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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s control of the Republican Party

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the fallout from the impeachment trial, former President Trump's control of the Republican Party, and whether Democrats can stay united.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for the seven Republican senators who voted to convict former President Trump, the backlash from inside their own party has been swift and severe, as we reported, censures for two of those senators, Louisiana's Bill Cassidy and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, by state or local officials, party officials.

    Tonight, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina may be the third to face that fate.

    Here now to analyze the fallout from the impeachment trial and where we go from here, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you on this Monday night. It's so good to see you,

    Amy, we have now had, what, 46 presidents of the United States, and one only one of them has been impeached twice and only one of them had to go through a trial when he was out of office. So, Donald Trump has made history in every which way here.

    But in the end, after this trial that ended over the weekend in an acquittal, where are we?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, and where is the Republican Party, right?

    And this seems to be the question that we continue to grapple with or have been grappling with really since 2015, Judy, when it seemed that so many times during Trump's first campaign, during his time as president, that the party was going to break up over Donald Trump.

    And yet, when all is said and done, the party continues to rally around him. In this case, on the vote over the weekend to convict, the president was no different.

    In some ways, as you said, this was a historic moment. This was the most bipartisan impeachment ever in American history. So that's quite remarkable. And yet, at the same time, it doesn't tell us anything about Trump's inability to keep a hold of the party. In fact, what it tells us is that he still has a pretty good hold on the party.

    As you pointed out, a number of those senators who voted for conviction have since been censured. We know members of the House who voted for impeachment have also been censured, and they have been threatened with primary races. We know that, even in a bipartisan vote, it was still 10 votes short of a conviction.

    And we also know that the seven Republicans who voted — these are not — who voted for conviction — these are not the rising stars in the party. These aren't folks who you're going to see on the ballot in 2024 running for president. Only one of them is up for reelection in 2022. That's Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. Two of them are retiring, Senator Burr and Senator Toomey, Burr from North Carolina, Toomey that you pointed out from Pennsylvania, also been censured.

    The rest are either up in 2026, so they were just recently elected, reelected, or one of them, Mitt Romney, up in 2024. So, there is no immediate repercussions for these — most of these senators like, there is for members of the House.

    But, at the end of the day, I think what's been made very clear is that this is still the party of Donald Trump, the local grassroots activists who are censuring these members making it very clear where their loyalties lie and what they're expecting from other elected officials down the road in 2022 and beyond.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, pick up on that, I mean, how much does this trial verdict tell us about the hold that Donald Trump still has on his own party?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, as Amy mentioned, the local party apparatuses are very Trumpy, if you will. They were consolidated behind President Trump.

    His campaign was very concerned about a primary challenge, potentially, in 2020. So, they made sure that every state and local party operation all over the country was controlled by President Trump. And those loyalists are still in place. And that's why you're seeing these censures come so fast and so strongly.

    What does that mean in terms of primaries? What does that mean in terms of Senate races? I think that we can look at what Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, how they are charting their path, trying to sort of have it both ways, wanting the Trump base, but also trying to figure out how to keep Republicans who were completely and totally outraged by what happened on January 6, and didn't see that violent mob as being part of their party.

    And so you had McConnell give this absolutely scorching floor speech about President Trump, after, of course, voting to acquit and saying that it wasn't constitutional, they should have done the trial before he left office, but, also, he held up and prevented the trial from happening before he left office.

    And with McCarthy, he was very critical of President Trump in the immediate aftermath. But, before long, he was down at Mar-a-Lago kissing President Trump's ring, not technically, but trying to get Trump's support to — in primaries to get Republicans who can win in 2022.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, is there anybody in the Republican Party — clearly, there's somebody — but who has enough influence in the Republican Party to counter what's going on with those who are so loyal to Donald Trump?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, we're going to learn a lot, I think, in these next couple of years, as we watch these primaries unfold and Senate races and others.

    We're going to see, for example, even this year, in a state like Virginia, where you have a governor's race, what kind of candidate comes out of their process there. They actually have a convention, not a primary. And what are the issues that they run on?

    And Virginia is a place where,normally, historically, whichever party is in the White House at that time loses the governor's race in Virginia. But Virginia has also gotten a lot bluer in the last few years, and the backlash to Trump was pretty significant.

    I think we're also going to have to see just how invested Donald Trump is in being with the party in terms of its daily dealings, right? Is he really going to take all this money that he's raised, and plow it into the local parties, plow into helping candidates up and down the ballot?

    Or is he going to use it as a way to punish those Republicans who he thinks have wronged him, like Representative Liz Cheney from Wyoming? Or maybe he sits on it and doesn't use any of it for any other candidate? So, there's still a lot of unknowns there.

    And most important, Judy, we don't know what we're talking about in terms of the political environment a year or two from now. I think that sets the tone more than anything else, in terms of the kinds of candidates that become successful are the candidates that fit that moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we'd like you both to know exactly what's going to happen a year or two in advance.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we will wait until next week. We will wait until next week.

    But, Tam, I do want to turn you both here in the minutes we have left to what's happening with COVID relief. While the trial was going on in the Senate, the House was moving ahead with some of President Biden's proposal on COVID relief.

    How much does it matter whether he is able to get Republican votes or not, whether this ends up being an all-Democratic measure?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I'm not quite sure how much it ultimately does matter.

    And I — will voters hold it against him that they didn't get Republicans, if their unemployment benefits last, or if the COVID vaccine rollout goes well, or if their kids are actually in school?

    I think that the big test for Biden is — and he and his administration believe that they need this COVID package to make this happen — but come 2022, the question is, do you feel better today than you did two years ago, when people are going to vote? And that's going to depend on how they handle the pandemic.

    And I think a lot is going to depend on whether people feel like their lives are back to normal. And a big part of that is going to be the schools.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, I mean, pick up on that from there, because there are those who are saying he needs to show early on that he is going to live up to this unity promise that he campaigned on.

  • Amy Walter:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And others are saying, look, that's — that was never going to happen. It's going to have to be Democrats all the way.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, there's another unity challenge he may have. And that's keeping Democrats unified.

    We have been spending these last few weeks focused on the divisions within the Republican Party. But Democrats, in order to get this package through, they can't afford to lose any senator. We have already seen some splits on issue — within the Democratic Party on issues like including the $15-an-hour minimum wage in this COVID package, some consternation about the price tag on certain things.

    And Pelosi in the House, Speaker Pelosi, can only afford to lose four or five votes there. So, keeping the party united on the same page, again, it's a lot easier when you're the one in charge, and you know that, ultimately, this is going to define your party.

    At the same time, it's a real test for team Biden and Democrats in leadership to be able to get this through. And the clock is ticking. These unemployment benefits that Tam pointed to, this is the beginning of March, where they're really going to need to make sure that this money is going out the door and that people are getting these checks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in many ways, the calendar is flying along, no question about it. That's the serious — that's the most serious deadline out there.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, next week, we will ask you about 2024, 2028.


  • Amy Walter:

    We're going to…


  • Judy Woodruff:

    We won't let you off the hook.


  • Tamara Keith:

    Too soon.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both, Amy Walter, Tamara Keith.

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