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Morning business brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When former President Trump campaigned in the Bronx last week, it raised a question.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, Trump was talking at a spot that was convenient to his nearby criminal trial. He also was campaigning in a part of New York City that's overwhelmingly Black and Latino. So the question - does he have a chance with Black voters who traditionally vote for Democrats overwhelmingly? Today, President Biden shows how seriously he takes that threat because he is holding a rally in Philadelphia with Vice President Harris, starting what they call a summer of outreach.

FADEL: NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Tam, what's driving this outreach effort?

KEITH: The Biden campaign is quite clear-eyed about the fact that they have work to do to win the support of Black voters. So this event is the launch of Black Voters for Biden-Harris. Essentially, they are making a show of the fact that they are doing the work really early. A complaint you often hear from Black voters is that because they are traditionally such reliable Democrats, the campaigns show up in the last few weeks trying to boost turnout, and at that point they aren't really listening or trying to persuade these voters.

The Biden campaign insists that this year is different. They aren't just parachuting in at the end. They are connecting with Black-owned businesses, faith groups, civic organizations, and they have a message about the record low Black unemployment rate, growth in small businesses, forgiving student loan debt, lowering health care costs. And they are spending millions of dollars on ads specifically targeted to Black voters running on Black radio and other media.

FADEL: Now, Trump has said for years that he wants Black voters' support, but hasn't received that much. Is this election season different?

KEITH: There have been a series of polls showing former President Trump performing much better with Black voters than he did four years ago, and his rally last week in the Bronx was largely to make that point, to show that he does have support from Black and Latino voters, too. I've been talking to top Democrats, though, who are skeptical that there's going to be this dramatic shift of Black voters toward Trump, but they are concerned about turnout. I spent a day last week in North Carolina with the second vice chair of the state party, Kimberly Hardy, who's on this listening tour of areas of the state with large Black populations and sagging turnout. And this is the question that she asked everywhere she went.

KIMBERLY HARDY: Why are Black folks not voting right now in this county?

KEITH: The answer she hears regularly is that people feel like their votes don't really matter, that the system doesn't work for them. At Head Changerz, a barbershop in the community of Rocky Mount, she spoke for a long time with a barber named Cherita Evans, who told her elections come and go and not much changes, even with the historic election of former President Barack Obama.

CHERITA EVANS: Once the emotionalism is gone, you still feel stuck. You still feel like this is hard.

KEITH: The college student whose hair she was cutting, Christian Pounds, said he felt like voting this year was like choosing the lesser of two evils. In the end, though, Evans said she would vote for Biden because of the issue of abortion, and Pounds was leaning that direction as well.

FADEL: So President Biden's team is making this splashy announcement. But what kind of difference will it actually make?

KEITH: It's hard to know for sure. The Biden campaign philosophy is that they are going to meet voters where they are. An example of that is that the campaign tells me President Biden has done more interviews on Black radio than any other form of media. While I was in the barbershop, one of his ads came on the muted TV. But it's one thing to tell people the economy is better. It's another thing for them to believe it and feel it for themselves.

FADEL: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Pope Francis has apologized for using a slur to refer to gay men during a private meeting with Italian bishops.

INSKEEP: In that meeting, church leaders were discussing whether they should admit gay men to Catholic seminaries in preparation for the priesthood. The apology came after Italian media reported on the pope's use of the word.

FADEL: Joining us to discuss the pope's apology and what led to it is NPR's religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Good morning, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what do we know about what the pope actually said that started all this controversy?

DEROSE: Well, according to Italian media, who spoke with multiple bishops present during this Vatican meeting, Pope Francis said that gay men should not be admitted to seminary. And then Francis used a highly offensive term, the one that begins with an F in both Italian and English, to refer to gay men and gay male culture. Francis said there was too much of that in seminaries already.

FADEL: So after his remarks went public, Francis offered an apology. What did he say?

DEROSE: Well, the pope's apology came through Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican's press office. Bruni said, quote, "the pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of the term." And Bruni pointed out that Francis has repeatedly said, quote, "there is room for everyone in the church."

FADEL: OK. What are LGBTQ Catholics saying about both the use of the slur and the apology?

DEROSE: Well, DignityUSA, which is one of the main LGBTQ Catholic groups here in the U.S., says it's shocked and saddened by Francis' use of the derogatory term. Executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke says the church is sending mixed messages. As an example of that, she points to two realities. Late last year, the pope allowed priests to bless people in same-sex relationships. But the church also continues to teach that homosexuality is disordered and that same-sex sexual activity is a sin.

MARIANNE DUDDY-BURKE: It both wants to make LGBTQ people and our families feel welcomed and supported on a pastoral level, and it persists in supporting these teachings that say we are somehow less than fully compliant with God's plan for humanity.

DEROSE: But Duddy-Burke says she's glad that Francis at least apologized for using the slur, even though it still stings that he used it in the first place. She says one of the reasons people are leaving the Catholic Church is its anti-LGBTQ teachings.

FADEL: Now, Jason, there's been a lot of talk about how Francis has tried to change the tone around LGBTQ issues within the Catholic Church. How true is that?

DEROSE: Well, many people say the tone may have changed, but the teachings of the church have not. Remember, early in his papacy, when asked about gay couples, he famously said, who am I to judge? And as I mentioned later, the church now allows priests to bless people in same-sex relationships. It's also said priests can baptize transgender people who wish to join the Catholic Church. But earlier this year, the Vatican issued a document titled Infinite Dignity, referring to what it called sex change and gender theory as grave threats. Some said that that document would have been better called Limited Dignity when it comes to LGBTQ people.

FADEL: That's NPR's religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: It's election day in South Africa, and the big question is whether the ruling African National Congress, or ANC, will lose its absolute majority for the first time in its history.

INSKEEP: Yeah, they've dominated the government since the 1990s. And if the ANC's share of the vote should dip significantly below 50%, significantly below half, it could mean that Africa's oldest liberation party would have to share power.

FADEL: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us from a polling station in Durban, one of the major battlegrounds in this election. Good morning, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So just how critical is today's vote?

AKINWOTU: Well, this could be a major turning point in South Africa. It comes 30 years since the end of apartheid. And over that time, the ANC, they've gone from being this revered liberation movement to a political party that now has dwindling support. Its vote share has gradually decreased over time. And now it's at a tipping point where, as you said, it can fall below 50% for the first time. And that would be a real blow to the party's prestige and an indictment on their record. And so you can probably hear soccer games around me.

FADEL: Yeah.

AKINWOTU: I'm actually at a high school, and a polling station is on the other side. This is actually the same ward where Nelson Mandela voted for the first time. And being here has just been a reminder of, I guess, the country's history, how far it's come. But talking to people has also brought home the point about, you know, people increasingly feel that the country needs a new direction. I spoke to a 24-year-old, Nqobile Khumalo, and it's actually her birthday today, and she arrived really early. The polls opened at 7 a.m., and she said she really hoped young people would come out and vote today.

NQOBILE KHUMALO: Just wake up, man. Vote. Vote for change because if you don't vote, where do you expect change?

FADEL: Vote for change, she told you. So why has the ANC lost support?

AKINWOTU: Well, one of the things I've heard over and over again is that there are just not enough opportunities for young people, especially graduates. You know, South Africa has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world. We drove by businesses the other day. There was one business that was advertising, just a single job, and there were at least 100 people outside the business, you know, queuing with their CVs. You know, it just shows the kind of desperation that exists here.

And then there are other issues, too - you know, issues with major service provision, water scarcity, electricity cuts and corruption scandals within the ruling ANC. President Cyril Ramaphosa - he's seeking reelection. And the largest party nominates the president, so he'll likely stay on, but his stock and his authority has really taken a hit. And there are a number of smaller parties that are now making headway.

FADEL: What happens if these smaller parties are successful?

AKINWOTU: Well, if the ANC's share of the vote dips to around 40%, it would pretty much be a disaster for the ANC. And, you know, they - last time in 2019 they got 57%. That's what it achieved. So it would basically mean the ANC would have to approach one of the other parties, depending on how well they do, and go into a coalition with them. The ANC have basically been keen to point out that a coalition would be really damaging for the country, but the challenge is that more and more people feel that the status quo could be described that way. This is still a party that has formidable support, so you can't rule them out. But it's clear they're facing their biggest ever challenge.

FADEL: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Durban, South Africa. Thank you, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Leila. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.