Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on $3.5T Dem bill, California recall election

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Senate Democrats negotiate a trillion-dollar budget resolution in Washington, Democrats in California are in the final stretch of a recall election that risks their hold on the governor's mansion.

    Here to talk about this busy week in politics, our Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And it is so good to see both of you on this Monday. Thank you for being here.

    So let's start out with talking about what I was talking to Senator Bernie Sanders about, Amy, and that is this mega-spending bill, $3.5 trillion. He says he is sticking to his guns, he has already compromised. Where does it stand?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    It stands not with Senator Sanders, but with Senator Manchin.

    When you only have 50 votes in the Senate, your ability to get something passed on a party-line vote rests with the one who is most at risk. And the most at-risk senator right now is Joe Manchin, who has said out loud multiple times, we're not doing $3.5 trillion.

    I think the bigger challenge right now for Democrats, though, as they're thinking about this process is, everything we have talked about has been the price tag. We have talked very little about the policy underneath it. And I think for Democrats who are talking about selling this in the next election in 2022 or beyond, right now, what they're talking about is all kinds of different things within it.

    We heard Senator Sanders talk about, right, making the rich pay their fair share, income inequality. But what is it tangibly? It hasn't really been defined yet by that. And Republicans then have the opportunity for these next few weeks and probably throughout the campaign in 2022 to define it by that number, right? This is just more money going out of Washington.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    It's — whether it's socialism, whether it's this is why the deficit so large, or why inflation is going up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Tam, you could argue the administration, the president has tried to talk about it. Senator Sanders has tried to talk about it. The president's out there in California today talking about, we're going to fix the environment with this, among other things.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Yes, certainly, President Biden has been pitching what they call the Build Back Better agenda, which I think that a lot of the conversation about it, as Amy says, has gotten bogged down in the process: Oh, it's a reconciliation bill.

    The reality is that, if they are able to pass something, and it has things in it that matter to people, then they will have something to talk about. But if they don't pass anything, then they won't.

    And Senator Sanders, I think, in his interview also seemed to say Democrats aren't going to let nothing happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, at some point, something's going to have to give.

    But it seems like Democrats are very motivated to have something. And they know that the window of time to do this is not that wide, because, once you get into 2022, that is an election year. The endangered members of Congress and members of the House are going to start thinking about their futures.

    And it gets much harder to do it.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I agree.

    It's — we're at the place where it's too big to fail, basically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see what not nothing looks like that.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other reason the president, Amy, is in California is to do a visit, to show his hand for Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall vote coming up tomorrow.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And people have been voting, but it comes to a head tomorrow.

    What are we — what are you watching from this? What could the parties learn from this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it's been very interesting.

    Part of the reason that Newsom was imperiled at all was his handling of COVID — of COVID and, specifically, his decision to go and hang out with a bunch of wealthy lobbyist types at a really fancy restaurant in the Bay Area, when he's telling everybody else in California, hey, you got to wear a mask, or all these businesses were shutting down.

    That anger then turned into all the other troubles that the rest of the country is having, right, with the Delta variant and more shutdowns. But, over the last few weeks, Newsom and Democrats have been able to actually turn COVID against Republicans.

    The front-runner on the Republican side named Larry — Larry Elder has come out against mandates for vaccines and for masking, which in a state that has an 80 percent vaccination rate, that's not — that's not a popular position.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    And so you have everybody from this president to former President Obama to other major Democratic figure saying, voting against Gavin Newsom is literally dangerous to your health,, using the — nationalizing COVID, but in a way that helps a sitting governor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's not for lack of challenges. There's something like 46 of them.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    However, that's not nearly as many challenges as there were in 2003, when then-Governor Gray Davis faced a recall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And sadly, Gary Coleman is no longer with us to run again in this recall.

    But there are a lot of challengers. One thing that is missing, though, is — that was there in 2003 that I think hurt Gray Davis that Governor Newsom has been able to avoid is, of the options on question two, the people that could be picked, there really is no major credible Democrat.

    There is a YouTuber that has generated some buzz among younger voters who is a Democrat, but, otherwise, it's mostly Republicans, which, again, has allowed Newsom and Democrats to nationalize this election, say it's a Republican power grab, say it's just Trump Republicans out to get us.

    There are other different dynamics too. Despite all of Gavin Newsom's troubles, he's actually above water. His popularity is above 50 percent…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the latest polls.

  • Tamara Keith:

    … while Gray Davis was below 30 percent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. So, we will see there.

  • Amy Walter:

    We will wait and see.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the number — but it looks good for…

    (Crosstalk)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it does.

    There's both the polling. And then, as you said, this is mostly mail-in ballots. We have already had more than seven million ballots cast. Democrats were having — early on, the polling was picking up an enthusiasm gap. They have definitely come and turnout — turned out.

    And it's much more polarized today than it was in '03. There are a lot of Democrats in 2003 who voted for the recall.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Tamara Keith:

    And for Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he was moderate in a way that Elder is not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right, different in so many ways.

    Hard to get people in California to pay attention to elections.

  • Amy Walter:

    Fair.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And sometimes in many states, so not just picking on California.

    But last thing I want to quickly ask you about, over the weekend, 9/11, some very somber, solemn remembrances of that terrible day in the history of this country 20 years ago.

    Tam, one that stood out to me was former President George W. Bush, Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Here's just an excerpt of what he had to say.

    George W. Bush, Former President of the United States: There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.

    But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    "Children of the same foul spirit."

    He's talking about the January 6 insurrectionists, even though he didn't name it, and what happened on 9/11.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He is drawing a direct line. And, certainly, Flight 93 was thought to be aimed at the nation's Capitol. And January 6 truly did attack the Capitol Building.

    A lot has happened in those 20 years. It has been an incredibly difficult 20 years for this country, with a recession and wars and now this pandemic, but the words from the former president also indicate just how much things have changed, that what he is saying was sort of a mainline idea, or at least an ideal, probably not realized, 20 years ago.

    But now it's almost controversial, at least in some parts of his own party.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and the — but his position about domestic terrorism vs. terrorism abroad is also reflected among many Americans, right?

    In the NPR/"PBS NewsHour" poll, more Americans said they were worried about extremism in the United States than from abroad. And then there was an AP poll also out in August, same thing, where a larger percentage of Americans said, I'm much more worried about what's going on here than being attacked by extremists from overseas.

    And, yes, to Tam's point, it is this moment we had in 9/11, this moment we thought was going to be unity, and, instead, we have seen all these big — other big events lead us to more polarization.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Solemn.

  • Amy Walter:

    Very.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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