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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The spectacle in a Miami courtroom this week leaves Republicans with a choice. It's to support or critique their party leader, who's now been indicted.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 counts involving his refusal to return classified documents. His presidential rivals are responding in different ways. Mike Pence told the Wall Street Journal he read the indictment and can't defend what's alleged, though Trump deserves his day in court. Vivek Ramaswamy promised to pardon Trump if elected. Tim Scott and Ron DeSantis suggested there's a double standard for conservatives.

INSKEEP: And then there are Republicans in Congress who face their own elections in 2024. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is hearing that some support Trump because their base voters do. Hey there, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the case that Republican lawmakers are making?

WALSH: A lot of them are saying similar things to the presidential candidates you just mentioned. Some GOP lawmakers I talked to yesterday in the Capitol say this case represents what they say is a two-tiered system with unfair treatment. They point out that President Biden had classified documents in his possession, and he hasn't been indicted. But we should note there is a major difference in that President Biden is also being investigated by special counsel, but he's returned documents and has been cooperating. Former President Trump denied he had some documents, didn't hand over documents once he received a subpoena, and then his own legal team found some classified materials. And then the former president encouraged his lawyers to get rid of some of those.

INSKEEP: Yeah, when you talk about a double standard, you're effectively talking about some other case other than Trump's case. Do you hear Republicans talking about the specific charges against Trump?

WALSH: No, most lawmakers are really avoiding the substance of the indictment and really sticking with their argument that this is really all political. A lot of Republicans stress that they hear from constituents back home. Republican voters are very supportive of former President Trump. GOP aides I've talked to also stressed that House members, especially, who are up for reelection every two years, don't want to get crosswise with Trump and potentially face their own primary challenge. And some lawmakers say that with Trump on the ticket as the nominee, he could help them keep control of the House in 2024. Here's the GOP chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Richard Hudson.

RICHARD HUDSON: I think he would help because he would turn out voters that normally wouldn't turn out.

INSKEEP: Well, that's pretty frank. You're talking about the House here. Some senators also face reelection in 2024, although the way the elections work, some do not face reelection next year. What do you hear from the senators?

WALSH: Senate Republicans are split. A lot echo the same arguments as House Republicans, especially, like, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

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TED CRUZ: No president in the history of our country has been prosecuted by his successor. This is something banana republics do, and it is profoundly harmful to the rule of law.

WALSH: But there are some Senate Republicans I talked to yesterday who are growing more publicly comfortable talking about the need to look for an alternative in the presidential race. South Dakota Republican Senator Mike Rounds has endorsed his colleague Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina's presidential campaign. And Rounds says it's a problem for Republicans to have the front-runner of their party facing two indictments.

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MIKE ROUNDS: We'll allow the legal process to work its way through. In the meantime, we've got other candidates who can look forward.

INSKEEP: I guess when he says the legal process, this is, of course, before the justice system. So does Congress have any role other than giving opinions?

WALSH: The House Republicans want to be part of this going forward. Some are talking about using the upcoming debate on federal spending bills to defund Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation or defund the FBI. House Republicans are also ramping up their oversight investigations of the Biden administration and the Biden family. I talked to House Oversight Chairman Jim Comer, who's planning to send two more subpoenas to FBI Director Chris Wray for documents in his investigation of the president and his family. Comer says whistleblowers who his committee has talked to have evidence of corruption of Biden and his son, Hunter, but he hasn't provided any evidence of those claims yet.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thanks so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Steve.

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INSKEEP: All right. The United States announced more security assistance for Ukraine.

FADEL: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the news as he met President Biden at the White House.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: And the support that we are providing together to Ukraine is now making a difference on the battlefield as we speak.

FADEL: He says the Ukrainians are making progress in their counteroffensive against Russia's occupying troops.

INSKEEP: How much more can Ukraine's allies do? NPR's Michele Kelemen has been talking with sources ahead of a NATO summit that is scheduled for the summer. Hey there, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just a reminder, NATO, of course, is the U.S. and European alliance that is backing Ukraine. So how do they talk about their role now?

KELEMEN: Well, Stoltenberg is saying that, you know, the Ukrainians are making progress with the weapons that they've been getting from NATO countries. And he says the more that NATO members can show that they're ready to help Ukraine for the long haul, the more that the alliance can signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he won't be able to just wait out the West. And the hope is that all of this is going to put Ukraine in a better position to negotiate in the future. The new U.S. aid package includes more surface-to-air missiles, Stingers, HIMARS, more artillery. The list goes on and on. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who also met Stoltenberg here, says that NATO is putting together what he calls a robust package of support for Ukraine. And it's going to announce that at the NATO summit next month in Lithuania.

INSKEEP: Well, Michele, you met with some lawmakers from the Baltic nations near Ukraine who want the U.S. to do a little bit more. What do they see?

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, these are lawmakers from Lithuania and Estonia as well as Poland and Denmark. And they're here in town saying that they think the only way to end this war is to make clear to Putin that Ukraine is going to become part of NATO. They want President Biden to agree to give Ukraine a clear pathway to membership, not just make statements about it. Here's Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark.

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MICHAEL AASTRUP JENSEN: The U.S. has been a world leader for so many years, and if we still want to uphold that world order - that it's not China, it's not Russia that decides, but it's the free world - then we need leadership right now. And that's, I think, one of the messages that we'll try to convey to our American friends.

KELEMEN: So he says that, you know, he's been pushing the Biden administration to allow Denmark and others to provide U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. He says he was glad the U.S. agreed to do that recently, but it took a really long time, and it might be too late to help with Ukraine's current counteroffensive. He wants the U.S. to move more quickly on that and on Ukraine's NATO ambitions.

INSKEEP: Yeah, NATO membership for a country that doesn't fully control its borders then is literally at war with Russia would seem to be a tough sell. It would all but put NATO at war with Russia.

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, but these lawmakers say one of the problems is that NATO agreed back in 2008 that Ukraine should become a member, but didn't offer Ukraine a clear pathway to get there. And that left Ukraine in a gray area, and they blame that for this current conflict.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks for your insights.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: After raising interest rates in 10 consecutive meetings, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to relieve rates alone this afternoon.

FADEL: But this could be just a rest stop in the Fed's campaign against inflation, not the end of the road. Yesterday, we learned the annual inflation rate fell to 4% in May. That's the lowest it's been in more than two years. But it's still well above the Fed's target of 2%.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hey, 4% sounds better than 8%, which is where we were. But is that low enough?

HORSLEY: You know, inflation has come down a lot, but at 4%, it's still double the Fed's target. And if you look at so-called core inflation, which strips out food and energy prices, it's still 5.3%, which is only a little lower than it was the month before. That's why Greg McBride, who's chief financial analyst at Bankrate, thinks the Fed is going to leave the door open today for additional rate hikes in the future if inflation remains stubbornly high.

GREG MCBRIDE: Progress is coming. It's just coming very, very slowly. And I think the report validates the Fed's stance that they're going to pause rate hikes in June, but if we don't see more substantive improvement and sustained improvement on the inflation front, they could be back to raising rates. And that may be happening as soon as their July meeting.

HORSLEY: That's why forecasters are calling this a pause in rate hikes, not a full stop.

INSKEEP: Why would the Fed pause at all if they're still concerned about inflation?

HORSLEY: Well, rates have already gone up a lot. The Fed's benchmark rate, which was near zero just 15 months ago, is now over 5%. And the borrowing costs that consumers face are higher than that. Mortgage rates are up close to 7%. The average credit card's now charging over 20% interest.

INSKEEP: Wow.

HORSLEY: Now, if you pay your credit card bill in full every month, that doesn't much matter, but nearly half of all card users carry a balance. And we know those balances have been going up as people try to keep pace with these rising prices. The Fed's whole goal in raising interest rates is to make people think twice about spending money in hopes that tamping down demand will bring prices under control. Now, that doesn't happen overnight. So after 10 consecutive rate hikes, Fed policymakers are expected to take a break and hold rates steady for a while to assess how these higher borrowing costs are affecting the broader economy.

INSKEEP: You know, we assume that higher interest rates are bad, and for many people, of course they are. But is there any upside?

HORSLEY: Yes. For people who are lucky enough to have some money in the bank, rising interest rates can be a good thing. Some of the best-paying savings accounts are now finally keeping up with inflation. But Bankrate's Greg McBride says you do have to shop around.

MCBRIDE: Savers are seeing the best returns that they've seen in 15 years, provided that they're looking in the right place. A lot of banks are still dragging their feet and have been pretty stingy on their payouts for savings accounts and CDs, but the top yielding accounts are over 5%. And that's where you need to have your money.

HORSLEY: McBride suggests checking out internet banks, smaller community banks and credit unions. Oftentimes they offer the most competitive interest rates.

INSKEEP: All right. So if interest rate hikes are only paused, how much higher might they go?

HORSLEY: Well, we could get some insight on that this afternoon when policymakers issue their forecast. There's likely to be a range of opinion. Some Fed officials may think rates are high enough already and they just have to be patient now. Others could see a need for at least one more rate hike this year in order to get prices under control.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Some other news now - pro hockey has a new champion.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For the first time, the Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions.

INSKEEP: The Vegas Golden Knights won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history by defeating the Florida Panthers in five games. In the final, Mark Stone of the Knights had a hat trick, three goals, and the final score wasn't even close - 9 to 3. The Vegas Golden Knights are now the most dominant hockey team you can find in the desert. 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.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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