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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden's debate performance has worried many about his reelection prospects.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yes, Democrats have spent the last few days in uncomfortable public and private debates following the official presidential one last week. Instead of focusing on Biden's performance, they're trying to shift the conversation to Trump's character and policies. Here's former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER AND DANA BASH")

NANCY PELOSI: It's not about performance in terms of a debate. It's about performance in a presidency.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, here to discuss the state of the campaign is NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, since the debate, all I've heard about is different possible scenarios that would change the ticket. But what's the reality here for Democrats?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There are some loud calls from places like The New York Times editorial page for President Biden to step aside. But Biden and his team have a long history of being counted out and then proving the doubters wrong. It's basically in the Biden DNA, political DNA, at this point. He and his aides have been working the phones since the debate on Thursday, talking to Democrats, donors, party leaders and others and admitting that the debate was bad and talking about how to move forward. And the campaign has raised a lot of money since the debate. So based on everything people in the campaign and the White House have told me Biden, isn't going anywhere. But Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin told MSNBC Democrats are talking about next steps.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CHOICE FROM MSNBC")

JAMIE RASKIN: We're having a serious conversation about what to do. One thing I can tell you is that regardless of what President Biden decides, our party is going to be unified. And our party also needs him at the very center of our deliberations and our campaign.

KEITH: I can't tell you how widespread or serious this conversation is. Publicly, top elected Democrats are already coalescing behind Biden once again. And if they didn't want an 81-year-old to be the nominee, these conversations had to have happened two or three years ago and actually led to action.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. All right, so what's the math looking like now?

KEITH: Well, Biden was trailing Trump narrowly before the debate in most polls. So far at least, the campaign doesn't think that that has dramatically changed. That's because the electorate is super polarized, and voters didn't start being worried about Biden's age on Thursday night. This is a preexisting condition. The reality is Biden has already locked up the Democratic nomination and has enough pledged delegates to avoid a fight at the convention. So at this point, essentially the only way Joe Biden isn't the nominee is if Joe Biden decides to step aside. And as we've said, that isn't in his nature.

If he were to drop out, there would be a huge fight among the next generation of Democrats, and it would be an accelerated one. There's no guarantee that any of the names you hear thrown around would have a better chance against Trump. So this is a very challenging position that Democrats have actually been in the entire time against an opponent they see as an existential threat to democracy.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so speaking of which, what are Republicans doing?

KEITH: Oh, they're consolidating behind former President Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

KEITH: NPR obtained a memo where Trump's top advisers say they plan to streamline and simplify the party platform. This year's approach will mean fewer specifics and a message built around Trump. Also, the process will happen earlier than usual and behind closed doors. Typically cameras are in the room. That won't be the case this time.

MARTÍNEZ: That is NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: French President Emmanuel Macron's gamble in calling a snap election has apparently backfired.

MARTIN: French voters turned out massively Sunday to choose candidates for a new parliament, but they did not choose Macron's Party. Their first choice was the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen. Macron's party came in a distant third of three main voting blocs after the left. There will be a second-round runoff next Sunday to decide how France's 577-seat legislature will be divided up.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, let's go down to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, who has been following it all. Eleanor, polls had predicted that the far right would lead, so is any of this really a surprise?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, no, A, though Macron clearly hoped until the end that the French would mobilize to support him over the two extremes, which is how he portrayed things in the short campaign leading up to yesterday's vote. And we're told that as his party saw the huge surge in voter turnout yesterday, more than 65%, Macron's camp became hopeful. But, as you said, his plan to get a mandate for his last three years in office clearly backfired. Let's listen to an elated Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right, addressing her supporters shortly after returns came in last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: She says, "democracy has spoken" and the French have placed our party in the lead, practically erasing Macron's bloc in parliament. And then Le Pen added that the French have clearly chosen to turn the page on seven years of what she called corrosive and contemptuous power. The far right now says it must have an absolute majority to be able to put in place its program of getting France back on the rails, so they are gunning for at least 289 seats going into this second round.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so has President Macron said anything?

BEARDSLEY: No. His young prime minister who led the campaign, Gabriel Attal, was put out front. He spoke. Imagine - Macron did not even consult Attal before he dissolved the Parliament in the first place. He was said to have been taken by total surprise, but he played the game. He campaigned hard, and this loss was clearly a huge disappointment. Attal looked glum and very worried when he spoke last night. Let's listen to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GABRIEL ATTAL: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: He says, "never in our democracy has our Parliament risked being dominated by the far right." Attal said our objective is clear, to keep the far right from getting a majority in the second round and putting in place its dangerous agenda, he called it. And he said everyone in his party must not give one single vote to the far right.

MARTÍNEZ: So what happens now?

BEARDSLEY: We are heading into a week of furious campaigning with very high stakes. Many are warning that French democracy itself is under threat if the far right gets an absolute majority. So everyone but Le Pen supporters is calling to block what is being called a racist, divisive far right that doesn't share French universal values. The left came out in second place, still hoping maybe they could get the majority. It's not very likely, but let's see. The choice today seems to be between having a Parliament where there's no majority - in essence, what's called a hung parliament - or having the far right in power. So a far right that's - a France that's far right versus a France that's ungovernable, and many clearly prefer the latter.

MARTÍNEZ: What would happen, though, if the far right does get an absolute majority?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it means that Jordan Bardella - 28-year-old, young protegee of Marine Le Pen, the new star of the party - is made prime minister, will put their agenda in place, slowing or stopping immigration, restoring order, as they say. But no one really knows what to expect. The far-right party has never been in power. It's always been portrayed as the boogeyman. French voters have always band together to keep them out of power. So we are in uncharted waters, and I can tell you I have never seen France more divided than it is today.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles is heading to her third Olympics.

MARTIN: She is looking to cap her remarkable comeback after pulling out of some events at the Tokyo games three years ago amidst struggles with her mental health that came in the wake of revelations she'd been among those abused by a former team doctor. Now she's ready for Paris. She won the U.S. Olympic trials last night by 5 1/2 points, a huge margin.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan was there in Minneapolis. Becky, how did Simone Biles look?

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: You know, she looked loose. She looked happy. And I say that for the most part because she did have a couple missteps. But she still finished, as you said, like, just well ahead of the pack. And so some of these missteps I'm talking about - she had, like, a big slip on the balance beam. She fell off, which wasn't just her. A couple of others had the same issue with the beam. And then she also had a few extra steps on the vault landing, but the difficulty of what Simone Biles is attempting here is so high that the little mistakes like that just doesn't matter. And so, afterwards, she just had great humor about her night, the slips and all.

SIMONE BILES: We have a lot of weight on our shoulders to go out there and prove that we're better athletes, we're more mature, we're smarter, we're more consistent. But don't quote me on that because not tonight. But, you know, we have to get that out of the way.

(LAUGHTER)

BILES: You feel me? We have to get that out of the way. But we are in training. So if we can just do what we do in training, then I think we're going to hit it out the ballpark.

SULLIVAN: So you can just hear it in her voice there. I mean, she feels good. She's back.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, she can laugh because she qualified. I mean, if she didn't qualify, maybe it wouldn't be so funny. Now, what might we see from her in Paris?

SULLIVAN: Well, she is instantly going to be the favorite for the individual all-around medal, as well as the vault and the floor exercise. She also did win the balance beam at a world competition recently, and so that could be in play. And I think a thing I should mention here is that she's 27 now, and so her main competitors will all be younger than her. And it just doesn't matter. You know, with her competing, the U.S. will also be the favorite to win the team all-around, which is something that the U.S. won back in 2012, again in 2016 - they took gold. But then in Tokyo, they took home silver after Biles withdrew from that event. And so winning gold there is now a focus of the women. Biles and her teammates used the word redemption to talk about it. So here's Suni Lee, who's also one of the ones headed to Paris.

SUNI LEE: I think that we really want a team gold. I feel like this is the same team, basically, as 2020. So it's kind of like a redemption tour.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so who else is on the team?

SULLIVAN: Well, so there's Lee, of course, who you just heard. She was the surprise kind of breakout star of the Tokyo games three years ago. She won the gold medal and the individual all-around after Biles withdrew, so she's back. The other people who are returning are Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey. So there's lots of experience on this team, and then there is one newcomer. Her name is Hezly Rivera. She just turned 16 last month, so this is her first Olympic games.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so when it comes to gymnastics, the women's team is always the main event. What about the men, though? Do they have a shot at a metal?

SULLIVAN: You know, they might have a shot at that medal. So the men's team hasn't won a team medal since 2008. And then they didn't even win any individual medals in Tokyo, which was an incredibly disappointing showing. But this year they have a star in the making in Fred Richard. He is a 20-year-old who has made it his mission not just to have success in the Olympics, but also to raise the profile of men's gymnastics overall. So he says he's not aiming just for any old medal. He wants gold. That'll be an uphill battle for the men, but we'll see what they can do.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan at the Olympic trials in Minneapolis. Becky, thanks.

SULLIVAN: You are welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "MULLED WINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
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.
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.