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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Wisconsin voted for change last night. They elected a state Supreme Court justice, and it was no ordinary race. Janet Protasiewicz campaigned for abortion rights and against Republican gerrymandered election maps. She gives progressives on that court a majority to support one and overturn the other.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Chicago also voted for change. Having already unseated Mayor Lori Lightfoot, they voted for Brandon Johnson, who was the more progressive of two candidates, in a runoff.

MARTIN: And also last night, a candidate for president gave a speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: From the beginning, the Democrats spied on my campaign. Remember that? They attacked me with an onslaught of fraudulent investigations.

INSKEEP: Donald Trump was just back from a courtroom where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies. Prosecutors accuse him of falsifying business records to cover up payments to an adult film star.

MARTIN: Andrea Bernstein is with us now to tell us more. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So on the one hand, this was an historic event; on the other hand, a very mundane thing that happens thousands of times every day. So what was it like to be there in that courtroom?

BERNSTEIN: So I have been in that courtroom a lot, and yesterday was like no other day. Here was a former president of the United States kind of shuffling grimly into the room, flanked by court officers and Secret Service. This was a man of many words who uttered just five of them, and they were not guilty and answering yes to three procedural questions. And I know that we've talked about this hush money scheme and the payments to adult porn star Stormy Daniels so many times that we all kind of feel numb to it, but here was a former president charged with 34 felonies.

He was charged with writing checks that reimburse the hush money, legal retainers, and that, according to the DA, that was to hide what the DA calls a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 election by using the hush money to alter the outcome of the campaign. And that's obviously the campaign that he won, the first one, to become president. So totally not normal. And yet here was Donald Trump once again making something unthinkable somehow something normal.

MARTIN: So he was pretty terse in court, but typically loquacious on social media, right? He's personally attacked the judge and the DA. Did that come up in court?

BERNSTEIN: Very, very much so. Just minutes into the hearing, the assistant district attorney, Chris Conroy, began talking about this and how Trump had, quote, "directed a series of threatening public statements to the DA's office." And there was a whole discussion about whether this was OK, and the judge said, nope, he didn't agree. Trump's language was not justified, that all sides should refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest.

MARTIN: What about the subject of a gag order? Could the judge impose one?

BERNSTEIN: Judge Merchan said specifically that he would not do that, especially because Trump is a candidate for president, with First Amendment rights. But there was a discussion of Trump not being able to talk about grand jury evidence that he'll get, not being able to post it on social media, not even being able to take documents out of the presence of his lawyers. That is a real loss of control for a man who's used to controlling everything.

MARTIN: So what happens now?

BERNSTEIN: So Trump will keep campaigning. He is the front-runner. And we are now talking about a trial, potentially, in early 2024, right around high primary season. And the case will be back in court in early December.

MARTIN: That's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thanks so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is visiting the United States. She meets House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today in Los Angeles.

INSKEEP: For those who don't follow this every day, let's recall the basics. Taiwan is a democracy that has held itself separate for decades from the communist government and has U.S. support. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province off its coast. Last year, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, and China responded with military exercises that surrounded the island. So how does China respond this time?

MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng is in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to tell us more about all of this. Emily, thanks so much for joining us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: Tell us more about Tsai's meeting with McCarthy and why it matters.

FENG: Well, from Taiwan's perspective, it's a massive opportunity for Tsai Ing-wen to prove that Taiwan's closer partnership with the U.S. will protect it from China, which wants control over the island. Tsai's office also just disclosed today that she'd met with three U.S. senators quietly last week in New York to discuss potential American legislation that would sanction China if it ever invaded Taiwan. And so this time around, Taiwan's really seeking reassurance the U.S. remains a strong security partner for the island. Here's Dr. Lin Ying Yu, who studies international relations at Taiwan's Tamkang University.

LIN YING YU: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He's saying, although sometimes the U.S. meets with China, Tsai's meeting with McCarthy shows the U.S. will stick to its bottom lines and will not let China manipulate it on cross-strait issues regarding Taiwan." But for Tsai, in California today she's got a really tall order to fill. She has to balance these competing pressures of projecting defiance against Chinese interference, meeting with Taiwan's partners, but doing all of that without provoking conflict with China.

MARTIN: So what else has China said about the visit beyond these veiled threats we just mentioned about more military exercises around Taiwan?

FENG: Oh, they're furious, as usual. They've said multiple times last week they oppose the visit, that they're going to take countermeasures because, as Steve said, China believes Taiwan is its territory, so it opposes Taiwan having any kind of international meetings and behaving like its own country. This time around, China's already held these small-scale navy and air force drills over the weekend. We've seen an uptick in the number of Chinese ships and fighter jets that have been flying from China towards Taiwan. So there's a strong indication there's going to be military exercises as punishment for this meeting in the next couple of days. But the question is just how large these exercises will be.

MARTIN: And what about in Taiwan? How is the meeting being perceived there?

FENG: It's mostly positive because regardless of political affiliation here in Taiwan, people recognize the U.S. is by far Taiwan's most important security partner, even though the U.S. recognizes China, not Taiwan, as a country. So they want to maintain that partnership with the U.S. But Taiwan's a democracy. There are competing visions for how to handle relations with U.S. and China here. And so at the same time that Tsai Ing-wen has been jetting around the world and going to the U.S., her predecessor, the former president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, has actually been in China this week on a personal trip. That's where his parents are from, and he went and visited his ancestral family tomb this weekend.

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MA YING-JEOU: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: That's the former president speaking. He's crying. He's actually trying to speak in a Chinese dialect. He claimed on this trip that people in Taiwan and China are all culturally Chinese, which is something that Beijing is really happy to hear, even though people in Taiwan might disagree with that statement. So this issue of how to manage China, either through defiance or through closer cultural exchanges or maybe a little bit of both, that's foremost in people's minds in Taiwan this week and as the island heads into its own campaign season now for an upcoming presidential election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Emily Feng. Emily, thank you so much.

FENG: Thank you.

MARTIN: It's not just Taiwan. The U.S. and China are disagreeing on pretty much everything at the moment.

INSKEEP: Which makes things awkward for U.S. allies in Europe who also trade a lot with China. And this week, two top European leaders are visiting China.

MARTIN: NPR's Rob Schmitz has been following things from Berlin and is with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Rob, who's traveling to meet with Xi Jinping? And why now?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the two travelers are Ursula von der Leyen - she's the highest-ranking EU official - and French President Emmanuel Macron. And this comes at a crucial time for Europe. There's war in Ukraine. European countries have cut economic ties to Moscow and are increasingly dependent on the U.S. And now they're asking themselves, what do we do about China? The U.S. would prefer that Europe work on severing economic ties with China, but Europe's economy needs those ties, and that tension has bubbled to the surface for both of these leaders. Von der Leyen last week lashed out at China. She urged EU members to take a bolder approach towards Beijing. And Macron, a leader who has increasingly put himself in the role of EU ambassador, kind of like Germany's Angela Merkel used to do, seems very eager to play the role of diplomat with Xi Jinping.

MARTIN: The war, of course, is very much on all of our minds. Chinese leader Xi Jinping just came back from a trip recently where he met with Putin. So how high is the war going to be on the agenda?

SCHMITZ: Pretty high. I mean, they know that Xi Jinping is close to Putin and that China is becoming the main backer of Russia economically and thus is one of the only countries that has leverage over Putin. So von der Leyen in particular is going to try and push Xi to use that leverage to try and bring about a peaceful resolution to this war. I spoke with EU China affairs expert Francois Godement of the Institut Montaigne in Paris about this, and he thinks it's going to be difficult to budge Xi Jinping from his stance on Russia.

FRANCOIS GODEMENT: I'm afraid that the European hopes are not very well founded. On the other hand, you can't be blamed for trying. And it's, you know, indicative that President Zelenskyy himself is relentlessly trying to move China from its position and to at least enter into a dialogue.

MARTIN: OK, so you've told us what von der Leyen wants out of this trip. What about the French president, Macron? What does he want?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, this is where we start to see differing set of priorities. Emmanuel Macron is traveling with an entourage of 50 French companies seeking to sign deals with China. You've got a big nuclear energy firm, Airbus, many others. Chinese state media is already reporting that a series of cooperation agreements in aerospace, nuclear power and agriculture will be signed. So this highlights Europe's big trade relationship with China and how this relationship is in some ways more important than ever, given the state of the economy in Europe. And with big protests over pension reform back home, Macron will want to return from China with some goods.

MARTIN: OK, that's big - 50 French companies. That's a big entourage. Do you get the sense that these business considerations are overshadowing the trip's political goals?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, and I think that's the concern of many observers. Washington is watching this trip with a lot of skepticism, as are many here in Europe. The foreign minister of Lithuania, a country that has difficult ties with both Russia and China, tweeted yesterday that China is only interested in helping China and that this trip will only increase Europe's dependence on a totalitarian state, a lesson that Europe has already learned through its trade with Russia.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz. Rob, thank you so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. 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.