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News Brief: NFL Players React To Trump Tweet, Germany's Elections


Most of my Sundays this time of year I spend watching football and watching more football. And I know plenty of people out there are with me. Many are not. I have friends who don't understand this routine at all. But yesterday, it seemed like a day when even people who are not sports nuts were gripped by what was happening at NFL stadiums. You saw players, coaches, athletes kneeling, linking arms, in some cases, staying in the locker room during the national anthem, despite - or perhaps we should say because - of President Trump.


Yeah. Well count me in the non-sports nut camp who would not normally be paying attention to the NFL. But yesterday - yeah, wow. Let me back us up and let people know this weekend's collision of sports and politics started Friday night. That was when President Trump disparaged players at a political rally in Alabama. What he said was, when NFL players, quote, "disrespect our flag," NFL owners should fire them. Now, many players who've taken a knee at games say they are doing so to protest racial injustice. And one of those players is Michael Thomas, who plays for the Miami Dolphins.


MICHAEL THOMAS: I got a daughter. She's going to have to live in this world. You don't understand. I'm going to do whatever I got to do to make sure, you know, she can look at her dad and be, like, hey, you did something. You tried to make a change. You feel me?

KELLY: The president says his position is not about race. It is about respect for flag and country. And he continued, David, attacking the NFL on Twitter.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Susan Davis is here to talk us through this. Sue, why is the president picking this fight?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, I'm definitely here to talk about the politics of it, not the sports of it.

GREENE: OK. Let's be clear.

KELLY: (Laughter).

GREENE: You and I can talk about the sports some other time.

KELLY: Right there with you, Sue.

DAVIS: A couple things I think important to keep in mind as we talk about this. Donald Trump the businessman has been picking fights with the NFL his entire career. Donald Trump the politician has been picking fights with the NFL his entire political career. He was a critic of the NFL during his campaign and specifically of Colin Kaepernick, the player who does not - did not kneel during the national anthem that sort of started all this.

GREENE: And began all this, yeah.

DAVIS: As Mary Louise noted, this - when did this start? This started at a campaign rally in Alabama where the president is trying to excite a low turnout base at the head of an election - which is tomorrow - on the eve of an election.

GREENE: This is a primary election he has invested a lot of political capital in.

DAVIS: It is a runoff election in Alabama pitting an incumbent Luther Strange against a more conservative candidate, Roy Moore. Donald Trump has endorsed Luther Strange. And he wants people to show up and vote for Luther Moore. So while a lot...

KELLY: Luther Strange. Yeah.

DAVIS: Luther Strange. Right. So while a lot of people yesterday were riveted by the NFL, I was riveted by something that Luther Strange told Fox News, in which he said he thought that the president's comments were what was going to put him over the top in tomorrow's runoff election.

GREENE: He sees this as about patriotism and one way to really fire up his base at a critical moment.

DAVIS: And a really good way to do that is a good, old-fashioned culture war.

GREENE: Well, let me - obviously, we're going to be following that this week - that runoff. Let me just ask you also - we have the latest attempt this week to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. This is the Graham-Cassidy bill. Republicans trying again to repeal Obamacare and replace it. I know the co-sponsor of this new Bill, Bill Cassidy, said he's introducing a revised version today. He needs Republican votes - I mean, almost all of them, right? Is he going to pull this off?

DAVIS: This is the last ditch to the last ditch. The revised efforts are going to include more money for states like Maine and Alaska to try and get those senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, onboard. It also further rolls back Obamacare regulations, trying to get conservatives onboard. That also means it weakens pre-existing condition protections, which is not going to make it an easy sell. So they're trying to get the votes, but the momentum is certainly not in their favor.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Susan Davis, thanks as always.

DAVIS: You bet.

GREENE: Big election in Germany over the weekend. German voters have chosen Angela Merkel to lead them for another four years.

KELLY: And that will solidify Merkel's position as the longest-serving leader in Europe at the moment. Her victory, though, was tempered by another political force on the rise. The right-wing nationalist party, the AfD, got about 13 percent of the vote. That means they will get representation in Parliament. And this is the first time a right-wing party will have that kind of influence in Germany in 60 years. AfD Berlin chair George Pazderski described the results this way.


GEORG PAZDERSKI: I think not only upset. We think we have seen an earthquake today, political earthquake in Germany.

GREENE: And our co-host Rachel Martin has spent the last week reporting in Berlin. That's where she is this morning. Hey, Rachel.


Hey. Guten tag, David.

GREENE: Oh, very nice. Guten tag.



MARTIN: Thanks.

GREENE: ...You're going to use a lot more German in this conversation, right?

MARTIN: Right. Not at all.

GREENE: (Laughter) What - how are people reacting? How are Germans reacting to these results this morning?

MARTIN: I think a lot of people here are trying to wrap their heads around what happened last night because on the one hand, this is the ultimate vote of continuity and stability, electing Angela Merkel to yet another term - her fourth. But then you've got this rise of the far-right party, the AfD. They won so many votes. As Mary Louise said, this is going to be the first time a right-wing party of this kind of nationalist, hardliners on immigration - the first time that they will get a foothold into Parliament. So in that respect, this was really an anti-establishment vote.

GREENE: So in Germany - because of Germany's history, Rachel - does the rise of a right-wing party feel somehow different?

MARTIN: Definitely. And people have said that. I mean, as an American, you have to resist the urge to see everything through this prism of Germany's history. But that history is really present right now. I mean, this party did say - did take such a hard line on immigration. The campaign posters evoked a lot of Islamophobia, in particular. People who I talked to readily brought up the word Nazi when I asked them about the AfD. And this was on both sides. I talked with a 60-year-old retiree in Berlin last night. When I asked her what she thought of the AfD, she said it's stressful because they're like Nazis. And I talked with a cab driver who voted for the AfD. And the first words out of his mouth were, you need to know I'm not a racist. I'm not a Nazi.

GREENE: So interesting. What is that? I mean, that reality that people were bringing up that past and that we have the rise of this party - what does that mean for Merkel as she plows forward with another term?

MARTIN: Well, we should point out this means that the AfD is now the third-strongest party in Germany, which is remarkable. So they're going to have a legitimate political megaphone to push their policies, which are to the right of Merkel, especially on immigration, on social issues. When she gives an address, when she makes a point, they will go to the AfD for the counterpoint. So it's going to present a challenge for her internally. And then, externally, Merkel's biggest challenges are the same ones they have been - chief among them, navigating her most vexing geopolitical relationships, the German relationship with Russia and the German relationship with the United States and the Trump administration.

GREENE: Both important and complicated. That is our co-host Rachel Martin talking to us from Berlin this morning. Rachel, thanks.

MARTIN: You bet.

GREENE: OK. Let's check in now with people in Puerto Rico. They have been struggling through a lot.

KELLY: They sure have, especially since last Wednesday, when Hurricane Maria swept across the island. According to one official, the storm's destruction has set Puerto Rico back decades. We know that the U.S. territory still has virtually no electricity. Here's how one resident, Jose Nieves (ph), put it.

JOSE NIEVES: After this aftermath, I think everybody in Puerto Rico's going to have a generator (laughter). I don't think anybody's going to through this - no power again.

GREENE: Sounds like someone who's trying to make the best of a difficult situation with laughter. NPR's Camila Domonoske is in San Juan. And she joins me now. Good morning.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So, I mean, that voice we just heard there laughing through something really hard - this is hard. I mean, this is living without power for days on end. And this could go on and on, right?

DOMONOSKE: People are braced for this massive power outage to last for a very long time. And, like you said, it's incredibly difficult. It affects water pumps and food storage and medicine. It makes every part of everyday life so challenging. And so, yeah, he's laughing through it. But there's a real point there too, which is that nobody wants to go through this ever again - anyone who's dealing with it now. Places that do have generators are humming along. But you still have to keep fuel for those generators, which is also a real challenge.


DOMONOSKE: So yeah, it's extremely difficult.

GREENE: And so you have the whole island affected by this. I mean, you have rural areas and also, of course, the city of San Juan. What does the city feel like in this situation?

DOMONOSKE: You know, it's been days, but there's still debris on the ground. Roofs are mangled. Branches are bare. You know, you picture an aerial view of Puerto Rico, right? It's a tropical island. It's green.


DOMONOSKE: When our plane was coming in, it looked brown along this coastline like a desert island. That's how denuded all of the branches are. There's still trees down. Some of them are completely or nearly completely blocking roads. There's still flooding. Everyday life is basically at a halt. Shops are shuttered. People are standing in long lines to get small amounts of gas. And this is the good part of the island. This is great compared to...

GREENE: Camila, you still there? All right. You still there? It sounds like we lost her.

DOMONOSKE: I'm here. I'm here. Sorry.

GREENE: Oh, you're still there. We got you on a different line.

DOMONOSKE: (Laughter).

KELLY: Speaks to the power issues that are happening there, I think.

GREENE: Yeah, exactly.

KELLY: Power and phone line and communication.

GREENE: Well, I was about to ask you, which is kind of funny, I mean, what is communication like off the island? Because, I mean, we're struggling to stay in contact with you. I imagine that people are having trouble, I mean, talking to family members and talking to anyone outside the island at all. Does it feel - they feel trapped?

DOMONOSKE: It's a tremendous issue. We were talking to people who are along an expressway where there was some spotty cell phone service. They'd driven an hour and a half to try to get some kind of a signal just to tell relatives in the U.S. or elsewhere that they're OK, that they made it through. And, meanwhile, those relatives on the mainland are worried because they just can't get word. It's so hard.

GREENE: All right. Well, we appreciate you figuring out a way to talk to us this morning. NPR's Camila Domonoske is in San Juan, Puerto Rico - still without power after that hurricane and struggling to find a way back. Thanks a lot, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "AFTERNOON AT SATIE'S" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.