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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The United States is escalating its fighting in Yemen. What does it hope to accomplish?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. has repeatedly fired missiles into Yemen. It is responding to Houthi fighters who control much of that country and who have been attacking global shipping as it moves past the Yemeni coast. This is seen as part of a gradually widening Mideast conflict because Houthis claim they are responding to the Israel-Hamas war.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been measuring U.S. goals against the results, and he's with us now. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Greg, I'm going to ask you to start by telling us what the U.S. has done so far and what exactly is the objective.

MYRE: Well, the objective is to get the Houthis to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea because it's such a vital shipping lane. And the U.S. carried out its third round of strikes on Tuesday. A U.S. official said this knocked out Houthi missiles that were being prepared to target more cargo ships. And in all three of these strikes in recent days, the U.S. says it has hit the Houthi targets. But the U.S. also acknowledged that just hours after this strike yesterday, the Houthis did manage to launch a missile that hit a Greek-owned vessel. The damage was limited. The ship kept on its path through the Red Sea. But clearly, the Houthis have not been deterred up to this point.

MARTIN: So if not much deterrence is happening at this point, I guess the goal is to deplete its supply of weapons and drones over time. Is there any way to assess whether that is happening?

MYRE: Well, it certainly hasn't happened at this point, and it's too early to tell if the U.S. would be able to do that. Analysts say you shouldn't expect the Houthis to run out of weapons in the short term. Yemen is a very poor country, and it doesn't make these weapons. But according to the U.S., Iran has been supplying the Houthis with missiles, with drones and intelligence that it is using in these attacks. And the Houthis have proven themselves to be very resilient fighters. They emerged as a top military force in Yemen after years of civil war in that country.

One thing I should note - missiles are expensive, and there may be some limit on how many Iran wants to give to the Houthis. Drones are cheap, and the Houthis could probably keep up with this type of weapon for a very long time.

MARTIN: Now, the Houthis say they are attacking ships with some connection to Israel. Is this an accurate claim?

MYRE: Well, it's certainly a claim that resonates in the Middle East right now. I mean, one thing we're often hearing is that the Houthis are doing more than any group or country to support the Palestinians in Gaza. But is it accurate? I mean, remember; these are commercial ships from all over the world traveling in international waters. In one or two instances, the Houthis have claimed some fuzzy, tenuous connections to Israel. But overwhelmingly, there's no evidence of Israeli links. For example, this ship on Tuesday is Greek-owned. It traveled under a Maltese flag.

MARTIN: Well, so to that end, I mean, President Biden says he wants to prevent a wider regional war, but is this starting to look like that?

MYRE: Well, it certainly could. You know, the Israeli-Hamas war has now been raging for more than a hundred days. Hostilities are now playing out in five or six places daily in the Middle East, and U.S. forces are attacking or being attacked in several of them. So, Michel, it is absolutely a very volatile moment.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Michel.

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MARTIN: Coming out of Monday's Iowa caucuses, just three major candidates remain.

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NIKKI HALEY: Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race.

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RON DESANTIS: Nikki Haley said only the top two from Iowa, you know, go on to be viable. Well, guess what. We punched our ticket out of Iowa yesterday.

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DONALD TRUMP: So it's now off to New Hampshire, a great place.

INSKEEP: Former President Trump is leading in polls in New Hampshire, and everywhere, among Republicans. But the contest is closer in New Hampshire than elsewhere, where Nikki Haley is appealing for voters' help to avoid a rematch of the 2020 campaign. Ron DeSantis is trying to build on his second-place finish in Iowa. Both of those challengers have past ties to Trump and now have been trying to win over some of his supporters.

MARTIN: And they are all in New Hampshire today. And so is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, who is here to sketch out the state of the race there. Good morning, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So I know it's cold and it's early.

KURTZLEBEN: It is.

MARTIN: Now six days out, what are the candidates talking about, and how are they talking about these things?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, their messages haven't really changed since Iowa, except I guess you could say there is a bit more attacking between the candidates, especially between Haley and Trump. Last night at a rally, Trump made it very clear he's focusing on taking aim at Haley both personally and at some of her policies. Haley had an event last night where she also stuck to her usual script. She is set to give Trump more of a challenge here, so she's really focusing on hitting him. Here in New Hampshire, she's kind of trying to treat this as if it were a two-person race.

Now, as for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, we haven't heard from him yet in New Hampshire. He first went to South Carolina to sort of troll Nikki Haley in her home state and try to beat her there. He has now come to New Hampshire, but he's had to cancel his events so far because of bad weather. It just kind of followed us all here.

MARTIN: OK, let's talk about Trump. What's he up to?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, he went to New York first after Iowa for the opening of the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial. That is the writer who accused Trump of rape. And a jury has found that he sexually abused her, so this is a defamation case related to that. And that's where his head was yesterday. After winning Iowa, he spent a couple hours yesterday just posting on Truth Social, attacking Carroll, complaining about the trial. But here in New Hampshire at his rally last night, he really attacked Haley a lot on a few points - for example, that she wants to raise the Social Security eligibility age and also that she wants to send aid to Ukraine.

MARTIN: So you did - you mentioned that Haley does appear to be the top rival to Trump in New Hampshire. Just say more about that.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. So her margin here is much tighter than it was in Iowa. She's polling maybe 12 points behind Trump, per the FiveThirtyEight polling average. And the spin her campaign has after her third-place finish in Iowa is that she has long-term momentum. When he was introducing her yesterday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said that Haley had just a few months ago been in single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire. And that all is true. But Trump is so dominant, she would need a huge pickup in support to be more of a threat. And so she's really focusing on him. Case in point - there had been a debate scheduled for Thursday, but Haley has since said she wouldn't debate again unless it was against Trump or Biden.

MARTIN: OK. And to round things out, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not been doing well in New Hampshire so far. So he's - I guess he's hoping that the momentum from that second-place finish in Iowa will help him there.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, but like you said, he hasn't really contested New Hampshire much yet. It's clear he's focusing on South Carolina, likely thinking that he's going to do better with Southern, traditional, evangelical voters as opposed to New England Republicans, who are known for having a bit more of a libertarian streak. And like I said, we just haven't heard his message yet here. We've got to wait out this weather.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben in New Hampshire. Danielle, stay safe. Stay warm. Do your best.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. Thank you.

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MARTIN: The Supreme Court today hears a case that could weaken the power of the federal government to regulate, well, everything.

INSKEEP: This dispute centers on a small group of fishermen in New Jersey who do not want to pay for electronic monitors on their boats, so they are asking the Supreme Court to overrule almost 40 years of precedent.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following this story, and she's with us now to tell us more about it. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning to you.

MARTIN: OK, let's start with this group of fishermen. How did they wind up in court?

JOHNSON: They fish for herring in the waters off of Cape May, N.J. And they don't want to pay for monitors or observers on their boats to make sure they're following the rules the federal government has set. They say that might cost as much as $700 a day - a lot of money for them. Bill Bright owns one of those companies. Here's what he told me.

BILL BRIGHT: We have this hanging over our head. And we're not under any illusion. Once they start charging us for the monitor, that's never going away.

JOHNSON: Court papers in this case say the federal government has suspended this program and reimbursed all the fishermen who had to pay while it was running.

MARTIN: So even though this regulation is not in force - it's not currently in force - it still could have bigger consequences depending on how the Supreme Court rules. Is that right?

JOHNSON: That's exactly right. These fishermen are represented by the former solicitor general Paul Clement. He was solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration. And he's asking the High Court to overrule a 40-year-old case. That case says judges should defer to federal agency interpretations about regulations if they're reasonable and if there's an ambiguity or a gap in the law. Clement says that gives agencies way too much power. He says Congress and judges should have the final word. For decades, it's been a goal of the conservative legal movement to weaken the power of some of these agencies to regulate things like the environment, guns and other issues.

MARTIN: How is the Biden administration responding in this case?

JOHNSON: The current solicitor general says deferring to federal agencies has been a bedrock of administrative law, and if the Supreme Court overrules this precedent, it would be a shock to the system. David Doniger at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, has been following these issues for years. Here's what he told me about the real goal of this case.

DAVID DONIGER: The real purpose of it is to enfeeble the federal government so that we don't have the capacity to deal with modern problems and billionaires and big companies can just do what they want and not be checked.

JOHNSON: Doniger says Congress isn't able to get basic things done, so how can anyone expect lawmakers to pass more legislation on complicated issues like the environment or things like cryptocurrency? He says if these fishermen win, the result is going to be paralysis. And that's what many big businesses actually want.

MARTIN: Is the High Court giving us any clues about how they may be thinking about this case?

JOHNSON: We have one clue. The court says it's going to consider the biggest question - whether to get rid of that 40-year-old precedent once and for all. And in recent years, the court's shied away from citing that precedent. Justice Clarence Thomas has bashed it, and Justice Neil Gorsuch has said it deserves a tombstone. But it's not clear there are five votes on the court to get rid of this precedent altogether. Some legal experts think the court could find a way to put more limits on judges who consider federal regulations without going quite as far as these fishermen and the conservative legal movement want to go.

MARTIN: That is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.