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MERRICK GARLAND: A failure that should not have happened.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That is how Attorney General Merrick Garland describes the police response to the 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

His comment came as the Justice Department Thursday released a detailed report into the school massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers and left many more injured.

MARTÍNEZ: The Texas Newsroom's Sergio Martinez-Beltran joins us now from Uvalde. Sergio, the DOJ report is a brick - 500 pages long, lots there. Anything at all, though, that grieving families can hold on to for answers?

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: I mean, the biggest takeaway, A, and one of the most heartbreaking ones for the families is the fact that law enforcement agents who responded to the shooting treated it initially as a barricaded subject situation and not as an active shooter. And that's huge, because when there is a barricaded subject, police are encouraged to negotiate, but when there's a shooter, police are trained to use all their tools and do whatever they have to do to stop it. But in Uvalde, police retreated for a while after the shooter injured two officers and then waited 77 minutes to confront the shooter and ultimately kill him. Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Uvalde, and he told families of the victims that their loved ones deserved better.

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GARLAND: The victims and survivors should never have been trapped with that shooter for more than an hour as they waited for their rescue.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Garland said some victims would have survived if law enforcement agencies had followed active shooter protocols, the tactics in place since the Columbine shooter - school massacre nearly 25 years ago. And he blamed the botched response on the failed leadership of the incident commander, former Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo.

MARTÍNEZ: Did the Justice Department ID anyone else as responsible for the failed response?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Besides Arredondo, the report does mention former Uvalde police acting chief Mariano Pargas. The Justice Department says Pargas was not trained to be an incident commander and didn't demonstrate adequate command leadership during the shooting. But the report doesn't name many other names, and that's something that disappointed many of the victims' family members. The fact is, there's still deep frustration here with law enforcement. Here's Vincent Salazar, the grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, who was killed at Robb Elementary.

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VINCENT SALAZAR: If you cannot serve and protect the people - these were children. All they wanted to do was play. There's no reason this should have happened. They ignored the training that was supposed to be since Columbine, and they ignored it.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: A key recommendation in the report is following those protocols, like prioritizing taking the shooter out and never treating an active shooter as a barricaded situation.

MARTÍNEZ: Sergio, you're there. You know how overwhelming the grief is there, and it probably will never end. But has this investigation delivered maybe a little bit of closure, any at all, for the people of Uvalde?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Yeah, I mean, that's a difficult question. And it's one I've asked those who lost a loved one at Robb Elementary, and the answer is no. Kimberly Rubio lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, and you can hear the pain in her voice.

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KIMBERLY RUBIO: I hope that the failures end today and the local officials do what wasn't done that day, do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary - terminations, criminal prosecutions.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But family members believe this report is a good step in trying to get some accountability. And they're again calling on lawmakers to end future law enforcement failures by improving police training and passing gun control laws that could help prevent the next mass shooting.

MARTÍNEZ: Sergio Martinez-Beltran - he's a reporter with The Texas Newsroom. Sergio, nice to hear your voice again.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: You're welcome. Good to hear you.

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MARTÍNEZ: Congress has passed another stopgap funding bill which keeps the lights on in Washington through February.

FADEL: It's the latest in a series of short-term extensions passed by Congress after they failed to pass the yearlong bills they were supposed to pass back in September.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eric McDaniel has been watching it all from the Capitol. Eric, we're kind of getting used to stopgap bills. Why haven't they passed the full year spending bill yet?

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, it's a good question. For a long time, politics was sort of the art of the possible, right? Compromise was the name of the game, especially in moments like this of divided government. But I'd say over the last 15 years or so, there's been a growing number of Republicans who have sort of a different approach. They'd rather shut down the government entirely than compromise on policies that they feel are insufficiently conservative. And they see bipartisan bills, bills that you pass with Democratic votes, as failures. And in a Congress with a wafer-thin Republican majority like this one, that group just holds a lot of influence right now.

MARTÍNEZ: So what are we hearing from them?

MCDANIEL: Well, Speaker Mike Johnson - he's the leader of the House Republican Caucus, obviously, and he's new on the job, right? He's about 90 days in, and he's relied on his sort of early-days goodwill to set a bipartisan top-line spending target, which was a big deal, and negotiations with other congressional leaders and keep the lights on with these short-term bills. But both moves really kind of irked his anti-compromise members, folks like Chip Roy of Texas. Here's Roy speaking out against the funding bill that they passed last night on the House floor.

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CHIP ROY: This continuing resolution will fund your government at the same level as last year's massive omnibus spending bill that all my Republican colleagues, with the exception of two in this chamber, were adamantly opposed to, and they're going to vote for it.

MCDANIEL: And look, if Roy gets frustrated enough, he can join with a group of just three or four other Republicans and vote with Democrats to fire Johnson and throw the chamber back into chaos. You'll probably remember something like that happening this fall. So Johnson is busy balancing their demands while still coming up with bills Biden could sign. That's a really hard ask. And so far, it's just been these spending bills, the short-term bills, that have been possible.

MARTÍNEZ: So - what? - till March - right? - to work on funding - that's what we're looking at?

MCDANIEL: That's right.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

MCDANIEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. March 1 and March 8 are the two deadlines.

MARTÍNEZ: But they're also working on other stuff too - immigration, Ukraine deal, a lot going on.

MCDANIEL: Yeah. So it's right now separate from the funding negotiations, but the Senate is working on an immigration and Ukraine aid deal. And in all the ways the House hasn't been working toward compromise, the Senate really has been. Democrat Chris Murphy, independent Kyrsten Sinema and Republican James Lankford have been hammering away at an immigration part of this deal for months. Senate leaders from both parties agree with Biden on the need for Ukraine aid. This is all linked together. But even if the Senate does get a deal done - right? - the question is back to the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has so far backed his faction of anti-compromise folks, and he controls what comes up for a vote. So unless he has a change of heart and is willing to put forward a compromise deal, I'd say immigration reform is probably still going to stagnate. And that's been the story in Congress for more than three decades at this point. The last reform was 1986.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it doesn't sound - I mean, I'd like to be positive about stuff, Eric, but it doesn't sound like there's going to be a lot of hope of getting any more legislating done this year. Right?

MCDANIEL: I think it's fair to anticipate a stunningly unproductive year in terms of legislation. But, you know, I suspect we'll see more political stunts and other kinds of inquiries. For one, the president's son, Hunter Biden, has just reached an agreement with Republicans to give closed-door testimony in the House. He'd previously refused to appear behind closed doors but acquiesced just as the House Republicans were preparing to hold him in contempt, so a lot to come.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Eric, thanks.

MCDANIEL: Thank you, A.

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MARTÍNEZ: As the war between Israel and Hamas surpasses 100 days, a new flare-up of violence has emerged between Iran, a main sponsor of Hamas, and Pakistan.

FADEL: Earlier this week, Iran struck militants inside Pakistan. Then Pakistan carried out its own strikes inside Iran, which killed nine people. It adds even more uncertainty in a part of the world central to U.S. interests.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, and to help sort this out, we turn now to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, this is a part of the world that has seen attacks in the past. What has happened so far this week on a considerably larger scale? What's happening?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Iranian officials say they were targeting specifically a militant group known as Jaish al-Adl. And that's in Balochistan, a large territory. It straddles southwest Pakistan, Iran, parts of Afghanistan. Tehran says it was concerned about the possibility of escalating cross-border violence by the group. Pakistan swiftly responded with a deadly strike inside Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan Province, and Iranian officials say there were children among the dead there. There are signs that both sides would be interested in de-escalating the situation at this point, but with tensions running high, it might not take much to set things off again.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, I mean, Israel continues its war on Hamas, the Iran-backed proxy militia and governing power in the Gaza Strip. And Israel is exchanging fire with Hezbollah. That's the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran. I mean, what might all of this mean for the U.S. and Western approach in Iran?

KENYON: It would seem likely to ratchet up tensions considerably on that front as well. I spoke with Ali Vaez. He directs the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group. He says the Hamas attack that left some 1,200 people dead in southern Israel last fall effectively rules out any diplomatic improvement in relations with Iran. Here's how he put it.

ALI VAEZ: And also what October 7 has done and what the conflict has done is that it has derailed the de-escalatory understanding that Iran and the U.S. had negotiated over the summer and has completely shut the door on the prospect of any resumption of negotiations about the future of nuclear diplomacy between Iran and the U.S.

KENYON: And now, with the flaring tensions between Iran and Pakistan, there's another potential front to worry about.

MARTÍNEZ: But Iran has said that it was just as surprised by the Hamas attack on October 7 as everyone else. Does that hold water outside of Iran?

KENYON: Well, certainly the people I've been speaking with say it is entirely plausible, but that doesn't absolve Tehran of responsibility. Iran has financed and armed these proxy militias for years, and it's hard to see how the October 7 attack would have happened were it not for that. But on the narrow question of whether Tehran was behind this attack, analyst Sanam Vakil at the U.K.-based Chatham House think tank says there is this general assumption that Iran plays some kind of role of a puppet master, but that doesn't mean it ordered this attack. Here's a bit of what she said.

SANAM VAKIL: Iran has provided financial, technical, capacity-building support over a long period of time and deferred to these groups to manage relations and politics within their own entities that they operate. So it's not a command-and-control relationship.

KENYON: But Vakil also emphasizes that this in no way absolves Iran of responsibility. It's the one that gave these groups the means to commit bloodshed in the name of resistance to the U.S. and Israel, and she says it should be held accountable.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thanks, A. 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.
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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