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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on infrastructure, Jan. 6 commission, election audits

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including bipartisanship on infrastructure, a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection and efforts across the country to audit votes from the 2020 election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a jam-packed week for United States senators, considering everything from China to administration nominees, infrastructure and investigating January 6, a perfect time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    It is so good to see both of you see both of you on this Monday.

    And, Tam, I want to start with you on the maybe-not-so-glamorous, but very important subject of infrastructure.

    The president, the administration has been talking about it for weeks. The president signaled in the last few days that he is prepared to accept a smaller amount of money from Congress. Where does it stand right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and what was fascinating about the counteroffer sent out late last week by the White House to Senate Republicans who they are negotiating with was that they said, we will come down $500 billion on our proposal, so from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion.

    But all of the items that they were willing to come down on were things where there actually is fairly broad bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done. So, they took the areas of agreement and offered to come down on that, in a way almost seeming like the point was just to highlight the vast disagreements with congressional Republicans.

    In the end, they still don't agree on the definition of infrastructure, how big the package should be, or how it should be paid for. And it is not clear how they're going to get there or if they're ever going to get there, though the White House is still at least publicly insisting that they are having these conversations, the conversations are continuing, and that they haven't given up yet on something bipartisan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, what is really going on here?

    Because I think a lot of people look at this and they say, hey, it's infrastructure. We know what infrastructure is. And we know, yes, the White House has tacked on some things that they say are important in terms of the social infrastructure of the country.

    But what is the nub? What is holding this up?

  • Amy Walter:

    I mean, Tam laid it out really well. The definition, they don't agree on. The price tag, they don't agree on. They don't agree on how to pay for it.

    And other than that, they're really this close to getting bipartisan agreement.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    There is nothing they seem to agree on here.

    It seems like what the White House is doing right now is setting the groundwork here to be able to say, when Democrats end up trying to pass something through a Democratic-only proposal for something called reconciliation, that they say, well, we tried, we want to be bipartisan. I brought all these Republicans.

    They will list all the names and even the number of Republicans who aren't in leadership that he invited over to the White House. But we just couldn't agree.

    In many ways, this is about convincing some of the more moderate Democrats, especially somebody like Senator Joe Manchin, who has said out loud for many months that he wants to see more bipartisan cooperation on an issue like this. His colleague, his Republican colleague from the state of West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito, also engaged in this process.

    So, if they are able to convince Manchin that they have been working on bipartisanship, it didn't work, needs to pass on Democratic votes, then there we go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, in a word, do we know whether the White House really wants a bipartisan deal or not?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oh, man.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    I mean, they sure are putting on quite a public effort to try to get something.

    I think that they would love to have a bipartisan agreement that they could get through that was more strictly, narrowly defined as infrastructure, and then a much bigger package that they could push through reconciliation potentially.

    But they aren't there yet, on even the things that they sort of agree are infrastructure, that Republicans largely would agree are infrastructure, like rural broadband, where they don't agree on the price tag.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It gives us a headache just thinking about it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But thank you both for trying.

    Amy, let's talk about the January 6 commission. This is something the Democrats very much want, a bipartisan commission. We know Speaker Pelosi has reworked it, did finally — a proposal passed the House, now in the Senate.

    What does it look like? What are the pressures on Republicans, especially on those Republicans who did vote to impeach former President Trump over his role in the insurrection?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it seems like what a lot of Republicans, especially on the Senate side, have made the choice that it's riskier to have the commission than to vote against a bipartisan commission, because the risk is that, once again, as we have seen in these last two elections, 2018 and 2020, if the election is a referendum on Donald Trump, if Donald Trump is the center of the conversation, the political conversation, that's not good for Republicans.

    You have heard folks like Susan Collins this weekend say, look, I'm all for having a commission. Here's the thing. I want to make sure that the report comes out at the end of 2021. In other words, I don't want this used by Democrats to hit us over the head in an election year.

    And even though there are Republicans in the Senate who had supported impeachment, saying, look, we have so many other avenues to investigate this attack — we know the Justice Department is looking at this. We know that other committees in Congress are looking at this. I just don't think we need yet one more commission.

    But it seems, fundamentally, the worry is that Democrats are going to use this to once again remind voters about what they didn't like about Donald Trump in an election year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, we know it's not the White House that is necessarily behind this, but a lot of interest there in seeing it happen.

    What about the thinking on the part of Democrats broadly on this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, I think that Democrats do want this to happen.

    If they didn't want it to happen, then I'm pretty sure that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in the House would not have compromised so much on the design of this commission.

    But the reality is that they can keep investigating. It just won't have sort of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of a bipartisan, nonpartisan commission. Instead, it could be a committee like that investigated Benghazi, or I guess there were like five investigations of Benghazi.

    Or it could be various House committees doing the investigations. But it just won't be bipartisan. It won't have that same approval. So, for Republicans, though, the other risk, it isn't just that Trump could go after the Republicans who voted for such a commission and exile them, like he is trying to exile anyone whoever votes against them, but it is also just that the entire time that the commission is meeting, the former president could be making noise about it and drawing attention to it even more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in connection with all of this, Amy, with the falsehood that the election, the November election was rigged and that Joe Biden didn't really win, you have these re — or audits, I should say, going on in the Maricopa County in Arizona. You have Georgia and other states looking at this.

    What's — do we see Republicans making headway on these efforts to, frankly, try to overturn the election still?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I mean, Judy, what is worrisome about these is not that the election will be overturned. The election is over. The courts have weighed in. And the legal process has gone — has taken root. So it is done.

    The problem is that we know that many Republican voters, a majority of Republican voters, don't believe that the election results were fair, and that even the process itself for adjudicating disagreement is not trusted.

    These two states, Arizona and Georgia, are going to be battlegrounds for the foreseeable future. In 2022, they have Senate races that could determine the majority in the Senate. In 2024, we know there will be battleground presidential states for the Electoral College.

    And what you have going on here is a complete undermining of trust, not just in the way the campaigns operated, but in the local officials. And, Judy, we talked a lot about this in 2020, about how the guardrails of our democracy really were these local elected officials, and the work that they were doing.

    Now even they are being undermined. And that is a very worrisome trend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Never seen anything like it before.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, we thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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