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Why getting tax reform done is crucial for Republicans

April 17, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss what a win in a surprisingly competitive special election in Georgia would mean for Democrats, how Republicans are learning the difficulty of governing and more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: why a special congressional election in Georgia is getting national attention.

Protesters demand to see the president’s tax returns, but do most Americans care? And does President Trump’s travel indicate his priorities?

We look at all this in Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

And welcome to both of you.

So, Amy, we are looking at this congressional — special congressional election tomorrow. Democrats think they have a chance.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: They think they have a chance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they have a chance?

AMY WALTER: They absolutely do.

Here’s the thing about this district. We talked a little bit about it last week, but it’s suburban Atlanta district, very wealthy, very well-educated. This is a Republican district, but this is not Trump country.

This is a district that Mitt Romney won by 20 points. This is a district that the Congress , Republican Congressman Tom Price, who is now the HHS secretary, easily carried, but Trump only won by less than two points.

This is the kind of district that Democrats think they can win when the president — this becomes a referendum on the president and his popularity much more so than about the Democrats.

So, we’re going to get a really interesting test of that. Also helping the Democrat in this race are the fact there are 11 Republicans, so that field is very fractured, and they’re also fighting each other, and the fact that the Democrat is benefiting from national excitement about this race.

He’s raised a ton of money, and enthusiasm among the Democratic base, while the Republican base not quite as enthusiastic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, these are the factors at play here.

So, this is different from the Kansas race that we watched last week.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: This is, because it’s closer. It’s not Kansas. It’s the suburbs of Atlanta.

And the Democratic candidate has been able to sort of consolidate Democratic support. And the Republicans are sort of fighting each other as much as they’re fighting him. He — this Democrat, Jon Ossoff, is an interesting candidate. He’s a young person, not really any political experience. He’s running for Congress for the first time.

He raised a loft money, something like $8 million, but most of that came from outside of the district; 95 percent of it, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, came from outside of the district, 80 percent of it from outside of the state.

So what this says is that this is a proxy war. This is Democrats all over the United States looking at this as an opportunity to send a message. This becomes about President Trump and about the message they can send, and less about sort of the local issues that this could be about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you both have covered politics all over the country.

But, Amy, I read something today. They were saying that — making the point that Democrats are spending a lot of money on television and online, on ads, but they’re not putting enough into actually turning out the vote, the so-called get-out-the-vote effort. Is this a factor here? Are Democrats doing…

AMY WALTER: Yes, although I am — you’re sort of seeing both things, the Democrats, the committee that is responsible for electing congressional Democrats, putting more people now on the ground in districts, saying, we understand that we need to do more to motivate our base to get out. We have to go literally touch them, rather than to just put ads.

But the fact is, this Democrat has — as Tam pointed out, he has over $8 million, maybe close to $10 million. It’s getting spent everywhere in this congressional district.

And I think this is what we’re going to be looking for, whether the president’s low approval ratings and the lack of enthusiasm from Republicans, fired-up Democratic base, they send a warning signal to Republicans. If a Democrat wins here, I think if you’re a Republican up in 2018, you say, uh-oh.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it gives heart to Democrats if he wins, clearly.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, potentially, if he wins.

And, of course, this is just the primary. It’s sort of a jungle primary. So if he gets more than 50 percent, he wins. If he doesn’t, there’s another race. There’s a general election which will be a more traditional race, where the Democrat can go after the Republican, and the Republican can go after the Democrat, though the Republicans have been able to train their fire pretty much right at Jon Ossoff because he has consolidated the support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we’re looking at kind of a rise of Democratic energy across the country. We have been talking about it for the last couple of months.

But, Amy, and one other way we looked at this weekend — and we mentioned it a minute ago — were these rallies across the country, marches pointing out the president — Tax Day is coming up tomorrow, but President Trump hasn’t released his tax returns.

The question is, though, is that something that gets people excited or disturbed? Is this something that matters?

AMY WALTER: It certainly is motivating to the Democratic base.

And I think, for a lot of voters, the issues of transparency is very important. Despite the fact that the president said nobody cares about his taxes, I think a lot of people care that he didn’t release his taxes. The question issue is whether it is the most important issue to voters.

And it was not the most important issue when they decided to support the president. I think the challenge for the president right now is actually getting something accomplished.

And this is why you’re seeing Republican enthusiasm wane. It’s the sense of frustration. I talk to a lot of Republicans who say, man, we have the House, we have the Senate, we have the White House. We still can’t get things done.

I think the bigger challenge for the president will be if a tax reform bill doesn’t pass, more so than whether he releases his taxes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, by the way, the treasury secretary, Tam, said today that they do not intend or don’t anticipate getting a tax reform plan out there before the August recess, which is late in the summer.

TAMARA KEITH: That’s right.

And based on everything we have seen leading up to this point, it doesn’t look like they have found sort of cohesion on what they want on the Republican side. The House wants something different than the Senate. And the White House, I think, has some internal divisions even about what the Trump administration wants.

So, tax reform is a really big thing. It hasn’t happened since 1986, and it took them, I think, about six years to get it. I mean, it took more than …

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of us covered that. And it was complicated and took a long time.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, a very long time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

TAMARA KEITH: And there was some level of bipartisan horse-trading that is not currently happening between the president and Congress. And if his own party doesn’t agree, that presents a challenge.

AMY WALTER: Yes. And that’s #governingishard. And I think that’s what Republicans are finding out right now, is that, even though they have all the levers of power, they have — they remain incredibly divided.

And to me, the most interesting number that came out today was a Pew poll that asked of Democrats and Republicans, do you think your party is mostly united or mostly divided? Overwhelming majority of Republicans said, I think our party is divided. Overwhelming majority of Democrats said, I think we’re united.

And you’re seeing these divisions. We saw it most recently with the health care. And you’re going to see it on taxes, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, less than a minute.

Quickly to Tam on this, a story today that the president has done less traveling both in the U.S. and abroad than both of his predecessors, Obama and George W. Bush.

Does that say something that should tell us anything about whether he’s going to be successful or not?

TAMARA KEITH: I don’t know if it’s a predictor of success.

What it does tell us is, those predecessors, they were campaigning. They were out pushing for policy proposals. President Obama was out there holding town halls, trying to build support for his stimulus package, and President Bush was out there trying to build support for No Child Left Behind and for his tax cut proposal.

President Trump had about a 17-day period where he could have gone out to push for the health care bill, but it was very much in flux and it wasn’t even clear. He held a couple of rallies and didn’t really campaign for it.

So, he’s not had the policies to go out and sell to the public. And that might be part, though it’s not clear, of why he has spent less time.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

He likes to speak to his base. He likes to preach to his choir, rather than convert new groups. So, his travel schedule is much more like comfort food than it is an attempt to broaden his base. And that is going to be a much bigger challenge for the president going forward, because, as we have seen, his approval rating right now right about 40 percent.

He can’t survive just at 40 percent or get big things done with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, I’m getting my head wrapped around comfort food right now.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY WALTER: Sounds good, doesn’t it?

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both, Politics Monday. Thank you.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

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