Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Democratic negotiations over Biden agenda, voter views

Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how the Democratic stalemate in Congress is influencing President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, and how voters are influenced by the various ongoing debates in Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden is heading into another week of trying to sell his infrastructure and Build Back Better agenda to the American people and to some members of his own party in Congress.

    Joining me to break down the status of the talks and more are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you.

    It's time for Politics Monday. Amy and tam, welcome back.

    So, Tam, let's start with where we think we are. I see you wincing already.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard Lisa reporting earlier the negotiate — they're back at it.

    And, by the way, we have just — there's just been a report, I think from CNN, that Senator Sanders and Senator Manchin met today. They said afterwards to reporters they're going to keep meeting, keep talking.

    But, at this point, how worried should President Biden be?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    And I think you have asked that question maybe three weeks in a row.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sorry about that. So sorry.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    No, but I think that there is, from outside, certainly a perception that there's just not a lot of movement.

    And Senator Sanders complain that there's so much focus on the fight and not enough focus on the content and what's in the legislation. But part of the problem is that the fight is about what's going to be in the legislation. And they simply haven't agreed yet on what will be in it.

    So, will child care be for everyone? Will paid family leave be for everyone? Will universal pre-K be truly universal? Will senior citizens get their Medicare expanded to cover dentures and eyeglasses? We don't know yet. They don't know. Or if they do know, they haven't told us.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    No, they don't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Amy, I mean, I feel like I'm asking this question every Monday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam just pointed out that I have been asking this question every Monday.

    But we want to — some people might say, well, it's just that drama that they go through. But is that really what it is?

  • Amy Walter:

    No, it is a drama.

    I mean, I think we — again, I feel like I said this before, but it's important to say this every time. What the Biden administration is attempting to do with this humongous package, trillions of dollars, we have never seen anything like this pass through a Senate with — that is 50/50, and where the speaker of the House, Democratic speaker of the House, has three votes.

    We are talking about threading the eye of the needle. And that has never been done before. So it is — should not be surprising.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Massive package, a few votes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Massive package with very small majorities.

    So, every other one of these packages we have talked about in the past, big reconciliation bills, big packages that only one party was supporting, there were more members, that the party trying to push it forward could afford to lose 30 or 40 House members, maybe a senator or two. This is zero room for error.

    The other challenge, I think, that — what I am seeing now, too, is for all the focus that is on this legislation, when you talk to some Democratic voters, especially younger voters, younger voters of color, their frustration is not what's going to happen in this bill. It's, well, we voted in 2020 because we were told this was going to matter — this was an existential threat, the Republicans, Donald Trump.

    We were going to pass — Democrats were going to pass voting rights legislation. We were going to tackle police reform. We were going to tackle immigration, all of those issues that were central to so many of those voters coming and turning out for Biden in 2020 and for Democrats in 2018. And they haven't seen any progress on that.

    And so this is, I think, the other challenge that the Biden administration is having, which is they want to get this passed, but for many even Democratic voters, while they don't dislike this package, they have priorities that raise higher than what they're seeing.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    High expectations.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And even though the package, we keep hearing it's not going to be $3.5 trillion, it's going to be 1.5.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    But still a lot of trillion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A trillion-and-a-half.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    Judy Woodruff

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    I was in Ohio. And stirred up is exactly what has happened in many of these communities, particularly focused around school boards, where school board meetings have become raucous. They have become places of protest, in essence, and police have had to be there. They have been shut down, had to go virtual because people showed up without masks.

    And it is something that we're also seeing in the Virginia governor's race. We're seeing around the country an effort by Republicans really to stoke the base, to get their base excited.

    Now, the question is, could they also win over suburban voters who strayed from the Republican Party when Donald Trump was on the ballot, but now he's not on the ballot? It's not clear that they're actually going to succeed at doing that. Certainly, some of the voters I spoke to in Ohio were just like frustrated and angry and did not want their town to be the center of a polarized fight.

    And they certainly didn't want their school board to be caught up in what amounts to another one of these culture wars.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are the — but, Amy, are these — you are looking at polling a lot. You have obviously watched American politics for a couple of years.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are these the kinds of things that have legs? I mean, could this end up something — doing damage to the Democrats?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I think that Tam's right. That, as an issue that energizes the Republican base, is really important. And there's not something right now on the other side energizing Democrats, which is why you're seeing, in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, is talking about Trump pretty much nonstop.

    And I went and looked at the ad spending, the amount of money that he's spent thus far on advertising to voters in the state, and he spent about $3 million ads that include the word Trump. So about a third of his ad budget is going just to say, my Republican opponent equals Donald Trump.

    They want to nationalize a race in a state that is as Democratic as Virginia. And if you're a Republican, you want to localize it as much as you possibly can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Trump was in the state last week.

  • Amy Walter:

    He called into the state. So…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he had a presence in the state. He wasn't…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    There was a rally. He had a presence, yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, I mean, coming back to these — to what Democrats are trying, I mean, how do they counter something like what you saw in Ohio?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's not clear yet.

    There is a question of whether there might be a backlash to some of the fighting that's happening at school boards, where they — Democrats could end up galvanizing voters to protect their school boards. But it's not clear that that's happening either.

    In the case of Terry McAuliffe, who is running for governor as a Democrat again, in Virginia, he is basically begging Congress to pass this infrastructure package that we have been talking about to try to get Democratic voters excited or engaged.

  • Amy Walter:

    But Trump is the one. That's the answer to every question you're asking about.

    What do Democrats do? What's the counterbalance? They have two. It's — one is, Trump will get our base excited. But, as I said, even — right. Then they'd say passing this big bill, giving our voters and swing voters a tool, like basically saying, look, we have gotten this list of accomplishments done.

    But is that enough if, on the other side of it, we're still not doing well economically, people are still feeling anxious?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Going back to what you described a minute ago, Democrats saying, wait a minute, what have you done about immigration?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. And then what else on these other things, right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Voting rights.

    And it's not that — it's not that these issues haven't come up and aren't being looked at and worked on. But we're not seeing — we're not seeing passage.

  • Amy Walter:

    We're not seeing progress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're not seeing passage.

  • Amy Walter:

    In part because you can't pass — this week, there will be a vote on the voting rights bill. It will not succeed because Democrats were unable to get enough Republicans to go along with this.

    Now, that's how it works. Those are the rules. But if you are a voter and you say, I voted to give Democrats power, and they're not using it, that feels very frustrating.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the same thing with police reform. There were efforts week after week, month after month.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Gun control.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gun Control.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Any number of issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So Democrats at this point looking, Tam, for something. Maybe it's called infrastructure.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Build Back Better.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And independent voters are still frustrated with the polarization. And that was another one of President Biden's campaign promises, that he could somehow repair America. Well, if he can pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, that might go a way to soothing some of the concerns. But, certainly, polarization is very present.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see. Lisa Desjardins was reporting on it earlier. Maybe not in October. We will see about November, December.

  • Amy Walter:

    December, yes, that sounds right. Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Holidays.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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