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Dems clean house, leaving GOP to grapple with harassment issue

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Al Franken set to make announcement after campaign calling for him to resign 2:55

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after the sexual harassment story rocked Capitol Hill, Democrats have cleaned house. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from his congressional seat earlier this week. And after an avalanche of calls from his colleagues to resign, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is set to deliver a speech today from the Senate floor, and the smart bet is that he’ll be stepping down, too.

And so the focus now shifts to Republicans. What are you going do down about Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas? What about Roy Moore down in Alabama? And what about the accusations against the president of the United States?

As Politico first reported last week, “Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser.” Farenthold has said he’ll pay back the $84,000 in taxpayer money. House Speaker Paul Ryan has NOT called on Farenthold to resign.

Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear that the worst outcome for Republicans in Tuesday’s special Senate election in Alabama is for Roy Moore to win. Why? If he wins, he becomes the most famous senator in America, with every Democrat ready to use him in political attacks against the GOP. If he loses, he simply becomes a footnote in the Trump Wars. So the best news for Republicans — after the Democratic actions on Conyers and Franken — would be not having to worry about Roy Moore again.

And then there are the accusations against President Trump, which this week played out in a courthouse in New York. “An attorney for President Trump asked a New York state judge Tuesday to set aside a suit brought by a woman who claims Trump groped her a decade ago, saying that a trial in state court would improperly interfere with his duties as chief executive,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

But remember: There is a significant difference between the parties when it comes to perceptions of sexual harassment. As an online HuffPost/YouGov poll found last month, 65 percent of Democratic respondents said that sexual harassment is a very serious problem, versus 31 percent of Republicans who said the same thing.

If Franken resigns, the state’s Democratic governor would appoint a replacement who would serve through November 2018

As mentioned above, a spokesman for Sen. Al Franken says the senator today will make an announcement from the Senate floor, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. And if Franken does resign, here’s the process of how his seat might be filled:

If Franken resigns soon, the state’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, would appoint a replacement who would serve until the next statewide general election, which is in November 2018.

The winner of that 2018 special election would fill out the remainder of Franken’s term (through Jan 2021), and would also have to run for a full six-year term in 2020 to stay in the seat.

And Politico writes that the Dayton is expected “to appoint his lieutenant governor and close ally, Tina Smith, to Al Franken’s seat if the Democratic senator resigns on Thursday, three people familiar with the Democratic governor’s thinking said. “But that appointment would be just the start of an upheaval in Minnesota. Part of the reason Smith could be heading to the Senate, the sources said, is that she has indicated no interest in running for Congress in the past and would not run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which expires in 2020, in a 2018 special election. That would clear the way for a wide open Democratic primary next year if Franken steps down.”

Donald Trump Jr. is claiming attorney-client privilege in refusing to describe a conversation he had with his father — when neither of them is an attorney

As NBC’s Peter Alexander reported on “Today” this morning: “The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., is refusing to share with House investigators the details of a phone conversation with his father last summer about his 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. Trump Jr. says the call is protected under attorney-client privilege – of course, neither the president nor his son is a lawyer, and a top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., isn't buying the explanation.”

If Donald Trump Jr. is struggling with the House Intelligence Committee, how is he going to fare with Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

Whistleblower: Michael Flynn texted a former business partner that Russia sanctions would be “ripped up”

The scoop from NBC’s Mike Memoli yesterday: “Donald Trump was just 11 minutes into his presidency when his choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, texted a former business partner to say an ambitious U.S. collaboration with Russia to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East was ‘good to go,’ according to a new whistleblower account.”

“As Trump delivered his inaugural address, says the unnamed whistleblower, Flynn directed Alex Copson, managing director of ACU Strategic Partners, to inform their business partners ‘to put things in place.’ The whistleblower also says that Flynn assured Copson that U.S. sanctions on Russia that could block the nuclear project would be "ripped up" once Trump was inside the White House.”

Trump is slated to meet with Schumer and Pelosi

President Trump is once again scheduled to meet with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi — as well as Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan – at 3:00 pm ET. Will this meeting hold this time?

Nashville Post: Democrat Phil Bredesen is running for the Senate in Tennessee

“Former Gov. Phil Bredesen is entering the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate,” the Nashville Post reported yesterday. “According to multiple sources, Bredesen began calling major donors this afternoon to confirm that he is in the race. He has been mum about a campaign since U.S. Sen. Bob Corker announced he would step down next year, only acknowledging that he was contemplating a run. A formal announcement of his intent to run has not yet been made.”

NBC News has not confirmed that Bredesen is running. But if he does jump into the race, it would potentially put this seat in play in 2018.