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Morning News Brief: GOP Continues Work On Health Care Bill, JAY-Z Releases New Album


And, Steve, did a presidential tweet just bring unity to Washington, D.C.?


Well, not on health care, not on taxes, not on any item of substance. But surveys show that even many of President Trump supporters dislike his Twitter outbursts, and the latest drew bipartisan criticism from lawmakers. The president, as you may have heard, referred to a pair of MSNBC hosts as low-IQ, crazy, psycho, and then claimed one of them, quote, "had been bleeding badly from a face-lift." Why? Well, the president was angry that they had criticized him on a show that he claimed not to be watching. White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the remark.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, everybody wants to make this an attack on a woman and equality - what about the constant attacks that he receives or the rest of us?

GREENE: All right, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is in the studio. Domenico, the White House defending this there, but a lot of Republicans not defending this. They really pounced on the president. Are they losing patience with their own president?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, morning, David. And, you know, what you heard there from Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a tactic called whataboutism. It's a - something long used by Soviet Russia and your...


GREENE: That's an official term from Soviet days?


INSKEEP: Oh, totally. Yeah.

MONTANARO: This is. We have written about it on npr.org. You can read about it.

INSKEEP: What about the other people?

GREENE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: The other nasty people?

MONTANARO: I know - well, look, it's employed, like I said, by - long used by Soviet Russia and your friendly neighborhood teenager, as some of us former English teachers (laughter) are familiar with. You know, when you're unpopular as a president, it's hard for a president to have a lot of leverage with even his own party. But he's a complicated problem for these Republicans - for Republican elected officials, in particular. You know, I mean, this is somebody who is widely unpopular with independents and Democrats but yet beloved by the Republican voter base.

GREENE: You say complicated problem. But, I mean, the president has said worse. I mean, we remember the "Access Hollywood" tape in the weeks right before the election...


GREENE: ...Didn't cause political damage for him. So is there any incentive for him to hold back?

MONTANARO: Well, look, I - our latest NBC - our latest NPR-Marist poll has shown that he was slipping pretty badly with independents. And that can be a big, big problem with President Trump. He won independents in the 2016 election by four points. When independents have then soured on him, that can be a big issue for him going forward.

GREENE: Well, speaking of big issues, there was that issue - health care - that we were talking a lot about this week. The Republican leadership in the Senate, they delayed the vote to give more time to work something out. Where are things? Anything new? Any sort of feel for the timeline of when there could be a vote?

MONTANARO: Well, it's never a pretty process. And they'd, you know, like to be closer to a revised bill possibly by the end of the day today. You know, to get a vote by next week, they need a new Congressional Budget Office score. That is, according to the Senate rules. The CBO gave a new score yesterday on long-term Medicaid impact. And it wasn't very good. It showed a bleaker picture. So they're still aiming to try to have something next week. But there are a few things on the table.

INSKEEP: Which is a reminder that however uncomfortable lawmakers may be with the president's Twitter account, they're still with him on some major issues of substance and pleased if he will sign a piece of legislation like the health care bill, assuming that Republicans can ever agree on what they think that ought to be.

GREENE: Yeah. All right, NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks as always. Have a good weekend.

MONTANARO: All right, thank you.


GREENE: So in Hong Kong, they are celebrating an anniversary tomorrow. Actually, many people are not celebrating, I guess we should say.

INSKEEP: It is the 20th anniversary of Great Britain's handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule. China pledged in 1997, 20 years ago, that it would preserve Hong Kong's democratic systems for at least half a century. It's what's known as the one country, two systems promise.

GREENE: Well, two decades on, has China kept that promise? Let's talk to NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is in Hong Kong. And, Rob, what's the atmosphere there like?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, it's pretty - it's very busy. You know, Chinese President Xi Jinping is on his first visit here since he became president five years ago. So he's been making stops throughout the city yesterday and today. He'll take in a massive fireworks display tonight to mark the anniversary. There is sure to be a lot of red fireworks, the official color of communism.

And he will inaugurate the city's new chief executive, Carrie Lam, tomorrow. And wherever he goes this weekend, there will be protests not too far away. Several protests are scheduled starting tonight and going through tomorrow evening from all sorts of groups. And media is here from all over Asia as well to cover it all. So it should be a pretty interesting day or two.

GREENE: The fact that we're going to see protests, does that mean that there are a lot of people in Hong Kong who are just not comfortable with Chinese rule and don't feel like China's kept that promise to keep that democratic system in place?

SCHMITZ: It depends on who you talk to, David. You know, many Hong Kongers don't believe China has kept its promise. When President Xi arrived yesterday, he thanked the city government for, in his words, making the one country, two systems policy a success. And he praised them for curbing Hong Kong independence. And that was a reference to the protests three years ago that shut down Hong Kong's financial district.

And these were protests that were spurred by China's backing down from one of the promises it made in '97 to allow city residents to directly elect the city's chief executive. So there are many here who don't think China has done enough. Earlier this week, I spoke to local residents about Xi Jinping's visit. Here's what one man - his name is Yensur Qin (ph) - said about that.

YENSUR QIN: (Through interpreter) It's all a big show, a big waste of money. They say he'll visit local families, but he doesn't want to know what's really happening to Hong Kong people. I'm a local. Come talk to me. I see how this city has changed. Things are getting worse.

GREENE: Big show, waste of money? That's extraordinary.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, I've heard a lot of that this week when I talked to folks. And, you know, I think it goes beyond just Hong Kong, too. You know, I spoke with Anson Chan this week. She was a chief secretary who supervised the handover for the Hong Kong government back in 1997. And she told me China's basically cheated Hong Kong. And any - and any country or business that deals with China should take a look at what's happening in Hong Kong because according to her, that's how China will treat them when they're signing business deals or international treaties. And that's why she thinks what's happening here in Hong Kong is relevant to everyone because of China's global influence.

GREENE: Maybe some broader lessons that we're seeing sort of play out here.

SCHMITZ: Right, exactly.

GREENE: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Hong Kong ahead of this controversial anniversary. Rob, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, David.


JAY-Z: (Rapping) Kill Jay-Z. They'll never love you. You'll never be enough.

GREENE: That, that right there is your first listen to Jay-Z's first album out in nearly four years.

INSKEEP: Kill Jay-Z, the first line there, wow. Well, there's a backstory. To really understand, go back a year when Jay-Z's wife Beyonce released her album "Lemonade," an album that sparked a lot of speculation because on it, she seemed to be alluding to an affair between Jay-Z and another woman. Now, a year later, Jay-Z appears to be apologizing.


JAY-Z: (Rapping) I apologize, often womanize. Took for my child to be born to see through a woman's eyes. Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles. Took me too long for this song. I don't deserve you. I harass you out in Paris.

GREENE: NPR Music's hip-hop writer Rodney Carmichael is here. Rodney, I thought Jay-Z and Beyonce were famous for keeping their relationship 100 percent private. What - so what's going on here?

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Well, you know, that's in interviews, I think. I think that Beyonce and Jay-Z have always liked to celebrate their relationship. You had "03 Bonnie And Clyde." This was long before they got married. And they were - you know, they were all about the power couple that they were becoming. And it's just, you know, in interviews, they don't like to talk about it. But they've always talked through their music, which is what artists are supposed to do.

GREENE: Interesting. So a real distinction between people opening up and talking in interviews and actually just putting feelings into song.

CARMICHAEL: Exactly, and he puts a lot of feeling into this album.

GREENE: There's a lot of feeling in this album.


GREENE: I mean, is there some kind of shift here in Jay-Z's career?

CARMICHAEL: I think so. I mean, I think it's a shift that people have been hoping would come eventually. And it's not that he hasn't attempted to. You know, Jay-Z is a guy - he's been on top of the game for years. And, you know, hip-hop is a genre that's moving into this new age of whether or not it can age gracefully. And Jay-Z is doing that with this album.

GREENE: He's aging gracefully, you're saying?

CARMICHAEL: He's aging gracefully. But he's taking on challenging topics. There aren't any club bangers. There aren't any party jams on this album. It's all deep, complex...


CARMICHAEL: ...Vulnerable material.

GREENE: It's serious stuff. I want to play a little bit more which speaks to that. This is a bit from the song "The Story Of O.J."


JAY-Z: (Rapping) O.J. like, I'm not black, I'm O.J. OK. House [expletive], don't [expletive] with me. I'm a field [expletive] with shined cutlery. Gold-plated quarters where the butlers be. I'm-a play the corners where the hustlers be.

GREENE: This is - this is not a club song. This is taking on social issues, racism.

CARMICHAEL: It's definitely taking on those issues. And it's interesting to hear Jay-Z doing it. Not that he has never taken on these issues before, but he's also been criticized for being at his position, you know, in terms of wealth, career, status and not being more vocal during this time.

INSKEEP: It's notable - the style, too. It sounds like he's just talking.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, it's a very, you know, casual delivery in terms of how he's talking on this album. It's really great. It's very introspective. It's his best work in years. I would put it up there with his best albums.

GREENE: Wow, all right. That's saying a lot. Well, we'll all be listening this weekend.


GREENE: Jay-Z's first album in four years. Chatting with NPR Music's hip-hop writer, Rodney Carmichael. Thanks a lot, Rodney.

CARMICHAEL: Thank you all.


JAY-Z: (Rapping) You did what with who? What good is a menage a trois when you have a soulmate? You risked that for Blue? If I wasn't a superhero in your face, my heart breaks for the day I had to explain my mistakes. And the mask goes away. And Santa Claus is fake. And you go online and see... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.