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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, President Biden hosts German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Judging by the outward signs, the meeting is a little unusual. It's not exactly secret. Here we are talking about it. But the two leaders are not calling much attention to their agenda. Analysts think the two leaders may be talking through their concerns about China, a country they see differently.

INSKEEP: NPR Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz is covering this. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: In what way are Biden and Scholz keeping this low-key?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it's a little odd. The press will not be traveling with Chancellor Scholz on this trip. There's no press conference on the agenda. And the German Chancellery is not sharing any details of what'll be discussed. According to German media, Chancellor Scholz is planning to give an exclusive interview to CNN, but that apparently won't be broadcast until Sunday. So there's this aura of mystery around this visit. I spoke to Rachel Tausendfreund about this. She's a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. And she thinks Chancellor Scholz is making this trip to try and persuade President Biden to tamp down what has become an escalating rhetoric on China's involvement in Russia's war in Ukraine. Here's what she said.

RACHEL TAUSENDFREUND: People in Germany and in the Chancellery look at this kind of escalating rhetoric in Washington of an unavoidable escalation of conflict with China and view that with some concern and think that an escalation is still avoidable. And so that's going to be the difficult part for Olaf Scholz and German politics in general if tensions continue to rise with China.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people of one specific point of tension. Of course, there's this war in Ukraine. Russia has invaded Ukraine. Germany is defending Ukraine. China is an ally of Russia. And Washington has been warning that China might be planning to send weapons to help Russia.

SCHMITZ: Right. And, you know, China's been responding to an increased sort of rhetoric from Washington with tough rhetoric of its own, saying that U.S. should not be dictating what China should do. And just this week, China welcomed Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, with a 21-gun salute in Beijing. So it is clear that tensions between China and the West are on the rise because of all of this.

INSKEEP: And the United States wants allies in confronting China because the country is so big, so powerful. It would like to have allies like Germany on the same page. Why would Scholz instead be the one to try to calm things down?

SCHMITZ: A few reasons. Germany's relationship with China, while it's been more tense in recent years, is still pretty cordial when compared to the US relationship with China. Part of the reason for that is that Germany depends greatly on trade with China, Germany's auto industry, chemical industry, industry in general in Germany needs the China market to generate revenue in what is now a recession in Germany. Secondly, it's clear that Chancellor Scholz is concerned about what could happen should China enter into this conflict by supplying Russia with weapons. This could have big consequences on the outcome of the war.

INSKEEP: Such as?

SCHMITZ: Well, due to Germany's proximity to Ukraine, this could mean more refugees from Ukraine arriving in Germany. This could also result in a more emboldened Vladimir Putin, who may not stop with Ukraine. Ever since the war began, Scholz has been very careful - his critics say too careful - to avoid being involved in any escalation with Russia. And now China's potential role in this conflict is even more of a headache for him. So it's clear this will be a big part of his discussions with President Biden later today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz, thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The House Ethics Committee, a committee of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, is moving forward with an investigation of New York Congressman George Santos.

FADEL: Yeah. The Republican has faced constant scandal and controversy since taking office in January. He lied to voters about much of his career, his family history.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Brian Mann has been following his story. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the investigators get into this. His fellow lawmakers get into this. What questions do they have?

MANN: Well, there are a lot of questions, of course, about George Santos. You'll remember he deceived the public about his education, his career. He claimed falsely his family has Jewish heritage. He even lied about being on a championship college volleyball team. But a lot of the most serious questions for this House panel appear to focus, Steve, on money. Where did George Santos get hundreds of thousands of dollars that helped fuel his campaign? In a statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman David Joyce, a Republican from Ohio, says the panel is going to probe whether any of Santos's behavior violated federal conflict of interest laws or public disclosure rules. One of their goals, according to their statement, is that they're going to determine whether any of Santos's activity amounts to, quote, "unlawful activity."

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting because we do have freedom of speech in this country, which, in most cases, includes the freedom to lie. So what at what point would your lie become a crime?

MANN: Yeah, you can lie to the public and still get elected. But if you lied on federal disclosure forms, if you misappropriated campaign money that was donated to you, that could be a crime. Again, that's the allegation here.

INSKEEP: What punishments could he face if those allegations are sustained?

MANN: Well, depending on what this panel finds, they could recommend a reprimand. Or they could go all the way and call for Santos to be expelled from the House, though that rarely happens. In their statement yesterday, the panel did point out that by launching this investigation, that doesn't signal that they believe any violation occurred. This investigation is just getting underway.

INSKEEP: Isn't there an allegation of sexual misconduct entirely aside from the questions about what he said?

MANN: Yeah, that's another thing on this long list of questions. According to the Ethics Committee statement, this panel will look into whether Santos - and I'm quoting here - "engaged in sexual misconduct toward an individual seeking employment in his congressional office." This comes after a man named Derek Myers alleged Santos touched him inappropriately while Myers was volunteering in Santos's office and hoping to get a full-time job.

INSKEEP: I just want to pause here for a minute. If this involves something in his congressional office, it's something from this year. He just became a member of Congress. This isn't something from his campaign or the past but this year.

MANN: That's right.

INSKEEP: What does Santos say about all this?

MANN: Well, a statement was released by Santos on his verified Twitter site saying he's going to fully cooperate with investigators. More broadly, Santos has admitted deceiving voters, Steve, but says he merely embellished his resume. He says there was no criminal activity. He's also repeatedly denied those sexual misconduct allegations. He describes all these scandals as part of a media and partisan witch hunt, though at this point, his fellow Republicans are among his fiercest critics.

INSKEEP: Not quite all of his fellow Republicans, though, right?

MANN: That's right. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, you know, has not yet called for Santos to go. And McCarthy says Santos will remain a member of the GOP caucus and get due process but will not be serving on committees or see any classified briefings until these allegations are all resolved.

INSKEEP: And very briefly, does he face other investigations?

MANN: Yeah, there is a district attorney in Nassau County looking into his activities and also a federal probe. So a lot of headwinds for George Santos.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

MANN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Mann.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: In the wreckage of cities in southern Turkey, new neighborhoods are going up.

FADEL: Aid workers are setting up rows of portable homes, tiny houses that look a little like shipping containers. They're trying to supply everything else that residents may need to live for a year, if not more.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Fatma Tanis is in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Welcome to the program.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Thank you.

INSKEEP: What did you see as you walked around?

TANIS: So I went to a camp in Nurda, a town here that's been badly hit. There were rows and rows of these portable homes. They've got little windows, a door. And inside, there's just a bunk bed and a couch. That should comfortably fit three people, but you see many families with 6 to 7 people trying to squeeze in. And this camp is being built in the middle of the rubble of an old neighborhood that is still being cleared. So there's dust everywhere. And I met an elderly couple here who had lost all nine of their children and also all of their grandchildren in the earthquake. They said they haven't been able to sleep at night since it happened.

Now, the government's plan is to move everyone who needs housing into these camps for at least a year until new permanent housing is built. They've also put up day care, animal shelters. People can get haircuts. And mental health professionals are available, as well. But these container camps are just getting set up. So most people are still living in tent camps or even looking for tents. And the conditions there are very difficult, with no easy access to toilets, running water and many concerns of illnesses spreading.

INSKEEP: I just want to be clear on something. You're telling me there are some people in these container cities, but you might walk a block over in the rubble and find people who have literally nowhere to sleep. They're just sleeping on the ground or whatever.

TANIS: Exactly. Or in tents.

INSKEEP: OK. All of this happening, we should note, is in a democratic country that has become a lot less democratic in recent years. The president has a lot more power than the civilian leaders used to have. But now he faces a lot of criticism for this earthquake and the response to it. Is he in trouble?

TANIS: Well, many people here think so. There's lots of resentment at the government for its slow response in the first days after the earthquake and for allowing the buildings to go up that were clearly not up to code. And many of them crashed. Authorities have been arresting contractors and managers who were involved. But the government is also on the defensive, with officials telling reporters that, you know, people are angry because the situation itself is bad and not because of government mismanagement. This week, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that elections would be held on May 14, less than three months left. For him, it's going to be his biggest challenge yet. And lots of questions about whether it'll be a fair one. The opposition has just announced they'll be naming a candidate next week.

INSKEEP: Well, now that some time has passed, is it possible to measure the scale of this disaster?

TANIS: You know, Steve, it's still a bit difficult to process what you still hear - see here. The damage remains vast. And everywhere you go, you know, I saw piles of crumbled concrete and all sorts of tilted sideways, gravity-defying buildings that are still standing but extremely dangerous. And the loss to human life is large - 45,000 people dead in Turkey and roughly 6,000 people in Syria, bringing the total to more than 50,000 lives lost. And thousands are still missing. And more people are still dying from critical injuries.

INSKEEP: One-point-five million people homeless, some of them, I guess, getting into those container homes. Fatma, thanks so much.

TANIS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Fatma Tanis in southern Turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Here's an update on another story we've been covering. A South Carolina jury found Alex Murdaugh guilty. He's the former attorney accused of murdering his wife and son. After years of attention to this case, the jury deliberated for less than three hours. Murdaugh now faces 30 years to life for each of the murders. And his sentencing is scheduled for today. For more coverage, listen to MORNING EDITION or go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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