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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In his State of the Union address last night, President Biden repeated one simple refrain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let's finish the job.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That line was aimed partly at a newly divided Congress where some of his agenda seems likely to stall. But it was also a message for people at home, voters whose support he would need to secure a second term.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins me now to discuss. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

FADEL: So you've been listening to Joe Biden's speeches for years now. As he ran for office and since he's been at the White House, that's been your job. What stood out to you about this speech?

DETROW: You know, I think, having heard probably thousands of his speeches...

FADEL: Yeah.

DETROW: ...At this point, this was Biden-ism at its heart. It was a speech focused squarely on middle and working-class voters, more moderate swing voters. Biden at times spoke directly to people like that, saying, I know you feel forgotten. I know you feel left behind. And throughout that first half hour of the speech, he seemed to be trying over and over to give very easy, concrete examples of his administration's policies that are helping people - new bridges, cheaper insulin, better and faster internet, things like that. The whole thing seemed to me to be an appeal to moderate, politically disengaged, working and middle-class voters, the exact type of voter the Democrats have been losing over the past decade, but that he sees as the key to staving off Trumpism.

FADEL: So speaking to the American people, but also Biden talking a lot about bipartisanship. And he took digs at Republicans, too, as he talked about this. What message was he trying to drive home there?

DETROW: Yeah. You know, ever since Republicans took back the House, he has repeatedly framed the party as split between two wings, one that he can work with to govern and the other a right-wing faction. And he kept touting, especially early on, Republican support for that infrastructure law, making a point to say about 300 laws he signed over the first two years had Republican support. But there was a little bit of a tone, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BIDEN: I want to thank my Republican friends who voted for the law and my Republican friends who voted against it as well. But I'm still - I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts as well. But don't worry. I promised I'd be a president for all Americans. We'll fund these projects, and I'll see you at the groundbreaking.

DETROW: And one key moment was when Biden highlighted a proposal from Florida Senator Rick Scott that he made last year to hold votes to renew Social Security and Medicare every five years. And Biden got a lot of boos and heckles from Republicans at that point.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BIDEN: Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I'm not saying it's the majority.

(BOOING)

BIDEN: Let me give you - anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I'll give you a copy. I'll give you a copy of the proposal.

DETROW: And, you know, Scott's not exactly a backbencher. He ran Republican Senate campaigns last year. But even as Republicans are demanding spending cuts right now, their leaders are insisting they don't want to cut those two programs. And Republicans heckled and yelled over and over and over to make that point.

FADEL: Yeah, we were hearing some of that. And the president seemed happy to engage.

DETROW: Oh, he seemed to love it. And he kept saying, look, we agree. He had ignored hecklers at other point. But here he kept returning to it, smiling as he did it. He clearly relished the opportunity to draw some policy contrast, but I think he also liked showing an audience that even as many Republicans imply he's senile, that he was going back and forth with hecklers carrying out a high-stakes, ad-libbed argument in real time in front of millions of viewers.

FADEL: OK, the big question - was this speech a start of a 2024 campaign?

DETROW: I will say almost certainly. We expect an announcement in the coming weeks or months.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Detrow, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Overnight, the death toll from Monday's earthquake climbed to more than 9,000 lives in Turkey and Syria.

INSKEEP: We can say that many people also have been pulled from the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings, thousands of people injured but alive. Search and rescue teams work in freezing temperatures, but how much time is left?

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Istanbul to talk about this. Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So can you give us a big picture of the recovery efforts? What are rescue workers facing right now?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge right now is time.

FADEL: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: It's been around 60 hours since the initial earthquake. Weather conditions have worsened with both temperatures dipping below freezing and now snow. And rescuers are working more than two days straight, many without sleep, doing whatever they can to reach survivors who are trapped under tons of rubble. You know, aid groups say the first 72 hours after a natural disaster like this are the most crucial to rescue survivors. So it's a really harrowing and desperate situation. Yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency for 10 Turkish provinces. He addressed the nation. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: And Leila, he's saying here that he prays to God for mercy, for the citizens who've lost their lives, that he's declaring a national mourning period for the next week. And he promised his citizens that his government is making all the measures it can to rescue those who've survived.

FADEL: I mean, the scale of this is hard to wrap your head around. Turkey says more than 13.5 million people affected by the quake, and that doesn't include the millions more in Syria. That's a huge number of people. Where are the displaced going?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I mean, and you mentioned that there are millions more in northern Syria, and that's a region that's already been devastated by a civil war, refugee crisis and where most rescue teams can't even access. Turkey's emergency management agency says nearly 400,000 people have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels. Others are living in stadiums, mosques. At least 6,000 buildings in Turkey collapsed. And even for those whose homes are still standing, they don't want to go back because there have been hundreds of aftershocks, some of them big enough to topple more buildings. There are many people sleeping in cars, even trains. But across the border in Syria, the situation is in some ways even worse.

FADEL: Yeah, I mean, this is a place where millions of people are already displaced and receiving humanitarian aid because of the ongoing civil war in Syria, a place where infrastructure was already damaged by bombings, and now this. I mean, do they have any of what they need to deal with this natural disaster?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. For how dire it is here in Turkey, it's worse in Syria. And that's because northern Syria, near the cities of Aleppo and Idlib, you know, that were hit hard by this quake, were already under the stress of war and refugees. And because of that, there simply isn't the infrastructure there to provide emergency care, electricity, food, water. They're left with nothing. You know, people are sleeping in mosques, and they don't have fuel. They don't have water. They're lacking essentials to simply survive. And the only road that U.N. - that the U.N. authorizes to carry supplies from Turkey to Syria has been damaged by this quake. Syria's government has blamed Western sanctions for hampering relief efforts. The U.S. has pushed back, saying that sanctions do not include humanitarian assistance. Other countries are trying to help, but, you know, these are opposition-held areas, and so the government is sort of hampered in how it can help, too. So it's really a difficult situation for everyone right now.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Istanbul, thank you so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The NBA has a new all-time scoring king. Last night in Los Angeles, Lakers star LeBron James passed Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to move into first place on the list of all time points scored.

INSKEEP: James came into Tuesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, needing a mere 36 points to set the record. No problem for LeBron - he got there on a fadeaway jump shot with about 10 seconds left in the third quarter. Here's how it sounded on TNT.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN ANDERSON: Coming to the end of the third quarter, LeBron James - his shot at history. There it is. LeBron stands alone.

FADEL: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with me to talk about this. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So we heard the moment. Describe what happened after.

GOLDMAN: Well, you can hear the crowd went crazy. And that crowd included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They stopped the game, had an on-court ceremony, a nice moment when James and Abdul-Jabbar hugged. Then Abdul-Jabbar - he has held the record since 1984 - he took the game ball and theatrically handed it to James, symbolizing the passing of the record. Now, James broke Abdul-Jabbar's record of 38,387 points. The new record will keep growing. James is 38. He's playing as well as he ever has. If he stays healthy, he's going to be around several more years. And it's not crazy to think the mark...

FADEL: Wow.

GOLDMAN: ...Will go over 40,000 before he's finished. That's going to be tough to break, although it was said Kareem's record would never be broken. And here we are.

FADEL: Yeah. And James has accomplished a lot in his 20-year career - four NBA titles, four league MVP awards. Where does this scoring record rank?

GOLDMAN: You know, it's a really big deal because when people think of basketball, they think of scoring, even though there are many aspects to the game. Now, James has said throughout his career he's always loved passing more, getting teammates involved. In fact, he just moved to the No. 4 on the all-time assist list. That's a testament to that love of passing the ball. So the scoring record is major, but for James, it's really not the pinnacle of his career. Here he is after the game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEBRON JAMES: This was not a goal for me. That's why it's probably so surreal and so just, like, weird to me because I never, ever talked about being the all-time scorer in NBA history. It's never even been a thought of mine until I just - I guess I start seeing my numbers get closer and closer. I was like, oh, wow.

FADEL: Now, there's been a huge outpouring of support, congratulations from inside the sports world and out. Is it just because of the record, or is it because it's James?

GOLDMAN: Well, good point. You know, it's definitely both, Leila. I mean, a lot of people really like this guy and who he's become in his two decades in the limelight. He was a kid who had a hard upbringing in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He didn't have a father present, but he had a lot of people who helped him develop as an athlete and as a person. He talks a lot - and he did last night again - about the importance of being a good husband and a good dad to his three kids. In an age of athlete activism, he's been at the forefront, speaking out on social issues. The school he opened for at-risk kids in Akron has been widely praised. Now, he's had a few stumbles, but considering how he's grown up as a megacelebrity with so much attention on him, it's really impressive how grounded he is, and it's made him incredibly popular.

FADEL: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.