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Amy Walter and Domenico Montanaro on voters’ impeachment views, GOP backlash to Syria move

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Domenico Montanaro join Amna Nawaz to analyze the latest political news, including public support for the impeachment inquiry, how Republicans feel about President Trump’s Syria troop withdrawal and what to look for in Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    That town hall was just a few days ago, and all signs point to the House impeachment inquiry looming large over this coming week as well.

    But that's not the only major political event in the cards. Amna Nawaz takes a look.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy. It's not just the impeachment inquiry.

    Capitol Hill is also focused on the president's actions toward Turkey and Syria. And the 2020 Democrats have a primary debate tomorrow night.

    That's plenty for our weekly Politics Monday roundup.

    I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Domenico Montanaro. He's senior political editor at NPR.

    Welcome to you both.

    Shall we jump right into the polls?

  • Amy Walter:

    Why not? Let's do it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Take a look at this graphic. These are five polls over the last week, the latest just out today in the lower right-hand corner from Quinnipiac.

    We can now say a majority of Americans in all five of these polls show support for the impeachment process.

    Amy, when you look at those numbers, all of those represent an increase, the numbers ranging from 51 percent to 58 percent now. Why are we seeing those now?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think they — it's really important to understand the difference between supporting an impeachment inquiry and supporting impeachment itself, which is still there are a couple of polls that show it just over 50 percent support, but it's really hovering around 48, 47 percent.

    Why is that important? Because there are people out there who say, I support an inquiry, but I don't necessarily support, at this point, the idea of Trump being impeached by the House.

    So I think that's a really important thing to appreciate. What we have also seen in the polls is, not surprisingly, people have taken to their corners. But you have seen the president's approval ratings in just his overall approval ratings not budge pretty much at all.

    So, even as support for an impeachment inquiry has risen, the president's overall — how people feel about him overall has not budged.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Look, and also, when you look at our NPR/"PBS NewsHour"/Marist poll, 58 percent of people said that they would like to see the president's fate decided at the ballot box, rather than through the impeachment process.

    I think that that tells you that, even though we also saw a big swing among independents saying that they support this impeachment inquiry, I think that really tells you how cautious Americans are, and that while Democrats over the last couple of weeks have won over those independents, and that independents see that maybe that phone call was unacceptable — they said in our poll — two-thirds of people said that what President Trump did in asking for a favor in investigating a political rival was unacceptable.

    But that they're cautious about how they want Democrats to have this process play out. And Democrats have to walk a very fine line, sticking to unimpeachable facts, so to speak.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, that swing towards the increase there fueled by the independents. Could it go the other way, swing back down?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Absolutely. It could.

    I mean, but I think there's a little bit of a ceiling for independents. I mean, having them at 50, 55 percent is about as good as Democrats can do. But it's important, because Democrats — independents have tracked with Democrats on almost every issue since President Trump took office.

    And why that's really important is because Republicans need to win a greater share of independents to win presidential elections. Remember, Mitt Romney won a majority of independents in 2012 and still lost the election to President Obama.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, your analysis — your latest analysis actually titled the fall was supposed to be about 2020 Democrats. It's now all about impeachment. Is that just taking up all the oxygen in the room now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and I think, if this were normal time, which I realize I don't know when that last time was, but we would have been talking about the fact that there's a presidential — Democratic presidential debate coming up, that we would be actually — we probably would have been talking about it the week previous.

    It is now barely registering. And it's very difficult for a bunch of these folks to sort of break through. I think this has been good news overall, though, for Elizabeth Warren, who has seen her start rise, seen her poll numbers rise.

    She now gets to sort of freeze the race in place. And I think that all of the attention that today would be focused on her specifically, media scrutiny, scrutiny of her opponents, is now being lost in the focus on the impeachment inquiry.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And I do want to get both your takes on the debate in just a second.

    But one other question I wanted to ask you related to the president and specifically his relationship to key members of his party is something else we have seen happen last week now seems to be defining much of this week.

    And that is many Republicans now speaking out very critically about the president's decision to pull back troops from the U.S. — U.S. troops, rather, from the Syrian border.

    Domenico, for all the many times Republicans have struggled to defend the president, it's unequivocal now the criticism. Why now?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Well, look, I think that, as we know, the Republican Party is made up of a three-legged stool. It's national security chief among them, economics and culture being the other two.

    And the Republican Party, if it's nothing else, the brand is macho. So if you're going to say, let's pull out of a country, that kind of goes against their instincts of how they want to be in foreign policy, and not to mention it's a bipartisan issue.

    I mean, almost nobody on Capitol Hill thinks the way the president handled this was a good thing. And if you look at the polling, the biggest vulnerability for President Trump is in his handling of foreign policy.

    Nothing rates lower for him than that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, you look at some of the people who are criticizing him, though, very vocally, some of his staunchest defenders.

    You have Lindsey Graham out there saying it could be the biggest mistake of his presidency. You have Liz Cheney saying it was catastrophic to do this.

    What does that do for him and his support?

  • Amy Walter:

    I don't think it does much of anything.

    I mean, these are very well known hawks within the party. Even if President Trump were not the leader of the party, they would probably be to the right of whoever the president would be on some of these foreign policies.

    And I think what Domenico said is really important about the three-legged stool and the fact that Republicans knew this president coming in was unorthodox on a number of issues that have been traditionally Republican issues, free trade and national security, specifically the role that America plays in the world.

    And Republicans have been able to criticize him on those issues, in part, because you have seen some criticism about the tariffs and the trade war from Republicans, in part because there are still a lot of Republicans who believe those things.

    It's when Republicans criticize the president personally, when it looks like it's about his behavior, that they get the backlash. When it's about policy, I think there is within the Republican electorate a sort of like acceptance for, OK, you can criticize the policy. Don't criticize him personally.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And backlash, you mean, from voters.

  • Amy Walter:

    From voters, from Republican voters.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    One place I think you're seeing some cracks among a key group of Trump supporters are evangelicals, for example.

    They really feel like Kurdish Christians and Christians in general in that part of the world are persecuted. And, remember, white evangelicals in the U.S. have for at least 30 years felt like they don't like the direction that the country is headed in liberal, mainstream culture, and feel like that they can sympathize and have a bit of a kinship with Christians in that part of the world.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Very quickly before we go, less than a minute. I hate to do this to you.

    But tomorrow is another Democratic primary debate.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Twelve candidates on the stage this time, the most any one stage so far this cycle.

    Domenico, what's one thing you're looking for tomorrow night?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    I mean, look are the other candidates going to criticize Joe Biden and Hunter Biden for his ties?

    I mean, clearly, the Bidens feel like this is a problem, because Biden had to put out an ethics program, and Hunter Biden had to step down from a board in China.

  • Amy Walter:

    I'm watching Elizabeth Warren and whether her opponent — now that she's the front-runner, or at least the co-front-runner, the focus on her.

    And I'm also going to spend a lot of time looking at Pete Buttigieg. I think he, more than almost anybody else in this race, is making a very clear distinction between his brand of progressivism and specifically against the other candidates, making critical remarks about other candidates' positions on things like guns and health care.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Two key things, among many others…

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … we will be watching.

    Domenico Montanaro, Amy Walter, thanks for being here.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Thank you.

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