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News brief: Pelosi's Taiwan trip, Kansas keeps abortion legal, key primary results

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent the day in Taiwan on a visit that's been harshly criticized by Beijing.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Tensions have escalated with China's military drills around Taiwan, which Taipei claims could amount to an air and sea blockade.

MARTINEZ: To bring us up to speed, we're joined now by NPR's John Ruwitch, who has been following events from Beijing.

John, tell us, what Nancy Pelosi has been doing in Taiwan today.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Well, she spent the morning meeting Taiwanese members of Parliament, and then she met Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai awarded her a ceremonial civilian honor for her contributions in promoting Taiwan-U.S. relations. And in remarks at the event, Pelosi said that she visited Taipei to underscore the U.S. commitment to Taiwan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy. America's determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.

RUWITCH: You know, this is a highly symbolic visit. But there's more to the relationship than just political ideology. The Washington Post reported that in the afternoon, Pelosi was expected to meet the chairman of a Taiwanese company called TSMC, which is one of the world's leading makers of advanced microchips, which are, of course, a critical part of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

MARTINEZ: Now, Beijing was not happy when she arrived in Taipei. What's been the reaction so far?

RUWITCH: Well, the foreign ministry called the visit a violation of China's sovereignty. And the foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to make a formal complaint. You know, China has imposed also economic sanctions on some Taiwanese products coming into China, including citrus fruit, for example. It's also banned sand exports to Taiwan. And then, of course, there's the military component to all this. This week, China is holding several days of exercises in six zones that effectively encircle Taiwan. These are expected to be a large show of force. Taiwan says they encroach on its own territorial seas. Analysts, meanwhile, say we should expect more actions like this in the coming weeks, possibly months. And the White House, too, says that China is positioned for further steps.

MARTINEZ: Well, OK. So why is Beijing doing this? I mean, what are they worried about?

RUWITCH: Yeah. Well, it goes back to Beijing's claim that Taiwan is a part of China. You know, Beijing wants to unify it politically with the mainland under the Chinese flag. So one concern is that after Pelosi's visit, other senior officials from other foreign countries might be inclined to follow suit. Another concern of Beijing's is that U.S. policy on China is just being hollowed out. You know, the U.S. says it adheres to a “One China” policy and that it doesn't support Taiwan independence. But the Chinese government's increasingly skeptical of that.

MARTINEZ: We get a sense now of what the Chinese government thinks. What about the Chinese people?

RUWITCH: Yeah. A lot of people here seem to be paying attention to this. Today, on the streets here in Beijing, we spoke with a man named Gong Buyang (ph), and here's what he had to say.

GONG BUYANG: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: Yeah. So he's saying he personally is unhappy with the Chinese response so far. He thinks it could be stronger. He also says, though, that he understands why the government is perhaps being cautious in its reaction in what he says is a game of geopolitical chess. It's really interesting. You know, when Pelosi's plane landed in Taipei last night, there were a lot of posts online in China expressing deep unhappiness that the Chinese government allowed it to happen, effectively - didn't prevent it. Many of those critical comments are just gone today. They've been scrubbed from the internet, which underscores the sensitivity of the issue, really. It shows the government is trying to manage expectations on a deeply emotive issue at a sensitive time for China, with the economy under pressure, the pandemic still a problem and a key Communist Party meeting coming up.

MARTINEZ: NPR's John Ruwitch in Beijing. Thanks a lot, John.

RUWITCH: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: Voters in Kansas have rejected a ballot initiative that would have allowed lawmakers to significantly restrict abortion rights in the state. It's the first time voters have weighed in on the issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

KHALID: Yep. And the proposed amendment was rejected by a wide margin, with nearly 60% voting no. At an election-night watch party, abortion rights supporters were overjoyed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASHLEY ALL: You know, really - I'm, like - I'm speechless. Like, that's where we're at right now.

(CHEERING)

KHALID: That was Ashley All, spokesperson for Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, speaking to supporters.

MARTINEZ: For more on what this means, we go to NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, who's in the Sunflower State.

Danielle, Kansas abortion laws will still remain in place. Remind us of what those laws are right now.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Sure. So right now Kansas allows abortion up to 22 weeks. And there are a number of restrictions on that. For example, there's a 24-hour waiting period that patients have to observe. And they also have to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure. Now, a big thing protecting the rights there are here is a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution protects the right to abortion.

Now, this amendment we're talking about - had it passed, it would have removed that constitutional protection, which would have cleared the way for all sorts of restrictions, including - potentially - a ban on the procedure. And experts that I spoke with said it was very likely that strict laws on abortion would have passed. So the fight is over for now. Though, one Democratic state representative I talked to last night said she's prepared for what she's calling a Republican backlash in November to oust Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.

MARTINEZ: But so far, it sounds like a big victory. Is it?

KURTZLEBEN: For abortion rights supporters, this is a huge victory. I mean, first of all, we had limited polling ahead of this. And it said that - excuse me - it said that this was going to be close, and it really wasn't. Furthermore, Kansas, as you know, is a pretty conservative state. A Democrat hasn't won the state's electoral votes since 1964. So this is a big win for abortion rights. Now, one way to look at this is that it's in part a reflection of what broad polling on abortion shows us, that most Americans want there to be at least some legal abortion.

One more thing to note here is that the turnout was just huge. In 2018, primary turnout in the state was just north of 450,000. At latest count, more than 900,000 people voted on this measure. So to be clear, Kansas isn't now a blue or purple state. There are plenty of independents and Republicans who voted no. They thought this was too extreme. And I talked to some of them myself. But look, in county after county, we saw the pro-abortion rights vote far outperform what Joe Biden did in 2020. But come November, moderate voters may just be thinking about other issues, like inflation and crime, when they vote for Congress or governor. In other words, we shouldn't expect all these people to cross the aisle again.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. I was thinking other states have a ballot measures about abortion this year. So does this maybe tell us anything about how those measures might do?

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Well, I mean, one state to look to is Michigan, which is much purpler. So this must be encouraging to abortion rights supporters there 'cause this - 'cause Kansas, of course, is just much redder. And this also just shows that abortion can mobilize voters really heavily. Logically, this would probably encourage Democrats running against strongly anti-abortion rights Republicans to lean hard into the issue.

MARTINEZ: NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben. Thanks a lot.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. Thank you.

MARTINEZ: Kansas is just one of five states that held primaries yesterday.

KHALID: And there are already some significant results and some, of course, that we are still waiting on.

MARTINEZ: To catch us up to date on what we know so far, let's bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

All right. Let's start with what happened in Kansas. What do you think this could mean for November's elections?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, it's a huge result. I mean, this isn't California or New York. And in talking to Republican strategists over the last few months - since the Roe decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, they've been concerned about how the Supreme Court's decision would affect the campaigns. You know, this is going to make them raise some eyebrows this morning because this result clearly shows where the energy is on this issue of abortion rights right now. And Republicans were on a glide path to take back the House and potentially the Senate. But this has the potential to help Democrats blunt some of those expected GOP gains. And it's partly why we've seen some Senate Democratic candidates, for example, inching ahead in some key places.

MARTINEZ: Let's get to some other results. I know former President Trump has weighed in on a lot of races in these primaries. How did his candidates do this time?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Let's start in Arizona. In the key Senate race there, Blake Masters, who had Trump's endorsement, won and will face Democrat Mark Kelly this fall. Masters - a venture capitalist who pushed Trump's policies and his election lies, by the way - he had big financial backing from his friend and mentor, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who poured millions into this race. In the secretary of state's race, a Trump-backed conspiracy theorist and election denier won the GOP nomination. Mark Finchum is now the sixth election denier across the country to win the Republican nomination for a job that would control election administration in states.

Four of those places are in key presidential swing states, A - Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and now Arizona. And in a big race for governor there - the race is too close to call at this point - polls had shown Trump's preferred candidate, Kari Lake - also an election denier - well ahead. But only a couple of thousand votes now separate her from Karrin Taylor Robson, who had the endorsement of former Vice President Mike Pence.

MARTINEZ: What about Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment? What were the results with them?

MONTANARO: Yeah. There were three Republicans on the ballot who voted for Trump's impeachment after January 6. And so far, one - moderate Republican Peter Meijer - lost in Michigan. The other two, both in Washington state - Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse - are ahead of Republican challengers. But only, you know, about half the vote or so is in there. And we don't expect to see a final result immediately.

Meijer's loss is pretty significant, I have to say, because it gives Democrats now a pickup opportunity. This was a district where President Biden won in 2020. And the man who ousted Meijer, John Gibbs, is a former Trump appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He had Trump's endorsement and is far more hard line than Meijer. It's going to be a real test of whether a Trump candidate can win in a general election in a swing district.

MARTINEZ: What about this test in terms of Trump's weight and support in America today?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, Trump clearly has a firm grip on the Republican Party. But he's still highly unpopular more broadly. And that - you know, like, a district like that one in Michigan - we're going to see how candidates with his policies and backing fare in purple places like Arizona and Michigan. Can a Blake Masters, for example, with hard-right Trump policies, win in Arizona over a more moderate candidate like Democrat Mark Kelly? And this is a hugely important Senate race because of how narrow the control of the Senate is right now, with it being 50-50 with Democrats ahead. Do these election deniers win secretary of state races that used to be won by fairly nonpartisan people when it comes to elections? - pretty big questions ahead of this fall.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: A, you're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF RY COODER'S "PARIS, TEXAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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