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Amy Walter and Susan Page on Trump’s shutdown threat, GOP midterm concerns

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join Judy Woodruff to discuss President Trump’s suggestions that he might force a government shutdown over his immigration demands and the potential political fallout for Republicans in the midterm elections, plus Sen. Rand Paul’s decision to vote to approve Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, first, it's Politics Monday.

    And we're joined today by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, along with Susan Page of USA Today.

    Politics Monday. Welcome to both of you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's start with — Susan, with the president again today saying he is prepared to see the government, the federal government shut, down if he doesn't get what he wants in terms of border security, the wall and other items.

    Is this a strategy that's going to lead to what he wants to get?

  • Susan Page:

    It is a perplexing strategy, because it almost certainly will not lead to passage of $25 billion for the wall or anything close to that or the kind of immigration changes he wants.

    What it is likely to lead to is a government showdown, for which he will bear responsibility. Americans don't much like what Congress does, but they do like Congress to be in business and not shut to down the government. We know that from the previous times the government has been shut down.

    The debate in previous shutdowns has been who's to blame. But, in this case, it is clear that it would be President Trump forcing a shutdown over an issue in which is unlikely to win. It is a strategy that is flummoxing Republicans on Capitol Hill, who will actually be on the ballot in November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you see this going?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think that what he wants to have is a debate about immigration coming into the election.

    He sees this as a way to both motivate his base and also talk about an issue that he's the most comfortable in talking about. There are plenty of times we could have seen a deal on immigration and a border wall. I think there was a time when Democrats were willing to trade border funding for the DACA…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last year.

  • Amy Walter:

    … citizenship last year. So this isn't about border funding for — just for the wall. I think that could have happened before.

    This is about making sure that this debate about immigration — because if you listen to what the president said at this press conference today, it was not just about the wall, but it is about the kinds of people who can come into the country, right, and ending the lottery system.

    So it's a broader debate. And we're starting to see it in congressional races. I think we will see it in many ads coming into the election by Republicans, making Democrats really look as if they're not doing enough to secure the border and keep us safe from people who are coming into harm us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Republicans, Susan, are still not comfortable with this idea of the threat?

  • Susan Page:

    That's right. Immigration is a good issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Susan Page:

    The government shutdown, not a good issue for Republicans.

    And this is one of the problems that Republicans have. What we will be talking about as people are making the final decision about who to vote for? Will they be thinking about the government shutdown? Will they be thinking about the way health care premiums are expected to rise in a serious way in October?

    These are things that give — that could shake the landscape, which is already pretty shaky for Republicans. It's a pretty friendly landscape for Democrats, if you look at it right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we were just discussing, Amy, it's 99 days from today until the election, November the…

  • Amy Walter:

    Not that we're keeping track.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not that we're watching it or paying any attention at all, actually.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But where do things stand right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, you know, I like to look at the environment and where thing stands sort of historically.

    And what we know, historically, about midterm elections, they really are a referendum on the president. And how popular he is really determines just how much of a drag or a boost he's going to be for his party.

    This president right now is sitting, on average, at about 42 percent. That's not a good place to go in as the party in the White House, so for Republicans.

    And I also look at the enthusiasm and intensity of one side vs. the other. Again, Democrats consistently saying to pollsters — we're seeing this in special elections. They're turning out at higher rates than Republican. So those two things working for the benefit of Democrats.

    What's working against them, especially in the Senate, is the map. They are defending, Democrats are, a lot of red states, some dark, dark, dark red states. And in the House, there are only 23 districts that Donald Trump didn't carry in the House that are held by a Republican. Democrats need 23 seats to win.

    So it means they need to put a bunch of seats that Trump carried in play, and to win those. It helps when the president's at 41 or 42 percent, not at 52 percent. But — and I think Susan makes the other point that I will end on here, which is, this is — it's not just a referendum on the president.

    It so much about the president's personality. How you feel about him personally, rather than how you necessarily feel just about the policy, is really what's driving voters, and I think will continue to do that, regardless of whether we're talking about premiums or whether we're talking about something going on overseas.

    What is the president himself doing, saying, tweeting?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Susan, it's not as if the individual candidates don't matter at all, is it?

  • Susan Page:

    They do matter. And they particularly matter in the Senate more than in the House.

    But you know what's striking to me is, we are looking at what looks like it will be a Democratic wave election, more than likely, not for sure, but more than likely, in a time when the growth rate is 4.1 percent, when we have record low unemployment.

    And yet the incumbent party is in such serious trouble for issues that are not related to the economy. And that is pretty unusual.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Susan Page:

    When you're not actually in a shooting war, usually, the economy prevails. And that's not the case this time. It's the — it's concern about President Trump and the Republicans on a whole host of other issues that is generating all this Democratic energy.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that goes against — that goes against what we have seen.

  • Amy Walter:

    That goes against — right.

    Now, in midterm elections, we — historically, we have found that the economy is not quite as important as it is, say, in a presidential year, but it is still — you would absolutely — right — you would say, this is exactly the kind of political environment economically that any party in power would want to be in. And that's all they would be talking about.

    And if it were up to Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate, that's all they would be talking about.

    But the other interesting thing is, the two issues that Congress has actually debated — one of them, they passed, one of them, they didn't — also aren't very popular, the repeal of Obamacare, which I think you're going to hear a lot on the campaign trail about health care by Democrats, and the tax bill, which is basically break-even.

    I think Republicans really thought this was going to motivate their voters and become so popular. It's now OK, but it's not particularly popular even among core Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The White House continues to talk it up.

    One other thing that I guess some people say could be a factor, depending on how late these confirmation hearings go, Susan, is Brett Kavanaugh, the president's latest nominee for the Supreme Court to fill the Justice Kennedy slot.

    Today, there were two developments. Senator Rand Paul, Republican, who had been considered undecided, said he will support Kavanaugh. And then Kavanaugh had his first meeting with a Democratic senator. Where does that stand?

  • Susan Page:

    He met with Joe Manchin of West Virginia for more than two hours. That's kind of unusual to have the meeting go on that long.

    It is a sign that the Democrats will have a hard time holding people like Joe Manchin or senators — the senators from Indiana, for instance, Joe Donnelly, who are in very red states, states where Trump is very popular — they're Democrats running for reelection.

    It's — I think Democrats have been surprised at the difficulty in getting traction against Brett Kavanaugh. And if he is confirmed for the court, I think that is something that will energize Republican voters. It will remind them of why it's important to have Republicans in power in the White House and in the Senate if you're going to get a court that is conservative and to your liking.

  • Amy Walter:

    And the Rand Paul example just shows that Republicans seem to be rather unified. It doesn't look like we're headed to a place where we were with the health care bill, for example, where you saw a number of Republicans really holding back and saying, I'm going to wait to the very end.

    Right now, again, they haven't all said they're voting in support of him, but I think it's probably easier for some of these moderates, like Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, to support Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will be watching that one closely.

  • Amy Walter:

    Of course.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Susan Page, Politics Monday, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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