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Trump Heads To Europe As New Revelations Surface About Russia Links

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump is going back to Europe today as his White House remains consumed by the latest revelations about Russian support for his 2016 campaign. On Capitol Hill, his legislative agenda is stuck. Soon the president will be at the 200-day mark possibly with no significant legislative wins to point to. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: These are difficult times for Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. As the president fumes on Twitter about Hillary Clinton and insists the White House is, quote, "functioning perfectly," Republicans on Capitol Hill are nervous. In private, they complain about the president's self-inflicted wounds and wonder if the next one will be fatal. But then they remember the only Senate candidates who lost in 2016 were the ones that broke with Donald Trump. Vin Weber is a former Republican congressman.

VIN WEBER: Members of Congress are practical politicians. They saw this man win the nomination. They saw him win the election, and they concluded that he's got ahold of something that we don't. And it's going to take a lot to convince them that that's not true, but it would be a mistake for the administration to conclude that there is no limit to that phenomenon.

LIASSON: That admiration for Trump, however grudging, gives the president a lot of latitude with members of his own party as one Russian shoe after another drops. So far, the bargain Republicans made last year is holding. They would put up with all the things they couldn't stand about Donald Trump in exchange for having a Republican president to sign legislation on health care, tax cuts and entitlement reform. But, says Vin Weber, things aren't working out the way they planned.

WEBER: Republicans are in a very tough place right now. And when the election dust settled, we thought, my gosh, we've got the first Republican government in many years and a president who has a very ambitious agenda. And that's why there were a lot of expectations, including on my part, of things happening much more rapidly than we had in the past. Unfortunately that did not happen.

LIASSON: Why didn't it happen? Part of it is Republicans' own internal divisions. Part of it is the president's lack of interest in leading on policy. And part of it is the ongoing distraction of the Russian scandal. Stephen Moore, who was a Trump campaign adviser, says the best antidote to all of that for Republicans is to pass something.

STEPHEN MOORE: Republicans are running scared right now. They're spooked by the fact that Trump's, you know, overall approval rating isn't high. They're worried about the fact that when they go back to these town hall meetings, they get shouted down and so on. And my advice to them is, look; get this done. You know, get Obamacare repealed. Get a tax cut done. And that's your path to victory.

LIASSON: Republicans console themselves by pointing out that the president's poll numbers are actually quite steady. His base is holding. His approval among Republican voters is in the mid-80s. But as Vin Weber explains, there are different political calculations for the president, who doesn't face voters till 2020, and congressional Republicans who will be on the ballot without him next year.

WEBER: The president's supporters are going to stick with him. They believe in him. They believe in him in a way that's almost transcendent. But they have no great love for the Congress. The very things that caused millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump for president caused them to have, you know, at best, sort of a mild disdain for the Congress, even the Congress of their own party. They need to overcome that by showing that they can accomplish things that those voters do care about.

LIASSON: Because if they don't, says Stephen Moore, the voters who love Donald Trump might just stay home.

MOORE: Trump won in a very unconventional way in 2016. He basically got out his base voters, and he appealed to, you know, working-class Americans who hadn't traditionally voted Republican. Those are the kind of voters - if they get discouraged, they're not going to show up in a midterm election. And that's the way you would get a kind of bloodbath for Republicans.

LIASSON: And a bloodbath wouldn't just be bad for Republicans. It would be terrible for President Trump. That's why Republicans' political fate can't be separated from the president's. Both will be determined by where the Russia story goes next and if in spite of it the president and his party can get something passed on Capitol Hill. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.