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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This week, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz became one of the best known members of Congress.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. That's because he made history and angered many in his own party by engineering the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Gaetz is a Trump ally and member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. He also faces a House ethics investigation into allegations that include violating sex trafficking laws, sexual misconduct, illicit drug use and the misuse of campaign funds. His constituents are the people living in Florida's first congressional district, which covers the area around Pensacola.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen has been talking to Republican voters in the district and joins us now. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So as we said, a lot of Republicans in Congress really angry at Matt Gaetz right now. How are his constituents feeling?

ALLEN: Well, I was at the Republican club meeting in Florida's Santa Rosa County last night. This is right in the heart of Gaetz's district. This is the area, as you say, in Florida's panhandle that's strongly Republican. Everyone I talked to here said that they love Matt Gaetz because of his actions this week. They like what he did. Here's one Republican voter, Sharon Hawthorne (ph).

SHARON HAWTHORNE: Before this happened, I had mixed feelings. I liked some things that he did, I didn't like other things that he did. But I love the fact that he took the stand for us. And I feel like that this is the best thing that could have happened for the Republicans, for Democrats, for America.

ALLEN: You know, this was a conservative crowd in a deep red district, but that was the near unanimous opinion I heard last night. As one person said to me, they believe if a system has gone awry, then you need to break it.

FADEL: I mean, but Matt Gaetz took these actions against Kevin McCarthy after McCarthy made a deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, which worried a lot of people, the idea of a shutdown. It would impact people in Gaetz's district, home to military bases, veterans, active duty military. Did that go into constituents' thinking on Gaetz's move?

ALLEN: Yeah, you know, it's not really clear to me. You know, I did speak to Stan Jandura (ph), who's a retired Marine and a Republican activist in Santa Rosa County. He says he doesn't think many there really were concerned about the threat of a government shutdown.

STAN JANDURA: It's a colloquial term, shutdown. It's not real shutdown. Government employees are still going to get a check once it opens back up, so who does it hurt? It hurts the political party that is up there.

ALLEN: Now, there is some uncertainty among people I spoke to about how this will play out for the Republican Party in the long term. Some conceded there could be fallout that hurts Republicans in next year's midterm elections if a new speaker isn't quickly seated and Congress doesn't soon get back to work.

FADEL: You know, as we talked about, Matt Gaetz's Republican colleagues are not happy with him for leading this effort, blowing up the session, then sending out fundraising appeals bragging about it. To his supporters, is this behavior appealing, off-putting? What are they saying?

ALLEN: Right, I don't - people really don't care about this. As one person said to me, what issues don't members of Congress fundraise around? Among the people I spoke to, there's a deep dissatisfaction that Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Many told me they feel that, in their words, they need to take back their country. They hope the next speaker will be one who listens to them and acts on their concerns. Several said they were excited that former President Trump is reportedly planning to visit Congress next week. And they're hoping he might perhaps, maybe be the next Republican House speaker.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Pensacola, Fla. Thank you so much for your reporting.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Russian missile strikes in Ukraine have killed at least 51 people and injured dozens of others. But beyond the devastating human toll of this war that we're reminded of every day, the conflict is also affecting the country's crop fields.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the fighting has left a gash across the country's farmland that's so large it's actually visible from space. That's according to a new analysis from NASA-funded researchers. The ongoing conflict with Russia has devastated some of the most productive farmland in Europe.

FADEL: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel got an exclusive look and joins me now to discuss. Hi, Geoff.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So these researchers have been able to determine how much farmland has been lost to the war, right? Tell us what they found.

BRUMFIEL: That's right. This program is called NASA Harvest, and it specializes in using satellite imagery to monitor agriculture all over the world. Using commercial imagery from a company called Planet, they were able to measure exactly how many fields in Ukraine were not planted this year because of the war. Here's Harvest program director Inbal Becker-Reshef.

INBAL BECKER-RESHEF: Between 6.5 and 8.5% of Ukraine's total cropland has been abandoned, which is a massive amount of land.

BRUMFIEL: This is millions and millions of acres of some of the most fertile land in Ukraine.

FADEL: But why? I mean, that seems like so much. And I know the front line is full of trenches, anti-tank obstacles, minefields. But is that taking all of this space?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah, I mean, that's a really great question. Some of the, you know, trenches and things run through the fields. And obviously, the farmers can't get to those. But the researchers and other experts I spoke to think there's something else going on - both sides are using a lot of artillery. I spoke to Patrick Hinton. He's an artillery officer in the British Army. And he says there hasn't been a sort of artillery battle like this since the last century.

PATRICK HINTON: The mass of metal flying each way is phenomenal. Thousands of rounds a day, hundreds of thousands a month.

BRUMFIEL: And those shells are landing in farmers' fields many miles from the front lines, so many of those fields have been left to grow over with grass and weeds. It's basically created this huge scar cutting across the country. And sort of ironically, because the land is so fertile, that means this scar is green rather than brown in the satellite imagery. It just shows, though, how much food could have been grown there if farmers could get to that land.

FADEL: How much food could have been grown? And Ukraine is known as Europe's breadbasket. I mean, what's the impact here?

BRUMFIEL: You know, according to the researchers I've spoken to, Ukraine has managed to maintain its agricultural production pretty much even this year. And that's for a couple of reasons. First, Ukrainian farmers are incredibly tough. And then also, they've had a pretty good year in terms of weather. They've had some good rainfall. But of course, had this land been available, they could have grown even more. Becker-Reshef believes around $2 billion was lost this year alone. And those losses are going to be much higher over time because even if Ukraine can push Russia back, she thinks farmers can't safely grow on this land anytime soon.

BECKER-RESHEF: That abandoned land is very likely to be abandoned into the long term due to shelling, due to mining, due to contamination.

BRUMFIEL: And she's worried that as more shells fall, this is going to be a larger hit to production. And that could rattle through global food systems. Ukraine does export a lot of food, including about 9% of the world's wheat.

FADEL: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Thanks, Geoff.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Guatemala is in the middle of a huge political crisis.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. OK, so here's what's happening. A presidential election was held in August. The results were already certified. But the attorney general and other officials have made it clear that they want to challenge those results. And that's led protesters to take to the streets all over the country.

FADEL: Guatemala is now entering a fifth day of a national strike. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in the middle of it all in Guatemala City, and he joins us now. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So start by telling us how we got here and what's at stake.

PERALTA: So look, as you mentioned, this starts in earlier this summer when Bernardo Arevalo wins the presidential election. And this was a huge surprise because Arevalo came from a small reformist party, and he was the anticorruption candidate. No one thought he could win. And almost as soon as he does win, the ruling elite here, who have been terrified of actually being held responsible for their corruption, well, they have done their best to undo this win. The electoral commission actually certified the results, but the attorney general has said she is investigating the president-elect's party. And on Saturday, her office raided the electoral commission.

The investigators ripped into bags of elections material. And then, by force, they left with a bunch of electoral materials, and they haven't said why. One constitutional expert I spoke to says that Guatemala is clearly in extraconstitutional territory where important branches of government are fighting with each other for supremacy. And that fight may very well determine if Bernardo Arevalo, who was elected in a landslide, will actually take power in January.

FADEL: You said that this is - this may determine the fate of Bernardo Arevalo. How have people taken to the streets? Are they defending the results? What are they saying, what are you seeing?

PERALTA: Well, look, this is the fifth day of a national strike, and some major roads across the country have been blocked. And here in Guatemala City, an encampment has grown outside of the attorney general's office. There are tents, there are food stations. The fence around the building is plastered with protesters - with posters calling for the resignation of the attorney general and her allies. And what I heard was indignation. Noe Gomez Barrera (ph) says when Bernardo Arevalo won, he felt hope that Guatemala could change, that they could finally build a just and honest nation. And when he saw the attorney general's office raid the electoral commission, he was enraged. He picked up his things and he came to the protest. Let's listen.

NOE GOMEZ BARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: And he's saying, they have not respected the will of the people. And that's why we are here, to tell them that we don't want to see them here anymore because they are the shame of Guatemala.

FADEL: Wow. So where does this go now?

PERALTA: It's worth repeating that these election results have already been certified. And there was hope that the constitutional court would step into this debate and tell the attorney general that these elections are settled. But that is not what's happening. Instead, the courts here seem to be siding with the attorney general. And they've also ruled that some of the protests are illegal, so they seem to be laying the groundwork for security forces to clear the streets. So the table is set for a confrontation because the protesters here say that they will not leave the streets until the attorney general and her allies resign.

FADEL: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Guatemala City. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you.

FADEL: And before we let you go, we have an update on two important immigration policy decisions. The Biden administration plans to expand barriers along the Mexico border and to start deporting thousands of Venezuelans. The decisions announced yesterday are quite the reversal from this White House. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained it this way - quote, "there is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers."

The moves come in the face of mounting political pressure over the sharp increase of people crossing the border in recent months. But there are many that are concerned about the decisions, including environmental activists who point out the administration will bypass 26 federal laws to build the barrier, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. For more on both stories, go to 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.

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