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News brief: Biden-Xi meeting, midterm election results, Istanbul explosion

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Men leading two of the most powerful countries in the world meet in person today.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, it's President Biden and China's leader, Xi Jinping. They're sitting down for a face-to-face chat in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit there. It's their first meeting since Biden became president. And it comes as the relationship between the two superpowers is starting to look more and more like a Cold War.

FADEL: NPR's Emily Feng is in Bali and joins us now. Thanks for being here, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So this meeting has started between Biden and Xi. And it's the most anticipated agenda item at G-20. And like A just said, they're meeting at quite a low point in the U.S.-China relationship. So tell us what they hope to achieve.

FENG: Right. This is a high-stakes meeting because the core of what they can achieve is, given their two countries' disagreements, can the U.S. and China still find any way to work together? Is there still anything they can agree on? And it's not an over-exaggeration to say this could be a real turning point in the relationship because, as you mentioned, the U.S.-China bilateral relationship is increasingly looking like a Cold War standoff.

You have the U.S. imposing tech sanctions on semiconductor technology that will cripple certain sectors in China. And then they're facing off on all manners of things, like human rights, on trade, on Taiwan. And their militaries are building up to counter each other. So this meeting is feeling a bit like a Hail Mary. They're trying to save what's remaining in this relationship.

FADEL: So what's on the agenda?

FENG: There's a lot of big-ticket items. There's, of course, the war in Ukraine. China has tried to remain neutral on that. The U.S. is also going to push China to try to rein in North Korean missile tests. But overall, this meeting is about the U.S. and China - Biden saying he does not want the U.S. to go into conflict with China. And he's really been playing up the fact that he knows Xi Jinping probably better than official right now because the two men used to meet frequently for days at a time when they were both vice presidents.

But a lot has changed since then. And the biggest issue which has changed is Taiwan because, as early as last month, Xi Jinping said he was not ruling out a military invasion to take control of the island. And at the same time, you have the U.S. stepping up its support for Taiwan. So that's a potentially combustible situation.

FADEL: So is there hope for a real solution to this increasingly strained relationship?

FENG: Biden is hoping that he can set a floor in the relationship. But expectations are very, very, very low. This meeting, according to White House advisers, is really more about setting guardrails rather than meeting specific outcomes.

FADEL: OK.

FENG: And this gets to the heart of why the U.S.-China dynamic has not improved and, unfortunately, likely won't improve in the near future, because the Americans are focusing on continuing to communicate, keeping these lines of communication open. Whereas what China wants are these firm commitments to political positions the U.S. has already indicated are just not negotiable.

For example, last year, China's foreign minister put out three core demands. They wanted the U.S. to not hinder China's development, to respect Chinese claims to places like Taiwan and to not interfere with China's political system. But 16 months on, there's really been no progress in all three of these items. So it's hard to see how the two countries can meaningfully work together when they're so fundamentally at odds with each other.

FADEL: Yeah. NPR's Emily Feng in Indonesia. Thank you so much.

FENG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Despite most projections, Democrats will go into the next Congress in control of the Senate. Their candidates won in pivotal races in Arizona and Nevada over the weekend.

MARTÍNEZ: The thing is, though, control of the House remains in the balance. Though, Republicans are on track to win a narrow majority.

FADEL: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

FADEL: So the Senate was always expected to be close. But Democrats have held onto it despite historic trends where the party in power does badly. And now they could even end up with a narrow majority if they win the runoff in Georgia next month. How did this happen?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, a few things. And I think they're intertwined, you know, abortion rights, extreme, Trump-endorsed Republican candidates who lost in big numbers across the country, in swing states and districts - you know, and good candidates from Democrats who held up. You know, clearly, abortion rights were a huge motivator for voters on not just the left, but also in the center and on the center-right.

FADEL: Yeah.

MONTANARO: It showed up big time in exit polls. It was even the top issue for voters in Pennsylvania overall. More than 60% of voters in key battleground states said they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. And in Arizona, 40% of voters said they were angry about the overturning of Roe. And anger, we know, really motivates voters to get to the polls.

FADEL: Yeah.

MONTANARO: What the Supreme Court did was clearly seen among voters as too far. And the message overall with abortion and these kind of more hard-right candidates is that people just don't want extremes.

FADEL: People don't want extremes. What about young voters? There have been assessments that suggest it was young voters that made the difference for the Democrats. Is that what happened?

MONTANARO: I think a lot of groups can make that claim. That was based on, really, one early assessment by Tufts University that found that young voters turned out at about a 27% rate. And if that holds, it would be the second-largest share that we've seen for young voters in quite some time and just short of their record in 2018. But, you know, that's only 27%. And it's lower than the share for almost every other generational group.

FADEL: OK.

MONTANARO: And it meant that because so many more groups did turn out at high levels that younger voters' share of the electorate was still only about 12%, which is what it's been in past elections. And when it comes to the margins, they actually voted less for Democrats now than in 2018.

And when looking at a couple of key counties where young voters make up a big percentage - say, Dane County in Wisconsin, where the University of Wisconsin is, and Center County in Pennsylvania, where Penn State is - those counties went for Democrats, actually, by smaller margins than they did in 2018. You know, that said, I think that we can at least say that younger voters did not fall off and turn out in lower numbers, as Democrats had feared before the election. And they certainly were part of a coalition that helped Democrats stave off a red wave.

FADEL: What does Democrats holding the Senate mean for the next two years of Biden's agenda?

MONTANARO: I mean, it's hugely important for Biden. You know, Biden can now continue to reshape the federal courts, which would have been completely stopped. You know, and if a Supreme Court vacancy comes up, Biden would still have the power to appoint one. Although, one isn't expected in the next two years. But in light of the Dobbs decision, that's a pretty key presidential power to hold on to. You know, and Biden can likely keep the cap on his veto pen, maintaining the majority will certainly constrain Republicans' ability to pass unified legislation that they would send to Biden.

FADEL: Now, control of the House still up for grabs. Where do things stand there?

MONTANARO: It is. Republicans are on track for a narrow majority at this hour, just six seats away from taking the majority, 19 races uncalled. But that would be a really small majority, looking like only a few seats that Republicans could lose to pass legislation. And we know there's a hard-right faction in the House who's going to want a lot from a potential speaker Kevin McCarthy or whoever winds up being speaker.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: In Turkey, officials are calling an explosion Sunday in Istanbul that killed at least six people and wounded at least 80 more a terrorist attack.

MARTÍNEZ: The blast happened on the city's most popular commercial street where crowds of people shop and watch street performers.

FADEL: NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story and joins us from Istanbul. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Peter, what's the latest on this attack?

KENYON: Well, there is one person in custody who's suspected of having had a direct role in the bombing. Turkey's interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, told reporters that the person who police believe left the bomb on the crowded street and walked away had been taken into custody. Police also say some 46 others are being held for questioning. The bomber was identified as a woman, Ahlam Albashir, who police say is a Syrian national. But Interior Minister Soylu also had some pretty harsh words for countries who he says harbor terrorists or allow them to raise money. He also identified the group Turkey believes was behind the bombing. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SULEYMAN SOYLU: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: Now, what he's saying here, he's basically calling out, quote, "the insincerity of our so-called allies" - those are his words - who he says either hide terrorists in their country or send them money from their own treasuries. He named the United States, saying a condolence message from Washington was like, quote, "a killer being first to show up at a crime scene." Turkey has also accused Sweden of supporting terror groups. Soylu named the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and especially its Syrian affiliate, the PYD, as being behind the attack. Turkish security forces have been battling PKK militants and their allies for decades here in Turkey, northern Iraq, also in Syria.

FADEL: Now, you've been speaking to people who were there when the explosion happened.

KENYON: That's right.

FADEL: What did they tell you?

KENYON: Well, a number of the people didn't want to talk right away. They were just too upset. They had to get home, they said. But I did meet 60-year-old shop owner Hasan Ozsut. Now, he runs a small dairy farm. He sells his products from two small shops. He said he's pretty sure the blast occurred very close to one of his shops. He's expecting to find blown out windows and other damage.

But he hasn't been able to get there yet because of the crush of ambulances, police and firefighters descending on the scene. He's not sure when he'll be able to assess the damage. He did tell me, though, that now he'd gotten over the initial shock. He'd started to reflect on what this will mean going forward. And he says, it's not good. Here's some of what he told me.

HASAN OZSUT: This is just happening to Turkey's, you know, future, which is coming very near to at the end of the year. So the people are going to be doing, you know, Christmas shopping. People are going to come over here, you know, do some Christmas tourism. This is actually a bomb to Turkish economy.

KENYON: And he also said he wishes Turkey's government would stop being quite so proud of its military prowess, selling drones, and do a bit more to focus on its own citizens and their needs.

FADEL: Where do things go from here?

KENYON: People think this is another blow to Turkey's efforts to find its economic footing. There's basically a sense of harder times ahead, with the government now consumed with security matters.

FADEL: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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