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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israeli ground forces are battling Hamas on the streets of Gaza City, with heavy fighting now around the main hospital called Al-Shifa.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israel and Hamas have made competing claims about hospitals, with Israelis and their U.S. allies asserting Hamas fighters hide under hospitals. Here's how national security adviser Jake Sullivan put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: Hamas is operating in a way that's outside the bounds of any civilized concept of how you would think about, you know, using a hospital, using human shields.

FADEL: Now, Hamas denies this. And we may find out soon whose claims are true, since Israeli ground troops are nearby. In the meantime, patients and doctors are caught in the crossfire.

INSKEEP: And that is the story we're going to focus on this morning. What is it like for patients and doctors inside that hospital? NPR's Aya Batrawy is in Cairo, has been talking with people inside. Hey there, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do people tell you?

BATRAWY: Well, first of all, there are about a dozen hospitals facing these evacuation orders, and several have gone dark already. So it's very difficult to try and reach people there directly. But we do know that some hospitals have been hit, some by airstrikes over the weekend. A British doctor - a British Palestinian doctor named Ghassan Abu Sitta described to reporters over the weekend the cases he's seen in Gaza City, including an amputation he had to do on a 6-year-old Palestinian girl. He had to amputate her arm and leg. He had another colleague who was operating on a child who's lost all his family.

And inside Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, on Saturday, they completely ran out of fuel. And that means that about 40 babies had to be taken out of incubators. And at least two died already. Nurses at Al-Shifa are trying to keep them warm, putting their bodies next to one another on hospital beds. Doctors Without Borders has medical teams at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. This is what the group's emergency coordinator, Paul Caney, told me today.

PAUL CANEY: Our staff is saying there is no electricity. People are staying in the corridors because of sniper fire near the windows and that they cannot move any - pardon me - none of the patients (inaudible).

BATRAWY: And Israel has not allowed any fuel to enter Gaza in over a month. But it did offer 300 liters of fuel to Al-Shifa on Sunday for its neonatal department. But statements from the Palestinian Health Ministry say there's no safe way for them to collect this fuel. And it wouldn't have powered the hospital for more than half an hour. So the offer was rejected. And patients are suffering.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And I guess we should emphasize again, this is not about the claims of who's responsible for the hospital or how it's being used. This is just the reality for people in the hospital. There is, of course, this wider call for some kind of cease-fire. What's Israel saying about that?

BATRAWY: Well, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN on Sunday a cease-fire will require the release of around 240 hostages held in Gaza. And he put full responsibility of the war on Hamas. And he insisted that the aim of the war is to destroy Hamas. That's the group behind the October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people there. And again, he alleged that Hamas is using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command center, but Israel has not provided evidence for that claim.

Meanwhile, yes, there are growing international calls on Israel to stop this war. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in London over the weekend, and there was a big gathering of Arab and Muslim leaders in the Saudi capital that saw Iran's president, Turkey's president, Egypt's president and others convene in Riyadh. But aside from a lot of rhetoric and demands for a cease-fire, there wasn't much substance. There were no calls, for example, for countries that have ties with Israel to cut those ties or even to reduce oil production, like they had - like some countries had done in 1973.

INSKEEP: Are people getting out of Gaza City as the fighting continues?

BATRAWY: OK, the U.N. relief agency says there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the north, but there were some who were allowed to come south. Tens of thousands did heed those orders over the past few days. But the Palestinians say that the south is not that much safer. Of the more than 11,000 people killed in this war, including more than 4,500 children, at least 40% of these deaths were from airstrikes in the south, where people have been forced to flee, according to health officials in Gaza.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aya Batrawy. Thanks so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This week, President Biden focuses on the issue he's placed at the center of his foreign policy.

FADEL: It's not the wars in the Middle East or Ukraine. It's countering China. To Biden, how to push back on an authoritarian rival is a big problem for the future. It's also a political challenge now. Republican candidates have made slogans about China part of their campaigns.

INSKEEP: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith will travel along as the president attends a summit of Asian leaders, including China's Xi Jinping. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

INSKEEP: What are the leaders of the U.S. and China doing?

KEITH: Well, they're set to meet on Wednesday in the Bay Area for in-depth discussions on a whole range of issues that are causing tensions, from unfair trade practices to the military buildup in the South China Sea. And Xi and Biden have not had a conversation since the last time they met a year ago in Bali. Things have been pretty tense. Biden says he wants to manage competition and open communication to reduce the chances of conflict. But China is also something that he talks about in the context of domestic policy, like the big subsidies he's promoted for electric vehicles. Last week, he brought that up to a crowd of United Auto Workers union members in Illinois.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: China's determined to dominate the electric vehicle market by using unfair trade practices. But I will not let them. I promise.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Well, China is a domestic issue in another way in that Republican presidential contenders like Ron DeSantis talk about it a lot.

KEITH: Yeah. And that reflects concern among Americans about the threat posed by China. It has reached, that concern, record levels. Those concerns have been tracked since 1990 in a survey done by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. And they shared their latest results exclusively with NPR. They found 58% of Americans see the rise of China as a, quote, "critical threat." Here's Dina Smeltz from the Chicago Council.

DINA SMELTZ: It's also the first time in any of our polls that we saw that a majority - some of it's a slim majority - but of Republicans, Democrats and independents all see China as a threat.

KEITH: And it's especially pronounced among Republicans - 71% see it as a major concern. And an overwhelming majority of them say U.S. leaders aren't paying enough attention.

INSKEEP: Although, let's be frank, I mean, a lot of voters don't truly pay that much attention to foreign policy when it comes to voting, do they?

KEITH: That is true. Just because they're concerned about this doesn't mean that it's going to be what drives them to the polls or makes them decide to vote for one party or one candidate or the other. Voting issues are more likely to be things like abortion or the economy or just sheer partisanship. I talked to Elizabeth Saunders at Georgetown about this. She says when it comes to foreign policy, there is a lot of evidence in political science that voters pick a candidate they like and then adopt their views. And, of course, the front-runner in the GOP race, former President Donald Trump, has been talking about the threat from China since 2016. And he is still talking about it.

Saunders told me that China is one of these issues where candidates can try to paint a narrative to show that they're tough. And that's part of the reason why Republican candidates were duking it out over China on the debate stage last week. And she expects that Republicans are already crafting their attacks on Biden for this week's meeting with Xi, saying it shows that he's weak.

INSKEEP: Well, what's your week going to be like, Tam?

KEITH: Well, I expect to be part of the small group of reporters known as the pool that gets a look inside the room where the two leaders are meeting. It'll be a quick look, but I'll be there shouting questions.

INSKEEP: OK. We will listen for the answers. Tamara, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith.

Now, government funding runs out on Friday if Congress cannot agree on a plan to keep the government open.

FADEL: And right now, that's a big if. Speaker Mike Johnson unveiled his short-term funding proposal on a call with Republicans yesterday. But that plan is already facing opposition from Democrats, as well as some of Johnson's fellow Republican lawmakers.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel has been tracking these developments. Eric, good morning.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And it's great to have you here - former Up First podcast producer, now a congressional correspondent. So what is the speaker's proposal?

MCDANIEL: Well, like Leila said, it's another short-term funding bill. It's meant to buy folks more time to work out full annual budget bills over the next few months. But it funds some parts of the government, including the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Transportation through January 19 and funds the rest of the government, including the Defense Department, through February 2. So that two-tiered bill is a goal to pass, you know, more federal budget bills by the end of those deadlines. There are 12 of them, so they don't have to keep relying on short-term extensions, which really upset House conservatives.

INSKEEP: Yeah, but they're doing short-term extensions now with different deadlines. Why?

MCDANIEL: I mean, it's a pretty good question. It hasn't really been tried before. The proposal is mostly a gesture of goodwill to the Republican Party hard-liners in the House. These are the House Freedom Caucus. And it would give House Republicans more time than just a simple extension through, say, December, to get the budget bills across the finish line. In the past, the House has gotten jammed with whatever big bipartisan bill the Senate proposes sometime in December and doesn't have time to change much. But it's worth saying, you know, just like the short-term bill, passing the full budget bills in the House won't be easy. Last week, they had to pull two bills just before voting because they didn't have enough Republican support to pass.

INSKEEP: Isn't a short-term bill like this the very thing that got Kevin McCarthy ousted as speaker of the House?

MCDANIEL: Yeah. And in fact, a lot of the folks who were upset about that short-term bill are also upset about this one. There are already at least three Republican defections. In fact, speaker Mike Johnson himself was one of the 90 Republicans who voted against the last short-term bill. But now, of course, he's in leadership and spent the last week trying to cobble together a different approach. And we more or less ended up back where we started.

INSKEEP: OK, let's think this through. If Mike Johnson can't unite almost all Republicans, he would end up relying on Democrats, as Kevin McCarthy had to do. How have Democrats responded to all this maneuvering?

MCDANIEL: So the Biden administration called the proposal unserious. They accused House Republicans of wasting precious time, setting up a shutdown. Congressional Democrats are also pretty skeptical. Democratic lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee called the bill extreme and irresponsible. But it's worth noting here the proposal from Johnson could have been much, much more controversial. It doesn't contain any so-called poison pills or new conservative policy positions that would lead House Democrats to dismiss it out of hand. So there is a world in which this could pick up Democratic votes, which is great news for Johnson because, as you said, it appears he'll need them. The Senate hasn't proposed anything of its own yet. We should remember there's another chamber here, and obviously, time is running out. I'm sure I'll have more to share soon, though, because the House is set to vote on Johnson's funding bill tomorrow.

INSKEEP: You will be covering this story a lot. Eric, congratulations on the new gig.

MCDANIEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric McDaniel. *

(SOUNDBITE OF OLDTWIG'S "DUNES (FEAT. LIME KAIN)") 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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.