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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In an office filled with mementos of his political career, Senator Mitt Romney explained his reasons for ending it.

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MITT ROMNEY: At the end of another term, I'd be in my mid-80s. Frankly, it's time for a new generation of leaders. They're the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Utah Republican senator and former presidential hopeful is known as a frequent bipartisan negotiator and an outspoken critic of Donald Trump. His departure adds to the increasingly divisive state of American politics.

INSKEEP: NPR political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us this morning. Good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did Romney stand out among other Republicans?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, before Romney was a senator from Utah, you know, he was a governor in a liberal state in Massachusetts. So he's a real believer in political success being tied to bipartisanship. And then, you know, even when he became a senator in a pretty conservative state, he stayed true to that bipartisanship belief. That doesn't make him a liberal, you know, or even a moderate nowadays. He's a conservative. But in trying to solve big problems, he believed in the need to work with the other side to get done what could get done. And that really is rare, particularly now in the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: It's remarkable to think that he was the Republican presidential nominee the election before Donald Trump was nominated - two very different people. He constantly criticized Donald Trump when he was running for office and as president. How did he address that yesterday?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, he didn't shy away from it at all. You know, he was asked about the state of the Republican Party, and here's what he had to say.

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ROMNEY: There's no question that the Republican Party today is in the shadow of Donald Trump. He is the leader of the greatest portion of the Republican Party. It's a populist, I believe, demagogue portion of the party. Look; I represent a small wing of the party. If you will, I call it the wise wing of the Republican Party. And I don't believe we're going away. I think ultimately we'll see a resurgence and come back into leadership of the party.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, he said that he really feels like Trump and some in his party don't believe in the Constitution - he had said in a magazine interview. You know, and he believes that that reversion back to being part of the wise wing of the Republican Party, as he sees it, it'll be because rank-and-file Republican voters will eventually realize that MAGA is a losing strategy, that young people in particular are repelled by it, and that from a policy standpoint, Romney says that he believes right-wing populism that Donald Trump touts, you know, will fail because he said, paraphrasing the writer H.L. Mencken, that to each problem, there's a solution that is simple, clear and wrong.

INSKEEP: What else did he have to say about the fitness of his fellow senators and other political leaders?

MONTANARO: Well, he talked about his own age. You know, people may not realize Romney is 76 years old. I mean, I hope I look and talk as well as he does when I'm pushing 80. But he noted, you know, that he would be in his 80s at the end of his next term and feels that it's really the next generation that needs to step up and address the problems that are going to be on their plate, rather than boomers, who, as he put it, have put in place a lot of these programs but haven't paid for a lot of them.

Overall, he really seemed like a man relieved. Quoting slapstick comedy, for example, when asked if he was going to run ever again, he referred to the mid-'90s Jim Carrey movie "Dumb And Dumber." There's a million to one shot. So you're saying there's a chance.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: Preparations are underway in parts of the northeastern United States as Hurricane Lee makes its way north off the Atlantic coast.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Parts of Maine are under a hurricane watch and the storm is expected to make landfall there this weekend. Residents in Maine and in nearby states are preparing for what could be dangerous conditions and significant damage in a region already battered by flooding and extreme weather.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tovia Smith is covering all this from Boston. Hey there, Tovia.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, for people in Florida, this is normal. For people in North Carolina, this is normal. What about where you are?

SMITH: No, not so much. You know, we hardy New Englanders tend to strut through our winter nor'easters and several feet of snow like it's, you know, just another day. But these hurricanes - not so much. We do see some relatively weaker tropical storms come over land, but the last Category 1 hurricane to come from the sea and make landfall in Maine was more than a half-century ago. And that's because cooler ocean temperatures here tend to weaken these storms. But this one is being fueled by waters that are warmer than normal.

I spoke with Sarah Thunberg with the National Weather Service in Maine. She's one of many extra meteorologists called in to work.

SARAH THUNBERG: Not many of us have ever experienced a hurricane up here. So all of us are getting excited about the weather aspects, and we can actually kind of see some of the stuff that we went to school for. But then, this is also our community, and so we really are trying to stay focused on making sure that everyone is able to get the right information to stay safe.

INSKEEP: How does the weather leading up to this complicate the situation?

SMITH: Yeah. Steve, this has been one of the wettest summers on record, including serious summer flooding in Vermont, for example, and this week's massive flooding in Massachusetts. That brought around 10 inches in just about six hours, and it caused catastrophic damage. So now folks are bracing for even more rain and wind. That's going to compound the challenges 'cause when the ground is already saturated, flooding is more likely, and trees are more prone to come down and to take power lines with them.

Vanessa Corson is with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, and she says residents may be without power for days.

VANESSA CORSON: Because if the winds are 35 miles per hour or higher sustained, they will not send people out in bucket trucks. So people need to be prepared. They may be without electricity till the crews are safe to go up and make those repairs. It could be 72 hours. We hope it's not that long, but you just never know.

SMITH: So right now, folks are heeding the warning, stocking up on food and batteries for the storm.

INSKEEP: You said that cooler ocean temperatures up north tend to protect New England from hurricanes. Is that barrier eroding as climate change warms the planet?

SMITH: Yeah, that's certainly how many see it, including Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, who said this week - I'm paraphrasing here, but she said, we're seeing things every day that we've never seen before. So from this hurricane watch in Maine to the warnings of life-threatening storm surge flooding on Cape Cod and Nantucket, this is looking to be a damaging storm and a massive one. So, Steve, I'll just add that even where this doesn't make landfall, hurricane force and tropical storm force winds may stretch 200-plus miles from the center of this storm, again, threatening serious damage.

INSKEEP: Tovia, thanks so much for your reporting.

SMITH: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston.

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INSKEEP: Evidence from a federal trial in Chicago revealed an apparent conflict of interest for Anita Dunn, who is now a top adviser inside the Biden White House.

MARTÍNEZ: When she is not advising presidents, Anita Dunn has run a public relations firm, and her company advised both sides in a sexual harassment scandal. Her company gave advice to an Illinois politician who was accused, and it also supported the woman who first brought the claim of harassment and retaliation. In response to this revelation, Dunn's firm has apologized.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Dreisbach is covering the story. Tom, good morning.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How did this incident from several years ago come to light?

DREISBACH: Well, this evidence came out during an unrelated corruption trial in Chicago. And let's just say upfront that investigators have not suggested any wrongdoing at all by Anita Dunn in connection with that corruption case. But for almost a decade, the Justice Department has been investigating one of the most powerful men in Illinois politics, former state House Speaker Michael Madigan. And in 2018, he was sued not for harassment himself, but for allegedly retaliating against a woman who was sexually harassed. Now, at the time, Madigan's associates discussed how to respond, and the FBI was listening in on a wiretap.

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MICHAEL MCCLAIN: So we finally hired a crisis management company.

TIM MAPES: Oh, you did. Who's that?

MCCLAIN: Anita Dunn. Anita Dunn - D-U-N-N.

DREISBACH: Madigan hired Anita Dunn and her public relations firm, SKDK, to provide crisis communications.

INSKEEP: Which people do in a situation like this. So what was wrong with that?

DREISBACH: Well, at the same time as Dunn's firm, SKDK, was working for Madigan, they were also partnered with the anti-harassment charity Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. And SKDK and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund were supporting the woman who had sued Michael Madigan. Her name is Alaina Hampton.

INSKEEP: OK, so Anita Dunn and her firm, SKDK, were essentially working with both sides?

DREISBACH: That's right. They were working for the defendant, Madigan, at the same time they were supporting the plaintiff.

INSKEEP: Did they disclose that to Alaina Hampton?

DREISBACH: Hampton told me they never disclosed that to her and she never would've worked with them if she had known. At the time of her lawsuit, she was 28 years old, going against arguably the most powerful politician in Illinois. And the firm that she thought was helping her was also working for the other side, she told me.

ALAINA HAMPTON: Anita Dunn specifically is an adviser to the president of the United States. And to learn that she was helping advise my former employer on my retaliation case due to sexual harassment is just a clear conflict of interest. It's really a violation of trust, and it feels like a betrayal.

DREISBACH: The Time's Up Legal Defense Fund said they also were not told that SKDK was working for the other side, and they said they share Alaina Hampton's frustrations.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note she was not working for the White House at the time all these things happened years ago in 2018. She was running this PR firm. But she is working for the White House now. So what did she say?

DREISBACH: Well, I called her, and she just told me to contact her old firm and hung up. SKDK initially defended their work for Michael Madigan and denied there was really a conflict of interest because Alaina Hampton's primary point of contact with the firm was a contractor, not a full-time employee. But then the following day, they sent me a revised statement and said it was actually an error, in their words, to work with Madigan. And they said they apologized to Alaina Hampton. But Alaina Hampton told me that apology does not do enough to repair the damage done not just to her, but she said to the #MeToo movement more broadly and other women dealing with these issues.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Dreisbach, thanks so much.

DREISBACH: Thank you. 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.

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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.