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Trump Will Try To Get Legislative Agenda Back On Track


Congress is back in session today. Sexual harassment is still dominating the political conversation. And President Trump is meeting with key Republican senators this afternoon to get the agenda back on track. Can they, though? Here with more is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.


MARTIN: Let's get to taxes. Are we expecting the Senate to pass a tax overhaul bill this week or not?

LIASSON: Republicans certainly would like to. There are still, however, a handful of holdouts, and they can only afford to lose two Republicans since they're not going to get any Democratic votes on this. It's an unpopular bill. The Republicans are still trying to convince voters that it's actually a middle-class tax bill, and the reason they're having a problem on that is because the corporate taxes are permanent. The corporate tax cuts are permanent, and the individual tax cuts expire. But this is a must-pass piece of legislation for Republicans because they don't have any other big pieces of legislation to put on their record, and donors have been putting them on notice that they better pass this.

MARTIN: So where's the common ground going to come from? Because it seems like Republicans - those who are dissenting against this bill - they all have slightly different reasons.

LIASSON: Yes, there're a lot of moving parts here. Some Republicans are concerned about the way small businesses are treated in this bill, as opposed to big corporations. There also are a - is a small handful of deficit hawks who have objections. This bill balloons the deficit at a time when the deficits are already dangerously large. And among those deficit hawks happened to be the president's main antagonists in the Senate, like Senator Bob Corker, and John McCain and Jeff Flake, none of whom are up for re-election, so they're a lot freer to vote their conscience.

MARTIN: We also happen to be less than two weeks out from the deadline to prevent a government shutdown. Are we really at this point again? Are we really going to have to...

LIASSON: Yes, we are.

MARTIN: ...Go over the edge of the fiscal cliff, the dreaded fiscal cliff?

LIASSON: (Laughter) Yes, we really are at this point again, and there are so many issues involved in this government shutdown negotiations. Defense spending is one. Republicans want more defense spending, but Democrats - and this is a bill where you will need Democratic votes - say they want an equal amount of domestic spending.

Then there's DACA. Remember the DREAMers, those young people who - many of whom brought here illegally as children by their parents. The president gave Congress until March to legalize the DREAMers before he ends their protection from deportation. But many Democrats are saying they don't want to vote to keep the government funded unless there's a fix for DACA now. So that's a lot of things to resolve in the next two weeks.

MARTIN: Right. And amidst all of it are these allegations of sexual harassment in Congress, which you say is particularly difficult for Democrats in this moment.

LIASSON: Yes, that's true. Democrats are struggling to win the high ground on sexual harassment. John Conyers, who is being investigated for a sexual harassment claim, has stepped down from his position as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. He has already gone through one sexual harassment investigation, which ended up in a settlement to a former employee. Then you've got Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who, unlike John Conyers or the president or Roy Moore, has admitted kissing a woman, said he was ashamed. He's apologized.

So if Democrats are going to maintain the high ground on this issue, they have to figure out, what is the criteria for ending your career? What's the bar that says you should no longer be in Congress? What's the process for people who deny the accusations against them? This is really important for Democrats because they want to be the party of zero tolerance on sexual harassment, the party that believes women, and they want to paint the Republicans as the party that says women are liars.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, President Trump - he's evolved on the - on Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate. First, he was kind of - he was equivocating, and now he's just outright saying, yeah, this - I support this guy; he's the person Alabama voters should elect.

LIASSON: That's right. He says he supports him. He points out that Roy Moore denies the accusations against him. This is similar to Donald Trump's own approach to the dozen or so women who've accused him of sexual harassment. He has called them liars. So he has been tweeting that we shouldn't let Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer win this seat. But even if Roy Moore does win the special election on December 12, the Republicans' headaches are just beginning because Moore will face an ethics investigation, and there're a number of Republicans in the Senate who think he should be expelled.

MARTIN: That would make Mitch McConnell's life difficult, to say the least, if Roy Moore were elected.

LIASSON: Yes, more difficult than it already is.

MARTIN: More difficult - I got that pun. All right, Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent - thanks, Mara.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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