Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's Newsdesk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, DC, in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

The Trump administration is proposing dramatic changes to policies on offshore leasing for oil and gas, opening the door to radically expand drilling in waters that were protected by the Obama administration.

It's the "largest number of lease sales ever proposed, " Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters. The proposed plan to sell offshore drilling leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic over a five-year period was detailed Thursday.

NPR Chief News Editor David Sweeney has left the company following allegations of sexual harassment filed against him by at least three female journalists.

"David Sweeney is no longer on staff," Chris Turpin, acting senior vice president of news, said in an email to staff.

"This is a difficult time for our newsroom and I'm committed to supporting all of you as we move forward. I know you appreciate that there are some questions I cannot answer in keeping with our practice to not comment on personnel issues, but I will do my best to address those I can," Turpin added.

NPR CEO Jarl Mohn is going on medical leave for at least one month.

It comes less than a week after the ouster of NPR's head of news, Michael Oreskes, over sexual harassment allegations by multiple women.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

A military judge has ruled that Bowe Bergdahl, who has pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, should serve no prison time.

During a hearing Friday in Fort Bragg, N.C., Bergdahl was sentenced to dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of $1,000 in pay per month and a reduction in rank from sergeant to private, according to a statement from the Army.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

NPR's senior vice president for news, Michael Oreskes, has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment from several women.

The accounts of two women, first published by The Washington Post, describe Oreskes unexpectedly kissing them during meetings in the late 1990s, while he was Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. An NPR employee has also come forward publicly about harassment that allegedly occurred during a business meeting-turned-dinner in 2015.

Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters damaged many homes in the Texas city of Dickinson, and residents are applying for assistance and working to repair their properties.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Saudi Arabia has reversed its long-standing and widely criticized ban against women driving.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud issued an order on Tuesday that paves the way for women to obtain driver's licenses, according to Saudi state media.

After a cyberattack that potentially exposed the personal information of 143 million people, the credit reporting agency Equifax set up www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, a website to help people determine whether they had been affected.

However, on multiple occasions over the span of weeks, the company's official Twitter account responded to customer inquiries by apparently directing them to a fake phishing site called www.securityequifax2017.com.

Updated at 5:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

Even though Maria has weakened to a Category 4 storm, it remains a dangerous hurricane. Maria's maximum sustained winds are near 155 mph. The National Hurricane Center says the storm should keep that intensity until it makes landfall. Puerto Rico has long been spared from a direct hit by a hurricane.

Updated at 2:20 a.m. ET Wednesday

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

Susan Bro, the mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer, says she will not speak to President Trump because of his comments that suggested white supremacists and people protesting against them were both to blame for last weekend's violence in Virginia.

A federal appeals court has sided with the state of Arkansas against Planned Parenthood, saying it can block Medicaid payments to the medical provider. It reversed earlier injunctions that forbade the state from suspending the money in the wake of a controversial leaked video of Planned Parenthood staff.

A federal jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., has convicted former pharmaceutical executive and "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli of securities fraud.

He was found guilty Friday on three counts — two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud — out of a total of eight counts. Shkreli is best known for increasing the price of a life-saving drug for people with AIDS by 5,000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per pill, when he was head of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

The survival of life of Earth (and elsewhere) may rest on the shoulders of NASA's next planetary protection officer – and they're taking applications.

The job posting has elicited headlines about how the space agency is seeking a person to defend our planet from aliens. But it's more concerned with microorganisms than little green men.

Former FBI Director James Comey's first book will be published next spring and feature "yet-unheard anecdotes from his long and distinguished career," according to publisher Flatiron Books.

Comey was suddenly fired by President Trump in May, setting off a political firestorm over why it happened and whether the decision was linked to the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Updated at 2:00 p.m. ET

"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government," President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in a statement prior to his closed-door meeting Monday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after the appearance, he said that documents and records that he provided the committee "show that all of my actions are proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign."

Exxon Mobil says it has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, after the office said the oil and gas giant must pay a $2 million penalty for allegedly violating sanctions on Russia.

The alleged violations took place in May 2014, when Exxon Mobil signed a series of deals with Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russian oil company Rosneft.

A Nevada parole board has granted O.J. Simpson parole from prison after he served nearly nine years following a conviction on armed robbery and other charges.

On Thursday, the four-person panel unanimously voted to grant parole. The parole board said that Oct. 1 is the earliest the former NFL star is eligible for release.

NPR's Ina Jaffe walked us through the incident that led to his conviction:

The Supreme Court has upheld parts of a lower court order that had widened the definition of which citizens from the six Muslim-majority countries covered by the Trump administration's travel ban are still eligible to travel to the U.S.

The order issued Wednesday leaves in place the action of a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii who broadened the definition of close family to include categories such as the grandparents and cousins of a person in the U.S.

Otto Warmbier, a U.S. citizen who was freed last week after more than a year in North Korean detention, has died. Doctors who examined him after his return to said he had "extensive loss of tissue" in all parts of his brain.

Warmbier, 22, had been in a coma since coming home to the United States last week.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal over electoral districts in Wisconsin after a lower court ruled that the state's Republican-drawn map constitutes an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander."

It's the first time in more than a decade that the nation's highest court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering, or drawing voting districts with the aim of strengthening one political party.

Updated 2:15 a.m. ET Saturday

Hundreds of people gathered in St. Paul, Minn., Friday evening to protest a verdict that found a Minnesota police officer not guilty on all counts in his deadly shooting of a black man during a traffic stop in 2016.

Demonstrators gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol holding signs that included the phrases "black lives matter," and "no justice, no peace," and hundreds marched toward the nearby Cathedral of Saint Paul.

The fight against terrorism is a "battle between good and evil," not a fight between "different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations," President Trump said Sunday in a widely-anticipated speech in Saudi Arabia.

This is Trump's first foreign trip as president, and he delivered the address to leaders of dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority nations. The Saudis said at least 37 leaders are present, NPR's Jane Arraf reported from Riyadh.

In a rare victory for environmentalists under President Trump, the Senate rejected efforts to roll back an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from energy production sites on federal land.

The vote over the greenhouse gas was close — 49-51 — with Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins coming down against the resolution, which would have repealed the Bureau of Land Management's Methane Waste and Prevention Rule.

Updated at 12:18 p.m. ET

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes says he is temporarily stepping aside from the committee's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as the House Ethics Committee opens an inquiry into whether he improperly disclosed classified information.

Nunes will continue to serve as the committee's chairman and remain involved in other matters before the panel. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, will take the lead on the Russia investigation.

Updated at 4:30 a.m. ET Thursday

British authorities have made eight arrests in their investigation into Wednesday's attack in London, police said Thursday morning.

Mark Rowley, the national lead for counterterrorism policing, told reporters that there were four dead, including the attacker, and 29 people have been treated in hospitals. Seven people are in critical condition, he said.

Police had earlier said there were five dead including the attacker.

Quarterback Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to one of the greatest comebacks in football history at the Super Bowl this year. Immediately afterward, his game-winning jersey was stolen from the Patriots' locker room in Houston.

Now, police say it has been recovered in Mexico. The NFL stated that it was found "in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media."

The head of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said that there is still no evidence that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower, as President Trump has claimed, even after the Department of Justice provided to the committee documents related to the allegation on Friday.

The sudden deportation Thursday of an Arizona woman who had regularly checked in with U.S. immigration authorities for years has prompted a stark warning from Mexico's government.

Mexican nationals in the U.S. now face a "new reality," authorities warned in a statement.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

Homeland Security officials are defending the Trump administration's executive order on immigration and refugees, along with its implementation.

At a news conference Tuesday, DHS Secretary John Kelly said the order creates a "temporary pause" as officials "assess the strengths and the weaknesses of our current system." He was adamant in saying that the order "is not — I repeat — not a ban on Muslims."

Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET

President Trump said on Twitter Thursday morning that "if Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting" with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Shortly afterward, news broke that Peña Nieto had done just that. He also took to Twitter and said he would not attend Tuesday's planned visit to Washington, D.C., without giving a reason.

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