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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Lawmakers in Congress have less than two days to pass a short-term funding bill and avoid a government shutdown. The White House insists a shutdown should not happen this weekend and that it wouldn't if House Republicans just did their job.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

But at the same time, the White House is preparing for a shutdown. That's something that seems quite likely to happen as early as Sunday. Now, you might think that this would mean the president would agree to the House speaker's request for a meeting at the eleventh hour, but you'd be wrong.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid spoke about this last night with President Biden's chief of staff. So here's what Jeff Zients told her.

JEFF ZIENTS: There's no need for a meeting right now. The meeting that has to take place is in the House of Representatives, where House Republicans come together and fund the government.

MARTÍNEZ: Asma joins us now with more from her exclusive interview. So, Asma, explain this to us. I mean, so why is this kind of face-to-face meeting between Biden and McCarthy unlikely to happen?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, A, I think the backstory is important to understand here. And on Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy said that it would be very important to meet with President Biden amidst all of this shutdown drama. But fundamentally, the White House sees this as a problem that only House Republicans can solve. And Jeff Zients, the chief of staff, told me that this is not even a conversation we ought to be having right now because this whole issue was settled months ago. He pointed to the fact that back in May, early June, a bipartisan deal was struck to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government.

ZIENTS: There's a deal in place, a compromise agreement that Democrats and Republicans came together on and the president signed into law. And now what we have is a small group of extreme Republicans in the House reneging on that deal.

KHALID: And I'm sure you get a sense of this here, listening to the chief of staff. But really, the strategy right now from the White House is to pin the blame on House Republicans.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but is the White House worried voters will ultimately hold the president responsible for this if the government shuts down?

KHALID: You know, I asked Zients that question, if there could be any political repercussions that would filter over to the White House, and he insists that the American public understands a deal is a deal and that Republicans walked away from their end of the bargain. The White House is trying to show that the president has remained hard at work governing while the GOP is spending time on this impeachment hearing and also on dealing with the shutdown. I spoke to Zients, I should point out, just after he got off a Zoom meeting with Cabinet secretaries to talk through shutdown plans and just before President Biden actually called him from Air Force One to check in on all of this. So you do get the sense that they are clearly preparing, and they are worried about managing the impacts of a shutdown because ultimately that falls to them.

ZIENTS: It'll have a big impact on our 1.3 million active-duty troops and their families. Our troops will not be paid. Air traffic controllers will not be paid.

KHALID: Zients also mentioned to me that FEMA recovery projects and small-business loans would also be stalled if the government shut down.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So where do the talks stand right now?

KHALID: Well, the Senate is moving forward with a short-term bipartisan bill to fund the government through mid-November, and that would provide aid to Ukraine as well as aid for disasters here in the United States. I should mention this is something that the White House supports. House Republicans have rejected that plan. They are moving ahead with their own approach, which does not seem really likely to go very far. You know, the thing is, McCarthy faces pressure from his right flank, and that has made it really hard for him to do this job and potentially make it very easy for him to lose his job as speaker. I should say, should the government shut down on Sunday, Zients told me the president would absolutely be communicating with the American people and using that as a chance to push Congress.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks for laying this out for us.

KHALID: Happy to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: With automakers expected to expand their strike, we might be on the verge of another one.

MCCAMMON: This one would involve tens of thousands of health care workers at Kaiser Permanente. There's one more round of in-person bargaining starting today, and it's the last chance to avoid a strike before their contract expires tomorrow.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Danielle Kaye is following the talks. So give us a sense of the scale of the potential strike. How big would this one be?

DANIELLE KAYE, BYLINE: Yeah, so if a strike does happen, it would involve more than 75,000 health care workers walking off the job for three days next week, starting on Wednesday. And these workers are represented by 12 local unions from coast to coast that are part of a coalition that's bargaining with Kaiser. And they have all sorts of jobs at Kaiser's hospitals and clinics from California to Washington, D.C. They're nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, optometrists, just to name a few. And Kaiser is one of the biggest nonprofit health care providers in the country. It serves almost 13 million patients. So this strike would affect lots of different types of patient care.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so why are we here on the verge of a strike?

KAYE: Well, the main concern here is understaffing. There was already a staffing shortage at Kaiser before the COVID pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020. But the pandemic made the problem that much worse. There's been an exodus of health care workers throughout the industry, not just at Kaiser. Remember, health care workers were on the front lines, risking their health every day during the pandemic. And on top of that, Kaiser has seen a surge in patient demand as people start to come back for routine care they delayed because of COVID. So the unions, like others currently on strike, are fighting for better benefits and higher pay, a 25% pay raise over the length of the contract. And the unions think better pay and benefits would help keep and draw in more people to Kaiser. And all of that, they say, would help fix the staff shortages. Here's Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

CAROLINE LUCAS: They work 40, 50, 60 hours a week at a job that we all know as a society that we need to have filled, and they can't pay their bills at the end of the week.

KAYE: And I should note here that Kaiser tells us it's close to meeting its goal of hiring 10,000 more people to fill union roles by the end of the year. But Lucas says so many workers are leaving the organization that hiring just isn't keeping up with those losses.

MARTÍNEZ: What are you hearing from those workers who might be gearing up to go on the strike?

KAYE: Well, workers I've talked to say they're willing to walk off the job because of how bad the staffing crisis has gotten. Brooke El-Amin has been working at Kaiser in the Washington, D.C., area for 21 years. She was an outpatient pharmacist at the start of the pandemic, and she says that's when understaffing started to really take a toll on her mental health.

BROOKE EL-AMIN: I don't want to strike, but I feel like Kaiser, you know, is already letting down our patients. They're already letting down the employees.

KAYE: And Kaiser is asking employees to reject calls to go on strike to avoid harm to patients. But workers say patient care is already suffering from the staff shortages, and the whole point of the strike would be to try to change that.

MARTÍNEZ: So speaking of patients, what should Kaiser patients expect next week if a strike does happen?

KAYE: So labor groups in the health care industry are required to give 10 days notice before a strike. The Kaiser unions have already done that, so Kaiser does have time to prepare. Kaiser told me it has plans in place to keep providing care in the event of a strike, but patients can still expect some delays, probably more than usual, in routine appointments next week if the strike does happen.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Danielle Kaye, thanks a lot.

KAYE: Thanks so much.

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MARTÍNEZ: It is one of the largest financial frauds in history.

MCCAMMON: And the man behind it, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the bankrupt crypto exchange FTX, is set to go on trial next week. If he's found guilty, SBF, as he's better known, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Throughout the pretrial proceedings, two people have been at his side constantly. Those are his parents, and they're both star professors at Stanford Law School. But now they're facing their own legal trouble.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Gura joins us now. David, so who are SBF's parents?

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Well, A, they're both very prominent academics. And from what I've been told, they're very beloved members of the Stanford Law School community, a very close-knit community. And a theme in their scholarship is social welfare, social fairness. I'll start with Joe Bankman. He's an expert on tax law. He's written a lot of books. He's invested a lot of time and his own money in an effort to make it easier for people to file their taxes. And a few years ago, he decided to get his doctorate in psychology. Bankman now works part time as a therapist in the Bay Area. Barbara Fried has retired from teaching at Stanford. She's an expert on legal ethics. She was a student at Harvard when some giants of modern philosophy were teaching there - Robert Nozick, John Rawls. And in recent years, Fried has tried her hand at fiction and poetry. She turned her attention to politics. She co-founded a political nonprofit that shied away from the spotlight with the goal of electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives. But for almost a year now, honestly, Bankman and Fried have been wholly focused on their son's defense. By all accounts, A, this is a very close-knit family.

MARTÍNEZ: And how are they involved with what their son is being accused of? What are they being accused of, actually?

GURA: Yeah, they're facing a major civil suit. They're accused of being integrally involved in SBF's crypto empire, which collapsed last year. Joe Bankman allegedly offered legal advice. He helped with hiring decisions. Bankman talked about how he got involved in a podcast interview FTX produced last year.

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JOSEPH BANKMAN: It was clear at the start that on things like law - I mean, the company didn't have any lawyers. So I think my utility there was pretty obvious.

GURA: At a company that was run by a lot of young people, this older eminent law professor stood out. He had a lot of authority. Now FTX is trying to claw back millions of dollars from Bankman and Fried, millions of dollars in both cash and gifts, including a $16.4 million villa in the Bahamas, where FTX was based. Joe Bankman had a paid job at FTX. Barbara Fried did not, but she's accused of advising her son and her son's company on their political giving. SBF gave that political nonprofit she founded tens of thousands of dollars.

MARTÍNEZ: David, what's been the reaction to all this?

GURA: Well, astonishment, according to Michael Klausner, who went to Yale Law with Joe Bankman. Now he's his colleague at Stanford. Bankman is not teaching this quarter, but Klausner says he sees him regularly on campus, and Bankman and Fried continued to socialize. A, I reached out to every professor on the Stanford Law School faculty. Fewer than a dozen replied to me, and only two professors agreed to comment on the record. Mike Klausner is one of them.

MICHAEL KLAUSNER: I think many of us disagree with the way the case has been handled from the moment of the prosecution on.

GURA: Again, Klausner says he has been astonished and saddened by how this has played out over the last year from how fast this case has gone to trial - it's been just about 10 months since prosecutors in New York filed these charges against Sam Bankman-Fried - to decisions that Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing this case, has made in recent months. You know, that judge put a strict gag order in place after Sam Bankman-Fried violated terms of his bail conditions. And last month, he made this decision to put SBF in jail. He is awaiting trial in Brooklyn at the metropolitan detention facility. His latest plea to get out of jail was rejected by the judge yesterday. Jury selection in this case starts on Tuesday, A. It's going to be closely watched. It's expected to last five to six weeks in New York.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Gura. David, thanks for explaining this.

GURA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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.