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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the infrastructure package, fundraising in the GOP

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including the Biden infrastructure plan, fundraising efforts inside the Republican Party, and how Americans perceive the government.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, President Biden is trying to build bridges, meeting today with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to sell his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

    Lisa Desjardins explores the political cost.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The stakes are high both for President Biden and for congressional Republicans.

    And it is a great time for Politics Monday.

    Joining us, of course, our regular Politics Monday duo. That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    All right, let's start with this Biden plan. I am just going to call it, say, the infra-clima-equi-structure plan, this big Biden plan.

    He had the meeting today, Tam, with, again, bipartisan group of lawmakers. What exactly is the president trying to do here? And is it working?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think what is notable about the bipartisan group that came by the White House today is that it is similar to what the Biden administration did to try to build bipartisan support or a bipartisan coalition for the big COVID-19 relief bill.

    They reached outside of Washington to mayors and governors to be able to say, hey, especially from mayors, we have got bipartisan support. There's a joke about mayors — or that mayors tell about themselves, that there's no Democratic or Republican potholes. There's just potholes. And when you're mayor, you just have to deal with those things.

    And the members of Congress who came over to the White House were either former mayors or former governors. Now, whether they're actually going to get them to sign on, particularly the Republicans, is an open question.

    But someone like a Senator Mitt Romney came and he said that he felt that President Biden was open to discussing, and President Biden expressed this himself when the reporters were in the room, that he was open to discussing not just what is in the package, but also how to pay for it.

    We're in this period — and it is a long period of time — between when the Biden administration announced their plan and the sort of informal deadline they have set for Congress to figure out whether it could possibly be bipartisan and what shape it's going to take.

    And so, every day, every few days, they are doing another event to show that they are working on it, to keep it in the public eye, to try to win over public and popular support, so that they can claim, like they did with the COVID relief bill, that it is bipartisan, even if it isn't supported by Republicans in Washington.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Amy Walter:

    Tam makes a really good point about this period in between when this big piece of legislation is introduced and when it finally, if it finally gets passed. That's the time when it gets defined.

    And if you are Democrats right now, the polling suggests that there's sort of mixed bag here on how popular this support is. We have seen some polling that suggests it's very popular, others that say it's kind of eh.

    But it suggests that both sides have to fight here to define what exactly this is. And for Democrats especially, it's how to pay for it, which is leaning into the issue that seems, at least in all of these polls, to be favorable for Democrats, and that's paying for it with higher taxes on wealthy people and for higher taxes on corporations, raising the tax rate on corporations. People seem to like that.

    But, as we know, it's always in the details and how people perceive not just the message, but the messenger. Do they trust Democrats to follow through with what they say? Republicans, of course, saying it's never going to be just those two groups of people that are going to pay for it. Eventually, regular Americans are going to have to fund this.

    Democrats like to say, hey, everybody loves infrastructure, and it is true. But the paying for it, what that narrative looks like is going to be very important for Democrats if they want to pass this thing and keep it popular for them to be driving right now, which is why you're seeing the president and the vice president spending almost all of their time pitching on this issue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Next, let's talk about the very short lived America First Caucus.

    That is the group that surfaced around Georgia Republican member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene. And the Punchbowl News folks reported that part of the platform proposed included — I'm going to read this — quote — "respect for the uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions of the U.S."

    Now, this weekend, Greene's staff said she's actually not launching anything. There was quite a lot of blowback here.

    But, Amy, I'm wondering, briefly, what do you think is happening here? And what does this mean politically?

  • Amy Walter:

    Lisa, it wasn't that long ago that party leaders in Washington had an ability to sort of keep their caucus together and to keep some of their rebels from going out of bounds by limiting two things, one, their access to donors, and, the other, their access to good plum committees.

    Now, we know that Marjorie Taylor Greene has already been kicked off her committees. That was Democrats that instigated this. But the access to donors, well, that now has opened up because of, well, the Internet and the ability for candidates to raise a whole lot of money from small-dollar donors.

    So, Marjorie Taylor Greene, she's not the favorite of anyone in the establishment, but it looks like she's raised about $3 million in the first three months of this year. So, it gets harder and harder for leadership to keep these folks sort of on the same page.

    And there's really little that they can do about showing any sort of disfavor toward them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam, what about the other end of the Republican Party, the anti-Trump Republicans? How are they doing right now politically and even in dollars?

  • Tamara Keith:


    The remarkable thing is that, for the Marjorie — for every Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley, who've had a good fund-raising first quarter, there are also the Republicans, the House Republicans, who voted to impeach President Trump.

    So, they are, in theory, in the doghouse, but they're doing quite well with fund-raising. Several of them set personal fund-raising records in the first quarter after January 6, after voting to impeach President Trump, former President Trump. And they face likely primary challenges, with President Trump backing their challengers.

    But the establishment money ended up flowing to those people who sided against Trump. Now, whether that will just be a sugar high that only lasts the first quarter isn't clear, if they aren't able to sort of keep up the public interest and get the small dollars like Marjorie Taylor Greene and others have been able to generate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Just less than a minute left ladies.

    It's lovely weather outside in much of the country. Vaccines are giving people new hope. But I want to ask you quickly, each of you in a few words, what do you think is the political temperature of the American people right now?

    What's the mood in this country, Amy, then Tam?

  • Amy Walter:

    It seems to be cautiously optimistic.

    We're starting to see an uptick right now in the percentage of people who think the country is heading in the right direction. Now, it's still not a majority of people who believe this. But I do think that that's the really good news if you're in the Biden administration, that, as vaccines come online, that the economy recovers. People start to feel like their lives are finally getting back to normal.

  • Tamara Keith:


  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Tamara Keith:

    And I do think that the next several weeks will be key to figuring out how people really feel, if they're able to get those vaccine appointments or they continue to be frustrated, whether hesitancy breaks through and people start getting vaccinated and start going to restaurants and concerts start happening.

    I think it could have an effect on the outlook.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, thank you for joining us each night in our virtual restaurant of sorts.

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