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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans finally made an opening bid in the fight over paying federal bills.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Leaders of the House have said they will not pay those bills unless they get something in return. And up till last night, they had not agreed on what they wanted. Now a bare majority does. Speaker Kevin McCarthy got through a bill that extends federal borrowing for less than a year, but also demands that President Biden cancel much of his agenda.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: You've underestimated us. But you know the one place that they haven't underestimated? The American public. Why? Because those are the people we're working for, day in and day out. And just as it took me 15 rounds to win speaker, the one thing I have promised the American public - I will never give up on you.

INSKEEP: OK, so the House majority now agrees on a position which the Democratic-led Senate is not expected to pass at all. Democrats have said the United States should simply meet its obligations and avoid default.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here with us now to give us the details. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with the Republican bill. What's in it?

GRISALES: Well, the centerpiece of it is that it increases the debt limit by 1.5 trillion or it raises it until March of next year, whichever of these happens first. And that's linked to a series of Republican initiatives, from a plan to cap spending for several years to efforts to repeal parts of President Biden's so-called Inflation Reduction Act. It also looks to block the Biden administration's efforts to forgive certain student loans, install requirements for certain adults who seek federal assistance, such as food stamps, and cancels unspent pandemic relief funds.

MARTIN: And the clip that we just heard kind of alludes to this. It seemed that Speaker McCarthy did not have the votes at some point to pass this plan. Do we know what changed?

GRISALES: Yes, a few things. Republicans saw a breakthrough in closed-door negotiations. One by one, we saw holdouts leave his office and say they were going to support the bill. And this includes one significant change - when McCarthy agreed to back off plans to repeal a provision in the original Republican bill to allow tax credits for ethanol production. This is a key concern for Republican members in the Midwest. And in the end, with this razor-thin margin, McCarthy could only lose four members of his conference and, indeed, only four voted no. Afterwards, he boasted repeatedly to reporters last night that his conference has passed the only bill in Washington that addresses the debt limit and encourages spending cuts.

MARTIN: So this would seem to ramp up pressure for President Biden to meet with Speaker McCarthy now. What is the president saying?

GRISALES: Right. The last time they had an extended conversation about this was in February. Biden has repeatedly said he will not negotiate on the debt limit. And yesterday, following a bilateral meeting and press conference with South Korea's president, Biden addressed this question again on whether he'd entertain another McCarthy meeting.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That's not negotiable.

GRISALES: So he has said that he will meet to talk about spending but is keeping the debt limit conversation separate. And he went on to argue that Republican presidents would not let this debt limit standoff get this far.

MARTIN: So what's next?

GRISALES: So although this legislation heads to the Senate, it is considered DOA there. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have said this is a nonstarter and that Congress should pass a, quote, "clean bill" to lift the debt ceiling and then negotiate on spending. But this is basically the next stage in a very dangerous stalemate. The stakes continue to rise for financial default for this country as we get closer to the date where the U.S. runs out of money to pay its bills without a bipartisan deal in hand.

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Claudia, thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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MARTIN: The Walt Disney Company filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

INSKEEP: The company acted yesterday, moments after the governor's allies did. A board appointed by Governor DeSantis voted to invalidate Disney's development rights on its property. That includes Disney World. Disney alleges the governor has overseen a, quote, "targeted campaign of government retaliation" against the company.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen has been following all this, and he's with us now from Miami to tell us more about it. Greg, good morning.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: All right. This dispute between Governor DeSantis and Disney has been going on now for more than a year. What happened now to convince Disney to take the governor to court?

ALLEN: Well, you know, as you'll recall, this all began when Disney's former CEO said he'd work to overturn the parental rights and education law, one that critics call Don't Say Gay. It's a law that bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the schools. At DeSantis' urging, Republican lawmakers passed a bill that stripped Disney of its self-governing authority. But before that law took effect, Disney signed a deal with its outgoing board, allowing it to retain development rights on the 40-square-mile district. Yesterday, the new board met near Orlando and voted to invalidate that deal. The board's lawyers detailed what they said were procedural missteps made by Disney that they believe make the agreement void and unenforceable. And moments after that vote, Disney filed its lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials in federal court.

MARTIN: What is Disney seeking in the lawsuit?

ALLEN: Well, Disney is asking the court to overturn the resolution that was approved yesterday by the district board. It's also asking the court to overturn the bills that were passed by the Florida Legislature, which stripped Disney of its self-governing status and which appointed a new board. Here's Jacob Schumer. He's a local government and land use attorney who's been following this case.

JACOB SCHUMER: Well, they've always had a strong case that this whole thing was retaliation and that it was all prohibited by the First Amendment. Their biggest weakness is the fact that they waited until after the new board took over. So it's going to be difficult to require that the new board be dissolved.

ALLEN: You know, interestingly, this case was filed in Tallahassee and assigned to a federal judge who's ruled against DeSantis in previous First Amendment cases.

MARTIN: So, Greg, has Florida Governor DeSantis responded?

ALLEN: Well, he's currently overseas on an international trade mission. His communications director yesterday said, quote, "this lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of Disney's hope to undermine the will of Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law." And yesterday, as they were preparing to vote to undo Disney's development deal, board members heard from a string of independent business owners who have restaurants and retail shops on Disney properties. Several said they were concerned about these new regulations and worried that taxes could raise their costs and make their businesses unprofitable. Board Chairman Martin Garcia told the business owners their taxes likely would be going up, in part to pay for legal fees related to DeSantis and the board's dispute with Disney.

MARTIN: And I think people know that the governor seems to be preparing a run for the Republican presidential nomination. Do you have a sense of whether this feud with Disney helps him or hurts him?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's hard for me to see how picking a fight with an entertainment giant like Disney helps him. And there is collateral damage, like the business owners we talked about. Here's another who spoke out yesterday. It's Debra McDonald, a resident of Celebration, which is a community next to the theme park. She said many in her community are afraid of how DeSantis' takeover of the district will affect them.

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DEBRA MCDONALD: Call it what you may. I call it a feud. It has hurt us. It has hurt us deeply. It's not just between the governor and Disney. It's affecting everyone around him.

ALLEN: There was a poll released this week by Reuters/Ipsos showing a majority of Republicans do support DeSantis in his fight against Disney. But that same poll suggests that it hurts him in the general election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: This next story takes us to Montana, where the Republican-dominated state legislature voted to bar a transgender lawmaker from the floor.

INSKEEP: Democrat Zooey Zephyr is the first transgender woman elected to Montana's Legislature. She made comments about Republicans with blood on their hands, then seemed to encourage protesters. Republicans said she violated their rules and voted against her, even though a son of Montana's conservative governor spoke up, coming out as nonbinary and opposing the Legislature's anti-trans legislation.

MARTIN: Joining us now is the reporter who broke that story, Montana Free Press's Mara Silvers. Mara, good morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARA SILVERS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with the punishment imposed upon the transgender lawmaker. What happened?

SILVERS: Yeah, so the Republican supermajority in the Montana House voted to bar Democrat Zooey Zephyr from the House floor for the rest of the session. She'll still be able to vote on bills, but she won't be allowed to participate in any debate on them.

MARTIN: And why do the Republicans or the leadership say this needed to happen, that she needed to be punished in this way?

SILVERS: Basically, they say she was egging on protesters in the House gallery on Monday who were there demonstrating on her behalf. And the protesters were there because Republicans had blocked Zephyr from speaking on the floor for several days after they accused her of shaming lawmakers over a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors. Zephyr had alluded to the bill as increasing suicide risks for trans people and said lawmakers who voted for it would see blood on their hands. So while protesters were chanting, let her speak, in the gallery earlier this week, Zephyr was standing out on the floor holding her microphone in the air. Police cleared the public out. Seven people were arrested. And Republicans say that Zephyr's engagement helped incite that disruption.

SILVERS: What does Zephyr say about that? What's her response been to this, and have there been other responses?

SILVERS: Yeah, she really disagrees that her actions are the problem here. She says Republicans were the ones who brought these bills targeting trans people and barred her from speaking about their impact in the first place. And Democrats have said Republicans are applying rules about decorum unevenly and that this discipline route really undermines democracy by sanctioning a representative who's been trying to speak on behalf of her constituents.

MARTIN: Tell me about the makeup of the Legislature. You said earlier there's a Republican supermajority, right?

SILVERS: Right. Republicans have a supermajority, and they hold the governor's office for the first time in 16 years. The opposition to the bills targeting trans people has been quite vocal, but the bills are expected to pass and be signed into law. But yesterday, one of the people who started really speaking out publicly about their opposition was actually a member of Governor Greg Gianforte's own family.

MARTIN: You reported that the governor's son, David Gianforte, who lives in Montana, identifies as nonbinary, uses he and they pronouns and decided to go public with their story. Why did they decide to go public?

SILVERS: Yeah, David told me that they'd kind of reached a personal turning point in their own political journey on this. They've been tracking these bills all session, and he says that they'll have a harmful effect on some of his own friends and community members. So David started lobbying the governor to veto these bills about a month ago. He doesn't know if his voice is going to make a big difference, but he said he felt obligated to try.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, how is the governor's office reacting to this story, and what other response have you heard?

SILVERS: Governor Gianforte's office told me that he loves his family very much, and he appreciates input and their views. But they didn't want to comment further on the discussions he's had with David. David told me he's actually been quite surprised by the outpouring of positive feedback he's received since the story published, including from some members of his own family. And the governor hasn't signed or vetoed the gender-affirming care ban that's kind of at the root of this issue. It's on his desk, and that action could come any day now.

MARTIN: Mara Silvers is a reporter for Montana Free Press. Mara, thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.

SILVERS: Thank you, Michel. 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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.