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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s bipartisanship efforts, division within the GOP

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Biden’s bipartisanship style, his infrastructure package, and divisions within the Republican party.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And here to analyze the politics of this jobs and infrastructure package, and more, our regular Politics Monday duo.

    That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you.

    Let's just pick up, Tam, where we left off about left off with Lisa.

    What — we know it is early in the process. She said a few more months at least. But what does it look like the president faces in terms of getting this through the Congress?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is early yet, and he faces multiple challenges.

    One is, will he be able to get any Republicans on board? And it seems as though the White House is willing to let that play out at least for the next month or so. But, beyond that, can they keep Democrats together is another question? Some progressive Democrats really wish that they wouldn't split this in two with college affordability and child care in a second package to come later.

    Other Democrats, people like Joe Manchin, are concerned about how it would be funded. And so there is a lot for them to figure out, to parse through, but clearly President Biden said in this meeting, has been signaling he wants to talk, at least for now.

    And then, though, eventually, it could become like the COVID relief package, where they stop talking and just start pushing it through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, how do you size up the politics on both sides for this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it sure seems likely to me that the White House is trying to redefine bipartisanship, which they have been doing from the very beginning, which is — of the administration — which is, bipartisanship isn't how many Republicans we have to vote on this. Bipartisanship is, how popular is it?

    And that means that there are Republican voters across the country who may agree with Joe Biden on what he is putting forward. And so it seems more likely than not this is going to go through on Democratic votes only. And so the question to me is, just how popular is this going to be, if indeed this is still, as Lisa was talking about, in the early stages?

    We're not only boiling the water yet for the meal. What does it look like if this goes through in July or August or September? And how much time — if Republicans feel like they aren't part of the decision-making, how much time do they have to change the focus, to make this about, as Tam and Lisa both discussed, being too much spending, spending on things that aren't traditionally seen as infrastructure, that it is getting paid for by taxes raised on all kinds of people, even if they say it is only going to be on certain types of people and certain types of businesses?

    So that's the danger for Democrats going forward. If you are going to make bipartisanship based on how popular it is, if Republicans in Congress don't feel a buy-in, then they are not going to feel particularly open-minded to making this become more popular as we go through the year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But just quickly, Tam, does it look as if the two sides are really talking — listening to each other, really talking to each other?

    Because, for the longest time, it felt like we didn't have any of that going on in this city.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, this is a more traditional approach, where the White House puts out a proposal, and then Congress discusses it, and there are conversations with the White House.

    So, there really are conversations happening. Whether they lead to something is an entirely different question. And President Biden today insisted these talks were not just window dressing. But let's see what happens in late May, early June, as summer potentially drags on.

    I think another consideration that they may end up dealing with is, they could become a victim of their own success. If the economy ends up coming back strong — and that's a big if, but there is some fuel in there from the COVID relief bill — if the economy keeps coming back strong, then making this as a jobs bill, portraying this as a jobs bill, rather than just roads and bridges, becomes a little bit more challenging, because people will make the case, well, there are jobs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we are seeing more indications the economy is coming back. The chairman of the Federal Reserve said over the weekend on "60 Minutes" we're going to see big growth this year.

    Amy, I want to specifically zero in right now on Republicans. Over the weekend, the Republican National Committee, some of their donors got together down in Florida. They heard from former President Trump, who, among others, took after Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. One of the nicer things he said about him was he is a stone-cold loser.

    Does this reflect something seriously going on in terms of a division inside the Republican Party. Or is this just the surface playing out, name-calling?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, this is the same division we have seen, Judy, now for the last five years between the so-called establishment Republicans and the Trump Republicans.

    It is not as big of a problem now for the establishment side or the folks who are in Congress or up next year, because, well, Trump's not in the White House. They don't have to respond to every single one of his tweets and actions like they did before.

    The real problem could be for somebody like Mitch McConnell is that Donald Trump decides to play in primaries in these must-win Senate races or House races, but mostly in Senate races, and chooses a candidate who is most like him, and that candidate becomes actually — or that candidate is not the best candidate to win in a swing state like Pennsylvania, for example.

    And so it puts Mitch McConnell's chances to get the majority on the line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, what would you add?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I would add that today former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was asked if she would run for president in 2024 if President Trump decided he was running. And she said, absolutely not, she wouldn't run.

    So he is casting a large shadow. His name is also still gold when it comes to the small-dollar donors. You have the fund-raising appeals coming from the Republican Party that say, basically, like, show your loyalty to Trump, keep giving us money.

    And so he is still this huge, outsized player. He has a piece of the base that supports him strongly. But Republicans need both the Trump part of the base and the more establishment part of the base to win these Senate seats, for Mitch McConnell to have a chance of getting the leadership role back.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in just a few seconds, Amy, is this the kind of thing that could affect where Republicans land on the jobs and infrastructure bill?

  • Amy Walter:

    I don't know if it is important, that, but it is about where money is going.

    And that is going to be very critical. Donald Trump is saying: Send it to me. Don't send it to the party committees that are tasked with reelecting these folks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot going on right now.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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