STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A headline in an Alabama newspaper says, "Stand For Decency: Reject Roy Moore." He's the Republican Senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct and assault, all of which he denies, but three papers have now turned against him in Alabama. President Trump's view remains a bit ambiguous, according to his budget director Mick Mulvaney, speaking on NBC.
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MICK MULVANEY: He thinks that the voters of Alabama should decide. I think that's probably the most common sense way to look at it. He doesn't know who to believe. I think a lot of folks don't.
INSKEEP: So what is the president saying and not saying on some big issues the last couple of days? NPR's Susan Davis is in our studios once again. Good morning, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. First, Roy Moore. What is the president's position in his own words?
DAVIS: The president has shown a lot of restraint when it comes to Roy Moore. He has not personally weighed in on Twitter, which is obviously his favorite medium, and he has spoken through his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has said this is a matter for the people of Alabama to decide. This is against the wishes of Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who were hoping the president would join them in calling for Roy Moore to step aside.
INSKEEP: But awkward for the president, given many accusations against the president himself.
DAVIS: It is. And also, in a state where - remember, Donald Trump is incredibly popular in Alabama, and also a state where he weighed in on this primary and he picked the wrong guy. He picked Luther Strange, the incumbent, and Roy Moore won, and I think there's also a hesitancy to get back involved in that race.
INSKEEP: OK. So let's talk about what the president is willing to speak up about. He brought up UCLA basketball players again, right, these players who were arrested in China for shoplifting but then freed?
DAVIS: He did. And this is sort of a familiar theme from the president. Obviously he's shown that he's comfortable picking these fights with athletes, particularly African-American athletes. And he seemed offended that these athletes did not thank him personally, that the father of one of the athletes suggested that the president didn't play that big of a role in it. And that clearly has personally offended the president.
INSKEEP: And we should be clear. I think the athletes did say thanks but the father did not, said that Trump didn't do anything for my son.
DAVIS: And then the president suggested he should have left them in jail.
INSKEEP: The president of the United States saying I should have left them to rot in jail because they did not personally thank me.
DAVIS: And we see echoes here of the same sort of culture war thematic we've seen with the president and the NFL over kneeling during the national anthem. I mean, it just hits at a lot of those same frustrations and angers.
INSKEEP: Isn't there something - I'm just trying to remember - something bigger going on in Congress which you cover, Sue Davis?
DAVIS: You may have heard of it. It's called a tax legislation that they're trying to get signed into law...
INSKEEP: That would affect virtually every American. OK.
DAVIS: Right. And this is what caught my eye over Twitter over the weekend is that the president also again took an attack towards Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who has in turn been very critical of the president, but suggested that the senator would be a no on this tax legislation, which would be a pretty dramatic moment and a very critical vote.
INSKEEP: Is he (inaudible) on this tax legislation?
DAVIS: It is unclear what his position will ultimately be. His communications director on Twitter, again, in response, said the senator is still reviewing the merits of the bill and he has not made up his mind, and when he does it will have nothing to do with the president.
INSKEEP: But I guess we should remember Republicans are trying to pass this with only Republican votes, which means they can only lose a couple, right?
DAVIS: They can only lose a couple, and there are other senators who are also very wary about the bill. So the math is incredibly tight, and losing Jeff Flake would be a big setback on taxes.
INSKEEP: Sue, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: During this conversation, we say President Trump tweeted that he should have left three UCLA basketball players "to rot" in a Chinese jail. In fact, Trump did not use the words "to rot." In his tweet, the president wrote "I should have left them in jail."] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.