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Amy Walter and Susan Page on Congress’ Supreme Court fight, Trump’s NATO tensions

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join William Brangham to discuss the week's political news, including the coming political fight over President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, plus what to expect from the upcoming NATO summit.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we return to the president's Supreme Court pick, a decision with significant political implications for both Republicans and Democrats.

    William Brangham has more on what this means for the midterm election.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, to talk about the politics surrounding this historic event and more, we're joined by Amy Walter — she is national editor of The Cook Political Report — and by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

    Good evening.

  • Amy Walter:

    Hi.

  • William Brangham:

    So, we still don't know who the president has chosen for his nominee to the Supreme Court, but there's already a huge political fight that is brewing, a lot of political crosscurrents.

    Amy, I wonder if you could just take us through what you have seen thus far.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, there are two levels of this.

    The first is, how difficult or how easy will it be to get this nominee through the entire process, getting the hearings and then getting a vote before the midterm elections?

    I think, regardless of who the president picks, the Republicans are going to rally around this person. Yes, there is concern that maybe one or two Republicans, like Senator Susan Collins or Senator Murkowski, could defect.

    But I think, for the most part, you are going to get all Republicans on board. And there is much more pressure right now on Democrats from red states, three at least of those under intense pressure. So this seems more likely than not that whoever the nominee is, is going to be a unifying figure for Republicans, will make it through the process.

    How long it drags out and how contentious the hearings are will be a very important political piece of this.

  • Susan Page:

    You wonder about why 90 percent of Republicans support President Trump, despite all the controversy.

    This is why, because when it comes to something fundamental and important and something that will have impact for a generation, he is going to deliver for Republicans. All four of these final nominees are conservative jurists and will lead to a more conservative court for decades to come.

    So, in that way, it does unite the Republicans. And it some creates terrible difficulties, some very tricky problems for Democrats. If you're one of the Democrats, Democratic senators who are running for reelection in a state that Trump carried by 20 points, do you stick with your party because your party is so energized against it, or do you vote with the president because that is a safer political bet in your home state?

    And that is a very difficult problem for people like Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly and some of the other senators, Heidi Heitkamp, who are in that position.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think it's also important to recognize that, while we're going to put a whole lot of attention, as it should get, on the Supreme Court, because it's obviously the highest court in the land, what the president has done at the lower court level also needs to be mentioned.

  • William Brangham:

    These are all the other federal courts, the appellate courts.

  • Amy Walter:

    All the other federal courts and the appellate courts.

    He has appointed more judges to the appellate courts than any other first-term president in history. The judicial — the actual structure of the judiciary has already been transformed. And, remember, most cases don't make it to the Supreme Court. They get decided at this lower court level.

    So regardless of who's picked up the Supreme Court, there is already generational change happening below that.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy was saying that the GOP is largely going to rally around this pick, whomever it is amongst the candidates.

    The Democrats are still very, very angry at sort of open sore about what happened with Merrick Garland, President Obama's last nominee who never got a vote. Do you think that that's going to play out in the midterms at all? Will Democrats hold on to that or will they try to make an argument on the merits of the current nominee?

  • Susan Page:

    I think Democrats are holding a grudge about what happened with Merrick Garland. And I can understand it.

    But I think they are powerless to do much about it. And if you think about the things that American voters probably don't care much about, it is the treatment of Merrick Garland when he was nominated for the Supreme Court.

    So I think that is one the things that kind of fuels Democratic rage. But one of the problems they have I think with this — whoever this nominee is going to be is that all four of these finalists are members of federal appeals courts.

    All of them, Judge Barrett less so, have some long experience. Judge Kavanaugh in particular is someone with a long history, very mainstream conservative choice. So it makes it harder to think about making a coherent response.

    You can't just oppose them effectively saying they're too conservative. That is a decision that was made when voters elected President Trump in 2016.

  • William Brangham:

    You mentioned Amy Coney Barrett.

    I should mention our own Lisa Desjardins just tweeted out tonight that she had spoken with Orrin Hatch, who said he knew who the president's nominee was, but he said — he indicated that it would not be Judge Barrett, who is the only woman on this list.

  • Amy Walter:

    And was the youngest, and was the most conservative.

    And there was some concern, especially among Senate Republicans, that it would be too much of a hot button, given what her track record is, especially on issues like abortion. It would put that in the fore.

    And, listen, that's what Democrats — or at least those who are supporting Democrats — are hoping to make the case about, which is the issue of abortion and to energize and generate more enthusiasm from their base about this, regardless of whether this person actually makes it through the process.

    It's even afterwards that they want to keep the focus on, this is why it's important to go vote. We can't do anything right now because we don't have the numbers, but if you want the change the direction of the Senate and direction of the court, you have got to get out and vote in this next election.

    The challenge, of course, as Susan said, is where the battle for the Senate is taking place is in red states. It's in the House where I think the issue is going to play very differently in suburban districts. This may help Democrats.

    And I will be curious to see if this focus on Roe v. Wade is going to energize a group of voters that traditionally don't come out to vote, which is younger voters, especially younger women, who, by the way, are the most — how do we say this? They like Trump the least of any group of women.

  • William Brangham:

    Let's just say the Democrats do decide to make abortion a big part of this fight, Susan.

    Couldn't it also then backfire on the Democrats and galvanize the social conservatives, who love that the president has a second pick and would rally to him when maybe they weren't feeling as excited about him?

  • Susan Page:

    Yes, it could.

    And I think it does help unite Republicans of all sorts behind the president. But, in some ways, you could see the Republican Party planting the seeds of their long-term destruction.

    On an issue like — say this works in the way that Republicans hope it does, which is that there is a more conservative court that overturns Roe v. Wade, allows a lot more restrictions on the state level for access to abortion. That is a position that is very unpopular, especially with millennial voters, with rising voters and with women.

    So, if those voters then hold you responsible for limits on abortion that they fiercely oppose, over the long haul, that could be a problem for the Republican Party.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, after the president tonight makes his announcement, he is going to fly off to attend the NATO summit.

    He has been beating up very strongly on some of our other NATO allies, saying that they have not been spending enough on defense. This comes after a very tense G7 meeting. This could really be a very tense gathering for the president.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think everybody is expecting this to be a tense gathering, in the same way that the G7 was something of a tense gathering.

    I was really struck by Judy's interview with Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is representing what seems to be a different very point of view than the president, right?

  • William Brangham:

    Talking about Putin.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    This alliance is so important and how terrible Putin is, and we're going to stick together with NATO.

    And this, I think, is a challenge for Europeans. They say, well, OK, the secretary of defense is telling us one thing, the U.N. ambassador is telling us one thing, but the president is tweeting a totally different story. Where are we supposed to go in this?

  • William Brangham:

    Amy Walter, Susan Page, thank you both very much.

  • Susan Page:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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