CNN has learned that the Trump-Graham relationship could be changing in light of controversial comments made by President Trump in an Oval Office meeting. Trump reportedly used a vulgar term when he interrupted the South Carolina Republican
as Graham was trying to explain a bipartisan immigration proposal. CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King reported that the White House had hoped the Republicans in the room would come to Trump's defense.
Sen. David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, went from saying he "did not recall" Trump's phraseology to saying on ABC's "This Week" that, "I'm telling you he did not use that word."
Another Republican, Sen. Tom Cotton from Arkansas, who also said he did "not recall" Trump's comment, now tells CBS' "Face the Nation" that, "I didn't hear that word either, I certainly didn't hear what (Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin) has said repeatedly."
But Graham hasn't rushed to back up the President's denial.
Graham issued a statement that, while not getting into the details, confirmed he had challenged some of the President's views. Graham's statement went on to praise Durbin -- who was also in the room and who publicly angered the White House with a detailed public account of behavior that Durbin labeled as vile and racist. Once a fierce Trump critic, Graham more recently has been a presidential defender and a golf buddy. The senator knows the President is mad at him, but believes he did the right thing, King reported.
2) Trump back on the campaign trail this week
Trump is heading back to one of the swing states he flipped in 2016. He'll be in Pennsylvania this week, trying to reverse a GOP losing streak. As The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender tells us, this will be an early test of Trump's political capital.
"This is coming after losses in Alabama, a series of losses in Virginia; now he's campaigning in Pennsylvania and the special election there," Bender said.
"I interviewed (Vice President) Mike Pence in his West Wing office last week with my colleague, Peter Nicholas. He made clear that he and Trump are going to be very, very involved in this race and in the midterms throughout the year. They're going to be recruiting candidates in Ohio. They're trying to protect incumbents, like a very vulnerable one in Nevada, and they'll be fund-raising from start to finish. This race in Pennsylvania is the first opportunity this year to show how much impact the ... top two Republicans can have."
3) Florida Gov. Scott for Senate? All signs point to yes
Sources tell CNN's Manu Raju that Florida's Gov. Rick Scott will run for the US Senate this year. He'd be challenging Bill Nelson and this race could be a huge factor in determining which side wins a Senate majority. "If he were to run, it would be a recruiting coup for the President after having several challenges, setbacks in recent days," Raju said.
"Scott, I'm told, is seriously considering it. He has had a number of conversations including with (Sens.) Lamar Alexander (and) Marco Rubio. "Rubio himself told me that he believes that Scott will make a decision after the end of this legislative session, which will be in March. Of course, we'll see what the political environment is then."
4) Greitens' political future up in the air
Eric Greitens was a rising GOP star not too long ago. He was elected Missouri governor in 2016. Now, Greitens political future is very much in question after he released a statement, acknowledging an extramarital affair. Greitens is also facing blackmail allegations -- among other things. Julie Pace, of the Associated Press, tells us both parties are watching closely,
"Democrats would love to have a chance to make up some ground in Missouri, particularly knowing they're facing a really competitive race there this fall. For both parties, this is a real question of how politicians can survive in this era of sexual misconduct, the MeToo movement.
"Greitens is digging in right now; he's pushing back on the blackmail questions. but as several people I've talked to have said, other politicians have gone down for much less than what he's being accused of."
5) Pence travels to the Mideast this week
Vice President Pence is traveling to the Mideast this week. The trip was actually supposed to happen a month ago, but Pence stayed in town just in case the GOP needed his vote for tax reform. As Bloomberg's Margaret Talev reported, many foreign policy agenda items follow Pence on this trip.
"Originally (he was) supposed to be meeting with Palestinians and persecuted Christian minorities, as well as Israeli officials. That's the Palestinian part of this. And the minority Christian part of this is still off, because of the President's Jerusalem decision, which you know was pretty divisive in the middle east," Talev said. "There's new importance on his meeting with the Egyptian leader. That could be very important. And (there's) an added stop in Jordan. But all told, we will be able to use that trip as a lens to gauge the kind of implications in the Middle East about that decision affecting the Palestinians in the peace process."