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Politics wrap: Trump threatens GA secretary of state, Senate runoffs too close to call

Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Michael Hill to discuss what he calls a ‘poisonous’ political atmosphere: an explosive audio recording of President Trump threatening the Georgia Secretary of State to overturn the state’s election result, the too-close-to-call Senate runoff on Tuesday and why some Republicans are ‘all in’ on Trump.

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  • Michael Hill:

    To discuss the congressional swearing in Georgia Senate runoff and the upcoming electoral vote, I'm joined by NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield from Santa Barbara, California.

    Jeff, thank you for joining us. I want to begin with this Washington Post obtained recording of the president's call to the Georgia secretary of state. What do you make of this?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I really feel like I've left the gravitational pull of planet Earth. In this hour-long phone call, the president ultimately begged, cajoled and threatened the secretary of state to somehow come up with the 12,000 votes that would give him the state of Georgia. He suggested maybe you could recalculate, you could be in serious political trouble or even, even criminal trouble at the voting machines. It was really, I think, even to people who in the past have tended to brush off some of Trump's more unconventional comments, this one is is really bizarre and it really has an impact because on Tuesday, there are two Senate races, runoffs that will decide whether the Democrats or Republicans take the Senate. And Trump has been saying the election is invalid, he's been ranting more about his election than the two Republicans. He's supposed to be in Georgia on Monday in a rural area to try to gin-up the vote.

    And I think a lot of Republicans are worried that if he spends more time talking about the invalid election, he may depress turnout. And I can't emphasize how critical this Georgia election is. We've never seen anything like this — with two Senate races will decide whether or not, for instance, Mitch McConnell stays as majority leader with essentially veto power over President-elect Biden's cabinet choices, his judicial nominations, his agenda. So, you know, we lived in a kind of alternate universe for seven months about this election. And this is just the latest chapter.

  • Michael Hill:

    Jeff, Stacey Abrams and others have been working overtime to deal with the typical big runoff turnout drop off for Democrats. What are the factors that could shape these races in Georgia?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think you put your finger on it. Democrats have lost virtually every runoff in Georgia because their voters are less likely to show up for a second election.

    But Stacey Abrams, who almost got elected governor two years ago, and has been all-out on a voter registration drive, seems to have produced a situation where in the early voting, the turnout's been higher in Democratic areas than in Republican areas. And that changes the calculation. Polls show it's very close and both races. But we've we've been through enough polling mistakes to say why don't we put that aside. And that's why Joe Biden will be in Atlanta tomorrow and why the president will be in Dalton, Georgia, tomorrow, because the turnout so far suggests that the normal pattern in Georgia runoffs may and I emphasize, may have a different outcome here.

  • Michael Hill:

    I'm curious about something in Georgia. We know what took place on November 3rd. We have almost a 12,000 vote margin in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. Are these races the real test of whether Georgia indeed has turned blue?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think it's more case that Georgia has turned purple. That 12,000 vote margin for Biden is a fraction of one percent. David Perdue came within a couple of tenths of one percent of avoiding a runoff. And I think what we're seeing now is that the long anticipated hope of Democrats in Georgia state would someday be genuinely competitive. That has come to pass. But the outcome, your guess is probably better than mine.

  • Michael Hill:

    Jeff, I want to go back to a point you were making earlier. This is an awkward moment for Republicans. The party leader is criticizing the voting system and saying trust it to return these incumbents to Washington.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Sure, a lot of Democrats are sort of having fun saying, well, if you were telling us that the votes for Trump were invalid, then how did you get here? How come we should count your votes? And that's part of what we're going to be seeing on Wednesday when the new Congress counts these votes for another chapter in 'Can you believe what's going on?'

  • Michael Hill:

    So what's the likely consequence of this challenge then come Wednesday?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, traditionally, this is a ceremonial event, you know, going through the motions of the Vice President opening the envelopes of each state. And saying, "Here the electoral votes." And in the past, you have had a symbolic challenge or two. This time, you've got dozens of Republican House members and at least 12 Republican senators who mean to challenge the results from the six key states. Senator Cruz says he wants a 10-day emergency audit.

    It's not going to work because unless both houses of Congress reject these votes, the, they're counted and the Democrats have the House and there are plenty of Republicans in the Senate who aren't going along with this. But what it tells you is the degree to which Trump has succeeded in, A, convincing his party that the election was rigged, and B, persuading or perhaps intimidating huge numbers of elected Republican officials to stand up and say, we want to see about fraud, even though there is absolutely no evidence of any fraud, as the Secretary of State kept trying to convince Trump of in this phone call. It's another example of what I think is going to be a poisonous political atmosphere when Joe Biden takes office.

  • Michael Hill:

    So Jeff, I'm curious, what does this portend? The president has this kind of influence on senators and representatives, and he's also calling protesters to D.C. to overturn election results on Wednesday. Beyond this week, what does this portend, if anything, about Trump's influence on and control of and direction of the Republican Party?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well it's two things.

    The extent of his influence is so great that you have a sitting congressman, Louie Gohmert, who is, in effect, calling for violence to prevent the vote. You've got a lot of Trump supporters saying on social media, let's go to Washington, let's blockade the Capitol, let's make sure they can't vote.

    And then, down the road, I think what you're going to see is all the Republican presidential wannabes: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, are kind of imprisoned. They they can't run against Trump as long as Trump is a potential 2024 nominee because they've, as they used to say, they plied their trump with Trump, they're all in on him. They're willing to abandon pretty much all the norms of a normal political process to show, 'I'm more pro Trump than anybody else.' And now they're trapped into standing with him unless or until he decides, maybe I will won't run again.

    I'll go back to what I said at the beginning. I've been watching politics a pretty long time, and I've never seen anything remotely like this, and it is, it is not an encouraging notion to Biden's belief that, well, once I'm elected in an office, we'll have a new era of cooperation. The signs of that are to be, to put it mildly, minimal.

  • Michael Hill:

    So, Jeff, we have a new Congress sworn in today. What should the public, what should the people expect of this new Congress in the age of COVID and with other raging issues that Congress needs to address?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Assuming that they figure out who the leaders of the Congress are, because with COVID, you know, even this opening day is not like the normal ones. I think you're going to see a situation where, with very few exceptions, the prospect of some kind of joint cooperation, as I said, are minimal.

    Go back to 2000, when George W. Bush won with 537 votes in Florida, out of six million. There was a lot of feeling that those votes were not properly cast. But Al Gore conceded, Republicans and Democrats began working together on education bills. Ted Kennedy was helping George W. Bush. That spirit which helped ease the polarization in 2001– the evidence for that kind of spirit is, as I said, really lacking.

  • Michael Hill:

    Alright. Jeff Greenfield for us tonight from Santa Barbara, California. Thank you, Jeff.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thanks for having me. And more or less, Happy New Year.

  • Michael Hill:

    Yes.

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