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Morning news brief


In Turkey and Syria, rescue efforts are turning up grim results four days after an earthquake devastated large parts of both countries.


The death toll is now more than 16,000. Tens of thousands more are injured, and who knows how many people are still buried under the rubble? Meanwhile, many survivors are sleeping in makeshift shelters or outside in the cold. Any country would strain to cope with a disaster on this scale. But some are starting to criticize the Turkish government's response.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Adana in southern Turkey. Peter, before we get to the politics, rescues and the conditions there, what have you been seeing?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I watched rescue workers making huge efforts, trying to work their way through piles of concrete rubble to reach survivors now trapped for a fourth day. Yesterday, rescuers in one Adana neighborhood finally pulled enough rubble away to reach a place where they had been hearing voices of survivors calling for help. But by the time they got there, they had died. The job is immense - I mean, thousands of buildings destroyed over hundreds of miles, damage to infrastructure. There's the need for safe drinking water, food and shelter. It's just a massive task.

MARTÍNEZ: Now that it's been a few days, though, are relief efforts starting to get momentum at all?

FADEL: Yes, it's beginning to take effect - aid and offers of help beginning to arrive, including international rescue efforts. Field hospitals are being set up both here and in northern Syria. In Syria, local media say some 300,000 people are displaced. The U.N. says it may be able to get supplies into even parts of northern Syria held by anti-government rebels.

MARTÍNEZ: Peter, there's been a debate about the response of the Turkish government. Tell us about that.

KENYON: Well, yes. Amid the desperate struggle to survive, there are criticisms being leveled at the government. After two days of relative silence, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited some hard-hit areas yesterday. He's due to visit more today. In Hatay Province, where entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble - more than 3,300 people confirmed dead so far - Erdogan did acknowledge, quote, "shortcomings" in the government's initial response, but he also blamed winter weather conditions and destroyed infrastructure, including airport runways.

MARTÍNEZ: When it comes to Erdogan, I mean, does all this pose a threat to his longtime political dominance?

KENYON: Well, that is an interesting question that will probably rise higher once this recovery is more underway. The opposition secular party is already taking direct aim at the president. The mayor of Istanbul called it a fear of truth and weakness, the government response. Opposition Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was even more harsh. Here's part of what he said in a video posted to Twitter.


KEMAL KILICDAROGLU: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: He's calling the government a failure, saying, quote, "They don't know how to run a state. I swear they don't know how. They don't know how. Let me be very clear," he goes on. "If there's one person responsible for this process, it is Erdogan." Meanwhile, the government is starting to build cases against people who criticize the government response. And as we go down the road, more questions will rise. What does this mean for presidential elections due in a matter of months? Will they be held? Will they be postponed? If so, what does that mean for Erdogan's political future and the future of Turkey's democracy?

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in southern Turkey. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thank you.


MARTÍNEZ: President Biden is taking his State of the Union message on the road.

FADEL: Yeah, yesterday he was in Wisconsin, where he recapped his Tuesday address.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It is strong. It is strong.


BIDEN: And it's strong because of you, because the soul of the nation is strong.

FADEL: And today he'll be in Florida, testing out some of the lines he could use in what's expected to be a reelection bid.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. What is the point of this roadshow?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, I would say the explicit message from the White House is that these trips are about showcasing the president's plans, whether that's around, you know, job creation or infrastructure. And it's also about reiterating his message to lower costs. But, A, there is also a tactical explanation. Wisconsin, of course, is a critical state in presidential elections. Florida, where he's heading to later today, is less of a swing state than it used to be, but there are a couple of very useful foils for the president there. The state is home to former President Donald Trump, who is running for president again in 2024. It's also home to Ron DeSantis, the governor, who is widely seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate also in this next election.

MARTÍNEZ: But how is, then, President Biden trying to create a contrast with Republicans?

KHALID: Probably the key issue where Biden has been trying to score points at the GOP's expense is around the idea of putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block. There have been some Republicans in Congress who have suggested cuts to these entitlement programs. One is Florida Senator Rick Scott. We've also heard a similar message from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Now, to be clear, Republican leaders in Congress have distanced themselves from these ideas. But the president isn't letting it go. Yesterday, at a union hall in Madison, Wis., he replayed this feisty exchange he had had with Republicans during his State of the Union.


BIDEN: Remember, I said - no, I'm serious. Remember what I said? I said, so you're not going to cut it, huh? No. I said, OK, we got a deal. Well, I sure hope that's true.


BIDEN: I'll believe it when I see it in their budgets laid down with the cuts they're proposing.

KHALID: And this type of messaging, you know, this type of contrast is likely what we're going to hear from the president as he gears up for a potential reelection bid.

MARTÍNEZ: Asma, you spent some time in Florida talking to voters about what they're concerned about. How do you think this message will land there?

KHALID: You know, I think one thing that's important to keep in mind is that inflation looks different in different parts of the country. And the Tampa Bay metro area has had some of the worst inflation rates in the country. The most recent data showed it was around 10%. The president keeps saying - we keep hearing him say that inflation is slowing, and that is true. But prices are still higher than where they were before the pandemic, and, you know, many people are still feeling that. So there does seem to be this disconnect at times between what the president is depicting around this rosy economy and how some people are feeling about the economy. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found roughly 40% of Americans say they are worse off financially since Biden took office.

You know, yesterday I was struck in this interview the president gave with "PBS NewsHour." He said his policies are popular and basically said, you know, the polls don't matter anymore. But one of the challenges in the race ahead for the White House is going to be trying to give, you know, the president - the White House trying to get the president the credit they think he deserves for what he's accomplished.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Asma, thanks.

KHALID: My pleasure.


MARTÍNEZ: All right, it's been a bit of a rough week for The Walt Disney Company. CEO Bob Iger announced yesterday that the corporation is cutting 7,000 jobs in an attempt to slash more than 5 billion in costs.

FADEL: Yeah, and this comes just as Florida is expected to end an agreement that has given Disney World special control over its famous property near Orlando. A bill moving through the Republican-controlled legislature makes good on Governor Ron DeSantis' pledge to end Disney's unique status. Disney World has enjoyed self-governance in Florida for more than half a century.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Miami. Greg, so what kind of autonomy does Disney World have in Florida?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, A, you know, since the 1960s, Disney has had what it's called its own independent special district that has powers like a municipal government. It's a body that issues bonds, builds and maintains roads, sewers and other infrastructure. It also operates the fire and police departments - all the things that Disney needs to run its big theme park complex near Orlando. The measure that's on track to be approved this week replaces that old district with this almost identical entity that now will answer to the governor instead of Disney. The main thing the new structure does is that the governor will now appoint all members to the board. Disney won't appoint board members. In fact, the bill says that no one can serve on the board who has any relationship with the company. And there's a name change, a few other minor adjustments, but it's all enough to allow Governor DeSantis yesterday to claim it as a win.


RON DESANTIS: This is obviously now going to be controlled by the state of Florida, which is no longer self-governing for them. So there's a new sheriff in town, and that's just the way it's going to be.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, it seems like he's getting a lot of glee over this. So why would the governor want a claim of a win over Disney?

ALLEN: Well, you know, this all began last year as DeSantis ramped up his campaign against what he calls woke politics and ideology. He signed a bill that limits what teachers can say about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. And after Disney took some heat from its own employees for not fighting to stop that measure, a Disney CEO belatedly said that he would work to undo the law. DeSantis then took that as an opportunity to call out the company for behavior that he considers woke. And in short order, he got the legislature to pass a bill penalizing Disney, dissolving its independent special district.

MARTÍNEZ: How are Florida Democrats responding to all this?

ALLEN: Well, Democrats don't have a lot of power in Florida. They say some changes would be worthwhile, but they don't like what's happening here. At a hearing yesterday, Democratic House member Anna Eskamani accused the governor of suppressing freedom of speech.


ANNA ESKAMANI: This is an attempt to silence critical independent speech and thought in Florida. And we've already seen a chilling effect on businesses across the state.

ALLEN: Eskamani offered an amendment to change the name of the new special district to, quote, "Florida's Attempt To Silence Critical And Independent Speech And Thought," with an acronym of FASCIST. That measure failed.

MARTÍNEZ: Is Disney going to fight back? What are they saying about this?

ALLEN: Well, the bill's sponsor said he was in regular touch with Disney as this bill was developed. The company hasn't said much, only says it's monitoring the progress of the bill, and it will continue to operate in Florida. Eskamani says under the new plan, Disney continues to receive many of the tax breaks and other benefits that it's had for more than 50 years though. But just with that one significant change, the company now has to answer to Governor DeSantis. Here's Eskamani again.


ESKAMANI: I often see this as a low-security prison that the company is operating within, where they can pretty much do what they want to do, but if they go off course, they'll be punished.

ALLEN: You know, a key point in all this is that the bill doesn't change the district's ability to issue bonds and service its debt, meaning the taxpayers won't be on the hook for its more than $1,000,000,000 in debt. Fitch Ratings has given it a thumbs up, saying the new structure addresses uncertainties that came up last year when lawmakers first voted to dissolve the old district.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thanks.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.