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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Two initiatives in Gaza are on a collision course.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Negotiators are inching toward a new temporary cease-fire with an exchange of Israelis held hostage by Hamas for Palestinians detained in Israel. Those are the elements of the deal. Despite American objections, Israel's military could launch a new offensive into crowded southern Gaza, where displaced Palestinians have been seeking refuge.

MARTIN: Now Israel's prime minister says even if there is a cease-fire, he will not call that off, he will only delay it. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv to tell us more. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Good morning.

MARTIN: So could you just start by telling us what we know about Israel's intentions for Rafah?

ESTRIN: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still insisting that Israel's next military objective is Rafah. This is the southernmost city in Gaza. And as Israeli troops have been sweeping from north Gaza to central Gaza to south Gaza, this is the last part of Gaza where Israeli troops have not yet entered. It's where Israel says most of the remaining Hamas battalions are left. And here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said this weekend on CBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion, not months, weeks away from completion.

ESTRIN: But the U.S. has been warning against this operation. This is an area where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering. And so last night, the Israeli military presented plans to Israel's war cabinet, plans on how they will evacuate Palestinians from that area and their battle plans there as well. So all of this is Israel signaling to the U.S. that, you know, despite the objections of its most important ally, Israel does intend to move forward in Rafah.

MARTIN: Could you just - now tell us more about that deal being negotiated? Where do the talks stand now and what are the main points of agreement so far as we know?

ESTRIN: Well, we have heard from an Egyptian official close to the talks who spoke with NPR that the next stage of the negotiations are going to be held in Qatar. Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. intelligence officials will be meeting, and they're following up on a meeting held late last week in Paris. And they're working off of a basic framework here, which would be a six-week cease-fire and the release of some Israeli hostages, exchanging them for some Palestinian prisoners.

So the Israeli media are now reporting that what they're going to be working out are some of the details, like the number of Palestinian prisoners they're willing to release. Also, part of these talks we're hearing are discussions for a new technocratic Palestinian government to manage all of the Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank, when the war is over. And to that end, the Palestinian Authority government submitted its own resignation today. There is this sense of urgency, Michel, to reach some big deal here for at least a temporary cease-fire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in just two weeks.

MARTIN: And, Daniel, finally, but certainly not least important, can we hear more about the conditions in Gaza? I mean, we're nearly five months into this and there's been massive destruction as we - as you've been reporting elsewhere in Gaza. Tell us about conditions.

ESTRIN: Yeah, the United Nations is reporting significant food shortages and extreme hunger. The last time the U.N. was able to deliver food to northern Gaza was more than a month ago. And the Israeli cabinet discussed plans to try to get aid safely to northern Gaza. Part of the problem has been when aid enters from Egypt into Gaza, Palestinians have stolen aid from the trucks. It just shows that sense of desperation there. Israeli strikes continue. We could see a grim new milestone by the end of the week. It's approaching 30,000 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thank you so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Today, the Supreme Court hears a case that could help define the future of the internet.

INSKEEP: Legal experts say it's one of the most important First Amendment cases in a generation. The question is whether states like Florida and Texas can force social media platforms to carry content they find hateful or objectionable.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been covering the case, and she's with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK, could you just start by telling us more about these state laws and how they came to be?

JOHNSON: Florida and Texas passed these laws months after the riot at the Capitol in January 2021. At that time, several social media platforms booted former President Donald Trump after the riot, fearing that his messages could provoke more unrest. But the state said they worried about big social media companies censoring conservative views. Here's Texas Governor Greg Abbott as he signed the law back in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values. This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas.

JOHNSON: These state laws prevent social media companies from banning users based on their political viewpoints. And a separate law in Florida prevents the social media platforms from rapidly changing their policies, and it requires them to explain to users about why their posts have been edited or removed.

MARTIN: How are the social media sites responding to these laws?

JOHNSON: These laws apply to most of the big platforms. These are name brand companies like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and X. Two trade associations sued over the laws. They say these laws interfere with steps the sites take to remove posts that are racist or sexist or disgusting. Carl Szabo is a lawyer at NetChoice, one of those trade groups.

CARL SZABO: This is all about whether government can come in and force you, me or anyone listening to say something we don't want to say or carry somebody else's speech we don't want to carry.

JOHNSON: Legal experts say this is one of the most important First Amendment cases in years.

MARTIN: Yes. Listening to this, it just seems like you can't really overstate just how much is at stake here.

JOHNSON: Yeah, there have been a flurry of court filings before the Supreme Court, mostly from groups that are siding with the social media companies. And that's been across the political spectrum from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, which is affiliated with the Koch brothers, to the ACLU. A bipartisan group of national security experts also wrote the justices. They warned about how terrorist groups and extremists here at home can use the internet to attract converts and broadcast violence. Here's Rupa Bhattacharyya, a former Justice Department lawyer.

RUPA BHATTACHARYYA: Social media content moderation plays a really important role in keeping some of the worst of the hate and the violence off of the internet.

JOHNSON: She says if the Supreme Court upholds these laws, content moderation as we know it is dead.

MARTIN: Carrie, before we let you go, do you have any sense of how the justices might evaluate these issues that are at the center of this case - or these cases?

JOHNSON: The 11th Circuit appeals court struck down Florida's social media law, but the very conservative Fifth Circuit shocked First Amendment scholars when it upheld the Texas law. A lawyer for NetChoice, that big trade association for the social media platforms, sounded pretty confident the Supreme Court would invalidate these sweeping state laws. Keeping them in place would have major consequences for the First Amendment and social media as we know it.

MARTIN: That's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Congress is supposed to pass laws to fund the government every year. And that's supposed to happen by the end of September.

INSKEEP: The end of September. Well, it's now February, late February, and still nothing. They keep pushing back the deadline to avoid calamity. Lawmakers have another self-imposed shutdown deadline on Friday, which is likely to result in one of two things, a shutdown or another continuation of the spending plans authorized a very long time ago back in 2022.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is here in the studio with us again to tell us more about this again. Good morning.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning again.

MARTIN: So, you know, you've been covering Congress since October, and I already feel like we've talked about this three or four times, but it keeps happening. Why is that?

MCDANIEL: This is actually so important for people to understand. And the answer is kind of simple but kind of sad. Congress is broken, right? Passing funding legislation is the core responsibility of the legislative branch. We're sitting here in the richest country in the world. You've probably heard this, called the power of the purse. And instead of coming together to figure out how the United States should best use the money it collects from citizens and taxpayers, it's relied on decisions made back in 2022 just to keep the lights on. But the world is different now, right? Inflation has limited how far dollars go. It prevents every single part of the government, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Education, from doing long-term planning with the key context of, you know, knowing how much money they'll have to devote to their programs.

MARTIN: OK, so for people who may not remember their kind of high school civics class, this is the most essential part of Congress' job. So why haven't lawmakers done it?

MCDANIEL: I've said it before. I'll say it again, it's true that House Republicans have a very narrow majority. That means in order to pass anything with just Republican votes, which is typical when you've got the gavel, when you've got the power, they have to keep everyone in a very divided party on the same page. But I actually think that's just sort of half the story. The fuller answer here is about systems. House Republicans changed the rules at the beginning of this Congress last January. So in practice, it only takes three or four people out of more than 200 to fire their boss, speaker Mike Johnson.

But working with Democrats to keep the government open will upset more than just those three or four people because there's a faction of the Republican Party that sees anything less than sort of passing their ultimate conservative priorities as a failure, who see bipartisan legislating as a failure. But Congress right now is under bipartisan control, the Democrats have power in the Senate, and those two stances are sort of irreconcilable.

MARTIN: Is there a path out of that?

MCDANIEL: I'll give you a short-term answer and a longer-term answer. Lawmakers will meet with the White House on Tuesday, but they've also got other stuff to tackle - Ukraine and Israel aid, a possible Biden impeachment, even after a central witness was just charged by prosecutors who say he was lying about some of the things he told them. The Senate also has to deal with the impeachment of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. But on funding, every one of these short-term extension bills we've been talking about - in fact, every major piece of legislation in the 118th Congress - has passed with more House Democratic votes than House Republican votes, even though Republicans are in the majority. These full-year government funding bills, for all the reasons we've talked about, won't be any different.

And as far as I can tell, the only way I can see to move forward is for Speaker Johnson to put the most conservative plan that can still get Democratic votes up for a vote on the House floor, even if that means risking his job, which it definitely does. The long-term answer here is, this is kind of how the House of Representatives is designed to work right now. There are just 20 or so of the more than 400 seats that have competitive races because of how maps are drawn and how party primaries work. Really encouraging compromise would probably take changes to those systems.

MARTIN: That is NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Eric, thank you.

MCDANIEL: 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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