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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on ‘cautious’ Democrats, White House turnover

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including how Democrats are reacting to the Mueller team’s latest court filings, the president’s search for a chief of staff and the important dynamics playing out in state legislatures.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now let's turn back to the fallout from Robert Mueller's investigation and the rest of a flood of recent developments.

    We're joined by our Politics Monday duo, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Hello it to both of you.

    So, last week, the end of the week, taken up with, as we said, a storm of filings, if you will, by the special counsel, by the district attorney in New York.

    Some pretty explosive material in there, Tam.

    The Democrats — the focus now is on Democrats and what are they going to do about this when — as they begin to take over the House and have some more clout. What is your understanding of kind of the state of discussion among Democrats?

  • Tamara Keith:

    They seem to be playing it cool at this point, really not — they're trying not to use the I-word of impeachment, rather the I-word of investigation.

    They are kind of wanting to let Mueller — let that run its course and see where it stands. There is not — you know, many candidates ran on impeaching the president, but not most Democrats. Most Democrats ran on health care and reducing prescription drug costs and policy, on governing.

    And they are — they see a cautionary tale in what the Republicans did with Bill Clinton. They don't have enough Democrats or Republicans in the Senate to convict, so they — even if they have the votes to impeach, they don't have the votes to remove him from office. And so they are very cautious, seeing where the political dynamics — whether those dynamics change.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. And you saw it on display this weekend, if you watched the Sunday shows. And the various Democrats who will soon — especially in the House — who will soon be committee chairpeople, were definitely incredibly cautious.

    I just want to highlight this exchange that Jerry Nadler, who will be the incoming Judiciary Committee chairman, had with Jake Tapper over the weekend, where he said to Jake's question, yes, if it is found that the president did knowingly, willingly violate campaign finance law by paying these — off these mistresses, agreeing to pay them off, then he said — this is Jerry Nadler — "That would be an impeachable offense."

    And then he goes on to say: "Whether it is important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question."

    And so that is really, I think, where so many Democrats are grappling with, which is, what do we know is going to be able to justify an impeachment? Will we know it when we see it? It's going to have flashing yellow lights all around it?

    Or will they get pressure from the base, the longer this goes on and the longer we don't have a conclusion from Bob Mueller, but we have little filings coming up every once in a while like this?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because that pressure is real. The base is looking at this, Tam, and some of them are saying, wait a minute, we have been waiting for two years. We don't like what has happened.

    It's not everybody out there who voted Democratic — voted Democrat, but a lot of them.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. Certainly, there is a portion of the Democratic base that wants, just wants Trump out by any means necessary.

    But you have people like Jerry Nadler, who is not a super cautious, conservative Democrat, who is saying, well, let's see — this is — this becomes…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    New York City.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    This becomes a political question more than a legal question. And the politics are, you know , as long as this is purely partisan, as long as polling shows that, you know, Republicans think it is a witch-hunt and Democrats think it is totally justified, then if Democrats move ahead with something like impeachment, then it becomes this wrenching political thing that just continues to push on the same divisions that existed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But keeping these things under control can be challenging.

    Amy, let's talk about what I talked to Yamiche about a few minutes ago, our White House correspondent, about, what is the president going to do you now? His second chief of staff stepping down. He and John Kelly didn't get along so well.

    The public — the names we have heard publicly the president was interested in have said they're not interested. But there are other names floating around.

    How important is the job of chief of staff in this White House?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it used to be a really important job. It used to be the kind of job that everybody in Washington would want to have. You put that on your resume, and you are pretty much, you know, set for life in this town.

    This is not a job that anybody wants right now. They know what comes with the territory. It is an impossible job to actually be able to do correctly. And what you also have is a White House that is still — as we have known from the very beginning, it's being run in the same way Trump has run everything else in his life.

    It is pretty chaotic. There is no real hierarchy of command. It is very seat-of-your-pants. And the real challenge — and I think there are plenty of folks in the White House who know this, but they can't do much about it — is, when Democrats take control of Congress next year, this is a White House that is really woefully understaffed at every level.

    There was a story in The Washington Post this weekend where an anonymous staffer was asked about whether there is a war room set up to deal with the Mueller investigation and Democrats coming into power and potentially all these different investigations.

    And the source basically laughed and said: War room? You think we — what makes you think we would have something as organized as a war room? We just kind of go as we have always gone, with where the president is going, and we follow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a different White House, different kind of White House.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Absolutely. It is a different kind of White House.

    President Trump has embraced the chaos. That is how — that is his natural environment. That is what he wants. And he — he sort of returns it to the mean. You know, if John Kelly was supposed to come in and bring structure, and eventually President Trump found ways to have new people he brought on not report to Kelly, but report to him, so that he could get back to the sort of warring factions and structure that he — or lack of structure that he finds comforting.

    This White House is setting records for turnover. And I know we have talked about this before. But it is…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will continue to talk about it.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And we will continue. It is remarkable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is.

    Just very quickly to both of you, we're watching in Michigan and in Wisconsin efforts by outgoing Republicans in their state legislative and statehouse races, Amy and Tam, to hold on to power as Democrats come in.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is this something we watch? Is this going to wash away soon?

  • Amy Walter:

    No, I think that this is the kind of thing — this is a Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan and Wisconsin, incoming Democrats at statewide level.

    They are trying to — Republicans in those states trying to diminish the influence the executive branches have. It could have a short-term positive impact, but it may have a longer-term negative impact, both on what Democrats do in the long-term, right — they're not going to forget this — or what happens if Democrats get back into control of those legislatures?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Come back and bite them.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And this is why you have Democrats at a national level so focused on redistricting and the 2020 census, because they got burned last time around, and they don't want to get burned again.

    And redistricting and the control of state legislatures are very much linked, especially as Democrats see it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans raked in after the last census and redistricting. Democrats don't want it to happen again.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

    Politics Monday.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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