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.
The day after returning from his overseas trip, President Trump fired off tweets criticizing CNN and the New York Times, jabbing Democrats for not supporting the GOP’s tax plan and wondering if three UCLA basketball players would thank him for freeing them from jail in China. But he never once discussed the scandal involving Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, who now faces a total of nine women alleging inappropriate behavior by him.
After delivering remarks about his trip to Asia, Trump declined to answer reporters’ shouted questions about Moore. “Should Roy Moore resign, Mr. President?” He gave no answer.
While in Asia, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued the official White House response on Moore. “Like most Americans the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life," she told reporters last week aboard Air Force One. "However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
But the silence from Trump — as the president of the United States, as the leader of the Republican Party and as someone who is never afraid to tweet what’s on his mind — speaks volumes. Does he agree with daughter Ivanka Trump, who told the AP that there’s “a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I've yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts”? (But she didn’t call for him to exit the race.) Does he agree with the Alabama Republican Party, which maintains its support for Moore, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard? Or does he agree with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who ended his broadcast last night saying the issue was up to Alabama voters?
In fairness to Trump, there are no good solutions here. The ballot is already set; Moore doesn’t look like he’s leaving the race; a write-in campaign would be incredibly hard to mount; and Trump already tried once to defeat Moore (yet his candidate lost the runoff). But does anyone think if the shoe were on the other foot — if a Democratic candidate in a high-profile race faced similar allegations — would the president be staying silent right now?
House set to vote on GOP tax plan
The other big political story today is the House vote on the GOP’s tax plan, which is slated to take place in the early afternoon, per NBC’s Alex Moe. And the expectation is that House Republicans will pass the legislation.
Politico: “Speaker Paul Ryan and his top lieutenants have been working behind the scenes on a few tax reform holdouts in recent days. But House Republicans think they’ve already got enough votes lined up — and have not needed to turn to Trump to flip opponents… There’s little room for error for Republicans. House Democrats have been working to keep their 194-member caucus together, not only to show unified opposition but to deny Republicans any opportunity to tout the bill as a bipartisan effort.”
At 11:30 am ET, President Trump heads to Capitol Hill to give House Republicans a pep talk before this afternoon’s vote.
Focus group of North Carolina voters down on Trump
NBC’s Andrew Rafferty observed a 12-person focus group last night in Wilmington, N.C., led by Democratic pollster Peter Hart on behalf of Emory University. The focus group consisted of seven Clinton voters and five Trump voters.
The group gave blistering reviews of Trump’s performance so far. The voters expressed deep frustrations both with the president’s conduct in office and what they perceive to be a lack of accomplishment since Inauguration Day, Rafferty reports.
“Nightmare,” “divisive,” “mayhem,” “antagonistic,” “failure,” “reality television,” “rude,” “instigating” and “vacant” were among the words used to describe Trump over the past year.
Some of the most stinging reviews came from those who cast ballots for the president in the key battleground state he won by four points.
“When he’s away, he’s great being a president, you know he’s a showman. But at home – I can’t imagine how they let him build a country club let along be in one,” said Annie Anthony, a 56-year-old Trump voter who described herself as a “weak Republican.”
Still, none of the five Trump voters was ready to write him off just yet. They remained hopeful he could still follow through on campaign promises like tax reform and health care.