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Morning news brief


Surprise - this Tuesday in August, today, is an election day in Ohio.


The Republican-dominated state legislature arranged that vote for today, a time when historically fewer people pay attention to politics. If approved, the ballot measure would make it harder to change the state's constitution. So instead of a majority to change it, as in the past, Republicans want to require 60% to make a change, and that is a bid to lock in anti-abortion laws before another ballot measure on abortion rights in November.

INSKEEP: Statehouse News Bureau's Karen Kasler joins us now from Columbus, Ohio, where she's covering this. Good morning.

KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so we heard it goes from 50%, or 50 plus 1, to 60% to change the constitution. Is that all that's on this measure?

KASLER: That is the part that's getting the most focus. But there is a kind of under-the-radar part that would make it even harder for grassroots groups to even get onto the ballot. It would increase the number of counties where groups would have to get valid signatures from 44, as in current law, to 88 counties. That would make Ohio the only state in the country that would require signatures from each and every county in Ohio. It would also mean failure to get signatures in a particular county would block the group from actually making the ballot and even - not even getting to the 60% threshold. So this really does make it more difficult not only to pass constitutional amendments by citizens and groups, but even to get on the ballot.

INSKEEP: How did this happen to get on the ballot itself right now?

KASLER: Well, you mentioned it. It's an abortion amendment that's coming up in the fall. Last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion, Ohio's six-week abortion ban went into effect. There were a lot of terrible stories, including one of a 10-year-old rape victim who had to go to Indiana to get treatment because no Ohio doctor felt comfortable treating her. And so abortion rights groups then started to draft an amendment to guarantee abortion rights in Ohio's constitution. Abortion rights have been upheld in other red states, but by less than 60%. And so state lawmakers brought up the idea of let's raise the threshold to get an amendment to 60%. And that's where we are right now.

INSKEEP: I just want to underline this to be very clear, because it's complicated. You're telling me that Republicans looked ahead and saw that they might lose an election in November on abortion, so they said let's change the rules so that even when we lose, we win. Is that correct?

KASLER: Well, Republicans will tell you it's about more than just abortion, that they're worried about keeping out-of-state special interests with a lot of money from buying their way into Ohio's constitution. But what's interesting in this is that out-of-state money has been coming in on both sides of this issue. And certainly the abortion issue coming up in just a couple of months is one thing that is brought up quite often as this is the reason that this vote is happening now in the middle of summer.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about it being in the middle of summer. This is a time when you have very light-turnout elections and a small interest group can turn in elections. So is this turning out to be a low-turnout election as Republicans might have hoped?

KASLER: It's probably going to be a low-turnout election, I mean, comparatively. People are thinking about other things rather than voting. But the turnout so far, because Ohio has a month of early voting, has been pretty tremendous. I mean, there have been lines in some urban areas. And so today's turnout is going to be really important.

INSKEEP: Karen Kasler is the bureau chief at the Statehouse News Bureau in Ohio, and she is covering today's vote on changing the state constitution happening on this Tuesday in August. Karen, thanks so much.

KASLER: It's great to be here. Thanks.


INSKEEP: President Biden is at the Grand Canyon today.

MCCAMMON: But he's not hiking. The president is there to announce a new national monument. It's all part of a trip this week promoting the administration's environmental policies.

INSKEEP: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president. She's on the line from Arizona. Tam, good morning.


INSKEEP: What is the significance of this national monument, which we should mention comes after some others the president announced in recent years?

KEITH: Yeah, this new monument - it's all on federal land, nearly a million acres in three different sections around the Grand Canyon. And this land has a lot of meaning to Native American communities. According to the White House, the monument contains more than 3,000 known cultural and historic sites, including a dozen listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hunting and fishing and existing livestock grazing permits will continue, but this designation prioritizes the cultural and spiritual uses of the land. And notably, this will also prevent future uranium development. So new permits have been frozen for more than a decade, but this will make it permanent. It's something that tribal leaders in the area have been calling on for years. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American secretary, discussed the significance with reporters on a call yesterday.


DEB HAALAND: These special places are not a pass-through on the way to the Grand Canyon. They are sacred and significant unto their own right. They should not be open to new mining claims and developed beyond recognition.

KEITH: And she visited the area in May and said it was one of the most meaningful trips of her life.

INSKEEP: You said something about existing permits will continue for hunting and fishing and so forth. What about existing mining permits?

KEITH: The existing permits would be able to continue, but future permits would not be granted. This will put a permanent moratorium in place.

INSKEEP: Tam, Sarah said a moment ago this is part of a trip promoting environmental policies. Is there something more to this trip than the monument?

KEITH: So when we asked about this, a Biden administration official tied this trip, at least in part, to the extreme heat that the Southwest has been experiencing this summer. It also comes on the one-year anniversary of this big climate and health care bill that was passed under the name the Inflation Reduction Act. So today, Biden will also be announcing $44 million in funding to boost climate resilience in national parks all over the country. More broadly, in the first two years he was in office, he worked with Congress - sometimes it was bipartisan, sometimes it was just Democrats - to pass a bunch of bills, big bills. Now they're in the implementation phase. And the theory of the case here is that through legislation and executive action, Biden's policies are able to get at some of the drivers of climate change and also create new jobs. So this trip is basically a big billboard advertising what was passed, what they're working on in hopes of getting some credit, which the public has not yet been really willing to give the president.

INSKEEP: He's also visiting a state, we should note, that until very recently was considered a red state. It did go for him narrowly in 2020, but he has to be thinking about 2024.

KEITH: Right. And this monument designation is broadly popular here in Arizona, though some ranchers in the uranium mining industry are raising flags. But this is the sort of headline-grabbing local story that the president and his campaign need more than a year out from the election. There's a lot of focus in national politics on former President Trump and the Republican primary, but this allows the president to go to places that will matter and get those local headlines.

INSKEEP: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Safe travels.


INSKEEP: The Red Cross is adopting new guidelines that will change who is eligible to donate blood.

MCCAMMON: And that's a big deal because the Red Cross contributes about 40% of the nation's blood supply. It's following the lead of the Food and Drug Administration, which altered long-standing rules about gay and bisexual men. For decades, the FDA said it was trying to protect the blood supply from HIV by restricting donations from gay and bisexual men. But now, instead of using sexual orientation, the agency is focusing on sexual behavior.

INSKEEP: Fenit Nirappil is a health reporter for The Washington Post, and he's covering this. Good morning. Welcome.

FENIT NIRAPPIL: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should just note some people may be uncomfortable with the language in this story, and if so, it's going to last a little bit more than three minutes. But let's talk about what the rules are, because this is - this matters a lot. Who gets to donate blood now as compared to in the past?

NIRAPPIL: So the FDA used to have a lifetime ban that prevented gay men from donating blood. It's been relaxed a few times since then, but this latest change now allows monogamous gay and bisexual men to give blood for the first time. That's because this prohibition shifts away from whether you're a man who has sex with other men to asking more gender-neutral questions. The prohibition now applies to anyone who's had a new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months and if you had anal sex. This applies to people who are gay, straight, bi, men, women, nonbinary. And it also means that you're going to see heterosexuals who are banned from giving blood for the first time.

INSKEEP: Well, this is interesting. Is this then an argument that the old guidelines were not really the safest guidelines because it is the behavior that makes you vulnerable?

NIRAPPIL: The change in guidelines is really more about fairness, because even under these new guidelines, you're seeing people who are banned, even if they're not at elevated risks of HIV. But for decades, there have been complaints that gay men are treated as pariahs and that these standards that used to be in place were too broad. And you had people who are banned from giving blood, even if they're also at low risk for HIV because of the way that they practice safe sex.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention there are tests to detect HIV, I suppose. Why is that not sufficient or not deemed to be sufficient to keep the blood supply safe?

NIRAPPIL: Yes, we do have a highly sensitive screening measure that can detect HIV in blood within 11 to 33 days of infection. But that also means that it might miss an HIV infection in the early days, and so that's why you have this three-month standard, which is meant to have an extra buffer time.

INSKEEP: How big a deal is it that the Red Cross now would follow this change in FDA guidelines and alter their own guidelines, given the huge role they play in the nation's blood supply?

NIRAPPIL: So as you mentioned at the top, the Red Cross contributes a huge portion of the nation's blood supply. So there have been some independent blood centers that have already made this change, but this is considered a big deal because this is one of the biggest shifts that we've seen in decades. So you're going to have monogamous gay and bisexual men who can give blood for the first time because of the changes that you've seen this week.

INSKEEP: We are in a time of culture wars, and this is a subject that deals with sexuality with gay and bisexual people. Has there been any resistance or pushback to this change in the rules?

NIRAPPIL: I've heard some just pushback on social media, but there's been a lot of other pushback from within the gay community because this isn't lifting the ban on every gay man from giving blood. You're still barring gay men who've been recently sexually active, and you're barring gay men who take PrEP, which is an HIV medication that drastically reduces your risk of contracting HIV, because being on PrEP creates issues with the screening that we talked about.

INSKEEP: OK. Fenit Nirappil of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

NIRAPPIL: Thank you for having me. 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.

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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.