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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has his first challenger for leadership of the Republican Party.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Nikki Haley is launching a bid for the presidency. She's a former South Carolina governor who also served as Trump's ambassador to the United Nations. Her announcement video does not mention Trump, but it does make a revealing reference. She notes Democrats won a majority of voters in the last several presidential elections, including Trump's defeat in 2020.

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NIKKI HALEY: Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. That has to change. Joe Biden's record is abysmal, but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

KHALID: She went on to repeat some of the expected Republican talking points but made a case that she's a very different messenger.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben is covering this story. Danielle, good morning.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey there.

INSKEEP: How would Haley be a different messenger than any other Republican?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, she is the first woman of color to be a major Republican candidate for the nomination. And she acknowledges that. Very, very early in her announcement video, she references her race. Here's what she says.

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HALEY: I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black, not white - I was different. But my mom would always say your job is not to focus on the differences, but the similarities.

KURTZLEBEN: And that's telling. She is saying in that announcement video, first of all, I can unite Republicans. But also, she goes on right after that, what she just said, to say it's Democrats that are divisive on race. I want to unify Republicans. So even if I look different, I don't believe different, necessarily. I may look like a diverse candidate, but I believe the following standard Republican ideas, you know, fiscal responsibility, that sort of thing.

INSKEEP: And it fits into this broader concern Republicans have about the demographic change in the country. There are some Republicans who are trying to find more diverse conservatives to stand on their side. And I suppose she can make the case that she might be able to reach them. But what has been some of the early response here?

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. So I mean, the early response has been from - more from groups that are critical of Haley than from people that have - that are supporting her, at least that I've seen. The Democratic National Committee, first of all, put out a statement saying that they're getting their popcorn...

INSKEEP: OK.

KURTZLEBEN: ...Ahead of the 2024 primary because they're excited to see Republicans really, you know, sort of rip at each other. Meanwhile, a PAC associated with Donald Trump slammed her as anti-Trump then pro-Trump, which she was. She was opposed to Trump before serving in his administration as U.N. ambassador. And then, you know, never Trump Republicans along that line are not terribly pleased either. The group the Lincoln Project put out a statement saying that she had a once-promising career, but then that she didn't, quote, "stand on principle" after that.

INSKEEP: OK. I guess we'll find out in days and weeks and months to come, even years to come, whether she's able to build a constituency and attract people.

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

INSKEEP: But who else might get in?

KURTZLEBEN: There are a bunch of others who have been making the motions like they might run, by which I mean they are going to places like Iowa and New Hampshire. One of them is South Carolina Senator - same state as Nikki Haley - Tim Scott. He and Mike Pence, former vice president, have been making trips to Iowa. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a book out. He - late last year, I saw him in Iowa. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was there. And Mike Pompeo, I should say, has also said recently that he is going to decide soon. And there is a whole plethora of other candidates who might go. But one interesting wrinkle is that a bunch of these candidates, like Haley, have that tricky needle to thread - people who opposed Trump once, then embraced him, now want to run against him. And so they're going to have to talk about that.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Ron DeSantis of Florida looms out there for many Republicans as well.

KURTZLEBEN: Most definitely.

INSKEEP: Danielle, thanks so much.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: Russia's government is running more than 40 child custody centers for children they took out of Ukraine.

INSKEEP: That's according to a report by Yale's Humanitarian Research Lab. That's a partner in a new State Department project to investigate potential war crimes. Russia maintains these children were forced to flee to safety because of the war. Although, the researchers see kids taken without parental consent. NPR's Deborah Amos described what the researchers have found.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: So this report comes from Yale's Humanitarian Research Lab. They're a partner in this new State Department project to investigate potential war crimes in Ukraine. The lab uses open-source research. I spent a couple of days at the lab. And what you see are about 20 internet sleuths. They're scouring satellite imagery, social media posts, news reports, Russian messaging services. They're looking for patterns and connections that otherwise might go unnoticed. So this new report is titled "Russia's Systematic Program for the Re-education and Adoption of Ukrainian Children." And it's the most extensive look at this issue.

KHALID: So 40 child custody centers across Russia. What are we talking about in terms of the numbers of children?

AMOS: So you're right. There are 40 camps from the Black Sea coast all the way to Siberia. The camp that's furthest east is closer to the coast of Alaska than Ukraine.

KHALID: Oh, wow.

AMOS: The lab researchers document about 6,000 children. That is what they could verify. They believe there are thousands more held in Russia without the consent of their parents.

KHALID: So Russia is saying that this is a humanitarian program. They even promote it for a Russian audience. They are not, you know, trying to hide the details of this program. So help me understand that.

AMOS: So that is right. And the Yale program points that out. Russia doesn't acknowledge how many Ukrainian children are there or where they're housed. There's no official public accounting of how many Ukrainian children have been adopted by Russian families. It's a potential war crime to remove children during a conflict or change their nationality. Nathaniel Raymond heads the Yale lab. And he dismisses Russia's claim that this is a humanitarian gesture. And here's what he said.

NATHANIEL RAYMOND: We know that it wasn't a humanitarian act because it doesn't follow the internationally recognized procedures consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. You have an obligation as a state's party, which Russia is, to ensure they can contact their family, they can go home if they so wish, they can register as a refugee. None of those things have happened here.

KHALID: So Deb, have any of the children who were detained, have they been released to their parents, returned to their parents?

AMOS: Some of them have. Those who can find their kids, the parents can go to Russia and get them. That takes a passport. That takes money. Most of the kids have not been released. Some of the younger ones have been adopted. Some of the older children get weapons training. Almost all of them get a daily dose of what's called patriotic education. And that appears designed to instill loyalty to Russia, say the researchers, as well as an acceptance of Moscow's version of this war.

KHALID: NPR's Deb Amos. Thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: In this country, the campus of Michigan State University, where a gunman killed three students and wounded five others on Monday, is just about three miles from the state Capitol building.

KHALID: Democrats are in control of both the state Legislature and the governorship for the first time in 40 years there in Michigan. And they want to use this power to pass gun control legislation. Here's the state's governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

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GRETCHEN WHITMER: As parents, we tell our kids it's going to be OK. We say that all the time. But the truth is, words are not good enough. We must act and we will.

INSKEEP: Rick Pluta joins us next. He's from Michigan Public Radio. Welcome.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are the lawmakers and the governor hoping to pass?

PLUTA: Well, Governor Whitmer has called on the Legislature to pass laws that Democrats have been trying to get through Republican legislatures for years. And Republicans are pushing back, saying, well, let's find some consensus on things like mental health services. Democrats are saying, though, at a minimum, they want universal background checks, which means a check on criminal histories before someone's allowed to buy a firearm, especially a high-capacity semiautomatic weapon, a red flag law, which is a court order if there's a determination that a gun owner poses a threat, and safe storage laws, that when guns are not being used, that they need to be locked up or at least have a trigger lock.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the political context here because Michigan represents such a broad swath of America politically and otherwise. I mean, it's a place that's elected a lot of Republicans, even though Democrats are in charge for the moment. So what is public sentiment around gun regulation there?

PLUTA: Sure. Well, I mean, Michigan does have a thriving gun culture. Hunting is a big deal here. Also, the right to bear arms is in our state constitution. And unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan constitutional clause actually has a self-defense provision. It's one of the reasons why there is a constitutionally protected right to bear arms here. But there is also a poll that was taken in December, which, remember, is after the election, that found 90% of Michigan voters who were surveyed favor background checks for gun purchases. Seventy-four percent allow courts to take guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. And that's pretty consistent with earlier polls.

So Democrats would seem to have the wind to their backs on this. But their majorities in the legislature that you referred to, they're very narrow - one vote in the House, one vote in the Senate. And that could make the politics problematic as Republicans are pushing back, saying, let's find some consensus - again, mental health services. But Democrats aren't buying it, saying that you had your chance to do these sorts of things and blew it off, that when it comes to reasons to trust you, we are not seeing them.

INSKEEP: Well, how soon could those narrow majorities act, if at all?

PLUTA: Well, I mean, probably not this week just because this is still so raw. So Democrats haven't set a timetable. But they certainly appear to getting all or most of these adopted and sent to Governor Whitmer. Like we said, she's ready to sign them into law.

INSKEEP: Rick, thanks so much for the update. We'll continue following your reporting.

PLUTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Rick Pluta in Michigan.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA AND PHILANTHROPE'S "NAUTICAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.