Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s comments about Putin’s power

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including President Biden's comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin's hold on power, Biden's budget proposal, and how Republicans used the Supreme Court confirmation hearings to speak to their base.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, fresh from his trip to NATO and Poland, the president was at the White House today and asked to explain a set of comments he made about Vladimir Putin.

    Lisa Desjardins has more on the political fallout.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, Judy.

    President Biden today insisted his comments that Putin cannot stay in power were not a change in U.S. policy.

    Here with me to discuss this and other political news, our fantastic Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, of NPR.

    Tam, let's start with you.

    Welcome back to a frigid Washington from your trip with the president.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You heard those words in Warsaw. You heard what President Biden said today, that this was his sort of moral judgment and not U.S. policy.

    Do you understand what he meant? And what does it tell us about the White House right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it was definitely a double-take moment when he said that at the very end of this speech.

    It was clearly, and sources have concerned, and I think now the president himself has confirmed that that was not part of the prepared remarks. That was not part of the plan.

    In many ways, that phrase, that sentence is in conflict with the whole rest of the speech that he was trying to give, where he was trying to convince the allies that — and the American people that this is going to be a long conflict that they are going to have to steel themselves for, that this is bigger than Russia and Ukraine, but this is about sort of a global battle, a generational battle between democracies and autocracies.

    All of these big ideas that he was trying to get across, literally spelling out, saying NATO is not an offensive force. It is only here for defense. And then he says this thing. And the other thing that he explained today, and that was clear even on Saturday night, when he said this, is he had just come from the stadium, where he met with refugees who had been trapped in their basements in Mariupol, who held — he held a little girl in a pink jacket…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Memorable photos, yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    … and told these girls — these little girls that they were brave, and that they — and these girls were praying for their fathers and grandfathers who were left behind in Ukraine.

    So, all of this emotion and passion comes with him blurting this out. And he is now defending it. He is both saying, I'm not walking it back, and, also, it is not a statement of administration policy. It is not a policy of regime change.

    But that does not change the fact that this has sort of derailed the conversation about what he was — that he was trying to have.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, what are the politics here for maybe a confusing moment for the president on a very important issue that Americans are watching closely, Ukraine?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Right.

    Well, Americans, I think, would agree that this is a pretty popular statement, Vladimir Putin, bad guy, Vladimir Putin doing bad things, Vladimir Putin should go, right? It makes a whole lot of sense, until you have to understand, as Tam laid out, that this is very delicate.

    Not just keeping our allies all together, which is really been a success for the Biden administration, but continuing to keep them together is going to be a challenge, keeping the public focused on the fact that this is going to take a lot longer, and it could be dragged out, and understanding that this is so delicate that any word that is said, any hint that this may involve more than just American support, in terms of sending weapons, sending aid, could get us into a conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia.

    That's also the balancing act. It's interesting looking at public opinion. It's a balancing act that Americans are trying to grapple with too, right? They say, we think there should be sanctions on Russia. We absolutely support that, even if it means we pay more at the gas pump. We absolutely support sending aid to Ukraine. In fact, we want to see more. We want to see the administration do more, do more, help, help, help.

    Do you want American troops to go to Ukraine? Absolutely not.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the other hand, right?

  • Amy Walter:

    Are you worried about a nuclear conflict with Russia? Absolutely.

    And so this sort of give-and-take is incredibly frustrating for so many people to watch. And you can understand too how, even when you're the president of the United States, you see this. It comes out.

    But, as Tam pointed out, there are consequences to this. And this is a president who ran on a message that said words matter. It's very important as we go back onto the world stage that we do not just flippantly either send out tweets or say things off the cuff.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On those themes of words mattering and conflicted American voters potentially, I want to talk about messages we have got from both parties in the last week.

    President Biden put out his budget. We know it's a symbolic document, by and large.

    But, Tamara, what did you make of who that budget is for? Who is President Biden trying to win over in this important election year?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    Budgets are vision documents, a vision that will not become reality, but it is important for the president to be able to say what he stands for, and budgets can often serve as sort of a guidepost for the party, for what they stand for in this election year.

    And so the president included in his budget a significant amount of funding to put more police on the beat. That is something he says he wants. It's something he's been talking about for a while. It is also a direct answer to the Democrats are soft on crime, Democrats want to defund the police. This is the president saying: I know that was a conversation in the last election. I would like the conversation in this election to be something different.

    Also, a billionaire's tax, which is a populist thing that progressives can get behind.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And it's such a contrast to where we were in 2021, right, when the president releases a budget that was $6 trillion, right? It was this vision of a robust government that was going to…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Large, do things.

  • Amy Walter:

    Large, like, bigger than we have seen since the end of World War II, is going to do big things. Some of those things, like infrastructure, came true.

    But on so many of those other things, like the Build Back Better plan, which included many of these priorities, child care, et cetera, that didn't happen. They also did not expect inflation to be where it is. And that is the bigger challenge right now, of course.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In just under a minute that we have got left, we also saw Republicans getting some headlines last week in the Judge Jackson hearings I was at. Those were some tough hearings.

    Amy, who was that for? Who were — Senators Hawley and Cruz especially, who were — whose attention were they trying to get?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, they're thinking ahead, not just to the 2022 midterms, but to 2024.

    The issues that they were talking about, whether it's on Critical Race Theory, or some of the issues on gender specifically, that is something that we're hearing from Republican candidates as they're talking to base voters, so trying to get out in front right now on those issues while you have a platform.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Does that work with the — are we seeing the base respond still to those issues?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, they wouldn't be talking about it if they weren't responding.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Tamara Keith:

    And they also tried to paint her as soft on crime to more broadly paint Democrats a soft on crime, which takes us back to the president's budget and the president trying to say, no, no, no, we're really serious about crime.

    I think that is a theme that we will see in 2022.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We magically have an extra 30 seconds, as it turns out.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, question, most overlooked issue right now, do you think, for the American public? Just one word or two from each of you.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I don't know that it's overlooked, but I do think that this idea about the role that inflation is playing really has to be driven home every single moment we talk about politics.

    Even in this most recent polling from NBC, what they found in asking that issue about the war in Russia, people are paying a whole lot of attention, but they're much more concerned about what's happening at home with their own budgets.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Couple words.

  • Tamara Keith:

    COVID.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I know that it's over, but it's not over.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Tamara Keith:

    And it still is an issue. And I think it's going to have ripples in our politics this year and beyond.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What a great conversation.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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