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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Buttigieg’s values, Trump’s immigration strategy

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Pete Buttigieg’s headline-making remarks on his religion and homosexuality, "revolution" vs. "restoration" within the 2020 field, the ouster of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen and how President Trump’s desire to get even tougher on immigration might play with voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday.

    I'm back with our regular duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio, and Tamara Keith of NPR, and co-host of "NPR Politics."

    Hello, duo.

  • Amy Walter:

    Hi.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you like that?

  • Amy Walter:

    I like it a lot.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's talk about — interesting what we heard, Tam, from Pete Buttigieg, talking openly for the first time that we have seen in this season about his decision to come out as gay, what a struggle it was when he was a young person, and making the religious connection.

    What do we make of that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    He, as a candidate, has found to a way to present himself in a way that is very nonthreatening, to present his religion in a way that is — that comes off as nonthreatening, and to couch his gay marriage with his husband in religious terms, to say that it brought him closer to God.

    It is — through — he's not a very well-known guy. He is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and he has gotten a lot of attention, though. As I have been traveling around the country, the candidate that people ask me about the most is Pete Buttigieg. "What do you think of this Mayor Pete guy?" Again and again and again, I keep hearing it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What did you make of this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think Democrats do.

    They want to fall in love with someone. They want to be inspired by somebody. And they don't quite know yet who to fall in love with, but Pete Buttigieg definitely is someone who's capturing their attention, in part because of — like that speech, the authenticity is just palpable.

    Here he is. It's not just discussing coming out, running as an openly gay candidate. It was — in the speech, he talks about, being a young person and saying, if I could have taken a pill to get rid of whatever gay was in there, I would have done it. That's how sort of ashamed I was of who I am.

    And so there's this realness here that you don't hear from candidates. It also speaks, though, to where we are at this point in politics and what certain voters are looking for on the Democratic side, somebody who's willing, not to say, I'm a demigod, I'm so impressive, that's why you should elect me president, I'm so much better than everybody else. It's, I'm so much like you.

    The final thing about the values argument, Judy, is that this is the other piece of the argument he makes, not just in this speech, but in every other, which is, Republicans have been on the offense on values, Democrats have been on the defense. We need to take this issue back. We have been playing on Trump and Republicans' ground for too long. We need to be the party of values.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're right. It's a theme that he has been bringing up.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, you were with a group of voters in Iowa talking to them about some of these 2020 Democrats. What are you hearing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And these were young voters. Sat down with nine of them for an extended conversation, really to just understand where their minds are. In Iowa, they have already met numerous presidential candidates, all of them, because that's what happens when you're a voter in Iowa.

    And the fascinating thing was that five of them had said that, in 2016, they gave money to Bernie Sanders. Now, some of that was, they wanted to get a sticker. They were too young to vote, but they were Bernie fans.

    This time, they aren't planning to caucus for Bernie at this point. Only one person said that she planned to caucus for Sanders. They were excited about Beto O'Rourke. They were excited about Buttigieg.

    The other thing that was fascinating is, most of these people I was talking to were young women. And yet the female candidates were not getting attention in this conversation. Only one said she was thinking she might caucus for Harris.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting, a desire for something new and something male.

  • Amy Walter:

    Something new.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    And, also, this is the challenge for Bernie Sanders going forward, right?

    He was — the contrast between he and Hillary Clinton was so sharp in 2016.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was just the two of them.

  • Amy Walter:

    Just the two of them. Now there are many people who are trying to get that mantle.

    The one difference, though, I would say between Bernie Sanders and everybody else in that field, maybe with the exception of Elizabeth Warren, is, he is running as a revolutionary, and the others are running really sort of as restorative candidates, right?

    You hear this from Joe Biden, from Buttigieg, from others, their style, the ways that they're talking about going back to this place where we could care about each other, where we were willing to look beyond our differences, vs., we want to upend the entire system, which is the Warren-Bernie Sanders, the system in itself is corrupted, and it must be replaced.

    And that tension, I think, is a significant one. But I do think that that part of the party that wants a real revolution, they're going to stick with Bernie Sanders. The question is, how big of a universe is that, and if that core that he has sticks with him, that he has right now in polling, sticks with him, enough so that he builds up enough delegates, especially early in the game, that he remains a factor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And an interesting contrast in their approach to President Trump.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    His own kind of revolutionary, blowing things up.

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you want to emulate that, or do you want to go in a kinder, gentler direction?

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct. Correct.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Do you want to knock the house down, or do you want to gut it and keep the frame?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Brick by brick, or…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Or do you want to just do the bathroom?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or something.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Something.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, quickly to the president.

    And speaking of blowing things up, immigration policy, the president's on a tear. He wants a tougher immigration policy. He's getting rid of the second homeland security secretary in a row.

    What — clearly, this appeals to — he thinks, to his base of supporters. But is it going to appeal to anybody else?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Not necessarily. But I don't think he's worried about anybody else.

    He's worried about a bad number coming out from March that says something like 100,000 border crossers occurred, and the trend not going in the direction that he wants it to go. He ran on, I'm going to fix this thing. And, at the moment, it doesn't look fixed.

    And so he's doing a lot of things where he's signaling, yes, the numbers do not look good, but I'm on it. And he shut the government down over it. He did the emergency declaration over the wall. And now he's — we don't know whether it was a firing or a resignation under fire or whatever you want to call it.

    But his homeland security secretary is gone. And he is shaking things up in that department, again, signaling that, yes, he knows he made this promise, and it's not looking like it's being kept. But he can run on it anyway.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Less than 30 seconds, but smart politically?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    So what Democrats will argue is, yes, well, we'd be happy to make the case in 2020 that his immigration policies, especially separating families, are a topic, right? If the president wants to talk about he is fulfilling his promises, or he won in 2016 because he believes of immigration, he's going to lose in 2020 by the way he has gone about trying to implement his policies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We don't want to wait to find out what the answer is. We want the answer now. We want to know whether it's going to work or not.

  • Amy Walter:

    We have so much time. So much time.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We do.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, the duo, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thanks, Judy.

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