ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As we've just heard, we've heard some of what President Trump had to say about this deal. Later in the day in a speech, Trump made another pitch for it, urging Americans to call on Congress to help push the measure over the finish line.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The cynical voices that opposed tax cuts grow smaller and weaker, and the American people grow stronger. I heard one of our opponents stand up the other day and say, this is for the rich. They had no idea. They didn't even see the final bill. I didn't see the final bill. This is for the people of middle income.
SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House. And Mara, what does this bill represent?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This represents the first major piece of legislation - assuming it is passed next week - that the president is going to sign. So it's a very big deal. And it looks like what's coming out of the conference committee is even more tilted to the wealthy than the bill was before.
As you just heard from Kelsey, it does have some cuts for everyone in the short term. And that's why Donald Trump at the White House today gave that speech, and he had a bunch of families with him talking about how much they were looking forward to getting the cuts. But over time, the bill sunsets the tax cuts for the middle-class Americans, leaves in place the cuts for the wealthy and corporations. So the bill right now is extremely unpopular.
The White House is hoping that not only will corporations and big donors like it, but once people get their cuts, they will decide - they'll change their minds and decide that they like it, too.
SIEGEL: Now, on the same day that the tax conferees reached agreement, President Trump got some of the worst political news that he's had as president. His candidate in the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore - whom he endorsed pretty enthusiastically by the end - lost to Democrat Doug Jones. How big a blow is that?
LIASSON: Big. It's a huge blow - a stunning thing. Republicans were supposed to win Alabama without trying. This is a state where Trump won by 28 percent - percentage points. But the president now has been repudiated twice in Alabama, once in the primary when he backed Luther Strange instead of Roy Moore, and again in the general when Roy Moore lost.
And, of course, Trump is someone who always tries to sound like a winner, so today he tweeted that he supported Strange in the primary because he knew Moore couldn't win in the general. He tweeted, I was right. Of course, that ignores everything he tried to do for Trump - for Moore in the general election.
SIEGEL: But, you know, when there's a loss like this one - a big upset, and a loss, in this case, of a Republican Senate seat in a reliably Republican state - there's always a lot of recrimination. Is it really fair to blame Moore's loss on Donald Trump?
LIASSON: Not totally. Moore was a very flawed candidate even before the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.
It is true that after Trump got back involved - at first he said Moore should step down if the allegations were true. He said then the voters should decide. But then he got all in for him. Moore did seem to stabilize, and the exit polls showed that people who made up their minds in the last couple of days went for Moore. Maybe Trump helped that.
But it's also true that Trump was not able to transfer his own popularity to Moore. And the question is, can Donald Trump get his own voters to vote for anyone other than him? He couldn't in Virginia, and he couldn't in the ruby red state of Alabama. And that's a bad sign for Republicans.
SIEGEL: What does all this mean for the elections in 2018?
LIASSON: Well, Republicans and Democrats both think that a blue wave is forming. You know, historical trends tell us that midterm elections are referendums on the president and the party in power. When the president is under 50 percent approval rating, his party loses a lot of House seats. And Republicans are worried.
And Trump has to decide now which side of the party he wants to go with - the Steve Bannons who want insurgent candidates, anti-establishment candidates, or Mitch McConnell, who's been arguing we need candidates who can win general elections.
And today, the president tweeted, if last night's election proved anything, it proves we need to put up great Republican candidates to increase our margins. There he's sounding a lot like Mitch McConnell. But going forward, he has to decide. He listened to Mitch McConnell and lost in the primary. Then he listened to Steve Bannon, lost in the general. He has to figure out what his instincts are telling him.
SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.