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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Since 1968, every president who could seek reelection did.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lyndon Johnson, amid the Vietnam War, was the last president to say he would step back voluntarily. Today, Joe Biden has joined all the others in seeking a second term. Ever since his win in 2020, he's played down speculation that he would serve only four years and said he intends to run again. Now that changes to - he is.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Scott Detrow joins us this morning. Scott, this time Joe Biden has a presidential track record. So what might he lean on running as an incumbent?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: I think we've got a pretty good sense of the message because Biden has been saying it over and over the last few months, stopping all but short of declaring. And it's got two parts. The first and the main one is Biden's arguing he's someone who's gotten government to work again. Not only has he passed major bills, sometimes he's gotten bipartisan support, and several of the bills are bringing major structural changes to the U.S. economy. Here's how Biden described it last week during a speech at a union hall in Maryland.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: One of the reasons I ran for president was to rebuild the backbone of this country, the middle class, to grow the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not from the top down, because when the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up, and the wealthy do very well still. And we middle class, you get a shot. We do well as well.

DETROW: So Biden's talking a lot about the Infrastructure Act. He's talking a lot about new laws trying to rebuild American manufacturing, particularly of computer chips. And a lot of this is the same big bet as before - that in a hyperpoliticized culture war climate, Biden thinks, in the end, most voters actually just want to see the government work.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Here's the thing, though. Poll after poll shows that Biden has a low approval rating, and some Democrats have told pollsters they don't want to see him run for another term. So how does the president plan to counter that?

DETROW: Yeah. And one thing that we should really highlight is that his numbers are low among independent voters, and those are the very people this economic message is aimed at. So when you talk to Biden's advisers, two big themes keep coming up. The first is that they continue to insist, as these major projects are actually rolled out, which has started to happen lately, they're betting more people approve, in the end, of what Biden is doing. And then the second thing is that it's a choice, and this is where the second big part of Biden's reelection message will come in. He regularly highlights the more extreme members of the Republican Party, talks about MAGA Republicans. The campaign thinks Trumpism turns off moderate and independent voters more and more every election, and they feel confident if this ends up as another Trump-Biden rematch, that that choice will be the same thing.

But I will say one big factor totally out of Biden's control is his age. He's 80. Many voters are worried about sending someone back to the White House who would be 86 at the end of the second term, and that's going to be a big challenge for the campaign to address.

MARTÍNEZ: Now a announcement today, four years - exactly four years to the day of his previous announcement that he'd run for president in 2020. So does that tell us anything, that symmetry?

DETROW: I think it does. The 2020 primary and the way that so many pundits and reporters were skeptical of Biden's chances looms large in the president and his political team's minds. Look; I went back and looked at what I said four years ago today. I'll admit I sounded skeptical at times that Biden would resonate with the modern Democratic primary, that he would find a lane in a crowded field. Here we are four years later. You know, but I think it's fair to say Biden and his team have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. They feel like he's been counted out in the elections. He's been counted out many times as president. People were skeptical he'd get major bills passed, that he'd do OK in the midterms. Each time, he exceeds expectations. And that's why I think Biden's team feels confident, even given all those poll numbers that we talked about. They feel like they trust their instincts.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Sure thing.

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MARTÍNEZ: All right. Today, like so many days, a case involving Donald Trump is in court.

INSKEEP: This time, it's a civil trial in New York City. Magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll accuses Trump of sexual assault. If found liable, the former president could be forced to pay tens of millions of dollars.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us now for a preview. Andrea, what is Donald Trump accused of here?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Trump is being sued for civil battery and defamation for allegedly raping E. Jean Carroll in the dressing room of a department store in Manhattan in the 1990s. Carroll, who wrote an immensely popular advice column at the time called Ask E. Jean, was part of this world of celebrities in New York City at the time. And as Carroll tells it, the two ran into each other outside Bergdorf Goodman's on Fifth Avenue, where Trump said, hey, you're the advice lady, and she said, hey, you're the real estate mogul. And then, according to Carroll, he said he needed advice on buying a present, and she thought it was funny. Here's Carroll from a 2019 interview with NPR.

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E JEAN CARROLL: He had grabbed up from the counter a little see-through bodysuit and told me to go try it on. And I said, no, you go try it on. He said, no, it looks like it fits you. I said, no, it goes with your eyes. The whole thing - I'm just running a comedy script in my head because it's very funny. And then I made a terrible mistake.

BERNSTEIN: So Carroll says she went with Trump into the dressing room, where she says he forced himself on her. Trump has denied the whole thing.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, if this happened in the 1990s, why is it going to trial now?

BERNSTEIN: Carroll did not speak out until decades later, in 2019, when she published a book and an excerpt ran in New York Magazine. At the time, Trump called her a liar and added, quote, "she's not my type." So Carroll sued him for defamation. But that's not the case that's going to trial today. The case that is going to trial is a new claim filed in November under a brand-new law in New York that allows adult survivors of alleged sexual assault to sue after many years have passed. Carroll is also suing for defamation based on a social media post from the fall when Trump called her allegations, quote, "a complete con job" and insulted her appearance.

MARTÍNEZ: Who's testifying in this?

BERNSTEIN: Most notably, Carroll herself and two other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Trump in a similar manner, one on an airplane and one at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Lawyers for Carroll are expected to play a portion of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, where Trump told a television host that he liked to grab women by the genitals and that, quote, "when you're a star, they let you do it." Trump's defenders have called that locker room talk. Since Trump's 2016 campaign, when he was elected, a number of women have accused him of sexual assault, but this is the first to go to trial, where these allegations can be aired and tested in a court of law.

MARTÍNEZ: Will he be there? Will Trump be there or even testify?

BERNSTEIN: He's entitled to, but his lawyers haven't said yet. They're reserving the right for him to testify. Whatever happens, jurors will likely hear from him because there's a taped deposition in the case.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. And how long is the trial expected to last?

BERNSTEIN: The judge is renowned for running a tight ship. All of the evidence could be in by the end of next week, and it may not be long before we get a verdict in the civil case.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: All right. Yesterday, Fox News delivered some news about Fox News.

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HARRIS FAULKNER: Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have mutually agreed to part ways.

INSKEEP: That's the way the network put it, anyway. Carlson's program averaged more than 3 million viewers each night. He told those viewers that woke elites were out to get them. He promoted conspiracy theories about the January 6 attack and even told white voters that immigrants were out to replace them.

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TUCKER CARLSON: We are not animals. We are Americans.

This is definitely not about Black lives.

Violent cretins have burned our cities, defaced our monuments...

American citizen, don your obedience mask, get your shot, pay your taxes and shut up.

INSKEEP: Tucker Carlson made it to prime time after an earlier big flameout. Bill O'Reilly lost his job amid harassment allegations in 2016. Carlson was the replacement, and Fox stood by him through years of criticism. So why let him go now?

MARTÍNEZ: Let's ask NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, Fox says that it and Carlson mutually parted ways. Does your reporting back up that description?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: No, it doesn't. I've talked to three people with knowledge of what's gone on, and though the specifics have not been released, it seems it's related to the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit that was settled just a week ago today, not because of the core allegations against Fox of defaming the election tech company over the question of election fraud in 2020 but because of what's called discovery, the evidence that surfaced. Tucker Carlson is the focus of a separate but related lawsuit from a former producer who alleged his workplace was defined by sexism and bigotry. And it appears that exchanges captured by Fox News in reviewing evidence for this case that still hasn't seen the light of day fully really is related to those allegations - that is, it echoes those concerns raised by the former producer, Abby Grossberg. Some of that evidence has already made it to light, and it's not pretty.

MARTÍNEZ: About a minute ago, we played some of Tucker Carlson. Steve also mentioned some of the things that he railed on in his show. What do you see as Carlson's legacy at Fox?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, Carlson was not a straight-down-the-line pro-former President Trump figure, but he was sort of a vicious attacker of any critic of the former president. And having failed at shows at PBS and MSNBC and CNN, he really became a close student of the Fox viewer, and I've got to say that he provided one of the purest forms of extremism we've seen on cable news, bigotry and racism alleged repeatedly by what he presented, but also extreme conspiracy theories that are corrosive, I think, to the body public. You have to say it's an extremist view that he set out night after night.

MARTÍNEZ: Fox News says it's going to have different people rotate into that 8 p.m. slot, at least for now. But is there anyone in the pipeline for them that could replace Tucker Carlson?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let me say this with the caveat that Carlson has a distinctive role in conservatism and even in the Republican Party, seen potentially not only as a kingmaker but even had been touted as a possible candidate himself for the highest office. But Carlson himself showed and others have shown that they can step into slots before. I think Jesse Watters, less intellectually, can serve up a lot of the same red meat, strike the same tones and appeal to viewers.

MARTÍNEZ: An hour after the announcement on Carlson, Don Lemon was let go from CNN. What do you think these two departures mean about maybe how cable news may try to reinvent itself somehow?

FOLKENFLIK: Both networks are asserting, I think, that the channel itself and Fox and CNN are more important than their stars and that they feel they can retain viewers no matter who they put in those seats.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thanks a lot.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. 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.