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Can Democrats find a winning strategy under a new DNC chair?

February 27, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
Tom Perez was elected as the new head of the Democratic National Committee over the weekend. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to talk about President Trump’s budget blueprint, why the Democrats need to figure out how to win elections from the bottom up, plus voter reactions to the Trump administration so far.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, from the president’s budget signals to a new Democratic Party leader, it’s time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR, and joining us tonight from Miami, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

And welcome to both of you. Happy Monday.

So, the White House is talking budgets and health care today.

Amy, we’re going to hear more about what the president has in mind in terms of their budget blueprint tomorrow, but essentially they’re talking big increases in defense, military spending and big cuts in domestic discretionary spending.

What are the political realities here?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes.

The president is trying to fulfill another one of his campaign pledges. We saw him earlier in his presidency talking about immigration, passing executive orders, and now wanting to pass legislation restricting immigration.

Now we’re getting to the part where he talked on the campaign trail of making sure that our defense spending is increased and that we’re going to cut budgets domestically.

The question, of course, Judy, is how you do that without running up the deficit. His OMB director today said we can do this if we make those cuts on domestic spending.

But the reality is, it’s going to be really tough, especially when you add into this discussions that the president also had today about increasing funding for infrastructure spending, and then, of course, how we are going to pay for that wall and all of those extra agents who are supposed to be patrolling the border.

This is a party that for years talked about reducing the deficit, not spending more money than you have. This could be a big budget buster.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s always tougher to execute these things than it is to talk about the outline of what you want to do.

TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes.

Budgets, however, presidential budgets, are vision documents. This a vision document. This is not what Congress will ultimately end up voting on or putting into place.

The other thing to point out is that the president wants to vastly increase defense spending and cut it from discretionary domestic spending. But there is actually a law in place right now that says you can’t do that. It’s the Budget Control Act of 2011. And so they would actually have to find a way around that law as well.

So it’s always a bit more complicated than it seems. And this is just a blueprint. This is very early, very early in the process. Earlier in the process — usually, the White House doesn’t even talk about these kinds of things at this point in the process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, so speaking of political realities, Amy, the Democrats chose a new party chair over the weekend, Tom Perez. He’s the former labor secretary. Hard-fought contest.

What does this say about the Democratic Party right now? And what do you look to Tom Perez to do?

AMY WALTER: Well, whoever was elected DNC chair was coming into a pretty rough position.

Look, what’s not talked about all that much is that, despite the big loss for Democrats in 2016 of the White House, they have been losing seats, especially at the state legislative, governor’s level, and of course at the congressional level, ever since President Obama was elected in 2009.

So Tom Perez is coming into a deep, deep hole. The most important thing he can do — I know the candidates talked a lot about philosophy. We heard a lot during the campaign for DNC chair about this being a proxy between the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren wing and the Hillary Clinton wing.

In reality, the number one challenge for Tom Perez or any DNC chairman is to get the party back to winning, especially at the legislative level. Remember, redistricting comes back up in 2020. If Democrats want any shot getting control of Congress, getting a better map, if they want to be able to start controlling some of these state legislative bodies, they have got to start winning on the ground.

And so unless and until Democrats start to do that, all this discussion about philosophy and direction of the party don’t mean very much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s got his work cut out.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, absolutely.

Also, just to note that this is an organization that — the DNC itself was hacked in the last year and was completely rocked by that hacking, and is simply an organization that is back on its heels and needs to recover just simply as an organization, never mind the Democratic Party more broadly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we are talking about the Democrats and Republicans tonight.

Amy, you wrote this week about what you called divided America, and you looked at how different groups of voters see President Trump differently. Give us a taste of that.

AMY WALTER: Well, Judy, you know this quite well.

Usually, when a president comes in — he’s only been in a month — he has something called a honeymoon period. This president didn’t even really get a weekend at Niagara Falls. He went from before a very polarizing candidate for president to being a very polarizing president.

But, to be fair, I went and I looked and I said, well, where was President Obama at this point — not at this point, but in his last month of his presidency? And we were almost as polarized then by race, by gender, by education.

And what we have seen with President Trump is the same fault lines we saw on the campaign trail. If you are white, if you are male, if you didn’t attend college, you have a stronger approval rating than if you’re female, if you’re non-white, if you attended college.

They’re a little bit bigger, these gaps, than when President Obama was in office, but the bottom line is, Donald Trump didn’t invent polarized America, but it is certainly as polarized, if not slightly more, than even where we were a year ago, or less than year ago, a month ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it seems like a hundred years ago, or a minute ago. I can’t tell which.

(LAUGHTER)

TAMARA KEITH: Both.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Tamara, you got a close-up look at this. You were on the ground in Saint Louis, Missouri, this past week talking to voters about it.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, and I talked to a range of voters.

What really stood out to me is, I interviewed three Trump voters. And they have three sort of different views of President Trump already. You have sort of the base, core voter who is a factory worker who lost his job about a decade ago. And he loves everything Donald Trump is doing, can’t get enough and loves it every time there is a bad headline, because he thinks Donald Trump must be doing something right.

His wife, on the other hand, feels like the president moved a little too fast with the executive orders. And then another Trump voter I talked to said that he really figured that the president would be more presidential when he came into office, and he wants him to have a thicker skin and stop tweeting.

He says, you know, we’re looking up to you with our eyes hoping that you’re going to help us. We need to see more from you.

And then I talked to one other voter who voted for Hillary Clinton, and she feels like he’s not her president and that she’s invisible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s interesting that, already, these voters are forming clearer impressions of this president.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, in that first month …

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s not fuzzy, in other words.

TAMARA KEITH: It’s not fuzzy. They have strong views of him. And it’s already sort of setting in after just a month in office.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tamara Keith of NPR, Amy Walter on the road in Miami, thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, looking ahead, please join us tomorrow night for special PBS NewsHour coverage of President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress. It begins on Twitter at 7:00 p.m. Eastern and on your local station at 9:00 p.m.

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