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News Brief: German Election, Trump Vs. GOP In Alabama, Search And Rescue In Mexico


I'm David Greene in Culver City, Ca. And, Rachel Martin, I'm a little jealous. It sounds like you don't have a bad view this morning in Berlin.


Yeah. That's true. I have been here with our team reporting on Germany's upcoming election. We are here in Berlin, in a studio overlooking the Brandenburg Gate. Obviously, the sight of so many significant events in German history. There are a couple hundred people milling about in the square next to the gate, a whole lot of tourists. By coincidence, David, the Berlin Marathon is happening also on Sunday, which is voting day.

So the city is packed, a whole lot of energy around. I can also see the Dome of the Bundestag. This is the Parliament building. And voters, when they go to the polls, are going to choose who they want to sit in that building, which party and which chancellor they want to lead them.

GREENE: And you are not running in the marathon, we should make clear. You're there to cover politics.

MARTIN: Very clear. Yeah, definitely not running.

GREENE: Well, so in the election, Chancellor Angela Merkel is running - right? - for another term in office?

MARTIN: She is running for another term. This would be huge if she wins. And she is set to win. And her party, the CDU, this would be her fourth term. And there's just been all this change in Europe since she came into office 12 years ago - obviously, the global recession, more recently, the U.K. leaving the EU and the Brexit vote, increased threat from terrorism.

And through it all, Merkel has really been the stabilizing force. She's kept the German economy on track. And amidst all the populous political movements around Europe and the U.S., she has been seen as the champion of liberal democracy and the de facto leader of Europe.

GREENE: You know, those political movements around Europe, I mean, they have been driven so much by this issue of immigration. It's been a big issue here in the United States. It's been a big issue across Europe. And considering the refugee crisis, I mean, this has to be a big deal in this election as well there?

MARTIN: Yeah, it's huge. Angela Merkel got a whole lot of criticism for opening Germany's borders. When the refugee crisis was at its apex back in 2005. And all these refugees were flooding into the country mainly from Syria. And Germany, as a country, is having to grapple with how to integrate all these people. Are there enough resources for them? And this has really led the push from the far-right here.

There's a party that's doing quite well in the polls. It's called the AfD, the Alternative fuer Deutschland. And they are running on a very hard-line immigration platform, especially immigration from Muslim countries. They are - they've got these posters all around town, campaign posters. They're meant to be provocative. One of them, it's got a couple of women, their backs dressed in bikinis. And it says on the poster, essentially, we want bikinis, not burkas.

There's another one of this pregnant woman who is clearly a white German. She's in the middle of giving birth, believe it or not, on this poster. And the slogan on there is, we can make our own Germans. We can make our own people. I sat down with the head of the AfD in Berlin, the party chair in Berlin. And he was feeling pretty confident about his party's position.

JORG MEUTHEN: I'm very confident, yeah - and because we are about to become the third-strongest party in Germany.

MARTIN: So if they meet this threshold, get into Parliament, it would be the first time since the end of World War II that a far-right nationalist party has had such representation here.

GREENE: All right. Well, Rachel, I'm really excited to hear all of your reporting. It sounds like fascinating stuff in Germany. For the moment, I want to turn our attention to an election here in the United States. And it's really, I mean, this interesting political battle that involves President Trump. And it's playing out in Huntsville, Ala.

MARTIN: Yeah. So he is heading there this evening to campaign for Luther Strange. Strange was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat that was left open when Jeff Sessions became attorney general. Now, he has to run in a primary next week. And here's the thing. Some top GOP figures and Trump's own supporters have endorsed Strange's Republican challenger, Roy Moore. At a rally for Moore last night, Trump's former adviser, Sebastian Gorka, spoke. And so did one Tea Party hero and Trump ally, Sarah Palin.


SARAH PALIN: A vote for Judge Moore isn't a vote against the president. It is a vote for the peoples' agenda that elected the president.

MARTIN: So what might the divided support in this race mean for Trump's relationship with his base and with the Republican Party?

GREENE: Yeah. It's a good question to pose to NPR's Tamara Keith, who is on the line. Hey there, Tam.


GREENE: So help me figure this out. Roy Moore is seen as the outsider in this race. Luther Strange is seen as the establishment candidate. Why is the president endorsing the establishment candidate when he is so well-known as being an outsider?

KEITH: Well, by all accounts, it is based less on politics than on a personal relationship. The president likes Big Luther, as he likes to call him, says he's a good guy. And they talk regularly. President Trump said on Twitter recently, quote, "I am a big supporter. I'm supporting Big Luther Strange because he was so loyal and helpful to me - exclamation point."

And it's true. Strange has been a reliable vote in the Senate during his relatively short time there. Moore is the twice former chief justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, removed from the court for refusing to take a Ten Commandments monument out of the court building, and then more recently, for defying a court order on same-sex marriage.

He is unlikely to be so loyal to President Trump in the Senate and has basically run against the majority leader, Mitch McConnell. So he's likely to stir things up. And this comes at a time when Republicans have a very narrow majority in the Senate. So there are reasons for the president to support Strange, even if it is a bit off-brand for Trump.

GREENE: Off-brand. What does it mean that Trump has decided to support one candidate and many people, I mean, in his base, I mean, people who supported him are deciding to go a different direction? Does that mean they're not on the same page anymore?

KEITH: Not necessarily. You know, one thing about Strange is that he was appointed to the position by the now former governor of Alabama, who had to resign and is wildly unpopular. Also, Strange worked as a lobbyist. So in terms of brand, that's a little swampy. Meanwhile, you've got Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, all of these people who consider themselves flame keepers of Trumpism backing Moore because it's more on brand. So there is this cognitive dissonance.

I was talking to Barry Bennett, who for a time worked on Trump's campaign. He says expect he expects a lot of people to go to this rally tonight, wear their red Make America Great Again hats and then walk right out and vote for Roy Moore.

GREENE: All right, listening there to Tamara Keith talk about this interesting Republican primary race in the state of Alabama that may tell us something about President Trump right now in his own base. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks, as always.

KEITH: You're welcome.


GREENE: It continues to be a sad scene in Mexico. As Mexico wakes up today, they continue laying the dead to rest.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, across Mexico City, rescuers are still hoping to find survivors from Tuesday's massive earthquake. The death toll could still rise, but volunteers have rescued at least 60 people. The teams are made up of professionals and volunteers who just want to help. Pola Diaz is a paramedic. And yesterday, as it rained, she was crawling into debris, searching for signs of life. She says, we Mexicans are known for our courage, our big hearts and, above all, our solidarity.

GREENE: All right. NPR international correspondent Carrie Kahn has been out with some of these rescue teams. And, Carrie, what's it like to be at the site of these rescue operations?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's both heartbreaking at times. It's tense. At times, it's heartwarming to see all of the hundreds of volunteers working there. It's just - it's a whole mix of emotions. I was at the site of a seven-story building that collapsed in a neighborhood with severe damage to many of the older picturesque buildings.

And I talked with desperate relatives of one couple that had an accounting firm on the fourth floor there. And they've been at the site now - it's been nearly three days - hoping and waiting to hear something from authorities. And there is little information that's being given, which is frustrating to relatives. But, you know, in front of you, you see this huge building with its pancaked floors and rubble and twisted rebar. And you can see rescue workers on top scouring for entryways. You see them bringing in dogs, walking around and sniffing the rubble.

I did speak with Pola Diaz that - you just spoke about. And she's just an amazing woman. She's really short in stature, but she's incredibly brave. She's one of these Mexican so-called topos. They're volunteer rescuers. Topos mean moles in Spanish. And like the animal, she crawls into these small spaces in the rubble and searches for survivors.

GREENE: I mean, we're talking about three days now since the earthquake struck. Are people moving on and trying to get on with their lives, or are they transfixed by these reports of rescue operations and all this drama?

KAHN: I think, again, Pola Diaz really just embodies what everybody's thinking there. She told me very emphatically she's not leaving until every survivor's found. And she said, hope never dies. And that's pretty much the sentiment from the hundreds. But the thing is that the next day or two is really going to be very critical here.

They'll have to make a decision soon about when these rescue efforts will turn into recovery. And that's going to be a tough decision to make. It's going to be a tough one for all these hundreds of volunteers there to really accept and to move into this next phase. It's going to have to happen soon.

GREENE: And just briefly, I mean, there's this child that people were so desperately trying to rescue at that elementary school. She might never have actually existed or been there?

KAHN: No, she did not. A Navy official came out yesterday and said that that was not true. All the children at the school have been accounted for.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Carrie Kahn covering the really sad aftermath of that earthquake in Mexico. She's in Mexico City. Carrie, thanks.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "BELOVED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.