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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on President Biden’s executive actions

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Biden's first days in office, the prospects for bipartisanship in Congress, and former President Trump's impeachment trial.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's the first full week of the Biden administration.

    And here to analyze an ambitious set of legislative goals, executive actions and more, our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Good to see both of you.

    I say it's been a week. It has, what, been only five days, Amy.

    So, I'm already going to be asking both of you to size up what we see. You have the new president saying — doing exactly what he said he was going to do. He's rolled out a big economic proposal to the Congress. And, already, he's getting pushback.

    What do you make of this, of these first days?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's a great point, Judy.

    It's like, well, how much can we read into something that has only been going on for four or five days?

    But, to me, it really — what really seems to be coming to the fore is the question about how both sides, Democrats, Republicans, define some terms, terms like bipartisanship and unity and compromise and what that means to one group of legislators or voters and what that means to the other.

    For example, does something become bipartisan only if it passes with Democratic and Republican votes, or can bipartisan mean just reaching out to the other side? Does unity mean, we have to agree all the time, or does unity mean we're just going to be more civil?

    And that's really, right now, where Congress is sort of — and, well, where Congress and the White House and sort of official Washington seems to be at loggerheads about this.

    And we're also seeing that with voters as well, Judy. The Pew Research Center released a poll earlier this month, and it had some fascinating looks at how voters see the issue of compromise. We love to talk about compromise. We love this concept of people working together, whether it's in politics or anywhere else.

    But where you sit, whether you sit on the Democratic side or Republican side, also defines how you see the word compromise. And what's interesting is, when they ask the question of Democrats and Republicans, do you think it's a good idea for President Biden to work with Republicans, even if it means, in compromising with them, he disappoints some of his voters, almost two-thirds of Democrat said they'd be willing to do that. They thought that was a good idea.

    But when it was reversed, asked Republicans, do you think Republican leaders should compromise with Biden, even if it means disappointing Republican voters, only about 40 percent of Republicans agreed with that. So, the incentive structure right now is very much tilted against, if you're a Republican officeholder, compromise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see all this, Tam? Because you do have the president — as we suggested, he's doing exactly what he said he would do.

    And when he — even when he was asked today about how he views the term unity, he pretty much characterized it as an absence of vitriol, rather than saying he expects the Republicans to climb on board with everything he wants.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and the reality is that the Republicans are not going to climb on board with everything that he wants.

    This $1.9 trillion COVID relief legislation that he wants is not going to be what he gets. And he essentially admitted that today in talking to reporters, saying that you don't want to give up at the beginning.

    But, certainly, there is a realization in this White House that that was an opening — that was an opening offer, and that there are going to be discussions. There are elements, certainly, of that big legislation that there is bipartisan agreement on.

    But there are other areas, like a $15 minimum wage, that may not have as much agreement. The $1,400 direct payments to individuals may not have full buy-in. And there are a number of elements there.

    Obviously, state and local government aid is something that was battled out in the winter — or in December, when the House and Senate and President Trump came up with a bill. So, there are a lot of challenges to this package. And there is a deadline looming.

    It's not immediate, though. It doesn't come until March, when those unemployment benefits expire.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Exactly right.

    And, Amy, I'm going to come back to you with a question you sort of left hanging there at the end, which is, what is the incentive for Republicans to go along with any of this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Well, what Democrats are hoping is that Republicans are going to go along, especially on issues that relate to COVID and health care and some of those other issues that have wide bipartisan appeal. And especially in states among people who are really suffering at this moment in time, being seen as the obstruction to those can be costly politically, right?

    What's the bigger cost to you, as a Republican incumbent? Fear of getting primaried on your right because you were willing to work with Democrats, or fear of losing a general election because Democrats painted you as, you know, standing in the way of getting stuff to voters?

    Now, it's hard for that latter to work, Judy. Usually, it's — the party in power in a midterm election, it's a referendum on them. But what we're going to find out in this next year is how much of a role Donald Trump is going to continue to play on the Republican side, both looming as a figure out there, endorsing certain candidates or speaking out against others.

    But, also, of course, we know that there is this impeachment trial coming up, which is going to be a recorded vote. And that is another thing sort of looming right now for so many Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very much looming in the background, Tam, as the president — as President Biden does — yes, he put out this economic agenda, but he's also putting out, as you pointed out today, a lot of executive orders, executive actions, I guess setting a record for the first week for a new president?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Absolutely setting a record, exploding a record.

    When President Trump put out 14 executive actions in his first week in office, his team was describing that as shock and awe. Well, Biden already, not a full week in, has more than doubled the number of executive actions taken by President Trump.

    Now, part of this is simply that President Trump — and he followed President Obama in this — ultimately decided or was forced to decide that he had to govern through executive action, that getting things through Congress simply wasn't happening on a schedule that he wanted or in a way that he wanted.

    But when you when you legislate by executive action, it is much more easily reversed than when there's actual legislation. It's not a law. It is an executive action that can be reversed just as easily by another executive action.

    And so a lot of what Biden is doing is keeping the promises he made during the campaign and reversing what Trump did over the course of his presidency. For people who require stability or want stability, or, say, people who are affected by immigration policy, where there hasn't been some significant legislation since the Bush administration, for people who want stability, this sort of ping-pong of executive actions is not helpful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    And just Amy here at the end, it also lowers expectations for what people can today expect a president to get done in the way of big, sweeping legislation.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's exactly right.

    I mean, what these executive actions do, as Tam pointed out there, there's the ability to go in and reverse instantly what your predecessor had put forward through his own executive actions. But it also puts W's up on the board, right? You can turn to your supporters and say, I told you, within minutes of taking office, I would do these things. And, look, they're done.

    Of course, what they're not saying is, well, the next president could roll those back. But we won't talk about that right now. Let's just talk about the fact that we got these things done.

    But Tam's right. About a third of all of the executive actions that have been taken have been focused just on rolling back things that the Trump administration put in executive orders during their time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question, the transgender ban on the military, the Paris climate accords, building the wall. The list — the list goes on. The pipeline issue.

    Tam, just quickly here at the end, when it comes to impeachment, Republicans all over the map at this point, but no clear path to that 67 majority that it would take.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And House Republicans are being punished for their votes. Over on the Senate side, it is notable that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not telling his members what to do. He's saying it's a vote of conscience.

  • Judy Woodurff:

    Yes, well, we will be watching that. February the 9th, the trial starts.

    We get a chance to see the two of you a couple times before then.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, a lot going on. Thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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