after his victory.

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J D VANCE: They wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump's America-first agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain't the death of the America-first agenda.

(CHEERING)

MARTINEZ: This is already the most expensive race in Ohio's history.

FADEL: With us now is NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea in Cincinnati, where he's been covering the race. Good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Don, how did J.D. Vance emerge on top of a crowded field of Republican candidates, each vying to be more pro-Trump than the other?

GONYEA: Yeah, the GOP primary was just a slugfest, a race full of personal attacks. But you have to give credit to the fact that Vance ultimately got that Trump endorsement. It's something that seemed unlikely early on, given Vance's very strong criticisms of Trump back in 2016. But he became a major fan of Trump's over the years. And by the time he entered this race, he was really all in, and Trump gave him his blessing. Here's Vance with supporters last night.

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VANCE: I have absolutely got to thank the 45th, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, ladies and gentlemen.

(CHEERING)

VANCE: One forgiveness example of what could be in this country, ladies and gentlemen. Remember 2019, when wages were going up and not down? Remember 2019, when workers were doing well in this country, not struggling terribly? Thanks to the president for everything.

GONYEA: So look for Trump to be very much front and center in the fall campaign.

FADEL: OK, so let's talk about the Democrats. What's next for Tim Ryan? He's seen as a moderate congressman.

GONYEA: Ryan has essentially been running his general election race for many months now. He boasts of going to all 88 counties, including the deepest red, most hardcore Trump counties, in the state. He says he wants to listen to everybody, but he also wants people to see him and hear him, and he talks about bringing Ohio back as a leader in manufacturing. Again, the economy took up a chunk of his victory speech last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM RYAN: I want us to be builders again. I want us to dominate the electric car industry. I want us to dominate the battery industry. I want us to dominate the electric truck industry. I want us to dominate the chip industry, glass industry, energy in southeast Ohio, aerospace in southwest Ohio. I want us to be the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

FADEL: Now, Ohio was previously a major swing state and a bellwether for the presidential pick, but it's made a shift to the right, and Trump easily won the state in 2016 and 2020. What does that mean for this race?

GONYEA: It means it's something Ryan has to overcome. Again, Trump won the state big twice. And this, you know, economic uncertainty we're looking at now doesn't help Ryan at all. Vance last night accused him of trying to be a Trump Democrat. He's got a lot to overcome. But people do expect it to be a race.

FADEL: NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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FADEL: The U.S. has already banned oil imports from Russia. Now Europe is thinking about doing the same. The European Union proposed today a plan to phase out Russian crude oil. It's an attempt to put economic pressure on Russia, which continues to attack Ukraine as far west as Lviv, near the Polish border.

MARTINEZ: And Russian shelling continues in the port city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials are hoping to get more people out of the ruins of the Azovstal steel plant in the city. Hundreds of civilians and Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in bunkers and tunnels underneath the plant. The soldiers are the last holdouts in a city Russian forces have reduced to rubble. Roughly a hundred evacuees have now arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia.

FADEL: And that's where NPR's Joanna Kakissis is. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Joanna, you're in Zaporizhzhia. You watched evacuees arrive after weeks of living under bombardment, living underground. How are they?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, the people who were inside that plant walked off those buses looking very pale, looking totally exhausted. I remember this little boy with curly brown hair and freckles. His name is Vova (ph). I was with his friend Sasha (ph), who was waiting for him. They'd grown up together in Mariupol, and Sasha said Vova, you know, was so much fun and had so much energy. But, you know, when he saw Vova, you know, get off that bus looking so exhausted and so sad, you know, Sasha just started crying. He ran to Vova, and he hugged them, and he said, it's going to be OK. Vova and the others were evacuated by the U.N. and the Red Cross. It was a very tricky evacuation. It involved a cease-fire that only held for a couple of days and lots of checkpoints. The U.N. said that some people chose to stay behind in Mariupol after getting out of the plant. They wanted to try to find their family members and even though the U.N. warned them that this would be very, very dangerous.

FADEL: Now, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator who helped get them out says for many, it was their first chance to, quote, "see daylight" after two months. I just can't imagine that. What did people tell you it was like?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, it was extremely bad. People told me it was like living through a horror movie or the apocalypse. You know, aside from food and water shortages and shortages of things like medicine and hygienic products, you know, there's the bombing and the shelling. Everyone I spoke to, they talked about entire rooms shaking and bricks coming loose and falling on families huddled together. I spoke with Anna Krilova and her 14-year-old daughter Maya, who - they lived through all this, and Anna gave this description.

ANNA KRILOVA: (Through interpreter) It was really scary because we couldn't go outside. It was just too dangerous. And inside, we kept going from shelter to shelter because the bombs kept hitting. We were hungry. We were scared. We were under constant shelling.

FADEL: So it feels strange to say this after listening to that, but these are the lucky ones. These are the ones that got out. Humanitarian corridors in the past fell apart under bombardment, and there are still people stuck under that plant. How confident are Ukrainian officials and the U.N. that they can get them out?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, so Ukrainian officials say they are going to push really hard to get everyone out. They're going to do everything they can. And the U.N. says they're already planning a mission to do so. But again, you know, this is very, very complicated. Russians are - once - the Russian troops are once again hitting the plant really, really hard. And so Russia doesn't appear to be showing any signs of a spirit of a cease-fire here.

FADEL: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Zaporizhzhia. Thank you, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.