Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Republicans censuring Cheney, Kinzinger

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the repercussions after the Republican National Committee censured Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their work on the select congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, and how the committee's probe is progressing.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the Republican Party prepares for the midterm elections this year, the January 6 assault on the Capitol and the subsequent investigation continue to loom large.

    The Republican National Committee issued a stunning rebuke of two of its own last week, censuring Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their work on the congressional committee investigating the Capitol attack. The censure resolution referred to the events as — quote — "ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

    The RNC later said that they were not defending those who violently stormed the Capitol, but the comment still sparked outcry from some in the party, including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who wrote: "We must not legitimize those actions which resulted in loss of life, and we must learn from that horrible event."

    Here to help us understand the political effect of all this and more, I'm joined by our Politics Monday duo. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you. Very good to have you, the two of you back together again.

    Tam, I'm going to start with you and what the RNC had done at this, its last meeting. What are the political consequences of making this statement, issuing the censure? What kind of effect could this have on Republican candidates running for office this year?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Well, at the very least, that statement was political malpractice or communications malpractice. They used a phrase that can be used against them.

    Now, whether that phrase will continue to be salient in November, it is not clear at this point. But it is part of this broader thing that is happening, where they censured two Republican members, the only two Republican members of the January 6 commission — or committee — at the same time that they also did this resolution.

    And it's in line with this idea that, if you are against Trump, then you're not a real Republican. And former President Trump, anyone who criticizes him, he calls them a RINO, Republican in name only, which really speaks to the idea that, to be Republican, you have to be loyal to President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, where does that leave Republican candidates across the board this year?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report,:

    At some point, you can't — I mean, you can, but it is not very politically smart for a Republican up for election this year to criticize Donald Trump or to in any way get on his radar, because he will want retribution for that.

    So, what we will see is something like what we saw this weekend from Senator Marco Rubio. He is up for reelection this year. He was asked about these very comments, Judy, over the weekend. And what you saw him do was to say, well, of course, somebody like Mike Pence shouldn't have been able to overturn the election because I don't want to see somebody like Kamala Harris, nor should other Republicans want to see someone like Kamala Harris making sure that Joe Biden wins reelection. We don't want to empower a vice president, because that would mean empowering the other side.

    Also saying, of course, legitimate discourse is different from what happened with violent attacks, but that wasn't everybody who was there on January 6, and then bringing it back to Democrats. But let's remember this January 6 commission is illegitimate, is a political sideshow.

    So, doing everything they can to put — Republicans, that is, to walk this tightrope, not saying, I agree with Donald Trump, but being able to instead put the onus on Democrats, try not to focus so much on Trump and the 2020 election, try to make it a lot more about Democrats and about delegitimizing the January 6 commission, in and of itself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when it comes to that January 6 Committee, Tam, we have watched them for weeks, for months now trying to get information, trying to get people to cooperate.

    And then we learn — it seems we learn something every other day about former President Trump's efforts to stymie this, that he has been tearing up — we had seen reporting of this, but now we see even more detail about how the former president just ripped up documents that could be important for the investigation that they're doing.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Document preservation was never a priority for the Trump administration. One might argue that destroying documents and using private phones for the public's business was part of the system of operation in the Trump White House.

    They were reminded repeatedly, reprimanded for not staying in line with the Presidential Records Act. And they kept doing it. And so, in some ways, what we are hearing from the January 6 Committee about documents taped back together is confirmation of something that was reported very early in the Trump presidency about his tendency to just tear up documents.

    We also know that, when he was in business, he didn't use e-mail. He tried not to have a paper trail. And so there is sort of par for the course for Trump.

    The thing that I would say that is more detrimental to the committee's work is that there are people close to Trump who are absolutely refusing to cooperate, either refusing to testify or taking the Fifth to protect themselves.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The committee is plowing ahead, Amy, but it seems, as we said, almost every other day, there is news that they're not getting cooperation where they need it.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's fair.

    But they also have gotten a lot of information. They have texts. They have documents. They do have a lot of people who have come either because they were subpoenaed or willingly came in and gave testimony. So, when you listen to what some of the committee members are saying, at least on the record, is, we have got a lot of stuff here, there is a lot we can do with it.

    But, at the end of the day, when it comes to things like the reservation of records or whether there was any criminal behavior on the part of the former president, that's something that has to be referred to the DOJ.

    And, of course, we have another case going on, Judy, down in Atlanta in Fulton County, where a special grand jury there…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    … is looking into those allegations about the president really pushing on the secretary of state and other officers, election officers in that state, to — quote, unquote — "find" some votes for Donald Trump after the election was over.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And some very serious legal consequences…

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … depending on what happens there.

    Just very quickly to both of you.

    Tam, President Biden, some commentators are saying that, with the start of a new year, with good jobs numbers and a few other pieces of news, maybe there is an opportunity for the president to get a political reset and improve his fortunes?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The thing is, you get a couple of small wins, even small ones, and you start to have a winning record.

    And, in particular, that job reports that came out on Friday was very good news for President Biden. It included revisions of previous months that had caused everyone to say, oh, gosh, the recovery is lagging, when, in fact, it turns out job growth was strong. And there has been something of a decoupling of job growth and jobs and the economy from the Omicron variant, which is different from previous waves of the coronavirus.

    So that is good news for President Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, precedent for a president being able to turn his fortunes around?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Judy, the polling is — and the precedent in polling is not that good for President Biden, at least in modern times.

    We haven't seen a president substantially improve his standing with voters between January and November of an election year. But this president has two challenges. One is to get his base more motivated and more engaged.

    And I think the January 6 Committee, as well as the Supreme Court nomination, that can potentially help to motivate his base. And then the big challenge is independent voters. They were much more receptive to the president. They were much — they saw him in a much better light earlier in his presidency in that spring and summer, when things were going better.

    But now, between inflation and COVID and the economy, they have really soured on him. Those things need to be able to turn around in order for him to win those voters back or for Democrats to win those voters back in 2022 midterms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Those independent voters, we just keep watching them.

  • Amy Walter:

    We do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both, Politics Monday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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