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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on NYC mayor’s race, vaccine divide, infrastructure

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including New York City’s mayoral election, America’s vaccine divide between states, and the progress on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a busy week ahead of that New York City mayoral election and amid a new push for voting rights legislation in Washington.

    Here to analyze that and more are Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    And you are in person. And we are so glad to have you back in the studio, both of you. Welcome. Welcome.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    So good to be here.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very good to have you here.

    And as we just heard from Hari Sreenivasan's report, Amy, hot mayor's race, biggest city in the country.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of candidates running. Crime, the police are on the agenda. What does it look like to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, Democrats, there's been this sort of intraparty tension here between — in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the calls for racial reckoning, for police reform.

    And then, on the other side within the party, there's also the sort of flashback to the 2020 election, with many, especially moderate Democrats, arguing that calls to defund the police actually cost them seats in Congress.

    So, at the national level, you feel that pull, and you're feeling it in New York as well. As Hari pointed out, the more progressive candidate who's leading the other progressives, at least in the polling, is Maya Wiley, is the highest level proponent of defunding.

    But the — or shifting funding, as she says. But the other three candidates are much more moderate on this issue. Look, New York is very different. It's not — we can't use it as a microcosm for any other city. But it may tell us something at least about this tension.

    And, of course, the mayor of New York City always gets under the microscope, and they become sort of a stand-in for the Democratic Party writ large.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as Amy's saying, Tam, it's clearly not a microcosm for the entire country. But it's also not the expected sort of liberal bastion that a lot of people think it is.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly.

    And it's also going to be a testing ground for this ranked choice voting, which may or may not help proponents of ranked choice voting convince everyone else that it's a great idea.

    Maine did ranked choice voting. Maine is much smaller than New York City, it turns out, and the number of people who will be trying this out. So, back in November, we talked about the need for patience to know the results of the election.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This could require even more patience.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, they are saying that people are going to have to be more engaged, they're going to have to pay closer attention and think about the vote. Maybe you do want to pick out more than one person.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    I mean, the theory behind is a good one, which is, it makes it more important for candidates to build broad coalitions, to not engage in negative campaigning, right? If I ask Tam, then — and you like her, then you see me doing that, you're not going to vote for me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The bank shot.

  • Amy Walter:

    So, you want — right.

    So, you want to have as broad of a coalition. It also means that people who have a very narrow constituency in a race is crowded as this one could win just by turning all of their voters out. Now you have to be very cognizant of who the second and third choice — but we're going to find out.

    As Tam said, there are going to be some challenges in counting the votes. And I think we're also going to see. You're supposed to rank your top five choices. I think most people…

  • Tamara Keith:

    That's a lot of choices.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's a lot of choices.

    I don't I don't have a top five in almost anything in my life. So that's — the thought of being able to do that for candidates, that's challenging.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    And, Tam, I mean, people will be looking at these results, as you just said, to decide whether this is something they want to try in different parts of the country.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And we are going to have ranked choice voting in Alaska also, or a more open primary in Alaska. There are lots of thoughts about changing the way we vote. But these things don't happen quickly. And we will see how this goes, I guess.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of…

  • Tamara Keith:

    This isn't pizza.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking of voting, Amy, there is a test vote coming into the United States Senate tomorrow on so-called S.R.1. This is the big Democratic Party bill to institute changes in the election law around the country.

    It's a test vote. But what are you looking for tomorrow?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I think what folks for is — one, is Joe Manchin going to support the — actually having a vote on a vote, right, so — which it seems that is something that he would support.

    The bigger question is, would he support the bill? But we're probably not going to get to a vote on the bill. Overall, here's what we know. We have a voting rights bill that there's nowhere close to getting 60 votes, which means it will be filibustered, which means we're not going to see a national voting rights bill happen.

    I think, for Democrats who are concerned about this, their energy should be going much less into trying to figure out how to overcome this, overcome Manchin's dislike of getting rid of the filibuster, and focus on electing Democrats in state legislatures, electing Democrats as governors who can — who have much more sway and impact on state voting laws.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's gotten very messy, Tam, has it not, in the process of trying to get something done.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly, it has.

    And Manchin has talked about, well, he has more — a compromise proposal that is less than H.R.1. And then Republicans immediately dismissed that out of hand. Well, the Democrats, including Stacey Abrams, who's this high-profile voting rights advocate, supported what Manchin came up with.

    Broader than that, voting rights has become a battlefield. Fighting about voting is the 2021 answer to what to fight about, or at least one of them. And for Republicans, these bills to crack down on what they claim is voter fraud, though there has been basically no evidence of widespread voter fraud anywhere, this has become a cause for them.

    And for Democrats, who don't have much ability to push back on it at the state level, where legislatures are controlled by Republicans in these states, it is becoming a campaign issue for them. This is going to be something that galvanizes Democratic voters. It's certainly something that, in Georgia, galvanized Democratic voters, and ultimately helped them win those two Senate seats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Virtually an existential issue. Democrats are painting it that way.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, and for the White House, for President Biden, it's become bigger and bigger and part of a bundle — one of the bundle of issues that have become important for him.

    Another one is infrastructure and jobs.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, and going back and forth on will he get a bipartisan deal, which it looks now there is more hope than ever about a bipartisan deal coming together.

    But, as we know, in a 50/50, Senate, right, all it takes is one senator from your own side to go, oh, I'm not so crazy about this. And we saw Bernie Sanders over the weekend say, look, I'm not against this infrastructure plan. I just don't get how it's getting paid for. And if it's getting paid for by user fees, private partnerships that — or private funding for these roads and things like that, I'm not OK with that.

    So, we're we are likely looking at, while you may placate moderates over here, you're upsetting progressives over there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we may learn more about that in coming days.

  • Amy Walter:

    We may learn more this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, you cover the White House. This is a president who doesn't have a shortage of challenges on his plate, just back from this trip overseas.

    He's got the things that we have been talking about, also having the White House now having to acknowledge they're not going to make their target when it comes to getting Americans vaccinated.

  • Tamara Keith:

    All of a sudden, they're not talking about the goal of 70 percent of adults getting their first dose by July 4. And, instead, they're sort of moving the goalposts and saying, well, it was really just — it was sort of arbitrary. It was about getting back to normal.

    Well, guess what? Things are back to normal, but they're also not hitting the 70 percent goal. And in some states, it's way, way, way off. In some states, the number of people vaccinated is just incredibly low. And I was talking to a hospital director in Missouri today who has his staff going through contingencies for another possible surge, because 40 percent of his staff aren't vaccinated and 60 percent of his community aren't vaccinated.

    And they're just worried about what might happen with these variants. So there is a situation, we're, as a country, divided in so many ways, and when it comes to vaccination, that divide is there too. And, potentially, if these variants become a problem, there could be a divide between places where people are fine, living their lives, and places where people are clogging hospitals and people are dying again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is disturbing to hear you quote them as saying they're worried about another surge. I mean, we all like to think, oh, well, so many Americans are vaccinated.

    But this is becoming more and more of an issue.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    This is more of more of an issue, in that, as Tam pointed out, it's now — it's a red state/blue state issue and divide.

    I mean, there are many other reasons for differences between who's vaccinated and who's not, and access and skepticism. But, really, at its core, the blue states are the ones who are leading the way on vaccinations, and the red states are falling very much back.

    And if — that also impacts not just what the hospitals look like, what their economies could look like going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the president trying to use his persuasive powers, but, in the red states, there's a limit on how far that will go.

  • Tamara Keith:

    There is a limit.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's no limit, though, to how happy we are that you are back.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Glad to be here.

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