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Midterm closing arguments come down to immigration and health care

Editor's Note: Montana PBS assisted in the production of this story.

Tuesday's midterm elections could shift control of Congress, while rendering a judgment on the Trump presidency, and Democrats and Republicans are campaigning down to the wire. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to round up what both parties are doing in the final push.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats and Republicans are campaigning down to the wire tonight for tomorrow's crucial midterm elections.

    The outcome could shift control of Congress and many statehouses. At the same time, it renders a judgment on the Trump presidency.

    Mr. Trump acknowledged as much today as he headed out to a final round of rallies, making it a point to play up Republican prospects.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think we're doing well. I think, the Senate, we're doing very well. And I think we're going to do very well in the House. The energy that we have, the energy that this whole party has now, it's really incredible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, former President Obama urged Democrats to vote. In Northern Virginia, he said American decency and equality are at stake.

  • Barack Obama:

    All across the country, what I'm seeing is this great awakening. People, I think, who had taken for granted that we had made certain strides, that we had made certain progress, suddenly, people woke up and said, oh, I guess we can't take this for granted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On a related note, President Trump rejected criticism that a campaign ad of his featuring a migrant convicted of murder is racist and offensive. TV networks are now refusing to air the ad. And Facebook says it won't post it. The president brushed that aside, saying, "A lot of things are offensive."

    President Trump stumped in three states today, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, to rally Republicans ahead of tomorrow's elections and to make his argument against voting Democratic.

    Yamiche Alcindor begins our reporting.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Democrat Party wants to sign illegal aliens up for free health care, free welfare, free education.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump's fiery and often misleading closing argument.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Democrat Party is openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws or, violate our borders, and bankrupt our country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In his final two-week campaign sprint, Mr. Trump is ratcheting up his divisive rhetoric. He's held rallies in 15 cities, across 12 states, stoking tensions over immigration and race in some of the country's tightest elections.

    That's an unusual schedule for a president who is not up for reelection. But Mr. Trump is campaigning like it's 2016 all over again. He is focusing mainly on predominantly white small towns and cities in states he won in 2016. He's also claiming without evidence that Democrats are encouraging millions of undocumented immigrants to vote for them.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You know what I am? I'm a nationalist. OK? I'm a nationalist.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    While campaigning in Texas, Mr. Trump called himself a nationalist. In Florida, he said he would end birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We will keep the criminals, the drug dealers, we will keep them all out of our country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Many saw that as the president aligning himself with white nationalists and playing to racist fears that America is becoming too diverse.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We defeated the Democrat mob.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    More broadly, Mr. Trump is also touting his administration's achievements, including two Supreme Court justices and a strong economy. He also recently promised yet another tax cut if Republicans hold onto their majorities in the House and Senate.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And we will soon follow it up with another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    His main message continues to center on immigration and a group of Central American refugees heading to the U.S. to seek asylum. He's sent 5,200 active-duty troops to the border, and threatened to send more.

  • President Donald Trump:

    If you don't want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you better vote Republican.

  • Audience:

    Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!

  • President Donald Trump:

    Thank you. Thank you. And the wall is being built.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Despite his claims, construction of that border wall still has not begun.

  • Narrator:

    Our nation has a serious problem with the illegal immigration.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A number of Republicans are taking a page from the president's playbook as they face tight races. Many are stoking fears over immigration and using racially charged language, including GOP Senate candidates Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas.

    Over the weekend, U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue used a racial slur while campaigning for Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida.

  • Sonny Perdue:

    Public policy matters. Leadership matters. And that's why this election is so cotton-picking important to the state of Florida. I hope you all don't mess it up.

  • Man:

    Yeah!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, this midterm season, Mr. Trump hasn't visited a number of states, some where Republicans in more moderate swing districts are facing tough reelections.

    A few Republicans, including South Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Utah congresswoman Mia Love, have spoken out against the president's attacks on immigrants.

  • Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah:

    I'm the only one in this delegation that has stood up to the president when he has done something wrong and have worked with him when he's done something right.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tonight in Missouri, President Trump will hold one last midterm rally, his final pitch just hours before polls open Tuesday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, Democrats are enlisting a high-profile surrogate and focusing on one major issue as they campaign to pick up at least the 23 seats need to regain control of the House of Representatives.

    Lisa Desjardins has that story.

  • Woman:

    Change is coming yet again.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In 2018, Democrats are talking health care. It is perhaps the party's single most unifying message, appearing in tossup districts like outside Lansing, Michigan.

  • Elissa Slotkin:

    I got into this race because when my mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, she did not have health care.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In red states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump…

  • Woman:

    One in three West Virginians have some sort of preexisting condition, and I'm one of them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … and in perennial liberal bastions.

  • Gavin Newsom:

    Californians, we're not backing down. I will do whatever it takes to protect health care as a human right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The numbers show why. Seventy percent of people polled by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation said health care is very important to their vote for Congress this year, outranking all other issues.

    Our PBS/NPR/Marist poll found Democrats rank health care as their most important issue this election. And, significantly, for independents, it is number two, just after the economy.

    The theme carries through to candidates as well. Democrats have nominated a number of medical professionals, like nurse Lauren Underwood.

  • Lauren Underwood:

    I'm not a politician. I'm a nurse.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Like nurse Lauren Underwood, running for Congress in Illinois.

    And fellow congressional hopeful, pediatrician Kim Schrier in Washington state.

  • Kim Schrier:

    I see what my patients and their families are up against.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Above all, Democrats have blasted Republican attempts to repeal and rewrite the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, saying that threatens anyone with a preexisting health condition.

    Cases in point, Indiana and Missouri, where embattled Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill are stressing that their opponents both backed a lawsuit to dismantle Obamacare.

  • Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.:

    Mike Braun supports a lawsuit today, today, that would take away preexisting conditions coverage.

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.:

    You don't go to court to get rid of important protections when there is no backup. I am more than happy to work with anybody to make sure these protections would stay in place.

  • Barack Obama:

    Democrats are going to protect your care, period.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The health care law's namesake, former President Barack Obama, is growing hoarse raising this and another closing argument, that Democrats are more civil and more honest.

  • Barack Obama:

    There have got to be consequences when people don't tell the truth.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Obama doesn't name anyone, but the implication is clearly that President Trump is a dishonest, divisive figure.

    Similarly, listen to Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum:

  • Andrew Gillum:

    Let's stand together against politicians who use race to divide us. As governor, I will ensure the most diverse state in America also sets an example as the most united state in America.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Indeed, Democrats are running a more diverse slate of candidates than Republicans, including minorities, women, veterans and first-time office-seekers.

    But the party also has its own internal divide. Some Democrats in red states like Senator Jon Tester in Montana are touting their work with President Trump, not criticizing him.

  • Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.:

    Washington's a mess, but that's not stopping me from getting bills that help Montana signed into law by President Trump.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This as progressives like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren push the other way.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    For almost two years now, the only thing the American people have gotten from Donald Trump and the Republicans is chaos, corruption and hatefulness.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There is similar divide over House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, with dozens of swing district Democrats, like Arkansas' Clarke Tucker, distancing themselves from her.

  • Clarke Tucker:

    I won't vote for Nancy Pelosi.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Pelosi herself has shrugged that off.

    And that's a message too, that Democrats want to win and are happy to run on health care. And, after that, each candidate can craft their own closing message.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa and Yamiche are both here with me now.

    Hello to both of you. You have been out on the trail reporting on all this.

    Yamiche, as you said in your report, the TV networks, Facebook have said they're not going to air this ad that the Trump campaign put out showing a migrant. The argument is that it's racially insensitive.

    What do we know about this ad, about the Trump campaign decision to run it?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this ad put out by the president's campaign is viewed widely as patently racist.

    This is an ad featuring a man who killed two sheriff's deputies, is an undocumented immigrant who is now serving — who's now on death row in California. And the president is asking voters to look at this man, this singular incident, and say, look at all these other immigrants. These — all these people are like this man, who's a murderous, dangerous person.

    And people are saying that that is stereotypical and really that it's — that it's something that's unacceptable. And that's pretty remarkable for the president of the United States to be told that your ad cannot be run on major networks.

    Add to that the fact that there are people who are looking at President Trump and just saying that he is — his rhetoric has really been unhelpful in really forging racial divisions here.

    This morning, the president was on a call with 200,000 supporters and he is sounding a bit fearful of what could be coming tomorrow. He was saying that he doesn't really — he doesn't really want to talk about the House, and the Senate, he feels good about. But he said, I don't want this to be a referendum on my presidency, while at the same time contradicting himself, saying that if Republicans do pull this off and they do keep control of the House and the Senate, I should be — Republicans should feel good about my presidency.

    So this is a president who is being, one, on a lot of people see as racially defensive, but also as someone who's a little bit nervous for what's going to come tomorrow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, you have got a number of Democrats out there in swing districts. How are they looking at this ad, at this message of divisiveness and some say racism?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The truth is, this immigration tactic of the president's puts both parties in a tricky position, because he started it so late that they're not able to yet poll as to how it's affecting their voters.

    There are some Republicans who hope that it does get out their base. This is obviously something that helped the president get elected. But, Judy, I talked to one Republican campaign in a swing congressional district. They are very concerned that this is going to hit those swing districts, especially those ones that have newer representatives and have increasing minority populations.

    Think about the state like California, where there right now are six to seven seats in play. Democrats also have that hope and they're thinking about Senate seats ,like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, where we have seen record early voting turnout. They think this could bring out even more, say, Hispanic population that they believe will vote their way.

    But the truth is, they don't know yet. And when you look at both the House and the Senate, that's also the case, that it's not clear yet that for sure the Democrats will take over the House. Both parties think that's likely. But the Senate right now, it's still very unclear. There are many different scenarios for how that could go. And it depends on each race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the ad for now isn't being aired, but the message is still out there.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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