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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's worth noting what is not the news this morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We do not have news that some people feared of violence in response to police videos. Memphis authorities released four videos on Friday night. They show a traffic stop where police seized and beat Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old later died. The nonviolent response to that shifts the focus back to a different question - how to address the repeated police use of excessive force.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Michel Martin host weekends on All Things Considered. She's in Memphis. Michel, you got there the day after the footage was released. How are people feeling?

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Well, a range of emotions, as you might expect, A. Many people feel hurt and angry. Some people told us that they were ashamed that Memphis is in the national spotlight for this, Memphis, of course, being where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and, more recently, where there have been a number of really scary street crimes that have also made the national news. But what I frankly did not expect was the number of people who recounted similar, very frightening encounters with Memphis Police. And I'm not just talking about demeaning language like being cursed at for very little reason, which is bad enough. We're talking about people who spoke of having their doors broken down by police who had the wrong address on a warrant. We're talking about family members being treated so roughly after being stopped for minor traffic issues that they needed medical treatment. It was really disturbing to hear how common an experience it was for many of the people we spoke with.

MARTÍNEZ: You also attended a church service. Where'd you wind up going?

MARTIN: Well, A, we visited an historic church with a majority-Black congregation, Centenary United Methodist Church. A lot of people still travel quite a distance to attend, even if they've moved farther away. And the bishop was making a special visit there yesterday, so it was a big turnout there. And a lot of people told us that the killing of Tyre Nichols, as terrible as it was, is giving them the motivation to recommit to the kind of work they know needs to be done anyway. Here's Courtney Davis. He's a lifelong congregant of this church. And he said police reform is only part of it.

COURTNEY DAVIS: We have to start at the root of the problem, and that's educational equality, financial opportunities. And start to create an environment for the citizens that are here and the ones that haven't made it to the earth yet.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. It sounds like Memphis is almost starting over. At least that's where their mindset seems to be. What about elected leaders in Memphis? What are they saying?

MARTIN: Well, we talked with a veteran congressman who represents much of the city, Steve Cohen. We also talked with a young environmental activist who just got elected to the Tennessee statehouse in a special election, Justin Pearson. He's going to be sworn in just a couple of days from now. They're both Democrats, and they both talked about wanting to move forward with legislation that would require things like better reporting of and better and more consistent reporting of abusive police behavior, more accountability, addressing training and culture.

Now, you can't help but notice that both of these lawmakers are now in the minority in their respective legislative bodies. And this kind of legislative moves have not necessarily been seen as a priority for the Republicans, who control both chambers that they are in. But Pearson said even though he's young, he's had tough fights before and come out on top, like his fight to ensure that an oil pipeline isn't built over an aquifer here in Memphis.

JUSTIN PEARSON: It started with the pipeline fight, but that turned into three laws that we passed in Shelby County and in Memphis. And we changed the law in Tennessee that would've been totally pro-pipeline. We know that this works, but it takes persistent and engaged and activated constituents.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Michel Martin in Memphis, Tennessee. Michel, thanks.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Jerusalem this week.

INSKEEP: The original plan was to meet with leaders of Israel's new right-wing government. Blinken now has more to discuss because of days of recent violence. Last week, Israel carried out its deadliest raid in the West Bank in years. Israeli forces killed several militants and a 61-year-old woman. Then on Friday, a Palestinian gunmen killed at least seven people outside a Jerusalem synagogue.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Tel Aviv. Daniel, first of all, why is Antony Blinken even there?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, he was in Cairo, meeting leaders there. The core of his visit, though, is meeting the new prime minister in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to coordinate how the U.S. will work with Israel's new right-wing government. And there's a lot to discuss - first, what to do about Iran with the nuclear talks stalled. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are reporting that Israel bombed a compound in Iran this weekend. And today, the U.S. is warning about attacks on synagogues and other places in Istanbul. So that's one thing. Netanyahu also wants the U.S. to help broker a diplomatic agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But, you know, the U.S. has its own concerns. It's concerned about the far-right makeup of Israel's new government, its plans to legalize more settlements in the occupied West Bank. But overshadowing everything is the wave of violence here these last few days.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So taking into account everything you just told us, what's the mood like there?

ESTRIN: A, I met an Israeli family in shock. They were sitting on the floor, sitting shiva, the Jewish mourning tradition.

(CROSSTALK)

ESTRIN: There were a lot of visitors when I was there. And I spoke with Tal Barashi (ph). Her brother was in that apartment on the Sabbath, heard gunshots, ran out to help with his wife, and they were both shot and killed. And his sister tells me she can't believe it. Israelis and Palestinians live intertwined in Jerusalem. Let's listen.

TAL BARASHI: We are all the same. We have two legs, two hands, two eyes, one heart. We're all together. Why we don't live together like a family? Why I need to sit here and cry about my brother?

ESTRIN: I asked her how she wants the Israeli government to respond.

BARASHI: We suffer. They should suffer.

ESTRIN: We suffer. They should suffer. You know, Israel has sealed the home of the Palestinian attacker, promises to demolish the home. She says it's not enough. She wants the attacker's family to be exiled. So right now, we are hearing a lot of pressure on Israel's new far-right leaders to get tougher on Palestinians. The government is pursuing a lot of punitive actions. Israeli settlers have carried out reprisal attacks against Palestinians. We have also interviewed Palestinians, including a friend of a 13-year-old who shot and wounded two Israelis this weekend in a different shooting who called his friend a hero. After all the violence that Palestinians have experienced in recent days, Israeli troops killed one more man just today in the West Bank.

MARTÍNEZ: So back to Secretary of State Blinken, what can he possibly do here?

ESTRIN: He's going to try to urge Palestinian leaders to restart their security cooperation with Israel. He's going to try to put some limits on Israel's right-wing government. But Israelis and Palestinians are hardened right now. Their leaders are, too. It's a very inopportune moment for Blinken to calm things down.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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MARTÍNEZ: Republican lawmakers promised that if they won the House, they'd investigate the Biden administration. And this week, they're beginning committee hearings.

INSKEEP: House Republicans do not have much chance to pass dramatic new laws with the Senate and White House in Democratic hands. They do have the power of oversight - calling hearings, issuing subpoenas if necessary. And this week, Republican James Comer plans for his House Oversight Committee to examine pandemic relief spending.

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JAMES COMER: There have been reports of lots of waste, fraud and abuse with respect to the stimulus funds, PPP loan funds, unemployment funds and all of that. So we're just going to roll our sleeves up and get started there.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here for more. These committee hearings this week - what do they plan to lay out before the American public?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Comer's hearing on pandemic spending is just one of the investigations they are starting. His counterpart on the Judiciary Committee is Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan. They're holding their first hearing on what they've dubbed as, quote, "Biden's border crisis." This is part of the GOP's larger probe into concerns surrounding immigration and security at the U.S.-Mexico border. And both hearings are slated for Wednesday morning.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, Comer and Jordan have a list of things they want to investigate related to the Biden administration and Democrats. Are they working together on this?

GRISALES: Yes. And Comer tells me they're spending a lot of time working together. I talked to him about it on the way to House votes one day last week.

COMER: We talk every day. We had breakfast together this morning. We work together. No problems there. He knows what we're doing. We know what he's doing. Our staffs are close. Our committee rooms are next door to each other. So we work together very well.

GRISALES: But they're figuring this out as they go. For example, Comer is also eyeing a hearing on the border, as well. And Jordan has his hands pretty full leading Judiciary. He's one of the original founding members of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus. He also has a seat on House Oversight in addition to chairing a new Judiciary select subpanel called the, quote, "weaponization of the federal government."

MARTÍNEZ: Weaponization. OK. Now, what kind of work is that committee expected to do?

GRISALES: They're tasked with investigating claims that government workers have politically targeted Republicans. This is something that hard-line conservatives pushed for. And we should note this is part of a much longer list of probes the GOP hopes to tackle, including looks into the Biden family and education policies implemented during the pandemic, among other areas.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So that's what Republicans aim to do. What are Democrats saying?

GRISALES: There on defense. I talked to the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Jamie Raskin of Maryland. And he warned the GOP should not let extremist claims overtake these GOP probes.

JAMIE RASKIN: Oversight is not about scandal mongering and sticking it to the other guys. Public oversight is about making sure the government is working for the people.

GRISALES: But Raskin did not rule out the opportunities for both parties to work together. For example, given the recent discovery of mishandled classified documents by occupants of the White House, Raskin and Comer agreed that they could look at legislative fixes to avoid such concerns in the future.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much. 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.
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.