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The challenge for Democrats in search of a unified message

Out of power in the House, Senate and White House, what can the Democrats do to gain seats in 2018 and 2020? Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss the future of the Democratic party, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ health care rally in Kentucky and Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now it’s time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    So, Amy, Tam, you have just been hearing what Congresswoman Bustos has said. In fact, she’s still here at the table.

    But, Amy, what do you make of that? Are you hearing from the Democrats where they want to take this country?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, I will say this.

    Every party that’s the out party always struggles with this. Who are we now that we’re not in charge? And in this case, Democrats are not only the out party. They don’t control anything. It’s not just the White House. They don’t have the House or the Senate or the White House.

    It is — and every election is a referendum on the party in power. The Republicans are the party in power. The 2018 election is going to be a referendum on whether they were able to accomplish what they said they were going to do or not.

    It’s Democrats’ job getting, I think, as we get into 2020 and the battle is for who is going to occupy the White House to have that message that their standard bearer — you ask the question, who is the leader of your party?

    The leader of their party is going to be the person that they nominate in 2020 to be their nominee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that’s several years away.

  • Amy Walter:

    It’s very many years away.

    Remember, Republicans were successful in the midterm elections in 2010, Democrats were successful in the midterm elections in 2006 in taking control of Congress away from the opposite party, not because they were unified with a message about who they were or what they stood for.

    They stood against the party in power. It was a referendum on that party. Voters were not happy with the party in power. And the out party benefited.

    I think there is plenty of time for Democrats to figure out who they are, but they are, just like Republicans, very divided ideologically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, from your reporting on the Hill, your reporting from the White House, do the Democrats feel like a force that’s together, that’s found their voice right now?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    They have certainly found a way to oppose the Republican legislation. They not splintered when it comes to votes.

    And part of that is credit to Nancy Pelosi’s ability to whip votes, which she has honed over many years in leadership, and also Chuck Schumer has kept them together. There haven’t been the defections that — particularly in the Senate, that President Trump had hoped he would get.

    He had brought some of these moderate Republicans in red states who were up for reelection over to the White House. He had sort of tried maybe to woo them. It didn’t work. They have not been in any way forced to have a wedge between them and the rest of the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which has been — so far, Amy, has contributed to the fact that Republicans are still struggling to get an answer on health care.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And this goes to the challenge, Judy, which is, when you’re a party that has been successful, as Republicans were successful in the last few years, by being basically the party of no, right, they were against everything that Democrats and President Obama stood for, that was successful to get them a governing — or a political majority, but not a governing majority.

    So now that they’re in power, they’re struggling with, what do you do? They have multiple factions in the Republican Party, just as Democrats have multiple factions. Trying to get them all together to agree on something like a health care bill, which is super complicated, is a lot harder than getting them all to agree that Obamacare is terrible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, you have been out on the road. You were following Bernie Sanders in the last couple of days, who has been holding rallies, trying to say what the Republicans are doing is all wrong.

    What are you seeing? What are you feeling?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, one interesting thing about that is that Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all, single-payer health care.

    But he didn’t make a big thing out of it at this rally. Most of the focus at this rally that I went to in West — or in Kentucky was about the Republican bill and what it would mean for people.

    And Sanders’ message was really that the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, needs to be fixed, which is actually standing for something. It’s like — it’s not just no. It’s yes. Now, it’s not clear that Democrats can agree on what the fix is.

    And there’s more people who are quietly saying, well, maybe single-payer, maybe Medicare for all. But that — and that is a longstanding divide among Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it sounds Democrats can be unified, at least around that.

  • Amy Walter:

    At least around that.

    But I think Tam is exactly right. That’s going to be the bigger challenge in 2020, as the Democrats try to figure out their messaging on, do we go further to the left, talk about single-payer, Medicare for all, or do we just say, well, try to fix what isn’t working in health care? That, I think, is going to be a big dividing line in the Democratic primary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, can’t let you go without a quick question about our lead tonight, Tam.

    That is the new revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia, Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer and so on. And we have been doing a lot of reporting.

    Is this more of the same, or have we turned some kind of an important corner with this information?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think it’s hard to know where the corners are.

    This is a new person. This is Donald Trump Jr., who is now a person that is involved in this whose name is out there. And a remarkable thing about this is that he basically confirmed much of it on the record, which is a pretty remarkable thing.

    He confirmed that he arranged a meeting with top campaign officials with a Kremlin-linked lawyer because she was potentially offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton. That’s something.

    It’s not necessarily collusion. And collusion isn’t necessarily a violation of the law. But in this sort of ongoing drip, drip, drip, was a bigger drip.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And it also goes back to something I feel like we talk about every time, Judy. Theoretically, what we should be talking about today is simply about health care. That was supposed to be how we were set up this week. This is a big week to get something through.

    The president should be focusing all of his energy and attention on doing that. Instead, now we’re talking once again about Russia. The other thing that is consistent, these are all self-inflicted.

    This is not something that the committees brought up or that Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor, has brought up. This is coming from the lack of transparency from people either during the campaign or during the transition about their connections to Russia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because they had filled out forms that didn’t include this latest information.

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct. Correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when this information comes out …

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Now it looks like they have to correct, and then it looks like they’re hiding something, whether they are or not.

    Just imagine, in another world, had they come from the very beginning and been completely transparent, even overtransparent, right? Anybody that I met that even has a Russian-sounding last name, I’m going to put their name on a piece of paper and I’m going to give it to you, so you can never say that I’m trying to hide anything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that hasn’t happened.

  • Amy Walter:

    But that hasn’t happened.

  • Tamara Keith:

    No, and it’s a direct contradiction of things that they have said publicly and on the record.

  • Judy Woodruff:

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

  • Amy Walter:

    You’re welcome, Judy.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You’re welcome.

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