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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The race is on to find a new speaker of the House.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

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That's right. Following Tuesday's historic vote to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republicans are scrambling to figure out who can get the votes to replace him. So far, there are two declared candidates, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is following this. She's joining us now. Deirdre, Scalise, Jordan - two of the more well-known GOP House members. But give us a quick profile of each.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: They are both very conservative. Jim Jordan founded the far-right House Freedom Caucus. He developed a reputation sort of as an outsider attacking his own leadership. But he did end up developing a close relationship with Speaker McCarthy. He's been leading the investigations into the Biden administration and impeachment. He's also close to former President Trump.

Scalise is currently the No. 2 leader. He's well liked by members. He's actually personally gone through a lot. He was shot at a practice of the House GOP baseball team back in 2017 and almost died. More recently, he announced he's being treated for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He says he's feeling better and he's up to the job. Scalise ideologically is also considered to the right of McCarthy in terms of how conservative he's considered.

A third candidate - Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern, who may run. He heads a large group of fiscal conservatives.

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MARTÍNEZ: All right. So more names, I'm sure, might come up between now and next week. But do Republicans like their options so far?

WALSH: Some do. A lot won't say. It's part of a challenge in these leadership races. These are secret ballot elections. There's also a lot of concern about avoiding another messy fight on the House floor. I'm sure you remember the one back in January.

MARTÍNEZ: Yup.

WALSH: It took four days and 15 ballots to elect McCarthy. The other thing is just in the last seven years, there's been three changes at the top of the GOP leadership ladder. One House Republican member I talked to - Kelly Armstrong from North Dakota - said this time is not a normal speaker election. There needs to be some discussion about getting around these internal divisions.

KELLY ARMSTRONG: This has happened three times now - Boehner, Ryan, McCarthy. And the solution to that problem can't be just promote everybody one step. That's not it.

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WALSH: Many lawmakers, even before they pick a new speaker next Wednesday, want to talk about changing House rules, including the one that was used to get rid of McCarthy.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Congress just passed a bill to avoid a shutdown, but, you know, the House is paralyzed right now. Temporary funding runs out November 17. No money for Ukraine, Deirdre. How will all that be affected?

WALSH: All of this chaos in the House leadership is going to make it a lot harder to get money for Ukraine approved and much harder to avoid a shutdown next month. There is bipartisan support in terms of Ukraine in both the House and the Senate for sending more weapons, more humanitarian aid. But House Republicans are deeply split on this issue. Just last month, more than half voted against more money for Ukraine. Jim Jordan was one of those. And he argues it's just not a priority for him.

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JIM JORDAN: The most pressing issue on Americans' mind is not Ukraine. It is the border situation, and it's crime on the streets. And everybody knows that.

WALSH: Senate Republicans who support money for Ukraine are already worried and trying to figure out a way to get it approved. In terms of avoiding a shutdown, it's really hard to see how a new Republican speaker is going to want to reach across the aisle to pass a bill with Democrats, especially after what happened to McCarthy when he did that.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. We'll find out who gets the job. That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: The Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard for a record number of people so far this year.

FADEL: Yeah. People are risking their lives in hope for a better future in Europe. They flee for various reasons - poverty, conflict, climate change or persecution. The U.N. estimates that this year alone, over 2,500 people have died on that journey. And the real figure is likely even higher, as many boats sink without a trace.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is currently on a search and rescue ship in the Mediterranean. So, Ruth, where exactly are you in the Mediterranean Sea?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, we are in international waters off the Tunisian coast. I'm on a boat called the MV Geo Barents ship, which is run by the charity Doctors Without Borders, or MSF. And the reason they're in this area is because there's a lot of smugglers' boats that depart from Tunisia and from Libya to Europe. And now they're here keeping a 24-hour watch from the bridge of the ship for people that are in need of help.

And, you know, A, the stakes are really high here. These vessels that set off from Libya and Tunisia, they regularly sink. And recently, smugglers from Tunisia have even started sending people towards Europe in these metal ships, and they're even less safe. For example, apparently even a small wave can capsize them. The smugglers send people out there without radios for help, without food, even, sometimes. Sometimes they drift for days. The staff on this ship have rescued hundreds of people. At one point, they even had 600 people on board.

MARTÍNEZ: And I'm guessing just operating in these particular seas is politically complicated.

SHERLOCK: Right. You know, MSF says their ship here acts like an ambulance service for people in need, but it is really politically difficult. For example, you have in this region the Libyan coast guard, which is financed by the European Union as part of their effort to stop migrants from reaching Europe. But they regularly violate human rights as well as international maritime laws.

And Fulvia Conte - she's the head of MSF's search and rescue team on board the MV Geo Barents - she says they even threaten the boats of charities operating in this area.

FULVIA CONTE: We had a vessel of the Libyan coast guard actually approaching the Barents in a quite aggressive way. And, yes, it happened also in January that they threatened us, saying if you don't leave the area, you are going to be exposed to bullet guns.

SHERLOCK: She says MSF teams have even been threatened with being shot if they don't leave and that the Libyan coast guard's treatment of migrants is even worse. There's recent aerial footage showing the coast guard ramming into a boat of migrants so hard that they splintered it to pieces and some 50 people ended up in the water. The Libyan coast guard apparently pulled most of those on board and brought them back to Libya, but the migrants there face terrible conditions, like detention, torture and slavery. So MSF points out this is not a safe destination and that, therefore, bringing migrants there in this EU-funded project is against all kinds of international and maritime laws.

MARTÍNEZ: What happens to the migrants once they're rescued by MSF?

SHERLOCK: Well, they're cared for by a whole team on board. There's medics, psychiatrists, protection officers, and there's also a midwife. That's Marie-Anne Henry. And she tells me, you know, many of the men and, unfortunately, possibly a majority of the women she meets have suffered some kind of sexual violence in their journey to reach Europe. She remembered one of her first trips on the Geo Barents. She says they rescued three pregnant women. Two of them were pregnant as a result of rape.

MARIE-ANNE HENRY: And I will remember this because the only one who was not due to rape, and she is the one who did, unfortunately, a miscarriage on board.

SHERLOCK: She says, you know, one baby has been born on the Geo Barents, but sadly, she's seen many more miscarriages because of the awful physical conditions women endure at sea.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in the Mediterranean Sea. Ruth, thank you very much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: Pakistani officials have announced that all undocumented migrants must leave the country by November 1.

FADEL: Pakistan's interior minister said those that do not leave by the deadline will have their property and assets seized and face arrest and deportation. Pakistan has taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants from neighboring Afghanistan in the last few years. Around 1.7 million unregistered Afghans are currently living in the country. Some have been in Pakistan for decades.

MARTÍNEZ: For more on this, we're joined now by journalist Ahmed Quraishi, who is in Islamabad. So what's the reason why Pakistan is doing this, and why now?

AHMED QURAISHI: I think a lot of it has to do with the politics and the relationship between these two countries. And I think it's at the lowest point right now. There's a lot of tension between these two countries, things that have to do with Pakistani militants who are operating, according to Pakistani officials, inside Afghanistan, and the interim Taliban government is not doing enough to curb them. And so all of that is really reflecting on the way, possibly, Pakistan is treating now the Afghan refugees. But the point is, right now, whatever you see between these two countries, whatever you see happening with regards to Afghan refugees in Pakistan has a lot to do with the bad relationship between Kabul and Islamabad.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, considering that Afghans, you know, are the primary target here, I mean, how has the Taliban government in Kabul responded?

QURAISHI: Well, they're not happy. Pakistan is the main commercial and economic outlet for Afghanistan. It's a landlocked country, as you know. So they're not very happy. And just yesterday, we had this very alarming incident at one of the crossings on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where, according to Pakistani military's statement, an Afghan border security guard opened fire on Pakistanis entering Afghanistan. A couple of people died. One of them is a 12-year-old. Pakistan did not respond, open fire because, according to the statement, they did not want more collateral damage, and that's the word they used. So it's a very, very tense situation.

A lot of people here in Pakistan also are watching how Pakistan would really implement its decision to expel people who do not leave voluntarily by the 1 of November - so how it's going to happen. It's a huge number. There are at least 1.7 million, as you said. I can tell you in four decades since Pakistan started hosting Afghan refugees, never did we see the kind of tension we see right now between these two countries.

MARTÍNEZ: Have you heard from undocumented migrants, particularly Afghans, that are going to be impacted by this?

QURAISHI: I've been, for over a period of time, speaking to many of them, actually. And you have to understand one thing. I mean, four decades of Afghan refugees in Pakistan - we have at least two or - to three generations of Afghans actually residing in Pakistan. Many of them know Pakistan as the only homeland. And, you know, I met kids - Afghan children of Afghan refugees - who are enamored with the country. They would like to join the Pakistani police, the Pakistani military, work in the Pakistani media. So there's a lot of closeness, so to speak, between these two countries, a lot of things that are common. It'll be fascinating to see how Pakistan really manages to disengage from Afghanistan after four decades.

MARTÍNEZ: And we mentioned the number 1.7 million undocumented Afghans in Pakistan. I mean, how is that government going to do this? I mean, that's a lot of people.

QURAISHI: It is a lot of people. And frankly speaking, Pakistan does not have a system in place or any mechanism, really, to deal with this issue. I mean, to deport 1.7 million and arrest them and process them at police stations and detention centers - all of that does not exist. I mean, one of the reasons why Pakistan finds itself in this spot is because it does not have that system and it sort of pursued a policy of open borders with Afghanistan since the 1980s, since the fight against the Soviet invasion. To expel and arrest and deport and document 1.7 million by the 1 of November, it's a huge exercise. Yet to be seen how the Pakistanis will manage this.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Ahmed Quraishi, who is in Islamabad. Thank you very much.

QURAISHI: Thank you, A. 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.

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