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How Sanders, O’Malley will try to stand out in the first debate

October 12, 2015 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Obama weighed in on Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, while a former GOP staffer came out to say that the Benghazi Committee was politically motivated against Clinton. Will those issues start to fade? Judy Woodruff talks with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about the upcoming Democratic debate and the the GOP House speaker saga.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and a look ahead to the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday. It’s a perfect time for Politics Monday.

I’m joined by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Welcome to you both.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Thank you.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot to talk about.

So, the president, as we just heard, he has weighed in now, said Hillary Clinton made a mistake, but he said she has acknowledged it. And we just heard this former staffer, Tamara, for the Benghazi Committee said that what they were doing was politically motivated, it was too targeted on her.

Is this going to make a difference, do you think, in this issue? Is it going to go away as a result of this?

TAMARA KEITH: This is absolutely not going away.

The Benghazi Committee is going to have a hearing — it has it scheduled for about a week from now, a little more than a week from now, where Hillary Clinton is set to testify. She will have more fuel to be able to say, look, this a partisan thing. But they’re going to ask her tough questions and she’s going to sit there and have to answer them for what could be a very, very long hearing.

And then the e-mails are going to keep coming out in monthly doses. So, just because she had a couple of decent news cycles doesn’t mean that this goes away. It is also very muddy in people’s minds at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy, even with the McCarthy, the Kevin McCarthy statement, politically motivated, and this former staffer, you’re saying it doesn’t make any difference, or does it?

AMY WALTER: Yes, I agree with Tamara.

You still have the FBI investigating. Was there classified material on here that she willingly passed on? Was she hacked by — her e-mail server hacked by a foreign government? We still need answers to those questions, plus the drip, drip, drip of e-mails coming out.

I think the one thing it provides Hillary Clinton — and we may see this tomorrow at the debate — is an opportunity to rally Democrats behind her, where she is able to say, see, Democrats, I know you have been a little bit, maybe a little bit questioning about me, maybe not as enthusiastic as you should be. But guess what? The reason Republicans are doing this is they don’t want me to be president. They don’t want me to talk about these issues. They don’t want us to bring up — they know they can’t beat me, so they bring this issue up in order to try to defeat me.

TAMARA KEITH: And I will say that when I interview Democrats about this, and I did at least a dozen, probably maybe 20 man-on-the-street interviews just last week, all of the Democrats I talked to said it doesn’t bother me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Huh. So the rallying affect that Amy is talking about, you are saying is already out there.

TAMARA KEITH: They are convinced this is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton coined.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the Democratic debate, as you said, Amy, is tomorrow night, first time we’re going to see them all together.

And meantime, there are some new polls out. And we can show you the results of this. Going in, it has Hillary Clinton up in some of the primary states. This is Nevada, where the debate is going to be held, coincidentally. You see Clinton up 50 to 34 over Bernie Sanders. In South Carolina, she’s also up 49 to 24, with an even bigger margin. Then, nationally — those are CNN polls. Then we have a CBS poll nationally showing her up 46 to 27.

Tamara, you know, looking at this, does this give her such a big advantage that, what, she becomes a target tomorrow night?

TAMARA KEITH: Did you think she wasn’t going to be the target all along?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Exactly. So what changes here?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, the polls obviously don’t change anything here.

Those states are more diverse than the states where Bernie Sanders is now winning or right on her heels, New Hampshire and Iowa. But those are the two first states and so they have sort of an outsized influence on things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, what do you see?

AMY WALTER: About the debate tomorrow night, she definitely is going to be the person that everybody is focusing on.

And the question is how aggressive are her opponents in making that case? Is Bernie Sanders, as he said this weekend on “Meet the Press,” going to show the consistency with which he’s stood by his convictions, a not-so-veiled reference to the fact that Hillary Clinton has taken multiple positions on the issues over the course of her career, that she most recently came out against the Keystone pipeline, against the trade promotion pact, Pacific pact?

You know, is he going to be that aggressive? Is Martin O’Malley going to be that aggressive? Or are they going to sit back a little bit and try to make the case for themselves, but not make it about her?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do they have to do tomorrow night? I mean, do they — don’t they — somebody like Martin O’Malley is barely registering in these polls. Tamara, what does he need to do?

TAMARA KEITH: In many polls, he’s an asterisk or a hyphen. He doesn’t even have 1 percent.

And what he needs to do, just by being on that stage, he will do a lot of that. People will figure out who Martin O’Malley is. They will learn his name. But he also needs to be impressive. He needs to say something that gets people excited.

And what he has been saying and it seems likely he will continue to say is, hey, look, I’m a new generation, wink, wink, I’m younger than those other people, and he also talks a lot about his executive experience. I would expect him to do that again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there that much difference on the issues, Amy, among these candidates?

AMY WALTER: Not so much now that Hillary has come out decisively on two big issues, trade and the Keystone pipeline.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Moving left.

AMY WALTER: Moving left on those issues.

I don’t think you are going to see that much difference, although you may see somebody come up and talk about her vote on Iraq, which, of course, now she has said was a mistake.

I do think it’s stylistic. And the difference between this debate and the Republican debate is, the Republican debate — the Republican primary is truly wide open. So there was an opportunity for somebody like a Marco Rubio, a Carly Fiorina to rise up, because you have Republicans truly searching around for anybody, trying to figure out who these people are.

On the Democratic side, she is the front-runner. She has very high approval ratings among Democrats. Democrats do not look like they are looking for somebody else. So, if you are Martin O’Malley, if you are Bernie Sanders, you have got to give them, them meaning the voters, a reason to look away from Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

I can’t get let the two of you get away without asking about what is going on in the House of Representatives. They can’t seem to agree on who their speaker is going to be, that is, the Republican Caucus.

Tamara, what is your reporting telling you?

TAMARA KEITH: I checked in with a spokesman for Paul Ryan, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, of course, former vice presidential nominee. He is the one who it seems like everyone wants. The spokesman said, check my Twitter.

And on Twitter…

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a new answer.

TAMARA KEITH: Well, there you go.

And on Twitter, he said, before you even ask, I have no updates, and I don’t expect any updates for the whole week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, when — could this begin to have longer-term effects on the Republicans or…

AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

The person actually who is most in danger of this being a problem is actually Mitch McConnell, who is the majority leader in the Senate, the Republican leader of the Senate.

The House, despite all this dysfunction, is likely to stay in Republican hands. There are just too many Republican-controlled seats that are too safe. The problem for Republicans is in the Senate, where they have at least seven seats in states that Barack Obama carried. These are very marginal states, where the Republican incumbent is trying desperately to not look too partisan.

If we see Washington truly melt down, Republicans get the blame, it’s those senators who are going to take a lot of the suffering, not the House folks. And that is the danger, I think, really for Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fascinating, because so many people are focused right now just on the House.

AMY WALTER: Right.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes.

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

TAMARA KEITH: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

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