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News brief: looming rail strike, Trump's political future, Sweden's far-right party

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The pandemic caused many supply chain bottlenecks. And then just as things seem to be getting better, freight railroad workers are talking about striking.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Yeah. Workers could strike as early as midnight Friday morning. And if they do, the action could bring on the type of supply chain disruption unseen in the U.S. for a generation.

INSKEEP: Frank Morris of our member station KCUR in Kansas City is covering this story.

Frank, hey there.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: You've got a great rail network where you are, but I gather that some things are already shutting down, even though the strike has not begun yet. What are some of the early preparations?

MORRIS: That's right, Steve. You know, some of the weird knock-on effects is that passenger rail service - Amtrak - has shut down most of its cross-country service and track employees aren't going to strike. But outside of the Northeast Corridor, that busy rail corridor between Boston and Washington, Amtrak trains run on tracks owned and operated by the big freight railroads. Freight railroad workers go on strike, those tracks will be closed to passenger service. So and track is pausing the long routes now to keep from stranding passengers later if there's a strike. Lots of shipments are starting to taper already - hazardous chemicals, especially, new cars, intermodal service. Some grain shipments could stop today.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I guess you wouldn't want hazardous chemicals sitting out in the middle of nowhere for an undetermined amount of time. But how else...

MORRIS: Nor anything valuable.

INSKEEP: Yeah. How else are companies preparing?

MORRIS: Well, I mean, this is not going to be an easy thing to gulp down. Trains carry about 28% of the stuff moving around the country on any given day. So you stop that, and suddenly power plants stop getting deliveries of coal to generate electricity. Trains full of imported goods aren't making it inland from the coasts. Factories aren't getting parts, raw materials and packaging.

That said, Lee Sanders with the American Bakers Association says that after the pandemic-related shortages and supply chain problems over the last 2 1/2 years, U.S. companies have learned to keep more supplies on hand.

LEE SANDERS: So instead of having just in time, now you have to really prepare for just in case. And this is another just-in-case situation.

INSKEEP: OK. So some companies may be ready if there's a disruption of days or weeks or who knows how long. But why is it that railroad workers would be talking of a strike now?

MORRIS: The impasse, Steve, is primarily over work rules that govern locomotive engineers and conductors, the two-person crews that operate every cross-country freight train. Conductors and engineers feel like they've been jacked around for years. Railroad companies can keep them on call for weeks on end.

Michael Lindsey is an engineer for Union Pacific, and he says that working for the railroad, it's impossible to have a life.

MICHAEL LINDSEY: You can't even make a dentist appointment or a doctor's appointment. You don't know when you're going to be working. And then when you're gone, you're gone 36 to 48 hours at a time.

MORRIS: Lindsey says it's gotten worse in recent years. He says now 90-hour workweeks aren't uncommon.

INSKEEP: Wow. So they're struggling with the same work-life balance as many Americans, except this is an extreme, extreme example.

MORRIS: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Are the railroads offering to make any changes?

MORRIS: So, Steve, the offer on the table was developed by a board appointed by President Joe Biden, and it does include a big pay hike, 24%. Most of the unions representing rail workers have tentatively signed off on that deal, but it doesn't address work rules. So conductors and engineers are saying no. If they strike, the other unions would support them. And the president of the two unions have been summoned to the Labor Department today to meet with Secretary Marty Walsh.

Biden's talking about using emergency powers to keep certain essential goods moving in the event of a strike and working with other types of shippers - trucking, shipping and airfreight - to find workarounds. He personally called the unions and railroads Monday, and Congress could, and probably would, force railroad employees back to work. Lawmakers have to agree on the new terms of the contract, and the easiest thing to do would be for them to adopt the recommendations from Biden's committee, which would not please locomotive engineers and conductors.

INSKEEP: Frank Morris, thanks so much.

MORRIS: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Rarely, if ever, has a possible presidential candidate faced so many investigations for his past conduct.

MARTINEZ: The Justice Department is in court over the federal documents recovered from Trump's Florida residence, and it's also still investigating the former president's bid to stay in office by overturning his election defeat. A House committee plans fresh hearings in its own investigation. And all this happens while Trump talks of a possible third bid for the presidency in 2024.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is thinking through Trump's possible future.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What still makes Trump the leading Republican contender despite or, maybe I should say, because of the investigations?

LIASSON: He has an intensely loyal base of supporters. And this is the real challenge for Republicans. Many Republicans in the party establishment would like to move on from Donald Trump. They try not to talk about him. They don't want to alienate Trump's base, which is the base of the party. And Trump has convinced large numbers of Republican voters to believe the lie that he actually won in 2020 when he lost, that the election was stolen, even though that claim has been thoroughly debunked. We have seen his base get more energized and more intense the more the pressure is from the Department of Justice on Trump. But that is not broadening his support.

Our recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that, yes, a majority of Republicans want Trump to run again, even if he's charged with a crime. But among independent voters, two-thirds of them say he shouldn't run again under any circumstances. So even if he's using these investigations to paint himself as a victim for his base, he's not convincing the broader public. And that has always been the dilemma for Republicans because he energizes his supporters as well as his opponents.

INSKEEP: I feel we need to underline a couple of things here. First, when people say half the country is for Trump and half against, that's just completely false. It's a relatively small minority of people that remained intensely loyal to Trump.

LIASSON: Well, yes, but in a matchup between Trump and Biden, he still polls very, very competitively.

INSKEEP: OK. And then the next thing to underline - when you say independent voters, these are normally thought of as somewhat conservative-leaning voters that Republicans would generally get a lot of and would need. These are people who've turned against Trump. Is that right?

LIASSON: Yes, at least when they're asked the question, do you want him to run again?

INSKEEP: So how is Trump defending himself?

LIASSON: Well, he always comes back to the idea that there's a witch hunt against him, no matter what the facts are - from the Russia investigation, his first impeachment, over withholding defense funding for from Ukraine for political purposes, now to the January 6th committee and the Mar-a-Lago document search. In this case, he's arguing that former presidents, or that he, should have special privileges. And the Department of Justice is arguing against the idea that former presidents should be above the law on handling and accessing classified documents, documents that deal with national security.

And we are seeing a familiar modus operandi here where a lot of the claims that Trump has made, like these documents were planted or that he declassified them, are not being made by his lawyers in court. Just like when he said the 2020 election was stolen, there were a lot of things he said in front of the television cameras that were not said before a judge under penalty of perjury.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, would he insulate himself if he did declare for the presidency in 2024 and did it soon?

LIASSON: Well, that's possible. The Department of Justice has some pretty big decisions to make. Should they go after a former president? Should they go after someone who might be a presidential candidate? But politically, Democrats would like Trump to declare his candidacy for 2024 as soon as possible because they think that helps them in the midterms. It changes the conversation from inflation to Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: A far-right party with roots in neo-Nazi groups is expected to play a central role in Sweden's next coalition government.

MARTINEZ: The Sweden Democrats have grown more influential in recent years after it moderated some of its positions and expelled some of its extremist members. Its anti-immigration, tough-on-crime platform resonated with Swedish voters in Sunday's election.

INSKEEP: Charlie Duxbury is the Stockholm correspondent for Politico Europe and joins us.

Welcome.

CHARLIE DUXBURY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I just heard A say they moderated their positions. What did they stand for in the past, and what do they stand for now?

DUXBURY: Yeah. So the Sweden Democrats do have roots in neo-Nazi groups of the late '80s, early '90s in Sweden. In the years since, they've kind of clean things up and moved more towards the mainstream. But they still stand for a very hard line on immigration and a hard line on law and order. And that's what seems to have attracted voters in Sunday's vote.

INSKEEP: Hasn't Sweden welcomed a relatively large number of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere in recent years?

DUXBURY: That's right. During Europe's migration crisis from 2015 onwards, Sweden took a relatively large number of those asylum seekers, and the government at the time, social democratic government, was relatively welcoming in the same way that Germany was, and tens of thousands of asylum seekers arrived in Sweden. Since then, there's been a kind of backlash in - among some groups, particularly the Sweden Democrats, who've said that that was a mistake and that the integration of immigrants since then has been a failure.

INSKEEP: Well, what does it mean that they did so well in Sunday's election? And how much influence do they now have? They wouldn't be leading the coalition, I guess.

DUXBURY: No. So the count's still ongoing. We should have a final result by this evening. What's expected to happen is that the center-right moderate party will lead the government but will lean heavily on the Sweden Democrats, who achieved a score of about 20% of the vote on Sunday. And the Sweden Democrats will be under pressure from their own voters to show that they can deliver on some quite ambitious campaign pledges to cut down on immigration, to increase policing powers in sentencing in the courts in Sweden. So that will be a closely watched discussion over the days and weeks to come.

INSKEEP: Is the center-right party that seems likely to lead the coalition in a position where they would essentially have to do what the Sweden Democrats demand on their particular issues to keep the coalition together?

DUXBURY: They'll certainly have to offer some serious concessions to the Sweden Democrats to hold this loose coalition together. They may decide to offer them ministerial positions. They may decide to try and run a minority government with the Sweden Democrats outside. But either way, the Sweden Democrats are going to demand serious influence over the government in the four-year mandate period to come, and they will have to show the voters that they've achieved that.

INSKEEP: Charlie Duxbury, correspondent for Politico Europe in Stockholm, thanks so much.

DUXBURY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.