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Amy Walter and Susan Page on Supreme Court stakes, ‘Abolish ICE’ politics

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join John Yang to discuss the coming fight over President Trump’s Supreme Court pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, plus why some Democrats are using the idea of abolishing ICE as a campaign platform and how Republicans may try to use it against them.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now back to the looming high-stakes showdown over Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat on the Supreme Court, a debate that could very well help define the politics of this summer.

    John Yang begins there.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, we will talk about that and more now in Politics Monday.

    We're joined by Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

    Susan, Amy, welcome.

    This — we don't even have a nominee yet, but we're already debating the nominee's positions on all sorts of issues.

  • Amy Walter:

    Of course, John. This is where we live now. We don't have to have a candidate to already have battle lines.

    We know this in this polarized environment we pretty much know how most members of the Senate are going to vote regardless of who the nominee is. So the actual targets in terms of vulnerable or senators who could flip their vote is very narrow. That is why we are talking so much about a handful of Democrats in red states who are up in 2018, and then a couple of Republicans, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Susan Collins from Maine.

    The next real fight — and I think this is a fight that is going to go beyond the nominee and maybe even beyond the vote — is defining the terms of the debate around what this is. You already see Democrats talking about this as, this is a referendum on Roe v. Wade and this is a referendum on access to health care.

    For Republicans, they want to make this a referendum on the quality and the qualifications of the Supreme Court nominee, and use it to mobilize their base to say, see, this is what happens when you get control of the Senate and the presidency. You control who sits on the court. Let's not move that in 2018. Let's go turn out and make sure we keep our majority in the Senate.

  • Susan Page:

    Well, that's true.

    And I think Democrats face a really uphill battle here. Now, it is possible that President Trump puts forward a nominee that has some vulnerabilities, some things we don't know about him, some controversy, which happens occasionally. There might be a fighting chance.

    But I think this is a fight that was pretty much settled with the 2016 presidential election. The president gets to make a nomination. The Senate has been very united behind him, by and large, on even things that — on which there would be less pressure than this.

    So I think it would be an extraordinary step for the Democrats to be able to actually deny confirmation. What they might do, though, is generate some enthusiasm, maybe some anger among base Democratic voters, help them turn out.

    But, of course, a Supreme Court fight is also likely to do the same thing for the other side. This is helpful for Republicans to have a fight over an issue like this, demonstrating exactly the value of them hanging together, as they did in 2016.

  • John Yang:

    And we have already seen this. If you're talking about you're already seeing the battle lines drawn, Susan Collins over the weekend saying that a demonstrated opposition or hostility to Roe vs. Wade would be a deal-breaker for her, but then what does demonstrated mean?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And we know that, in these hearings, the justices, the people who are potential justices, they are not going to come right on out and say, well, I'm absolutely going to make a statement about Roe vs. Wade or any other established precedent, right? They find a way to dance around it.

    And Susan is also right that it's — the focus is on Susan Collins as on that one Republican vote. But there are plenty of Democrats who Republicans could get to come and vote. So I think it is going to be very hard to deny it.

    But the overall landscape, a fight over Roe v. Wade, I think Democrats believe that that is also going to be able to turn out the kinds of people who don't normally turn out in midterm elections, because this has never been a real referendum in a midterm year.

  • John Yang:

    Another topic we're talking to talk about through the summer is the childhood — separating the families at the border.

    Lisa Desjardins, my colleague, has gotten reporting from the Department of Health and Human Services that they say they are no longer receiving children who are being separated from their families at the border.

    But that has sparked a whole other debate within the Democratic Party.

    Let's take a listen to Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Tammy Duckworth. Let's hear what they had to say.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D- N.Y.:

    We should protect families that need our help. And that is not what ICE is doing today. And that is why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it, and build something that actually works.

  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.:

    You need to abolish ICE now, you still have the same president with same failed policies. Whatever you replace it with is just going to still reflect what this president wants to do.

  • Jake Tapper:

    So, no, you don't support abolishing ICE?

  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.:

    I — you know, I — I think there's a lot of other things we can do before we get to that point.

  • John Yang:

    Susan, is this now — as the Democrats struggle to figure out to respond to President Trump, is this now going to be a debate within the party, maybe in primaries, whether or not you want to get rid of ICE?

  • Susan Page:

    No, again, it is a gift to Republicans.

    The table is set for immigration to be a great issue for Democrats in this election, because there was a lot of concern about the separation of children at the border under the previous Trump administration policy and over the failure to do anything about the situation facing dreamers.

    So immigration is an issue that ought to be great for Democrats. This is an issue that gives President Trump and Republicans an opening to argue that Democrats aren't going to be tough on the borders, they're not going to secure the borders. That can only help Republicans.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think this has been an issue, though, for Democrats for a long time, not just recently. And I think Democrats have been, quite frankly, very reticent, even as the DACA situation was unfolding, to make this a campaign issue.

    They have spent many years, especially people who have been in Congress for a while, watching the issue of immigration be turned against them. You don't care about safety. You don't care about security. You support the rights of illegal immigrants. You are not spending enough time worried about what is going on here.

    The White House sent out a tweet, for example, to Senator Kamala Harris from California, who also was calling for abolishing ICE in some way. This is the White House Twitter account saying, "Why are you supporting the animals of MS-13? You must not know what ICE really does."

    So the expectation is that Republicans are going to make those same arguments against Democrats. I think that was going to happen anyway. We saw it happen in the Virginia governor's race, where the issue of MS-13 and sanctuary cities was used against the Democratic candidates to try to paint him as not tough enough on crime. It didn't work there.

    But there are plenty of Democrats in swing districts and swing states that are worried that it will be turned in that way.

  • John Yang:

    We have got to leave it there.

    Amy Walter, Susan Page, thank you very much.

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