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Susan Page and Domenico Montanaro on the decade in politics

USA Today’s Susan Page and Domenico Montanaro of NPR join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including the outlook for 2020 Democrats not making it to the debate stage, campaign dynamics in Iowa and New Hampshire, how senators running for president will handle a potential impeachment trial, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment strategy and the year in review.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But we will now begin with the final Politics Monday of the year.

    To do that, I am joined by Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief, and Domenico Montanaro. He is the senior political editor at NPR.

    Let's start with something unusual, shall we?

    Let's talk about the candidates who are not in the top tier. I want to take a look at the eight candidates who didn't make the December debate, Michael Bennet, Mike Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Deval Patrick, and Marianne Williamson.

    These candidates are still out there doing the work. They are still in the field.

    Susan, let me start with you.

    Could any of them see a surge before Iowa?

  • Susan Page:

    It's possible.

    There are some impressive names here, people we have taken seriously as presidential candidates. But it's hard if you're not on the debate stage, because that is one to have the main ways to get attention, that you show the contrast with other candidates.

    I think the candidate not on stage with the best pathway to becoming a major candidate is Bloomberg, just because he has all that money. And if there's a stumble by Joe Biden, he would have the resources to take advantage of it.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    I would say that Cory Booker probably is one of the candidates who has an opportunity, anyway, to make some headway.

    Now, his campaign sees it sort of a triple bank shot, where Joe Biden would have to do colossally badly in Iowa and New Hampshire, be out of the race, and have the black vote essentially up for grabs. And Booker feels like he could be positioned pretty well in the south and do fairly well.

    That's a triple bank shot, not really seen as a viable path at this point. But you never know.

    I mean, we have four candidates who are essentially the top tier in Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. And there are lots of different scenarios for whether this becomes a short race or whether this goes on for quite some time.

  • Susan Page:

    You know, we could also see them come back as the running mate. Cory Booker, for instance, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, those are all options, I think, as possible running mates.

    They will have been vetted somewhat by having run. They will have some experience on a national stage. So even if they don't become the nominee, we may not have heard the last of them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's interesting. They're still putting up a fight.

    Michael Bennet announced just today he's going to have the first town hall of the year 12:01 p.m. in New Hampshire, so they're still out there.

    But one thing they all face is a looming Senate impeachment trial for this president.

    Domenico, I want to start with you. What does that mean for these candidates, especially the senators?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Well, I mean, I think, when we talk about that top tier, Elizabeth Warren obviously is one of those senators.

    And if she's — the last thing she wants to do is be shackled to a jury seat, essentially, in the Senate, when she's really made hand-to-hand campaigning a hallmark of her candidacy. She's really been able to connect with a lot of Democratic voters on the campaign trail.

    She touts the number of selfies she's taken, tens of thousands at this point. And that's really helped to sort of help her image in what kind of candidate she can be.

    If she's stuck in the Senate in January, before Iowa and New Hampshire, that's really not good for her.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Susan.

  • Susan Page:

    And the problem these senators have is, Senate trials, impeachment trials traditionally are not a chance to make a big "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" kind of speech on the Senate floor.

    You're supposed to sit there and listen. It makes it hard to get the kind of viral moment that might help them. It's also not the topic Democrats want to talk about. It's President Trump being impeached. Democrats, however, do not see this as big political asset for them.

    They would much be — prefer being — talking about something like health care.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's talk about someone else who's prominent during impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    Susan, you are working on a biography of her. I know because I have seen you there doing the work. I'm curious what your thoughts are now, as we have this historic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, really kind of going head to head with a historic majority leader, Mitch McConnell, two figures that I think will be in the history books.

    Right now, Speaker Pelosi has not yet transmitted the articles of impeachment. We don't know when she will. What do you make of this strategy by Speaker Pelosi? Are there political risks here? What's going on?

  • Susan Page:

    I was surprised when she decided not to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

    It's not really a delay yet. It's not really a delay until we get into next week, when Congress comes back. I think she is trying to be helpful to Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, to try to change or effect, at least to some degree, the rules that will come — rule during the impeachment trial there.

    But it's a weak hand in a way, because Speaker Pelosi doesn't want impeachment be the topic hanging over the House. She would like this to be off her plate over on the Senate side, so that her candidates, her Democratic candidates in the House can turn to the issues that they know matter more to voters.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    If she hadn't brought it up, you wouldn't have someone like Lisa Murkowski right now coming out saying that she felt that it's disturbing that her Republican leader in the Senate said that he wouldn't be an impartial juror, that he wouldn't be — that he'd be somebody who's in lockstep with the White House.

    That's not the role that they're supposed to take. So Nancy Pelosi maybe buying some time for Chuck Schumer.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, you see some real gain potential here?

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    I mean, I think you can't over — you don't want to overplay your hand and hold it out for too long, but she's at least raised the issue, even though people — but people in her caucus obviously expect that she's going to send it over pretty shortly after the holidays.

    We should also say, by the way, that Bernie Sanders is one of the — going to be one of the jurors in the Senate trial as well. And he is somebody I think you really need to watch in the campaign, because you have seen his poll numbers come up.

    And you have seen this activist base. The volunteer organization that he has in Iowa is really unparalleled. And to see him potentially do well in a place like Iowa, potentially in New Hampshire, you could have a Sanders-Biden race, for example, that reflects and looks a lot like that Sanders-Clinton race in 2016.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    2019 has not been a fast year, at least not for me, probably not for our viewers. But it is ending. And with it also ends a decade in politics.

    I want to ask both of you, going back to the past decade in U.S. politics, what stands out to you about where we are and where we have been?

  • Susan Page:

    You know, the thing that surprises me is that we had the election of Barack Obama followed immediately by the election of President Trump, two men, both of them visionaries in their way, with such different visions of what the country should be and where the country should go.

    And I think that's one reason we have stoked these tribal — this fierce tribalism, where no one seems to see any common ground between the two sides, because their visions of the future have been so different.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    You know, I think it was a decade of polarization and partisanship. And it really took hold in the 2010s.

    You have President Obama signing into law the Affordable Care Act at the very beginning of the 2010s. In March of 2010, he did that. And that really set off the entire decade for what was to come.

    And you had — as Susan notes, you go from George W. Bush. Who could be more opposite of George W. Bush than Barack Obama in 2008? To then the rise of the Tea Party, which was really a backlash to President Obama, and that gave rise to President Trump and one last backlash.

    In all of that has been the rise of progressivism, which has been really pugilistic, and not wanting to compromise, seeing how Republicans and the Tea Party didn't. And we're at this point where you have got a lot of clashes to come.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A difficult question with just one minute left.

    One thing I have seen in the last decade is, it seems sort of a fear of leadership in Washington. I don't think we see — we see people more coached and less willing to take hard stances. Why do you — what do you make of that? What's happening there?

  • Susan Page:

    I think it's a time when our politics are so frayed that it makes people cautious.

    People who speak in a spontaneous way, who reach across party lines often have gotten punished. And I think that may have made — had an effect on people's desire — politicians' desire not to — to keep to the script of their side.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    I mean, people get punished for speaking out and trying to build a bridge, rather than blowing it up, as Amy Klobuchar said in the last debate.

    So, until that kind of process changes, until the type of politics we have changes, until the type of people who participate in elections change, until the voters vote in different ways, you're going to see, I think, more acrimony before you see anything of going in the way back.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, you two trying to build a bridge in our knowledge tonight, we appreciate it, Susan Page of USA Today, Domenico Montanaro of NPR.

    I wish you a happy and hopefully very healthy new year.

  • Susan Page:

    You too.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    You're welcome. Same to you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And for more on the "NewsHour" online, you can subscribe to "PBS NewsHour"s politics e-mails to receive weekly analysis and commentary from the campaign trail, Capitol Hill, and the White House, as well as updates on the impeachment investigation.

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