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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Most of the major Republican candidates for president will be in Milwaukee tonight for the first GOP debate of the 2024 race.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, Milwaukee also will host the Republican National Convention next year, which is a sign of just how important the swing state of Wisconsin is. Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016 and then lost it in 2020 while pretending to win it. Tonight, Trump will not be on stage. The Republican front-runner declined to meet his rivals. He will instead do a separate interview with the fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson while also preparing to surrender to Georgia authorities tomorrow to face his fourth criminal indictment. This one concerns his failed efforts to stay in office after his 2020 election defeat.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Franco Ordoñez covers Trump and the White House. He's in Milwaukee for the debate. Franco, the candidates have been campaigning. It feels, though, like this is the official start of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Yeah, it really is. I mean, it's a big day for Republicans. I mean, thousands of the party faithful are here. The weather's been nice. You're seeing the signs, the hats. You know, I've talked with folks from Arkansas, Florida and Massachusetts. One, Ron Kaufman, he's a party representative from Massachusetts and a longtime GOP operative. Here's how he kind of summed up the mood.

RON KAUFMAN: People like being here, and they're pumped. I wish all the candidates were going to be here, but that's not going to change anything.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. He's talking about Trump, not going to be there tonight. What does it mean that he's not showing?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, Steve mentioned some of it. You know, I mean, no question, it puts a damper on things. People are not happy that he's skipping. But Trump says he doesn't want to prop up his rivals, being that he's so far ahead. And he really is far ahead. I mean, the campaign says Americans already know what kind of President Trump's going to be, so he doesn't need to sell himself like some of the lesser-known candidates do. But it doesn't look, as Steve noted, that he's going to entirely cede the spotlight. He did tease yesterday that he's going to be busy tonight. He has some counterprogramming planned. You know, he has that interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, which could run at the same time as the debate, which is also on Fox.

MARTÍNEZ: And we mentioned earlier how Milwaukee is hosting the Republican National Convention next year. Why else has that city become so important for Republicans?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, really, it's critical to both parties. President Biden was actually in Milwaukee last week touting his economic record, and his campaign just released a local ad doing much of the same. You know, Wisconsin is truly a state up for grabs. In the last two presidential elections - in 2016, Trump won by less than 25,000 votes. Four years later, Biden did the same thing.

MARTÍNEZ: So Republicans maybe see an opportunity to win it back.

ORDOÑEZ: That's for sure. I mean, the Wisconsin state party chairman, Brian Schimming, says the big investment in Wisconsin for Republicans really is no accident.

BRIAN SCHIMMING: I always say Wisconsin isn't one of 50 states for this election. We're one of about five. And really, the White House runs through Wisconsin.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, he really remembers when Wisconsin was considered flyover country. But now he says voters can run into presidential candidates at the convenience store.

MARTÍNEZ: So how big, then, is the window for these candidates to make an impression?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, they really need to seize the moment. As we said before, they are way behind. You know, it is common for a candidate who does well on the debate stage to get a bit of a bump in the polls and also in fundraising. So it's a big moment, but it could also be short-lived. And that's because Trump announced he plans to travel to Georgia tomorrow and surrender to authorities, so focus is likely to turn back to Trump soon, if it ever leaves him at all.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks a lot.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: Tens of millions of borrowers who are expected to restart their student loan payments next month could be getting a break.

INSKEEP: The Education Department is starting what it's calling the most affordable repayment plan in history, so affordable that the Biden administration says many borrowers will see some or even all of their federal student loans erased. This plan is separate from the outright loan forgiveness plan that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Cory Turner has been pouring through the nuts and bolts. Cory, how's this new plan going to work?

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Well, the idea is pretty simple, A - the less you make, the less you pay each month. There have been other income-based plans, but this one, which they're calling the Saving on a Valuable Education Plan, or the acronym SAVE, is much more generous than everything that came before, and that's really because of three big changes. So first, it's going to dramatically lower monthly payments for millions of borrowers. It's also going to increase the number of people who qualify to make no payments at all.

Second, under older plans, borrowers who qualified for those low or even $0 monthly payments still watched interest quite often explode their loans. Now, though, as long as you're paying what the government thinks you can afford, it's going to forgive any interest that's left over each month. And then the third big change, A, is a kind of ticking clock toward forgiveness. For undergraduate borrowers who keep up with their payments for 20 years, the government promises to forgive whatever's left. That's not entirely new.

What's new is if you borrowed $12,000 or less, you know, maybe for community college, you'll only have to wait 10 years, half as long. And one more thing - this is key. The administration wants to give many borrowers back credit for the years they've already been in repayment, which obviously would then bring them that much closer to forgiveness.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so price tag - what's it going to cost?

TURNER: All right. So the administration projects that people will see their total payments per dollar borrowed overall cut by around 40%. So that's a lot of debt the Ed Department says it's ultimately going to be forgiving, which obviously has raised a lot of red flags, especially among conservatives. Here's Nat Malkus, who studies higher ed policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

NAT MALKUS: That means that if you borrowed $10,000, you'll only pay back 6,200 on average. That doesn't sound like a loan program. It sounds like a quasi-grant program tacked onto the end of a loan program.

TURNER: I should say, A, at least one estimate suggests the cost could equal or even exceed the cost of the loan forgiveness plan the Supreme Court killed, and that was around $400 billion. I have spoken with other experts, though, who say, look, these big changes in this plan are going to help millions of low-income Americans afford their debts and access college in the future. Here's Dominique Baker. She's an associate professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University.

DOMINIQUE BAKER: Those are things that sound kind of policy wonky. They are incredibly impactful for people's lives. Like, bundled together, this is astounding.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned earlier the loan forgiveness plan the Supreme Court killed. What are the chances that this will face legal challenges?

TURNER: I think it's inevitable it will face legal challenge, though most of the folks I've talked to about this, even those who don't like the plan, say this one is on safer legal footing.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Cory, thanks for looking into this.

TURNER: You're welcome, A.

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MARTÍNEZ: The Federal Aviation Administration has taken on a string of near misses on the runway and will draw attention to safety in dozens of meetings at about 90 U.S. airports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Southwest aboard. FedEx is on the go.

INSKEEP: FedEx is on the go. That's what it sounded like back on February 4 for the pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight. The plane had been cleared to take off from Austin. A FedEx cargo plane had been told to use the same runway and could have landed on the passenger plane with 131 people on board if it hadn't changed course. It's one of multiple serious close calls tracked by the FAA this year.

MARTÍNEZ: Andrew Tangel's on the line. He's an aviation reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew, the FAA tracks these near misses on the ground and in the air. How has this year been different?

ANDREW TANGEL: The FAA classifies these incidents with different ranks of seriousness. And earlier this year, there was a spate of close calls at runways around the country that were the most serious that the FAA tracks. And so regulators were alarmed enough to put the focus on these so-called runway incursions. They held a big meeting in the Washington, D.C., area. They brought in airlines, pilots, airport operators to try to figure out what's going on. And these forthcoming meetings at U.S. airports are an extension of that effort.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So how are these meetings going to achieve what the FAA wants, which is zero close calls?

TANGEL: They're ultimately trying to tell everyone in the industry to keep their head in the game and be extra vigilant about safety issues. They are trying to figure out what happened in each of these close calls. They are also trying to figure out what could tie them all together systemically, what could be the underlying cause. They're trying to understand why there are these mistakes either by pilots or air traffic controllers, what have you. The industry in the U.S. has all but eliminated major fatal airline crashes. There hasn't been one with a major U.S. airline past 14 years, which is remarkable by historical standards. And now suddenly, things are getting way too close, and they're trying to figure out why and keep it from even getting that close.

MARTÍNEZ: So these close calls, the high number of these near misses - is it possibly because of increased traffic after the pandemic?

TANGEL: That is one of the concerns. There are a lot more airplanes to manage flying around, adding to the stress of an already constrained system. Air traffic control towers are understaffed. There are younger and newer members of the workforce, not only in air traffic control, but also at airlines, in the cockpit. The pilots are facing new pressures. You know, the traditional career path has been accelerated, given there were so many retirements during the pandemic when nobody was flying. And suddenly you've got younger pilots progressing to bigger planes, becoming captain in command of new airplanes that they are less experienced dealing with than maybe a counterpart might have been 10 or 15 years ago.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's The Wall Street Journal's Andrew Tangel. Andrew, thanks.

TANGEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez
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.