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The predicament of the Alabama Senate race for Republicans

GOP lawmakers have called for Roy Moore to step aside from the Alabama Senate race amid allegations of sexual misconduct toward teens. How does that tension fit into a larger party rift? John Yang talks to Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org about what’s at stake with the special election and how the GOP tax reform plans are shaping up.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We return now to the political news of the week.

    John Yang gets two different views.

  • John Yang:

    Thanks, Hari.

    For that, we are joined by Karine Jean-Pierre. She's senior adviser to MoveOn.org, contributing editor to the online women's magazine "Bustle," and a veteran of the Obama White House. And also Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a White House political director for President George W. Bush.

    Matt, Karine, thank you for being here.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Great to be here.

  • John Yang:

    Matt, let me start with you.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    And that race in Alabama, the Senate race in Alabama.

    Tonight, there is a newspaper group in Alabama that is reporting that there is now a sixth woman…

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    … who claims inappropriate behavior by Roy Moore.

    There are a lot of leaders in Congress, Republican leaders, who make it sound like they really don't want Roy Moore to be a colleague. What can they do? What can national Republicans do? What should they do?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Well, the problem for them is they didn't want Roy Moore to be their colleague even before these allegations.

    So, there's always great animosity between Republicans in the Senate and establishment Republicans and Roy Moore. Look, if these charges are true, he shouldn't be going to the Senate. He should be going to prison for the rest of his life.

    I have my 14-year-old daughter here with me here tonight, coincidentally, and it's just — these charges are incredibly serious. I would say it's hard to look at this through a political lens, but it's a political race.

    And I would simply say that it's for Alabama Republicans to decide what to do. And the more it looks like D.C. Republicans are forcing their point of view on the race, I think it will have the opposite effect that they want. And I think, actually, Republicans, men and women in Alabama are wrestling with allegations, whether they think they're credible — I certainly think they sound credible — and what they want to do going forward.

    It's awfully difficult. No matter what Roy Moore does, he's — his name is on the ballot on Election Day. So, this is a really strange situation.

  • John Yang:

    Matt, you talked about the sort of, it's difficult to look at this through a political lens, but Mo Brooks, a Republican congressman from Alabama who lost in the primary, was one of the three Republican candidates, was chased through one of the House office buildings yesterday by an ABC News reporter.

    And when the reporter finally got to him, he asked him whether he still supported Roy Moore. He said, "I believe that the Democrats will do great damage to our country on a myriad of issues."

    He seemed to be saying that he'd rather have Roy Moore there than a Democrat.

    What's the — I mean, how do you look at that through — how should Republicans be looking at that?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    If these charges are true, if I were a voter in Alabama, I couldn't vote for him. It wouldn't matter who runs the Senate. It just — this is a — this is so many bridges too far.

    The question that each voter has to wrestle with — and I don't want to do it for them — the voters in Alabama have to wrestle for this. And it's not for Democratic voters, because they're mostly going to be with the Dems.

    But the Republicans have to say, do — you know, how I do handle the fact that these charges seem to be credible? It's multiple women. It's a new victim a day.

    And I think that Roy Moore should get out of the race. But even when he gets out of the race, his name's on the ballot. So the trickiness for the Republicans are, in order to counter that and not have the Democrats win, which, you know, we certainly don't want to see that happen, if you're a partisan Republican, it's coalescing around another name.

    Jeff Sessions was raised. They would have to coalesce around another name and have a write-in, unless Luther Strange were to somehow resign, the governor make a new pick to the Senate, and maybe we could push this election off until the next cycle.

  • John Yang:

    Karine, we have heard from the leaders in the Senate, from Mitch McConnell, and also in the House, Paul Ryan, saying they find these women credible. They believe these women.

    Today, Ivanka Trump told the Associated Press: "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I have yet to see a valid explanation, and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts."

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    We haven't heard from her father. Should the president, as the top Republican, be speaking out, do you think?

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Can I first say, John, how troubling it is to hear from a congressman that he'd rather pick a pedophile over a Democrat, a Democrat — and taking politics aside, Doug Jones is actually considered a hero.

    He took down Klansmen when a case was cold that — a case that — years ago about these four little girls that were killed by Klansmen during a bombing at a church, at a Baptist church.

    And so I think that's incredibly troubling that a sitting congressman is saying that. So, that's first of all.

    Secondly, on your question, John, I don't think this president has any credibility, if even if he were to come out. This is a man that was caught on tape, the "Access Hollywood" tape, just about a year ago that was — that bragged about sexually assaulting women, saying that, as a star, that he can do that.

    And then, right after that, 16 women came out and accused him of doing just that. And Republicans didn't believe him. But yet, they — because it's politically, I guess, advantageous for them now, now they're believing this story, as they should.

    But it doesn't surprise me that Republicans are having a hard time, because their president is, as far as I can see, a sexual predator.

  • John Yang:

    Is there a worry, or if you're going to believe these women, there are some say — who say, well, what about the women who brought allegations against President Bill Clinton and the way that the Clinton — the Clintons and even Mrs. Clinton, to a certain extent, criticized those women?

    Is there a…

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    So, here's what I say to that.

    If anything that we have learned this past year is, we believe the women, period. We're not talking about Bill Clinton. We're talking about Donald Trump, who is currently the president of the United States.

    But, yes, I think you should believe the women.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    We're actually talking about a candidate in Alabama.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Right, but I was just asked about President Trump, so that's why I said that.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Matt Schlapp:

    At the end of the day, do we trust voters of Alabama to do the right thing on this? And that's what we're going to see.

  • John Yang:

    Let's move on to the tax bill, which is going to get big votes tomorrow on the Hill.

    They're now rolling in — or it looks like both the Senate and the House are going to roll in a repeal of the individual mandate. Is that a good idea, Matt?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Well, yes. Of course, I'm against Obamacare, and I'm against federal mandates, and I'm against all the taxes and the fines and fees that went along with this mandate.

    What the Republicans are trying to do now in this tax plan is to get to 50 votes. We saw what happened on Obamacare. They got close to 50, but they couldn't quite get there. They don't want to have that replay again. That would be disastrous.

    So they're doing what they can to get to the 50 votes. So, if that repeal of the individual mandate sticks in the bill, it's because it actually gets them support. As you see changes made to this bill, for instance, Ron Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin, a Republican conservative, came out against the bill.

    They're going to try to make some changes to get him back on board. It's all about getting to 50, with Mike Pence breaking the tie.

  • John Yang:

    But he's also against the bill — or he says he's against the bill because he thinks it weighs too heavily — or the benefits are too much for big corporations.

    Isn't that something the Democrats have been saying?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Yes, well, this is a little bit of a smorgasbord here.

    First of all, yes, he — Ron Johnson is fine with repealing the individual mandate. His concern is, is that the best part of this bill — and I completely support it — is making America more competitive with their international competitors on our corporate tax rate.

    So it's really smart to take this rate back down to 20 percent. What small business advocates are also saying is that big American companies compete with small American companies, and they should be taxed in a similar way.

  • John Yang:

    Karine?

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Look, I think that Republicans are trying so desperately to pass something to show that they can govern, because they really have not shown that at all, that they're willing to pass an outrageous, shameful piece of legislation that's going to hurt the middle class.

    One in three middle-class Americans will be hurt. Their taxes will go up. You have millions of Americans that are going to lose their health care because of taking away the individual mandate.

    And not only that. They're trying to give big tax cuts, essentially, to big corporations and millionaires and billionaires. And they're going to be doing that by cutting environmental programs, by cutting education programs.

    And it's all to have a win, and also to make sure that they're taking care of their big donors. And this is what we're looking at right now.

  • John Yang:

    A tax cut for corporations, a tax increase for Middle Americans, Matt?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    You know, I think, if there was any flaw in these bills, it's that there actually are Americans who will have their taxes go up, which, as a conservative, I don't believe in.

    The difference is, those people are people who make $250,000 and above. In the House bill, there's even, like, this millionaire surcharge, which takes the top rate up to something like 46 percent.

    So it's actually people who are doing well in the economy who see their taxes increase in these versions. Now, what will come out of the conference? I don't know. I think it's an unfair charge to say that middle-class Americans are having their taxes increased, unless you think someone who makes $1 million is middle class, which is a pretty big stretch, right?

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Well, independent, nonpartisan groups have said most middle-class families will see their taxes go up.

    And the thing about it — my favorite story is Gary Cohn yesterday, who did a town hall with CEOs, and he asked them, hey, by giving you guys a tax cut, will that go down to your employees? And virtually no one raised their hands.

    And I think that's what we're working with here on this tax plan.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    I think that the tax rates on corporations, that reduction is to have better American competition with our international competitors.

  • John Yang:

    Matt Schlapp gets the last word.

    Matt Schlapp, Karine Jean-Pierre, thanks a lot.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Thanks.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Thanks, John.

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