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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on race in America, the Capitol riot and the Middle East

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including race relations in America, investigating the Capitol riot, and U.S. response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    In our latest "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll released this morning, we asked Americans to weigh in on some of the most pressing issues facing President Biden and Congress right now, among them, racism and policing.

    Here to analyze the political impact of it all, our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Amy and Tam, welcome back. Always good to start off the week with you both.

    Let's jump into some of these numbers, because it's fascinating stuff. One of the questions we asked folks, especially because May 25 will mark one year since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, around racism and policing was how much they think things have changed when it comes to race relations in America over the last year. There's a big divide here.

    Look at look at some of these numbers. Only 17 percent of those who responded think race relations have improved over the last year; 39 percent think they stayed the same; 42 percent think they have gotten worse.

    Amy, when you look at those numbers, what strikes you? What stands out to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Amna, it's interesting.

    That same poll went all the way back to 2015, where they have asked that question. And what you notice is, it hasn't really changed that much over the course of the last six years. Most Americans, about 75 percent, are still pretty pessimistic when it comes to race relations. Only 25 percent feel more optimistic.

    But what is interesting is, when asked the question about what do you think is happening in your own local community, people are much more optimistic. About 49 percent said things — they think things are getting better, vs. a smaller percentage who think that things are getting worse.

    So, some of it, I think, Amna, is about what you see on the national front, right, what you are seeing on television, what you are reading in national news. It seems like, boy, things are just sort of intractable. But as you come closer to home, you are feeling a little more optimistic.

    Another thing that stood out to me, Amna, was just, not surprisingly at all, how you feel about race relations is based a lot about where and how you see discrimination more broadly. Not surprisingly, white Americans, only 15 percent of them said they felt like they experienced discrimination based on their race; 60 percent of African Americans said they faced discrimination or have faced discrimination.

    And that, I think, is leading to a lot of the ways in which opinions about race relations and, of course, the way we look at policing and the issue of race is so bifurcated.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that is a perfect jumping off point for me to turn to Tam on this other specific question, Tam, on race and policing.

    We asked Americans if they believe people of color are treated more harshly by police. And there's a real divide in the results there as well; 25 percent of white respondents said, yes, that was true, that people of color are treated more harshly by police; 61 percent of Black respondents said that was true.

    That — and that is what the data shows. We know that.

    But, Tam, when you look at the efforts lawmakers are going through right now to push through policing reform, what does all this mean for that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, and those numbers indicate that we are living in different Americas.

    And, basically, every poll you look at these days indicates that there are just very different versions of the reality that we're a part of right now, the reality that people in America are experiencing. People are in different places.

    And, certainly, you see that in those numbers. You see that in perceptions of race relations divided by party and by race. In terms of the effort to try to get some sort of policing reform through Congress, there is a very concerted, bipartisan effort. There are talks on going, though the way things go with talks in Congress, until there is a deal, and it is announced, and you have got some leadership signed on, there isn't really a deal. There's just talks.

    And you just never truly know how close it is. But they — the members of Congress who are working on this are expressing some level of optimism. President Biden has given a deadline, saying he wants something done by Memorial Day weekend, which would be the anniversary of George Floyd's death.

    It's not clear whether that's going to happen or not. But they are — they're certainly working on it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, speaking of things are working on, Tam, we know that there's an effort under way to establish a commission to investigate the attack of January 6, the violent insurrection on the Capitol, similar to a commission that was set up after 9/11, we should say.

    Where does that stand right now? And are Republicans likely to get behind it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, there's already a rewriting of history that's taking place, even as there is damage still visible in the Capitol Building. There are still very visible signs of that violent insurrection that happened there in the Capitol.

    In terms of this commission, there was a bipartisan deal announced late last week. It's not clear yet whether Republican leadership truly supports it or not. But it was being negotiated. And there is this agreement. There's an expected vote on it this week in the House.

    And, really, the success or failure of this commission depends on whether it has bipartisan support, whether it is portrayed by Republicans in Congress as a legit thing, or whether it is portrayed as some sort of extension of a witch-hunt against former President Trump.

    And how this goes for the next few days may well determine whether this bipartisan commission is granted legitimacy or not. There are also a lot of potholes that they could fall into along the way. Even if it does pass Congress and the commission starts working, it could run into trouble over deciding, for instance, who gets subpoenaed and who doesn't to testify before this commission.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, what do you make of the prospects for this commission too, because, if House Democrats can move forward, if this goes to a vote, what position does that put Republicans in?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, this is the fascinating part, Amna, that not but, what was it, four or five days ago, Republicans in the House kicked from their leadership Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who basically was saying, we need to have a commission to study what happened on January 6.

    A lot of Republicans felt like she was pushing them off track, reopening or keeping open a wound, maybe even pouring salt in it. They want to move on, move beyond this, don't want to see the criticism of the president or other members of the Republican Party who were there on January 6, including Leader McCarthy.

    And yet here we are with a bipartisan deal to make this commission a reality. So, it seems very hard for me to believe that, at the end of the day, Republicans are going to get behind something that could expose these same rifts that they were trying to get rid of by ousting Liz Cheney from leadership.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, before we let you go, very quickly, I want to ask you about the president's handling of this growing violence in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

    What do you make of the way the president's handled it so far? This was certainly not one of the foreign policy priorities coming in for this administration.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This was not part of his first 200 days' plan, certainly.

    But when you're president, things get thrust upon you. And this is one of those things. He had another call with Prime Minister Netanyahu today. The statement that the White House put out after that call indicates that President Biden discussed a support for a cease-fire. He hasn't explicitly called for one, but even using those terms cease-fire is a bit of movement on the part of President Biden.

    He's really tried to stay low-key on this. He was given multiple chances over the past few days to answer questions about this, to talk publicly about it. And he has generally deferred and put out very carefully worded statements instead.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a tough, tough thing for any administration. It continues.

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, our Politics Monday duo, always good to see you both. Thanks.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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