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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on impeachment trial witnesses, Iowa polls

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including whether enough Senate Republicans will vote to hear witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump and how 2020 presidential candidates are polling and campaigning in Iowa as its Democratic caucuses approach.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday, with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter." And Tamara Keith of NPR, she joins us from her newsroom. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    And hello to both of you.

    We can just feel it now. It's just a week away, the Iowa caucuses.

    But we are going to start out talking about impeachment, because it is consuming still so much of our attention.

    In fact, Tamara Keith, that is why you are still in Washington and not out on the trail.

    At this point, to ask kind of a political question, what does it look like with regard to pressure on Republican senators to call witnesses?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There is more pressure now than there was 24 hours ago, that's for sure.

    That New York Times article about John Bolton's book certainly raises the stakes for senators. It adds a little bit of pressure. Certainly, you're not going to see, you know, 25 Republican senators suddenly decide that they want witnesses.

    But there are a number of senators that my colleagues have been speaking to up on the Hill who are entertaining the idea of witnesses again, the talk of a witness exchange, perhaps, where you would see John Bolton and someone that the Republicans want testify.

    All of that is — is acknowledging the reality that, by the idea of John Bolton's book being out there, that he, in this book, reportedly says that President Trump told him that he wanted to hold up investigations — or hold up the money until he got the investigations, that undercuts some of the arguments that President Trump and his legal team have been making.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, we have all been trying to figure out how much effect this is going to have on this impeachment trial.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Well, one, it certainly would drag a process out that many had expected would be ending maybe even before the Iowa caucuses on Monday or before the State of the Union, which is coming up on Tuesday.

    The debate over witnesses could take us another week or who knows how much longer.

    There is another bigger question here too. We are now in the process today, but we ultimately have to think about where this ends up. And I think where a lot of voters have been through this process is, they're getting lost in the process argument. There are a lot of names and a lot of bombshells that seem to come out all the time.

    But, fundamentally, they want to know, will he be convicted or acquitted? And where we are at this point, even among Democrats — and I talk to a lot of them in Iowa — their belief is, basically, that he will be acquitted at the end of the day.

    And so the focus, yes, they need to do their job. This doesn't mean they don't care about impeachment or they don't think it is important. But they need to — what they are focusing on right now is, which is the candidate that can win in November, because it is more likely than not that, if we want to beat Donald Trump, it will have to be at the ballot box. It will not be through impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And given that, Tam, what is the sense at this point?

    I know you are in Washington for now, but I know you continue to do reporting on this. What does it look like in Iowa, six days away, seven days away?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, so there is a lot of polling. And it indicates at least one thing, which is that, although some share of people say they have made up their minds and they are firmly set in making up their minds, there are still a lot of people who say, well, I could still change my mind, or I'm not 100 percent certain that this choice is going to stick.

    One thing that has been sort of remarkable in watching the Democratic primary over all these months now, we're basically a year out from when this all started, a little bit more. And, you know, if you had said a year ago that the top two people with the most durable hold on the top of the polls would be Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, a lot of people would have said, no way, that's not possible.

    And what do you have? You have Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden right there at the top, who are — do not represent sort of the young, diverse field that everyone was talking about at the very beginning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is one of the polls we're seeing, Amy.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There was a few that showed us Bernie Sanders right there at the top or moving up. How do we explain — how do you explain it?

  • Amy Walter:

    Tam is right. They don't represent what the Democratic Party electorate looks like, which is younger and female and has a significant percentage of voters of color.

    But what they do represent are the two basic arguments that Democrats have in this campaign. Either go for a more revolutionary, sort of structural change candidate or go with one who is going to, I call them the restoration candidate. Go to life before Donald Trump.

    The challenge right now for these two candidates, Bernie Sanders actually is coalescing that revolutionary, structural change voter much better than Biden is coalescing around the restoration voter.

    And so what we're seeing right now is, in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, in a number of these polls, Bernie Sanders coalescing younger voters and more liberal voters, but Biden's vote that was going to him is now getting split with Pete Buttigieg and to a certain extent Amy Klobuchar.

    So that is really the focus, I think, for Iowa, is, what percent of the vote not just will Elizabeth Warren take, but what does Pete Buttigieg and, to a certain extent, Amy Klobuchar doing to cut into what was for a long time a lane that Joe Biden had all to himself?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in the meantime, Tam, two of the people Amy just mentioned, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, are in Washington, in that impeachment trial listening to the arguments.

    They're not out on the campaign trail.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how does — is that going to have a bearing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, I think it is probably a bigger challenge for Amy Klobuchar than it is for Bernie Sanders.

    Amy Klobuchar was just starting to get some Klobmentum, or whatever you want to call it. She was just starting to get some voters very excited, starting to get bigger crowds in Iowa.

    And now she's going to spend this week in Washington, whereas Bernie Sanders, if you look under the hood of that PBS poll, of the voters who have made up their minds for Bernie Sanders, most of them, more of them say there is no chance they're going to change their mind than voters who support any other candidate.

    So, Bernie Sanders has had this, you know, like titanium piece of the pie. And it is strong. Like, his supporters support him. And that titanium piece of the pie phrase is something that I borrowed from people who were describing the way President Trump went through the primary in 2016.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is fascinating.

    Here we are, just a few days away. We started out saying, we can't believe it is right around the corner, and it literally is.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

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