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Morning News Brief: Party Unity Tested, Far-Right Weekend Rallies


President Trump - wow - was in full attack mode this week.


That's right. Unfortunately for Republicans, his main targets were Republicans. On Twitter, Trump took swipes at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. And then at a rally in Phoenix, he criticized Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain - well, sort of.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't it? Very presidential. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime. So I won't talk about him.

CHANG: Now, at that same rally, the president threatened a government shutdown if Congress doesn't approve money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. So how exactly are Republicans going to work together this fall?

GREENE: Well, let's pose that question to NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who is with us. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So if you are a Republican lawmaker getting attacked by the president of the United States who is a member of your own party, I mean, how are these lawmakers responding to this?

DAVIS: You know, the line I kept thinking about this week is the famous Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. I'm thinking that we might be in need of an update on that one. You know, Republican lawmakers still seem to abide by that rule. I would say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan don't engage with the president on that level. This is not a tit for tat. I think that they recognize that the base of the party loves the president, that he still remains very popular.

They are not as popular. And so there's no benefit to be gained there. There is a hope that while this is sort of the performance art of the president, that their end goals still remain the same, that there is still a long list of legislative items that they would like to accomplish this fall. And talk aside, there's still hope that they can put that all aside when they come back in September and get some things done.

GREENE: Is that overly optimistic? I mean, what's the practical impact of a feud like this?

DAVIS: The hard part about all of this is there's just no playbook for it. There's no other precedent you can look at and say, well, here's an instance where an incumbent president repeatedly attacked his own party and got lots of things done. What we do know is that they at least say they are very committed to overhauling the tax code, that that is the fight that they want to dominate the fall. The president ostensibly shares the same goal as congressional Republicans do.

He just didn't spend any time this month talking about it, which was a very different conversation where congressional leaders and senior Republicans were hoping August was going to be this national conversation about the tax code.

GREENE: Right.

DAVIS: And I think it's pretty self-evident that that is not the conversation...

GREENE: The conversation seemed different. Yeah, it was a different conversation that's happening.

DAVIS: The nation is not having that conversation.

CHANG: And, I mean, like, really, is overhauling the tax code going to be so much easier than repealing Obamacare? You've got to wonder how successful they're going to be on that one.

DAVIS: Well, and that - you know, if that is the lesson that - you know, they didn't seem to learn any lessons from that. They're not regrouping. They're not doing anything differently. And, you know, I think that the president thinks and what his tactic has been and what he seems to continue to employ is that he can bully Congress into action, that his leadership style is to - sort of negative reinforcement to get an end goal. It didn't work in the past.

I think there's good reason to be skeptical about it working this fall.

GREENE: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks and have a good weekend.

DAVIS: You too.


GREENE: All right, this weekend, San Francisco and Berkeley - these are cities known for their left-leaning politics - are getting a lot of attention from far-right groups.

CHANG: Oh, yes, they are. The Bay Area has become somewhat of a political battleground in recent months between the left and the right. In February, after the University of California, Berkeley canceled a speech by Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos, violent protests erupted on both sides.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Not my president. Not my president. Not my president

CHANG: And this weekend, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is hoping for some calm.


ED LEE: God pray nobody gets hurt because these people with hate-filled messages are coming into our city to wreak havoc.

GREENE: And let's turn now to our correspondent in that city, San Francisco, NPR's Eric Westervelt. Hey, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what is the far-right rationale here? I mean, are they deliberately targeting or trying to make a move into some of these very liberal pockets of the United States?

WESTERVELT: Absolutely. I mean, on Facebook, far-right activist Kyle Chapman urged others to show up this weekend in the Bay Area writing, (reading) talk about kicking the hornet's nest. Let's show these intolerant communists we won't be silent. So there's definitely a kind of take-the-fight-to-the-enemy aspect of this where they see these West Coast cities, David, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, as, you know, centers of intolerant, defeat leftist culture - a bunch of snowflakes, as the "alt-right" likes to say.

GREENE: Well, and there are going to be counter-protests that are being organized in response to this.

WESTERVELT: Lots of counter-protests and the far-left, self-described antifascist, or antifa, groups. Some who have openly embraced violent tactics are vowing to shut down, as they put it, confront and disrupt both rallies - Saturday's in San Francisco and Sunday's in Berkeley. And, David, after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, you know, police and civic leaders here are deeply worried. And they're preparing for the worst.

GREENE: Yes. I mean, so many questions about how law enforcement handled Charlottesville, then we saw, you know, Boston where things remained, you know, relatively peaceful. What exactly is law enforcement doing in San Francisco? How are they handling this?

WESTERVELT: Well, they're keeping their cards close to their chest in terms of tactics. But they say, you know, we've canceled all vacation time off requests. Berkeley has asked for mutual aid assistance from neighboring communities. And in San Francisco, you know, this rally by the group Patriot Prayer is going to be on federal land. It's part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And as part of the permit for that rally Saturday, police have banned this long list of items, you know, including helmets, tiki torches, selfie sticks and weapons of any kind.

And that includes handguns. No guns will be allowed, including, you know, those people who have concealed carry permits.

GREENE: Well, and, Eric, yesterday there were these reports that the city of Berkeley was actually denying a permit for organizers of one of these rallies Sunday. Is it still happening or is that - are they trying to make it not happen?

WESTERVELT: Well, it looks like it is going forward. I spoke with Berkley's Mayor Jesse Arreguin last night. He said the city believes, you know, both sides are going to show up Sunday, even though the permit was denied. The mayor told me, you know, Charlottesville has really raised the stakes. He said he's very concerned about the potential for violence. You know, Berkeley historically, David, is the center of the Free Speech Movement.

And the mayor said we take our responsibility for protecting free speech seriously. But referring to extremists on both sides, he said, you know, when you come to an event dressed as a soldier ready for battle, you're not interested in free speech. You're interested in a brawl.

GREENE: All right, we'll be watching closely this weekend in San Francisco and the Bay Area. NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us from San Francisco. Thanks, Eric.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, David.


GREENE: All right, we're going to turn our attention now to Texas, where Hurricane Harvey looks like it is heading. This could be the first major hurricane to hit the United States in 12 years.

CHANG: Yeah, the hurricane is picking up strength in the Gulf of Mexico. And it's expected to make landfall late today or Saturday as a category three hurricane. That means it could bring a life-threatening storm surge and up to 30 inches of rain. So people are kind of preparing for the worst right now. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has already declared a preemptive state of disaster in 30 counties.

GREENE: And we have Houston Public Media's Gail Delaughter on the line from Houston. Hi there, Gail.

GAIL DELAUGHTER, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

GREENE: So tell me about the preparations here. What are communities in Texas doing to get ready for this?

DELAUGHTER: Well, it depends on where you are. If you're in the coastal communities are expecting a huge amount of storm surge. So people are either being told to evacuate or to make preparations for the storm. When these weather events come into Texas along the coast, some people leave. They know the roads are going to flood. They won't be able to get out later on. But other folks try to ride it out. They want to protect their property. They want to protect their boats and just, you know, guard against any looting or anything like that.

Now, when you move further inland, the dynamic's a little bit different. You have waterways, you have bayous, we have rivers. And so especially if the storm stalls north of Houston and dumps an incredible amount of rain, that's going to bring up water on those waterways.

GREENE: So remind me of the geography for people not in Texas. I mean, Houston is close enough to the coast that that city where you are could take a pretty big hit from this, right?

DELAUGHTER: It will be different because a storm starts to lose its tropical characteristics once it moves on shore. And the concern here, like I said, it could be a huge rainmaker. Not so much wind like we saw during Hurricane Ike a few years ago but just, you know, dumping water in different places. Where the flooding takes place depends on where you are - if you're along a waterway, if you're in a low-lying area. Also development patterns could play a big role as well.

There's been a lot of building, a lot of new construction since the last storm. And that takes away places for the water to go. So that could also play a role.

GREENE: If my memory is right, it's been a number of years since Texas has actually been hit by a major hurricane like this. I mean, are people taking it pretty seriously? What does the mood feel like?

DELAUGHTER: Well, we had Hurricane Ike. That was back in '08. But the storm that everybody here remembers is Tropical Storm Allison. That happened 16 years ago. And that was the most expensive tropical storm in history. It dumped an incredible amount of rain over the city. It actually made two passes over the Houston metro area. So that's what everybody has in their minds right now was what happened during Allison.

GREENE: All right, speaking to Houston Public Media's Gail Delaughter, who joined us via Skype from the city of Houston. In Houston and also elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico and Texas, they're getting ready for a possible hit from Hurricane Harvey, which would be the first major hurricane - this is pretty amazing - to hit the United States in 12 years. Thanks so much, Gail. We appreciate it. And batten down the hatches there.

DELAUGHTER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.