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News Brief: Senate's Tax Plan Advances, Sexual Harassment Fallout

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, the stage is now set for what is shaping up to be a big showdown vote in the U.S. Senate on a Republican plan to overhaul the nation's tax code. It passed a procedural vote yesterday, could be heading now to a final vote by the end of the week. President Trump called for passage during a speech in Missouri.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The eyes of the world now turn to the United States Senate. A successful vote in the Senate this week will bring us one giant step closer to delivering an incredible victory for the American people. Massive tax cuts and reform...

GREENE: OK, let's bring in NPR politics editor Domenico Montanaro.

Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK, so procedural hurdle - the president already talking about incredible victory - is there some distance between those two things? I mean, this seems to show momentum, but is that enough right now for this bill to get final passage?

MONTANARO: Yeah, and I wouldn't necessarily say that there's a ton of momentum behind it, necessarily. It is an important step, but of course, no guarantee for passage. You know, there's still a handful of holdups and holdouts. Republican senators, you know, may have voted for the bill to proceed to a full vote, but not everyone's on board. And remember, they can only lose two for passage. And tonight, David, we're going to get into a whole bunch of endless amendments that get put on the floor, known as vote-a-rama, and that is what it sounds like because they're just going to keep voting on all kinds of amendments - could go all hours of the night.

GREENE: Vote-a-rama - I hope they actually use that term on the Senate floor. I mean, we reached this point before with the Affordable Care Act repeal that Republicans were trying, and they got this close. Am I right about that? And then they just didn't quite get the numbers in the end.

MONTANARO: Yeah, they came close. They missed by one. John McCain famously gave that big thumbs-down to that bill. And John McCain is another person again, you know, who is not exactly 100 percent on board with this. He voted against the Bush tax cuts twice because they helped the wealthy more than the middle class. Of course, he had some issues with George W. Bush because of their bitter presidential primary, and that's quite possible again this time.

Personally, he's not a fan of the current occupant of the White House. And there are other people in various other buckets of holdouts that we've seen. First, there are the deficit hawks - people who don't want to see this add a whole lot to the deficit. There are people who want small businesses treated similarly to corporations and a whole bunch of other things.

GREENE: Let me turn to another big story in Washington - some developments in the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Evidently, the president's son-in-law met with members of Mueller's team. Is this now - investigation reaching into, truly, the president's inner circle? What do we know about this?

MONTANARO: Well, we know Kushner's attorney confirmed last night to NPR that Kushner met with investigators from Mueller's team. Kushner's attorney said in a statement that, quote, "Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so" - in other words, giving the impression that Kushner is cooperating with investigators. But as you note, you know, this is more attention on something that really irritates President Trump, and this investigation appears not to be going anywhere anytime soon, David.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks, as always.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK, this morning is day two of the "Today" show without Matt Lauer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: As painful as it is, this moment in our culture and this change had to happen.

GREENE: That's NBC's Savannah Guthrie saying yesterday - saying that yesterday after her co-host was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment. NBC said it received one complaint and had reason to think that that complaint was not isolated. And later in the day, Variety reported that several women had complained about Lauer. I want to bring in NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans to talk about this.

Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: So we're learning more since yesterday about what Lauer's been accused of. We have this story published in the trade magazine Variety and also The New York Times. Just help us understand what exactly we're finding out.

DEGGANS: Sure. Variety had a story that was published that said that Matt Lauer had a fixation on pretty women, exposed himself to a female colleague and then admonished her when she wouldn't perform a sex act and had a button on his desk that would lock the door without him having to get up from the desk. The New York Times reported that after Matt Lauer was fired in response to the complaint from one woman, two other women came forward, including a woman who claimed that Lauer locked the door in his office after summoning her and sexually assaulted her. So these are some serious charges about his behavior.

GREENE: Well, that Variety story, Eric, it quoted an unnamed source saying NBC management had been protecting Lauer. I mean, is NBC facing some serious questions about maybe deeper problems in the network?

DEGGANS: Yeah, I think they have some serious questions to answer because particularly, the Variety story presents this sense that lots of people knew what was going on, and that women had complained to NBC management and they were not responded to. And if something this pervasive and widespread, this sense that there - maybe there was a boys'-club atmosphere at the "Today" show that Lauer was leading and benefiting from, of course, the question is, who knew about that, and did management do enough to curb and stop it?

GREENE: Well, then we also have Garrison Keillor. Minnesota Public Radio severed business ties with him. They're going to change the title of the show known as A Prairie Home Companion - different hosts. They're not going to rebroadcast old editions of the show hosted by Keillor. I mean, this really is the death of one of the biggest brands in public broadcasting.

DEGGANS: Exactly. And this is all tied up in the idea of, well, you know, what intellectual property does Garrison Keillor own and have control of? And so if they're going to sever business ties with him, they have to stop using some signature phrases, things that refer to Lake Wobegon. They have to change the name of the show. It's going to result in creating a completely different show that - they've already kind of done that, if you've listened to it. But they're really going to have to retool it and remove all of these bits of intellectual property that Keillor's involved with. And what will he do with that? He controls all that stuff. We'll see what happens in the future and whether people will want to work with them.

GREENE: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks for catching us up on all this. We appreciate it.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: So President Trump horrified even some of his friends in Britain with a series of tweets. The president retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a far-right group that's called Britain First. British Prime Minister Theresa May told Trump he was wrong to post the videos. It's doubted that all show what they claim. So the president tweeted again, Theresa May, don't focus on me, focus on radical Islamic terrorism. To catch us up on this, we go to London and NPR's Frank Langfitt.

Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, David.

GREENE: So just for people who haven't been following this all that closely, walk us through these videos that the president retweeted.

LANGFITT: Sure. Well, you know, what happened was one of the videos that was tweeted - retweeted by the president yesterday showed a mob throwing a man off a tower and then beating him. There was a second video that showed a man smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary and the third one of a Dutch youth beating another one who was on crutches. Now, all of these were purported to involve Muslims. The first two, of course, actually, were unverified. The third one, the Dutch one, was actually debunked.

And earlier, as you were saying, this had been circulated by a British First (ph) official here in the United Kingdom who actually last year had been convicted of religious harassment of a Muslim woman on the street. So the president, you know - kind of retweeting something from a very, very controversial, very, very fringe group here in the U.K.

GREENE: And not a small thing when you have a British leader openly criticizing an American president.

LANGFITT: No.

GREENE: What - so what did Prime Minister May have to say?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, what she's done up until now is, she's tried to avoid criticizing the president. She doesn't - obviously, and in many cases, doesn't share his values. And the United Kingdom's leaving the European Union. It needs friends. It needs new trade deals. But this was just even too much for her, and she said he was wrong to do this. And then here's the quote talking about Britain First, which is interesting. She said, "Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions." She went on to say that this is "the antithesis of the values this country represents - decency, tolerance and respect." Those are very strong words coming from the U.K. prime minister.

GREENE: Yeah, not a lot of ambiguity at all.

LANGFITT: No, not at all.

GREENE: Well, how did Trump respond to that from Theresa May?

LANGFITT: Well, Trump, as you were saying, you know, he said - it's interesting. You know, a lot of people, as we know, would have let this go. This is a very close relationship between the nations. But President Trump did not, and basically said, you know, look after your own problems. We're doing just fine, so you need to look after radical Islam in your home country.

GREENE: Not just a close relationship...

LANGFITT: No.

GREENE: I mean, that - there's a special term for this relationship. They called it the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. So what is - is that at stake now? What are the implications?

LANGFITT: I don't think so. It's not - you know, this is a long relationship. It's not going to break at any time by any means. But this is another example of President Trump offending and alienating traditional allies. And America, remember, fought side by side with the Brits in World War II, Iraq, Afghanistan. People here in London were saying, you know, they were saddened yesterday that the leader of this country that they largely admire is expressing values that they, frankly, abhor, David.

GREENE: And isn't Trump supposed to go for a state visit to Britain?

LANGFITT: He is, and it's supposed to be still on, but there's a lot of opposition to it, certainly, among the public here in London and even some politicians.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.