Morning news brief
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today over whether to remove Donald Trump from a presidential primary ballot.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Colorado's Supreme Court disqualified him based on a clause in the Constitution. It says a former official may not return to office after engaging in insurrection or rebellion. Trump gave a speech to supporters, who then stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The case turns on many questions, like whether that attack counts as insurrection and who gets to decide if the rule applies to Trump.
INSKEEP: The case does have implications for other states, so NPR's Carrie Johnson is following it. Hi there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so what is the law here?
JOHNSON: The key law is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War to try to keep Confederates out of government. This provision says anyone who swore an oath to the Constitution and went on to engage in insurrection is disqualified from public office unless two-thirds of Congress votes to grant that person amnesty. It's never been applied to a former president, and it's only been applied about eight times since the 1860s.
I talked with Jason Murray, a lawyer who will argue the case today for the Colorado voters, and he says this part of the Constitution remains relevant. Here's more of what Murray had to say.
JASON MURRAY: The reason why this case is unprecedented is because Donald Trump's behavior is unprecedented. No other American president has refused to peacefully hand over the reins of power after losing an election.
INSKEEP: Which is true and does answer one concern, which is why is this amendment being cited now when it's so rarely - or this provision of it so rarely been cited in the past? What is former President Trump's response?
JOHNSON: Donald Trump is making a bunch of arguments. First, he says the president is actually not an officer of the United States because he says presidents are elected and not appointed. And so he says that part of the 14th Amendment should not apply to him. Trump also says he did not engage in an insurrection on January 6. He's also making the case that barring him from the ballot will open the floodgates.
Scott Gessler is one of Trump's lawyers. He says there's going to be a constant stream of litigation if the Supreme Court allows these doors to open.
SCOTT GESSLER: And it's not going to stop. You're going to see attacks on President Biden. You're going to see attacks on Kamala Harris - Vice President Harris. You're going to see attacks on senators and representatives, other people, trying to prevent them from being on the ballot.
JOHNSON: And if Scott Gessler sounds a little scratchy there, it's because I caught him at the airport where he traveled to defend Trump on another ballot disqualification issue in Illinois.
INSKEEP: Because there are plenty of cases going on.
I'm trying to think this through from the Supreme Court's point of view, though. Chief Justice John Roberts has tried, when possible, to make the court seem a little less political, to keep out of political controversies where possible, to give narrow rulings where possible. And now we have this gigantic question of whether a former president of the United States should be on the presidential ballot, possibly in multiple states. What are the court's options here?
JOHNSON: This is a hard one. You know, the court is now at the center of a presidential election, just like it was in 2000 when it stopped the Florida recount and handed the White House to George W. Bush. But in this case, the justices have a few options. They could decide to disqualify Trump, just like the Colorado Supreme Court did. Depending on how they rule, it could have a cascading effect in other states at the primary and the general election level. They could decide this is a political question, Steve - one for Congress and voters to answer, not the courts. Or they could side with Trump and dozens of other Republicans in Congress and keep Trump on the ballot. It's kind of hard to predict what the justices might do here.
INSKEEP: So when do they rule, however they may rule?
JOHNSON: Well, the court's been moving pretty quickly. Experts want them to issue a definitive ruling soon, before many more voters go to the polls on Super Tuesday in early March.
INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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FADEL: The United States asserts that it gained a measure of justice for an attack that killed three U.S. soldiers.
INSKEEP: A U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed a leader of a militia whose group the United States blamed for an attack on an American base. This is all part of a multinational conflict. Grab your maps. The Americans were killed at a base in Jordan. The militia leader was killed in Iraq. He was part of a group that's linked to Iran, which in turn has vowed to respond to the Israel-Hamas war. Numerous armed groups have opened fire throughout the region, and the latest incident led to a dayslong U.S. response.
FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from Baghdad to talk about all this. Hi, Jane.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So what do we know about who was killed in this strike?
ARRAF: Well, the militia Kataib Hezbollah has confirmed it was one of its commanders. He was called Abu Baqir Al-Saadi. And an Interior Ministry official says he was head of logistics for the Iran-backed group. The U.S., in confirming the strike, said Al-Saadi had been directly involved in attacks on U.S. forces. A bit of confusion still here because initial reports from the Interior Ministry said three people were killed, and it's still not clear whether that was the case and whether there were other militia figures.
This was a targeted strike, Leila, using an adapted Hellfire missile with a nonexplosive warhead - the kind used by the U.S. for counterterrorism operations in crowded areas, which this, indeed, was. The vehicle burst into flames on impact of the airstrike. Everyone in the car was killed, but there were no other casualties reported.
FADEL: So a targeted strike in Baghdad by the U.S. - pretty dramatic. What's the mood in the capital this morning?
ARRAF: Yeah. Apprehension, really, and fear and waiting for what comes next.
ARRAF: And there are really not a lot of good scenarios here. It's a workday here, so people, in fact, did go to work. Shops are opening. Seems relatively normal. But this afternoon is the funeral ceremony in Baghdad for the commander who was killed. Some of the Iran-backed groups have called for protesters to gather near the U.S. Embassy, and in the past, those gatherings have sometimes turned violent. And some members of the anti-U.S. resistance, that coalition that Kataib Hezbollah belong to, have called for new attacks against the United States. The Iraqi Hezbollah itself halted attacks in deference to the Iraqi government recently, but it could very well announce a resumption, and that would signal a new wave of attacks from both sides.
FADEL: So it's possible that this escalates. I mean, let's talk about the wider repercussions, though, here. I mean, the U.S. and Iraq recently started talks on the future of American forces in that country. Does this killing impact those talks?
ARRAF: I think it almost certainly does. An Iraqi military spokesman, Yehia Rasool (ph), said these latest attacks were increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to essentially expel U.S. forces. Now, this wouldn't be an overnight process. It would be the result of talks and negotiations, as the U.S. is still an essential security partner. But after withdrawing after its invasion of Iraq and the occupation, troops came back here in 2014 to fight ISIS...
ARRAF: ...At the invitation of the Iraqi government.
The U.S. views these recent attacks that it's launched as a response to being attacked by militias. But there's increasing anger in Parliament, in the streets, in the halls of government, even, at violations of Iraqi sovereignty. And just really quickly, 'cause this is a complicated but important part, these militias that are attacking and being attacked by the U.S. - they actually have brigades that are part of Iraqi government security forces.
FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Thank you, Jane.
ARRAF: Thank you, Leila.
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FADEL: Pakistanis are headed to the polls today, and it's quite an endeavor.
INSKEEP: Yeah. This is one of the most populous nations on Earth, so here are some of the numbers. Tens of millions of people will be eligible to vote at more than 90,000 polling stations, guarded by more than 700,000 police officers and soldiers, who are needed because dozens of people have been killed in bombings and attacks in the hours leading up to the election.
FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid joins us now. She covers Pakistan from her base in Mumbai. Hi, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So a big election for a big country. How is it going so far?
HADID: Well, we have only a somewhat shaky picture because authorities have disrupted cellular services, citing security concerns, you know, as you mentioned, because there's been these deadly attacks on polling booths and candidates. And militant attacks like this have really been on the rise in the past two years. But rights groups worry that there might be a more nefarious purpose because there was a crackdown ahead of these elections that targeted Imran Khan, who's arguably Pakistan's most popular leader. He's the former PM. He was ousted from power after he fell out with the military, and that's Pakistan's most powerful institution.
FADEL: OK, Imran Khan - former cricket player turned populist politician. But I understand he's not even on the ballot today, right?
HADID: That's right. He's not on the ballot. He's in prison serving multiple sentences. His party isn't even allowed to participate in the polls. And yet, these elections are still very much about him. His party has tried to work around these obstacles. His allies are running as independents. Chatbots tell citizens who to vote for in the elections. They're running campaign rallies on TikTok. And they're using generative AI to create Khan-like personas to use on social media, where he urges his base to vote. One of Khan's allies, Taimur Jhagra, explained it to me like this.
TAIMUR JHAGRA: What we've had is AI-generated messages of Imran Khan so that in the absence of Imran Khan's pictures, Imran Khan's voice being deliberately taken away from the people, that it acts as a source of motivation to his voters.
FADEL: OK, so AI-generated messages of Khan are being used. He's not on the ballot. Is this actually working?
HADID: It seems so. Video messaging is key in Pakistan because literacy rates are really low. And this is an appeal to young voters. They're a huge bloc. They get their information from social media, and they're a key base for Khan's party. And so in Pakistan's second largest city, Lahore, most people we've spoken to say that they are voting for independents aligned with Khan. Some folks are even warning each other on WhatsApp groups that if they don't go to vote, someone else will fill in their ballot for them. But it's hard to imagine Khan's allies returning to government in any form because the army is so opposed to Khan.
FADEL: So Khan - seems pretty clear he's not going to be the prime minister. So who might be?
HADID: The analysts I've been speaking to expect a different former prime minister to come to power. His name is Nawaz Sharif. One analyst, Niaz Murtaza, tells me he expects to see a governing coalition that's weak and easily swayed by the military.
NIAZ MURTAZA: It's going to be a really hobbled government with the army running the show from behind.
HADID: But here's the thing. Pakistani politics is cyclical. Today's jailed politician is tomorrow's favorite. So one ally of Khan tells me, even if they're excluded from power in this election cycle, they're going to watch and wait because they know how Pakistan operates.
FADEL: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thanks, Diaa.
HADID: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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