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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A Canadian surveillance plane picked up underwater noises during the search for the missing submersible in the North Atlantic.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That vessel, known as Titan, lost contact while diving at the wreck of the Titanic on Sunday. The people on board likely have less than a day's oxygen supply remaining. The search efforts are now being organized through a unified command center at the Coast Guard base in Boston.

MARTIN: Walter Wuthmann of member station WBUR is following the search, and he's with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Walter.

WALTER WUTHMANN, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what can you tell us about the latest on the situation?

WUTHMANN: So very early this morning, the Coast Guard said Canadian P-3 aircraft detected, quote, "underwater noises" in the search area around the wreck of the Titanic. As a result, they've sent in remote-operated underwater vehicles to explore the origin of those noises. Those ROVs haven't found anything yet, but the search continues as we speak. And to step back a bit, this search-and-rescue operation started Sunday night and is now in its third day. U.S. and Canadian planes and ships are combing a patch of water about the size of Connecticut, and they're working really far from shore. Here's Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick.

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JAMIE FREDERICK: You're talking about a search area that's 900 miles east of Cape Cod, 400 miles south of St. John's. So logistically speaking, it's hard to bring assets to bear. It takes time. It takes coordination.

WUTHMANN: So they're still searching, and these newly detected underwater noises are the first major break since they started.

MARTIN: So he spoke about coordination. So I take it that the Coast Guard is getting some help from private industry and research vessels?

WUTHMANN: That's right. And that's because it's incredibly difficult to actually search under the water. Coast Guard officials say they're trained for surface rescue and don't have equipment that can dive deep enough to search for the submersible. So they have to get help. The research vessel that launched Titan, the Polar Prince, is still out there and assisting with the search. And a commercial ship called Deep Energy arrived at the site yesterday. Coast Guard Captain Frederick said it's equipped for laying pipes on the sea floor so has remote-operated vehicles that can dive all the way down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FREDERICK: They have rendezvoused with the vessel Polar Prince and commenced an ROV dive at the last known of the position of the Titan and the approximate position of the Titanic wreck. That operation is currently ongoing.

WUTHMANN: And they said they're still actively soliciting more help.

MARTIN: Now, this submersible belongs to a private company, OceanGate, which operates private tours of the Titanic site. I understand that their safety record has drawn scrutiny in recent days.

WUTHMANN: Yes. And people have raised safety concerns about OceanGate's submersible Titan before. We obtained federal court documents from a contract dispute in 2018 that showed the company's former director of marine operations was concerned about the vessel's structural integrity. That employee, David Lochridge, was an experienced submarine pilot and said OceanGate didn't properly test the submersible's carbon fiber hull. The documents say that Lochridge expressed verbal concerns to executive management, which were ignored, and later wrote a report identifying, quote, "numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns." His lawyers wrote that instead of addressing the points he raised, the company fired him. The company, meanwhile, said that Lochridge was not an engineer and refused to accept assurances from the company's lead engineer that their testing was sufficient. The party settled out of court in 2018, and the details of that settlement aren't public. OceanGate didn't return our request for comment, and a lawyer for David Lochridge said that he had no comment.

MARTIN: So as briefly as you can, Walter, before we let you go, how much time do they have at this point?

WUTHMANN: Yesterday, they estimated, as you said up top, about 40 hours of oxygen left. That would put us at about a day's worth now. So hope hasn't run out. And these new noises they've detected allow them to really focus in on this specific area. So I'm sure that's what they will be doing today.

MARTIN: That's Walter Wuthmann of member station WBUR in Boston. Walter, thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.

WUTHMANN: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Attorney John Eastman fought to overturn the 2020 election and keep Donald Trump in power. Now he's fighting to keep his law license.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. State Bar of California says Eastman knowingly pushed bogus conspiracy theories about the election and should be disbarred. Disciplinary hearings against Eastman started yesterday, and the former dean of Chapman University's law school testified.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Dreisbach was in the courtroom, and he's with us now to tell us what happened. Good morning.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So could you just bring us up to speed on what Eastman did after the 2020 election?

DREISBACH: So Eastman is a right-wing law professor, attorney, and he was a key player in the Trump legal team that was challenging the election results. He developed, most importantly, this plan for swing states that voted for Biden to submit alternate or fake slates of electors for Trump. And he pressured Vice President Pence to block Biden's win on January 6. Now, that same day, Eastman rallied the crowd to add to the pressure on Pence.

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JOHN EASTMAN: This is bigger than President Trump. It is a very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.

DREISBACH: Later that day, of course, a mob violently stormed the Capitol, and even after the violence started, emails show that Eastman continued to advocate this plan to block Biden's victory.

MARTIN: So what's the state bar's case against Eastman?

DREISBACH: Well, in court, the state bar's attorney argued that Eastman's conduct was, quote, "fundamentally dishonest," that Eastman pushed false claims of fraud in court documents, conspired with Trump to obstruct the Electoral College count, and that he was pressuring Pence to violate the Constitution. This argument is that all these actions went against Eastman's professional responsibilities as a member of the state bar. Now, I talked about this with Jessica Levinson. She's a law professor at Loyola Law School here in LA, and she says this is one of several cases of disciplinary hearings for Trump lawyers. Think also of Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell. And these are really a matter of the legal community deciding essentially whether to vote someone off the island.

JESSICA LEVINSON: Lawyers hold positions of public trust in our society. There's a reason that we have to agree to certain rules of the profession. And the baseline is don't lie to judges, support the law and support the Constitution.

MARTIN: So now, of course, I'm going to ask you what Eastman's response to these charges is. I think - I'm assuming he's arguing that he was just arguing, that he's making the case for his client.

DREISBACH: Eastman was actually the first witness called by the state bar, and he was a lot more muted on the stand than at that rally you heard on January 6. And he was asked about the sources of some of the wild claims in legal filings and public comments he made about supposed voter fraud or irregularities in the election and basically said he trusted information that they were getting on the legal team was vetted 'cause he trusted the lawyers he worked with, but he did not actually do much of the vetting himself. And I should say there's no indication he's backed away from some of his legal theories. In one interesting exchange, the state bar asked about his theory on decertifying an election even more than a year after the fact. Eastman contended that even though it would be uncharted territory, he said it was plausible that Joe Biden's election could still be decertified, and he could be kicked out of office. Now, Eastman is set to resume his testimony tomorrow.

MARTIN: What else can we expect from the rest of the trial?

DREISBACH: Well, it's supposed to last about two weeks. With Eastman under oath, we could get some new information about the behind-the-scenes work to overturn the 2020 election. We're also supposed to hear from Greg Jacob, who is a lawyer for then-Vice President Pence. And Eastman's witness list includes some really fringe figures who have supported election denial. Now, the judge in the case will ultimately make a ruling, but the California Supreme Court has the final say here.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thank you.

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MARTIN: A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll takes the nation's temperature on an array of social issues from abortion rights and affirmative action to how Americans feel about gender identity.

MARTÍNEZ: This poll comes nearly a year after a Supreme Court ruling fundamentally changed abortion rights in this country.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro is here with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So this Saturday marks a year since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision on abortion. What does the poll tell us about how people are feeling about that decision now?

MONTANARO: Well, the survey interviewed more than 1,300 adults, found a majority, 57%, said that they were against the court's decision. You know, three-quarters of Democrats said that. Almost 6 in 10 independents did. But two-thirds of Republicans are in favor of it. We're seeing this dynamic play out on the campaign trail because of that. You know, in the Republican primary, candidates are really racing to the right, looking to be the most conservative on abortion, but it's putting them on the wrong side of this issue in a general election. And this has been a pretty salient and motivating issue, as we saw in the 2022 midterm elections - especially true for some key swing voters. You know, for example, two-thirds of women who live in small cities and suburbs and independent women oppose the decision. That's been pretty consistent with what we've seen in the past year since the Dobbs decision.

MARTIN: This court has a couple of weeks to go in this current term, and there are a number of controversial items where they are still set to weigh in. One of those is affirmative action. What did the poll tell us about that?

MONTANARO: Yeah, this was really interesting because a majority here also say that they want to see affirmative action programs continued in hiring, promoting and in college admissions. Of course, there's a sharp partisan divide. More than three-quarters of Democrats want these programs to continue, but roughly 6 in 10 Republicans do not. Independents were split pretty much down the middle. We also saw clear differences by race, age and gender. Nonwhites, those under 45 and women were far more likely to say that they want to see these programs continue. And there must be some disagreements around kitchen tables in the suburbs on this, because we found that women who live there were 14 points more likely to be in favor of these programs than the men who do. More broadly, these kinds of numbers tell you why people continue to have little confidence in this conservative majority court. It's out of step with the majority of the population on a number of issues - certainly true on abortion. We'll see what happens on affirmative action.

MARTIN: So let's talk about gender identity now, because that's one of those areas that has really become this political lightning rod. So what did the survey tell us about that?

MONTANARO: Yeah, 61% of respondents said that they believe that the only way to define male and female is by the sex listed on a person's original birth certificate. Thirty-five percent said that that definition is out of date and needs to be updated to include how people identify. There is a huge political divide here. Nine in 10 Republicans and 6 in 10 independents said gender is determined by birth. Six in 10 Democrats said that that's out of date. The results clearly show Republican messaging on this has had a pretty big effect. Back in May of last year, the split was just 51-42 in favor of gender being defined by birth. So we're talking about a 16-point net change here - huge split, huge divide and playing out on the campaign trail.

MARTIN: There's some really stunning findings there. That's NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. 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.

Corrected: June 20, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
In a previous version, we incorrectly said roughly 6 in 10 Democrats do not want to see affirmative action programs continued in hiring, promoting and college admissions. Roughly 6 in 10 Republicans expressed that view.
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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.