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Morning News Brief: Americans Pessimistic About GOP Health Care, U.S.-German Tensions

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Senate is under more pressure this morning to come up with a health care plan that will satisfy their constituents.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Because the existing Republican plan does not. The Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans about replacing the Affordable Care Act. And in that poll, 55 percent of those surveyed want the Senate to reject a bill that passed the House unless the Senate makes major changes. And this readout from conservative analyst Joe Antos is even more troubling for Republicans.

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JOE ANTOS: Not only do Democratic respondents think that the things that are going wrong are really on President Trump's watch and he's responsible but most Republicans believe that, too.

MARTIN: So the president's own party laying on the heat. National political correspondent Mara Liasson is back with us. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Give us the broad brush stokes (ph) - brush strokes rather - I'll get that out - of this poll. What does it say?

LIASSON: Well, the poll shows that overall Obamacare is a lot more popular than the House Republican replacement bill. Forty-nine percent of people have favorable views of Obamacare. Only 31 percent have favorable views of the Republican replacement bill, 55 percent unfavorable. And among those unfavorable, 40 percent are very unfavorable.

That's a lot of passionate opposition. And what's interesting, three-quarters of people believe that the Congress and the president will repeal and replace Obamacare. They're a heck of a lot more optimistic on this than many members of Congress.

And the poll shows the public is much more pessimistic. About half of them think the result will mean higher costs for their family. That's way up from the number of people who thought this in December. And I think the bottom line is that CBO score predicting higher costs and 23 million people losing their coverage has really had an effect on the public.

MARTIN: Do we know if they surveyed people's political affiliation in this?

LIASSON: Yes. And, of course, there's a partisan divide because we live in a tribal polarized political culture. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans have favorable views of the Republican bill, exactly the opposite of Democrats. But independents, they mirror the poll itself. Forty-eight percent of independents have favorable views of Obamacare, 30 percent have favorable views of the Republican replacement bill.

MARTIN: So interesting that Americans think that this is actually going to happen too, (laughter) never mind the gridlock in Congress.

LIASSON: Yes. That shows the difference of being in Washington and being outside of Washington.

MARTIN: So how's this all going to change the Senate's calculus? Do they pay attention to polls like this?

LIASSON: I think they pay attention. It already was pretty hard. I don't know if this one poll changes much, but, you know, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said that right now he doesn't see how he gets 51 votes to pass a replacement.

And just recently, both Republican senators from Iowa - a red state that went for Trump - Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley said that they were not going to be able to repeal Obamacare. They would just have to essentially tinker around the edges because without any Democratic support, Republicans don't have the votes. This is a big change for Republicans. The terms of debate have really shifted.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LIASSON: Republicans used to be philosophically opposed to government health care. They wanted to shrink the government. Now, they're having an argument about how government health care to provide at what cost.

MARTIN: Now it's their job, yeah.

INSKEEP: Mara mentioned this tribal culture. We see things differently depending on politics. But there's one thing Americans seem to agree on, they don't like politicians messing with their health care. They didn't like it in 2009, 2010. They don't like Republicans doing it now.

MARTIN: But they expect them to do it, yeah.

INSKEEP: Exactly.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson, political correspondent. Hey, Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. Some of President Trump's tweets are more inscrutable, shall we say, than others. Overnight, the president posted what appears to be an incomplete message. Here's what it said - despite the constant negative press covfefe (ph). Now, he could have been trying...

INSKEEP: Covfefe?

MARTIN: Covfefe.

INSKEEP: OK.

MARTIN: C-O-V-F-E-F-E.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

MARTIN: He could have been trying to write the word press coverage, it came out covfefe. Who knows? Look it up. He never followed up to finish this. We're going to talk about something else.

INSKEEP: OK. The president's tweet - it's another tweet - on Germany prompted more discussion. And there's a little more to it. It reads, "we have a massive trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for U.S. This will change," unquote. Here's White House spokesman Sean Spicer yesterday.

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SEAN SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7.

MARTIN: Grow the bond. So do Germans see it this way? Let's bring in ARD news anchor Ingo Zamperoni. He's on the line via Skype from Hamburg. Hi, Ingo.

INGO ZAMPERONI: Good morning.

MARTIN: How would Germans describe the relationship between Chancellor Merkel and President Trump?

ZAMPERONI: Pretty rocky. I mean, the fact that Chancellor Merkel went out on Sunday and repeated that on Monday to say that, you know, basically reconsidering the U.S.-German relationship, U.S.-European relationship in a way without questioning the friendship of these two sides and the importance of the partnership but that Europe has to look at itself more and take charge itself.

That was quite surprising because usually she's not very fazed by things and provocations. So I think in Germany, there's a very negative view of the Trump administration. And so the president tweeting saying very bad for the U.S. and Germany is very bad, that was - that raised more than an eyebrow over here.

MARTIN: Yeah. We should say Chancellor Merkel, she didn't explicitly name President Trump, but she did suggest that Europe and Germany in particular needed to take more control of its destiny. So what has got people in Germany most upset? You say that there's not a favorable view of the Trump administration, but why? Is it just the tenor of his remarks, the tweets, or is it NATO? Is it his views on trade? Is it the Paris climate treaty?

ZAMPERONI: Oh, all of that in a mix basically. I think it's the style, of course, and especially the contrast to the Obama administration that we experienced before. And granted, it's been rocky with President Obama as well. Remember NSA spying on Chancellor Merkel's cellphone and all of these revelations? So there's always ups and downs in U.S.-German relationships.

But I think this - there was never a question that Germany could rely on the U.S. in terms of military protection but also in cooperation and in trade. And this now seems just unsure. That's the new quality in this. It's like we don't really know where the Trump administration's heading.

MARTIN: Is it good politics? Because we should mention there is an election coming up in Germany? Is it good politics for Merkel to speak out against Trump?

ZAMPERONI: Yes. This election in September, of course, it's almost like a no-brainer to be not favorable of Trump for a politician at these moments. And, in fact, that Merkel started this now prompted the other parties to be even more critical of Trump because...

MARTIN: Everyone's piling on.

ZAMPERONI: Yeah. It's almost like now the floodgates have opened.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ZAMPERONI: However, but we have to remember that Merkel also said, you know, that - and she's a very, very stern transatlanticist (ph). But she said, you know, we cannot - we have to remember that it's a strong relationship.

LIASSON: It's a strong alliance. Yeah.

INSKEEP: Let's remember also the United States needs Germany, has needed Germany for decades as a counterweight to Russia. And if you're going to continue to play strategic games against Russia, you need Germany still.

MARTIN: Ingo Zamperoni of ARD TV. Thanks so much for talking with us this morning.

ZAMPERONI: Thanks for having me.

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MARTIN: And finally, news of a detainment at a factory that makes shoes for Ivanka Trump's brand. This has happened in China, Steve?

INSKEEP: That's right. That's where the factory is. And three activists who were investigating labor conditions in that factory went missing over the weekend. We now know the location of one. Hua Haifeng is in police custody after working undercover at the factory on behalf of China Labor Watch. The location of his two colleagues is still unknown.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing, and he's been following all this. Anthony, what more do we know about what happened here?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, this activist, Hua Haifeng, Rachel, had gone undercover at this factory which makes shoes for Ivanka's Trump - Ivanka Trump's brand and many others including Marc Fisher and Coach and Nine West. And he shot video footage while going undercover. And then he went missing on Sunday.

And I spoke to his wife by phone. And she told me that the police called her yesterday and told her that he'd been arrested on criminal charges. They said he had been illegally using surveillance devices at this factory. And two other men who were also investigating this same shoe company went missing, and they're presumed to have been detained also.

MARTIN: What were they looking for?

KUHN: Well, they were doing a report on labor practices at this factory, especially - just because it makes shoes for, you know, someone in the Trump family. And what they found is that...

MARTIN: Just - so just to be clear, just because of its connection to Ivanka Trump they were looking into this?

KUHN: That's correct. They thought that was important. So they found that some workers had been threatened with being fired if they took sick leave. They spoke to others. They found time sheets and evidence showing that workers were forced to work overtime with pay. Li Qiang, the head of the rights group...

MARTIN: With pay or without pay? Probably without pay.

KUHN: Without pay. Excuse me. Yes. So one batch of workers were - one batch of shoes were found to have defects. And here's what Li Qiang said happened to the workers next.

LI QIANG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: He said the workers all wanted to leave, but they couldn't because if they did they'd be fired. So they were forced to work until 1:30 a.m., and then they had to go back to work the same morning at 7:10 a.m.

MARTIN: OK. So just briefly, what does all this mean for how China approaches advocacy groups, treats groups like this?

KUHN: Well, it's always risky to do labor organizing in China, Rachel. The question is, did police arrest these activists because they violated the law or because of the factory's ties to a member of the U.S.'s first family?

And I think what's interesting to note is that political analysts I've speak - spoken to say that Beijing has found that it has a back channel to the White House in these family members, and it feels it has to use it.

MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting from Beijing. Thanks so much, Anthony.

KUHN: You bet, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.