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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s approval ratings, Mueller testimony

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including current approval ratings for President Trump and poll numbers for 2020 Democrats, what voters want to see when it comes to health care, Trump’s feud with four Democratic freshmen members of Congress and the upcoming testimony of former special counsel Robert Mueller.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    A new "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll offers clues into where voters stand on President Trump, the 2020 Democratic candidates and health care; plus, what to expect from Wednesday's Mueller hearings.

    Analyzing all this and more, our Politics Monday team. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of "Politics With Amy Walter on WNYC Radio, and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts "The NPR Politics Podcast."

    Amy and Tam, welcome to you both. Happy Monday.

    Shall we dig into this poll?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Let's.

  • Amy Walter:

    Please.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's do it.

    Let's take a look at the presidential approval rating. This is its highest point ever, 44 percent. That has inched up recently. And take a look at what's driving that increase right here, among independents, a bit of a shift. It was 42 percent. Sorry. Rather, it was 35 percent in June. That's now up to 42 percent.

    Amy, when you see those numbers, what do you think?

  • Amy Walter:

    So the good news for the president is this is the first time since Marist has been polling his presidency that he's had a 40 percent approval, or over 40 percent approval rating, for three consecutive polls that they have taken. So that's the good news.

    But here's underneath it all some challenges for the president. I think the number one number at least that I looked at was, if you had said to me there's a president running for reelection, 53 percent of voters say they think he's doing a good job on the economy, 65 percent of voters said the economy is working well for them personally, including almost half of Democrats and 62 percent of independents, you would say, that president is going to get reelected, right?

    People feel good about the economy. They personally feel good, including Democrats. And then you see his overall approval rating is 44 percent, right, which I guess there's a disconnect there, people feeling good about the economy. They're not feeling particularly good about the president himself.

    And underneath this too for Democrats, though, there's some warning signs. The number that really stood out for me when they asked, do you think the ideas offered by Democrats move the country in the right direction or wrong direction, 43 percent said wrong direction, 46 percent the right direction, which is part of the reason I think you're seeing that independent number move and the overall number move, is that it's not just Trump, the president, in a sort of a vacuum.

    It's now the president up against the concept of Democrats. There's no Democratic nominee, but the concept that people saw at the Democratic debates and the fight that they're seeing right now among Democratic candidates.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And I want to talk specifically about one of those policies and some of the plans they have in just a second.

    But, Tam, over to you.

    That shift in independents, that might surprise a lot of people, though. Is there something in the message the president's delivering or, as Amy is suggesting, is it really just, OK, we're not sure what the Democrats are putting forward, so we will go here?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think we can't know for certain, but I think Amy is right on in saying that approval for the economy is strong. People feel good about the economy. They feel good about how they're doing.

    And an important part of presidential approval traditionally is, how do you feel about how the country is doing? How do you feel about the economy? So the president has that going for him.

    What he has potentially weighing him down is what's always weighed him down, which is the tweets and the comments and the feuds and the fights and the things that make people feel uncomfortable about him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So take a look at how folks are looking at the Democratic candidates. This is another graphic we're pulling out from this new poll today.

    Back in June, people were asked, what's more important to them, a nominee who shares their values or someone who can beat Trump? Slightly more people wanted someone who shares their values back in June. Now that has shifted. More people want a nominee who can beat Donald Trump in the next election. It's an eight-point jump there.

    What do you make when you look at those numbers?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Those numbers reflect everything that I have been told by any voter I have talked to in any early state, early voting state, in this country, which is you hear again and again and again: I want to beat Donald Trump. I want a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.

    Now, try to pull out of them, what does that mean, and a lot of them have a lot of different ideas. But the fact that they are willing to sort of put their own personal priorities behind the big one, which is preventing the president from being reelected, is an indication of just how strongly Democrats feel heading into this election.

  • Amy Walter:

    And what that means — that's a very good point, because the number that really didn't much between June and July when you ask Democrats, have you settled on a candidate yet? Nineteen percent say yes. Back in June, it was 14 percent.

    So it's not exactly skyrocketing now. People say, well, I know who the most — normally, you would look at that and you say, well, if those numbers are moving on I want a candidate who can be elected, certainly, they must be agreeing on who that most electable candidate is.

    That is not the case.

  • Tamara Keith:

    There's a really big argument right now in the Democratic primary about what it means to be electable and how — what is electable for Democrats this time around?

    And that is completely unsettled, which is showing up in a lot of these numbers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Very quickly, I want to get to one last interesting thing from this poll. This is on one specific issue, right? This is how Democrats are looking at health care and what voters say that they want.

    There's a big divide among the Democratic Party, right? But this is what people say that they want; 70 percent of Americans favor Medicare for all who want it, which basically means they want choice between a national health insurance program or a private health insurance.

    Amy, there's still a big divide among the Democratic candidates about what kind of plan they're actually going to get behind.

  • Amy Walter:

    There is.

    And the one thing that I noticed in this poll, when they asked Democrats that question, the Medicare for all is popular, more popular among people who identify as progressive, so liberal or very liberal, but it also has a 55 percent approval rating among moderates as well.

    So this is one of those issues that, if you're Joe Biden or some of the other more moderate members of the 2020 Democratic class running for president, you point to that number, you say, look, 41 percent — only 41 percent of overall Americans like this idea of a Medicare for all that gets rid of private insurance.

    But you have to convince members of your own party, most of whom, two-thirds of them, are supportive of the Bernie Sanders model, that it's better to look at, again, going to the electability question, can somebody with this sort of position get elected, when only 40 percent approve of it?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's take a look at another story we have been following. And that is the ongoing tweetstorm from the president; 10:48 this morning, he tweeted this, in his latest in a series about the four young congresswomen of color.

    "The Squad," as they're known, he says, "is a very racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, not very smart. They're pulling the once great Democrat Party far left."

    He goes on specifically about other issues.

    Tam, as I mentioned, this was 10:48 this morning. Every time we think this has gone away, the president tweets about it again. Is this just what we're going to continue to see?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oh, right through to the election.

    I mean, I think he — if he could continue to talk about the squad forever, he would. And this, no, I'm not the racist, you're the racist, they're the real racists — I mean, for months, I have been hearing on conservative talk various hosts saying, oh, my gosh, this congresswoman, that congresswoman, Ocasio-Cortez, or Ilhan Omar, so racist.

    They say it again and again in conservative media. And this is the president sort of reflecting that messaging. And it's messaging that you hear when you talk to his supporters. They volunteer it. They volunteer those names of those congresswomen and say, wow, they're racist.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, I hate to do this to you. One minute left. But there's a big day coming up this week.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Robert Mueller is going to be on Capitol Hill testifying. It's the first time we hear from him directly.

    What is the Democrats' strategy here, and how do Republicans counter it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, so what Democrats want is for people who didn't read the book or read the report to watch the movie, watch the TV show, see some of the elements that were in that report and say, oh, wow, there was more there than I realized.

    What the president and his allies want is a dud. They want people either not to watch it, not to pay attention, or for Mueller to give his testimony, for it to be bland, and for them to be able to just say, well, there's nothing more than you saw in the report, and the report speaks for itself, the end.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Fifteen seconds. What do you think?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think, depending on what kind of Democrat you are, the outcome is very different.

    If you're a moderate, you would hope that maybe there's nothing that's really incredible that comes out of this that pushes the impeachment debate into a reality.

    If you are someone on the progressive end or have signed on already to saying you wanted to impeach the president, you're hoping there will be momentum behind that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the president says that he might watch a little bit of it.

  • Amy Walter:

    Might.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Maybe.

  • Amy Walter:

    Maybe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday. Thanks for being here.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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