RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And I'm Rachel Martin at our North Texas member station KERA in Dallas. The nation's first primary election of the year is happening today in this state. And we're going to talk about that in a few moments. First, though, we're going to get into the latest challenges for the White House because there are some.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yeah. President Trump faces pressure from his own party not to go through with new tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. And - well, then there's Sam Nunberg. The former Trump campaign official declared that he did not want to cooperate with a subpoena in the Russia investigation. But having said that, he gave hours of revealing interviews on multiple TV programs. He suggested that President Trump might indeed have done something wrong and added this to CNN.
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SAM NUNBERG: Granted, Donald Trump caused this because he's an idiot.
INSKEEP: At the end of the evening, Nunberg denied to CNN's Erin Burnett that he had been drinking. So what's the White House do now?
MARTIN: OK. Let's bring in NPR's Tamara Keith to get into all this.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.
MARTIN: So first, these bizarre interviews Sam Nunberg gave yesterday. So what was that special counsel subpoena requesting of him?
KEITH: Well, what he says Mueller is asking is for him to turn over a pile of emails related to the campaign and also that he wants him to testify Friday before a grand jury. Already, Nunberg has spoken for about five hours with Mueller's team - that is, according to Nunberg. And let's just say that given the meandering, rambling, contradictory nature of this sort of rolling cable extravaganza that Nunberg went on yesterday, there is some question about whether anything he said over the course of the last 24 hours should be taken at face value.
The other thing to point out about Nunberg is that he was a political adviser to Trump for years before the campaign. But he was booted from the campaign within a couple of months of it starting. And he ultimately had a major falling out with both Trump and those who remained on the campaign.
MARTIN: So he might have a bone to pick. But by the end of the whole crazy day, he had actually walked back some of the comments and suggested that he might cooperate after all. So what has been the reaction from the White House?
KEITH: Yeah. So the White House reaction came from Sarah Sanders at the briefing yesterday afternoon, which came in the early stages of Nunberg's cable extravaganza.
KEITH: And what she said is that there has been no collusion and that Nunberg has never worked at the White House, so she couldn't speak to the lack of knowledge that he clearly has. Those are her words.
MARTIN: So meanwhile, President Trump at the same time is contending with this resistance, let's call it, among some congressional Republicans to his plan to raise the tariffs on steel and aluminum. Paul Ryan coming out against this. Any signs now that the president might be reconsidering?
KEITH: No, no signs at all. You know, the president hasn't signed anything yet. There is nothing on paper yet. It isn't official. It's something that the president said. However, he was asked, based on what Paul Ryan's office had been saying and the widespread resistance from congressional Republicans and basically every other Republican interest group - was asked whether he might back down. And the president said, no. No, I am not backing down on this.
MARTIN: I mean, this has been successful for him - for the president - to double down on protectionist policies like this. Clearly, House Republicans think otherwise.
KEITH: Yeah. It is not a surprise that President Trump who has campaigned on this, who has believed in these ideas for decades, would stand firm on this. Republicans are saying, many, that they are concerned that this would be a headwind to that new tax reform legislation that passed and could ultimately sort of negate the economic value of that.
INSKEEP: All of this is going into a polarized media environment. Last evening, I checked the websites of The New York Times and Fox News. The New York Times had tariffs, Sam Nunberg, embarrassments involving Ben Carson. Fox News was leading with a story about Hillary Clinton.
MARTIN: All right, we will leave it at that. NPR's Tam Keith for us this morning.
Thanks so much, Tamara.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: All right. So Steve, I'm in Texas...
MARTIN: ...Along with our producers and editors. And at the end of the day here, we could have our first indication of how the midterm elections could shape up for this state and what the outcome here might portend for the elections in the fall.
INSKEEP: OK. Slow down your talking a little bit. You got to do a little drawl.
MARTIN: A little drawl?
INSKEEP: A little drawl - if you don't mind.
MARTIN: I'm going too fast for you?
INSKEEP: Oh, no, no. I'm just encouraging you to get with, you know, the state. Anyways, the state...
MARTIN: Get with the Texas vibe.
INSKEEP: Exactly. There you go.
The Republican Party in Texas says the state is, without a doubt, the strongest Republican state in the nation. And there's reason for that. Republican candidates have carried the state in every presidential election since 1976, and Democrats have not won a statewide election in nearly 24 years. But now the number of Democrats running to represent Texas in the U.S. House, actually contesting House seats, is the highest it's been in 24 years. So what's that say about the strength of both parties this year?
MARTIN: Let's ask reporter Chris Connelly of member station KERA here in Dallas.
CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: There are lots of Democrats running for congressional seats. Is there a concern here among the GOP that there really could be this blue surge?
CONNELLY: Well, Governor Greg Abbott did send out an email to his supporters last week warning that Republicans could be in real trouble this fall. But that was a fundraising email, so it might be more posturing than real concern.
Like you said, Republicans are really strong in Texas. They've got a really strong election operation. But Democrats are pushing really hard. They've got good reason to think they can pick up some statehouse seats. There are a few traditionally Republican congressional districts in the suburbs where Democrats look competitive. And then for the Senate, El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke - he's a congressman - has been putting on a strong challenge to Ted Cruz for his Senate seat. So Democrats are feeling optimistic.
MARTIN: OK. So at the national level, there is this rift, though, between the Democratic Party's more progressive wing and centrists, so-called establishment types. Is the same sort of divide playing out in Texas?
CONNELLY: Yeah. I mean, there is some of it playing out. You've seen some spats here and there. But I think in most of the races, Democrats are kind of downplaying those specific divisions. They're focusing instead, really, on beating Republicans.
But you do have something of a representational question playing out in the governor's race among the top two Democrats. On the one hand, you have Lupe Valdez, a longtime Dallas County sheriff who's a Latina, a lesbian, the daughter of migrant farmworkers. And then on the other side, you have Andrew White, who's Anglo, a businessman, the son of a former governor and, at least initially, framed himself as a moderate. So there's kind of a question of the future face of the Texas Democratic Party.
MARTIN: Well, we will see what today brings. It will be all about the turnout game, who can get their enthusiastic voters to the polls today.
Chris Connelly of member station KERA in Dallas. Hey Chris, thanks so much.
CONNELLY: Sure thing.
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MARTIN: All right. For the ninth weekday in a row, families across West Virginia are figuring out what to do because they're not going be able to send their kids to school.
INSKEEP: Thousands of teachers and school service staff are on strike and demanding a 5 percent increase in pay. Governor Jim Justice reached a deal with the teachers to give them that, but the state Senate changed the terms to 4 percent. For more on this, we have reporter Jake Zuckerman. Go.
MARTIN: Jake, last week, there seemed to be a deal, this agreement, about a 4 percent pay increase. But teachers didn't take the deal. Right? So where do negotiations stand right now?
JAKE ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's not so much the teachers that didn't take the deal as Senate Republicans right now. The House passed a plan that was offered by Governor Jim Justice that would grant a 5 percent raise to teachers and school service personnel starting in the next fiscal year. The House passed it within a couple hours of its actual introduction. It flew over to the Senate.
But a Senate finance committee a few days later said that they weren't going to play ball with the governor. And they knocked it down to a 4 percent pay raise on the basis that that would be shared by all state employees, the rest of whom would be covered in the state's budget bill, which is also going to be decided in the next week. And right now, unions are saying the strike will continue indefinitely until the teachers and school service personnel receive that 5 percent raise. And Senate Republicans appear to be standing firm. So we're at something of an impasse.
MARTIN: What's the average salary for a teacher in West Virginia?
ZUCKERMAN: According to the NEA, the average salary is about $45,000 for teachers in West Virginia, which makes West Virginia about the 48th lowest-paid state in the field.
MARTIN: So it's now nine days, as we said, that these kids - these students have been out of school. That means parents have to take off work presumably, in many cases, to take care of their kids. Have you been able to talk to parents and students about just what this has been like for them? How are they feeling?
ZUCKERMAN: Right. Yeah. Well, you know, in talking to parents and even some lawmakers who have kids in public schools, at first there was that kind of snow day jubilation - woohoo, there's no school. But...
ZUCKERMAN: ...Now I think even students are starting to get restless. You know, nine school days, 12 calendar days - it's a long time to just be sitting around at home. A lot of schools have canceled athletics. There's just not a lot for kids to be doing. And meanwhile, there's hardship on parents who have to either find daycare, which can be really pricey in a state that's a generally poor state, or just parents have to stay home and be with kids.
MARTIN: And just real briefly - are they directing their ire at the teachers who are on strike?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, that's a tough one to pin down. You know, there seems to be a lot of support with the teachers. And, I mean, we have just been seeing massive crowds of them. Yesterday, there were more than 6,000 teachers at the West Virginia Capitol. And we're seeing support from principals and superintendents as well.
MARTIN: All right. Well, we will see what happens today with negotiations there in West Virginia.
Jake Zuckerman of Charleston Gazette-Mail, thanks so much for being with us today.
ZUCKERMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLAR BEARS' "WILD FLOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.