Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on divisions in America, Jan. 6 hearings

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 disunity in America, President Biden’s approval ratings, frustrations over inflation and the Jan. 6 hearings.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    In his speech to military families at the White House today, President Biden urged Americans to remain united as political divisions over COVID-19, the economy and foreign policy ramp up ahead of the midterms.

    To discuss the political stakes of the moment, I'm joined now by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And welcome to you both on this July 4 holiday.

    Tam, I want to start with you here and talk about those remarks we heard from President Biden earlier today. Last year, on July 4, I think fair to say, very different tone, different kind of message. You will remember, as our viewers will, last year, he talked about how the nation was closer than ever to declaring our independence from COVID and that we had a lot more work to do.

    What did his remarks today say to you about where we are, where he is in his presidency?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    I think that his focus rightly is on the divisions in the country, on the feeling that many Americans have, in fact, something like 85 percent, according to the latest AP poll, that America is moving in the wrong direction, not moving in the right direction.

    Even a majority of Democrats feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Now, everyone disagrees in predictable ways on what is causing the country to move in the wrong direction or what it is that sort of put them over the edge to feel terrible about the state of the country.

    But the president did try to address that. He did have a message of optimism, as he often does, saying that the country is more united than it is divided, that this is a long term battle for the soul of America. If those phrases sound familiar, they are. It was a big part of his campaign.

    And yet now, this far into his presidency, the country is still really divided. And his election alone did not serve as a balm for the divisions that the country faces.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, what about you? What did you make of what the president had to say today on the July 4 holiday?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    It is quite remarkable, as you noted, Amna, how different the country is from this point just a year ago, right

    It wasn't just that the president was feeling more optimistic, saying we have basically turned the corner on COVID. Americans were feeling that way too. If you look at the polling taken by Gallup around this time last year, a significant majority of Americans thought the worst was behind us on COVID, the enthusiasm about the economy, people feeling much more confident in the consumer confidence surveys.

    So we had a country that was feeling like things were on their way up. It wasn't just the president who was saying those things. But now, a year later, as Tam pointed out, we have 75 percent of Americans saying things are on the wrong track.

    In June, we had the lowest ever recording from the Michigan consumer index, so consumers more pessimistic now than in the history of that survey. And, of course, the president's numbers himself, his favorable ratings now down to a record low. We haven't seen a president in his first term with approval ratings this low in modern times.

    So we have a country right now that does seem that it is not just divided, but it is — I think the right word is anxious. I hear that constantly from voters. They just are feeling as if things have gone awry, and that they can't quite figure out how to get it back.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah had his own assessment in a recent column for The Atlantic. He says America is in denial right now.

    And he wrote this. He said: "President Joe Biden is a genuinely good man, but he has yet been unable to break through our national malady of denial, deceit and distrust."

    Tam, what did you make of that assessment? Is this Romney setting the stage to potentially run? Why is he weighing in now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I'm not sure that he's setting the stage to potentially run.

    He's someone who should be the — an elder statesman of the Republican Party, right? He was his party's nominee in 2012. And, instead, he's a man on an island. He wrote this essay in The Atlantic that was basically like, both sides are really bad at this. And I don't know if he actually used the phrase both sides, but he might as well have.

    And he expressed frustration with his own party. He expressed frustration with the Democrats and with President Biden. What he didn't do was offer a lot of solutions. It seemed like he was he was searching for some savior to come in and be the leader that America needs, when often America gets the leaders they have, and though one thing he did mentioned in that essay was that it might be up to clergy and PTA presidents and just everybody else to sort of step up and work to bring the country together.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Be the leaders. Provide the leadership we're not seeing at the national level, right?

  • Tamara Keith:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, this is another part that struck me, though.

    He warned about the potential return of former President Trump. That echoes a warning we heard from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney in an interview this weekend. She's, of course, the vice chair of the January 6 Committee. And she said that criminal referrals against the former president could be possible, but not doing so would actually constitute what she said a graver threat.

    Especially after last week's testimony, are those warnings, are they taking hold with Republicans?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think what we're seeing are two things.

    There's the legal question and then there's the political question. And I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to dive as much into the legal question, but I am going to dive in to the political question.

    And if you look at polling right now, I don't think you're going to see that Republicans are less supportive of Donald Trump or approval ratings among Republicans about Donald Trump have gone down. But what you can start to pick up is this feeling for many of these voters that Donald Trump may not be as politically invincible as they once thought him to be, that he does look like a weaker prospect for 2024.

    Now, does that mean that he would get beaten in a Republican primary or he's not going to run? I'm not saying that at this moment. He certainly starts as a front-runner. But I do think that the cracks in the armor are there now politically for other Republicans either who want to challenge him, take advantage of that, or for voters who are saying, you know what, I like him, but I think it's time for somebody new, somebody who doesn't come with all this baggage.

    You can hear already the ads that will be run in a general election featuring so much of the testimony from these January 6 hearings, almost all of which has come from Republicans, conservatives and those within Trump's own orbit.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Tam, we know the committee is not done yet with those public hearings. We saw a number of those committee members giving interviews this weekend.

    Now, are you watching for in what's coming next?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, what I have been watching in the last several days is the former president's social media feed. It's on his own platform that he created.

    And he is — he is acting like someone who's nervous. He is sending out all of these messages criticizing the committee, criticizing the people testifying, and definitely teasing the idea that he would run for president again, which all feeds to this idea that he is paying attention, and it's getting to him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    He's paying attention. A lot of us are paying attention. And we know we're going to continue to cover those hearings ahead.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, that's Politics Monday. Thank you to you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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