Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on reconciliation stalemate, Arizona vote count

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the stalemate over the reconciliation bill and how that affects the Democrats’ and President Joe Biden’s agenda, and the counting of election ballots in Arizona.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a critical week for the president's agenda on Capitol Hill, as Democrats try to reach a deal on two key measures.

    Here to explain is our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And hello to both of you on this Monday. It is good to see your smiling faces.

    But, Amy, let's talk about what is going on, as we just said, on Capitol Hill. It is not just the infrastructure. It is this great big reconciliation bill.

    It is not Republicans who are standing in the way of the president's agenda. It's Democrats. So, we have heard the arguments, but what is really going on here?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    I do think it is important for us to step back for a minute, that there are some things that haven't changed at all.

    We have known since the end of January that Democrats have a very narrow margin in the House, three- or four-seat margin in the House, and a zero-seat margin in the Senate. They need every single one of those Democrats to get anything done. So that hasn't changed.

    What has changed is the political environment and, specifically, the approval ratings of Joe Biden, right? And I think if you go back and you think about where Democrats were, where the White House was not that long ago, let's say in early June, the assumption was, COVID is going to be gone, the economy is going to be good, I'm going to keep my approval ratings in the 50s, I'm going to have all this momentum, we have this legislation moving its way down the tracks.

    This is going to be great. I will bring my momentum to that legislation, bing, bing, boom, we're done, except part one didn't turn out so well, right? COVID hasn't gone away. Optimism is down. Pessimism is up in the country. And, of course, then there was Afghanistan.

    And so now the president, he's not bringing his momentum into this process. He needs his own party to give him momentum. So it's a very different environment than they thought they were getting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Tam, I mean, the party also needs this. The Democrats, they are connected to the president. He's their party's nominee.

    So what what's driving this?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    As Amy said, the margins are incredibly narrow.

    And at this point, there hasn't been — though this week, we will get a little taste, but there hasn't been anything to force people to move off their positions. There hasn't been a heated negotiation, really. There have been people sort of staking out their positions.

    One of the challenges of this for Biden and for Democrats is that they're spending a lot of time and we're spending a lot of time talking about how they're arguing about size and scope and pay-fors and using terms like reconciliation. And there's not that much talk about what's actually in this legislation, in part because they haven't agreed on what is in this legislation.

    So, it's a little bit difficult to hold an event saying we're going to give you this thing, just wait, when it isn't clear yet if it really, truly will make it in, in the final analysis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is part of the issue, Amy, though, that there is a lot of different stuff in the reconciliation…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. You're talking about transformational legislation, right, $3.5 trillion. This is the most expansive government spending bill like, ever, right?

    And so there's a lot of moving pieces in this. I think that the grand — the sort of overarching reality is that Democrats support that, but getting into the details becomes — it becomes problematic, although when I think back to other times where we had this last minute, to Tam's point, it kind of always feels like this.

    It comes down to this last minute.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right before…

  • Tamara Keith:

    There's all the negotiating, there's all the drama, and then something can come together.

    But the debate isn't just between progressives and moderates. It's also between the House and the Senate. And if you're a House member, if you have been there for a while, you know that sometimes things you pass end up dying in the Senate. And that's especially what progressives are desperate to not have happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a lack of trust for both sides.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, this is not just a lack of trust between Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. There is a massive lack of trust between Republicans and Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    But there's a lack of trust between progressive and moderate Democrats, a lack of trust within their own party. And that is a challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm hearing from our producer Stephanie Kotuby that, just in the last few minutes, Senate Republicans have blocked the bill to fund the government, which we thought might happen. Now we know it's happened.

    Another big headache for the president.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And not a massive surprise here.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is something that included raising the debt ceiling. Republicans made it clear they don't want their fingerprints on raising the debt ceiling. They want to be able to blame Democrats for that later.

    So, again, this is one of those things where there could be a government shutdown, or this could seem like everything is about to go off the rails, until it jumps on the rails and then the government doesn't shut down. And Joe Biden can once again say, look at this, government can function.

    But that's what's at stake here, is Joe Biden's whole theory of the case that he can prove to the American people that government can still function in America.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just more than two minutes left, but I really want to ask you about this, both of you.

    And that has to do with elections past and present.

    Amy, Arizona, for months, we have seen this Republican-funded effort to recount, re-audit, or whatever, election results from 2020. They have concluded, after all this time, that Joe Biden did win this the county, Maricopa County. He won the state of Arizona. People are still not accepting that.

    Not only that. You have Republican legislatures around the country now looking at ways they can question voting in their states. What — is this going to have a material effect on what happens…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it absolutely is.

    I mean, it's a very jarring situation that we have here, that this isn't just about somebody having a theory of the case that they didn't — or they just — they didn't like the outcome of an election.

    This is after the state has certified. In many of these states, including Arizona, the Republican governor signed off on this. The Republican attorney general signed off on the final vote count. These are rogue elements.

    And the goal of these recounts is to undermine the faith in the electoral system itself. And that is the scarier part, because it does not reassure people who believe that this election was stolen. And it takes people who do believe that their vote counted. They do believe in the results that were certified. It tells them, I don't know. Maybe the next time you vote, this is going to look different.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    People are looking at this, questioning, is this going to change what happens next year?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, the questions that are out there, that these audits, they put questions out there, maybe not genuine, definitely not genuine questions. These elections were certified.

    But then the existence of questions and the existence of concern becomes a pretext for laws, becomes a pretext for candidacies of people who don't believe in the election system as it exists.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More misinformation, more disinformation. And it just begins to feed on itself.

  • Amy Walter:

    And feeds — this is not good for democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For democracy.

    Amy Walter No, the system works. Losers, winners agree to the rules.

  • Tamara Keith:

    But losers have to agree they have lost for the system to work.

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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