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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the U.S. Senate races in Georgia, Trump's call to the Georgia secretary of state, and how some Republicans are continuing to question the election results.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, listening to Lisa's report, we know it is the first week of the year, and already a number of critical political stories, from President Trump's remarkable phone call with the Georgia secretary of state to that Electoral College count in Congress.

    Here now to analyze it all, our regular Politics Monday team, 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. Happy new year.

    Amy, let's start with Georgia, where Lisa left off.

    So much drama, between the president's phone call. He is there in Georgia today. So is Joe Biden. What does that Senate run-off look like, both Senate run-offs?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, both sides feel like they are unclear on what it is going to look like.

    It's very, very, very close. What we know thus far is that Democrats seem to have done better, as they did in the general election, the normal general election, in November in states like Georgia and other states that had early vote, in the early vote, both in the absentee and people who showed up to vote early in person.

    And Republicans are counting on a strong turnout on Election Day, which they were successful in, in 2020 in many of these states. Just think about Texas or Florida, where that turnout on Election Day was really unprecedented and in many cases unexpected.

    So, it is really, really important for Republicans to have big energy turnout tomorrow at the polls, and for Democrats to be able to meet — at least meet some of that on Election Day, rather than just hoping that their early vote is enough.

    Now, whether or not this call is going to impact anything, Judy, I'm sort of skeptical about that, in part because, as the voter pointed out in Lisa's piece, people have made up their minds a long time ago. And what is happening in Washington and what the president is doing or not doing, I think, has less impact on the race than maybe at another time.

    I also think that, look, the bigger challenge for so many is the question about motivation. And this is where Republicans are a little bit nervous. They do wonder if, by saying that the process is rigged, by questioning the way the vote was counted in November, it may discourage Republicans from coming out to vote.

    I think, though, Trump has been successful at turning that into a rallying cry, right? Don't let them steal our votes. Come out and vote. And at the same time, you notice that Biden today at his rally for the two Democrats didn't mention the phone call at all. He barely mentioned Donald Trump. Instead, he said, the stakes in this election were really about being able to get more money into the state to handle the pandemic and into people's hands, get those $2,000 stimulus checks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is interesting Biden didn't mention it, and yet there has been so much static around the president and what he has been saying, Tam.

    There is a question about whether what he has done is going to suppress turnout, raise turnout. And, again, you heard this top elections official today. I heard — we heard him saying repeatedly, please, Georgians, vote tomorrow.

    At the same time, he was criticizing what the president said yesterday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And all of this fighting between Republicans in the state, the president threatening to go after the Republican governor or encourage a primary challenge to him, this back-and-forth, is so much noise and so much static.

    You know, I really see this race, this run-off as a test of coattails, both for the incoming president and outgoing president. President Trump believes and has at times been able to drag people across the finish line, drag other Republicans across the finish line with his incredibly strong base.

    Can he do that again? Can he do that in this run-off, which is like a test tube? It's an isolated, getting so much attention, so much focus, event.

    And for Joe Biden, here is someone who won the presidency, but lost seats in the House, and did not do as well in the Senate as Democrats had hoped to do. Can he help these candidates?

    And Amy is right that his message was not about President Trump. The way that he mentioned Trump was simply to say that he didn't expect these Democratic candidates to be loyal to him. He expected them to be loyal to the voters, and the criticism he had of the Republican senators from Georgia was that they are loyal to President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's hard to remember Senate races where — much less two Senate run-offs in the same state at the same time, Amy, but to remember something where so much is hanging, as we said, balance of power in the Senate, on these two races.

    But let's turn to what is happening on Wednesday. And that is the challenge that we now know 13 Republican senators are going to be making to the electoral vote count.

    What do you make of it? What do you see as the calculus on the part of these senators who are challenging? And how long-lasting a split is this in the Republican ranks?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it is a really good question, Judy.

    And to Tam's point about the split between Georgia Republicans and the president we're seeing in Washington, the split between those two want to challenge the Electoral College count, saying that there are still allegations of voter fraud that should be investigated, and those who say, Republicans in the Senate who say, no, no, no, we're making a mistake here by doing this, those who choose to do it are making a mistake, because there are long-term implications.

    And so it seems like this is the battle line today in the Republican Party, is, what does conservatism stand for? Does it stand for what it traditionally did, when we think about conservatism, that many of these senators, including Senator Portman of Ohio or Mitt Romney of Utah were saying, conservatism means that the federal government does not get to come in and bigfoot the states, the states have certified this election, it's over, it is not the job of Congress to overturn that, vs. the sort of Trumpian conservative, which says, the goal is to win, the short-term win is more important than anything?

    It's the institutionalists vs. the immediate gratification. And that is the dividing line right now in the party. It's always been there. Look, in politics, there's always that tension. It's just, under Trump, it's gotten even more extreme.

    And I do wonder, when Trump is no longer in the White House, does this sort of fade, because the focus then goes back on to governing and, quite frankly, it goes back on to the new president, which is Joe Biden?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    And pick up on that, Tam, because it is such an — I mean, the question is, how long-lasting is this split going to be? But it's such an interesting divide to see conservative Republicans divided as they are over what to do about this electoral count.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, I'm not convinced that this rift over the future of the Republican Party or what the Republican Party truly stands for, I'm not convinced that this gets resolved before there's a 2024 nominee, especially with President Trump, at least on some level, dangling out the idea that he could be a candidate in 2024.

    So, you have all of these senators and governors and people who would be candidates in 2024, some are on different sides of what to do about this Electoral College thing, which, we should just be clear, there's no way this ends with Donald Trump being the next president of the United States.

    Joe Biden won. There is no path for this to succeed, which is why Mitch McConnell, for instance, didn't want to go through the exercise and why someone like Mitt Romney is saying that it's bad for democracy to have this public show that leads to nothing, but continues to raise doubts about an election that was free and fair.

    But — so, you have potential candidates for 2024 on different sides of this debate. And I think you're going to see these people lining up on different sides of various debates, and all sort of frozen until President Trump determines what President Trump is going to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, frozen in a number of ways.

    And, Amy, in a little bit of time left, I mean, the senators who are standing up to their leader, Mitch McConnell, who had pleaded with them not to raise awareness on Wednesday.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Of course, many of them are looking beyond their term in the Senate, Judy, to running in 2024. They'd have a different job.

    But, to Tam's point, when you think about really how long this rift continues, it's not just maybe until we get to the 2024 election. This is where we come back to Georgia. Who's in charge of the Senate, who controls the Senate is so important, because I think it'd be more interesting, should Democrats controlled the Senate in 2021, to see, if these rifts continue, can Joe Biden reach out and pick off some of these Republicans, like a Mitt Romney, like a Lisa Murkowski, like a Susan Collins, to be able to show that there is bipartisan advantage?

    Or do those factions go together when it's all about, again, protecting the Republican majority in the midterm election?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much hanging on these next two days, Georgia vote tomorrow, and the Senate and the House together looking at the Electoral College on Wednesday.

    Thank you both. Amy Walter, Tamara Keith.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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