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How money is influencing the Democratic presidential field

Joe Biden raised $6.3 million on his first day of campaigning, surpassing his fellow Democratic candidates, and Congress will return to work on Monday amid growing tensions in the aftermath of the release of the Mueller report. Special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan for some political analysis and perspective.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Congress is back at work in Washington starting tomorrow. And last week we saw former Vice President Joe Biden add his name to the very long list of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    So we asked Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield to join us for some political analysis and perspective. Good to have you at the table.

    First, let's talk a little bit about the Biden factor. This is something that has been almost a foregone conclusion, it's been such a long windup. Here he is but really he spends the first few days of his official part of the campaign dealing with his past and his legacy and the Anita Hill hearings.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    For me the thing that I think we ought to highlight is the money issue. We in the political world judge a candidate often by how his or her fundraising is going, right? So Joe Biden threw down $6.3 million in one day and that was a sign. Oh! Maybe he's serious about this.

    And when you see a candidate like Senator Gillibrand struggle to reach $65,000, which is the benchmark to get into the debates, you have this notion that even though we think money is, shouldn't be that big a factor, it's a major issue in judging a presidential candidate.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And is there a concern over the long term that if money is a proxy of the amount of support you have that basically these smaller donors could become a bigger factor?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Absolutely. One of the factors about Joe Biden is not having had a donor list. So he, if he is raising his money at the outset from big money people who are giving the maximum amount, that's it. He can't go back to them. Bernie Sanders supporters. 95% of whom have given under $200. They are a sustainable resource they can kick in money again and even down the road that could be a real factor when the campaign actually gets going.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, in the lead up I said Congress getting back to work and it almost feels like an oxymoron at the moment. How much work are they going to be able to get done when they are now especially when it comes to these committees, who are saying hey, I want you to testify in front of me, I want you to testify in front of me, you said this in the Mueller report, I want this out in the open. The Trump administration says, naah, no thanks.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I mean, we've always had tension when a president of one party faces a Congress or partially controlled by the other party. But we've never had an administration that has said sort of flat out no, nobody involved in the report is going to testify. What are you gonna do about it? And so what I think is happening is that the very audacity, if you will, of saying flat out nobody, is a way of saying to the Congress you don't really have the power to do anything about this and we'll just drag this out till the next election.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Speaking of turmoil, internal and otherwise, the NRA had not a great week this week. Oliver North who was the president and was basically forced out. How significant is this I mean for such an influential organization?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Even though their membership has declined, even though they've faced issues about money they've never had a president as uncritically supportive of the NRA as Donald Trump who just went before them and told them that he's getting out of this international arms deal because they don't like it. But on the other hand this is a kind of a public implosion of a major organization the likes of which we've never seen and I do have to say for people who do not like the NRA in the first place, this is like Christmas and the Super Bowl.

    And most important I think the New York attorney general, this is New York is where the NRA is chartered, is threatening to take away their tax exemption because of what they've done. And that could be a really serious blow to as you point out, a very powerful lobbying group.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally, you know it's that economic numbers do matter in the political context. Presidents public perception of their actions also follows.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Right. Here's the the the quirk. Trump's numbers at this point are lower than any president since World War II despite the great economy which tells you that people even in a good economy are still hesitant if not negative about his performance in office. Should these numbers prove illusory like the sugar rush from a tax cut, then you can actually say this president is in real trouble next year because as James Carville told us back in 1992, the economy stupid is still not a bad way to judge how a presidential campaign is going to go.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Jeff Greenfield thanks so much.

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