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Amy Walter and Errin Haines on Trump’s relief reversal and the Georgia elections

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Errin Haines of the 19th join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump’s unpredictable approach to passing the coronavirus relief bill, his continued refusal to accept the results of the presidential election and how his behavior could influence the Georgia runoffs.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, today is the last Monday of 2020.

    Here to break down the week's political news, from the COVID relief bill to the Georgia Senate races, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Errin Haines of The 19th News. Tamara Keith is away.

    Welcome to you both.

    Congratulations for making it to the final Politics Monday of 2020.

    Let's jump right in and talk about this latest bit of chaos in the COVID relief bill.

    Amy, we heard the reporting earlier today, of course. The president has been involved, the White House has been involved in these negotiations for months. The president stepped in at the last minute with some last-minute demands.

    And, as Anna Palmer reported earlier, it doesn't look like he is any of those rescissions or the cuts he's looking for. What was accomplished in all of this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it looks as if right now, at least, the House was able to pass the $2,000 bill. The question now becomes what happens in the Senate, where it is the Republicans in charge, not Democrats, like in the House, where it's Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

    But the bigger point, Amna, I think, you're right, is this. It wasn't really about policy, as much, I think, is it was about branding and messaging. Donald Trump's message from the very beginning of his time as a candidate to the end of his presidency has been about, I'm the only one who can fix this, I alone can do this, that everything else is sort of rigged against me.

    He talks, of course, a lot about the fact — unfounded — that the election was rigged against him, that the media is rigged against him. In this case, it's Congress, right? He wants to keep making the claim that Washington is so dysfunctional, they can't help you, I can help you.

    And so he will leave not necessarily with getting an accomplishment, a policy accomplishment, but he has his message that he's going to continue to put forward for the foreseeable future, which is to continue to destabilize an already dysfunctional Washington and to make that where he spends so much of his time in the next few — well, we don't know how long he's going to keep doing this.

    But it's certainly the way he sees coming back into the conversation post-presidency.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's one of the many things we do not know in the days, weeks and months ahead.

    Errin, what do you make of all this? I mean, you look at these last few days. What does President Trump get out of this?

  • Errin Haines:

    Amna, just like Amy said, I mean, that is definitely unclear.

    This kind of game of will he or won't he has refocused the press' attention him, as we haven't seen or heard very much from the president, except for him to continue to assert that he won the election. In fact, we know that he lost, and, in 22 days, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president, Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president.

    And he just resurfaces to continue to assert that he does not accept the results of the election, that he's challenging those results. This is a problem, particularly in Georgia, in these consequential Senate run-offs that are going to decide the balance of power in that chamber.

    And you have two incumbent senators that are on the ropes because of a president who is raising the specter of both a rigged election and really making pandemic relief so difficult for so many of the Georgia voters, for whom the reality of the pandemic, both from a public health and an economic standpoint, is very front and center for them, especially over these holidays, as benefits are expiring.

    And they are seeing the real-life stakes of policy and legislation in their lives and wondering why Congress is not responsive and why the president has been playing politics with real life-and-death issues for so many Americans.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, Amy, what about that? What about Georgia?

    I mean, we know President Trump has said in a recent tweet he plans on heading down there. He said that he's going to be going on behalf of two great senators, as he says, Senator David Pervue — Perdue, rather, and Senator Loeffler. He's going to go on Monday night, January the 4th, for a big and wonderful rally, he says, all caps.

    But what kind of position did the president put his own party, with these last-minute demands by demanding that the stimulus payments are increased from $600 to $2,000? We don't know what the future of that will be in the Senate.

    But we know the Democratic challengers in Georgia are already calling on Perdue and Loeffler to back that $2,000 increase. Has this become sort of a loyalty test for Republicans.

  • Amy Walter:


    Well, we have seen in the House that many of those Republicans voted against this $2,000 bill. It looks like about 44 Republicans ultimately voted for it. So, in that sense, this is one place where Congress did not vote in lockstep with the desires of the president, in large part because they know how challenging this will be for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in their Senate race.

    But it goes back to what I said sort of at the beginning here, Amna, which is, it's never for Donald Trump about what he can do to help his party. It's much more about helping his brand. And his brand is disruption. And his brand is sowing discontent and undermining much of what happens in Washington.

    And so I think what we're going to see, the good news, if you are Loeffler, Perdue, is the fact that a bill was signed, there will be money going out to people who need it. The government will not shut down. That's also pretty good news, if you're campaigning as a Republican, and it's your — the president of your party who has made that shutdown happen.

    And the next question, of course, becomes how does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deal with this new wrinkle, which is, does he make his senators vote on something that many of them do not want to do? There are ways that he could slow-walk this. We will see if President Trump really puts the pressure on McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the Senate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Errin, as I mentioned, it is the last Monday of 2020.

    We have an outgoing president who is still very much pushing the bounds of orthodoxy, right, courting controversy in these final weeks of his presidency with who he pardons, with the way he deals with Congress, insisting, as you mentioned, that the election was rigged and trying to overturn the results.

    Errin, at this moment, how are you looking at these final weeks of the Trump presidency when it comes to the totality of his time in office?

  • Errin Haines:

    Well, Amna, I think that what we have seen is a president who, for him, has acted presidential in these past four years. This is presidential for Donald Trump.

    He certainly redefined the presidency as we know it in these past four years. And I think that, as we look at the last 22 days of his presidency, what we are seeing is a president who is finishing much as he started. He came into office raising the specter of the integrity of our election system in his own victory.

    And then in his final year of being president, his response to both the pandemic and the systemic inequality that was here even before COVID-19, but was laid bare in this pandemic, he was not responsive to either of those things.

    We do not hear very much from him now on either of those things. He prefers, even in signing pandemic relief, to continue to talk about voter fraud. That was in his memo before he signed that bill. He's headed to Georgia, as you mentioned, allegedly on the eve of the election.

    The last time that he was in Georgia for an election rally, he was again talking about a rigged election, even as he was asking Georgia Republicans to cast their ballot for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

    So, I think that what we are seeing is really just a full circle moment for this president. This — his legacy is — the final chapter of his legacy is being written now. And, frankly, it has been, if nothing else, consistent with what we have seen since 2017.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, Errin mentions the word legacy. These are those weeks in a presidency that usually end up solidifying a legacy for the administration.

    How are you viewing these last few weeks of the Trump presidency?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think that what Errin laid out is pretty — pretty much right on the mark, which is, he's leaving as he came in, that the system is still broken, that there were forces that conspired against him, that only he can fix this, and sort of setting himself up for two things, either to be a 2024 candidate for president or to be a kingmaker.

    He could do both. But I think we're going to see, at least in these next couple of months, the role he plays as the face of the Republican Party and the one who can make or break candidates. And that's where he is most comfortable, not necessarily in pursuing policy, but in pursuing the message that the system itself remains broken, and people should continue to be upset at it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Amy Walter and Errin Haines on this, the last Politics Monday of 2020.

    Always good to talk to you both. Thanks for your time.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Errin Haines:

    Happy new year, Amna.

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