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Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith join William Brangham to discuss the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s actions related to Ukraine, whether the controversy hurts former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, plus the political fallout of the news that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders had a heart attack.
And that brings us to Politics Monday.
I'm here with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter." And Tamara Keith of NPR, she co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."
Welcome, you two podcasters.
Let's talk about impeachment.
Amy, the president, when this whole thing first broke, said there was no quid pro quo. Then these texts come out, now a second whistle-blower has come forward, saying it looks quite clear that there was a quid pro quo.
But it seems that the president's defense of this whole call and this interaction with the Ukrainians hasn't changed very much. What is he trying to do here?
And his defenders, at least the few of them that are going out on television defending the president, they're not talking about what the president actually did or his intentions, whether it was with Ukraine or asking the Chinese to investigate.
They're making the case that this is — we should be looking into corruption of the Bidens, we should be looking at the 2016 campaign.
It's muddying the waters as much possible in order to get, I think, folks who are not truly partisan or people who are just sort of paying attention to this whole affair to say, ugh, I guess the whole thing is corrupt, that's just politicians, Biden over here doing his thing, Trump's doing his thing, and then check out, instead of focusing exclusively on what the current sitting president of the United States is doing.
Tam, is that your sense, that — one, that that's what they're doing? And, two, is that kind of thing going to work?
Well, the president keeps repeating the same thing. It was a perfect call. There was no pressure.
He keeps repeating it, as if, if he could just repeat it enough times, it would make it absolutely true.
But the language that is in that call has even many Republicans saying, that was improper.
Now, his defenders will say, that was improper, but not impeachable. And that is the big difference there.
But the president seems to be very much staying on message.
Also, though, he's intensified his rhetoric. He's using increasingly extreme language, words like coup and treason. He is now calling the media the corrupt media. He — and he's been pretty transparent about it. He says, calling you fake news wasn't tough enough. I needed something stronger.
And at NPR, we have sort of charted this, and his use of this language is increasing. The number of tweets is increasing. The president is lashing out as this intensifies around him.
Amy, do think that this does any damage to Biden's campaign?
I mean, we — it seems now that there is really no evidence that Biden tried to get this Ukrainian prosecutor out to protect his son. But there still is the appearance that, if you're the point man on Ukraine for the Obama administration, it is a little dodgy to have your son working at this gas company that had been investigated.
In the end, does this hurt Biden?
Well, that's been a lot of the chatter over the weekend, right, that Biden has not done enough to sort of push back on this story.
For somebody who's putting the whole onus of his campaign on, I'm the electable candidate, I'm the guy that can, as he says, beat Trump like a drum, he has not been vocally explaining this and going after Donald Trump, pushing back on these claims that either he or his son did something wrong.
He's put an op-ed out. He has made some — in press gaggles, made some remarks about this, but not…
But he has not been the pugilist Joe Biden that a lot of Democrats want him to be.
Correct, wanted to — wanted to see, theoretically.
We just don't know yet if it's making that much of a difference. The reality, I think, is, what impeachment has done is sort of frozen the 2020 race in place. In some ways, that is good for Joe Biden, because we were starting to see him slipping in the early states to Elizabeth Warren. She was starting to gain even in the national polls.
So to sort of freeze that momentum of hers would be good. It's also bad for those lower-tier candidates trying to break through. But it's also not clear if, because Joe Biden's name is — to your point, it's in the news all the time with just the words Ukraine, son, appearance. That might be able to get into the minds of voters, sort of stick there.
Tam, what is your sense about whether this really does matter out amongst voters? I mean, here in Washington, of course, everyone is talking about it constantly.
But does it matter? Does it actually move the lever in a way that people say, I want to hear about this more than I do about health care or climate or whatever might be on their minds?
Yes, in terms of voters deciding on which candidate they want to be the Democratic nominee, impeachment is kind of a nonissue. It continues to be a nonissue, because all of the candidates agree, more or less.
And if you were for Trump, you're for Trump still. And if you were for someone in the blue camp, you're for them too.
We have amazing division in this country, which is just remarkable, so that President Trump can go out on the South Lawn of the White House and say, Ukraine, you should investigate Joe Biden, and, China, you should investigate Biden. He can stand out there and say something that many people wouldn't want to be caught in private saying, and Republicans continue to stand behind him.
And, in part, that is team sports. That's because the Republican team — he's on the Republican team, and he went out there and he said these things. So, OK, I guess this is OK now.
Yes, the group that I'm watching are independent voters, who their approval ratings of Donald Trump are very low. A little over 50 percent disapprove of the job he's doing as president, but only about 40 percent say they want him to be impeached.
So there's a gap between those folks who say, I really don't like — either I don't like him or I don't like the way he behaves, I don't like how he's serving as president. That doesn't mean that I want to see him impeached.
Where those folks go, to me, are the people to really watch that would turn the tide one way or the other.
Tam, let's talk about the — about what happened with Bernie Sanders last week. He has — originally, we're told he has chest discomfort. He goes to the hospital. He puts two stents in. And then, a few days later, it turns out they say, well, he actually did have a heart attack.
Does that matter, either the timing of how they rolled out this news or the simple cardiac event itself?
So there's been a lot of criticism of the way they handled it.
The Sanders campaign has clearly been very defensive about that criticism, and they have been coming back and saying, no, we were very transparent. We said he had stents put in. We put Jane out, his wife. She talked. And then, once he was released, they say, well, we said what it was.
That's three days. That is a long time to not know that the leading fund-raiser in the Democratic field had a heart attack. And there is a big difference sort of emotionally and in the way people feel between, had two stents put in and had a heart attack.
It's a big psychological difference, even if it's the same thing.
Do you have any sense of how this impacts his candidacy?
Well, I think his bigger challenge right now, beyond this, which is obviously a health challenge, but his biggest political challenge, her name is Elizabeth Warren.
And she has been really biting into his two main core support centers that he had in 2016, liberal voters, especially white liberal voters. And until she can — until he can find a way to get those voters back, which I don't think they're going to, that is a bigger challenge for him going forward.
Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both so much.
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