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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The history of bank bailouts seems to be informing the way President Biden is approaching banks today.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's a history of anger. You may recall this. In 2008, the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to face the financial crisis, and people really did not like the spending. Congress even rejected the bailout once before passing it, and that anger lasted. It was the backdrop to the rise of the Tea Party movement on the right, Occupy Wall Street on the left in the years that followed. And what came after that was Donald Trump's presidency, built in part on anger against the government.

FADEL: Which could explain something the Biden administration is doing now. They've intervened in the banking sector after two regional banks failed, but have insisted this is not a bailout. NPR's Asma Khalid has been reporting on this political strategy, and she joins me now. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So let's start with what the White House has been doing.

KHALID: Well, they stepped in the other week to rescue these two mid-sized banks, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature. And the White House explanation for this is that they did that not because they were, you know, specifically targeting those two banks, but broadly to stabilize the economy, the banking system as a whole, that they were worried about workers, jobs and small businesses. And they are also repeatedly insisting from the president on down that there are not taxpayer dollars on the hook. I will say, you know, that is up for debate. There are some, you know, who would say that indirectly consumers might end up footing some of this bill. But arguably, I think that this messaging is a keen, you know, sense that there is a lesson learned from 2008. I spoke with Jim Messina, who led Barack Obama's reelection campaign and had to navigate some of the fallout of the financial crisis at that time.

JIM MESSINA: The average voter views 2008 as a bunch of rich Wall Street people did a bunch of bad things, no one went to jail, and the taxpayers had to pay for it.

KHALID: And, Leila, look, you know, I think as a result, Washington politics are still haunted by those decisions from '08.

FADEL: Yeah. And American voters don't really like the idea of a bailout. But whether you use the word bailout or not, the government is stepping in to prevent a bank from failing, which is kind of the definition of a bailout. And some Republicans are pouncing to point that out and blame the Biden administration for all that led to this. Right?

KHALID: Well, we're certainly seeing Republicans make that point, right? In the last week, I will say a number of Republicans who are specifically eyeing the 2024 presidency have made this argument. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump himself all refer to the intervention as a bailout. Some Republicans are also trying to conflate the bank situation with broader economic anxiety around inflation. And a White House official I spoke with sees this as a distraction, they will say, from the Trump-era loosening of rules on smalls to mid-sized banks. And of course, Leila, that is the argument that some Democrats are making for why these two banks failed.

FADEL: Yeah.

KHALID: But look, you know, people are negative about the broader economy. A Democratic pollster told me that even though the country is not in a recession, two-thirds of Americans think we are, and that is a concerning point for Democrats.

FADEL: OK, so talk to me about the political consequences then for Biden.

KHALID: Yeah, you know, it's not just the semantics around the word bailout. It's about containing the crisis itself. You know, multiple political analysts told me that one of the key lessons from 2008 is that the government responded too slowly. And so the lesson here for President Biden is that maybe there's a risk in doing too little. And really, if they do too little, there's a concern that the bank failures could spread, and that could potentially alter the course of Biden's presidency.

FADEL: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: Happy to do it.

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FADEL: California is drenched, and it's not over yet.

INSKEEP: The latest of many storms moved over much of the state yesterday, bringing more snow, more wind and more rain.

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EVAN SERNOFFSKY, BYLINE: I've never been in a hurricane, but I can't imagine this is much different right now.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Evan Sernoffsky of local station KTVU reporting on the scene. State officials are just now trying to assess the damage, including two farms.

FADEL: NPR's Jasmine Garsd traveled through affected parts of California, and she joins us now. Good morning, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Jasmine, I know there's not a full picture yet, but can you give us an idea of what the damage has been to California's farms?

GARSD: Well, agriculture is one of the main industries in California. And we know that the Central Coast - for people who don't know, that's north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco - that area has been hit particularly hard. We're talking about 20,000 acres of highly productive farmland underwater. That was complicated by a levee break. And it's berries season right now. A lot of those crops are underwater. So if you love raspberries and blackberries, brace yourself. Experts say consumers nationwide can expect higher prices for the next month or so.

FADEL: OK, so that's the Central Coast. And you spent some time also in the San Joaquin Valley, which is in the middle of the state. Tell me what you found there.

GARSD: Well, it's been hit really hard as well. I spoke to one farmer. His name is Johnny Dykstra from Tulare, Calif. That's in the San Joaquin Valley. And he's mainly a dairy farmer. He provides milk for ice cream companies and restaurants nationwide. And he told me he's running out of dry land for his cows.

JOHNNY DYKSTRA: I call it, like, our Alamo. It's kind of our last stand, is doing everything we can to make sure that the cows stay dry and stay safe. So, I mean, we'll keep - continue fighting. We're just at the mercy of what the water wants to do.

GARSD: And, you know, he was very emotional, not just about his own situation, but about his workers whose livelihoods are being threatened.

FADEL: So what do farmworkers do if they can't farm?

GARSD: Well, farm work is not a job that pays a lot. And when I spoke to the United Farm Workers, they told me they estimate the storms have cost workers one or two months' worth of wages. I spent some time for this assignment with the mayor of Lindsay, Hipolito Angel Cerros. His town is known for its olive groves, many of which are now just lakes. And he told me he sees this firsthand. His own mother is an agricultural worker.

HIPOLITO ANGEL CERROS: And she couldn't even go to work because of the - the streets were flooded. You know, a lot of these people, they're unfortunately living paycheck to paycheck, you know, barely given a livable wage, you know, and so they can't just sit at home and wait until the weather passes. They have to bring some bread to the table.

GARSD: And so for farmworkers, there's not insurance. There's not much of a safety net. California Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to assist farmworkers. The details of how are still pretty unclear. What is clear in this area is that people need help, and they need help fast.

FADEL: NPR's Jasmine Garsd joining us from California. Thank you so much.

GARSD: Thank you.

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FADEL: And now to Pakistan, where political tensions are running high.

INSKEEP: Yeah, you could almost say Pakistani politics are continuously tense, a history of coups and protests and executions and insurgencies and movements. But this latest episode is distinctive. The government has been investigating a former prime minister, Imran Khan. They've accused him of corruption even as he tries to reclaim power. His party has staged protests, which have continued up to now, prompting talks this week that the government could outlaw Khan's party.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid is following the story in Islamabad, and she joins us now. Good morning.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, so tell us what's happening right now.

HADID: Well, the Pakistani parliament is meeting today to discuss the political situation. But as Steve mentioned, local media suggests that they'll consider outlawing the party that's headed by the former prime minister, Imran Khan. And that comes after clashes last week between Khan's supporters and security forces when police tried to arrest the former prime minister. And there were clashes again on Saturday outside the courts in the capital, Islamabad. And since then, there's been mass arrests of Imran Khan's supporters. And one of Khan's close allies is a fellow called Taimur Jhagra. He's a former provincial finance minister. And he's warning that outlawing Khan's party will be a mistake.

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TAIMUR KHAN JHAGRA: It will further erode the political temperature in the country. And that's not good for Pakistan, given how volatile the political situation is. It will make Imran Khan even more popular because it will make the bias of the government even more naked.

HADID: Even more naked. And as Parliament plans to meet, Khan will be holding a large rally in Lahore. That's Pakistan's second-largest city. So it's likely to be a show of muscle.

FADEL: So this sounds like a really worrying trajectory, then. This is a popular political figure. How did it all get here?

HADID: Well, let's step back a bit. Khan was ousted from power in April last year in a no-confidence vote. He didn't have the numbers. He's been calling for elections since then. But a few months ago, it became increasingly clear that Khan's popularity was on the rise, and the government's popularity was tanking. And so the government doesn't want to lose power. But also, analysts say the government's cracking down hard on Imran Khan because he pursued a crackdown against them when he was in power. And if there are free and fair elections, Khan's party now would likely have the largest number of votes. And so that cycle of revenge may well continue. So analysts say they're not optimistic of a breakthrough anytime soon, like Amber Rahim Shamsi. She was one of Pakistan's leading journalists. Now she's an analyst.

AMBER RAHIM SHAMSI: I hope better sense prevails. And I think at the moment we're really grasping at hope. I fear more violence because obviously Imran Khan is not backing down despite all his indications that he's willing to talk.

FADEL: Now, Diaa, as we heard Steve say, Pakistan has faced many crises over the years. Why is this more worrying than other times?

HADID: So analysts say this is an important moment because Pakistan is facing multiple snowballing crises right now. The country is on the brink of default. Inflation's soaring. People are skipping meals to get by. Five million people are on the brink of famine. Climate change is battering the country with heatwaves and floods. And all the forces that once helped smooth over the country's problems just don't appear to be working. Pakistan's military appears to be openly divided about Imran Khan. So are the courts, so are lawyers, and so are people.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad, thank you so much.

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