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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden in the spotlight, pandemic aid politics

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including what to expect from former Vice President Joe Biden as he emerges into the convention spotlight, the potential for sexist criticism of Biden’s running mate and the political consequences of failed pandemic relief talks for both Congress and President Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are just one week away from the start of the Democratic National Convention.

    And for the first time in months, all eyes are on former Vice President Joe Biden.

    Our Politics Monday team is here to mark the moment. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you. It is great to see you on this Monday.

    So, Amy, all eyes are on Joe Biden. He has been able to let Donald Trump have most of the spotlight for almost all the time. What are that — what kind of pressure is on Joe Biden at this moment?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    You know, Judy, up until this point, the race has really not been Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden. It has really been Donald Trump vs. not Donald Trump.

    Part of the reason that Joe Biden also hasn't gotten a lot of the spotlight is, Donald Trump doesn't cede enough of it, right? He likes being in the front — in front of the cameras, constantly having that level of attention.

    And so, in order to make the race a referendum on Joe Biden, he has got to give Joe Biden time to get in front of the camera.

    You're right that, this coming week, we're going to see a lot more, in the next two weeks, of Joe Biden. And I think the most important thing, Judy, is that he answers the questions that a lot of voters have about him.

    One, what are his priorities? He's been giving speeches. He's been doing stuff from Wilmington, but there's never been a real intense focus on who he is and what he stands for.

    And then, of course, who he picks as vice president and how that rollout goes. Does it go over among Democrats very well? How does the media portray it? How does he look and sound introducing this person in what will be his very first big decision that he's made as a candidate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, how do you see the expectations on Vice President Biden?

    You hear the Republicans trying to make light of him, saying he's been hiding in the basement. Now is his chance to come out.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And that hiding is by design.

    There have been numerous opportunities where Joe Biden could have tried to get in on a Trump news cycle, and the Biden campaign purposely did not jump in on that news cycle, in a way, not taking the bait. And that's a — that's a contrast with past people who have run against President Trump.

    One question is, there is so much other news happening right now. Will Joe Biden and his running mate be able to dominate the news? Will they even be able to dominate the political news? And part of that may depend on how negotiations go over these coronavirus relief packages.

    And the potential exists that Biden and his running mate don't get as long a news cycle as one normally would. And what does that mean? It's not clear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know it's going to be a woman, Amy.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, talk about what — I mean, what's riding on — how much is riding on it?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    I mean, I think Tam makes a really good point about, they might not get the whole cycle to themselves. In some ways, to me, that would suggest that it was actually a good pick politically for Joe Biden, because it's not raising the level of controversy that would keep it in the news for more than a couple of days.

    What seems to be riding on it is this. He has said, yes, Judy, he's going to pick a woman. But over the last couple of weeks, the impression is that he's going to pick a woman of color. And you have seen so many women who have been brought up on the national Sunday shows, who've been getting full profiles in national newspapers.

    I think that the expectation has been raised so high that this woman that he picks will be a woman of color that, if he doesn't, that becomes much more of the story, and that the president spends — I'm sorry — that Vice President Biden spent most of his time in rolling this out explaining why he chose someone who's not a woman of color.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, given that, Tam, the pressure is on him to do exactly that, which may be his inclination anyway.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and just to add to what Amy was saying, there have been numerous open letters with very big names, and long lists of them, urging Biden to pick an African-American woman.

    And, as Amy says, there's a decent chance that, if he doesn't, that is what the conversation will be all about.

    One thing that — I think that we don't fully know the answer to at this point is, there have been two other women on the Democratic — on the ticket before as vice president. And in both of those cases, they ended up getting picked apart in the press.

    And some of it was based on real holes in their resume and real problems, and some of it wasn't. And what we — what I have to wonder is, what happens when another woman is on the ticket? What happens? Does that — do the same sort of sexist tropes rear their head again?

    And what we know is that the Biden campaign is fully expecting that and seems to have a plan to try to combat it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're going to know in coming days. We are told we're going to see the announcement sometime this week.

    But, very quickly, in the time we have left, Amy, the COVID relief negotiations have gone nowhere on the Hill. The president came up with his executive orders and actions over the weekend.

    Where's — where do you see the political play here? Who's benefiting and who isn't?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I mean, the big danger for both parties is that this completely falls apart and everybody ends up looking bad. It's interesting, Judy. If you go back, in April and May, Gallup recorded the highest job approval rating for Congress in the last 20 years. It's down to 18 percent in July.

    So, certainly, Congress isn't going in with a whole lot of deep well — a deep well here of good will.

    But, look, I think Republicans are much more on the defensive, especially in the Senate, because so many of them live in states, especially blue states or purple states, where the arguments that Trump and Republicans are making in the Senate just aren't going to fly there.

    They do want to be able to campaign on bringing home money to — especially to these state and local governments who are struggling right now. And many of them are struggling with financing things that voters care so much about, education.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, how do you see the politics shaking out here?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I mean, the other big risk here is if they can't come up with something. People have already lost unemployment benefits.

    Now, the president is talking about trying to create a way, but, already, states are pushing back, saying that it's problematic, they don't have the money, that it's going to be logistically challenging.

    The Treasury secretary is saying it could take a couple of weeks, and that may be optimistic. All the while, there is economic suffering. And the real risk is that the economy ends up suffering further while this political fight goes on, and that the ground shifts underneath both Democrats and Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    None of this is happening in a vacuum, as both of you are pointing out.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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