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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Sanders’ endorsement, Trump’s crisis response

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including Sen. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, how Sanders’ politics might influence his former rival and political fallout from the Trump administration’s reaction to COVID-19.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even with serious social distancing under way, we witnessed political unity today.

    Here to analyze what Bernie Sanders' endorsement means for Joe Biden's race against President Trump and more is our regular Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    Let me just — here we are. Boom, Amy, we see the two men together. They have been going at it tooth and nail — I think you could say that — for a while.

    But since this pandemic, we really haven't seen as much of the competition. Yesterday — or last week, Bernie Sanders suspends the campaign. Today, he's right there next to Joe Biden.

    How much real unity is there?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it's a really amazing progress that we have made, Judy.

    Or if you actually think about it this way, just how dynamic this Democratic primary has been, six weeks ago, we were all honestly talking about that we might be looking at contested convention, that no candidate was going to be able to put together a plurality of the delegates.

    And now here we are, early April, with the race essentially over. Well, it is over, and Joe Biden wrapping up the nomination.

    Look, I think there was something really important that happened in this endorsement, which, by the way, was virtual, like everything these days. This was done over video, with the two of them interacting that way.

    Joe Biden was very diplomatic, he was very gracious, he was very deferential to Bernie Sanders, but there was also a marked change in tone and style and even focus that I thought was important.

    If you remember, Judy, when the race was really hot and heavy, when we were in late February, early March, Joe Biden saying, we don't have a time for a revolution, we just need to figure out the here and now, there was really a sense that Joe Biden was campaigning as a let's return back to normal, vs. the Bernie Sanders let's have a revolution and make big structural change.

    Well, today, Joe Biden, you know, we can't just go back to business as usual, basically acknowledging not only that the world has changed a great deal since these two were in a very competitive race, with the coronavirus and the damage that it's done to the health and economy of this country, but also really giving a nod to Bernie Sanders and his message about big structural change.

    I mean, the interesting piece of all of this, Judy, to me, is that we had a campaign where this debate about making big structural change or kind of staying the course, staying in the status quo, were the two poles, and now it's not the candidates that have really upended life as we know it or made big structural change.

    It's this coronavirus that's actually done it, and the idea that we're going to go back to — quote, unquote — "normal" seems really unlikely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it also looks, Tam, as if they are finding their way in this new world, new reality, new relationship.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, they are forming task forces to talk about policy and ways that maybe former Vice President Biden could move closer to where Bernie Sanders is on various policy issues.

    This is all about trying to figure out how Joe Biden can win over Bernie Sanders' support, which is going to be critically important.

    You know, one thing is, they have more time this time around. You know, Sanders didn't endorse Hillary Clinton until July, and then almost immediately after that, the WikiLeaks — the first tranche of WikiLeaks came out and completely undermined the efforts to repair the relationship between Sanders' supporters and Hillary Clinton, the more establishment Democrat.

    Who knows what might lay ahead, but, certainly, there's more time for them to work on coming together and winning over Sanders' supporters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, I want to ask you about that. Does it look like Sanders' supporters are going to go along with this?

    Some of them are being very vocal right now and saying that's not what they want. We don't know what percentage they make up of the whole Bernie Sanders crowd, but they're not being quiet.

  • Amy Walter:

    No.

    And we're going to have to see as we move through this campaign just what kind of support that Joe Biden is getting from younger voters, especially younger voters of color, who have been strong Sanders supporters and who Joe Biden had a really difficult time winning over in the primary.

    So that is going to be important to watch. But I do think that 2016, though it wasn't that long ago, it really was an entirely different world we were looking at in 2016, not just because it was a pre-COVID-19 world, but because Donald Trump wasn't the president. He is now the sitting president.

    It's a very different calculation for Democratic voters or for Bernie Sanders voters on who they're going to support today than in 2016, when the concept of Donald Trump being president was just that, a concept.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Tam, there are, as we have been hearing in the program, these criticisms of the Trump administration for not acting soon enough, as they were being urged to do, reportedly, on the coronavirus.

    How much — is it too early to know how much of an effect that's going to have on this campaign?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, you can tell how much the president is worried about it by how much the president responded in that briefing today, as Yamiche mentioned.

    He basically took that briefing and, for probably 30 minutes, did what amounted to an effort to do a point-pi-point refutation of The New York Times' article, an effort to boost his reputation and to not allow that narrative to take hold, because, if it can take hold, then he has a problem.

    You know, the coronavirus, how he handled it and how many deaths there are, and what the economic damage is, that is going to determine how people perceive the success or failure of his presidency, and pretty much anything that happened before this year doesn't matter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, already, the administration is trying to turn their criticism in the other direction, putting the blame on Democrats for spending too much time on impeachment.

    Is this going to be something that just we watch the two slides slog their way through?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. And I think that Tam's right.

    This is a referendum on Donald Trump and how he reacted to this. Look, governments very rarely do a good job of being proactive. They're much better at being reactive.

    So the fights over should the administration have done more before, like last year or the year before, I don't know if those are as important as the reactive piece and how quickly and how efficiently and effectively they reacted. And that's where the president was pushing back today, saying, I did it as quickly as possible, even as The New York Times reports that the month of February was essentially wasted.

    But voters are going to have to make this choice. And we are going to know a whole lot more in November about the damage that this virus has done to the health of Americans and to the economy, and whether Donald Trump is seen as effective in moving us forward.

    But as we're seeing in the polls, Judy, his approval rating is now basically back to where it's always been. Voters remain as divided as ever about Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, all these questions being asked are ones that we need to keep pursuing, keep looking for answers.

    And we are so glad to talk to the two of you.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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