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Morning news brief


Republican challengers to Donald Trump got a little more time to speak in last night's presidential debate.


That's because there are fewer candidates than in prior debates. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are contending to become Trump's main challenger. Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy continued to position himself as an acolyte of Trump, and Chris Christie as Trump's fiercest critic.

INSKEEP: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo was listening to all of them at the University of Alabama. Good morning.


INSKEEP: So what, if anything, was new as the candidates talked last night?

BUSTILLO: Well, a lot of the topics were the same that we've seen in the last three debates. But from the beginning, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis turned their attention to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. In the NewsNation debate, Haley flipped this into a compliment.


NIKKI HALEY: I love all the attention, fellas. Thank you for that.


BUSTILLO: DeSantis and Ramaswamy drew comparisons with Haley, and they launched jabs against comments they say Haley has made in the past. They also criticized her past roles, such as being on the board of Boeing. And on top of that, Haley recently received the endorsement of the influential Koch network, a powerhouse conservative funding network.


HALEY: And in terms of these donors that are supporting me, they're just jealous. They wish that they were supporting them. But I'm not going to sit there and deny it.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Oh, give me a break.

BUSTILLO: But she is behind Trump in the polls in some of the first primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. Still, the dynamic onstage made it seem like she is the alternative to Trump that the rest need to beat.

INSKEEP: Of course, Trump is many, many points ahead in all polls - all national polls against all of these candidates and even ahead in some of the early primary states. How are these candidates trying, if at all, to distinguish themselves from Trump at this late date?

BUSTILLO: Most are still threading the needle of not criticizing him but still advocating for themselves as the best next leader for the Republican Party. The biggest critic continues to be former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here he is in last night's NewsNation debate.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: Let me make it clear. His conduct is unacceptable. He's unfit. And be careful of what you're going to get. If you ever got another Donald Trump term, he's letting you know, I am your retribution.


CHRISTIE: He will only be - Elizabeth. He will only be his own retribution. He doesn't care for the American people. It's Donald Trump first.

BUSTILLO: For the most part, everyone else sidestepped questions about Trump, with DeSantis refusing to answer whether he believed the former president is mentally fit to hold the office. Haley, though, did criticize the Trump era as not being tough enough on China and increasing federal debt.

INSKEEP: I want to take note of the location here. We mentioned the University of Alabama. It's the first Republican debate this time to be hosted on a college campus. What did the candidates have to say that is relevant to younger voters?

BUSTILLO: Well, the RNC told me ahead of the debate that they expected hundreds of students to attend. And this voting group is really important. Candidates did talk about some of the issues that I hear young voters are concerned about. One of those issues is affordable housing and being able to buy a home in your hometown. Haley was asked about the government's role in increasing affordable housing, but she pivoted instead to criticizing federal spending.

Another big issue for young voters is student loan debt, which President Biden is trying to forgive. DeSantis opposes this plan and last night spoke about requiring universities to back the loans. And he wants students to be able to discharge their loans through bankruptcy.

INSKEEP: Oh, oh. His platform says that if you want to get out of a student loan, file for bankruptcy yourself. That's what he's saying, right?

BUSTILLO: Yes, which currently, that's difficult to do.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Ximena Bustillo is in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Thanks so much.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.


INSKEEP: We turn now to an aspect of Israel's war with Hamas that Israel says is not getting enough attention.

MARTIN: That is reports of widespread sexual violence in the Hamas attack that started this latest conflict. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, says the U.N. has been too slow to speak out.


GILAD ERDAN: Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen was listening as Israelis made their case at the United Nations. And we should advise you that over the next three or four minutes, we're going to hear some graphic descriptions of sexual violence. Michele, good morning.


INSKEEP: What are the Israelis saying about some of the things that happened on October 7 when Hamas attacked?

KELEMEN: Well, the Israeli mission to the U.N. brought a policewoman and some rescue workers to speak on Monday, and they brought with them some testimonies from survivors and also some graphic details about the bodies they found in the wake of the Hamas attack. I want you to listen to Police Chief Superintendent Yael Reichert, who read out some testimonies from those who survived an attack on a dance party. And again, I'll just note that this is a very graphic description of the scene.


YAEL REICHERT: Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on - without tops, without underwear. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes. Their legs were spread wide apart in a split.

KELEMEN: She played videos of some of the witnesses who survived that attack on the dance party. There was also a short clip that the Israelis say was of captured Hamas fighters talking about rape.

Now, Hamas denies that its fighters were involved in sexual violence, but some of the other speakers at that event at the U.N. said they found bodies of women naked from the waist down and shot in the back of the head. They found genitals mutilated on many of the bodies. The descriptions were just horrifying.

INSKEEP: Now, Michele, Israel is not just saying that Hamas did these things, but that the United Nations has had little to say or not enough to say about it. How does the U.N. respond?

KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls the reports appalling. UN Women, which is the part of the U.N. that focuses on women's issues and the one that Ambassador Erdan was criticizing, said that it's deeply shocked by the account. It said that U.N. procedures can appear to be slow-moving but insists that they have been following these reports closely.

Now, all these U.N. officials are also calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. The secretary-general says there's nowhere safe in Gaza right now for Palestinians as Israel responds to the Hamas attack.

INSKEEP: What is the U.S. government saying?

KELEMEN: President Biden says that the world can't look away and must condemn the sexual violence by Hamas, and his administration has even suggested that this issue may have scuttled the hostage deal. Hamas had been releasing women and children in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a pause in fighting. But that deal collapsed last week, and Biden pointed out that Hamas is still holding some young women, and he said that's what broke the deal. Hamas calls that a lie, but they haven't explained why they're still holding female civilians, including an American, by the way.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

KELEMEN: Thank you.


INSKEEP: Kevin McCarthy made history this year as the only House speaker to be removed in a vote by his colleagues.

MARTIN: And now he has decided to leave Congress entirely, announcing this week that he will resign by the end of this year, which means he won't be finishing his term.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: We did our part. And when the stakes were the highest, we rose to the challenge. We were willing to risk it all, no matter the odds, no matter the personal cost.

INSKEEP: So that's how McCarthy cast his departure. But what do people think in his district around Bakersfield, Calif., which McCarthy represented for more than a decade? Joshua Yeager covers that area for our member station KVPR, and he's on the line. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What are you hearing around the district?

YEAGER: Well, a colleague and I ran around talking to constituents here. McCarthy may be a political lightning rod nationally, but here he's really well liked. Some voters were disappointed to see his own party throw him out. Len Reinhart (ph) is a Republican, and he questioned the party's direction.

LEN REINHART: I just don't like their future. Just, like, they're too bickering in there, and they're just not as strong as they used to be, I think.

YEAGER: In recent months, though, some Trump supporters I spoke to in Bakersfield had begun to sour on McCarthy. He was caught between the factions of a deeply fractured party.

INSKEEP: OK. But who wants to replace him now?

YEAGER: A lot of people. McCarthy's loss of support within his party has unleashed a political feeding frenzy here. Candidates on both sides of the aisle lined up to run for this hotly contested seat after he was removed as speaker. There are about half a dozen - some Democrat, some Republican. David Giglio is one of them. He's a self-described "America First" Republican, and I called him up.

DAVID GIGLIO: Kevin represents everything that's wrong with politics. He's made a lot of promises, and he really hasn't delivered much for the Central Valley and for the nation.

YEAGER: All of these candidates were planning to run for the seat in 2024. Now that McCarthy is leaving, the governor could call a special election sooner. That's up to him. Candidates who want to run for the congressional term that would start in January 2025 have until next week to file, according to the California Secretary of State office.

INSKEEP: OK. So there's a lot of uncertainty here, but what we do know is that McCarthy was a big figure in his party for a moment. What does his departure mean for Republicans?

YEAGER: Well, in Congress, it makes the House Republicans' majority even smaller. McCarthy has also been a fundraising giant for the party. He says he plans to continue supporting Republican candidates across the country, but the GOP will no doubt feel their purse strings tighten come this next election season.

Now, Democrats may be tantalized by the possibility of flipping a seat held by a former Republican leader and House speaker, but their chances are slim. Even with McCarthy gone, this district is still one of the reddest in California. Trump carried by some 10 points here in 2020.

INSKEEP: Joshua Yeager of KVPR, thanks so much.

YEAGER: 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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