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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s DNC, Trump vs. USPS

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, President Trump’s counter-programming during a big week for former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s efforts to undermine the U.S. Postal Service and how Congress might intervene in response.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With just a few hours until the convention begins, our Politics Monday duo is here now to analyze the political expectations and pressures on Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

    Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," she's here with me in the studio at a safe social distance. And Tamara Keith of NPR joins us from home. She's also co-host of the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    So, Tamara, because you're at home, we're going to start with you.

    (LAUGHTER)

    We just heard from Senator Coons, but, in general, what do the Democrats need to do this week to help Joe Biden?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, they — he's the challenger. Joe Biden is the challenger.

    And so the case that the Democrats need to make is that four more years of President Trump is not something that people want to live through.

    And that's certainly, you know, an underlying theme of tonight. In addition to the unity message, they're also going to have people there, first responders and front-line medical workers who have been dealing firsthand with the pandemic.

    They're going to have a family member of someone who died from coronavirus. So, the message is going to be both about Joe Biden, but also about President Trump's leadership. And that's fairly solid ground for Democrats to stand on, looking at the polls and the way the public has perceived President Trump's handling of the pandemic and the economic fallout from that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, how tall a task — and, by the way, it's good to see you in person.

  • Amy Walter:

    I know. It's very good to see you in person.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After all these months.

    How tall a task is this for them?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it's funny.

    Tam used the word challenger, that Joe Biden is a challenger, but, in may ways, it feels like he's the incumbent. It's very rare that a challenger goes into a convention with as big of a lead as Joe Biden has now over an incumbent president.

    In fact, CNN looked all the way back to the '40s, and there's no precedent for this, of a challenger coming into their own convention with the kind of lead that Joe Biden has. So, he has less of a concern about getting a bounce, right? Most challengers want a bounce, a polling bounce out of the convention.

    He doesn't need to worry about a bounce. He needs to worry about keeping the lead that he already has, not losing that lead.

    But he does need to really fill out the picture of Joe Biden. It's what you addressed with Senator Coons. Now, he's — Joe Biden's been on the scene for almost 50 years. He's been vice president for eight years, but really telling the story of who he is and then, most important, what he wants to do next. What would it look like to have a Biden candidacy?

    That is the part that's still not really filled in yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we're going to begin to see that tonight.

    And, meantime, Tam, it's what we talked about a minute ago with Yamiche. And that is, President Trump is not going to be quietly in the living room at the White House. He's going to be hitting the trail this week making news.

    How unusual is this for the opposition party to do this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, President Trump has had three rallies today, hangar rallies at airports in the Upper Midwest, in Wisconsin, where he's making the sort of pointed statement about how he's there in person with people not wearing masks relatively close together. Where's Joe Biden? Why couldn't he come to the state?

    It is pretty much unheard of for a president to do this level of counterprogramming. He's going to have at least six rallies/events over the course of this week.

    I checked in with Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, who is on this show regularly, and he said that, no, this is not normal. My memory is not failing me. This would be yet another norm that is busted by President Trump.

    Another thing, at his rally in Wisconsin today, he announced that he is, for sure, giving his acceptance speech from the White House next Thursday. A Republican official told me that they have put in a permit to get fireworks set off over the Washington Monument after the president's speech.

    So, the president is really going all in on, you know, even though it is going to be kind of virtual, trying to make it as not virtual as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, given the fact that this is so unusual, so unprecedented, how likely is it to be successful?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, we don't — we can't really read in the future, but what do we think?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, so, what is the measure of success, Judy, right?

    If the measure of success is, is, Joe Biden going to get a boost out of it in the polls, that's hard to believe, given that he's eight or nine points ahead.

    Is it that he's shored up his weaknesses? And I think one of those is the sense of who he is and what his presidency would look like if he were elected.

    And, also, the one place where the president still has an advantage is on the issue of, who would do better on the economy? And so Joe Biden does have to sort of let voters know what he is going to do to bring the economy back, make people feel comfortable with that, to break away from the president on that issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. And that's something we're going to certainly be looking at every night this week.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I quickly want to return with both of you now, Tam, to the story that we have been reporting on for the last — really since the top of the "NewsHour."

    And that is efforts to undermine the Postal Service. What do we see as really going on here?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, if you ask the president, what is really going on here seems to change every time he talks about it.

    As we have documented, he said that he didn't want more money to go to the Postal Service because then you couldn't have universal vote-by-mail.

    But the other thing to point out here that is politically important is that the Postal Service is absolutely critical in rural states. There are a lot of veterans who get their medicines through the mail, a lot of people who get their medicines through the mail.

    And so it's not clear how long slowing down mail delivery can be a political winner.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. And you're taking on the most beloved institution. There is no other government institution that is as well-liked as the Postal Service.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, especially right now, in a pandemic.

  • Amy Walter:

    And especially right now, in a pandemic, when people are desperate to have any connection at all on — as Tam pointed out, especially with medicine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    So, again, the president is almost like the challenger right now.

    This is why he's going out on the hustings, doing these rallies. He needs to show that he has — he's going to take the fight to Joe Biden. But picking a fight with Joe Biden, that's — that makes a lot of sense. Picking a fight with the Postal Service really makes no sense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How — and so I'm curious to know, Tam, how do we — as we look at this, and we're hearing both sides, we're hearing arguments on both sides, is this the kind of thing that could literally take thunder away from the Democratic Convention this week?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I think that the congressional hearings will be next week during the Republican Convention.

    Certainly, this is a topic that's going to be discussed. But I think that this could be a bigger story next week. It could be the daytime programming to the nighttime convention.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, unusual again.

  • Amy Walter:

    Again, of course.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to leave it there. It's so good to have you, Tam, with us, joining us tonight.

    And, Amy, you are going to be here with us all week. Thank you very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

    Politics Monday.

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