ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Many Republicans now believe that Donald Trump could overturn the party's majorities in both chambers of Congress. That's one reason House speaker Paul Ryan spoke to House Republicans today in a conference call 29 days from the election and three days since the tape of Donald Trump surfaced where he brags about groping and kissing women, saying, when you're a star, you can do anything. Joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So what was Paul Ryan's message to House Republicans today?
DAVIS: The speaker announced that he will no longer defend Donald Trump, and he will no longer appear with him on the campaign trail. He told members on this call that they need to do what's best for you in your district - was his message, essentially saying, if you need to cut ties with Donald Trump, you can.
And he said he is singularly focused on preventing Hillary Clinton from having Democrats in charge of Congress, which sounds like a concession that he does not believe Donald Trump can win. What he did not do was withdrawal his endorsement.
SHAPIRO: Why not?
DAVIS: It's important to remember that most House Republicans still stand by Trump. I'm told members on the call were fired up. They thought his performance in last night's debate has - keeping him in this race. And they still believe he's a better candidate for president. In fact some of the members on the call said they want leadership to continue to stand by the nominee and that they think withdrawing support could be a mistake and alienate some Republican voters.
But it's important to remember that most of these Republicans are in safe districts. They're not facing competitive races this fall. The members who are in competitive races are some of the first lawmakers that came out over this weekend to either unendorse Donald Trump or say they will vote for somebody else this fall. And that is a much better indicator of how this is playing down the ballot.
SHAPIRO: So Paul Ryan, the leader of the House Republicans, is in the middle of all of this. He has had a very difficult relationship complicated with Donald Trump all year long. Is this an actual break up between the two of them?
DAVIS: So Donald Trump as usual took to his favorite medium. He went to Twitter after the news of the call was announced, and he tweeted, Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs, illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.
So I think in other words, to quote the millennial philosopher Taylor Swift, it sounds like they are never, ever getting back together.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) What does this mean for control of the House after November? You've been telling us all year long that Republicans are not likely to lose the house? Do you still think that's true?
DAVIS: It is still tough. It does not change the universe of races that are in competition. Right now there's about 45 seats that are held by Republicans that are even in this orbit of competitiveness. Democrats would need to run the board in those races. They would have to win almost every one of them and defend every single one of their own races, which isn't impossible, but it's tough. That's the kind of thing you only really see in a wave election year.
Democrats don't necessarily have the candidates they need to do this, and what they don't necessarily have is the money. One of the things to look for is to see if an influx of donations both from big donors and small donors on the Democratic side start to flood into these races to try and make them competitive in the home stretch.
SHAPIRO: Why do Democrats believe that these latest Trump comments about women have possibly changed the outlook? There have been so many offensive Trump remarks over the last year. Why do they see this as potentially a tipping point?
DAVIS: Right. Why this? Why now, right? Women voters - remember a couple of years ago; there was a race in Missouri. Todd Akin was a Republican senator. Claire McCaskill was the Democrat. The Republican candidate made very offensive comments about rape and about women, and this was a race that is in a Republican-leaning state that a Republican should have won. And the Democrat won there by a significant margin because women voters are so alienated by this conversation.
And they've already felt alienated by the Republican Party in this race. And a lot of these House races are being played out in the suburbs and in other areas where women voters make up a significant portion of the electorate. So that is what give (ph) Democrats hope. And if this conversation on Election Day is about locker room talk and what defines sexual assault, Democrats believe they can have a very good day.
SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thank you.
DAVIS: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.