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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s relief package and the deepening GOP war over Trump

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Yamiche Alcindor to discuss the latest political news, including President Biden's COVID-relief package, his handling of the pandemic since taking office and former President Trump's continued impact on the Republican Party.

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  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Here now to analyze another week in politics, as we mark 500,000 Americans dead from COVID, are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Thanks so much for being here, ladies.

    Amy, I want to start with you.

    As the report laid out, the GOP war continues to deepen. This weekend, former President Trump is going to be delivering his first speech since leaving the White House.

    What do you think the decision — how do you think the decisions that he makes going forward and this speech are going to impact the GOP, both on a national and on a local level?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, that's a really good question.

    And I think none of us are will know the impact that Donald Trump is going to continue to have. It's only been a month that Joe Biden has been president. And, obviously, so much of the focus of the first month of the Biden administration was on something that was very personal, which, of course, was impeachment, very personal to Donald Trump and very personal to those who support him.

    What does he do in the weeks and months leading up to the midterm elections? He's got a lot of money in the bank. But, as a candidate, he didn't tend to spend much of that money on anybody other than his own candidacy. He is not particularly interested in building the party.

    He is much more interested when it is his name on top of the ballot. And we also really don't know what happens when Donald Trump's name isn't on the ballot. We have seen — we saw in 2018, when he wasn't, Republicans really struggled. They obviously lost control of the House that year. When he was on the ballot, they did a whole lot better.

    The other thing I just want to note, I don't know that the party itself is divided. I think it's pretty clear that Donald Trump controls the party. And I think that it's really a fissure, as Perry pointed out, within Washington. It is really not a divide among voters, at least Republican voters, right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, Amy, you are saying that President Trump really remain remains in control.

    Tam, I want to come to you.

    What do we expect to hear from the president this weekend, especially as we think of the fact that the president has hinted that he wants to continue to remain in control? And sources close to the president have told me he wants to be a key player in this GOP.

    What do you think he's going to say, and what does that mean for the future of this country?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, CPAC is this conference for Republican die-hards and has become a very Trumpy place, a very Trumpy vehicle, ever since he gave a speech there as he was running for president. And so, in a way, he is returning back to his home turf. He is returning back.

    And his message, I fully expect to be: Don't count me out.

    You know, he had been really silent all through impeachment and all past impeachment, until Rush Limbaugh passed away. And then he did some interviews, but it really didn't generate a lot of heat or noise.

    And the reality is that he is accustomed to being the loudest one in the room. He's accustomed to dominating all attention. And he's not the president anymore. People don't automatically have to put him on TV.

    And so he is getting his grounding. And, certainly, CPAC is a chance for him to say: I'm here. I'm not going away. And anyone who voted against me or spoke out against me is not a real Republican.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Amy, meanwhile, in the House, it's — the lawmakers are preparing to vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, but there isn't any sense or any indication that Republicans on the Hill will vote for it, even one Republican.

    But the bill does sound to be and seem to be very popular among Americans.

    I want to read to you. The New York Times/SurveyMonkey poll shows that 72 percent of Americans approve of the plan.

    What kind of pressure does that put on Republicans in D.C., and what does that mean for the White House?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, the interesting thing about the poll right now — and we know about polls in general — is that things are really popular until they're not.

    And what we have seen, at least in most recent history of when one party pushed a piece of legislation with party-line votes only — so, in the Donald Trump era, it was tax cuts. Those were never popular. I think it's maybe got something like 30 percent approval, mostly Republicans who liked it. Everybody else felt either lukewarm or negative about it. And it never got any more popular even after it passed.

    And then there was health care in the Obama era, which Obama came in with a really deep well of good will on the issue. But by the time we got to the end of the summer of 2009 — remember, that was the summer of the Tea Party protests and death panels and those really contentious town hall meetings — the president, President Obama's approval rating on health care dropped 30 points.

    And, suddenly, the issue of health care reform was no longer as popular as it was in the beginning. So, to me, if I'm Democrats right now, yes, you can count on, at least for now, this is really popular, but it means you need to be able to deliver on the things that they say that this bill is going to be able to do.

    Are you going to get vaccines out in time? Are we going to see better production and distribution? Are schools going to be open, with all of the money now going into those institutions? What about state and local ability to get these tests out to people who need them?

    And there's also the question too of what happens if there is some mismanagement of money by some of the folks who end up getting it? That could make what is right now very popular not quite as popular in the coming months.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, Tam, some of the thing that Amy just laid out, to get them done, President Biden is saying he needs a Cabinet. We are seeing nominees get hearings and some of them get confirmed in the Senate.

    But the Biden administration is running into problems, especially when it comes to Neera Tanden. That's their pick for the — to run the Office of Management and Budget.

    Tell me a bit about what the political implications here are for President Biden and these nominees, especially when you look at Neera Tanden.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, with Tanden, they made a calculation. They knew that she was a controversial figure. They knew that she had a trove of mean streaks directed to everyone from Bernie Sanders to Republicans in the Senate who would be voting on her nomination.

    But they made the calculation that they thought that she would be a good director of the Office of Management and Budget and that they only needed 51 votes, or 50, plus — you know, essentially, that they could do it with Democrats alone.

    Well, they have lost Joe Manchin, and they are losing an increasing number of moderate Republicans, who say they are just not willing to do it. And the White House is standing by her. They all along said she wasn't a sacrificial lamb.

    But here's the thing with nominations and confirmations. They are — the White House is always standing behind you, until they're not. And we don't know where this is going and how much political good will they want to expend on this one nomination. And they have a lot more that they need to get through.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, Amy, I want to come to you.

    President Biden just marked 500,000 Americans dead from COVID-19. What do you make of his style and approach, given his predecessor?

  • Amy Walter:


    And I think this — given where we have come in this year, the tragedy is kind of unspeakable. And I do think that what Americans are seeing right now, while we may be divided on so many things, this is one area in which I think people can finally unite around this, and that is uniting in support, uniting in comfort, and uniting in grief.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Ten seconds, Tam, but I want to also let you get in here on this COVID pandemic and this — and then the 500 Americans dead.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, President Biden said on the eve of his inauguration, and repeated it today, to heal, you need to remember.

    That is a very different approach than his predecessor took to all of these lives lost, but it's also an indication that President Biden knows that he owns this. And he wants to own this, and he wants to share that mourning with America.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you so much, ladies, Amy Walter and Tamara Keith.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, all three.

    And those pictures from the White House, remembering 500,000 we have lost, just moments ago.

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