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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When President Biden and former President Donald Trump take the stage tonight, it will mark the first time a sitting president and a former president have ever debated.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

CNN is hosting the first presidential debate of this election season at its Atlanta studios. The candidates are expected to discuss a range of issues that have already surfaced on the campaign trail, including inflation, the border, abortion and the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here to talk about the politics, policies and personalities. Good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Franco, let's start with the big picture, the debate. What do each of the campaigns hope to get out of it, which is happening pretty early this election season?

ORDOÑEZ: Very early. And, you know, each of them is really trying to kind of shake up the trajectory of this election, I mean, that really not many Americans are enthusiastic about. I mean, Biden really wants to show that he can still command the stage. And his team really wants to draw a clear contrast between him and Trump. I mean, they want Americans to see this race less as kind of a referendum on his own policies and more of a clear choice between his vision and that of Trump's.

FADEL: So what about Trump's vision? What is he selling the American people tonight?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump, I mean, he also wants a contrast. But for him, it's about his four years in office versus how people now feel under Biden. His team sees this as a chance to kind of show Trump as a vigorous leader while painting Biden as older and weaker. And again, he also understands the power of TV, and he's looking for a physical contrast as well as a mental one and one about policies.

FADEL: Yeah, even though they're a few years apart here. Where do you expect Biden and Trump to attack each other?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump's going to attack Biden on the economy, particularly inflation. Trump will also zero in on the border. Biden wants more of a conversation on protecting democracy, as well as abortion and reproductive rights, which has really been a big issue for Democrats ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned two years ago.

FADEL: Now, there's a bit of a new format - no audience, muted mics play into the debate. Trump feeds off an audience. I imagine a muted mic might hurt him as well.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, most political strategists agree that the format will largely hurt Trump because of those reasons about how he feeds off large crowds. But some Republicans actually tell me that the mute button could actually help Trump temper some of his worst instincts. They really feel Trump kind of lost his first debate four years ago because he kind of bulldozed over Biden, and he won't be able to do that this time. Jon McHenry, a pollster with North Star Opinion Research, told me that many Americans really like Trump's policies but just not his abrasiveness.

JON MCHENRY: That's sort of the hang-up, and if he can overcome that in this first debate, that makes this a very long climb back for Joe Biden heading into the fall.

FADEL: Will he overcome that? Will Trump hold back?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it might be wishful thinking. I mean, he sure wasn't indicating that he'd play along when he was talking this weekend in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: How should I handle him? Should I be tough and nasty, or should I be...

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Should I be - she's saying no. Should I be tough and nasty and just say you're the worst president in history, or should I be nice and calm and let him speak?

(BOOING)

ORDOÑEZ: And I can tell you the Biden campaign is preparing for a more disciplined Trump this evening.

FADEL: How is the Trump team preparing?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, look, they are almost praising Biden right now, calling him a worthy debater, which is really a clear effort to kind of flip the script after setting the bar so low for Biden. I mean, for months, Trump has been charging that Biden can barely walk or even stitch two sentences together. And now they're claiming the media is lowering the bar. So really a lot of mudslinging.

FADEL: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

FADEL: Join us tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific for live special coverage of the CNN presidential debate simulcast on NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: President Biden is pardoning thousands of American veterans.

MARTIN: Yes, the pardons affect LGBTQ+ veterans who had been criminally charged and removed from service because of their sexual orientation. In a statement, President Biden said he was, quote, "righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves," unquote.

FADEL: With me now for more on this is Anne Marshall-Chalmers, an investigative journalist at The War Horse, a nonprofit newsroom that covers the military. Thanks for being here. Good morning.

ANNE MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Thank you. Good morning.

FADEL: So I want to start with the why now. It's been over a decade since part of the federal law known as don't ask, don't tell, which made it a crime to be openly LGBTQ in the military, that was repealed. So why is Biden taking this step now?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Yeah, I think that's the question on a lot of people's minds, because as you said, you know, sort of the latest anti-LGBTQ policy that was within military - don't ask, don't tell - was repealed long ago. Administration officials would only say that this is something he's been thinking about for a very long time. It is Pride Month, so that could've been, you know, something that spurred his decision to do this. But it's still a little unclear as to why now.

FADEL: And for people who might not remember, just remind us what exactly changed in federal law in 2013.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Right. So prior to that, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there was this one article in there called Article 125 that outlawed sodomy - or, quote, "unnatural copulation" - even in consensual relationships. And in 2013, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, that language around consensual same-sex relationships was taken out. But before that, you know, for 60 years...

FADEL: Yeah.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Even in same-sex relationships, if someone was discovered as gay, that could lead to convictions, even prison time and a lifetime being blocked from veterans' benefits.

FADEL: Now, you've spoken to gay veterans who were hurt by this law. When they heard this announcement, what did they think?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: You know, initially, there's an excitement, right? I mean, this is a historic move. This is something that acknowledges, you know, a very painful, discriminatory past within the military.

FADEL: Yeah.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: At the same time, you know, it should be noted that this pardon is pretty narrow. It only applies to veterans who were convicted under that Article 125. I've looked through court-martial cases going back to the 1950s and a lot of times, veterans who were discovered in a same-sex relationship were charged under things like lewd and lascivious acts or indecent acts. And that pardon doesn't apply to them.

FADEL: Oh.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Those folks will have to actually apply for a pardon through the Department of Justice in an individual manner. So this sort of blanket clemency does not apply for them.

FADEL: And really quickly, what has the military said about the clemency announcement? Or how has it responded?

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Yeah, you know, they haven't really provided any sort of comment. They did point reporters to a newly created website as of yesterday that has all sorts of resources for veterans interested in a pardon and how to go about that. And so that is the most that they've said about this.

FADEL: Anne Marshall-Chalmers, an investigative journalist with The War Horse. Thank you so much.

MARSHALL-CHALMERS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Up next, we go to the South American country of Bolvia, where a top military general attempted to overthrow the government.

MARTIN: Yes, the chaotic episode unfolded yesterday over a period of about three hours. Armed soldiers stormed the governmental palace in the administrative capital, La Paz, at one point ramming the front door with an armored vehicle. The failed coup was put down quickly and the top general was arrested.

FADEL: For more on the turmoil, we turn to NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: So sounds like a fast and furious turn of events in Bolvia. What do we know about this general and his attempts to oust the current president and government?

KAHN: His name is Juan Jose Zuniga, and until recently he was the top military commander of the armed forces. And he was just stripped of that command. He came to the main governmental plaza in La Paz late yesterday. He was flanked by soldiers, masked security personnel and several armored vehicles. He was asked if he was overthrowing the government, and he rambled on about saving the country, releasing political prisoners and vowing to install a real democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN JOSE ZUNIGA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He said the people have no future and the army does not, quote, "lack the balls to fight for our children's tomorrow." This is all being broadcast live on TV.

FADEL: Wow.

KAHN: And at one point, this armored vehicle just started ramming the front door of the palace. There was also a tense confrontation between the general and the president, Luis Arce, who ordered the general out of the public square and called the people to the streets.

FADEL: Wait, so did the general just turn around and leave?

KAHN: Pretty much so. The president held a brief ceremony, appointed a new commander. Arce criticized what he called bad soldiers and praised the new leader. As soon after, the general was arrested again, live on TV, and Arce came out and rallied supporters.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: He thanked the people of Bolivia for supporting democracy, and the crowd began singing the national anthem.

FADEL: Wow. I'm just trying to get my head around all of these turns in just three hours. Were there any indications that such drama, an attempted coup, was going to take place?

KAHN: Bolivia has been racked by protests, mostly about the dismal economy that's struggling. There's a scarcity of dollars and food shortages. Arce is unpopular and has been accused of making some undemocratic moves, especially with the opposition. Some are in jail. And he's locked in this very public political fight with his once mentor, the former leftist president of Bolivia, Evo Morales. They're fighting over control of the ruling party and who will be next year's presidential candidate. Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivia expert at Florida International University, says this win over the failed coup will probably boost the president's popularity, but just temporarily.

EDUARDO GAMARRA: He still has the worst economy in the last at least 25 years. And now there's a crisis of basic food supplies, and especially in the city of La Paz.

KAHN: And the president still has to deal with the very popular Evo Morales, who can mobilize large groups of supporters.

FADEL: And so what happens now, especially with that general?

KAHN: The attorney general has opened an investigation into the coup and says there will be more arrests of those who participated. There's already a lot of speculation and conspiracies milling about who ordered the coup and why did the general and his troops back down so quickly. And given Bolivia's history of coups and attempted coups, this run up to the presidential elections will undoubtedly be a rocky one.

FADEL: NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. Thank you so much, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Before we let you go this morning, we do have one more story for you. A Supreme Court opinion, which was briefly posted on the court's website yesterday, indicated that the court will temporarily allow abortions in medical emergencies in Idaho. It's unclear, however, whether the inadvertently posted opinion, which was first reported by Bloomberg News, is the court's final decision. More Supreme Court opinions are expected to be released today. While we wait for a final confirmation from the court, you can follow up on this story and others at npr.org. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.