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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

What do voters think of a long-running fight over who serves as House speaker?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The House adjourned last night after an 11th round of balloting failed to produce a winner. Republicans hold the majority, but a small faction will not go along with their choice of Kevin McCarthy as speaker. This is now the most drawn-out speaker's race since before the Civil War. And as it unfolded, NPR member station reporters talked with some of the lawmakers' constituents, including Republican Robert Stepp of Colorado, whose representative is one of the holdouts, Lauren Boebert.

ROBERT STEPP: I think it's a bunch of BS myself because they're trying to get a speaker into the House and everything, and nobody's wanting to agree on what. And it's just a bunch of - just a bunch of nonsense that's going on.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is with us. So we heard Robert Step of Colorado say it's a bunch of nonsense. Claudia, what are other voters saying?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: They're expressing dismay over these holdouts. There's 20 who have repeatedly voted against GOP leader Kevin McCarthy in his bid to be the next speaker. And as you mentioned, one of those rebels is Lauren Boebert, who won a tight race in her district. And here's what more of her constituents told NPR member station reporter Stina Sieg.

LINDA DITTMAN: Well, I think it's pretty silly.

PETER KEMPENICH: We should be doing part - making every effort to be bipartisan and still work for the people.

MARY ANN WRIGHT: It's just confusion. It's pandemonium. No business is getting done. Other people are suffering because of it.

GRISALES: That's Linda Dittman, Peter Kempenich and Mary Ann Wright, who all live in Boebert's district. And in Arizona, constituents also shared their frustration with station reporter Zach Zeigler over at least one GOP holdout there, Representative Eli Crane.

NATALIA SZYMCZAK: I hope they find someone to speak, and I hope it's not Kevin McCarthy.

EMILIANO DE LA ROSA: It seems almost like it's on a road to implode if they don't change things up soon.

ELSIE GOMEZ: They don't look very strong right now (laughter), to be honest.

GRISALES: That's Natalia Szymczak, Emiliano de la Rosa and Elsie Gomez in Flagstaff, Ariz. And Gomez noted she's a McCarthy supporter and she just wants Republicans to pick him as speaker and move on.

MARTÍNEZ: So where is McCarthy's fight for speaker now?

GRISALES: Well, even though Republicans did go 11 failed round of votes, their negotiations continue today. McCarthy made a new offer to his opponents. And while there's no deal yet, there's more meetings to come this morning. McCarthy said he made another big concession. He lowered the threshold again to allow just one member to call for a vote to oust him if he does become speaker. That's down from five in recent days and dramatically lower than under recent speakers. Last night, McCarthy told reporters he's not putting a timeline on when they could reach a deal.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: I just think we've got some progress going on. We've got members talking. I think we've got a little movement, so we'll see.

GRISALES: McCarthy has also made new concessions to install new term limits for members and get more of these rebels on key committees. But we should note these concessions would significantly weaken him if he does become speaker.

MARTÍNEZ: But are they enough to break the stalemate?

GRISALES: That remains to be seen. Some holdouts, like South Carolina Representative Ralph Norman, left a closed-door meeting saying this is, quote, "round one," but he also called it a good thing. Nebraska Representative Don Bacon, a McCarthy supporter, says they're halfway there to locking in votes from the 20 holdouts. But that all said, McCarthy can only lose four of his members to get the speaker's gavel. And it's still not clear, even on day four, he'll get there.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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MARTÍNEZ: Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is deeply skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for a 36-hour cease-fire over Orthodox Christmas this weekend.

INSKEEP: Putin yesterday ordered his military to begin this cease-fire to let people observe the holiday, and he urged Ukraine to do the same. Zelenskyy, in his nightly address, accused Russia of simply trying to buy time to regroup and replenish its stocks along the front lines.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now from Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine is NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, so what sparked Putin's proposal that Ukrainians, I'm sure, are taking with a grain of salt?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: So he said he was making the move in response to a call from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to halt the fighting so that those who want to could safely attend Orthodox Christmas services. And he said he ordered a cease-fire from noon today. Now, the Ukrainian response has been to reject any deal. Here's Zelenskyy in a direct appeal to Russians in Russian last evening.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Russian).

MAK: He said that everyone knows that Russia will use this time to, quote, "continue the war with new vigor." And he called on Russian people to help end the war, to, quote, "find the courage for at least 36 hours, at least during Christmas, to free themselves from their shameful fear of one person, the Kremlin." Now, top Ukrainian national security official Oleksiy Danilov went even further, calling the cease-fire, quote, "lies and hypocrisy," adding that they would affirmatively continue the war. He said, quote, "we will tear you apart in the serene silence of the Ukrainian night." And here's what a key Putin ally in Ukraine had to say. Denis Pushilin, a pro-Russian separatist leader, noted that it was merely a temporary cease-fire and that any, quote, "provocations" would be responded to.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So what's been the response from the U.S. and Ukraine's other Western allies? I'm sure just as skeptical.

MAK: Yes. Well, President Biden echoed his Ukrainian counterpart, pointing out that Russia bombed Ukraine on December 25 and New Year's Eve and New Year's, all through the holidays, and also has been noted to bomb hospitals and churches. In fact, after Putin's offer was made, the White House publicized that America will give Ukraine Bradley Fighting Vehicles and that Germany would also pitch in by sending their own armored fighting vehicles and an additional Patriot air defense system. Now, this is something Zelenskyy has been asking for for some time, but he still wants more; for example, things like tanks, fighter jets and longer range missiles.

MARTÍNEZ: There in Ukraine, Christmas is politicized. Can you explain why that is and how that maybe might account for Ukraine's skepticism?

MAK: Right. So there's this big debate in Ukraine right now over whether to celebrate Christmas on December 25 or January 7. Now, January 7 is traditionally when many Ukrainians and Russian Christians have celebrated Christmas. So there are powerful memories and feelings and traditions associated with the January marking of the date. But in recent years, some Ukrainians have begun celebrating Christmas along with the West, with Europe, in December. The full-scale invasion by Russia has intensified this debate, and those who support a December Christmas want to disassociate themselves further from Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Tim Mak in Zaporizhzhia. Tim, thanks.

MAK: Thanks so much.

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MARTÍNEZ: The Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin has shown substantial improvement, according to the doctors treating him at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

INSKEEP: Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field Monday night during a game against the Bengals. His doctors say now he is alert.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey joins us with more. Alert sounds pretty encouraging, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning. Yes. Doctors say Damar Hamlin has begun to wake up. He's moving his hands and feet. He's not yet speaking because he's still got a breathing tube in, and he's been under sedation. But he is communicating with people around him, expressing himself in writing, using a pen and pad. Here's Dr. Timothy Pritts of the University of Cincinnati.

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TIMOTHY PRITTS: He is beginning to awaken, and it appears that his neurological condition and function is intact. We are very proud to report that, very happy for him and for his family and for the Buffalo Bills organization.

AUBREY: Doctors say the first question he jotted down on paper was about the game. Did we win, he asked. And the response was, Damar, you've won the game of life. I'm sure that was a very emotional moment. So this is all very promising, A, but he still has a ways to go. His doctors say he's still critically ill.

MARTÍNEZ: The breathing tube he's using, how much does he need it?

AUBREY: Well, doctors say their goal is to gradually decrease the amount of breathing support he needs. And they will take the tube out when he no longer requires any support. That will be the next big milestone for him. But it's unclear how long this is going to take. His medical team saw evidence of acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS as it's known, which can occur when fluid gets into the lungs. I spoke to cardiologist Grant Simons of Hackensack University Medical Center about what this could mean for Hamlin's situation.

GRANT SIMONS: People of ARDS don't always make a full pulmonary recovery. He might end up with just a little bit of scarring. There's just no way to know right now.

AUBREY: So that's one uncertainty. They still can't say exactly why he collapsed on Monday. And doctors say it's still too early to project what his long-term recovery looks like.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and unlikely doctors are going to know the answer to any of that quite yet. But people are still wondering, though, I guess, when he's going to start playing football again.

AUBREY: Or if. I mean, this may depend, in part, on whether there was any underlying condition that made him vulnerable to cardiac arrest. And his doctors say tests to determine this are not yet complete. So the question is, was it just that sudden blunt impact to the chest that so many of us watching the game on Monday saw on the field in Cincinnati, or was it something more? I spoke to cardiologist Greg Marcus at the University of California, San Francisco, about this.

GREG MARCUS: It's possible that he has some other cardiac condition that renders him prone to dangerous arrhythmias.

AUBREY: Now, this is what his doctors will need to rule out in the coming days. They'll do ongoing tests and evaluation. But for now, Hamlin's family and teammates say they are just overjoyed by the progress so far. And the Bills are now scheduled to play the New England Patriots on Sunday with the blessing of Hamlin's family. But the NFL announced last night that the Bills game with the Bengals won't be resumed.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey. Thanks a lot, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you, A. Good to be here. 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
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.