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Morning News Brief: Russia Protests, GOP Health Care Bill


For the second time this year, David, one very outspoken Russian dissident is calling for mass demonstrations.


Yeah. It's Alexei Navalny. He has organized what he calls anti-corruption protests.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Russian).

GREENE: Yeah. And, as you can hear, it might be anti-corruption protests. But these protests, Rachel, across the country are aimed directly at the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian police here in Moscow have warned that they are prepared to, quote, "respond to provocations." And that might be an attempt to dampen turnout here. But we'll see.

MARTIN: OK. So we're going to start four time zones away from Moscow - it is a big country - where we are joined by...

GREENE: It is huge.

MARTIN: ...NPR's Lucian Kim - is in a city - Lucian, correct me because I'm going to attempt to say this - Novosibirsk?

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Novosibirsk - New Siberia.

MARTIN: Yeah. Not even close. OK. So it's already late afternoon out there in the eastern part of Russia. What happened there? Did a significant protest materialize?

KIM: Well, yes. I mean, protests have been sort of rolling across Russia today, starting in the eastern port city of Vladivostok. I'm in Novosibirsk. It's considered the capital of Siberia. It's a city of science and innovation. Several thousand people came out, which is a significant amount for a provincial city.


KIM: A lot of people here are really concerned that people are just going - leaving the country - the people with educations, with science backgrounds are leaving the country, and they're not staying here.

MARTIN: So let's get some bigger context here. First, David, you're in Moscow. So are the protests happening there?

GREENE: They're not happening yet. But, you know, when we left our hotel room early in the morning this morning, Rachel, you could already see police are on the streets. Mary Louise Kelly, our colleague who's also here in Moscow - she's been sending us photos via text message.

She said the number of police have been tripling on this huge thoroughfare, Tverskaya, that leads to the Kremlin. And the interesting thing about Moscow - you know, it sounds like many of the protests across Russia that are rolling across the country, as Lucian said, have been peaceful. But here, organizers have moved to a different site from where the government had approved their protest to be.

And, as I said, city officials have suggested that that was a provocation. When you hear the government using the word potential provocation, you have to wonder what kind of response they are planning. And so there's...


GREENE: ...A real sense of unease and anticipation right now.

MARTIN: So, David, you and our team have been in Moscow, reporting all the past week. What more can you tell us about the guy who's behind these protests?

GREENE: Yes. Alexei Navalny - he's 41 years old. He's a lawyer who really emerged on the political stage a few years ago, has a huge following on YouTube. He led the protests back in March that led to a lot of arrests, including...


GREENE: ...His own. But, curiously, the government and the Kremlin decided to let him out of prison after just a couple weeks. There's been a lot of, you know, curiosity about why Vladimir Putin would let him out. Why not just keep him in jail if he's some kind of political threat?

MARTIN: So, Lucian, then - so here's this huge political rival to Vladimir Putin out organizing protests. Is the Kremlin getting nervous now?

KIM: Well, it's hard to know, of course, what exactly they're thinking. But it can't be reassuring. It used to be the protest was concentrated in Moscow. But now it's moving to the regions. I spoke to a Putin supporter today - former one. She's a disappointed supporter, says she's not happy with her $200-a-month pension and wants a better future for her kids and grandkids.

MARTIN: All right. We'll keep covering this. NPR's Lucian Kim - thanks so much, Lucian.

KIM: Thank you.

MARTIN: Back here in the States, President Donald Trump is facing a new lawsuit.

GREENE: Yeah, the attorneys general of both the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland say they are suing the president on the claim that he violated the anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution by accepting payments and benefits from foreign governments.

MARTIN: So The Washington Post broke this story. And Aaron Davis is one of the reporters on that team. He joins us now in the studio. Hey, Aaron.

AARON DAVIS: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: We also have NPR's congressional correspondent, Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Aaron, I'm going to start with you. How serious is this for President Trump?

A. DAVIS: Well, what's interesting about this is later this morning, the attorney general of D.C. and Maryland will walk into a courtroom in Maryland. And this will be the first time that a state government - that a government jurisdiction has filed a lawsuit against President Trump.

MARTIN: Ever - in history.

A. DAVIS: Against...

MARTIN: A president.

A. DAVIS: Of course - against President Trump, obviously - never before in the history of the country.


A. DAVIS: And so you have right now - you have a number of lawsuits, of course. You have all these issues with Russia investigations. But this is something different. And it's almost anything that you've heard about Trump other than Russia. It is the trips to Mar-a-Lago. It is the - you know, the Trump Hotel in D.C. Everything that he's done with the businesses and not really separating himself - this is the issue.

MARTIN: You mentioned the Trump Hotel. This, in particular, has been at the center of this because foreign governments use the Trump Hotel. That could be considered a kind of gift that could be used to curry favor with the U.S. administration. Sue, is the timing of this lawsuit notable? I mean, the hits keep coming.

S. DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, it's notable if you think about the fact that we're only five months into the Trump administration. And this is one more thing. As Aaron referenced, there's still two ongoing congressional investigations into Russia. There's a special-counsel investigation into the Trump campaign and potential collusion.

And, remember, the Trump administration's also fighting off lawsuits on other fronts. He's still contesting the travel ban in the courts, a policy that he's tried to implement to little success. So it's just - at best, these are unwelcome distractions for a new president.

MARTIN: Aaron, if I'm remembering correctly, this is the second legal action related to the so-called emoluments clause. That's the clause we're talking about. The other was filed back in January. This was by a D.C.-based watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. What happened with that, and why is this different?

A. DAVIS: Well, that one is still working its way through. In fact, on Friday, it was the first time that the Trump administration had responded to that and said, there's no problem here. He can continue to receive, you know, rates, hotel. People can stay at the hotel and pay. And that's no problem under the emoluments clause. I think - so you've got that part of it going. Did you have another part of that? The CREW lawsuit, right?


A. DAVIS: So you do have that one still going. I think this one has the potential of doing something unique, which is that if it makes it through the first round of not being thrown out of court by the judge, they could then, in discovery, seek the president's tax returns.


A. DAVIS: And this is kind of the first big - potentially...

MARTIN: The old tax returns.

A. DAVIS: ...A state government asking for Trump's tax returns.


A. DAVIS: How much foreign entanglements do you have? And this could be, maybe, the first time we have a legitimate lawsuit to that effect.

MARTIN: OK. Aaron Davis of The Washington Post was part of the team that broke this story. And NPR's Susan Davis, our congressional correspondent - no relation, we should note, between the two of you.

S. DAVIS: No relation.

MARTIN: Not long-lost cousins or anything.

S. DAVIS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But you both got up early for us this morning, so thank you so much for coming in.

S. DAVIS: You bet.

A. DAVIS: Thanks.

MARTIN: Life just keeps getting better for France's newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron - or so it seems.

GREENE: Yeah, it sure does, doesn't it?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GREENE: I mean, the political party that he founded, that brought him into power is itself just barely a year old. But, already, La Republique En Marche is on track to snatch the majority of seats in the French Parliament. The final outcome is going to be decided at a runoff election next Sunday.

MARTIN: So we've got NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the line with us from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, guys.

MARTIN: This is pretty remarkable, right? This party didn't even exist a year ago.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. This is every politician's dream. That's right. It didn't exist a little more than a year ago. And now it looks like Emmanuel Macron's party is going to take more than 400 seats in a 577-seat Parliament. He got 32 percent of the vote yesterday. There's a runoff next Sunday.

The traditional French political system is finished. The mainstream left - the Socialists - they barely got 10 percent. And they will go, probably, from around 300 seats to maybe 30. The mainstream right came in second with 21 percent. But, you know, they're not going to be anywhere close.

The only question now is, will there be, really, any viable opposition to Macron? And I went out to a polling place yesterday. And I spoke with voter Philippe du Pique. And he says he's impressed with his new president, like everyone I talked to, by the way.

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

BEARDSLEY: But he says he's not going to vote for the candidate in Macron's party because - well, here's why.

PHILIPPE DU PIQUE: I prefer a small opposition. It's important in a free country not to leave all the power to one man. I think it's dangerous.

MARTIN: A democracy demands some kind of opposition, he's saying there. So what does this embrace of Macron and his new party - what does - if anything, what does it tell us about what French voters want and don't want?

BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, French voters were very tired of the left-right divide. They say - they told me they were tired of the left and the right attacking each other, demonizing each other. They said there's good ideas everywhere. And Macron could bring those ideas together - and just no kind of ideological thing left or right - just the best ideas work.

And, also, one thing Macron's going to do - he's going to really reform the French labor market. It's, you know, notoriously rigid. And that's why they've had high unemployment. He's really going to do the reforms that the unions don't want. But people - it seems like they do want that because they've put him in office to do that.

MARTIN: Well - and there's going to be a lot of pressure on him to do that because now he won't have any excuse as to why he couldn't pull it off. What does Macron's success, Eleanor, do you think, signify in European politics more broadly?

BEARDSLEY: Rachel, it means that Europe is back. A strong Europe is back. A strong Franco-German alliance - Chancellor Angela Merkel called Macron already to congratulate him on his great score. They plan to work together to make Europe independent and a stronger force on the world stage.

MARTIN: Eleanor Beardsley reporting from Paris. Thank you so much as always, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOOD ORANGE SONG, "CHAMAKAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.