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Trump Endorses Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore Despite Allegations Of Sexual Abuse


President Trump went to Utah today to announce that his administration will reduce the size of two national monuments. And Trump may have had another mission - keeping Utah Senator Orrin Hatch from retiring.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here with me to shed some light on why the president might be doing that. Hey, Mara.


KELLY: Let me start us by just letting everybody hear a little bit of what President Trump actually had to say about Senator Hatch today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You are a true fighter, Orrin, I have to say. I've gotten to know him very well. I've gotten to know a lot of people very well. You meet fighters, and you meet people that you thought were fighters but they're not so good at fighting. He's a fighter. We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.


KELLY: All right, a true fighter, Mara. What should we make of this?

LIASSON: A true fighter. The money cut there is a very long time to come. Orrin Hatch is 83 years old, and Donald Trump does not want him to go anywhere. And I've spoken to someone very familiar with Hatch's thinking. He would like to retire. His wife would like him to retire. But Donald Trump does not want him to retire.

KELLY: Is one possible reason that Hatch is in the president's good books right now that he just helped get this tax bill through the Senate that President Trump very much wanted to get through the Senate?

LIASSON: Actually, Donald Trump doesn't want him to retire because the person who would most likely replace him is Mitt Romney, Trump's nemesis. And Utah polls show voters think Hatch should retire. They think - they show that Romney would win easily. But if Romney does come into the Senate, he immediately becomes the No. 1 elder statesman of the Republican Party. He becomes the de facto head of the non-Trump Republican Party - not necessarily the anti-Trump Republican Party. But with Corker and Flake leaving, McCain gravely ill, he would be the center of gravity for all the people in the party who are uncomfortable with Trump's behavior. He's dignified. He's experienced. He was the nominee in 2012. And Trump reportedly does not want that to happen.

KELLY: Well, and apparently the lack of love is mutual. I mean, I'm remembering back during the campaign Romney gave that barnstormer of an anti-Trump speech.

LIASSON: Very tough speech. He called him a phony and a fraud. They did have that reconciliation, however, over frog legs at the Trump Hotel in New York City when they discussed Romney possibly being the secretary of state. But he didn't get the job. And then Charlottesville happened and Romney criticized Trump on Facebook for his comments after that racist violence. He hasn't been an outspoken anti-Trumper since. But as we saw this morning when Trump again criticized Hillary Clinton, there are some political foes that Donald Trump just can't let go of.

KELLY: All right, let me shift you before we let you go, Mara, to another Senate race that's coming up in a week. This is Alabama, the special election there. Republican Roy Moore, as we have been tracking, has been fighting allegations of sexual encounters with teenage girls. Now, the president, President Trump, has been supportive of Moore. Today he went a step further. He explicitly endorsed him. How come?

LIASSON: Moore is probably going to win. The White House assumes he's going to win. They don't want to be on the losing side in the Alabama Senate race. Again, remember; he didn't support Moore in the primary. They also had a phone call today, and Moore's spokesman said that on that call Trump said, go, get them, Roy. The president is also going to Florida on Friday. It's not in Alabama, but he will be in the Mobile media market. So he'll be seen by voters in Alabama. And his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, has recorded a robocall to Alabama Trump supporters telling them to attend this rally. So even if he's not...

KELLY: And they like him in Alabama.

LIASSON: Yes. They like him.

KELLY: Yeah, all right.

LIASSON: He has big approval rating. So he's essentially campaigning for him.

KELLY: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.