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Michael Gerson and Karen Tumulty on 2020 Senate races, Israel and Trump

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson and Karen Tumulty join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest in politics, including our analysis of upcoming 2020 Senate races and potential candidates, the controversy over Israel’s barring a visit from Reps. Omar and Tlaib, how trade tensions between the U.S. and China are affecting the economy and President Trump’s apparent interest in purchasing Greenland.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that brings us to the analysis of Gerson and Tumulty. That's Michael Gerson and Karen Tumulty, both of The Washington Post. Mark Shields and David Brooks are out.

    We are so grateful both of you are here.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Good to be here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen, I want to ask.

    You have been writing about this. Let's pick up where Lisa left off there. Why aren't some of these high-profile Dems running for the Senate?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Yes, it's so interesting. It's practically like these days running for president has become your safety school.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    The fact is that the Chuck Schumer has been left at the altar in a number of states, not just by, as Lisa said, Bullock and Beto O'Rourke, but, in Georgia, he very much wanted Stacey Abrams to take on a Senate race as well.

    And the stakes are really, really high, because even if the Democrats can manage to get back the White House next year, if Mitch McConnell is still the majority leader in the Senate, they are just not going to get a lot of things done.

    And it's — it is a — they have a path to the majority, but it is a very, very narrow path. And their Senate candidates are not really raising enough money right now, in part because the presidential race is taking up so much oxygen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael, what is that pitch like to potential candidates, right, come join an incredibly gridlocked body?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, that's true.

    But it's also a difficult election cycle for Democrats. It shouldn't be. There are a lot more Republican seats up. But they're in red states. There are really only a couple of targets of opportunity here. So one reason there aren't more marquee Democrats, I think, is because it's a difficult circumstance.

    They have to win Colorado. That's the only path they — their path to a majority goes through Colorado. And I think Hickenlooper actually may be a very good candidate. There wasn't much appetite for a centrist, practical centrism in the presidential race, but there really is in Colorado.

    And they like the fact that he's a former barkeep. So I think they view that as an honorable path to power.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And there's a timeline issue here, too, right? They don't have to make up their minds just yet.

  • Michael Gerson:

    That's true.

    And the states very, but it's a couple of months in both cases. So…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you see some of these folks, you see some of them maybe potentially changing their mind or announcing that they end up — they will end up running for these seats?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Bullock, especially if he doesn't make the debate stage this next month.

    So, yes. I mean, Chuck Schumer, the light is on in the window.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to talk to you also about another story we have been following this week. Obviously, it's taken a lot of twists and turns in the last 24 hours alone, but Israel's denial of entry to two sitting members of the U.S. Congress, Representatives Tlaib and Omar.

    I want to ask you really more about the U.S. reaction, because this caught some people by surprise.

    Michael, you had their own colleagues in Congress, in some cases, saying they supported the ban. I just want to show you one tweet from yesterday.

    This was from Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York, who said: "It shouldn't be shocking they're unwelcome in a nation they're taking great pains to tear down."

    What do you make of the reaction from some of their own lawmaker colleagues?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, so much of this is unprecedented.

    Generally, this has been off-limits. And I think that now we're seeing this has become a partisan issue. Support for Israel — an organization like AIPAC has tried to keep support for Israel from being a partisan issue for decades.

    They're the one that reacted in very clear-eyed way that said, we will welcome any Republican member. Even they — Israel should welcome any Republican member of Congress or Democratic member of Congress.

    But I think the president and Netanyahu have taken what shouldn't be a partisan issue and made it into a partisan issue. And people are now coming down on various sides of this partisan issue. That's not good, by the way, for Israel or for the long term of American relationship with Israel.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen, what do you make of the way this has unfolded over the last couple of days?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, I think that, whatever the forces were that went into Israel's decisions here, what I think is even more astonishing is President Trump's behavior in this, in that Israel was ready to go ahead and let them in, assuming that there's — there's an advantage to sort of keeping the dialogue going, which is generally how other countries have treated members of Congress.

    But it was only after President Trump gets into this publicly and puts pressure on Israel, and it was only that we saw them reverse that decision. And it is really an extraordinary thing to see a president of the United States putting pressure on a foreign power to essentially punish his adversaries.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, and using the federal government as a method to score-settle with political opponents. I mean, that is not normal either for the president of the United States.

    That's — usually, foreign policy is not conducted like it's a reality TV show. But now, evidently, that's how it is done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are you worried that sets a dangerous precedent in some way?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, absolutely.

    I think that any of these relationships now could be used by the president as a backdrop for his political ploys. And we have avoided that overseas for the most part. And this, I think, is a new and worse era.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen, it's worth pointing out, of course, that our partnership with Israel is strong.

    And there's a lot more to talk about. There's economic partnership. There's national security partnership. Can we even have those conversations now? Has it just become too politicized?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, I do think that is why you see AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby, actually criticizing Netanyahu on this decision. This is something that almost never happens.

    But I think they are, in fact, looking at the long game here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, of course, was the president last night often gets criticized for not talking enough about the economy when it is going so well. He did talk about it last night, but he talked about it in a very specific way.

    Take a listen to what President Trump had to say at a New Hampshire rally last night.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But you have no choice but to vote for me, because your 401(k)s down the tubes, everything's going to be down the tubes. So, whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael, people have to vote for him, he says.

    It was a volatile week on the market. There's been some predictions about a potential recession looming. What do you make about how the president's talking about this right now?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, it's an inherently odd appeal for a presidential candidate to say, you may hate me, but you have to support me.

    But I think that's what he's going to present some people with. If the Democratic Party is too far to the left on economics, he's going to paint them as socialists, and going to say, you may not like the way I conduct myself, but this is the choice. This is a binary choice. And if you want the stock market to — and the economy to grow, you need to support me.

    So I think it's a preview of the argument he's actually going to make during the election.

    And a lot will depend, of course, on whether the economy is doing badly or doing well. And we see some warning signs right now. They are more yellow lights than red lights. We're not sure where this leads, but he's previewing his themes going into the election.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, so this is the question, right? If the economy is not doing well, if some of these concerns do come true, what does that mean for the president?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, the proof is in the performance.

    And whether it's fair or not, presidents get rewarded if the economy is performing well, and they get punished if the economy is doing poorly. I think, this week, we all got to refresh our memories on what an inverted yield curve is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Would you care to explain for those of us following along at home?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Sure. Sure.

    Usually, bondholders, who — the stock market is not the economy. But the bond market is very much more of an indicator of the economy. Usually, bondholders will demand higher interest rates for tying up their money for a long time and lower ones for a short time. This inverted this week.

    And that has been something that has happened as a — preceded from six of the last six recessions. So this is a real warning sign. We have heard Trump try to blame the Fed. We have heard Trump try to blame the media. We're going to hear him trying to blame the Democrats.

    But the fact is, his performance on the economy is the only place where his approval numbers are above 50 percent. And if the economy tanks, he's in a really bad spot.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I would add, though, that I think that a lot of his support is not on the economy. It's actually on cultural issues, divisive cultural issues.

    I don't think, even with the recession, that his base breaks. The change would be more on the margin. But presidential elections are often decided on the margin. They are sometimes quite close. So it could make a very large difference.

    But this president could be a little different than those previous examples, I think. I think a lot of his supporters would buy the argument that the Fed and the media was at fault, and trust the president on these — on these issues. But it can't help him, obviously.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There was also his move, of course, to delay some of those tariffs, right? He's been rhetorically ramping up this trade war with China.

    Do you think that he sort of said, OK, maybe I need to pump the brakes a little bit, because I need the economy to remain strong?

    That is one of his strongest selling points.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, it was a form of concession that somehow this was going to hurt people around Christmastime. He didn't want to be the Grinch that took away the affordable Christmas, OK?

    And I think — but what that indicates is that these tariffs, they're not hurting China necessarily, or at least not ultimately. They're hurting American consumers.

    And I think he just conceded that by delaying the tariff.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    It was also interesting to hear him say: I never said these tariffs with China would be an easy trade war.

    In fact, that was precisely what he had said. He said, trade wars are easy. And it is not turning out to be the case, not just, by the way, in this country. But the — his tariff policies have also slowed the growth in European countries as well.

    And so, normally, when we have the worldwide economy slowing down, countries can get together and sort of come up with a coordinated strategy to deal with it.

    Given President Trump's policies, it is really hard to see that sort of effort to kind of coalesce.

  • Michael Gerson:

    He's actually threatening German cars, Japanese cars at the same time we're trying to have a united front.

    So, it's — I agree with you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Trade wars aren't easy. Neither is purchasing semiautonomous territories from other countries.

    I never thought I would get to say this, but let's talk about Greenland.

    Amna Nawaz What did you make of the story that President Trump has floated the idea of purchasing the territory?

  • Michael Gerson:

    It's a silly idea, but not a silly topic.

    It's like Africa in a certain way. The Chinese are there. They're building infrastructure. They want to exploit resources. America has to have a response.

    But this is one that actually offends the people of Greenland by essentially engaging in this dollar colonialism. They want independence from Denmark. They're certainly not going to accept dependence on the United States.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Karen, what do you make of this? He is a real estate man. He's looking to buy some property. Is that it?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think it's a gigantic distraction from everything else that Donald Trump doesn't want to be talking about right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Which would be?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Which would include the problems with the economy, the situation at the border, the question of whether he can get any sort of gun legislation through.

    What we have seen with this president is, very often, when he's in a spot like this, he will sort of throw something else out there to get people talking about something else.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And so now we're all talking about Greenland.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Exactly. It worked.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen Tumulty and Michael Gerson, thanks so much to both of you.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Thank you.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Thank you.

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