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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on COVID-19 at the White House, pandemic voting

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how the spread of COVID-19 inside the White House complicates the administration’s pandemic messaging, whether Americans will feel safe returning to work and what voting looks like during the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New infections inside the White House challenge President Trump's plan to reopen the economy. And two special elections this week offer insights into what voting could look like in November.

    Here to break down all this and more, I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    Tam, let me start with you and bring up something that we raised much earlier in the program. And that is, here you have the White House pushing the country, the president pushing the country to reopen as much as possible to try to get the focus away from the health side of this pandemic.

    But you have got people who work at the White House coming down with COVID, testing positive for COVID. How does that complicate what they're trying to do?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it certainly complicates the messaging.

    And, you know, the way the White House has been dealing with the safety of its own employees has been to rely very heavily on testing in the last month or so, to rely much more heavily on testing than on social distancing, though testing that is not widely available for the rest of the public.

    Most workplaces don't have a test that they could just administer to every employee as they come in. So, the White House has in the last 48 hours or so instituted a lot of measures that we can probably expect to see at workplaces if and when people begin returning to them, things like people wearing masks in White House, in the West Wing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, how does it complicate White House efforts to get people to — you know, to say, don't worry about this, we have got it under control, let's focus on getting the economy opened up, when they have got problems right in their own backyard, literally?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    I mean, part of the job of the president and of a leader, of course, is to set policy, but it also set standards and sets behavior. In the 2009 H1N1 so-called swine flu, President Obama actually went out and got the vaccine for that.

    This was at a time when there were many folks who were very worried about a vaccine. There was a big anti-vaccination movement that was pushing people away from getting this vaccine. So, actually taking the vaccine was supposed to send the signal, if the president can do it, everybody can do it.

    But you know what, Judy? I think whether the president wears a mask or doesn't, or they wear it in the White House or doesn't, what we are seeing in the data, and you can hear anecdotally from regular Americans, is, it's not whether the government says that businesses are open. It's whether people feel safe to do these things.

    And what we are seeing over and over again, if you ask people, even people who say they don't think there should be stay-at-home orders, you ask them, would you be willing to get on a plane, would you be willing to go to the shopping mall right now, they're not.

    And until people feel safe doing this, whatever attempts to reopen the economy are going to fall short, because they're going to vote with their feet, more so than anything else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of feeling safe, people are already looking ahead to the November elections, wondering if people are going to feel safe then.

    There is kind ever a trial run, I guess could you say, tomorrow, Tam. You have special elections for congressional seats in both Wisconsin and California. What may we learn in these two contests, if anything, about what lies ahead for voting?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there is going to be a contrast, right?

    In Wisconsin, there will be in-person voting. And about 250 members of the National Guard will be on hand to help administer that election in a way that is hopefully safe for the people going to vote in Wisconsin.

    In California, it is almost overwhelmingly a mail-in balloting situation. And the state is preparing to be — I mean, they have already been well on the way to being a stay mail ballot state, but to being a mail ballot state in November.

    One thing that stands out to me about that California race is President Trump over the weekend tweeting that the race is going to be rigged if the Republican doesn't win.

    That sort of language, the language talking about a race being rigged, the president raising suspicion about mail balloting, that is very much probably a preview of what we can see in November.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I agree.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, what about just in terms of — go ahead, yes.

  • Amy Walter:


    Well, I agree with Tam here, which is, the tweeting out about the worries about the rigging and all, I mean, this is just a one-time election. As we get closer to the fall, and, in many cases, we may see that ballot counting may take days, because so many people vote by mail.

    This kind of sort of sowing the seeds of distrust, even as the process is undergoing — just remember when we were counting those hanging chads all those years ago. Now imagine that with this level of toxicity. That's super dangerous.

    The one thing I will say, also, about the special election in California, it looks like it may be the one bright spot for Republicans right now. This is a seat that had been Republican for a long time. Democrats flipped it in the 2018 election. Hillary Clinton won this district.

    But right now, when you look at the mail-in ballots — remember, the president has talked about he doesn't like mail-in ballots — more Republicans have returned mail-in ballots at this point than Democrats.

    So, if Republicans win, it will be on the backs of mail-in ballots.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, I want to ask you about that, because Republicans have been, in general, much more critical of the idea of mailing in the vote. But this could be, this, very well an election where they are winning because of mail-in.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and also because of a compelling Republican candidate and a special election that follows a controversy with the Democrats that won that seat.

    There are a lot of reasons why this seat could flip from Democratic to Republican. It would be the first time a seat in California, a congressional seat, has flipped from Democrats to Republican in a very, very, very long time.

    But it wasn't held by Democrats for very long. But, yes, as you say, President Trump and national Republicans have been highly skeptical in many situations about mail-in balloting. Then there are other cases where, in Florida, older voters are encouraged to vote by mail.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is a special Election Day, tomorrow, Tuesday, May the 12th. And we will be reporting on it.

    But, for right now, it's Politics Monday.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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