Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
President Biden laid out a modest goal for a meeting with China's leader.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Xi Jinping is in the San Francisco Bay Area for a meeting of the leaders of many Pacific nations, and he plans a one-on-one with Biden. Relations between the world's two largest economies are now bad enough that Biden just wants to talk more.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To get back on a normal course of corresponding - being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another when there's a crisis, being able to make sure our militaries still have contact with one another.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is going to have a front-row seat for the first part of that meeting today. She joins us now from San Francisco. Tam, it just seems like the goals bar for this meeting is low - just being able to talk on the phone. So what makes this meeting consequential?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, relations with China have been chilly. Biden and Xi haven't even spoken since last November. And it's been more than a year since China broke off military-to-military communications channels with U.S. officials. And American leaders are not making a secret of the fact that they really want to see those communications restored. That's one of the goals of this meeting. And it's important because the best way to prevent conflict is to talk. If there's understanding of what the other guys are doing, conflict is less likely.
For Biden, this is also an important meeting because it's a chance to demonstrate what his priorities are. Countering China has been at the top of his foreign policy agenda, but you wouldn't really know it because he's had to deal with all of these other issues - a land war in Europe, now the crisis in the Middle East. And he plans to talk to Xi about both of those global issues as well.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what else could actually come out of this meeting?
KEITH: We're expecting President Biden to hold a press conference later today, where he will announce what the two nations have agreed to. There have been a lot of conversations leading up to this, and there are signs that there could be some sort of agreement aimed at reducing the flow of the ingredients used to make the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters yesterday that he's optimistic that could happen. It's something that he raised with Xi last month during a visit to China.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: I can't think of anything that would do more to stop fentanyl from coming into the United States than China stopping the flow of these precursor drugs, which, incidentally, are illegal in China, but they don't do anything to stop them.
KEITH: But a word of caution here. Back in 2018, I covered a meeting between Xi and then President Donald Trump. And the big outcome then was a commitment to reduce the flow of fentanyl. And yet, it is still a major problem, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. So it's the sort of commitment from China where actions may be a lot louder than words.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, getting this meeting on the calendar just seemed like it was arduous. The process just took a while and very secretive. So, I mean, why was there so much suspense about this?
KEITH: Yeah, the details have been kept under very tight wraps. The White House has been unwilling to even say where the meeting is happening due to security concerns, but a source familiar told me that it will happen at a historic venue south of San Francisco. That's as far as they would go. Every detail has been carefully curated. This source tells me that all the logistics were choreographed, right down to what President Xi will see out of windows. And let's just say that the protest culture here in the Bay Area is alive and well, something that doesn't really exist in China, so it's not something that the Chinese president would be accustomed to seeing. He's also not used to reporters shouting questions, but we're going to do it anyway.
MARTÍNEZ: Absolutely. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks a lot.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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MARTÍNEZ: The House of Representatives voted to avoid a government shutdown yesterday.
INSKEEP: Yeah, the fractured Republican majority had to work with Democrats to manage that basic goal, and that has exposed more tensions in the majority. At one point, two Republican lawmakers collided in a hallway. Tim Burchett of Tennessee accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of shoving him.
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TIM BURCHETT: What kind of chicken move is that? You're pathetic, man.
MARTÍNEZ: Reporters were watching this incident, including NPR congressional mixed martial arts correspondent - oh, excuse me - congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Claudia, what did you see?
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, A. I was interviewing Burchett when I saw McCarthy and his detail come by. It seemed that McCarthy shoved into Burchett, and a chase ensued. And that confrontation is what you just heard. And this is part of the same struggles we're seeing play out with Republicans in terms of the differences, the bitterness. Earlier this year, the same struggles we saw during the speakership fight - these are all still there.
Before I shared the news yesterday of what I saw between McCarthy and Burchett, House Speaker Mike Johnson yesterday talked about these pressures they're facing.
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MIKE JOHNSON: This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving, everybody cool off. Members have been here for, as Leader Scalise said, for 10 weeks. This place is a pressure cooker.
GRISALES: So this pressure cooker is something I've been tracking recently. One reason why is that it's rooted in the concern that tensions have been so high that they could lead to altercations like the one I saw play out right in front of me. And even passing this temporary funding measure to avert a government shutdown yesterday does not erase the very, very difficult differences that remain.
MARTÍNEZ: What is Kevin McCarthy saying about this?
GRISALES: He's denying this happened. Later, he held a press conference to defend himself. He's insisted that it was not intentional, that it all happened in a narrow, crowded hallway where it's difficult to pass through when interviews are happening. But we should note this hallway was wide enough for McCarthy and his detail to get through. Burchett and I had moved to the side, so you would not expect any pushing, shoving or elbowing in terms of what played out yesterday. And McCarthy has been accused of this before. Former Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger noted something similar happened to him when he was in Congress in a recent book he just released.
MARTÍNEZ: Is it the House or the Octagon? My goodness.
MARTÍNEZ: I mean, it seems like it's that bad. OK. So the...
GRISALES: It's wild (ph).
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. The temporary funding measure - that passed the House. What's expected to happen in the Senate?
GRISALES: So the Senate is expected to take this up next. We're expecting a strong bipartisan vote there as well. So Congress is on track to avert a shutdown. As for the House, even as Johnson saw this major victory yesterday - there was a bipartisan vote of 336-95 - there's still a long ways to go before repairing these ultimate tensions that linger here. And a new shutdown threat is now pushed off to early next year, but both chambers are still facing the prospect of coming up with permanent funding plans. And meanwhile, House conservatives keep taking down spending bills. It undermines the argument that they'll get this done with the extra time. And some members are making vague threats that could include ousting Johnson if he keeps going down this path of bipartisan votes. So the anger here is very present. There's fights in the Senate as well. So just the overall toxicity here is not great in terms of going into next year's election year.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Keep your head on a swivel, Claudia.
GRISALES: I will.
GRISALES: Thank you, A.
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MARTÍNEZ: Israel says troops have entered Gaza's biggest hospital complex for what it called a precise and targeted operation against Hamas militants at Al-Shifa Hospital. Many patients, doctors and civilians remain at that hospital amid heavy fighting.
INSKEEP: Israel today also promised to begin allowing fuel into Gaza now that the United Nations says its fuel stocks there are empty. The Israeli military faces widespread calls for a cease-fire in its campaign against Hamas for humanitarian reasons, and objections over that campaign have led to some internal disputes from the U.S. State Department.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Lately, disagreements over U.S. support for Israel have made their way onto a dissent channel there. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now to discuss what's happening. What do we know about the kinds of objections that have been raised?
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, we don't know much about the actual dissent cables or a letter at the U.S. Agency for International Development that has its own system for employees to register opposition to policies. Officials at both of those agencies like to keep these channels private to allow employees to come forward without the fear of retribution. We also don't really know the numbers of people who have signed on, but even if a couple of hundred, as has been reported, that's still a small percentage of those agencies. And there's been only one resignation that we know of so far at the State Department.
But the general thrust I'm hearing is that the dissenters want the U.S. to press Israel to agree to a cease-fire. The Biden administration argues that a cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup and instead has been encouraging temporary humanitarian pauses.
MARTÍNEZ: All right, so we don't know a lot about what or who is in these dissents, so what have U.S. officials been saying about them?
KELEMEN: Well, they say they're listening, meeting with staff both at headquarters and in the region. That's true at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that's true for Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Here's what his spokesman, Matthew Miller, had to say.
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MATTHEW MILLER: He encourages people to provide feedback. He encourages people to speak up if they disagree. It doesn't mean that we're going to change our policy based on the disagreements. He is going to take their recommendations and make, ultimately, what he thinks is the best judgment and make his recommendations to the president about what we ought to do.
KELEMEN: And President Biden, as we know, says that Israel has the right to defend itself after the October 7 attack. He has been encouraging Israel to do more to protect civilians, especially around those hospitals. So his policy and his rhetoric have evolved over the course of the conflict, but not as much as some diplomats and aid staff would like.
MARTÍNEZ: Is this internal dissent channel a new thing?
KELEMEN: No, the channel isn't new. It dates back to the Vietnam War.
MARTÍNEZ: Oh, OK. Oh.
KELEMEN: And diplomats have used it for, among other things, to call for changes in policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and to raise objections to the Trump Muslim ban. But retired diplomat Pete Romero says there have been more leaks recently, and that's tough in what he calls a really toxic political environment.
PETE ROMERO: I don't know whether it's different or whether it might be the new normal, where people are expressing their dissent and it becomes public and it becomes part of the public debate.
KELEMEN: He has a podcast called the "American Diplomat," and the episodes coming out this week is on dissent. And he says young diplomats in particular are really trying to figure out how to express dissent while still being a team player.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks.
KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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