STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Brazil's president faces a big vote in the country's Congress today. The lower chamber will vote on whether to suspend Michel Temer from the job, which would allow Brazil's Supreme Court to put him on trial for corruption, just like his predecessor. NPR's Philip Reeves gets to live amid all of this. He's in Rio de Janeiro. Hi, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Do people where you are believe this is happening again?
REEVES: Well, it's not exactly the same. It's important to remember that Dilma Rousseff, his predecessor, was impeached for budgetary irregularities. And in this case, we're talking about a charge of corruption, accepting very big bribes for helping out a big - a giant meatpacking corporation.
What happened was that one of Temer's closest aides was caught on video with the equivalent of $150,000 in cash in a briefcase. And the attorney general argues that that money was destined for Temer, and it was one of a number of payments that would total millions of dollars. Temer, by the way, denies it and says he's the victim of a criminal conspiracy. But that's what's happening here.
INSKEEP: It must seem a little odd, though, to get to the point where it's almost a career path in Brazil now. You rise in the world. You wait for your predecessor as president to be convicted. You become president. Then, you go on trial - or get accused of it - accused of crimes.
REEVES: Well, exactly. And let's not forget that perhaps the biggest giant of all on the Brazilian political scene, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula to everybody - he's actually not only facing a number of charges of corruption, but he's actually been convicted and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison. He's not actually in prison because the judge decided that he would allow him to remain free while he appeals. So three presidents have got into very deep trouble in this country in the last few years.
INSKEEP: What does the public make of all of this?
REEVES: Well, I think there's a very high degree of cynicism about their entire political class because not only have they had that but they've had this giant corruption scandal going on here in which one politician and one executive after another has been exposed as being involved in what is basically the massive system in which politicians get paid big bribes to do favors for big business.
And big business manages to maintain its position in the marketplace by getting the legislation it wants. And that way the politicians can fund their activities and their political parties. And the two sides essentially support each other. And people here are very cynical about that. Let's just look at Temer's ratings. I mean, his popularity - the latest poll shows his popularity rating, his approval rating, is just 5 percent - 5 percent, Steve.
INSKEEP: Wow, wow. You do get a sense, though, of a justice system that seems to be working. Someone is willing to investigate independently and go after president after president after president.
REEVES: Yeah. And that point does get made by Brazilians - that their judiciary does seem to be achieving results. But they do wonder what will happen to their political class. There's an election next year. With so many politicians caught up in this corruption scandal one way or another, there's concern here about, you know, who will lead the country next and no sense of where that new class of politicians is likely to come from.
INSKEEP: Well, who's going to lead the country after today in the event that the current president would be suspended for 180 days, which I guess would be the first step on the way to a trial? Who takes over in that event?
REEVES: In that event, the speaker of the lower house would take over the duties of the president temporarily. It should be said, though, that the Temer camp think they've got enough votes to survive this. And there's also a possibility that the opposition, if they don't think they're going to win, may not turn up in sufficient numbers. You need two thirds of the house to be there for the vote to happen.
But, you know, if it does happen, it'll be live on national TV. And these politicians, who face re-election next year, are going to have to say publicly, one by one, whether they support the president or not. And that, given Temer's unpopularity, could be rather uncomfortable for some of them.
INSKEEP: And whatever happens, NPR's Philip Reeves will be in Rio de Janeiro to tell us. Philip, thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.