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Amy Walter and Domenico Montanaro on Trump’s illness, SCOTUS battle

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Domenico Montanaro join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including how President Trump’s COVID-19 infection is affecting public sentiment toward him, the Biden campaign’s response to the news and how the Supreme Court nomination battle could motivate voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's diagnosis has upended a presidential race that is already under way.

    So, where do the campaigns go from here?

    Amna Nawaz has that and more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    It's been just days since we learned of the president's COVID-19 diagnosis. But it's important to point out, for weeks, voters across the country have been casting their ballots. Nearly four million Americans have already voted. That's according to data from 22 states and the United States Election Project.

    And by the end of this week, mail-in or in-person early voting will be under way in 43 of the nation's 50 states, plus the capital city of Washington, D.C.

    Our Politics Monday team is here now to break it all down.

    That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Domenico Montanaro of NPR. Tamara Keith is away.

    Welcome to you both. I'm so glad you're here.

    And, Amy, I want to start with you, because, man, millions of people have already voted. And a lot has happened in just the last four days. So what is the potential election impact, if any, of the president's COVID-19 diagnosis in these final weeks ahead?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I mean, you're right, Amna, that the idea of an October surprise usually was, well, something that happens in October. That gives people three weeks or two weeks or something to process it, think about it as they go and cast their ballot in early November.

    But what we see right now is people are voting every single day, even as huge stories are unfolding in front of us. And it is not just the president, of course, that has contracted the virus. It is people in and around his orbit at the White House.

    We could be hearing more stories as we move forward. So, it is definitely a factor as we move into this, what could potentially be more shoes dropping.

    What we do know, though, Amna, is that this has been an incredible year of tumult and chaos and big once-in-a-lifetime events, and yet opinions of this president and opinions about voting intent really have not moved all that much. People have been pretty well locked in on who they're going to vote for and how they feel about the president.

    The one thing we saw today, though, and over the weekend is polls that have come out either right after the debate or since the president's diagnosis have seen the president's overall job approval ratings — or disapproval ratings — let me put it that way — his disapproval ratings go up.

    And that's not good news for a president that's already running behind.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Domenico, at the same time, when you look at some of the states that Mr. Trump won back in 2016, there are some of these states now where they're just starting to see COVID-19 surges. And we don't know what's ahead in the fall.

    You look at states like North Dakota and South Dakota, Utah. Wisconsin is now seeing a surge. Could any of these outbreaks affect him?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Well, I mean, I don't know that it's going to affect anything as far as how people feel about President Trump or Joe Biden.

    These are two people who've been so well-known for so long, and we have seen such a consistent race, certainly in national polls. We have seen some tightening, as the Trump campaign as pointed out, in key states, especially Florida, but that's key to the Trump campaign most.

    Joe Biden certainly has the edge overall. And coronavirus is going to be one of those things that just makes it very difficult to organize, difficult to get out your vote. And with all of the confusion around mail-in voting, and its efficacy and its safety, that makes it even tougher for the campaigns to really know who their voters are definitely going to be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Amy, Domenico mentions those challenges there for both the campaigns.

    But think back to a few weeks ago. I remember when the Trump campaign was hammering the Biden campaign, saying Biden was hiding in the basement.

    Things have switched a little bit now. You have President Trump somewhat sidelined. And Biden's in Florida. So has all of this, the events of the last few days, have they changed or shifted the Biden strategy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Listen, I think that, from the very beginning, it's been clear that President Trump's strategy or the campaign's strategy is driven much more by what President Trump likes to do than whether or not it's effective at turning out voters or convincing voters who might not be interested in voting for him right now to vote for him.

    And what the Biden campaign has been focused on all along is, who are the voters that we need to go and find, and what are other ways we can go and find them, whether that's through the phone or through the Internet?

    And so whether or not Joe Biden is on and in front of crowds isn't an important issue for the Biden campaign. And, quite frankly, what the president seems to be doing right now, even as he's leaving the hospital — and he did the drive-by yesterday — is his interest in being part of the story, his interest in always being, actually not part of the story, the story, and showing that he is tough and he is strong.

    And I think the challenge for the president isn't that people don't think that he has the sort of vigor to be president. What they're worried about is that his overall administration's handling of an issue that impacts their daily life in — day in and day out.

    It's why their kids aren't in school. It's why they haven't hugged their grandparents in a while. That's what is most important. And those are the things that voters are going to take with them into the voting place, not which candidate is out there with big rallies or not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Domenico, speaking of things voters will take with them when they vote, I remember when we were talking about the Supreme Court vacancy as the potential big game-changer, as something that could change how voters see the election.

    Do you still think that's the case?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    I never thought that was the case, first of all.

    But considering, by the way, to Amy's point of President Trump having enough vigor to be president, I think, after that last debate, there might be a lot of voters who think he maybe has too much vigor to be president.

    But, look, the Supreme Court decision here is something that has largely been unpopular for — most voters saying in polls that they don't think that President Trump should go forward with picking somebody now, as compared to, let's say, when President Obama put forward Merrick Garland in 2016.

    So I think what it has done has actually gotten a lot of Democrats to focus on the Supreme Court, in a way that they hadn't done in past years. It has always been very difficult to get Democrats fired up for the Supreme Court. It's always been an issue that Republicans have looked at as something that was key to what they want to see the country become.

    And, as the court now potentially moves to a 6-3 majority court, you're seeing a Supreme Court that could be changed. This could be the biggest legacy of Donald Trump that shapes social policy for the next couple of generations, and has huge impacts on all of the things that we think about in life, and, look, particularly when it comes to women's rights and whether or not women can have access to abortion.

    That is going to be a huge part of this. And I think a lot of Democrats are realizing that and see this as a fundamental election because of how many more Supreme Court justices President Trump could get in the next term.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, we should share also that the nomination hearing has been set for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. That's going to start on October the 12th. So that will be one to watch, for sure.

    That is Politics Monday with Amy Walter, and today joining us Domenico Montanaro.

    Thanks for you — thank you both for being with us.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Thanks for having us.

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