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World

Vice President Temer Would Lead Brazil If The President Is Impeached

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff may be facing her last few hours as president. The Senate is voting today on her impeachment, and it seems likely that it will approve her removal from office. Set to replace her, at least temporarily, is her vice president. Catherine Osborn has this profile from Rio de Janeiro.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: Before this whole impeachment process kicked off in Brazil, many people here would have had trouble naming the vice president, Michel Temer. That's deliberate, say those who know him. The 75-year-old constitutional lawmaker is a behind-the-scenes dealmaker whose strength is making alliances.

DARCISIO PERONDI: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: Longtime Temer ally Congressman Darcisio Perondi says in a phone interview that Temer is serious, sober and serene. Temer is known for writing poetry on airplane rides and reciting it to his wife, Marcela, who's 43 years his junior.

PERONDI: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "He has a superior capacity to resolve conflicts," says Perondi. That's what's allowed Temer to move up through the ranks of Brazil's successive governments. But what his allies laud as canny negotiating his critics say is rank opportunism. They point to his days as a law professor during Brazil's dictatorship. Many of today's political leaders, including President Dilma Rousseff, who was tortured, took a stand against what was happening in the country then.

Temer never spoke out for or against military rule. Analysts say it's not clear what he stands for even today. This matters because Brazil is not only facing political turmoil but also a historic economic depression. Over the past few weeks, Temer has been planning a shadow government that would step in if Rousseff is removed from office, pending a trial in Brazil's Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRES MICHEL TEMER: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: In an audio recording, he spoke to a new post-Rousseff era, predicting, quote, "a government of national salvation." He says through being friendlier to private investment and cutting government costs, he'll bring back economic growth. But few people here trust him to make those choices. A recent poll found only 8 percent of Brazilians support Temer as president. Another poll found only 2 percent of them would vote for him in a new presidential election. Here's Paulo Dias, who runs a newspaper stand in Rio's Flamengo neighborhood.

PAULO DIAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: He says "changing Rousseff for Temer is switching six for half a dozen," which means...

DIAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "Temer is corrupt on many levels," he says. Unlike Rousseff, who has not been accused of personal enrichment, Temer is accused of being involved in an illegal fuel purchasing scheme, part of the huge graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras, though federal prosecutors said last week the accusations were not strong enough to warrant an investigation. Many here worry Temer will spend his time as an interim president trying to clear his name and those of his allies. Political scientist Greg Michener is with the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

GREG MICHENER: People are suspecting that he would not support reforms and, in fact, would weaken the rule of law in Brazil to some extent by rolling back reforms.

OSBORN: Temer so far has said very little on the matter as he waits to see if he will finally come out of the shadows and into the glare of power in a very turbulent Brazil. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.