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How Americans grade Trump on immigration, economy and temperament

How do people around the country see the state of the union under President Trump? Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report joins Judy Woodruff to walk through how Americans are grading the president and what their input says about the upcoming midterm elections.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ahead of the president's address to Congress and the nation tonight, we spoke to people around the country about how they see the State of the Union.

    To walk us through how these Americans are grading President Trump and what their responses can tell us about this fall's congressional elections, I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, no stranger to this program.

    So, Amy, we're going to start with a video from a man named Austin Erdman. He's a farmer from Stockton, California.

    He told us the president has done a good job in his first year, particularly on the issue of immigration.

  • Austin Erdman:

    I believe it is unfair to grade the president at this time, because his proposed policies have not yet been fully formed and implemented.

    I also believe that the president is on the right track in pursuing immigration policies that will defend and protect all American citizens and our democracy.

    I also believe that laws, rules and regulations need to be implemented to secure our borders and to protect our citizens. And we need to implement strategic screening processes to ensure that, best as possible, that our law-abiding, productive people enter our country legally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, we know the president is expected the talk about immigration tonight. We know there is a big divide here in Washington about it.

    What are people out in the country saying?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Judy, the team here at PBS talked to about a dozen voters.

    And the issue of immigration came up more than any other. Not surprising, Americans are as polarized on this issue as we see members of Congress.

    What we saw there was someone who supported the president and also supported his position on immigration.

    We heard as well from a woman in Southern California named Sabrina. She too liked the idea of more border security, but, like we saw here with Austin, she does want to see more than just border security. She said she likes that the president's protecting illegal immigrants from taking resources away from American citizens.

    So it goes beyond just having money for the wall that the president talked so much about in 2016.

    But when you heard from the people who don't approve of the job the president is doing, particularly voters of color, they see what the president is doing, they cite immigration as one of the main reasons they say that they disapprove of the job that he's doing.

    Talked to a woman named Blanche from Houston. She says that Trump is being unfair to immigrants. Another woman, Charlita from Cleveland, said it's not right what the president is doing to kick people out of the country that have been here for years.

    So we're seeing the reason I think Congress is as polarized as it is, is in part because voters are, too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because the country is polarized, too.

  • Amy Walter:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now, one of the other themes you heard about in talking to voters was this concern about the president's temperament and some of the controversial comments that he's been making on Twitter.

    So, we're going to hear now from a woman in Cincinnati. Her name is Sarah Warner. She was a reluctant supporter of Hillary Clinton, but now she says she disapproves of the job President Trump has done in office, but her concerns are bigger than just the president.

  • Sarah Warner:

    We are so divided right now because we can't get over him. He's not the problem. He's a symptom of the problem. The problem is that our system is broken. People on either side of the argument are angry because they want change. We're not seeing that.

    We're looking for it. But we're not seeing it. No one really likes him. Like, no one, come on. Think about it. Do you really want that representing your country? No. But it's our complacency that's the problem. So, what are you going to do about it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, she's clearly not a fan of the president, but what are you hearing about the president's temperament from people who like President Trump?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, across the board — and, Judy, we have been talking about this pretty consistently from the beginning of his presidency, that even people who say they like him, they voted for him, boy, I wish he would get off Twitter, boy, I wish he would sort of dial it back on his rhetoric and his behavior.

    But for people who dislike him, it's much more — it's as much more about him than just his behavior, but that they believe that it's dangerous, that what he's doing is more than just having a personality issue that they have a problem with.

    There's a woman, Janet from Davenport, Iowa. She says she thinks he threatens freedom of speech with his attacks on the media. She calls him dishonest, an embarrassment.

    But even those who are happy with him…

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Amy Walter:

    We saw — we had one interview with a man from Nevada who said, I love what he's doing for the courts. I love that he's putting conservative jurists on there, but he keeps getting in his own way. And he said, if he didn't have that, if he didn't have these self-inflicted wounds, he would be as perfect as he can be.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So — and we know the president tells everybody who will listen that if he can — that as long as he can he's going to stick with social media, because that's his way of fighting back against the press that he thinks is overwhelmingly against him.

    So, now, one thing, Amy, we have talked about this past year is the president thinks the economy is doing better and better and that he deserves a lot of the credit for that, low unemployment, tax cuts, just the overall strong economy. How do people see that?

  • Amy Walter:

    You know, it's interesting, Judy, because what we saw when talking to voters that, for those who supported the president, they cited the economy as a reason for supporting him.

    There's a truck driver that we talked to, Aaron from Saint Louis. He said, my 401(k) is going through the roof, and you know what? I think these tax cuts are going to help me because my company that runs this trucking organization, they are probably not going to lay anybody off because they're going to have more money.

    When you talk to folks who disapprove of the president, they don't talk about the economy. What they talk about is the tax cuts that they believe are going to help corporations and hurt regular people. One woman from Iowa said, I think they're just helping corporate farmers, not small farmers.

    But, Judy, I think the person that really sums up really what 2018 is going to be, who sums up the tension really of 2018, is a man named Todd from Houston. He thinks the economy is doing well, but he really dislikes the president's behavior and what it has done for the country, especially the divisiveness it's sown in the country.

    And we are going to watch throughout 2018 how voters grapple with that- I feel better about the economy. I don't feel good about the president.

    Which one of those things is going to win out?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, last question- Was there anything that you expected people to bring up that they didn't talk about?

  • Amy Walter:

    There wasn't one word about Russia. There wasn't one word about investigations. There wasn't anything about impeachment.

    It was really focused on the president's behavior almost more than anything else. And we have been talking about this forever. Right?

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Amy Walter:

    It's his personality more than his policy that defines him.

    But the economy, we expected. Immigration,we expected. But given the amount of time that is given to the Russia investigation and energy, especially in this town, no one — to see that nobody even in passing brought it up was interesting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you are right. It's getting an enormous amount of attention in the news media right now. So, that is a particularly interesting thing, that they didn't bring it up.

    Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report, thank you. And you're going to be with us for the rest of tonight…

  • Amy Walter:

    All night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to talk about the State of the Union.

    Thank you.

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