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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on bipartisanship under President Biden

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the challenges of bipartisanship under President Biden, Biden's economic relief package, and cooperation in the Democratic Party.:

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This afternoon's meeting with Republicans is the first test of President Biden's promise to bring down the temperature and work with both parties.

    Watching it all is our Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you, first Monday in February. Good to see you.

    So, let's talk about this meeting.

    Amy, how significant that the president is having his first in-person meeting not with Democrats, but with Republicans? What does that say?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it says that President Biden is serious about the promises he made on the campaign trail, as you pointed out, Judy, to not just lower the tonight, but actually to try to work across the aisle.

    And thus far — I mean, we're only two weeks into this administration, but there was a recent poll out. Actually, it was out today, the Marist College poll, that showed that 55 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden is doing just that, is focused more on unifying the country than being divisive. So, he is already getting some plaudits for that.

    The challenge right now, of course, is, he is a candidate — as a candidate, he also made promises on a number of progressive policies. Those are not policies that Republicans are going to support. So, balancing those two things is always going to be a challenge. And it looks like right now the question is, is there a middle ground between the $1.9 trillion that the Biden administration put forward, and the much smaller 680-something-billion-dollar Republican package?

    That seems very difficult to find a place in the middle. And all the language coming from those around the president, whether it is his National Economic Council head or his press secretary, all seem to suggest that he is looking for a big, bold plan that is going to be comprehensive, in other words, a bigger package than this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, political risk. At this point, we know the meeting has gone on for over an hour-and-a-half at least.

    Political risks and benefits for the president?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly.

    And these Republican senators are smart. House Democrats and Senate Democrats have just today begun the process of potentially going it alone through this procedure called budget reconciliation. And these Republicans, numbering 10, which is a magic number that, combined with Democrats, would be able to overcome a filibuster, are trying to make it harder for President Biden to just do it the other way, to go with Democrats alone.

    They're trying to extract something by making an offer, by opening the door to a conversation and to negotiations. And they know that President Biden is someone who wants to sit down and talk, which, obviously, they are sitting down and talking for a long time right now.

    You know, there are risks. Democrats are still scarred by the 2009 experience, where President Obama came in. They were in the middle of a financial crisis. Jobs were hemorrhaging. And he tried to get a bipartisan rescue package for the economy. Ultimately, it wasn't bipartisan. It was smaller than Democrats thought they should have done.

    It was smaller than economists in the Obama administration wanted to do. And it was all in this effort to get a bipartisan deal that ultimately didn't end up being bipartisan. And so there is a lot of concern among Democrats that they could be headed that direction again with this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, thinking about what the strategy is on the part of the Republicans, here they come with a proposal that is, what, less than a third of what the president in his — out of the box is saying that he wants.

    Is this — I mean, are Democrats to take this seriously? Or is it a Lucy and the football kind of thing?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Look, there are a lot of Democrats who believe that to be the case, that their worry is that, as Tam pointed out, this will be another 2009, where Democrats spend so much time or the White House spends so much time trying to pull in Republicans, that they waste the opportunity and get too small of a package.

    The other risk, I think, if you're Democrats, or if you're the Biden White House, in doing a bipartisan bill, is that voters don't really focus on process and procedure. We love it, because it's what we do, but I don't know that voters are paying as much attention.

    What they are going to pay attention to, Judy, is, especially at the end of the year, did it work? Is the economy back on track? Is unemployment down? Has the vaccine distribution process actually gone much more smoothly? Are schools reopened?

    If those things aren't happening at the end of the year, it is not going to matter that it was a bipartisan bill. Guess who is going to get the blame for things not going well? President Biden and Democrats.

    And so, if your worry, as Democrats, is, we got to make sure we're going into 2022 with a hot economy, with things back on track, that is — that's your risk in saying — maybe pulling back just to get Republicans on board. But you will get all the blame or all the credit, no matter what happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, Tam, does the president need to worry about progressives in his party, who really believe that more money needs to be spent, and are looking at him and saying, wait a minute, what's going on here, if he were to bend in the direction of Republicans?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There is certainly a challenge.

    I mean, we spend a lot of our time talking about divisions in the Republican Party, which are not really policy divisions. But in the Democratic Party, there are also challenges too.

    I mean, you essentially have to find something that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who's chairman of the Budget Committee, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia can agree on. And that's not always easy.

    And, certainly, this is going to be a very real test of that, especially if Democrats end up deciding to go the route of reconciliation. They don't have any wiggle room. They have to keep Joe Manchin on board, which is perhaps why the White House says that they have been talking to him regularly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, which — Amy, Tam — Amy, just a quick postscript, the governor of West Virginia, Republican, saying today, Governor Justice, saying good to go big, which is interesting, and where he…

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, perhaps giving Manchin a little more incentive, knowing that it's coming from a Republican.

    But on the other point, as Tam notes, it's a very small margin on both sides. But, usually, by this point, what unites the opposing party is the fact that they're in the minority, and they're unified against the party in power.

    What's unique about this moment in time is that it's the party out of power that is battling over who it wants to be, in large part because Trump won't exit.

    But going forward, it's Democrats, we're going to probably be spending a lot more time looking at, the point that Tam made about, trying to keep both the left part of the party and the moderates on the same squad.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not even two weeks in, and it's already exciting.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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