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Amy Walter and Tamara Keith on Democrats’ impeachment path

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including House Democrats’ push for a formal impeachment investigation into President Trump, how talk of impeachment is dominating the 2020 campaign trail, and what the pace of whistleblower developments means for public opinion.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter." And Tamara Keith from NPR, she also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    There's so much going on. I do not know where to begin.

    But why don't we start, Tam, with Senator Booker and what he had to say about impeachment, about his own campaign? What did you hear?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I heard him not taking an opportunity to try to go after Joe Biden and not taking an opportunity to try to go after Elizabeth Warren.

    He is really taking the position in this race — as he is trying to stay in it and work his way up, he is taking a position of not attacking other Democrats.

    Some of the other candidates have taken a different tack.

    But when it the Ukraine conversation and Joe Biden, the candidates, the Democratic candidates, have really hung back. In some ways, it's put the primary in stasis. They are being careful to not go after Joe Biden, in part because he is in the middle of this storm that President Trump created.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are you hearing, Amy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and I think it's — for a candidate like Cory Booker, who is struggling to sort of catch up into that top tier of candidates, all the focus on impeachment just sucks all the oxygen and attention away.

    It was hard enough to break through even before this story. Now it's Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, Donald Trump's administration that are going to be the Senator of the universe. It's not going to be as much even on Elizabeth Warren.

    And so if you are Elizabeth Warren, and you were getting a great deal of attention up until now, you also will have trouble breaking through, through all of this.

    I did think it was interesting, to your point, Judy, of trying to get him to try to contrast himself. There's one candidate in that lower tier of candidates who is actively trying to contrast himself. And that's Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is basically saying, I am that bridge between the old, which is Joe Biden, and the old way of doing things, and what he would say would be the two far left candidates, like Warren and Sanders.

    I can be that — that middle candidate, that person who's young enough, different enough, but not too far to the left.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But categorizing her on the left.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's turn to the elephant in the room, Tam, and that is impeachment.

    The Democrats are going, with the subpoenas of Rudy Giuliani. These stories are breaking, and from one news organization to another.

    Does it seem like a rush on the part of the Democrats, or does it seem like they have their ducks in a row and they're proceeding carefully? What does it look like?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, you know what is completely remarkable, as I reflect back on one week ago today? We were sitting on this set. We were talking about, well, there's one Democrat who has crossed over after this news came out.

    Within five or six hours, the whole universe had changed. This is happening incredibly quickly. It's a challenge for President Trump, who — I mean, the president and the White House have really been caught flat-footed by this, in part because they thought that the Mueller thing was over and they were done.

    And then — and they were focused on reelection. And, then, all of a sudden, this blooms up.

    Now, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, had been holding back Democrats, trying not to do this. And then the moderate Democrats she was trying to protect jumped out in front of her and said, stop protecting us. Basically, we're ready. We feel like this needs to be investigated.

    And now they're on the path and they're — now it's going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's going.

  • Amy Walter:

    It is going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, I mean, is there any break on this now? Are we — is it full-throated ahead?

  • Amy Walter:

    I mean, that, to me, is the really interesting question, right?

    Are we down these tracks and there is no going back, there will be an impeachment vote, no matter what, and it then will be determined by the Senate, whether the president is convicted and then ultimately has to leave office?

    And I think that the fact we're on a two-week recess is really important. These members now get a chance to check in back home at the reception that they're getting. We're seeing a lot of polls coming out in the last few days.

    There was obviously one, an NPR/Marist/PBS poll. They're showing, basically, that folks, while they're engaged in this, they don't quite know what to make of it either. I think what we're going to see, we have the most polarized electorate that I certainly remember of my lifetime.

    We have a very polarizing president, and so, not surprisingly, I think what we're going to see, people go into their corners, we get sort of evenly divided about this.

    The challenge, to the point that Nancy — that you all are making about Nancy Pelosi and the calendar, I think the more this drags out, the more that it looks partisan, the more that it looks like they're just fishing — for example, this Australian story sort of muddies the water a little bit in my mind, because it's no longer about Ukraine and this call — it drags out, it drags out, it's getting harder to keep people focused on what it was exactly that Democrats said was the impeachable offense.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And there's so much fatigue.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    There was so much fatigue about the Mueller investigation.

    And now the voters are going to get tired of this quickly, not least because, if this continues on the path that it's on, there's going to be an air war. There are going to be ads in congressional districts that — of vulnerable Democrats. There are going to be ads on cable.

    This is going to be fought out both in paid media and free media. And it's going to be a lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're — so you're saying even if the Democrats move quickly with whatever ammunition, information they have, you're saying there's a real risk if they can't get voters engaged and on board?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly.

    And because this moved in the course of a week so dramatically, I think it's hard for these polls to fully pick up. It's hard for people to register this just yet, because it just happened so quickly. If you miss a couple of days, you have missed numerous developments.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a couple — I mean, among Republicans, it looks like the number barely moved. It moved just slightly, but within…

  • Amy Walter:

    But within Democrats, they're more unified. And then, surprise, surprise, independents will be divided on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But just quickly, issues that get forgotten in all this, whether it's guns or anything else the Democrats have been talking about?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's not exactly like Congress and the White House have been on a breaking pace, breakneck pace, in passing significant legislation, so I don't know that voters are going to say, boy, they were just on the cusp of doing something.

    They haven't been on the cusp of doing anything significant for the last two-and-a-half years. But it certainly — if this does drag out, it certainly lends to that argument that this is just partisan politics, Washington becomes more dysfunctional, and it's harder for Democrats to make a strong case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The warnings have already begun.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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