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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on shutdown fallout, 2020 presidential race

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the resolution of the partial government shutdown, what the latest polls show about support for President Trump, new entrants to the 2020 presidential race and Democratic congressional ambitions.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Although the government is now reopen, the political costs for President Trump are still being tallied, all this as Democrats look ahead to 2020 and brace for a potential independent challenger.

    Breaking it down is our Politics Monday pair. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Amy, we're coming off a bruising fight after this shutdown. Now, a lot of that blowback came back to President Trump, and the polls aren't looking so good for him right now. What do we know, based on what people reacted to?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    Well, what we know is the president's approval rating now averaging somewhere around 40 percent. That's not great, but it's not the worst that the president — the shape that he's been in. That was really back in 2017. He spent a good amount of time down in the high 30s, below 40.

    What is the bigger problem for the president and for Republicans writ large is that they not only lost the battle over getting funding for the wall, but they lost the war, the war on who's going to be better on border security, who do Americans trust on the issue of border security.

    Going into the 2018 election, obviously, we talked a lot on this show about the caravan and what impact immigration and the debate was going to have on the 2018 election. At that time, the ABC News/Washington Post poll found that, on the issue border security, Democrats were behind Republicans by about 10 points, that people trusted Republicans more.

    Now, in that same ABC poll, Democrats have a two-point lead on border security. A FOX News poll, do you trust Trump on handling border security, he's underwater by 10 points.

    So it's bigger and broader than just, well, who was responsible for the shutdown? I think that's one piece of it. But if you're losing on ground that the president and Republicans have long held as their most comfortable turf and where they are the strongest, this should be the biggest danger signal for them coming out of this whole last 30 days.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

    So, looking ahead to the next three weeks now, Tam, the president has another chance to kind of double down on this, to get something he's been fighting for. If they can't come through with some funding at the end of three weeks, what does that mean?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and it's unclear whether they won't get any funding.

    Like, it comes down to, what is the wall anyway, what is border security? This conference committee is meeting. Now, the conference committee won't go out beyond what leadership wants.

    But it's entirely possible that they come up with a $5.7 billion or more package that includes a whole lot of border security and not a whole lot of wall, maybe some fence repairs or replacing fence or some strategic fence or bollard, steel slat, whatever you want to call it, as the president would say, but with a lot of other things, like immigration judges or some of these other matters.

    So it's — it may not be the wall. They could come up with something. We don't know whether the president would sign it. And we also don't know whether the president will be able to sell it to his base, because he has spent much of the last 35 days saying: Only a wall will work. Drones — I know everything about technology. Drones are not — no good. You have to have the wall.

    So he's — so sold hard on this wall. It may be hard to accept the compromise and maintain the support. Then again, I have been talking to people who support the president who are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And even though it was — seemed to be a total capitulation to Nancy Pelosi's position, they said, no, it's OK. He's got three more weeks to get the wall.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you mentioned his base. It's worth pointing out a tweet from over the weekend that I'm not sure any of us thought we would ever see.

    But he's criticizing here arguably one of his favorite networks here. He's hitting some FOX News reporters, saying: "Never thought I would say this, but I think John Roberts and Gillian Turner at FOX News even less understanding of the wall negotiations than the folks at fake news CNN and NBC."

    Is he losing his base? Is that what we're seeing this frustration based on, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, John Roberts isn't his base. John Roberts is a journalist at FOX News who is in the journalism division and not in the opinion division. So that — he may be reporting the reality, and the president may not like that.

    But there is an issue of some factions of talk radio are not happy with the way this turned out, and some factions are giving him the benefit of the doubt. I think that how this three weeks turns out could really affect whether — he said that thing, I could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Does it hold?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we will see if it holds. He has to work on the messaging going into 2020.

    On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are sort of putting a finer point on their 2020 messaging. Take a look at the field as we know it right now. These are folks who have declared that they are running or formed exploratory committees to do so.

    Amy, it's an incredibly diverse field of candidates.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still evolving, of course, but also kind of moving much more to the progressive side of the party.

    Is that where the Democrats are going to be living moving into 2020?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, listen, there are plenty of Republicans, and that's their argument, is, Democrats are going to — there are so many of them, and they're all crowding into this one lane. And they're going to try to out-liberal each other, they will move so far to the left, that they will not be able to produce a candidate who can win a majority of the votes or win in some of these battleground states.

    But it is still very early. And, obviously, the one person that we haven't heard from is Joe Biden, who would like to put himself as sort of the — his mark as the centrist candidate, as well as a number of other candidates who would be in that category.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another name worth mentioning, that is one Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO, who hinted that he might be interested in running as well, potentially as an independent candidate.

    What would that do to the race?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it could potentially drive a wedge into the president's rock-hard opposition, potentially, or not.

    It could be that he gains no traction at all. It's not really clear exactly what he's running on, other than some concern about fiscal policy and debt and deficit-type issues. And I don't — those are issues that a lot of people care about some, but it's not typically their top priority.

    I mean, not lots of people are reading the Simpson-Bowles Commission report at bedtime.

  • Amy Walter:

    Maybe I would. You don't know that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    No, but he's — there's this belief that there's this big center that's been left out, right, that the parties have become so polarized, that there is a yearning for a centrist candidate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    We don't really know that we're going to see any of that yearning.

    The one thing we do know, though, is that third-party candidates historically have a very difficult time. Obviously, nobody's won the Electoral College.

    The people who are really reacting the most strongly to this, Democrats, because they remember, not so long ago, in 2016, two not very well-known non-billionaire candidate took enough votes, the third-party candidates of Jill Stein and…

  • Tamara Keith:

    Johnson.

  • Amy Walter:

    Johnson — thank you — to help Trump in a number of states.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Very, very quickly, before we go, the DCCC has released what they believe their next 33 House targets will be in 2020.

    Can they carry all that momentum from 2018 into 2020?

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is the time of the season where everyone can have all the ambition in the world.

    But they also have a lot of seats to protect in really tight districts that they just won.

  • Amy Walter:

    That is true. They're going into a lot of red states, but they still believe that they have a suburban advantage. And that's what they're targeting now, that next layer of suburban areas in not necessarily friendly states.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we will be tracking it all.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, great to talk to you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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