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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on postponed primaries, Trump-Biden call

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including the fallout from postponing so many 2020 primary elections, a phone call between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden about coronavirus response and the fallout from Trump’s firing of the intelligence community inspector general.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lots of late-breaking political news tonight, including new questions over Wisconsin's planned elections tomorrow.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has the latest.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. These are uncertain times in so many ways.

    To help us understand the effect on politics and elections politics, of course, it's time for Politics Monday.

    That means we're joined by The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter, also host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Ladies, I see your bookshelves and typewriters. And I you see with my own (AUDIO GAP)


    The first question has to be about Wisconsin, the on-again/off-again election. (AUDIO GAP)

    Amy, let me start with you. What can we take from this about the rest of this (AUDIO GAP) election year?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    Lisa, what makes Wisconsin very unique is that it is one of the very few states to still be holding a primary here in the middle of the pandemic. So many states, 15 other states, have postponed their primaries.

    What's different about Wisconsin, though, is, it's not just a presidential primary. It's also a municipal and statewide Election Day. It's actually in the law that Wisconsin has elections on this Tuesday in April.

    And so, in order to change the law, it needs to go through the legislative process. Well, guess what? There's a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. And as you probably know, Wisconsin has had long history of fights between the legislature and the governor

    And in this case, they could not agree on how to hold the elections safely. And the governor this morning said, well, fine, we're just not going to have an election. I'm closing down all in-person voting.

    The legislature said, we don't think so, we're going to appeal this. And the courts came out just very recently, within the last few minutes, to say, no, the election will go on.

    So there will be polling places open, though very few, Lisa, in a city — in the city of Milwaukee, there are only five precincts that — or — I'm sorry — five polling places that are open to handle this.

    Now, they have had a lot of vote by mail. There are a lot of ballots that have already gone out, but there's still a tremendous amount of confusion for voters in Wisconsin.

    Just very quickly, I think we need to understand what this is going to tell us, if anything, for what this could mean for November. The first is Wisconsin is going to be potentially a preview of what other states, especially states with divided legislatures or a Democratic — a governor of one party and the legislature of another, might be dealing with when having to try to change voting laws very quickly.

    Democrats want to see more voting by mail. Republicans say that's rife with fraud.

    And the second is, in a state like Wisconsin, where vote by mail is already very infrequent, only 5 percent of votes turned in their ballots by mail in 2016, trying to get to a 100 percent vote by mail, even if it's in November, is going to be structurally very challenging for the clerks and all the folks who are responsible for putting these elections together.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    (AUDIO GAP) of course, the man who hopes to be the Democratic nominee (AUDIO GAP) look at some pictures really quickly (AUDIO GAP) Skype.

    He's done some campaigning. There you see him (AUDIO GAP) but also trying to bring (AUDIO GAP). This is not the stuff of electrifying campaigns.

    But also tonight, Tam, he did have (AUDIO GAP) President Trump.

    What do you make of that phone call and what the former vice president is trying to do right now.

  • Tamara Keith:

    The former vice president is attempting to continue to stay in the picture, to stay relevant.

    He is doing a lot of work on coronavirus-related issues. And in this call with the president, it's one of those things that sort of grew out of a back-and-forth on cable between aides to the president and then aides to the vice president and to Vice President — former Vice President Biden and ultimately ended up with this approximately 15-minute call.

    Apparently, according to the president, they agreed not to discuss the substance of their conversation with the broader public. But President Trump said it was very pleasant. The Biden campaign said that Biden offered some suggestions.

    President Trump seems very happy with the phone call. I mean, it's kind of this odd thing, but, you know, this is not a normal campaign, and this is not a normal time at all.

    One thing that I would say more broadly about the state of play right now is that both Biden and Trump are acting like they are the nominees. Obviously, President Trump is the presumptive nominee and running for reelection.

    But the Trump campaign has aimed all of its fire now at Vice President — former Vice President Biden. And Biden is entirely focused on Trump and coronavirus.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Just one minute left. I'm sorry (AUDIO GAP)

    Quickly, Tam, what do you make of the president firing the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson? Politically (AUDIO GAP) upside?

    And, Amy, what do you make of how the president is operating now?

    Tam, quickly.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, this is the latest in a long line of people who have been connected with the impeachment who have been pushed out by President Trump or otherwise fired.

    This happened very late at night. The news broke late at night Friday, didn't even make a lot of front pages on Saturday, and, in some ways, rightfully so, but — because the coronavirus is so dominant and people were dying over the weekend.

    But this is certainly just a pattern of President Trump taking it out on people who he thinks have wronged him.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Amy Walter:


    When — the president's style has not changed at all, whether we're in the middle of the crisis or in the middle of just what was before COVID-19 a normal day. This is what the election is going to be about in November.

    You can see the Biden campaign already setting up this contrast with the president. One is, he will say of the president it's too chaotic, it's too much focused on getting back at his enemies. Joe Biden is going to say, I'm a steadier hand. And there we go.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think you are both steady hands, regardless.

    (AUDIO GAP) again next week. Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you, Lisa, Amy, and Tam.

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