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Amy Walter and Tamara Keith on Trump’s Mueller attack, Democrats’ midterm momentum

Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss President Trump’s tweeting about special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation, a new poll that gives Democrats an advantage for the 2018 midterms and what issues the president will focus on to appeal to voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the divides inside the Republican Party over special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation.

    That means its time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to both of you, Politics Monday.

    So, a firestorm over the weekend, the firing of Andrew McCabe just before he was going to retire, somebody who was critical at the FBI. The president unleashing a string of tweets, going directly after the Robert Mueller investigation.

    And, Tam, what I want to ask both of you about is the interesting reaction among Republicans. As we reported earlier in the program, Senator Lindsey Graham said, if the president fires Robert Mueller, it will be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

    Other Republicans put up their hands and said, don't fire him, let this investigation go.

    But not all Republicans are saying that. How do you see this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    That's right.

    And, as today went on, we heard from more, including John Cornyn, who is a member of the leadership on the Republican side of the Senate, who said that there would be consequences that possibly we can't imagine.

    There seems to be sort of a — some Republican lawmakers, especially those who I like to call R-asterisk-retiring, have come out and strongly said the president shouldn't go after Mueller, let Mueller's investigation go forward.

    And there are others who have been more cautious or more quiet. And it seems to be a very different approach. And, you know, it's not clear which one will win out. And there is a larger feeling of, well, hopefully, they will never get to that point coming from those Republican lawmakers.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And I think that what we have seen over the course of Trump's candidacy and then, of course, his presidency, he says a lot of things on Twitter. He makes a lot of comments.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    There's a lot of bluster. There's a lot of threats. Not all of them are followed through on.

    I think the bigger question is, has the president's really incessant tweeting and perception that he's being unfairly targeted that he continues to publicly discuss, has that had an impact on the way that voters, Americans, see the special counsel?

    And, at this point, it hasn't. Those who think that the special counsel is conducting a fair investigation, whether you look at the Pew poll or Marist poll, a majority of Americans believe that it's been fair, a majority of Americans believe trust the FBI.

    The only folks who believe that it's unfair, it's a very small proportion of the electorate, probably people who have supported the president all along, so 25 percent to 35 percent of Americans thinking this is unfair.

    If you're the president, you're going to make a constitutional question about Mueller, but there's also a political question. There's not a whole lot of support for this president that this system or the process is unfair.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there is a disconnect here, to some extent, Tam, because if people, if most people, as Amy says, are saying this investigation looks fair, it looks like it's going to work its way through the process, and yet the president is attacking it, and nobody is holding him responsible or accountable for that, how do we understand that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and there's also a disconnect even among the president's lawyers.

    You have John Dowd, who is part of his outside legal team, saying, hopefully, this thing ends. You have the president bringing on a new outside lawyer who has been deeply critical of the investigation.

    And then you have Ty Cobb, who is the internal White House lawyer dealing with the investigation, who keeps saying, you know, the best way for this to wind down is for the investigation to be completed, and we believe that there is no collusion, and it will show that.

    Well, that's just — that's a conflict. Does the investigation exonerate the president, and does he want it to be credible, so that if it does exonerate him, it will be a good thing and be taken seriously? Or is he going to spend the next however many months just tearing it down and sort of working the refs, as he does with a lot of things?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's something we're going to have to wait and find out.

    But, Amy, you mentioned voters. You mentioned polls. A new poll out, NBC/Wall Street Journal, shows, when you ask people, who do you want to see elected to Congress this year, Democrats now have a 10-point advantage in the so-called generic question, just Democrat vs. Republican.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do we read that?

  • Amy Walter:

    How do they read into that?

    There's this one — you should never look at just one poll is issue number one. But if we look over the average of polls that have come out, really in the last couple of weeks, what you're seeing is somewhere between eight- and 10-point Democratic advantage on this question of, who would you like to see control Congress or who would you like to vote for, for Congress?

    And The Cook Political Report, our estimation is, for Democrats to win the 24 seats to take control of the House, they need to see an eight- or 9-point advantage on the overall national vote. So they need to win by that margin to have a chance to get that 24 seats.

    And we have actually seen this play out, Judy. It's not just what we're seeing in the polling. We're actually seeing it in real life in these elections. In these six special elections that have taken place in Republican districts, Democrats have outperformed their traditional showing by about a little over eight points.

    So, we are seeing a pretty consistent theme here, which is Democrats are doing that much better this year than they would be in a different kind of environment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, we're seeing signs Republicans are worried. The president is out talking about issues that presumably the White House thinks is going to help Republicans, whether it's opioids, trade. We will see about trade.

  • Tamara Keith:

    We will see about trade.

    But, certainly, on the opioid issue, it's something that affects a whole lot of people. And the president campaigned on it. When he was up in New Hampshire today, which happens to be one of the first-in-the-nation primary states…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, we noticed that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    … the president did point out that there were a lot of voters there in the room.

    But this is an issue that matters to a whole lot of Americans. And the president is making a big effort to let everyone know that he is still working on it, that he hasn't forgotten.

  • Amy Walter:

    Except that it — that's what's really interesting.

    This is an issue that cuts across almost every category. And a majority of Americans say they want to see something done on this. I think you could get a bipartisan coalition on this.

    But the president's decision to talk about sanctuary cities and building the wall really then goes and polarizes this issue where Americans really do want to come together on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So tough, all of these issues.

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

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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