President Trump Weighs In On Alabama Senate Race And Roy Moore
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump weighed in today on the Alabama Senate race where Republican candidate Roy Moore continues to deny allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct with teenage girls. Over the sound of his helicopter, Trump made the argument against Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on the military.
SHAPIRO: This comes the same day that the longest serving member of the House, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, acknowledged paying a settlement over sexual harassment claims while denying any wrongdoing. For more on all this, we're joined here in the studio by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: And at the White House, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Mara, let's start with the president's remarks today. We heard him talking about democrat Doug Jones. What did he say about the Republican, Roy Moore, and the allegations against him?
LIASSON: Well, you heard him say basically it's better to have an accused child molester in the Senate than a Democrat. But he was also asked about Moore's denials. He said 40 years is a long time ago. And he went on to say this.
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TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.
LIASSON: So although he implied it there, he would not say whether he believes Moore's denials or the women's accusations, although several members of the White House staff, including his own daughter, have said they find the women to be credible.
SHAPIRO: The president has generally been silent about Moore since this story broke. What do you make of his speaking out now?
LIASSON: I think there's been an evolution. He started out with a statement saying if the allegations are true, Moore should step aside. Then it morphed into the accusations are troubling, but the voters of Alabama should decide. Then you had Kellyanne Conway saying that we need Moore's vote in the Senate to vote for the tax bill. We know that Steve Bannon has - his former political adviser - has encouraged the president to stick with his hardcore base.
But now I think the president has gone full tribal. You know, Moore himself is describing this as a tribal fight, the Washington establishment, Mitch McConnell and Democrats all out to get him. That's Trump's brand, too. And today Moore immediately sent out video of Trump's comments that you just heard out to his supporters.
SHAPIRO: And I want to pivot to Sue Davis and allegations on Capitol Hill against Congressman John Conyers, a Michigan democrat who, as I mentioned, has served longer than anyone in the House. Sue, what's the story there?
DAVIS: According to sealed settlement documents that were obtained and verified by BuzzFeed, Conyers is accused of making unwanted sexual advances towards female staffers, including requests for sex acts, that he engaged in unwanted touching and that he was - asked staff to facilitate transportation for women that they believed were having extramarital affairs with the congressman.
Now, Conyers has denied the allegations then as he does today. He says that part of the settlement deal included an express denial of liability and that he agreed to a settlement to, in his words, save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. The accuser has a different story. She - her identity is anonymous, but she did speak to BuzzFeed. She told the news outlet that she felt pressured to sign and to stay quiet and that she has been blackballed professionally because of it.
SHAPIRO: Congress has been taking several steps to address sexual harassment issues. Where do those efforts stand?
DAVIS: For John Conyers, it means a House ethics investigation. The committee's already announced that they're looking into this. For Congress, it means there is growing support for legislation to overhaul the process by which people can file these claims to do things specifically like make it optional to sign nondisclosure agreements and to put more public transparency on these settlements when they're paid out and, if it involves a lawmaker directly, to make them pay it out of pocket and not by taxpayers.
SHAPIRO: And of course there's a broader context for these specific accusations, which is that women across the entertainment industry, at media companies including NPR and in politics are stepping forward with more and more stories of sexual harassment and assault. Mara, I understand the president also spoke about that today.
LIASSON: That's right. He was asked, what's his message to women? And here's what he said.
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TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time because a lot of things are coming out. And I think that's good for our society. And I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out. And I'm very happy - I'm very happy it's being exposed.
LIASSON: So that is open to interpretation. Does it mean the women should be believed, Roy Moore's accusers should be believed? What about the more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct? Remember; he bragged during the campaign on video that he could grab women by the genitals, that they let you do anything when you're a star. He boasted about sexually molesting specific women. So what he thinks about that, he did not answer those questions today.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House and Sue Davis here in the studio - thanks to you both.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
LIASSON: Thank you.
[CORRECTION: In this report, we say that during the 2016 presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. In fact, Trump’s remarks were from a video that was made public during the campaign, but was recorded in 2005.]
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Correction Nov. 27, 2017
In this report, we say that during the 2016 presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. In fact, Trump's remarks were from a video that was made public during the campaign, but was recorded in 2005.