Amy Walter and Asma Khalid on Biden’s Supreme Court picks, partisan redistricting

NPR’s White House correspondent Asma Khalid and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Biden's U.S. Supreme Court selection and how the confirmation process should be handled in the evenly divided Senate.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More lawmakers are weighing in on who President Biden should select to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and how the confirmation process should be handled in the evenly divided Senate.

    Those are just some of the issues to discuss in this week's Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Asma Khalid of NPR. Tamara Keith is away.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, the big story of last week, Justice Stephen Breyer announcing he is going to step down, he's going to retire at the end of this term, giving President Biden an opportunity to name his — someone he wants on the court.

    Amy, the president has said this is going to be someone supremely qualified, and it's going to be a black woman. What are the opportunities here for him. And what does he need to be worried about?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Yes, Judy, that's right.

    He has his opportunity both to make a permanent influence on the court. This is somebody who most likely will be under the age of 60, so able to sit on the court for a good, long time. Also, it allows him, as you pointed out, Judy, to make good on his promise he made on the campaign trail to appoint a black woman to this position.

    The other thing that I'm looking for, though, is how Republicans are going to react to this. It was interesting to watch, for example, Senator Dick Durbin, who's the chair of the Judiciary Committee, come out today, talk to reporters and say, you know what, I have talked to a lot of folks. There are a lot of Republicans who are interested, potentially interested in supporting Biden's nominees, names that — a lot more names than you would maybe have guessed.

    And it leads to this question about just how much of a fight do Republicans want to put up. How contentious do they want this? Obviously, you're replacing a more left-leaning justice with another one appointed by a Democrats, so it's not going to change the makeup of the court.

    And I think a lot of folks are looking at what happened with Kavanaugh, the Kavanaugh hearings back in October of 2018. At that time, there was a lot of talk about what this was going to do in the midterm elections. I think the fact that it happened so close to the election, it was so contentious, it did as much to raise the intensity and enthusiasm of Republican voters as it did Democratic voters.

    So, if Republicans make this a contentious, drawn-out process, it could end up backfiring, in that it motivates what are now currently not as motivated Democratic voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Given that, Asma, what are you hearing about this process and about how concerned the White House is about getting any Republican votes for the nominee?

  • Asma Khalid, NPR:

    Well, look, I will say that, to date, the president has been, I think, extraordinarily successful in his judicial appointments.

    It's one place where you look at the fact, I think, to date, it's been over 40 nominees. This is not at the highest court level, but throughout. And I think he's really put his stamp on diversifying the judiciary.

    Now, what that means is that this is something that clearly Democrats have shown they're able to do without any Republican support. And so do they try to court Republicans?

    I think what I have begun to hear from them Democrats is that this is an added bonus, if they are able to get some Republican votes, but it's not necessary. Certainly, the president wants to do this as quickly as possible. He knows there's a limited timeline. He's already said he intends to put that nomination forth by the end of February.

    And he has — just tomorrow, he will be having over some of the leaders on the Judiciary Committee to the White House. So they are moving along rather quickly. What I will say, though, again, is, I just don't think that Democrats need Republican votes, nor do they say that they are going to spend a lot of time trying to seek them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know the president said he's going to make this decision by the end of February. So, of course, everybody's trying to just to stay on top of the story.

    I also want to ask the two of you about former President Trump. He was again out talking about the January 6 insurrection.

    Here he was. Here's a clip of what he had to say in Texas over the weekend, referring to the insurrectionists who assaulted the United States Capitol.

    Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Donald Trump:

    And, if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, this is what he's saying if he's reelected, and he — we should say he put out a statement yesterday, last night, pointing out, in his view, that then-Vice President Pence could have overturned the electoral vote result back a year ago.

    What are — what are the political consequences of all this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, the one thing it may do is actually put on a fast track a real bipartisan commitment to reforming the Electoral Count Act.

    That is the act that, in essence, that Trump was referring to about Pence's ability to, he literally said overturn the results of the 2020 election. The reform of it would basically make it very, very clear that the vice president has absolutely no role in deciding which slates of electors to accept or which slates of electors to deny.

    At the same time, I think the more that Donald Trump is in the news, the more that this mid — as we get closer to the midterm elections, the more that Republicans have to talk about Donald Trump or distance themselves from these false statements he's making about January 6, the better it is politically for Democrats.

    That's the kind of thing that really fires up their base. It alienates independent voters. And, fundamentally, I think that the leadership on the Republican side really does want to put this behind them and move forward. And Donald Trump is making that very, very difficult for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Asma, what — how do you see the political calculus at this point for Republicans?

  • Asma Khalid:

    I mean, I agree with Amy that, really, I think this is putting a lot of pressure on having some sort of bipartisan consensus for the Electoral Count Act, right? That has been languishing, to some degree, in Congress, in part because Democrats have been hoping for more transformational voting rights legislation.

    And you have had a couple of key Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, who have been pushing for that. In some ways, I would argue that it's actually been some more of the progressive Democrats who have been, I think, a bit concerned really about moving forward with the Electoral Count Act, thinking that it would be a replacement for any sorts of larger voting rights legislation.

    But when Donald Trump makes comments, as he did over the weekend, when you put out the statement, as he did on Sunday, I think it gives some sense of legitimacy that, even for these progressive Democrats, who maybe don't think it's enough, that they need to do something.

    And I really do think it gives another sort of lifeline, a sort of rejuvenation, let's just say, of this Electoral Count Act, to actually get through pretty quickly, I would say, ahead of 2024.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, no matter how many times we say maybe he's not going to talk about it anymore, he keeps talking about it. And that's what we saw this weekend.

    Just quickly to both of you, Amy, redistricting. We have been talking a lot about Republican — Republican legislatures and commissions drawing districts to favor them, but, in New York state, we're now seeing a new map that heavily favors Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    And, Judy, this is a state that, in 2014, voters put about — approved a ballot measure that took redistricting out of the hands of politicians, put it in the hands of a bipartisan commission. In surprise to no one, that bipartisan commission broke down, was polarized.

    So it went back to the legislature, which is dominated by Democrats. Democrats gerrymandered a very favorable map for themselves, which would basically cut the Republican delegation in half from eight to four. Democrats would pick up or have seats that are more Democratic, three more seats that are heavily Democratic.

    That is a substantial, substantial redistricting gerrymander there in New York. It doesn't break the letter of the law, but it certainly calls into question the spirit of what was supposed to be government reform and taking it out of the hands of a partisan process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question.

    Asma, in just a few seconds, a reminder both parties are doing this.

  • Asma Khalid:

    Exactly.

    Both parties are doing this. And I think that even though some have wanted to see these independent commissions — you saw it in Michigan — this is just a testament that those independent commissions (AUDIO GAP) sometimes too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    Asma Khalid, Amy Walter, so thankful for both of you. We will see you next week.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Asma Khalid:

    Thanks.

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