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Amy Walter and Tamara Keith on Kavanaugh’s hearings, McCain’s funeral

Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join John Yang to break down what to expect at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and the dynamics of upcoming Democratic primary races, plus Sen. John McCain’s funeral and the outlook for bipartisanship.

Read the Full Transcript

  • John Yang:

    But, first, we break down what to expect at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing beginning tomorrow.

    For that and more, we're joined by our Politics Monday team of Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Welcome to you both.

    Folks — when folks turn into watch on PBS, the hearings tomorrow, Tam, what can they expect?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, tomorrow, there will be a lot of speeches. It is opening statement day.

    So each senator on the Judiciary Committee gets 10 minutes. There will also be people introducing Brett Kavanaugh. And then, finally, at the very end, after this long day of speeches, Brett Kavanaugh himself will give an opening statement.

    That's what he's been working on for the last little while. Before that, he had done sort of mock hearings with senators and others to practice, to get ready, to build the stamina for what is to come on Wednesday and Thursday, which is 30 minutes per senator asking him questions.

  • John Yang:

    Is there any drama in this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, so, first off, you have to say that people who are up for Supreme Court positions get to these hearings, and their goal is to say as little as humanly possible about how they could possibly rule on anything.

    That's sort of the lesson. That's the way this has developed in the last couple of decades. And it means that these hearings in some ways have gotten kind of boring.

    And in terms of whether Brett Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed, the votes are there if Republicans hang together, which it seems like they will. The votes are there, as long as he has a solid hearing.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, the drama too becomes you have a number of people on the committee, especially Democrats, who, I don't know, may be interested in running in 2020.

    This is a good opportunity for them to in front of a national audience sort of show their chops, maybe give a statement that's so pithy that gets them on national broadcasts. You have some, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been challenged by her left. So she's also going to probably make some pretty strong statements.

    But, overall, I think Tamara put it very well, that the drama really comes down to either something that we don't know about that comes out, that he says something, or something is raised there that really throws this into question.

    But the bottom line is the number 51. Republicans have 51 seats. They will soon. We're awaiting Governor Ducey from Arizona appointing a senator to fill the late Senator John McCain's seat. So there will be 51 Republican votes. No Republicans look like they at this point oppose him.

    Republicans don't need any Democrats. That means in order to push this nomination over the finish line.

  • John Yang:

    So, I mean, not only in the committee hearings, but also once it moves to the Senate floor, what can Democrats do?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Well, that's been the question all along, right? How can we do something about this?

    And there have been all sorts of theories about maybe you should try to shut down the hearings or slow-walk the hearings. The bottom line is, they don't have the votes. They are in the minority. And when you're in the minority, you don't have the power.

    Now, there was a time when being in the minority did gave you power on judicial appointments. But in 2013, Democrats, who were then in the majority, frustrated by Republicans slow-walking or blocking Obama's appointments to the lower courts, unleashed what was called the nuclear option, saying you only need a majority in order to put judicial nominations through.

    And at that time, Republican said be careful, this is going to have bigger consequences. And, look, lo and behold, the Republicans came in and said, oh, you know what? I guess we don't leave filibusters for the Supreme Court either.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right. Be careful what you wish for.

    And that's — that's where we are. And, of course, we're here in part also because Mitch McConnell held open that seat, held open the seat that Merrick Garland was nominated to through the presidential election. And that's how President Trump has two.

    And some could argue that that is one of the ways that President Trump won, is that conservatives and especially evangelicals cared so much about that seat that they were motivated to vote for him.

  • John Yang:

    Tam, we have got the last primaries coming up this month.

    We have got five overall. And in four of them, there are Democrats challenging Democrats, insurgent Democrats challenging incumbents, as the party still tries to figure out who they are after 2016.

    What should we be looking for in those contests?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think that it would be oversimplifying it to say it's the Berniecrats vs. the Hillarycrats. I think that that is a mistake.

    There are other really interesting dynamics, including racial dynamics, where some of these candidates who have won, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — she was challenging in a district that was heavily Latino. She was challenging a big Irish guy. And she won.

    And in the Massachusetts race, there's a similar discussion about representation taking place.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, that's been — the interesting thing about the primaries thus far, so we are here at the end, is, there hasn't been really one theme that's tied all of these together.

    In fact, there have been very few upsets overall. We're supposedly in this anti-establishment era, and yet only three House incumbents have lost their primaries, two Republicans and one Democrat that Tam mentioned.

    The one thread that is pretty consistent, in the Democratic primaries at least, is the success of women. And when we look at all the races that don't include an incumbent, but there's a man and a woman running for the Democratic nomination, women have won almost 60 percent of those primaries.

    So being a woman in a primary is probably the most important thing, much more so than ideology, or who's supporting you or any — anything else.

    And, in fact, I think that's what's really been helpful, quite frankly, to Democrats this year, is the fact that many of the red state Democrats, who've been voting as moderates, didn't get challenged from the left in their primaries, unlike many Republicans back in the 2010 years — that was the Republicans' big year — who were being challenged from the right and from the sort of anti-establishment, we need to throw over the card table.

    And they knocked a lot of those establishment people off. That hasn't happened on the Democratic side.

  • John Yang:

    We have got a little bit of time left.

    We had over the weekend the final services for John McCain. On particularly the service at the Washington Cathedral, a lot of people, most notably his daughter Meghan, lamenting what had passed, not just this great man, but also the spirit that he represented had passed.

    Is that likely to change, is that likely echo in some of these members' ear and thoughts as we move forward?

  • Tamara Keith:

    On the eve of the midterms? I mean, I don't — I don't mean to be cynical, but, in some ways, that memorial service was a memorial for a time of bipartisanship and a spirit that passed a long time ago, passed well before John McCain.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And that it is — the bottom line is the incentive structure in Washington now doesn't reward that. It's not — politics is not that complicated. People do things that, if they get some sort of reward for it.

    And if voters said, you know what, I think compromise is the most important asset that somebody can bring to the table, and I'm only going to vote for people who show bipartisanship and compromise, then we would likely get different incumbent — we would likely get a different Congress.

    But unless or until primary voters decide that's an important value, the values that we have now, the zero sum politics, that's going to continue.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And the hilarious thing is that the public, everybody says, I just want Congress to get things done. I want them to work with each other.

    And then they're like, but I hate the other party.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    They're the worst.

  • Amy Walter:

    But don't work with that person.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    And don't ever agree with so and so. Yes.

  • John Yang:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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