Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the tighter competition for control of Congress

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including how recent developments surrounding abortion, gas prices, student loan relief and the investigation into former President Trump could mean competition for control of Congress will be tighter than many expected just a few months ago.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are just 70 days until the November elections.

    And, as we head into the fall, the political winds seem to be shifting towards a tighter competition for control of Congress than many thought just a few months ago.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Abortion, inflation and investigations into the former president are all hot topics in the midterm cycle with the potential to reshape how voters look at their choices this election.

    Here to assess it all are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you virtually.

    Ladies, summer's ending. School is starting. It feels like we're moving into the next political season as well.

    And, Amy, The Cook Political Report, I noticed last week changed its overall forecast. Now your team sees more of a ripple, as you put it, than a wave for Republicans in the midterms in the House. Why is that? And how much of that has to do with presidents, both current and former?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Yes, you summed it up pretty well, Lisa, by looking at the three topics that we think have had the biggest impact on turning what was looking like a red wave into, at this point, a much smaller one, and especially in the House .

    Our House editor, David Wasserman, has changed our forecast from one that was predicting Republicans gaining somewhere between 20 and 30 seats to one now more 10 to 20 seats.

    And the big reasons are the ones that you mentioned, abortion, Trump, and lower gas prices. On abortion, the — since the decision came down at the end of June that overturned Roe vs. Wade, what we have seen is an increase in Democratic enthusiasm. We have seen it in special elections, specifically the special election in the Hudson Valley in New York that we talked about last week.

    But we have seen it in a number of other redder districts, where the Republican turnout just didn't match what we had seen in 2020. And so that's one factor, increased Democratic enthusiasm. And you're right. President Trump, a ubiquitous president on the political scene, he himself doesn't want to leave the stage.

    But it's also true that what we're seeing from candidates is that they, Republican candidates specifically, are embracing him and his theory, the big lie about the election. I think that's turning off a bunch of voters, many of whom Republicans had wanted to pick up in this election on the issue of the economy.

    But, instead, what they're seeing is more of the Trump chaos that many of them voted against in 2020, even as they weren't particularly excited about voting for Joe Biden.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's so interesting. Democrats are supposed to be entirely on defense, but we're seeing some moves that speak of offense to me, like, Tam, President Biden is going to have a prime-time speech on Thursday from Philadelphia.

    Why is he doing that now? What is the political goal there?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Right.

    So he's delivering a speech about the soul of the nation in Pennsylvania. He has delivered speeches about the soul of the nation before, namely, during his campaign for president, his successful campaign for president.

    And part of what he's doing here is laying out his midterm message. Democrats have this sense that they could tie together several of the themes out there that are motivating Democratic voters, fears about the state of American democracy, as well as fears about abortion rights going away.

    And the abortion rights issue is something that is front and center for many voters that isn't purely a Democratic motivator, but is also motivated getting some independent voters as well. And President Biden, with this speech, is laying out his case, which is that people's rights are on the line.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, in recent years political philosophy in this country has also impacted the psychology of this country significantly.

    And over the weekend, we heard this from one of Trump's staunchest allies in Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

    If there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, after the Clinton debacle, which you presided over and did a hell of a good job, there will be riots in the streets.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I have covered Senator Graham a long time, going back to South Carolina. He's a man who likes exclamation points, literally puts those on his press releases every time.

    But I want to ask you, Amy, about the temperature right now. Words like that sound different now than they did 20 years ago. What's the temperature like now? And what do you take about — are politicians acknowledging anger, or are they stoking anger?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Lisa, we could have like a multihour discussion about that, that we can't get into this Politics Monday.

    But it is a very important question. And, look, when we see where voters are today, with so many of them saying they believe that every single election is about saving the country, it's no longer just about, I'm voting for the candidate I like or sending a message against the candidate I dislike.

    It is, if my side loses, that is a danger to what it means to be America and American democracy. Both sides are believing this. But I think, for Republicans especially — and this is why we're seeing the winds change somewhat, it is dangerous to be continuing to hold on to the Trump mantle.

    Look, a truism in politics is that midterm elections are almost always a referendum on the party in charge. And right now, President Biden, although his approval ratings have gone up a slight bit, he is still in very dangerous territory, only about 42 percent approval rating. His approval ratings on the economy are very deeply underwater.

    Republicans are trusted more on the economy. When you talk to Republican strategists who are in these tight races this year, they want to talk about that. They don't want to talk about Donald Trump. And they have been really caught flat-footed about talking about abortion, where it's now Republicans who are being cast as being on the extreme, changing the status quo, Democrats defending the status quo.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, so I interpreted Senator Graham not as making a threat, but making a prediction or issuing a warning, if you will.

    The temperature, as you say, is — the temperature of the nation is not in a good place. And, in particular, in the right-wing fever swamps of the Internet, it is common practice to talk about violence against Trump's opponents, to talk about wanting violence or otherwise glorifying violence.

    And Lindsey Graham isn't just talking about this in the abstract. There was already January 6. He was in the Capitol when that happened. And there was also a supporter of the former president who posted on TRUTH Social as he was headed to a Cincinnati FBI field office to try to get revenge for the search warrant being executed at Mar-a-Lago.

    So, this is not abstract at all.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm going to in just our last minute here attempt one other important, but complicated question.

    And, Tam, first to you.

    President Biden is moving on student loans, extending and expanding, trying to, that loan forgiveness. What are the risks and rewards now? Not every Democrat thinks it's a great idea.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, there certainly are some moderate Democrats who have some concerns about it.

    And from the Biden perspective, this was a campaign promise that he made, and it is a campaign promise that he is now venturing to keep. And there was a lot of pressure, particularly from younger voters. He has for some time had younger voters quite frustrated that he made promises that he wasn't keeping.

    Well, in the last month or so, thanks to the legislation climate change and this, there are a lot of things for younger voters to be happy about, though I don't know that this will be any more motivating than they already are motivated about abortion rights.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, in a few seconds, what about non-college educated voters? They're Democrats too, right, some of them.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's absolutely right.

    Look, the risk is that it allows Republicans to refocus this election back to where they wanted to go all along, which is to say, Democrats are the party of reckless spend, the inflation is incredibly high because of their policies, we are in a very dangerous, fragile place, and this is a very dangerous economic policy to push through without a vote in Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As usual, you two did triple salchows in a cubicle for us on Politics Monday.

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, thanks to both of you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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