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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Gaza has plunged into darkness.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The 139-square-mile enclave is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. It's been under a land, air and sea blockade that has restricted the movement of people and basic goods for some 16 years now, but the territory is now completely blocked off. Israel has cut off food, fuel, water and electricity from entering. The power plant is no longer operating. And this while Israeli forces are continuing airstrikes that have so far killed more than 1,200 Palestinians and wounded 5,800 others. This according to the Gaza health ministry. All this is retaliation for the massive and unprecedented attack Hamas launched on Israel Saturday that also killed at least 1,300 people. A ground invasion also appears to be in the works.

MARTÍNEZ: For more on this, we're bringing in our co-host Leila Fadel, who's on the line from Jerusalem. Leila, what do we know about what's happening inside Gaza right now?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Yeah. I've been calling people overnight and this morning inside, watching the videos that are coming out. And it's not homes reduced to rubble, A, there. It's entire blocks. And among those killed in the airstrikes are entire families. Palestinians in Gaza I've been speaking with say they've been moving from one neighborhood to the next, looking for a place to be safe. But they say there's nowhere safe. They can't find a place. Even U.N. schools, where Palestinians typically flee for safety, have been hit. Eleven people from the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency have been killed. The crossing into Egypt is closed and has been struck at least three times.

And remember; Palestinians can't just leave 'cause there's a siege, so they're trapped, trying to survive. I spoke to a mother who's giving her baby only half the amount of milk because food is running out. I'm going to play you a bit of a conversation I had this morning with our own NPR producer Anas Baba, who lives in Gaza.

ANAS BABA: I was forced to leave my job, to leave my work - OK? - to get - to go to my family in order to evacuate them. I started just to think, where am I going to take them? Where am I going to hide them? Is there any safe place in Gaza? So I took them to another place, which was dangerous, and we transferred them to another place, which was more dangerous. So after that, I took them to one of my friends' houses just to spend the night. And now I took them back to my own house - to the previous one, to the original.

FADEL: So as you can hear there, people are giving up on trying to find somewhere safe. And just six days into this war, Gaza is already in a deep humanitarian crisis.

MARTÍNEZ: And with no electricity, it's got to be a lot harder - maybe even impossible, really - to reach anyone in there.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, people are charging their phones in their cars if they have fuel left. They're afraid they'll soon be cut off from the world, which would mean an information blackout. And this is happening at a time when Palestinians inside Gaza are saying the airstrikes are coming with no warning.

MARTÍNEZ: Any sign, Leila, that this is going to let up at all?

FADEL: No. In fact, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says this is just the start. The Israeli army says it's preparing for a ground invasion, which many are speculating means a reoccupation of Gaza. And Palestinians tell me there that they've never seen anything like this. And remember; they've lived through four Gaza wars before this. And just for context, they've also lived under a 16-year blockade. But this time, they say, is different. People are saying they fear that they won't survive, and they feel the international community just doesn't care about their lives. Here's how Palestinian journalist Wajjeh Abu Zarefah (ph), who lives and works inside Gaza, put it.

WAJJEH ABU ZAREFAH: We are human. We are part of this world. Don't forget us. Why you allow the Israelis to kill us every day without any reason? We are innocent people. So why Israel destroying our homes? Why Israel closing the border, not allow anybody to help us? They are punishing the Palestinian people. They are not punishing Hamas. They are killing the civilians.

FADEL: And this is what I heard in one phone call after the next - pleas for help.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Jerusalem. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: House Republicans nominated Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise to serve as the next speaker of the House.

MARTIN: Scalise won an internal GOP election against House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan, but he does not have the votes to be elected by the full House of Representatives, and so the House remains frozen. Even with bipartisan calls to pass legislation supporting Israel in its war against Hamas, nothing can happen until a new speaker is elected.

MARTÍNEZ: Here's NPR's congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, what is the holdup here?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: He's still significantly short on the votes to win. Scalise is still facing a lot of resistance from fellow Republicans. As you said, he won the internal vote. He had 113 votes to 99 for Jordan. But Scalise needs 217 to be elected by the full House. Jordan quickly got behind Scalise after he won the internal vote, but some of Jordan's supporters say they still want to vote for him on the floor. Scalise can only afford to lose a handful of votes. There are 221 Republicans if they all show up to vote. There's a - significantly more than a few Jordan backers are just not budging - people like Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia, Chip Roy from Texas, Lauren Boebert from Colorado.

But what Republicans really want to avoid is another big, public messy scene on the House floor when they need multiple rounds to elect a speaker. Scalise has been meeting one on one with these holdouts, but that could take a while. The list of Republicans still opposing him includes people with different concerns and demands, and it's really unclear what it could take for him to win them over.

MARTÍNEZ: So if Scalise, though, became speaker, what would be his most immediate challenge right off the bat?

WALSH: I mean, he has that razor-thin House majority, the same issue McCarthy had. Also, just the last week of chaos without a speaker has a lot of Republicans worried they look like they just can't govern right now. The House can't vote on anything. This comes at a time when Israel is dealing with that surprise attack from Hamas. Scalise made it clear his top priority would be to bring up a resolution supporting Israel.

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STEVE SCALISE: We have a lot of work to do not just in the House for the people of this country, but we see how dangerous of a world it is and how things can change so quickly.

WALSH: The other big challenge for the next speaker is the federal government is still operating under a temporary funding bill, and that runs out November 17. So the next speaker still has just weeks to avoid a government shutdown and would have to negotiate a compromise with the Democratic Senate and President Biden.

MARTÍNEZ: Tell us about Steve Scalise. He was McCarthy's No. 2. What else about him, though, did he pitch to get this nomination?

WALSH: Well, his experience in leadership - he's been part of the leadership team for about a decade. He argued he could bring unity after a really divisive week following McCarthy's ouster. He's more conservative than McCarthy, but just like McCarthy and Jim Jordan, Scalise voted against certifying the 2020 election results. One of Jordan's supporters, South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace, said she's not going to vote for Scalise, citing on the fact that he met with a group of white supremacists. That happened back in 2002, when he was a state representative. He later apologized.

Personally, Scalise has gone through a lot. He was a victim of a mass shooting in 2017, and he almost died. Recently, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. But Scalise says he's doing well. He's up to the job as speaker.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thanks for sorting this out.

WALSH: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: All right. Scientists are talking about their plans for artificial intelligence.

MARTIN: Today, researchers are meeting at the National Academies here in Washington, D.C. The topic - AI for scientific discovery.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now to discuss how researchers think AI can help is NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel. So, Geoff, this meeting in D.C. is open to scientists from all fields. What are they going to be talking about?

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Yeah. They're going to be talking about using artificial intelligence for everything from climate studies to cosmology. And the ultimate goal here is to actually make little AI scientists. I spoke to a researcher named Yolanda Gil from the University of Southern California. And she thinks, eventually, AI might be able to, like, run an entire laboratory, set up and run its own experiments. But if you're an Up First listener who's also a scientist - I know they're out there - don't worry. There are so many questions in science, she says.

YOLANDA GIL: The amount of work is infinite. There's not enough humans to go around to do all this work.

BRUMFIEL: And her hope, and the hope of a lot of researchers, is that AI can pick up the slack and make science better. But to do that, they also have to think about bias, of course. AI is encoded with all the bias that humans carry with us. And so for things like medical research, you have to be very careful about that.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. There you go. Now, Geoff, I know that you recently visited a lab where scientists are using artificial intelligence. What did you see?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah. I went to the University of Washington's Institute for Protein Design in Seattle. And what they're doing there is designing these proteins that do everything in biology. You know, they make up our muscles. They help our immune systems and help us digest food. These researchers want to make new ones that can do new kinds of stuff. And it was a really interesting lab. Half the lab was, like, test tubes and beakers and all that, and the other half was computers.

MARTÍNEZ: So what kind of things do they want to do?

BRUMFIEL: I met a graduate student named Susana Vazquez Torres, and she wants to make proteins that can basically counteract snake venom. But here's the thing. Finding the right protein has taken a lot of trial and error in the past, and using AI has really sped up that process.

SUSANA VAZQUEZ TORRES: I think it's just, like, crazy or revolutionary that we can come up with a therapeutic in a couple of months now.

BRUMFIEL: Whereas in the past it might have taken years.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So how does the AI work?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah. This is actually the same - in this lab, it's actually the same AI technology used in image generation. So I don't know if you've seen DALL-E or Midjourney, these programs that can make these amazing images. And they work by studying millions of images and then learning to make their own. This program works by studying a bunch of proteins and then using that knowledge to try and make new ones. It's called deep learning.

David Baker heads this lab. And he says a big part of why it works so well is that this protein program has had a ton of data to learn from.

DAVID BAKER: Our ability to design new proteins using deep learning rests entirely on the work of 40 or 50 years of graduate students and postdocs and scientists.

BRUMFIEL: And, you know, this is the thing about AI. We sort of have this impression it can do absolutely anything, but it needs a lot of human data to actually do its work. Now, not all fields of science have this much data, and the data always - isn't always as well organized. So it may not work for everyone, but it's bound to work for a lot of different fields.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel with a really cool assignment today. Geoff, thanks a lot.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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.
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.