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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For the first time as House speaker, Kevin McCarthy led a group of Republican freshman lawmakers on a trip to the southern border in Arizona.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

McCarthy talked to reporters at a private ranch next to a border wall, and he praised his fellow Republicans for tackling an issue he claims the Biden administration has not been doing enough on.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: The freshman member that I brought here - they have done more in four weeks of looking at the border than the president has done in 40 years.

KHALID: Democrats, of course, dispute that claim. But with Republicans now in control of the House, McCarthy is trying to make good on campaign promises about the border.

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us from Arizona. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us, what area of the border did you visit, and what was the purpose of this trip for these lawmakers?

GRISALES: Right. We navigated here by GPS coordinates. So there was no traditional street address. It was remote. But it was surrounded by beautiful vistas and mountains. This was in Cochise County in Arizona. And this group of lawmakers visited the Tucson region for a briefing, followed by an aerial tour from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Afterwards, they held a press conference at a private ranch, where McCarthy said that the Republican-led House would tackle improvements to border security.

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MCCARTHY: Republicans have been taking action. We've got a lot of ideas inside Congress. It's different than the Congress before. We're just not going to write the bill and put it onto the floor. We're going to listen to the people that are on the border. We're going to listen to border agents.

GRISALES: But we should note they do not have much of a legislative path forward. They only control the House, one chamber. Unless they decide to work with Democrats, they're not going to see a lot of progress on those plans.

FADEL: Now, McCarthy was joined by an all-freshman delegation. Why is that notable? What's the thinking there?

GRISALES: Yes, a senior GOP aide told me this freshman group showcases the next generation of lawmakers who could take the lead on these issues, like Arizona's Juan Ciscomani. You might remember him as the freshman who offered the Spanish-language rebuttal to President Biden's recent State of the Union address.

FADEL: Right.

GRISALES: At the press conference, he listed the different groups they heard from during the visit, specifically on the issue of fentanyl coming over the border.

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JUAN CISCOMANI: We just sat in the roundtable that - we heard from mayors, from elected officials on the county side, from law enforcement, from border patrol, from sheriffs, from ranchers, private sector business owners. And they all have the same feeling about this. It's a crisis that is impacting everyone in different ways.

GRISALES: But we should note that the abundance of fentanyl in the U.S. is something that both Democrats and Republicans name as a major concern. Some argue Republicans have tried to pin the blame on migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. But we've learned that is largely not the case.

FADEL: So how are Republicans challenging the Biden administration on this issue? What are they doing?

GRISALES: Well, McCarthy did not lay out a very prescriptive legislative agenda on this issue. He says it is early days but has pledged to bring members from Washington out to border areas to hold hearings. He told reporters that he wants to talk to Americans where they are, and it has already started. For example, the House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing next week in Yuma, Ariz., about 200 miles west of here. And they'll also have a visit to the border as well. McCarthy says there's much more of this to come. As for Democrats, they're not planning to take part in these field hearings so far or these visits. They argue that these are just largely photo ops.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thank you.

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FADEL: Now we turn to Nicaragua, where the government of President Daniel Ortega is ramping up its attacks on political dissidents.

KHALID: Yeah, that's right. Last week, Nicaragua banished 222 political prisoners. The country took away their citizenship, put them on a plane and sent them to Washington, D.C. This week, it is continuing those attacks, stripping nearly 100 more dissidents of their citizenship.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is following this story from his base in Mexico City. Good morning, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So before we get into this stripping of citizenships, let's go back, if you could just give us a sense of what's led to this point.

PERALTA: Yeah. So President Daniel Ortega is a former guerrilla fighter. He helped topple a dictatorship in the '70s. He's been president twice. And in 2018, there was this huge popular rebellion against him. And that's when things changed dramatically in Nicaragua. Ortega used violence to quash that pro-democracy movement. And then he consolidated power. He and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, now control all three branches of government. And these past two weeks, they've been flexing that muscle. Without a public trial, the government has branded many dissidents as traitors. On Wednesday, a judge said that 94 Nicaraguans - and these include human rights activists, writers, journalists - had been sentenced to what amounts to a civic death. A judge said that they had been stripped of their nationality. They said the government was taking over their possessions...

FADEL: Wow.

PERALTA: ...And that these people would no longer have any rights in Nicaragua for the rest of their lives.

FADEL: I mean, Eyder, all of this sounds so draconian. How common is it to denationalize citizens?

PERALTA: You know, I spoke to Gabriel Chin, and he studies nationality at UC Davis. And he says that this became a thing after the first world war. And what the world realized is that leaving someone stateless was terrible. So the right to nationality was accepted as a universal human right. He says what the Ortega regime has done is a, quote, "clear violation of international human rights law." And he pointed to a case in the United States that shows how serious the situation is. After the first world war, a U.S. soldier was stripped of his nationality for deserting the military in the battlefield. But the Supreme Court actually ruled that this was cruel and unusual punishment. Let's listen.

GABRIEL CHIN: The Army could have sentenced him to death. They could have executed him. But it's cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to have denied him any nationality whatsoever. And that's because the Supreme Court recognized the terrible consequences of being stateless.

PERALTA: And being stateless - let's be clear - means that you lose your right to have rights. At the time, the majority on the Supreme Court wrote that denationalization was, quote, "a form of punishment more primitive than torture."

FADEL: So what are some of the banished saying?

PERALTA: I'm hearing a lot of defiance, but also uncertainty. And it's not clear yet what's going to happen to dissident Nicaraguans who remain in the country. And I'm also hearing a lot of sadness. Nicaragua is a country that defines itself through its poets. They're national heroes there. And now this government has banished two literary giants, Sergio Ramirez and Gioconda Belli. And Belli is a poet, and she didn't release a statement. Instead, she pointed to one of her poems, and I'll translate a stanza for you. She writes, (reading in Spanish). And I love you, country of my dreams and my sorrows. And I'll take you with me to wash away your stains in secret. I'll whisper with hope and promise you cures and spells that will save you. And the name of that poem is "Nicaragua."

FADEL: Haunting. Eyder Peralta in Mexico City, thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila.

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FADEL: Federal regulators say Tesla software was breaking traffic laws in dangerous ways.

KHALID: So the company is rolling out a fix to its full self-driving feature in a recall that was announced yesterday. This software is controversial, and in fact, depending on where you watched the Super Bowl, you might have seen an ad showing a Tesla that was mowing down child-size mannequins.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tesla's full self-driving is endangering the public with deceptive marketing and woefully inept engineering. Ninety percent agree that this should be banned immediately. Why does NHTSA allow Tesla full self-driving?

FADEL: Now, NHTSA is the federal highway safety regulator. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us to talk about this recall. Good morning, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what does this recall mean for Tesla owners?

DOMONOSKE: Well, it will only affect people who have full self-driving, which is an expensive option. But about more than 360,000 people do have this software, and they'll be getting a software update over the air - so they don't have to go anywhere - that's going to change how full self-driving behaves. So just to be clear, these cars are still driving on the road. They can still use full self-driving. But in the coming weeks, the program is going to be tweaked.

FADEL: OK, so what was wrong with the software?

DOMONOSKE: Well, federal regulators say that after in part driving around on vehicles that had full self-driving enabled, they zeroed in on four particular things that it was doing. One was, in turn-only lanes, going straight through an intersection. Another was not responding properly when the speed limit changed in areas where the speed limit can change. Stop signs - sometimes the software was not coming to a full stop before the stop sign, and the last was running yellow lights in an unsafe way. Tesla didn't agree with regulators' analysis but did agree to push out a software fix. Like I said, that will be coming out soon.

FADEL: OK, the software that's being updated, full self-driving - if you could talk about what it is exactly, and with this fix, is it safe?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, you know, I think this fix doesn't address the underlying dispute over the safety of full self-driving. I mean, if you ask Elon Musk, this is both a safety feature that is safer than a human driver and absolutely essential to the future of Tesla as a company. If you talk to a lot of safety experts, they would say this is a dangerous experiment that's being played out on public roads. That's the underlying concern. Either way, it's unique to Tesla, right? Full self-driving is a misleading name because a person behind the wheel still has to supervise what the vehicle is doing. That's critically important. But the software will steer and accelerate and brake, not just on highways, but on city streets with pedestrians and bikers and stoplights, the whole shebang. Sometimes it behaves really impressively. Sometimes it makes mistakes, which is why - it doesn't always happen, but people are supposed to keep an eye on what their car is doing so they can take over. The other thing is it's technically still in beta. It's getting constant updates, but in the meantime being used by hundreds of thousands of drivers.

FADEL: OK, what's the future for full self-driving?

DOMONOSKE: Well, this isn't the end to the conversation. There's more scrutiny from regulators. There are also some lawsuits about this and related tech that are going to be unfolding in the months ahead.

FADEL: NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thank you so much, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.