90.1 FM San Luis Obispo | 91.7 FM Paso Robles | 91.1 FM Cayucos | 95.1 FM Lompoc | 90.9 FM Avila
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

News brief: Biden to Brussels, Judge Jackson's record, Ohio's redistricting


Keeping the U.S.'s European allies united has been one of President Biden's key objectives in the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Now just about a month into the conflict, he is traveling to Europe, beginning in Brussels today with meetings with world leaders.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in Brussels. Tamara, Biden will attend an emergency NATO summit, a G-7 meeting and also speak to the European Council. I mean, what do you expect to come out of these meetings?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This is just the latest push to try to keep Western leaders moving in lockstep in this crisis. We've seen the president be very deliberate in his moves on sanctions to make sure everyone was on the same page, even at times moving more slowly than Congress would have liked. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told us yesterday that Biden plans to stay the course as leaders announce more sanctions.


JAKE SULLIVAN: He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement. He will work with allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank. He will announce joint action on enhancing European energy security and reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas at long last.

KEITH: We've also been told to expect more humanitarian assistance to be announced for Ukrainians still inside the country and those who have fled. Two more things that Biden wants to talk to leaders about - China's close relationship with Russia and whether Russia should be allowed to stay in the G-20. That's another of the world's largest economies - a group of the world's largest economies. You'll recall that Russia was kicked out of what used to be the G-8 after it annexed Crimea in 2014.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the symbolism of the American president going to Europe as this war rages on? I mean, we know that he's been holding phone calls with these leaders for months now. What does it say that he is now going there in person for these meetings?

KEITH: There's a moment at the beginning of all of these kinds of meetings, one that to me has always just seemed like this awkward photo op. Here's how Jim Townsend describes it. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO.

JIM TOWNSEND: He's got to go there. And, you know, they do the family photo - you know, at NATO, they have all the heads of state and government line up on those risers, and they take the family photo? That's really important. That family photo is going to show everyone that these guys are unified.

KEITH: Townsend told me that this moment matters. It matters to people in Europe who are really nervous about this conflict, and it sends a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who expected the NATO alliance to be wobbly, and instead, so far, it has stuck together.

MARTÍNEZ: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is going to speak to this joint session in NATO remotely. He spoke to the U.S. Congress last week and also to a number of other countries as well. He's been pushing to both join NATO and to get more defensive support. Will there be more announcements on military equipment from this meeting?

KEITH: It's likely that there will be. I spoke with Ian Lesser. He's the vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He works here in Brussels. He says he expects NATO to be under increasing pressure from Ukraine to take action, and he says there may not be much appetite for that. The alliance is trying to figure out how to navigate putting maximum pressure on Russia and providing maximum support for Ukraine, which isn't a NATO member, without making a move that could escalate the conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing before I let you go - press secretary Jen Psaki, who was supposed to go with President Biden, has tested positive for COVID. What do we know about this?

KEITH: This is the second time she's tested positive. The first time was right before the G-20 in Rome last fall, so she missed that trip, too. She was in a meeting with President Biden on Monday preparing for this trip, but the White House insists that they were socially distanced and that there are no changes to President Biden's travel plans at this point.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: President Biden's Supreme Court nominee faces more questions today.

INSKEEP: She may also face more speeches. During 12 hours of discussions yesterday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson often said little while senators wound up to make points for later videos. She did face questions from Republicans who asked about her philosophy, her past work as a public defender and her rulings in child porn cases.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is covering the hearings. Susan, at least three Republican senators focused questions on Jackson's rulings on a handful of child porn cases where she handed out sentences that they argued were too lenient. So why the focus here, and how did Jackson respond?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, it was a pretty clear strategy from a handful of senators to try to cast her as someone who would be soft on crime. Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley focused the entirety of his time on this one issue. Now, I should note, the White House criticized Hawley for flirting with conspiracies promoted by the QAnon movement that the Democratic Party is run by people who support or protect child predators. Here's some of his exchange.


KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: You said before the probation office is making recommendations, and they do so on a case-by-case basis. That is what Congress requires. Once...

JOSH HAWLEY: But you had discretion, Judge. You admit that, right? I just want to be clear on that.

JACKSON: Senator, sentencing is a discretionary act of a judge, but it's not a numbers game.

DAVIS: Now, it is accurate that in a handful of cases involving child pornography, Jackson did not hand down the maximum sentence, but this question has been examined pretty extensively by independent fact-checkers and even some conservative legal writers, and they've largely just debunked this idea that it was outside of the norm. Jackson's rulings were consistent with precedent and with other similar cases handed down by other judges. I think it's also important to remember in this context of her record on crime, Jackson has the support of organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, a policing group that would not typically support a candidate that was viewed by the law enforcement community as soft on crime.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, she was also asked about her views on constitutional cases that protect abortion rights. The court is currently considering a challenge to Roe v. Wade that's going to be decided later this year. What did she have to say about that?

DAVIS: You know, she held it close to other nominees who did not directly answer the question, but she also notably aligned herself with how recently confirmed conservative judges have answered the same question.


JACKSON: I do agree with both Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Barrett on this issue. Roe and Casey are the settled law of the Supreme Court.

DAVIS: I think this is interesting because it can kind of highlight how both conservative and liberal legal minds can answer the same question the same way but are pretty widely expected to vote very differently if this issue was put to them. She would not join the court until after this case is decided later this year, the challenge to Roe. And it's also important to remember that her appointment will not change the ideological makeup of the court. It will still be a 6-3 conservative majority.

MARTÍNEZ: And Senator Ted Cruz from Texas focused on Jackson's role on the board of Georgetown Day School. That's a private school in D.C. Cruz focused on the school's curriculum that includes a book on how to talk to children about racism by Professor Ibram Kendi.


TED CRUZ: Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?

MARTÍNEZ: How did Jackson respond to that?

DAVIS: Well, she stressed that she has no control over that or any other school's curriculum. She also testified that the legal academic idea of critical race theory is not something that affects her role as a judge, and it's not something she's ever studied or relied on.


JACKSON: It doesn't come up in my work as a judge. It's never something that I've studied or relied on, and it wouldn't be something that I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.

DAVIS: Republicans have focused a lot on this concept of critical race theory to question any sort of anti-racism curriculum in schools because it's generally been a pretty motivating idea to their Republican base in recent years.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


MARTÍNEZ: To Ohio now, where legal fights over redistricting are about to come to a head.

INSKEEP: On May 3, voters cast ballots in primary elections, but the state has not agreed on district voting maps. This is super basic. It means that candidates do not know who and where they would represent.

MARTÍNEZ: Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow is following it all. Now, just weeks to go until the primary, Andy. No maps for state Legislature. What is going on?

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: Yeah, things are getting pretty messy here in Ohio. So Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission have approved three different sets of maps in September and three different times those maps have been found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. So this is a long process that's been going on for a while. And without finalized maps, Ohio doesn't really have the ability to put these state legislative races on the May 3 primary.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, this might be a little confusing for voters. I mean, they kind of need to know when to vote and who to vote for after all.

CHOW: Yeah. And the main argument here from voter rights groups and community organizations is that they've been telling members of the redistricting commission that these maps were going to be found unconstitutional, which they were three different times. And now voter rights groups are saying that this is creating a lot of drama, a lot of twists and turns, for voters and even people who follow this issue closely to be able to understand.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you spoke to someone about all this?

CHOW: Yeah. Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters says, of course, this is causing confusion for everyone.

JEN MILLER: Right now voters don't even know who their candidates are. Candidates don't even know what their districts are. More time means everything.

CHOW: And for Miller, she's saying that more time means delaying the primaries so everybody can figure this out.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so even if the candidates don't have a handle on the maps, then, what do they have to say about that?

CHOW: Well, candidates say it's not just voters who are confused; everyone's confused. Many campaigns are in limbo as the state works to figure this stuff out. Back in February, candidates had to file their petitions to even run for office, and they didn't even know what their districts were going to look like. They didn't know what communities they'd be representing. And the maps have changed so many times that it really causes confusion right down to the yard signs they put down. I talked to state Representative Thomas Hall about the challenges that he's facing about it.

THOMAS HALL: I do a lot of doors, and I do a lot of yard signs to get our message out. But right now we're kind of in a holding pattern to see where we should be putting these signs. Obviously, we don't want to create further confusion to the voters.

CHOW: Yeah, and Hall's a Republican from southwest Ohio, kind of proving that it's not just a Democratic complaint; it's Republicans and Democrats having a hard time with this.

MARTÍNEZ: Andy, quickly, we've seen other states move their primary dates because of delays - is that happening to Ohio next?

CHOW: Yeah, unlike places like North Carolina, Ohio cannot move its primary date through the court, according to lawmakers. They say they're the only ones who can do it. And at this point, they're looking at possibly even splitting the primary in two, which could cost the state up to $25 million more. But again, everything's up in the air at this point.

MARTÍNEZ: Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow. Thanks a lot.

CHOW: Thank you. 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.
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.