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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden’s upcoming joint address to Congress, GOP response

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Joe Biden’s approval rating, his upcoming joint address to Congress, and the expected Republican response.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, stay with us.

    We are now going to bring in someone you know very well, NPR's Tamara Keith joining the conversation for Politics Monday.

    Hello, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's pivot, Tam, from talking about what is coming down the line to what is going on right now.

    And that is, two nights from now, Wednesday night, President Biden making his joint address to Congress as he approaches 100 days in office. I know you have been talking to a lot of people.

    What are you hearing that people expect him to say Wednesday?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and this one is coming a little bit later than these joint addresses traditionally are, which means that President Biden has more accomplishments to talk about.

    And, really, his administration held off on scheduling these until they were able to pitch the next thing. So, this address is certainly going to talk about what has happened, 200 million COVID vaccine shots in arms by a hundred days. President Biden will inevitably say that people didn't think it was possible.

    And, you know, there is still the argument that there was a bit of underpromising and overdelivering. But then they are using this speech and the very big audience that traditionally comes with a joint address to push for the next phase of the infrastructure plan, which isn't really about infrastructure.

    It's about childcare and families. They're calling it the American Families Plan. So, he is going to take advantage of this very big audience to talk about the thing that he and his administration will probably be talking about for the rest of the summer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Amy, the speech comes as we're seeing some new polls about how the president is being seen by the American people.

    The consensus seams to be a little more than half approve of the job he's doing. Tell us more about what you see in those numbers.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, so, you know, President Biden coming into this address with pretty decent approval rating numbers, averaging right now about 54 percent approval rating.

    That is a big improvement from, say, where President Trump was at this stage in his presidency. In fact, during the entirety of President Trump's presidency, he never once hit a 50 percent job approval rating.

    But it's much lower than previous presidents had seen in the so-called honeymoon phase of the presidency, where you saw folks like George W. Bush, after a very contentious 2000 election, was looking at approval ratings in the '60s, as was President Obama at this point.

    And so I think what this tells us is that this is — President Biden won the election with 51, a little over 51 percent of the vote, his approval rating, somewhere around 54 percent. So, basically, he is holding on to everybody that he won in the election and bringing some new folks over. Probably, those are not Republicans. Republicans are pretty united in their dislike of the president.

    But getting independents over to your side, again, in these races that are going to be so critical, 2022, 2024, winning over independents is what brings you from — into the W column.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, were you telling us this is a reminder of how we really are in a different political environment right now.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, absolutely.

    As Amy eluded to, President — former President Trump stayed in a fairly narrowed band. He maintained the support of his base. Well, President Biden is — we don't have a lot of data to go for. We are only 100 days in. But he is in a fairly narrow band too so far.

    He is very near where he was when he won. And it may really truly just be a function of how polarized our politics are now that, even though there is pretty good approval for President Biden's handling of the pandemic, overall, how do you feel about the president, it's pretty locked in.

    And it's unclear what could change that, because people have really just gone into their corners.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, given that, Amy, what is the space for Republicans to make their case?

    We know Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is going to be giving the Republican — official Republican response on Wednesday night. What kind of things can they talk about, can they say to make their case?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think what you are going to hear a lot about from Republicans — we will see if Senator Scott make this case as well — is on the issue of immigration.

    It is the one place, when you look at the polling, where President Biden is deeply underwater. As Tam said, he's getting really high marks for his handling of the coronavirus, in the 60s. That is not translating to his overall support, support on the issue of immigration really low.

    That hasn't dragged his numbers down either. But it's clearly a place of weakness for this administration. And I expect to see Republicans talk about that.

    And then the price tag for all of the spending. I think we are going to hear a lot more about budget deficits. We're going to hear a lot more about sort of reining in federal spending, at a time when Democrats believe that the public is hungry for more investment.

    And so what Republicans do need to do to make their case for less funding is to suggest that spending more is both going to raise the deficit and it also could come at a cost to individuals. The president says no one who is making over $400,000 is going to get taxed, this is all going to come from corporations.

    I think what you are going to hear from Republicans is saying, yes, but, at some point, that is going to come down to you, tax cuts — or tax increases to businesses end up being increases at whatever you are buying from that place eventually. It goes to the consumer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, just quickly, this is something the White House is prepared for, bracing themselves for?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, if you watched the White House press briefing, they brought in Brian Deese, the top economic adviser, to explain why this really isn't a tax increase on regular people or small businesses, that this is really just targeted at even less than the top 1 percent.

    So they are aware that this is coming. The other argument that they are prepared for is the argument that, hey, you guys are talking about a lot of things that aren't really infrastructure, which is why this White House has been trying to sort of push the idea that this isn't about infrastructure, but is more about the undergirding of the U.S. economy and things that are needed to create jobs or more fairness.

    And a lot of these policies are fairly popular in the abstract. And Democrats and the White House are going to have to work to keep them popular, while Republicans work to make them less popular or to make people care more about immigration than some of these other things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when is infrastructure really infrastructure, and when is it really something else?

    All right, Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, so great to have both of you tonight. Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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