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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the push to reform gun laws, end COVID-19

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the recent mass shootings, the resulting actions towards gun control, and the latest on the government's efforts to fight COVID-19.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After two mass shootings in just the last month, the political debate on Capitol Hill for more gun control legislation has resumed.

    Here to analyze that issue and more, our regular Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you. So good to see you.

    Let us start, Tam, by talking about where we are after these terrible mass shootings. We have been here before. We have seen this situation. We have looked at Congress to see what the reaction was going to be.

    What are the political dynamics right now in 2021 when it comes to gun legislation?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The political dynamics appear to be quite similar to what they have been in the past, which is, there is a high-profile mass shooting — or, in this case, there were two of them.

    There are calls to do something about it, calls for gun legislation that is widely popular with the public, things like expanding background checks. And then, usually, it fizzles. And we will see if this time is different.

    Senator Chris Murphy said yesterday in an interview that he thought maybe this time is different, because the NRA is having financial troubles and is somewhat depleted, and the gun safety advocacy movement is stronger than ever before. And, certainly, there is a president in the White House who has this history of being allied with those groups.

    But it is not clear yet. And President Biden said that his next priority for legislation is infrastructure, which he will be announcing later this week, and is not necessarily putting all of his political capital on gun control measures. He said that politics is the art of the possible.

    And, so frequently, it has not been possible. He has experienced that himself, heading things up for the Obama administration after Sandy Hook.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, he has said that. But he has also said, we need to do something about gun violence.

    Where do you see things at this stage, with these terrible shootings still fresh in our minds?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    And, you know, the art of the possible is a really good quote there by President Biden. You know, back when he was in the Senate, and the last time we had really substantive gun control legislation, the Brady Bill, the assault weapons ban, there were about 54, 55 Republicans who supported that legislation.

    Now, there are 40-plus members on the Democratic side who opposed it, but what you had there was, again, talking about the possible, you had a much bigger universe of potential partners to work with on the other side.

    A bill that just passed in the House — two bills, actually, that just passed in the House the other week that would strengthen background checks, eight Republicans supported those, again, compared to 50-plus back 20, 25 years ago.

    And so it is almost impossible for me to believe that you're going to get something done on a bipartisan basis that could get 60 votes. If that is the case, then where the president would have to go politically is to get rid of the filibuster.

    And, even then, we know that a number of Democrats have shown some unease about the bills that have passed the House, including Joe Manchin from West Virginia. We also have one other red state senator that I'd keep an eye on, Jon Tester from Montana.

    So, putting this through in the legislative process is a challenge. And this is why I think we're going to hear a lot more about things that the administration will do through executive orders, that the president can do through executive orders.

    We don't talk about this that much, but this president has already issued more executive orders at this point in his presidency than Donald Trump did or than Barack Obama did at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Striking. And we need to pay a little more attention to that than we have been. But thank you for reminding us of it.

    The other thing I want to raise with both of you is something we mentioned earlier in the program, and that was in a CNN report last night, in an interview with some of the top — Tam, some of the top people in the White House in the Trump administration who were advising the president on what to do about this pandemic.

    And several of them suggested that not only mistakes were made, but we heard Dr. Deborah Birx make a really striking acknowledgment, admission.

    Let's listen to that.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx:

    The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tam, that's sobering. It caught everyone — I think everyone's attention.

    I should say, President Trump issued a statement today calling Deborah Birx a proven liar.

    But is this the kind of thing that could affect his legacy? Where do you see something like this landing?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, the former president put out what was a lengthy statement that in some ways was just like a very, very long series of tweets, but he is not allowed to tweet anymore.

    And, clearly, he sees this as a legacy issue, and it is a legacy issue. He was president of the United States when the United States was hit by a pandemic, and more than half-a-million people died.

    And I think that public health experts, not just in the government, but outside of the government, have argued strenuously that it was avoidable. Some of these deaths could have been avoided. And there are numerous moments along the way where something happened.

    That President Trump, for instance, when they announced, yes, we think people should wear masks, President Trump came out and undermined the announcement as the announcement was being made, saying, yes, people should wear masks, but you don't have to and I'm not going to.

    And masks became this completely politicized thing that public health people say, like, could have saved a lot of lives, if masks hadn't become a big political fight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, not just about how many tests were being made available, but about messages coming out to the public from the White House.

  • Amy Walter:


    And I think the public has weighed in on this. They did in the 2020 election. President Trump's approval rating on handling the coronavirus, it started out pretty high at the very beginning. And then, over the course of April, May, June, and, of course, as we went into the fall, it collapsed.

    And I think the judgment that voters made was, we don't think he is up to the job, and he — obviously, he didn't win reelection. Joe Biden's overall approval rating on handling COVID is not just higher, but significantly higher.

    In some cases, I saw one poll where it was in the 70s. He is getting crossover support, even Republicans giving him credit for how he is handling this now.

    So, I think, for the American public, they have already weighed in on this, and probably are more interested in seeing where we go from here than looking behind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as we heard from Dr. Leana Wen earlier, people are going to be asking for an accounting. I think she used the word reckoning.

    We will see. We will see where this goes from here, but sobering admission from people like Dr. Birx and others.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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