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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on protest pressure, Trump’s response

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the pressure that mass public protests are putting on lawmakers to enact police reform, President Trump’s “law and order” strategy and whether it will energize his base and where former Vice President Joe Biden stands on changes to American law enforcement.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been a momentous two weeks in American life, with the potential to transform political discourse, policy and the 2020 presidential campaign, which is now officially down to President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

    Biden quietly crossed the delegate threshold to clinch the Democratic nomination on Friday night.

    Our Politics Monday team is back to take on where things go from here. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    It's so good to see both of you, especially after this tumultuous days that we have been through.

    Let's talk first about the pressure we — that Democratic members of Congress, Tam, must be feeling right now. We heard a little bit earlier in the show from Senator Cory Booker. But what do all these protests and calls for police reform, what does that add up to if you are a Democrat in the House or the Senate?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It adds up to, they are working on legislation and pushing ideas forward.

    I mean, certainly they do feel some pressure from the protests to get out there and stand for something. But, also, they're out there trying to create a contrast with President Trump and his administration, which has not really talked much about police brutality in a systemic way.

    The president has been very focused on the case of George Floyd, but he hasn't — he hasn't been willing to broaden it out. He has talked about bad apples being involved in Floyd's case, but not willing to sort of talk about police reform more seriously. He nodded to it a tiny bit at an event today.

    But Democrats are out there saying that they want to stand for something on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, you have protesters, as we heard earlier in the program, people saying, we need to get rid of police departments. We don't just need to add on more reforms, which they say haven't made any difference. We need to do something drastic.

    If you are an elected official, what do you do with that?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, we know what one person did, the person who is the Democratic nominee for president.

    Joe Biden came out with a statement saying that he wants to see police reforms, but the idea of defunding the police is not something that he supports.

    And, look, I think, when we're talking about the contrast right now between where Joe Biden is and where Donald Trump is, the onus really is on President Trump right now. Overwhelming majorities think that the president has not handled these protests very well. Majorities believe that the protests themselves are valid.

    More people than ever — we talked about this last week, Judy — especially white voters, believe that there is systemic problems within policing, that black folks are identified more likely than whites to police violence.

    And so the sort of shift of balance right now, the pressure is really on Donald Trump right now to change where this race is, the race between Joe Biden and himself, and also where the conversation is. And right now, we have seen a number of polls come out in this last week where the president is down against Joe Biden anywhere from seven to 14 points.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, is the thinking, whether it's from these polls or other evidence, that what we are seeing in the streets of America is having an effect on Trump voters, as well as Democrats, who are, presumably, many of them energized by all this to vote against President Trump?

    But what about the people who voted for him the last time? Are they hearing this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The people who voted for President Trump last time are hearing the message that President Trump is delivering now.

    And that message is a law and order message. He said he's the president of law and order, and he has been pushing this idea that the protests are violent. Or he's really highlighted, keyed in on the aspect of the protests that have turned violent or the looting.

    It's really familiar territory for him. He did the same thing back in 2016. And the difference this time, though ,is as Amy said, public opinion has moved a lot.

    And I was talking to Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, who both looks at that polling, but is also just looking at who is out there protesting. And he says, when you have suburban white kids out there protesting, then this law and order theme that Republican candidates, including President Trump, going back to Richard Nixon, have used, it doesn't have the same resonance in the suburbs if suburban kids are marching in those protests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's my question, Amy.

    Is this actually cutting into voters who chose Donald Trump the last time?

  • Amy Walter:

    I don't know that it is necessarily cutting into Trump voters. He still has an incredible well of support among Republicans. He's still getting 90-plus something of their vote.

    But even when you ask the question on that NPR/Marist/"PBS NewsHour" poll about whether these protests were valid, whether they thought that Donald Trump was handling it well, a third of Republicans thought the protests were valid. A third of Republicans thought that President Trump wasn't handling it very well.

    But they are still supporting the president in the reelection. The challenge for this president has long been that he keeps going back to these same issues, the same strategies over and over again, which tend to bring his voters in, but do not bring anybody else along for the ride.

    And that is what you're seeing right now is losing — he's losing independents by bigger margins. He's always lost Democrats. And the bigger concern, I think, going into the fall for the president is that this suddenly doesn't work to even energize his base enough, right?

    It's always about priming and pumping his voters out. At some point, does this start to lose that energy that he's counting on? Which is why we're hearing today that he is intending to start his rallies again, probably in the next couple of weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which will be interesting — it will be interesting to watch, given social distancing.

    But just quickly, Tam, to the extent Joe Biden needs an energized, excited, motivated group of voters to turn out, if his position is not where some of the Black Lives Matter activists are in terms of defunding the police, you're saying you don't think that's a problem for him?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, I think there is a real range in viewpoints among the people protesting and marching and what they're calling for.

    And Biden is — you know, has taken this position that he doesn't support defund the police. I think the concept of defund the police is a lot more nuanced than the words would let on. And, certainly, nuance doesn't always work in politics.

    But Biden is certainly trying to figure out where he stands on this, how to say it. He does have a justice plan on his Web site. But the Trump campaign is certainly trying to affiliate him and tie him to the defund idea. And being able to run against that for Trump is easier than having to talk about what he's going to do to address the concerns of the protesters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're hearing it all now. It's just the 1st of June, but we're forecasting all the way to November, which is what I ask both of you to do every single week, and we will continue to do.

    Tamara Keith and Amy Walter, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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