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Morning News Brief

NOEL KING, HOST:

At least 99 people are still unaccounted for this morning in Florida.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Part of the Champlain Tower South Condo in the Miami suburb of Surfside collapsed early yesterday morning. Twelve stories fell one by one on top of each other. Rescuers are hunting for survivors, and officials there are trying to figure out how this could have happened.

KING: NPR's Greg Allen is in Miami. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: I know that this is a developing story, that there's a search under way. What's happening right now as we speak?

ALLEN: Well, you know, there's been a search and rescue going on now for well over a day. It started right after the tower fell early Thursday morning. Officials say 102 people so far are accounted for from the tower. Fire crews yesterday rescued 37 people, 35 were taken from balconies and damaged apartments in the part of the building that was still standing. Two survivors were actually pulled from the rubble early yesterday. But the scene there at Champlain Towers Condos isn't encouraging. You've got those 12 stories that just pancaked, leaving a pile of rubble. The state senator who represents the area, Jason Pizzo, told The Miami Herald he saw two bodies being recovered early this morning. That makes at least three people dead at this point, but with 99 still unaccounted for, that death toll is likely to rise. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was on the site yesterday. It's in her district. She said the devastation was unlike anything she's ever seen.

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DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: To see one building come down like this inexplicably - having a chance to talk to the families whose hearts are breaking, who need and want answers and who need to have hope.

ALLEN: You know, people waited throughout the day at a reunification center near the towers that was set up to receive information about their friends and family members. And, of course, information is very slow in coming out. One of those who got out safely yesterday was Ann Citron. She spoke to member station WLRN and was staying in the building next door to Champlain Towers.

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ANN CITRON: There was a huge rumble and then another bigger rumble. And then we got to the staircase and there's all this dust in the staircase. And you go outside and fire trucks pulling up and there's people outside and people saying they were trapped.

KING: People saying they were trapped. What do you know about the rescue operation? Who's conducting it? Are they relying on volunteers?

ALLEN: Well, this is - no, this is - the Miami-Dade County Fire Department is well known for its urban search and rescue team. It travels around the world responding to disasters like this one. People point out that there have been successful rescues days after disaster in places like Mexico City and Haiti, so certainly no one's giving up hope at this point. Crews are working in the building's parking garage. They're focusing a lot of their attention there where they're tunneling into the debris pile in this search for survivors. But Miami-Dade County Assistant Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah says it has to be a slow, painstaking process.

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RAY JADALLAH: Every time we make a breach underneath the ground, we do have some debris that rains down on the firefighters. And again, what we encountered was some shifting of the debris. And eventually, we did have a small fire, which was extinguished within 20 minutes.

ALLEN: So far, they say they've heard sounds but no voices from the rubble pile. But they're using listening devices and dogs to search for survivors.

KING: Greg, do officials have any idea how this could have happened?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's really too soon to say, they say. Miami-Dade Police Department will conduct a full investigation. This building was 40 years old and was actually undergoing inspection this week, which is required for buildings this age which is because of concerns here that saltwater can actually corrode aging concrete buildings like this one.

KING: And then early this morning, President Biden approved Florida's emergency declaration. What help is that going to offer?

ALLEN: Well, that actually now clears the way for federal aid to help pay for a lot of what's going on in the search and rescue and finding temporary housing for all the people left homeless.

KING: OK. NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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KING: President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators have reached an infrastructure deal.

MARTIN: It is massive but not as big as President Biden had hoped.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let me be clear. Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal. That's what it means to compromise. And it reflects something important. It reflects consensus.

MARTIN: Whether that consensus turns into a bill that the president could actually sign is still unclear. Biden said yesterday he won't sign this into law unless it's paired with another bill that addresses broader parts of his infrastructure proposal, which includes money for health care, child care and climate change.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is following this one. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: OK, so the president said neither side got everything they wanted. What did they get? What's in it?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. So overall, it's a roughly $1.2 trillion plan. Some of it is money that Congress was already on track to spend, but there's about $550 billion in new spending. A big chunk of that money is for transportation projects like roads and bridges. There's also money for broadband and water pipes. As you noted, Biden didn't get everything he wanted. For example, his initial proposal included more money for housing and climate. But Biden did say he got two-thirds of the funding that he wanted, and that is significant. He also got something else that was really important to him and that's a bipartisan compromise. And it's something he wants to see on other priorities, like policing reforms.

KING: What is going on with policing reform right now?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Republican Senator Tim Scott and Democratic Representative Karen Bass and others have been trying to work out a deal on a bill. Last night, actually, the lawmakers said they had agreed on a, quote, "framework." There are no details yet. And they said it would probably take a few more weeks to get a final proposal.

KING: OK. So some bipartisan movement is happening in a few different quarters. But Biden said that progressive Democrats discouraged him from compromising with Republicans. How's he responding to them?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Biden emphasized yesterday that he won't sign the infrastructure bill unless it's passed in tandem with spending on his other economic priorities. You'll remember that Democrats used their narrow majority in special budget rules for a thing called reconciliation back in March. That's how they got the $1.9 trillion COVID aid package passed. And the progressive wing of the party was pushing to do that again, to put aside compromise and pass a bigger spending bill without any Republican votes. But Biden says he plans to do things on two tracks.

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BIDEN: Not just sign the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest that I proposed. I proposed a significant piece of legislation in three parts, and all three parts are equally important.

ORDOÑEZ: Biden says that he plans to use reconciliation for those other priorities, like universal pre-school and expanded child care.

KING: But it would be a mistake to think that what happened yesterday is a done deal on infrastructure.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, definitely. There is a lot of heavy lifting left, and Biden says he doesn't know for sure that he'll have enough support. But Biden is talking optimistically and thinks Congress could vote by the end of September. So I expect we'll be talking about this a lot in the weeks to come.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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KING: Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, is meeting with President Biden today in Washington.

MARTIN: Yeah. U.S. troops are in the process of leaving Afghanistan right now. Since April, when the U.S. announced that it was going to withdraw, the fighting there has gotten worse, though. The Taliban have overrun dozens of districts across the country. And there is now real concern they're getting closer to Kabul.

KING: NPR's Diaa Hadid covers Afghanistan. She's with us now. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hey there, Noel.

KING: Do we have any idea what Ashraf Ghani wants to say to Joe Biden?

HADID: Yeah. Well, the State Department, first of all, says the U.S. will continue to support Afghans, but there's a lot of mistrust in Afghanistan toward the Biden administration because the president surprised so many by announcing that unconditional withdrawal. So analysts like Ibrahim Bahiss say Ghani and his delegation will want clear support from the Biden administration for their government and its armed forces.

IBRAHIM BAHISS: That would include getting some financial certainty, getting some military certainty, especially around the air force.

HADID: And Bahiss says the U.S. withdrawal so far has been chaotic. There's still no clarity on key issues like how the U.S. will maintain the Afghan air force. It's one of the few military advantages the government has of the Taliban. But it relies on American contractors, and those contractors are leaving with U.S. forces. As importantly through this meeting, Ghani wants to show Afghans that he still has American support. There's a lot of mistrust of his government as well, especially in light of those recent Taliban victories.

KING: So in the meantime, there has been a huge development in the cases of tens of thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the war and who desperately want to get out of Afghanistan because they say they just aren't safe.

HADID: That's right. The U.S. plans to fly out somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 Afghans - it's huge - translators, interpreters and their families to another location, perhaps Guam, while they wait for their special immigrant visas to be processed. But it's important to note these flights aren't expected to begin until August. And by that point, the U.S. withdrawal will be complete. So there's no telling what the security situation will be like then in Afghanistan. And the big concern is the Taliban will try harm and kill these people.

KING: OK. And so what does the relationship look like between the United States and Afghanistan in the future?

HADID: It's a complicated relationship, I think. The U.S. plans to keep a few hundred troops there to protect the embassies, and the Biden administration says it will continue to provide humanitarian and military aid. But analysts say as the Taliban likely grows stronger, it won't be so easy for the U.S. to wash its hands of Afghanistan. Have a listen to Asfandyar Mir of Stanford University. He's quite blunt.

ASFANDYAR MIR: President Biden doesn't care about Afghanistan. I mean, I think him and his advisers are banking on the fact that even the American public doesn't care about Afghanistan, that even if things go south from here and the Taliban are able to march into Kabul, the political cost will be fairly minimal.

HADID: But Mir adds this. If the insurgents do march onto Kabul, and there are certainly analysts who think that is likely, then the Biden administration may be forced to re-engage.

KING: Wow. NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you so much, Diaa. We appreciate your reporting.

HADID: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.