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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s outlook, House Democratic divisions

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s apology for his controversial segregationist comments, how 2020 Democrats are emphasizing opportunity for black voters and a possible generational shift between the party’s moderates and progressives.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's time for Politics Monday.

    I'm back with our regular team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio. And Tamara Keith of NPR, she also co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Hello to both of you, Politics Monday.

    So let's talk about Joe Biden first of all, Tam. And that is his apology, as we reported, some days after he made the reference. And then, in the debate, he was confronted by Kamala Harris.

    Is it working, is it going to work for him at this stage to say, I made a mistake?

  • Tamara Keith:

    He has dominated the news cycle of the Democratic primary for three weeks, and not necessarily in the way you want to dominate the news cycle, because, as you say, first, it was his comments about the segregationists.

    Now, he said that he found them despicable, but that he could work with them. But then the debate and then the aftermath of the debate. So with this speech, he wasn't just apologizing. He was also trying to get out ahead of something where he has been behind for weeks.

    And he was trying to paint a broader picture about his record related to criminal justice and other issues of race, trying to get ahead of it. It is not clear yet whether it will work. Clearly, his opponents in the Democratic race see an opportunity. And they are taking it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does it look like a successful strategy to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I agree with Tam that when — the classic line in politics is, when you are explaining, you are losing, right?

    And so he spent a lot of time explaining. And that has really been the question about Joe Biden from the very beginning, which is, how much explaining for his 40-year record is he going to have to do during this campaign? Can he make one sort of blanket statement and move on?

    And he tried to do a little bit in that South Carolina speech, which is to say, look, when I came to the Senate, I was 29 years old. A lot has changed in this country over those last many years. A lot has changed within the Democratic Party. I have changed too.

    He said, I have witnessed incredible change. And I have changed also. I have grown, and that is a good thing.

    But the challenge wasn't so much his voting record. It was how he characterized working with segregationists. And, also, his theory of the case in this race is — is difficult, right? What he's counting on is that there is a bigger constituency in the Democratic Party for somebody who's willing to work across the aisle, for someone who's willing to be a compromiser, for somebody who's willing to sort of stick within the system, rather than trying to blow up the system.

    And African-American voters are a key, key element to his success. It's why he's the front-runner right now. But we're starting to see that vote splinter away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what I want to ask you all about, because, as we just showed, and as we just heard in Yamiche's report, Tam, you had a parade of a number of candidates talking about home — homeownership, talking about ways to redress economic disparity in the African-American community.

    Is that the way they win over voters, by talking about these substantive issues?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's certainly one way.

    But the other thing that African-American voters and all voters in the Democratic primary continue to be looking for is, who's the one who can win? Who's the one who can beat President Trump?

    And that has been such a critical part of Joe Biden's case, where, even in the debate, he was the — all of the candidates were asked, what's the first thing you will do as president? And he says, beat Donald Trump.

    And so part of what has happened with this three weeks is that the idea of Biden as the most electable candidate is starting to erode. And if you go back to 2008, Hillary Clinton had the African-American vote, until she didn't, until it became clear to those voters that Barack Obama, now President Obama, former President Obama, could be the one who could go all the way.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And I agree with that. And I also think the challenge right now if you're Joe Biden, in terms of holding onto those voters, policy becomes important. And I think — I remember right after a conference that was held for African-American women, talking to people who hosted that conference, folks who were in the audience that said, part of the reason that Elizabeth Warren did so well with this audience is because she was so well-versed on the policy and the issues.

    But, yes, beating Donald Trump number one, but also being in touch with and seeming well-prepared for questions about the lives and the concerns of a very, very important constituency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which — and Elizabeth Warren was, as we see, going into a lot of detail on these things this weekend.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other thing that's going on among Democrats — or you should say between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Tam, is — I don't know what you call it.

    It's not a feud, but it is certainly, shall we say, an expression of different views on what the Democratic Party stands for. And you have the — Nancy Pelosi gave an interview to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times in which, among other things, she was somewhat dismissive of the younger and more progressive liberal members of her caucus.

    Is this a split that we should take seriously? Is it just a momentary disagreement, blip? How should we see this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there is an expression about herding cats. And Democrats are often like herding cats. They have a lot of different views.

    And Nancy Pelosi, as the speaker, has had this role where she has tried to herd the cats. And one of the challenges here is that Pelosi is thinking about the entire Democratic Caucus, conference in the House. She's thinking about all those people who were just elected in 2018 in districts that were held by Republicans before.

    And then the more progressive Democrats who are frustrated with this, they were elected in really safe Democratic seats. They have different — they have different equities. They have different things that they're worried about.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, the majorities are built on moderates and swing seats, and Republicans lost control last year by losing those swing districts. Democrats lost control in 2010 by losing those swing districts.

    It's also the reality now that we, as we're watching American voters become more partisan and more polarized, it's happening in Congress, too. There used to be a time when, for both parties, there would be folks within their party that represented districts that were very different from the majority of people in that conference.

    But they all found a way to get along. And they were even willing to work with the other party to pass legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We remember that.

  • Amy Walter:

    I am old enough to even remember those days.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And I remember that.

  • Amy Walter:

    But that doesn't happen anymore.

    And so the challenge, I think, that Pelosi and Biden — they're both in this category of, the system can only work if we compromise, the system can only work if we stay closer to the middle. That does — that sounds really out of touch to a generation that grew up seeing only division.

    And if you grew up only watching President Obama, who said, I can do this, I can heal the wounds, I can bring the country together, bring the fever down, well, that didn't work very well. And it's certainly not working for Donald Trump either.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's the generation that says, we have got the energy, and we have got the firepower, and we're the ones who are going to turn people out to vote.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. That's right. That's right, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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