SCOTUS sides with Sen. Cruz; bodies in Lake Mead: 5 Things podcast

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: Supreme Court sides with Sen. Ted Cruz in fight over federal campaign loan repayment limits

Supreme Court correspondent John Fritze explains. Plus, an update on yesterday's primary races, reporter Trevor Hughes tells us how a dropping Lake Mead is uncovering history, travel reporter Morgan Hines talks about getting back to the office and the House votes on a bill to fight the baby formula shortage.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I'm Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Wednesday, the 18th of May 2022. Today, laws on federal campaign loan repayments, plus an update on primary races around the country, and more.

Here are some of the top headlines:

  1. One million Americans have now died of COVID-19. That number is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It's about how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined.

  2. A new study is blaming pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally. The study in the journal, The Lancet Planetary Health, found that the US is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 for total pollution deaths.

  3. And Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. The application must now be weighed by the world's largest military alliance's 30 member countries. The move is driven by security concerns over Russia's war in Ukraine.

This week, the Supreme Court sided with Texas Senator Ted Cruz over a federal law that limits the ability of campaigns to repay loans made by candidates. The ruling could have broader implications for how money is regulated in politics. Supreme Court reporter John Fritze explains what all that means.

John Fritze:

The case involved here is a little bit wonky. It's sort of a obscure part of the campaign finance law. The bigger picture, though, is that the Supreme Court, over the course of several decisions and over the course of many years, has sort of been chipping away at the requirements that candidates and campaigns have to honor to fund their campaigns. This particular case, dealt with a requirement that limited how much money could be paid back when a candidate basically loans themselves money for the campaign. And that law limited that to $250,000, if they're using post-election funding. In other words, this is a key, if wonky, point, money that came in after the election to repay a loan that was made to win the election.

And what supporters of this regulation say is that it's an anti-corruption measure. Basically, if you're taking money after you've already won to pay back yourself, that's kind of like taking money and putting it in your pocket. And the supporters of this regulation say, creates the possibility, the higher probability, of corruption, because the money is sort of going directly to the candidate as opposed to their campaign.

The other side says, "Look, there's no evidence of corruption ever taking place in other states that don't have this requirement." And the other side argues that, "Look, there's other protections in place to ensure that corruption doesn't happen here."

I think as a reporter, this is a case that is hard to make relatable to the average person, because the average person's not running for office. I think there's a couple of things to keep in mind. One, if you side with the liberals in this case, if you believe this law was justified and you're concerned about money in politics - which by the way, that's a pretty bipartisan thing to be concerned about the system we have right now - I think the liberal position here is that you should be more concerned. That there is a higher probability of money flowing in and influencing politicians in a way that nobody really likes. That's sort of the liberal position.

I think the bigger picture here, again, is that this is one of several steps that the court has taken to sort of unwind what everybody knows as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, this bipartisan package. This was a law, by the way, that was signed by President Bush. And that had bipartisan interest when it passed. And so there is a real weakening of the campaign finance system overall. And it comes at a time, in a midterm election, when elections are getting more and more expensive for federal office and more and more money is flowing in in ways that really nobody can keep track of or understand the scope of what's happening with it.

Taylor Wilson:

You can find more of John on Twitter @jfritze.

The Pennsylvania GOP Senate race between Dr. Mehmet Oz and businessman, David McCormick, remained uncalled as of this morning and it could trigger an automatic recount. The two were within a half percentage point of each other and both Oz and McCormick told supporters that a result would not be reached overnight.

Dr. Mehmet Oz:

We're not going to have a result tonight. When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win. We are making a ferocious charge, but when it's this close, what else would you expect? Everything about this campaign has been tight.

David McCormick:

Now we have tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, that have not been counted, that are going to need to be counted beginning tomorrow. And so that, unfortunately, we're not going to have resolution tonight, but we can see the path ahead. We can see victory ahead. And it's all because of you. So thank you, Pennsylvania.

Conservative commentator, Kathy Barnette, was in third. Oz had the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, but some Pennsylvania Republicans questioned the TV doctor's commitment to conservatism and went for other candidates. The Republican nominee winner takes on Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman, who won the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat.

Elsewhere, Trump's powers in the Republican Party were tested in Idaho, but Governor Brad Little beat out Trump's preferred candidate, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, in the state's Republican primary. Little is likely to win the general election in the fall.

And in North Carolina, controversial Congressman Madison Cawthorn, also supported by Trump, lost out in his house primary race to state Senator Chuck Edwards. For full primary results stay with

As water levels drop in Lake Mead, a long history is being uncovered there that ranges from ghost towns to human remains and Native American ruins. 5 Things producer PJ Elliott, spoke with reporter Trevor Hughes about what's coming to the surface and the issue of the lake going down.

Trevor Hughes:

Lake Mead is the largest created built reservoir in the United States, full of freshwater. And it provides drinking water for millions and millions of Americans on the west of the Rockies. You're talking Arizona, Nevada, California, Las Vegas. Along with water for farmers. And the problem is that we're in a drought here in the West and that drought is being exacerbated by climate change. And that means the water level in Lake Mead is going down. And as the water level goes down, it uncovers all of this stuff that has been submerged for years.

PJ Elliott:

What are some of the things that have been found?

Trevor Hughes:

For starters, ghost towns. And I don't just mean ghost towns created by white settlers, Mormons in the area, but towns that were built and ultimately abandoned hundreds of years ago by Indigenous Americans, by Native American cultures. But then you've got all this other stuff that people put in there. I mean, heck, the concrete plant that they used to make the Hoover Dam with, that's at the bottom of this lake. But then you've got a World War II era bomber that was doing scientific experiments. You've got boats, you've got jet skis and most recently, and sort of disturbingly, we've seen the discovery of some bodies.

PJ Elliott:

How low has the level gotten in the lake that all these things have been able to be uncovered?

Trevor Hughes:

When you think about these reservoirs, and they're generally speaking in a canyon, think of them like a martini glass, where they're wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. And so as the level drops, it begins to drop much more rapidly the further it goes down. And so Lake Mead is now about 30% full, it's terribly, terribly low. And every year, something like 7 million of us go and visit the Lake Mead area. And anyone who's been there can see this bathtub ring, but the level has just been going down and down and down. And because we're having this drought, it's not getting filled back up.

PJ Elliott:

Is there anything that can be done to help resurrect the lake?

Trevor Hughes:

Lake Mead and Lake Powell above it, were both created to help agriculture and cities flourish in desert areas. And so there is a big push going on, and I think we're going to see that increasingly for water conservation in California. You have to bear in mind that turf, our front lawns, our front lawns are the single biggest irrigated crop in the United States. Bigger than wheat, bigger than corn. We grow grass in this country and it's just for our front lawns. And I've been through severe droughts here in the West a number of times, and you're talking about severe water restrictions, sometimes, you can't wash your car. You can't water your lawn during the day. But there are going to be some major systemic changes needed in order to continue life as we've been living it.

Taylor Wilson:

Like so many office workers around the country, hundreds of USA TODAY reporters are just beginning to work in person again. Travel reporter Morgan Hines tells us that her transition has been all about the little things she forgot during the pandemic.

Morgan Hines:

I actually had been a fairly new enter to the working from office, I guess, system. I had finished grad school in 2019 and started working from USA TODAY'S bureau in McLean, Virginia, over the summer of 2019, and then was in the New York City bureau from there on out through March 2020.

It was a shift because I think everyone was going through it, but it was something that I felt prepared for. On the other hand, though, the return to office has been a little bit more challenging, just because of the fact that routine was kind of lost during the pandemic to a degree. So I wasn't going into the gym or meeting friends or filling my schedule the way I typically had pre-pandemic. Trying to balance things is not going as swimmingly as I had hoped to return to that routine off the bat, if that makes sense.

I haven't been to a gym that I have a membership at since the pandemic started. I now work out at home and have spent the last, more than two years, in workout clothes and without makeup and without doing my hair. So all those things take time. And I think that being prepared, not only in the sense of getting yourself ready to be in a public place for a day, but also thinking of all the things you need to bring into the office, is something that I almost forgot how to do. So remembering snacks, remembering an extra toothbrush just in case you get something in your teeth that you eat, remembering extra pens, lipstick, mascara, remembering your keys. I'd forgotten those before. All the little things that you need. And the nuances of office work life too, because you get there and it's a little different. You can't be listening to music out loud from your computer. You're not having your calls in a private space. So you need to consider the tone of... the level of voice that you're using.

I don't know if I touched on this in the piece as much, but I think it's really important to be patient with ourselves. We're experiencing an environmental shift when we do something like make a return to office or hybrid return to office, and that's just going to take some time to get used to. And so I think allow yourself a little grace and maybe bring a stain stick with you. I tend to spill a lot and forgot what that's like in public places.

Taylor Wilson:

If you're heading back to the office, we want to hear about your experience. You can find a form in Morgan's story linked in today's episode description or email us at

The House will vote today on a bill to fight the baby formula shortage. The Access to Formula Act would give the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, a federal assistance program, authority to ease non-safety restrictions, according to the Wall Street Journal. The bill would allow WIC participants to use vouchers on any formula brand, instead of being limited to a brand that could be unavailable.

House Democrats also unveiled a $28 million spending bill to increase FDA staffing to boost international supplier inspections, and to gather stronger data on the marketplace. The FDA is looking to increase imports, amid the shortage, with a more streamlined review process. Swiss conglomerate Nestle said yesterday it had increased production and moved up planned shipments to the US. The formula shortage stems from a February recall by Abbott Nutrition, that worsened already bad supply chain issues, leaving fewer options on store shelves across the country.

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can find us seven mornings a week on whatever your favorite podcast app is. Thanks to PJ Elliott for his great work on the show. And I'm back tomorrow with more on 5 Things from USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Update on primary races, House addresses formula shortage: 5 Things podcast