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Morning News Brief: Democrats Respond To Health Care Vote, Obama Endorses Macron


And we start this morning with Republicans declaring victory and Democrats singing.


Yeah, singing - we'll get to that.

After months of trying to get a vote on health care, President Trump declared a win on one of his key campaign promises. House Republicans passed a bill yesterday to replace the Affordable Care Act. Democrats said the vote will come back to haunt their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This is where we get to the singing. As the last votes were cast, a chorus of lawmakers broke into song implying that they would lose their seats in the next election. They waved farewell at Republicans from across the chamber.


UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC HOUSE REPRESENTATIVES: (Singing) Na, na, na - hey hey, hey, goodbye.

GREENE: Na, na, na, na - na, na, na, na - hey, hey, hey, goodbye. Let's bring in NPR music critic Susan Davis (laughter) to talk about what she just heard. She's actually NPR's congressional correspondent. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, David. And I was in the chamber for that.

GREENE: You were?

DAVIS: I was.

GREENE: How was it?

DAVIS: You know, it's actually sort of...

MARTIN: Weird.

DAVIS: And it's happened before. And sometimes on these big votes, you often see the minority party jeering the majority for what...

GREENE: Really?

DAVIS: ...They believe is a political mistake, yeah.

GREENE: Oh, I didn't know there was a history of this. Well, in this case, I mean, are Democrats being a little cocky? Are they so sure Republicans are going to lose elections over this vote?

DAVIS: Well, you know, Democrats believe this is a politically unpopular vote for Republicans in the places where the majority matters, specifically in the 23 districts that Republicans represent that Hillary Clinton won in the last election. And of those 23, 14 Republicans voted for it; nine voted against it. And you can bet that those 14 Republicans are going to be hearing a lot about that vote as we go into next year's election cycle. You know, and there's historical trends behind Democrats. The presidents tends to lose seats in the House and the Senate in midterm elections. But I always caution - I'm not sure historical trends apply to Donald Trump.

GREENE: This era does feel different in so many ways. OK, so there might have been just a handful or so of Republicans who are nervous listening to that music, not the entire caucus.

So this moves to the Senate now. And I just want to listen to this voice. It's Republican Senator Lamar Alexander talking about what's next here.


LAMAR ALEXANDER: We'll carefully consider the legislation passed by the House. We will work together carefully to write our own bill. We will make sure we know what our bill costs when we vote on it - in fact, by law, we have to do that. We will get it right, and then we will vote.

GREENE: Sue, it almost sounds like he was chiding his Republican House colleagues for passing this thing before knowing the cost. What does that tell us about the road ahead here?

DAVIS: He was. And several Senate Republicans did. He's correct. The Senate cannot move forward until they know what the bill is going to cost. I think we can expect a slower, more methodical approach. And at the end, it's likely we're going to see a very different bill. I can't presume to guess what it's going to look like, but I do know two things that we're going to be hearing a lot about in the Senate is they're concerned about what the House does to people with pre-existing conditions. And there's also concerns about what they do to the Medicaid program.

GREENE: You know, one thing that has really interested me is the poll numbers. There's been this rise in popular support for Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Does that give Democrats some strength as they try to capitalize and wield some influence as the minority party?

DAVIS: Well, we're going to have a test of that pretty soon. As you well know, there's a special election going on in Georgia, and it's the House seat of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. They've already had the initial runoff. They're going to have the election in June. And this is going to be a real barometer of both Democratic enthusiasm and whether they can win in tough districts. This is a Republican-leaning district. It is also, at this point, the most expensive House race in history. They're getting over a $30 million hurdle, so there's a lot of enthusiasm and interest on both sides there. And it's going to be seen as an early bellwether.

MARTIN: This was also a victory for Paul Ryan. Right? Speaker of the House, he needed to deliver a legislative win at this point after promising a repeal and replacement for Obamacare for so long, years. And now he owns this to some degree, as do Republicans. And Paul Ryan in particular is going to have to defend vulnerable House members against all those Democratic attacks that are likely to come in 2018.

GREENE: All right. NPR congressional correspondent with us, Susan Davis - Sue, thanks as always.

DAVIS: You bet.


GREENE: And let's turn now to the French presidential election, which is this weekend. And Rachel, it seems like American presidents just can't help themselves.

MARTIN: Yeah, right. So you may remember that Donald Trump weighed in on France's presidential election. Last month, he said far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would be the toughest on terrorism. Now President Obama is weighing in. He has officially backed a candidate. He recorded an endorsement for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.


BARACK OBAMA: Because of how important this election is, I also want you to know that I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward. En marche. Vive le France.

GREENE: OK. Elle (ph)...

MARTIN: En marche.

GREENE: En marche.

Eleanor Beardsley is here. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris - hey there, Eleanor.



GREENE: So I'm going to assume that French voters are not there saying - oh, my gosh, who should I vote for? Well, let me see what an American president thinks.

BEARDSLEY: (Laughter) No, David, they're not. But I talked to people yesterday who had seen that message, and they were surprised but pleased. And the Macron campaign, you know, really made a lot of it. They tweeted it out. They wanted people to know. He's still very popular here. So symbolically, that was something. And, you know, people here know that the world is following this election. The media talks about it a lot. They've always got foreign journalists saying the candidates' names with their accents. And, you know, after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, will France now go for a far-right populist? People here know the world is watching.

GREENE: Well, a lot of people were able to watch what sounds like quite a debate the other night between Macron and Marine Le Pen.

BEARDSLEY: You know, it was. It was absolutely caustic and just heated and argumentative. The results of that debate are still being debated this morning. The big conclusion is it wasn't very presidential for a presidential debate and mostly because critics are saying that Marine Le Pen was just launching brutal attacks the whole time. Her image has actually been worsened by this. You know, she called Mr. Macron a rich banker who wanted to sack and pillage the French people for profits. Monday's - I mean, Le Monde's headline of the newspaper today says "Strategy Of Lies," and it lays out 19 of her lies. And, you know, analysts say she debated a la Donald Trump, just accusations, insinuations and a lot of interruptions. She even became kind of weird. Listen to - this clip has been going around social media. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So she accuses Macron of embracing conspiracy theories there about the far-right being out there in the fields, in the cities. And it's - it was very strange, and she used her hands a lot. And that's been going around social media.

GREENE: Well, so you have a far-right candidate who's saying the far-right is not so scary. You have her opponent who seems like he's winning. What's at stake here this weekend in your mind?

BEARDSLEY: This is just two completely different visions for the future of France. She says, you know, open borders and the E.U. - European Union - have wrecked France's economy. We must close borders, take back our sovereignty, protect people from globalization and immigration. He says, France must engage with the world. That's our traditions - we will be open; we will be competitive.

But even with such big differences, people still don't know who to vote for. One in 4 say they can't vote for either - they're going to abstain. And 1 in 5 say that they're still undecided despite mainstream politicians coming out and saying you've got to vote against the far-right. So this is supposed to be an election with one of the highest abstention rates. Only 75 percent of French voters are supposed to come out and vote on Sunday.

MARTIN: Which is pretty remarkable considering the central question, which Le Pen supporters have tried to frame as a question about what it means to be French. And of course, all of this is wrapped up in France's immigration debate in that country, how they're assimilating or not assimilating immigrant communities, which sounds a little bit familiar if you think about the U.S. election.

GREENE: Right.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, Rachel.

GREENE: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, it's always good to hear your voice, Eleanor. And thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.


GREENE: All right, we're going to leave you this morning with a story about alleged Russian meddling in an election.

MARTIN: Yeah. And we're not talking about the U.S. Yesterday, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency reiterated the claim that Russia has been gathering political data in a series of cyberattacks. This is something that came up in the meeting earlier this week between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia typically, as it has done, continues to deny any of this. Germany says it's working to strengthen its own cyber defenses ahead of their election in the fall.

GREENE: Well, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin. Hey, Soraya.


GREENE: So what did Russia do here?

NELSON: Well, it's accused - actually, we should say Russian hackers who the government claims are not linked to them - the Kremlin claims are not linked - but during three weeks in 2015, they accessed about 20,000 computers in the German Parliament and their constituencies across the country. And it's still unclear this many years later exactly what was stolen, just that they - the fear is that it's going to be used the way - or that the Russians might suddenly decide to use it in the German elections, which are coming up here in the fall, just as they're accused of doing in the American campaign. And at the same time...

GREENE: Yeah, it sounds sort of similar.

NELSON: Yeah (laughter). German candidates are also worried about Russians using fake news because they've had experience with that in January 2016 when there was a lot of political damage inflicted on Chancellor Merkel because of the fake case of a 13-year-old girl named Lisa who claimed to have been raped by asylum-seekers, and that was proven not to be true at all.

GREENE: Oh, wow. They've got the fake news that they're really - that's troubling. I mean, is Germany confident they can do something about this?

NELSON: Well, they've already taken some steps, so one thing is that the government has embedded units in all of Germany's security agencies and military to more quickly identify and deal with cyberattacks. On the fake news front, they've introduced a draft bill, which is expected to be voted on by the Lower House of Parliament before the summer recess, that would clamp down on fake news, basically with fines, really hefty ones, up to $54 million on - that will be imposed on social media platforms that carry such items.

GREENE: Wow, it's so interesting.

NELSON: But perhaps the most interesting thing...

GREENE: Yeah, well...

NELSON: ...Is that the...

GREENE: ...It's such an...

NELSON: Sorry. Go ahead.

GREENE: ...Interesting story to follow. Yeah, no. This is such an interesting story to follow. It sounds like a cyberwar could even be starting. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.