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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Senate trial standoff, Iowa 2020 polls

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the state of the 2020 presidential race as the Iowa caucuses approach, an impasse over a Senate trial for President Trump and the “policy victories” Trump is claiming as he readies for a reelection campaign.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and 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.

  • Amy Walter:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is Politics Monday.

    And let me just say it for the third time. We are six weeks away today from the Iowa caucuses.

  • Amy Walter:

    I know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So here we are, Amy. Christmas is right around the corner.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does this Democratic race stand?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's funny. It feels like it's incredibly volatile and totally stable at the same time, where, if we go back to the beginning of this year, but let's say the spring, when all of the candidates were in the race that we now have in this race essentially, Joe Biden was ahead, Bernie Sanders was in a close second place.

    We went through the summer. Elizabeth Warren was on the ascendancy, Biden and Sanders started to drop, Buttigieg came up, seems to have plateaued. We saw Harris pop up at one point, looked like she was going to get close to maybe taking a front-runner mantle.

    We're here right close to Christmas, and it's Bernie Sanders at number two, Joe Biden at number one, although, when we look at Iowa and New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders doing better than Joe Biden in both of those states.

    Pete Buttigieg, as you pointed out, could win in Iowa. So, things are as scrambled as they could be. Add to the other wild cards — you pointed to them in your package — Michael Bloomberg and his millions and millions and millions of dollars. Nobody really knows what to make of this.

    When I talk to political professionals, they're really intrigued by this, because they have never seen anything like this. So, we don't really know what to make of it.

    And then Amy Klobuchar, who is trying to get into a lane somewhere in Iowa for a ticket out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what does it all add up to, Tam?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it all adds up to, there are still a lot of people who haven't made up their mind.

    So there's this group of Iowa college students who I text with every once in a while just to take their temperature. And I — every time I check with them, they have different candidates who they feel like they might be willing to caucus for.

    And, today, I texted, said, what do you — what are you thinking about? And each one said, well, if I had to caucus today, I might caucus for either Buttigieg, Sanders or Warren. There's sort of a variety. But they said, you know, I haven't really decided yet.

    And we are six weeks out. They haven't really decided yet. And when you have a race where so many voters, including the ones I text with, are saying that electability is so important to them, then you get the dynamic that Amy described, which is sort of this escalator to a cliff, where you notch up, and then you start taking incoming, as Buttigieg did at the debate.

    And then people say, oh, well, are they as electable as I thought they were when they were just on the ascendancy?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how unusual is it, though, Amy, at this stage of the campaign for there to be this much indecision?

  • Amy Walter:

    The feel — it does feel like — usually, we would have a sense of who the obvious front-runner is.

    I do think that Joe Biden can take that title of front-runner right now, simply because he's been ahead in national polls and really hasn't lost that lead. But…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even though he's not ahead…

  • Amy Walter:

    Even though he's not ahead in Iowa.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    And do you still call someone the front-runner if they lose Iowa and then New Hampshire?

    I think what's new for us right now, Judy, is a sense that the person who wins Iowa and New Hampshire may not get enough momentum from those two to go ahead and win Nevada and South Carolina, which are the next two. They look demographically very different from New Hampshire and Iowa, and then to go right from South Carolina a couple of days later into Super Tuesday, which are big in terms of the number of delegates, but big, expensive states like Texas and California, where Bloomberg is already spending a ton of money.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bloomberg is spending money.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And he has money to spend.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And folks leading in the polls in Nevada and South Carolina may be different, in South Carolina, from the ones who are leading, as you say, in different demographics.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    In national — ye.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, meanwhile, we have this other thing going on, Tam, a very real drama of impeachment playing out.

    A little bit of new information came out over the weekend about the timeline in terms of the — what the president was saying or doing about withholding aid from the Ukrainians.

    Today, there's a court filing that — wherein we learned the Democrats may file additional charges against the president on all this. We don't know what that could mean. But the Democrats are saying in the House — Nancy Pelosi is saying, we're not going to turn over those articles of impeachment to the Senate just yet.

    So where does this stand?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it's at a little bit of a standstill while people are eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate and spending time with their families.

    There's been a fair bit of noise about it today, with a tweet from Pelosi and tweets from Trump, Chuck Schumer having a press conference.

    In essence, the negotiations between the Senate leaders, the Democratic and Republican Senate leaders, are at a standstill. They are at an impasse at the moment. And until that breaks, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says she won't send over those articles.

    It leads to all kinds of interesting rhetorical arguments about, if Democrats were in such a hurry, why are they slow-walking it now? And then Democrats say, well, why don't Republicans want these witnesses and this testimony? They must be covering up for something.

    It gives them something to fight about for the two weeks while they're out. Now, if there isn't an agreement on January 6, when they come back, then this could start getting interesting, because a Senate trial may not happen that quickly, and then you get into the caucuses, which we were just talking about.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    That's bumping into that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, some risk here for the Democrats.

  • Amy Walter:

    There's some risk, definitely, for the Democratic candidates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it's a process argument, right? And those are very difficult for voters to understand. And most folks tend to tune out these process arguments.

    I mean, the challenge I think in this entire impeachment process has been — and I think it was Andrew Yang who said it at the debate the other night — which is, voters feel like they already know what the outcome of the game is, even though we're only in the fifth inning, that we know how this is going to turn out.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    There's not one single — right. We have not seen Republicans break, enough Republicans say publicly that they would vote to convict the president.

    And so this just sounds like a whole bunch of noise that, again, seems like we're back into the — as I said, the political process debate.

    The one thing I will say, though, in the House, Republicans in the minority, were trying to put those vulnerable Democratic members of Congress, mostly freshmen who sit in Trump districts or competitive districts, in a bind on this issue, and talking about the process, meaning it wasn't going to be fair, they're railroading the president, they're rushing this process, it's so partisan.

    Democrats are trying to do that on the Senate side. They're in the minority, but there are a handful of senators in blue or purple states who are — what Democrats are hoping are going to be put at risk by either a long, drawn-out trial, or having to take votes on things that could come back to hurt them in a campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So a lot of calculations.

  • Amy Walter:

    A lot of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of calculations going on.

    And, meantime, the president responding to all this, Tam, by making sure that trade agreement, the North American free trade — we're calling it USMCA, but it's essentially North American.

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's new NAFTA.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was — new NAFTA — was passed. The spending bill was passed. Essentially, the White House got a favorable court ruling on health care. It was put off for a while. It could have been uncomfortable.

    So the president's pushing back in several ways. He's going out to rallies, being very angry, but also saying, I'm getting work done.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And all of those things that you described actually require Democratic help. Those were all bipartisan agreements and bipartisan deals that led to these policy victories that President Trump is able to claim.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And this message is taking hold in his campaign, and you're going to see a lot more of this, which is, you may not like me, you may not like my style, you may not like my tweets, but I get things done.

    And that is essentially President Trump's message going into reelection.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just a few seconds.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    I do think this health care issue, which didn't get a lot of attention, is a very, very big deal, especially for Republicans who could have been put on the defensive for much of the 2020 election cycle if indeed that health care case made it the Supreme Court during 2020.

    It still may make it there. But it won't be going on during a campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because it puts pressure on them to say, where is your plan?

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly. What is your plan?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is your plan?

  • Amy Walter:

    Since they were unable to pass one in 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we wish both of you a wonderful holiday.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you. You too, Judy.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see you in the new year.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yay!

  • Tamara Keith:

    Indeed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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