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Morning news brief

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In its seventh public hearing today, the committee probing the January 6 attack examines the role of right-wing extremist groups.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A big question today is just how organized was that seemingly chaotic assault on democracy? The panel is examining how groups prepared their members to march on the Capitol. And another question looms behind that - just how close was then-President Trump to the organizing?

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us this morning. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we've already seen some video footage from a filmmaker who was actually embedded with one of these extremist groups, the Proud Boys, in an earlier hearing. What's going to happen today?

WALSH: We're going to hear more about the lead-up to January 6 and how the former president's focus shifted in mid-December after other efforts like legal challenges in some states or pressuring Vice President Pence failed. And then the focus was on this final stage of trying to overturn the election by stopping the counting of the electoral votes in Congress. We're going to hear more about the roles of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. We should note, some members of these groups have already been charged with seditious conspiracy.

MARTIN: Right.

WALSH: But select committee aides say today's hearing is also going to get into the conspiracy theories of the QAnon movement. The panel's going to show how some Trump associates, like General Mike Flynn, had connections to QAnon. This time the panel wouldn't name who's appearing in person. They're citing security concerns about harassment for these witnesses. But NPR has confirmed that former Oath Keeper spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove is going to appear today. He's already testified three times behind closed doors. And he did an interview recently saying he's going to give a historical overview of the group and the threat that they pose.

MARTIN: So he's someone who would have a unique perspective, having been part of the group, now out. So as Steve noted, I mean, a big question in all of this is how directly the committee can tie the activities of these groups to President Trump - right? - to former President Trump.

WALSH: Right. They're trying to connect the dots between these groups and this effort to overturn the election. They point to evidence that links the planning of January 6 to close allies of President Trump, people like Roger Stone. But it's unclear right now if they have additional evidence that shows that Trump knew specifically about the plans to use violence as a means to stop the count on January 6.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin told CBS on Sunday they're focusing on a tweet that Trump sent just one day after a group of lawyers and others were meeting to discuss this plan to stop the count. Raskin notes that Trump urged supporters on December 19 in this tweet to come to D.C. on January 6 and says, it's going to be wild. Here's Raskin.

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JAMIE RASKIN: The first time in American history when a president of the United States called a protest against his own government, in fact, to try to stop the counting of Electoral College votes in a presidential election he had lost.

MARTIN: So this is what's happening today, but we need to clarify, Deirdre - the committee was supposed to have two hearings this week, right? But the other one has now been canceled. What happened?

WALSH: Right. They were prepping for a hearing on Thursday, one that was going to drill down on what Trump was doing during the hours when the Capitol came under siege. But now that session's been rescheduled for next week. Committee aides say they continue to get new information, and they want more time for members and their investigators to assess it and sort out how it's going to help them tell the story about what was going on around the insurrection. But the other thing that's sort of unclear about next week is whether that hearing is going to be the last public hearing before we see the committee's report this fall. You know, Rachel, this committee has made plans before and changed them.

MARTIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, we appreciate you. Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you.

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MARTIN: OK, Mexico's president is here in Washington, D.C., today to meet with President Biden.

INSKEEP: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rarely leaves Mexico, but the two leaders have a lot to talk about.

MARTIN: And we're going to talk about all that they have to talk about with NPR's Carrie Kahn, who is based in Mexico City. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Good morning. So lay it out for us. What are some of the issues that Lopez Obrador is bringing to the White House today?

KAHN: Top of the list, as is most of the time the U.S. and Mexican leaders meet, is migration. The number of migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border is at record highs. Even the number of Mexicans crossing the border regularly is hitting new records, according to U.S. data. Lopez Obrador has also been talking about getting more help on combating inflation, which is up around 8% in both countries. He says letting more migrant workers into the U.S. can help increase economic output and help tackle inflation.

They'll also discuss cooperation in combating drug trafficking, too, as well as disputes U.S. energy companies have with the investment climate in Mexico. The White House also said Russia's war in Ukraine will be discussed. So a lot there. But this quick visit has been squeezed in right before Biden goes on this high-profile trip to the Middle East, so there's a big likelihood it'll be overshadowed by that.

MARTIN: OK. So as you noted, migration is up at record levels from 10 years ago. I mean, what are they going to accomplish in this one-day meet-and-greet?

KAHN: Mexico is hoping a lot gets done, especially in light of the tragedy in San Antonio, where 53 migrants, including 27 Mexicans, died in the back of a sweltering trailer. Mexico wants more visas for migrants to cross into the U.S. and work legally so that they can return back home. A U.S. senior administration official told reporters that work visas will be discussed but didn't give any specific numbers. You know, Rachel, I was in this small town in Veracruz, Mexico, last week. Three cousins from there died in that overheated trailer.

MARTIN: Right.

KAHN: And through all the grief, there are so many relatives, neighbors - even the local priests kept telling me the same thing, like this official, Carlos Enrique Escalante, I'm going to play for you. He's the head of migrant affairs for the Mexican state of Veracruz.

CARLOS ENRIQUE ESCALANTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says, "look; let's be honest here - the U.S. needs workers, and there are jobs for migrants once they arrive." So he says, "let's regulate all this so people don't have to die." Lopez Obrador, the other day, said he wants 300,000 new visas, half for Mexican migrant workers and half for Central Americans.

MARTIN: So there are so many long-standing issues between the U.S. and Mexico. Relations are always, you know, tense to some degree. What's the situation, though, right now? I mean, why are things so particularly intense?

KAHN: Lopez Obrador always says he has a great relationship with Biden, but he's been taking a lot of jabs of late. The biggest was boycotting the recent Summit of the Americas in LA. He wanted Biden to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. He's also taken to defending Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who the U.S. is trying to extradite from the U.S. He said if that happens, he'll start a campaign to tear down the Statue of Liberty. He called U.S. support for Ukraine a crass error. He objects to U.S. criticism of his government, especially when it comes to his attacks on journalists and U.S. funding of civil society groups in Mexico. And he dismisses foreign investors' complaints about his energy policy that favors Mexican state companies first. So there's a lot of bumps in relations these days and a lot to discuss in such a short visit.

MARTIN: Indeed. NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Oh, I love a science story. It is a new day for human exploration of the universe. Scientists are seeing images and data from the most powerful space telescope ever built.

INSKEEP: The White House released an image from the James Webb Telescope last night. Bill Nelson is administrator of NASA, which sent that telescope into orbit.

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BILL NELSON: We are going to be able to answer questions that we don't even know what the questions are yet.

MARTIN: What? Who better to call in this moment than NPR's Joe Palca? Hey, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey. How are you doing?

MARTIN: I am doing great. Always wonderful to have an excuse to talk to you, especially about something so totally cool. I'm looking at this picture right now. It's just amazing. How do you describe this?

PALCA: Well, it's a blur. In some ways, it reminds me of an early Jackson Pollock. But never mind.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PALCA: It shows lots and lots and lots of galaxies.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PALCA: The easiest one to see are probably the ones that are only about 4 billion miles - light-years away. But interestingly enough, those nearby galaxies acts as a lens for the light that's coming behind them. And that's where the really exciting stuff is because the objects behind those may turn out to be the furthest galaxies ever seen, galaxies that formed just a few hundred million years after the universe came into existence.

MARTIN: Wow.

PALCA: Astronomers will be combing through the image, looking for those. And by studying those, they get a better sense of what the universe - how it evolved into what we see today. And astronomers, as you can imagine - if you're thrilled, imagine how astronomers are feeling.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

PALCA: One wrote to me saying the image was spectacular; another said astounding. And it was done in just 12 1/2 hours. NASA says it would have taken the famous Hubble Space Telescope weeks to make something similar.

MARTIN: It's just so clear. I mean, that's the thing. It's just - the clarity of the light is just unbelievable. So they're going to release a bunch of different images - right? - from the telescope.

PALCA: Yep.

MARTIN: Do you know why this particular image was released first?

PALCA: Well, I think it'll be clear when you hear what Heidi Hammel told me. She's an interdisciplinary scientist on the Webb Telescope team.

HEIDI HAMMEL: So the very reason that we designed the James Webb Space Telescope, the reason it is a unique infrared-capable telescope, was to be able to see the very first galaxies that have formed in our universe.

PALCA: Now, the reason infrared is important is the light coming from these earliest galaxies is mostly infrared light, a longer wavelength than the human eye can see. So if you want to see these early galaxies, you need a telescope that can see in the infrared. You also need a telescope with a big mirror, and Webb has that. Its main mirror for collecting light is about 21 feet across.

MARTIN: Wow. So is the Webb Telescope mainly a galaxy hunter, or does it have other uses?

PALCA: (Laughter) Well, I mean, the galaxy hunters will say...

MARTIN: I mean, that's good enough. That's pretty cool.

PALCA: ...Well, that's all it's really good for. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

PALCA: But NASA has other images that - some of will be showing later today. For one thing, an infrared telescope can see through most interstellar dust. So you can see things that are frequently obscured. Massive stars can tend to hide out behind these dust clouds. They'll be able to see new stars as they're forming. One of the images the telescope will show will be unprecedented details of two galaxies colliding together. And there are some scientists who are interested in studying planets orbiting other stars. Megan Mansfield is a NASA Sagan postdoc at the University of Arizona.

MEGAN MANSFIELD: JWST is much bigger than any other space telescope, which gives us the sensitivity to see these really small terrestrial planets.

PALCA: Those are the planets that look a bit like Earth and could possibly harbor life. Who knows? You know, that's one of the things that people will be speculating about going forward.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PALCA: It's just going to be really cool when the data all comes in.

MARTIN: Oh, I love when you dangle that out there. NPR's Joe Palca. Thank you so much, Joe. We appreciate it.

PALCA: You betcha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.