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Amy Walter and Shawna Thomas on the West Virginia primary, Iran deal deadline

West Virginia voters head to the polls on Tuesday, but they’re not alone. There are also primary races in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Shawna Thomas of Vice News join Amna Nawaz to discuss how Republican candidates are campaigning, whether President Trump will pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement and CIA nominee Gina Haspel under fire.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And it's not just West Virginia voters that head to the polls tomorrow. There are also primary races in Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina.

    So, it's a good time for Politics Monday.

    I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the newly announced Friday host of Public Radio International's "The Takeaway," and Shawna Thomas of VICE News.

    Amy and Shawna, welcome.

    Amy, let's talk about some of these primaries. Now, we have talked a lot about the future of the Republican Party, right, what we can tell from some of these races and how they have gone. What can we learn from the primaries we're seeing right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, especially Indiana and West Virginia.

    And I think Lisa did an excellent job of sort of setting the stage here and two big themes going on in both of those states. The first is, Democratic incumbents sit in both of those states. They are top targets, because these are deep red states that Donald Trump carried.

    The second is the embrace of Donald Trump, both his message and as well as his policies. There's a lot of talk about draining the swamp and building the wall.

    And, finally, what we're seeing in these primaries looks very familiar what we saw in 2016, all the candidates running against Washington, but many of them are part of Washington. They're either are a member of Congress. As we have seen in Indiana, there are two. In West Virginia, there's one.

    Or part of the so-called establishment. One of those folks running in West Virginia is the sitting attorney general. Sort of ironic, too, that they are running against Washington, when the Republicans are in charge of Washington.

    Usually, when you're in charge, you say let's send more people there to help build our majority. Instead, the focus is on they need to go there to help the president, not to help Republicans in Congress.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have talked before about whether or not there is room in the party for Republicans who oppose the president as well. Does that mean that has gone away?

  • Amy Walter:

    You're not hearing anything about a candidate who is trying to run against the Trump portfolio.

    In fact, I looked at all the ads that have been run since the beginning of January until now in all races across the country. Republicans have run almost three times as many ads that are supportive of Trump as Democrats have run ads against Trump.

    So Democrats are not running as much as an anti-Trump party as Republicans are running as the pro-Trump candidate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Shawna, let me ask you about the president's involvement in these primaries, because he's tweeted about them before. He has weighed in. He is weighing in on the West Virginia primary, too.

    Does it make a difference anymore?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    I think it seems to — I think he thinks it makes a difference.

    And especially with the West Virginia primary, the two more, let's say, establishment Republicans, his tweet was actually very interesting, because he named both of them.

    And it was basically like, don't vote for Blankenship, vote for one of these.

    But the interesting thing about that is that those two guys may split the vote, which just allows Blankenship to go ahead and raise up. But it is clear that Republicans in general, whether it's someone running far right or someone trying to like thread the needle of D.C., they think they need to keep President Trump on their side.

    And Blankenship's thing is that he keeps saying he's Trumpier than Trump.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And the other irony is, that's exactly what Republicans said about Trump. If he wins the primary, he can't win a general election. And now you have the president saying, if this guy wins, who's running basically the same sort of campaign and he has a lot of baggage, he can't win a general election.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    I also think he doesn't want to be caught — the president doesn't want to be caught in a Roy Moore situation out of Alabama, where he did actually endorse the more traditional candidate, then had to sort of backtrack and kind of endorse Roy Moore, even after saying Roy Moore couldn't win, which he couldn't in that case.

    This race is a little bit different, but I think they're trying to figure out how do they read the tea leaves a little bit.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And he's been tweeting about that connection to the Alabama special election as well.

    He is also tweeting about the Iran deal. There was a self-imposed May 12 deadline. He now says we will have a decision tomorrow. He's been threatening and threatening to take the U.S. out of it.

    So, what do you think? Are we in or out?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    It seems like everything he has been telegraphing and everything that sort of the Europeans are saying about what they have done to try to convince him to stay in the deal has not worked.

    So I think we're all just sort of sitting in D.C. and assuming that he's going to say he's going to pull out. Now, what does that actually mean? It sort of means like that that deadline, Saturday, I believe, May 12, is about whether we're going to slap our sanctions back on Iran for certain things that we lifted them for in the nuclear deal.

    And that, snapping those sanctions back on, doesn't just affect Iran and it doesn't just affect the United States. It affects some of our dealings with European countries, which is also part of it. So it's a much larger kind of economic problem, too.

    But it seems like he's going to pull us out. We can't know until he tells us. But no one — I haven't talk to anyone, and no European person who knows about this has said they that have convinced him. And he's been talking about this since the campaign. And he follows through on…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    He does follow through, absolutely.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Can he afford to not do it now, after talking about it for so long?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I think he does it. Now, the question is always how far he goes, right?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    I'm going to pull out of NAFTA. Well, we didn't really pull out of NAFTA. But we're renegotiating.

    I'm going to slap tariffs and sanctions — or I'm going to slap tariffs on China. I'm going to call them the currency manipulator. Well, didn't call them a currency manipulator. There are some tariffs. It's unclear the tariffs, where they're going for other countries.

    But Shawna is exactly right. Everything we saw from — it wasn't just when Macron came to the U.S., his body language. He also basically said, I wasn't able to convince him.

    And then Rudy Giuliani went on TV, I guess it was this weekend or earlier in the week, saying, well, yes, no, he's definitely going to — he's going to tear…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Shawna Thomas:

    I don't know why that's Rudy Giuliani's problem. But…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will see tomorrow. We expect that announcement tomorrow from the president.

    Another big story we're watching this week, Gina Haspel has her confirmation hearing on Wednesday. She's the president's nominee for CIA director.

    If you look back to some of the more recent nominees, look back to Ronny Jackson, for example, when he got into some trouble, when there was some heavy scrutiny and you knew it was going to be a tough confirmation hearing, the president kind of backed away a little bit.

    We're not seeing that with Gina Haspel. Is this different?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    I think it is a little different.

    I think one thing is that Gina Haspel is probably qualified for the job. And it was unclear if Dr. Ronny Jackson was qualified for that particular position. She has that going for her.

    And you have to remember, she is the acting director of the CIA right now. I think the issue that comes up is about the word torture and her involvement in the destruction of certain videotapes that purport to actually show what the CIA did, water-boarding, and how much responsibility she needs to take for that in an open forum.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about the votes here, Amy? We saw her on the Hill today. We know she was meeting with senators. Joe Manchin came out, shook hands, smiled, said it was great to meet her, we're looking forward to the hearing.

    Who are some of her problem votes?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, always on issues like this has been on the other side from where more traditional Republicans have been.

    He was on the other side of the Bush administration. And, in fact, this debate we're having right now about Gina Haspel feels much more like the kinds of debates we had in Congress about pre-Trump. Right?

    This isn't about, is she qualified for the job? I think she's had six former CIA directors saying she's absolutely qualified. You hear people in the Intelligence Committee saying, this woman is absolutely right for the job.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Her former staff has said that.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Her former staff.

    The debate is about the issue of torture, how to deal with terrorism suspects. That was an issue when Bush was president. It was an issue when Obama was present about closing Guantanamo. Obviously, this president now wanting to keep it open or keeping it open.

    And so this is much more about policy than it is about personality.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sure to be a tough hearing either way on Wednesday.

    Amy Walter, Shawna Thomas, thanks for your time.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Thanks.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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