Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Jan. 6 riot, voting rights, Build Back Better negotiations

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how the Jan. 6 riot has played out in the past year, the Democrats’ push to pass voting rights laws, and the fate of the Build Back Better Act.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The attack on the Capitol inflamed political divides across the country, impacted Republican Party messaging and presented new challenges for then president-elect Biden.

    Our Politics Monday team is here with me now to assess the state of politics one year later. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you, after listening to that sobering interview with Brian Sicknick's longtime partner, Sandra Garza.

    I want to start with you, Tam.

    It's no — it is not a news bulletin how divided the country is, but there is now fresh evidence of that. A poll that we have done with NPR and Marist, among other things, we asked how — we asked about whether people view what happened on January 6 as an insurrection; 89 of Democrats view it that way, but only 10 percent of Republicans.

    And, meantime, 68 percent of Republicans and just 5 percent of Democrats say the congressional committee investigating January 6 is a — quote — "witch-hunt."

    How do you explain this, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    There are alternate realities that have been spun out over the last year.

    On January 6, in the days immediately following January 6, there was widespread agreement between political leaders of both parties. You had Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell going out and giving these impassioned floor speeches essentially blaming the former president, blaming Donald Trump for the attack on the Capitol, calling it an attack.

    And since then, they have gone quiet. Members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, as you say, have tried to just get past it and don't want to talk about it.

    And, as a result, at the same time that President Trump and his closest allies in Congress and elsewhere have started describing it as a tourist visit or downplaying the attack, while, at the same time, continuing to play up questions about what happened with the election, claiming that it was rigged and flawed, falsely claiming, it has created a situation where Democrats and Republicans are existing in different universes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, but all this is — there is new evidence, as I was discussing with Ms. Garza. New evidence has come forward about what happened, the president's role, exactly how violent so much of what these protesters, these rioters did at the Capitol.

    It is difficult to understand.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    It is, Judy.

    But I think Tam put it really well that people are living in two different realities. When you look at that poll that you just referenced, the PBS/NPR/Marist poll, overwhelmingly, Americans across the political spectrum, 80 percent of Americans, Democrat, Republican, independent, say democracy is at risk.

    There are issues that are dividing this country that put our democracy at risk. But what those issues are differ by party. January 6, as you pointed out, not seen by Republicans as a threat to democracy, overwhelmingly seen by Democrats as a threat to democracy.

    Interestingly enough, though, it's only about 40 percent of independents who believe that January 6 was a threat to democracy. Then you go to the question — this was in a CBS poll that came out this weekend — what about voting illegally? Do you think that is a major threat to democracy?

    Overwhelming number of Republicans said, absolutely; 60 percent of Democrats said it's not a major threat. So you can compartmentalize — and this is what people are doing — about what constitutes a threat, what is an existential worry for our democracy. It's not coming from us. It's coming from them.

    It's interesting too. I go back 20 years to the 2000 election, Judy, which was also incredibly contentious, where you had a number of people who thought — in this case, Democrats who thought that the election was — should be invalid, or that President Bush was given the presidency, and in a way that was not correct, because of the Supreme Court weighing in at the end.

    And yet, two years later, by overwhelming consensus, Democrats, Republicans in the House and the Senate, passed reforms to the voting process because of all the attention. Remember those butterfly ballots and the hanging chads. There was consensus that while maybe you were upset about the outcome of the election, that both sides agreed, we do need to fix what went wrong on Election Day.

    Now the idea of what went wrong on Election Day, well, depends on which side you're sitting on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what Amy says reminds us, Tam, that Democrats, the president are making a renewed push right now, this week — we heard about it earlier on the program tonight — to push for voting rights reform, in part because of the aftermath of January 6, what's happened in states around — Republican-led states around the country.

    What are the prospects that this is going to be successful?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The prospects that President Biden and Democrats are going to make a lot of noise about voting rights in the next several weeks are very high. The prospects of actually passing legislation are very low, because the numbers simply aren't there.

    The — President Biden has expressed something of a willingness to entertain the idea of changing the rules of the filibuster, if only just for voting rights. But there are not 51 votes to do that. There are not 51 Democrats who are willing to change the rules for that.

    So what Amy was saying is truly the remarkable difference, right, that there are basically no Republicans or maybe one Republican who — a couple of Republicans who are concerned about the state of voting rights legislation, that it had been sort of eroded by the Supreme Court, and see a need for a renewed voting rights legislation.

    But it's not bipartisan, and it's not overwhelmingly bipartisan, and it's not bipartisan enough to make it through this narrowly divided Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, how do you see the path forward for this?

  • Amy Walter:

    I agree with Tam.

    And this is the thing that's sort of perplexing, and this is what's been really gnawing at Democrats now for these last few months here, which is, they have been talking a lot about what they can't get done, right? Build Back Better, well, we got to get Joe Manchin. It's really tough to do, 50/50 Senate. Want to do voting rights.

    Well, they have this filibuster. And so you can understand why so many Democrats, especially activists, are feeling incredibly disillusioned and disappointed. And there are a lot of Democrats that I talk to who say, what the party needs to do right now is actually lean into the things that they can do, instead of focusing on the things that they can't.

    The idea that they're going to put Republicans on record for these votes is not going to have much of an impact electorally. I understand the desire to say, look, it's Republicans standing in the way. But what Democrats — again, what Democrats that I talk to have been saying is, what we'd rather see is Democrats talking about the things that they have done or using levers of power that they do have at the executive level.

    No, you can't change a lot of these voting laws. A lot of them are also at the state level. But focusing on the negative isn't doing Democrats a whole lot of good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in just a few seconds, Tam, this means that they have put off Build Back Better. What are the prospects there?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The sense I got from the White House is that they are more hopeful about Build Back Better, that potentially conversations are continuing.

    Joe Manchin, although he seemed to shut the door, may not have fully shut the door. And they're still going to work on it and they're still going to push for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maybe with some changes.

  • Tamara Keith:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, at the start of this week, when we are doing a lot of looking back, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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