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News brief: Jan. 6 hearing, Ukraine grain, Biden is taking Paxlovid for COVID

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It was the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Rioters attacked police, stormed through hallways and threatened the life of the then-vice president.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The January 6 committee released outtakes of a speech that former President Trump gave, and he still wasn't ready to say he lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: But this election is now over. Congress has certified the results. I don't want to say the election's over; I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election's over, OK?

MARTIN: Those outtakes and more new evidence were part of last night's prime-time hearing by the House Select January 6 Committee.

FADEL: To walk us through all of this is NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So the House Select Committee dubbed this the 187-minute hearing. That's the more than three hours between Trump's speech and when he finally told rioters he loved them, but they should go home. Walk us through what we learned about what he was doing during those 187 minutes.

GRISALES: Right. We learned that Trump watched the January 6 insurrection unfold on Fox News from a dining room in the White House and seemingly did little else. During this time, the White House was inundated with urgent messages from Trump allies pleading for Trump to call off the mob. One of those was GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who asked Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JARED KUSHNER: He told me it was getting really ugly over at the Capitol and said, please, you know, anything you could do to help, I would appreciate it. I don't recall specific asks, just anything you could do. Again, I got the sense that, you know, they were - you know, they were scared.

GRISALES: It was just one of many moments illustrating how Trump remained unmoved and out of sight during these critical hours.

FADEL: Now, the committee didn't just focus on those critical hours; they examined what Trump was doing that night and then the next day. What was going on in the White House then?

GRISALES: Right. Many of his advisers were, quote, "disgusted" Trump did not issue much of a forceful rebuke of the rioters. The two witnesses who appeared before the panel last night, former Trump White House aide Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger, both quit within hours of the attack. Here's Sarah Matthews, former deputy Trump White House press secretary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH MATTHEWS: His refusal to act and call off the mob that day and his refusal to condemn the violence was indefensible.

GRISALES: And ex-Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger said he decided to quit when Trump went after his then-vice president, Mike Pence, in a tweet during the attack, adding fuel to the fire.

FADEL: And some of the most dramatic moments yesterday focused on then-Vice President Mike Pence and his security detail. Can you tell us about that?

GRISALES: Yes, we heard dramatic radio traffic from Secret Service for the first time, and we also heard from one anonymous security official that the detail to the vice president was in fear for their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There were calls to say goodbye to family members - so on, so forth. It was getting - for whatever the reason was on the ground, the VP detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.

GRISALES: Very ugly, the official says there. And this is another reminder how dangerous this breach became.

FADEL: We also got some glimpses of the road ahead. What's next?

GRISALES: Right. The committee laid out plans to continue their probe in the coming weeks. And Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney said that they want to resume perhaps another series of hearings in September as the committee looks to issue an initial report. And that will be followed by a final report by the end of the year.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The United Nations appears to be on the verge of brokering a deal to get badly needed grain supplies from Ukraine to the rest of the world.

MARTIN: Right. These supplies have been held up by what's effectively been a Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea. Millions of tons of grain have been piling up there. The Turkish government says a signing ceremony is supposed to happen today for an agreement between Russia, Ukraine, the U.N. and Turkey. This would facilitate the shipping of all that grain.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes joins us now from Moscow with details. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

FADEL: So we don't know for sure yet if this agreement will be finished today. There have been contentious negotiations for weeks. But can you just start by reminding us of how the war has endangered food supplies?

MAYNES: Yeah, sure. You know, this goes back to the fact that the conflict in Ukraine is unfolding against what's often called the bread basket of Europe.

FADEL: Right.

MAYNES: You know, the wider region is a key source of grains and fertilizers that normally ship out through the Black Sea to global markets. Only because of the fighting, Ukrainian grain can't make it out due to the presence of Russian warships. Meanwhile, Russian agricultural exports are also stuck, not because of Western sanctions on Russian grain or fertilizer - those don't exist - but because of snags due to penalties on Russian banking and shipping. And these two factors combined have really led to food shortages and rising food prices that are impacting the poorest countries in places like Latin America, Asia, East Africa, putting millions on the verge of famine.

FADEL: So in this negotiation, what are the contours of the deal they're chasing?

MAYNES: Well, you know, everyone says they want the grain to ship, but it's really Russia placing conditions on what might allow that to happen. Russia says it wants a comprehensive approach, one that links the release of Ukrainian grain with the lifting of restrictions on Russian agricultural exports. Ukraine and its allies call that blackmail and an attempt, really, to get sanctions relief. The key mediators here, first of all, are the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has lobbied a great deal with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine in recent months.

The other key player here is Turkey, which has hosted peace talks but also pitched itself as a go-between on this grain issue. And it makes sense, given Turkey's geography. You know, any shipments from the Black Sea have to pass through the Bosporus strait, which runs through Turkey, in order to get grain where it needs to go. We don't know the exact terms of the deal, but the outline suggests a role for the U.N. and Turkey to essentially play traffic cop. In other words, they'll offer to guarantee safe passage of ships containing grain out of the region while making sure that those coming in don't bring in contraband or weapons. And it's pretty clear that any deal will likely involve moving both Ukrainian grain and Russian ag, meaning Moscow is getting a good deal of what it's been demanding all along.

FADEL: So assuming they can get a deal, do we know when grain might actually start shipping?

MAYNES: Well, we don't. But clearly, time is of the essence. Soon the harvest begins in this part of the world, and there's a rush to free up silos and, of course, get the grain out to countries in need. Now, President Putin has repeatedly said Russia's willing - ready to guarantee shipments right away. But there's a host of complicating factors. For example, in these Russian occupied territories in, say, east Ukraine - you know, whose grain is it now? There's also the issue of explosive mines in the waters that the Ukrainians put there to defend their ports from attack, and Russia has said repeatedly it won't attack if Ukraine de-mines the waters to allow grain shipments out. But that's a hard sell when Russia continues to fire missiles from the Black Sea onto Ukraine, including port cities like Odesa.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you so much for your reporting.

MAYNES: Thank you.

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FADEL: President Biden has COVID.

MARTIN: Yeah, he says he's doing fine, though, and he released a video saying as much yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Symptoms are mild. And I really appreciate your inquiry and your concerns. And I'm doing well. I'm getting a lot of work done.

MARTIN: The president's doctor prescribed him a course of Paxlovid antiviral pills.

FADEL: NPR's Pien Huang joins us now to share the latest on the president's condition and this common COVID treatment. Hi, Pien.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So the president says he's feeling fine. What do we know about his condition?

HUANG: Well, the latest is that the president has a runny nose. He's kind of tired, and he has an occasional dry cough. That's according to Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the president's physician, who's promised to give daily updates on that condition. It's not clear yet how the president caught COVID, but it's everywhere these days. In terms of the timeline, the president started feeling tired after a long day on Wednesday. Thursday morning, he tested positive for the coronavirus - first on an antigen test, then on a PCR test.

Now, the president is vaccinated. He's had two booster shots, and he's taking work calls while isolating in the White House residence. So far seems to have a pretty mild case of COVID. But given the president's age - he's 79 - and some of his health conditions, his doctor started him on a course of Paxlovid. He joins more than 2.7 million COVID patients who've gotten the drug here in the U.S..

FADEL: OK. So remind us how these antiviral pills work.

HUANG: Well, so it's a five-day course of pills. You take them twice daily. And the president started them yesterday, within a day or two of showing symptoms, which, according to the current guidelines, is ideal. See; the pills need to be started within five days of getting symptoms because they basically work by stopping the virus from replicating in the body. And like a lot of other patients, the president has also had to adjust his medications to be able to take Paxlovid safely. For the time being, he stopped taking pills that lower his cholesterol and then his blood to avoid drug interactions that could be dangerous.

FADEL: How well does Paxlovid work? What do we know about that?

HUANG: Well, when the pills were first authorized in the winter, they were considered almost 90% effective at cutting the risk of getting hospitalized. This was a result that was found in people who were unvaccinated with risk factors for severe COVID. Now, many people are starting with a lower risk because they've been vaccinated or they've recovered from COVID or both. Dr. Scott Dryden-Petersen at Mass General Brigham Hospital in Boston said that for COVID patients like Biden, who are around the same age, who are vaccinated with the same underlying conditions, the risks of getting hospitalized may have dropped to as low as 1%. Still, he says, taking Paxlovid cuts even that minimal risk in half.

SCOTT DRYDEN-PETERSON: The vast majority of patients do want to take it. They want to reduce the risk. Of course, none of us know what will happen in the future, but this therapy does seem to prevent severe complications of COVID. And so most patients are opting for that.

HUANG: Some people have reported that their COVID symptoms do come back after completing a course of Paxlovid, and it's not currently clear how frequently this happens or - but so far, the rebounds are generally mild, and patients could be infectious again. And another Paxlovid development this month is that the government is now allowing pharmacists to prescribe these pills, which opens up the possibilities for the drug to be more accessible across the country.

FADEL: NPR's Pien Huang. Thank you.

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

Rachel Martin is a host of 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.