News Brief: GOP Presses On With Health Bill; NAACP Gathers For Convention
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Two things seem pretty certain about Republican Senator Mitch McConnell's health care push at this point. There is going to be a vote next week, and there's going to be a lot of vocal opposition to it.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Protesters chanting shame there. McConnell's latest plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement drew those protesters yesterday. Some lawmakers on the Republican side still don't like this plan. Here's Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia speaking yesterday.
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SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: We promised that we would repeal and replace. We want to do that, but we want to do it the right way.
INSKEEP: She's one of many Republicans representing states where people gained from Obamacare's insurance subsidies or from the expansion of Medicaid.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Susan Davis has been covering all of this on Capitol Hill this week, and she joins us. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what is Mitch McConnell up to? Does he - is he doing different math than we are? He - is he optimistic he can get some votes for something?
DAVIS: Well, I think Mitch McConnell wants one and one to equal three next week.
DAVIS: But I'm not sure that that's how the math's going to work out. I think we know the numbers. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas laid it out pretty well last night on Fox News. He said, you know, we have 45 or 46 yeses and four to five holdouts. And the quest now is to get those four to five holdouts to yes.
GREENE: OK, there are different options, though, right now - right? - one to just repeal, one to both repeal and replace. But where do things stand here?
DAVIS: You know, that is the hard part because when you talk about these four to five holdouts, what might get two or three or four of them might not get the other two or three or four. It's this balance between the conservative and moderate wings of the party who just have very different views of what this should be. Good example - Shelley Moore Capito, who you just heard from, wants a replacement plan. She doesn't want to vote for repeal only. And on the other end, you got Rand Paul of Kentucky saying he wants repeal only.
GREENE: Now, this is complicated, right? I mean, aren't there senators who voted for a straight repeal back in 2015 who might actually be voting against a straight repeal this time? I mean, what position are they in? How do they explain that to voters?
DAVIS: Well, this is the trick, right? You know, Congress voted when there was - when there was no risk of it actually becoming law. Republicans in Congress voted over 60 times to either repeal or replace or repeal and replace Obamacare over the last seven years. And this is the test. This is the chance to actually do it. The challenge they're facing is twofold. You know, you have the president and the White House suggesting they could support primary challengers to senators who don't vote in favor of this bill, namely Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada.
And then you have grass-roots activist groups that are threatening to also find primary challengers and running ads right now against senators. A group like FreedomWorks is right now currently targeting Rob Portman in Ohio. So there's a lot of internal warfare in the Republican Party over getting to yes on this bill because the leadership of the Republican Party believes if they fail on this, they are heading into what could be a fairly devastating midterm election cycle.
INSKEEP: It could be a disaster if the Republican base is not energized. But we should bear in mind the possibility that Republicans are doing more or less what their constituents want here because sometimes you do run into voters whose position seems to be, I want to rail against the government. I didn't like Obama. I don't like Obamacare. I don't like a lot of government involvement. But then again, I have these benefits that actually I depend on, that I really need. And that seems to be where some Republicans are coming down, which feels confusing.
INSKEEP: Maybe to voters, it's not.
GREENE: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks for covering all of this. Have a good weekend.
DAVIS: You, too.
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INSKEEP: The country's oldest civil rights organization is looking for a new leader. The NAACP meets in Baltimore for its annual convention starting this weekend, which provokes an annual question - how can the nation's oldest civil rights organization stay relevant in the age of newer movements? Here's what Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson told NPR.
DERAY MCKESSON: I remember being in Ferguson when we were there in the initial wave of protests. And there was a younger person than me who was, like, just budding 20. And he was like, what is NAACP? And we were, like, shocked - right? - that he just didn't know.
GREENE: Wow. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is going to be in Baltimore this weekend for the convention. Hi, Hansi.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So hearing that story there - I mean, this sounds like it could be a critical moment for the NAACP.
WANG: This is a critical moment for the NAACP. First off, because their - they don't know who their next national president and CEO will be. Cornell Brooks just stepped down. He was the leader, the national leader for the past three years. But the board announced back in May that they were not going to renew his contract. And right now it's unclear what the timeline is for this search process. And also, of course, you know, another big topic at the convention is going to be President Trump and concerns that organizers say of possible rollback of civil rights gains that the NAACP has been fighting for.
And one of the main speakers is going to be Eric Holder, the former attorney general under Obama. He'll be speaking about gerrymandering and how that might affect voter suppression among communities of color. He'll also be talking about policing and other criminal justice issues. And all of these issues, you know, again, look very different under Trump than they did under Obama. So there's a lot to discuss for the NAACP on how to strategize going forward.
GREENE: Well, a lot to discuss about President Trump without President Trump there. He was invited but declined the invitation, right?
WANG: That's right. And the board chair, Leon Russell, issued a written statement after the White House confirmed that, and he said that this decision was not totally unexpected, that Trump declined. And the White House says they still want a dialogue with the NAACP, and the NAACP say they are ready. But they also point out, you know, this is a president who during the campaign constantly asked African-American voters, you know, quote, "what do you have to lose" for supporting him. And at this point, you know, they've - the NAACP has lost Trump as a speaker this year. They lost him as a speaker last year as well when he turned it down. And NAACP says they feel that Trump has turned his back on the black community.
GREENE: Hansi, what does advocacy and activism look like if you're the NAACP, say, leaving this convention? What do they do next?
WANG: Well, right now they say they are trying to revamp their 108-year-old organization. And that is going to look like a listening tour around the country, hearing from its members and other activists, because one of the main issues that they are fighting against is a lot of millennials don't know much about their work. They're more familiar with Black Lives matter even though there's a lot overlap in some of the issues they are working to fight for. And so it's about how to engage younger vote - younger members and younger activists to keep this organization alive.
INSKEEP: The organization may be struggling for relevance, but there's no question, really, about the relevance of the issues right now. Questions of race, of ethnicity, of economic inequality remain at the center of our national debate, don't they?
GREENE: Yeah, front and center indeed. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covering the convention in Baltimore. Hansi, thanks.
WANG: You're welcome.
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GREENE: Do you remember just a few weeks ago when President Trump visited Poland? It was seen as an endorsement of a nationalist government, which some Poles do not endorse at all.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Polish).
INSKEEP: You're listening to tens of thousands of Poles chanting constitution, constitution, which they accuse the ruling party of trying to destroy. That party, which, of course, does have support as well, is seeking to take control of the Polish Supreme Court. In addition to the Polish protesters, other European countries oppose this move and have talked of sanctions.
GREENE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was at the biggest protest in Warsaw, and she's with us. Hey, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: All right, so many Poles, so many world leaders are opposed to this move. So what is Parliament doing here?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the MPs who voted for the measure, they belong to the populist party. And they're called Law and Justice - perhaps that's a bit ironic. They said that they - they basically voted to dismantle the Supreme Court, to remove the judges. And they say that they're doing this because they are fulfilling campaign promises. A lot of the - the prime minister yesterday said that Poles were dissatisfied with the way the courts work. And the party leader was claiming the purge was needed to get rid of the vestiges of communism. But what was really clear from all this is that they're completely oblivious to what the opponents are saying to their concerns. And it just shows how divided Polish society has become. You're either right or wrong, depending on what side you're looking at.
GREENE: And what exactly has the reaction been from the world community internationally?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the U.S. State Department expressed concern about this, but clearly the EU is the most upset. Officials in Brussels have threatened to sanction Poland under what's called Article 7, which would strip it of its right to vote. This is a never-before-used sanction.
GREENE: And, I mean, that could be really embarrassing for Poland, right? Is that - does that seem likely? It could happen?
SARHADDI NELSON: Yeah, I mean, it would be very embarrassing. But I should point out that they've been threatening to do this - Brussels has been threatening to do this for over a year, and it hasn't happened yet. And part of the problem is that to do this sanction, you need to have the approval of the other 27 states. And Hungary is one of the ones that is opposed to it.
GREENE: The EU - I mean, at a moment when they're trying to show unity, this is not exactly the best news to have. So what happens next here?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, here in Warsaw, there's supposed to be a Polish Senate vote today to endorse what was - or to ratify what was passed in Parliament, followed by the signature of the Polish president, Andrzej Duda. He's supposed to be an independent president, but he is actually formerly of the ruling party. And his critics, including one Polish broadcaster, said yesterday Duda will have to decide whether he's, quote, "a president or a pen."
GREENE: Wow, that's - that sends a message. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Warsaw this morning. Soraya, thanks a lot.
SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, David.
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