Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Bob Dole, Georgia Gov. race, rising COVID cases

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including the passing of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the gubernatorial race in Georgia, and the current state of the pandemic in the U.S.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the country looks back on the legacy of Bob Dole, many politicians are also looking ahead to next year's elections, including an especially contentious race in Georgia that's already heating up.

    Our Politics Monday team is here with me to analyze it all.

    That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And welcome to you both. Always good to see you.

    I want to take a minute and just talk a little bit more about Bob Dole, decades of public service, right, a lifetime of service there.

    It's worth noting the party changed a lot over his lifetime. And we actually found a clip back from 2016, when he was the only former Republican presidential nominee to endorse then-candidate Donald Trump.

    And Lisa Desjardins, she spoke to him on the convention floor. Here is what he had to say about that.

  • Fmr. Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS):

    I like Donald Trump because he's a strong leader, and he is someone who can work with Congress. If you can't work with Congress, you can't get anything done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, Dole stood apart from other Republican leadership in making that statement. What do we know about why?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    He was a partisan political figure.

    He, as Senate majority leader and minority leader, was very much a Republican fighter. But, at the same time, he also had significant bipartisan accomplishments, including getting the Americans With Disabilities Act through.

    And he had friendships with none other than people like Joe Biden, who visited him at home after he got his lung cancer diagnosis this year, which points to a different era of politics, when people could both do battle and be friends, and when doing things on a bipartisan basis wasn't necessarily seen as a betrayal of the party.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Yes, that's right.

    Also important to note that he most recently had said: "I also supported Donald Trump in 2020. But he lost. It's over. There was no voter fraud," right, so making the claim that, look, this idea that Donald Trump lost the election because it was stolen, not true.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There is — it was a different era of politics.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was a different Republican Party.

    You look at that party today, we often end up reporting on stories that this is a party where members of Congress have openly used bigotry against other members of Congress, one, so Lauren Boebert from Colorado, saying Islamophobic things about Ilhan Omar. We saw Paul Gosar sharing a violent video.

    Is all of this also kind of part of the political legacy here of Bob Dole?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, what's interesting about the era that Bob Dole was in Congress, there were also most members who had served in the military; 75 percent of the members of Congress in the early 70s had some level of military service.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Wow.

  • Amy Walter:

    And I think there was something really important about that era, because they could, as Tam said, fight on the floor, fight over issues, even get into pretty acerbic back-and-forth with one another, but they fundamentally understood they were on the same team. I might have a blue jersey. You may have a red jersey.

    And probably one of the most powerful moments I remember of Bob Dole's life, especially his later life, was when Dan Inouye, senator from Hawaii, very liberal Democrat from Hawaii, also served in World War II, also was grievously injured — they shared a really special bond.

    And Bob Dole was in his wheelchair. It was hard for him to get to the service in the Rotunda where Dan Inouye was lying in repose, and he did everything he could to stand up in salute him.

    That could change if, right, we get back to this idea that we're all serving together as Americans, not one party or the other.

    One interesting statistic, even though the number of veterans in Congress has dropped a lot — it's now only 17 percent — the number of people under 45 who have served in the military who served in Congress is about a third.

    So, if, theoretically, we can get those folks, those younger folks who've served in the military to get into leadership positions, that may be one way to sort of break some of the dysfunction in Congress.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's look ahead, not that far ahead, actually, but to the 2022 elections.

    All eyes were already on the Georgia governor race, right? Stacey Abrams announced she will run again. More interesting today — the race became more interesting, rather, because former Republican Senator David Perdue announced he is now jumping. He's going to be primarily the current Republican governor, Brian Kemp.

    I just want to play a quick clip from both of their announcements opportunity.

    Stacey Abrams (D), Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate: Opportunity and success in Georgia shouldn't be determined by your zip code, background or access to power.

    If our Georgia is going to move to its next and greatest chapter, we're going to need leadership.

    David Perdue, (R), Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate: I'm running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia.

    Make no mistake. Abrams will smile, lie and cheat to transform Georgia into her radical vision of a state that would look more like California or New York.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, those battle lines are very clearly drawn already.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What are you watching in that race?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, first, there's going to be a primary. And that primary is going to be messy. I don't see a way that this Republican primary doesn't get very ugly very fast, because current Governor Brian Kemp is persona non grata to former President Donald Trump because he refused to do what Donald Trump wanted him to do to overturn the results of the election.

    And because he wouldn't get involved, he wouldn't call a special session of the legislature, Donald Trump has been actively bashing him and, at the same time, raising concerns, like, oh, no, Stacey Abrams could win.

    Well, now there is a Trump ally who, as part of his video, in addition to these things he said about Abrams, he said a lot of things that weren't necessarily true, blaming Kemp for his loss in that Senate race. A lot of Republicans in Georgia actually think that the former president and his unwillingness to accept the election results, saying everything was rigged, made people not really that excited about voting again in January in that special election — or the…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    In January.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, and Stacey Abrams only lost by, what, 50,000 votes in 2018. Does she have a better chance now?

  • Amy Walter:

    She is in a political environment that's much tougher. So the headwinds are much stronger now than they were back in 2018, when she had much more of a tailwind.

    But the thing helping her is this, a big fight on the Republican side. They're going to spend a lot of money. They're going to — as Tam pointed out, it could be very bruising, that certainly is very helpful to — very helpful to her.

    And let's remember this is not the first race where Donald Trump has waded in against a sitting incumbent governor, which you usually don't see former presidents doing or sitting presidents do. In Massachusetts, his decision to endorse a challenger to very popular Republican Governor Charlie Baker in Massachusetts is essentially what got him out of running for reelection.

    And that's an opportunity, a missed opportunity for Republicans as well, because Democrats now favored to win that governorship.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is going to be one to watch.

    Before we go to, Tam, I have to ask you about a new analysis from your colleagues at NPR, looks at COVID deaths, takes a deep dive into county debts. Found people in pro-Trump county, those who went heavily for President Trump in 2020, nearly three times as likely to die from COVID.

    We kind of had a sense of this, but these numbers are really alarming.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, there's a very strong correlation there. It also correlates to the share of people who believe disinformation about the COVID vaccines.

    It also correlates to less fear about COVID. So, you combine less fear of COVID, with believing all kinds of wild, untrue things, fewer people getting vaccinated, lower vaccination rates in these counties, lower vaccination is directly connected to more people dying, because the vaccines save lives. They prevent disease from being as severe and prevent people from hospitalization and death. And they protect people.

    And people — Republicans in these pro-Trump counties are less likely to be vaccinated. It is stunning. It is depressing. I asked the White House about it today. And what they said is, they have tried a lot of things. They have tried a lot of persuasion, but one of the reasons that they have now pushed forward with these controversial vaccine mandates is because the only way to get some people to get vaccinated will be to require it, as unpopular as it is with the very same population that we're talking about.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we see the Biden White House very much still working to try to get those unvaccinated people their shots.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter.

    That's Politics Monday.

    Always good to see you both. Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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