Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden agenda, Virginia Gov. race, midterms

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including progress on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and Virginia’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats are nearing yet another self-imposed deadline for a deal on President Biden's Build Back Better agenda, this one at the end of the week.

    To analyze this make-or-break week, I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you. It is Politics Monday.

    So, Amy, let's talk about this Build Back Better. I remember asking the two of you about this last week. I remember Tam wincing as I asked her about it. I will not forget that look anytime soon.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there does seem to be, as Lisa Desjardins was reporting earlier in the program, some movement.

    Talk about the forces at play here right now.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    You have got so many forces at play, right?

    You have congressional Democrats, who are worried about a real deadline at the end of the month with transportation funding running out. You have got the president, who's looking at wanting to go overseas with a victory, especially on something like climate change. And you have the governor's race in Virginia, with a Democrat who's saying, I need to have some momentum, so that Democrats in my state feel good about what's going on across the river in Washington, feel as if Biden is actually getting some stuff done.

    President Biden's actually coming not far from where we are sitting right now on Tuesday, tomorrow, to try to rally support. But it would be more helpful for Terry McAuliffe if Joe Biden were actually getting a lot more done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one of the things that Amy's mentioning, Tam, is — are these climate — international climate talks taking place in Scotland. The president's heading over there.

    He's using that, among other things, as a reason to say, let's do something.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Certainly, he is saying that that is one of — part of the artificial deadline.

    There are so many artificial deadlines that — and this White House has made clear that they think that these artificial deadlines are helpful, that they are clarifying, that they can push to get Democrats to move. And President Biden has certainly been more personally engaged in the conversations, getting down to sort of nitty-gritty details of what might be in and what might be out, or at least they're talking about it more publicly.

    Whether they can actually — whether he can throw some climate action in his carry-on bag seems pretty unlikely at the moment. Who knows. But this would not be the first time that an American president has gone to an international summit on climate and said, America is going to do stuff. We are…

  • Amy Walter:

    We're going to lead the way.

  • Tamara Keith:

    We're going to lead the way on climate.

    And then Congress has different ideas, or the more ambitious plans do not materialize.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    And, Amy, you were telling us, at the same time, there's a disconnect, to a degree, between what is being talked about in this big Build Back Better package and what voters are thinking about.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, especially independent voters.

    And those voters, many times, are the swing. They're the reason why one party or the other wins, especially in really close elections. We have seen support for Biden among independents drop double digits, by about 15 points, at least in the Gallup, polling since February.

    I think a lot of it has to do with COVID and frustrations that they're seeing about other things that are happening. But the economy is another big piece of this. We hear it a lot talking to voters, swing voters especially inflation, things costing more.

    And so while Washington is talking about these issues that many people care about — it's not that they don't care about climate or that they don't care about…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Child tax credits, right.

  • Amy Walter:

    … child tax credits.

    Their day-to-day lives right now are consumed with still worrying about the pandemic's impact on their lives. We have been reading stories. You have all been talking about the fact there aren't enough child care workers. It's still challenging to get your child into child care, people still not going back to work, on top of the fact that things just cost more.

    And that's where voters are sitting right now. And so it makes it a challenge, then, if it looks like Washington isn't paying attention to the things that matter right now in their lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which has to be making Democrats pull their hair out, because they thought these are things that really are important.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And things that generally poll well, especially among Democrats, their base voters.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, Amy brought up these governor's races that are happening right now.

    President Biden today in New Jersey campaigning for Phil Murphy. As she mentioned, tomorrow, he's going to be back in Virginia, a closer race, former Governor Terry McAuliffe against — running against Glenn Youngkin, the Republican.

    What do we know at this point? This is a vote that people are voting now in Virginia. But what do we know at this point about how these races are shaping up?

  • Tamara Keith:

    An indication, I think, that Terry McAuliffe is nervous is that every single Democratic superstar that you can possibly imagine whose name is on the fund-raising e-mails, they're all coming to Virginia, they're all hanging out in Virginia, they're all coming back to Virginia.

    This is a close race. It's not — it wasn't clear at the beginning that it would be a close race, but it is certainly close now. And part of that is that Republicans are really fired up. This is — this is the way it works every Virginia governor's race. It's the year after the presidential election. Republicans are out of power. Democrats are in power, wanting to forget about Trump.

    Terry McAuliffe is making the race sort of about Trump, sort of about things that people care about. And Glenn Youngkin is walking this tightrope, and seemingly relatively effectively, of wanting Trump's support, wanting Trump's base, not wanting to upset those people, but mentioning things like Critical Race Theory, or some of these culture war hot buttons, while at the same time trying to be extremely palatable, sort of a pro-business Republican, then, in the Mitt Romney mold.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One piece I saw this morning was talking about, he's wearing this red fleece…

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, very suburban dad, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … that moderate Republicans might wear, but he's talking about Critical Race Theory and speaking about other topics, if you will, that President — former President Trump would like to hear about.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I mean, what's fascinating about these last four years, especially in a state like Virginia, where Donald Trump has been front and center, he's blotted out the sun. Everything has been about Donald Trump in the 2017 governor's race, in the 2018 midterm elections, and in the 2020 presidential election.

    And the support for Democrats has gone up each one of those years, 2017, '18 and '20. And he's not there anymore, but Terry McAuliffe, to Tam's point, is trying to attach him as closely as possible to Glenn Youngkin.

    So we're going to find out. And it's also happening in New Jersey. Phil Murphy is talking a lot about Donald Trump, connecting Trump to his Republican opponent.

    Can Trump still work as a motivator for Democrats, especially in these blue-leaning states? And that's, to me, what one of the most important things will be after these elections are over, is, if it doesn't work, Democrats are going to look at themselves and say, well, what are we going to talk about next year? Because this was going to be one of our plans to motivate voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And not as if Mr. Trump isn't going to be around.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    He will be around. But he's not in the White House this time.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Before I you go, Congressional Women's Softball Game.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Women reporters playing women members of Congress.

    We know the women journalists are going to win, right?

  • Amy Walter:

    Always.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Bad News Babes for the win.

  • Amy Walter:

    Excellent catcher, and she…

  • Tamara Keith:

    An excellent pitcher right over here.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    An excellent pitcher. I mean, whoa. We could play the whole game right here.

  • Amy Walter:

    So, we have literally Politics Monday right here pitching and catching.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All to benefit breast cancer.

  • Amy Walter:

    Breast cancer, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, go, girls. Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

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