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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s pandemic message, suburban voters

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including what President Trump is saying about the coronavirus and competitor Joe Biden, whether those messages are resonating with voters and what pandemic legislation to expect from Congress before the school year begins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Here now to analyze the political consequences of President Trump's coronavirus response, our Politics Monday team.

    That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    It's so good to see both of you.

    Let's talk about the president.

    Right now, Tam, he's coming under a lot of criticism, as we have been hearing. Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, who we interviewed earlier on the program, writes in his new book about that point back in March, when the president was saying, anybody can get a test, when, behind the scenes, Governor Hogan was saying, none of us, no governor, could get tests.

    And, in fact, as we just heard, it's still hard to get tests.

    In that Fox interview yesterday, the president said, testing is what's causing the rise in cases.

    Tell us, Tam, is this a deliberate strategy on the part of the White House?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Let's start by saying that testing is not what's causing the rise in cases. The rise in cases is vastly outpacing the increase in testing. So, just a quick fact-check there.

    But the president, I have spoken to advisers of his before, who've said, he simply does not want to be the messenger when it comes to the coronavirus. He doesn't want to talk about it. He wants to talk about the economy. He wants to talk about things that he thinks can lead to his reelection.

    The problem is that all roads lead back to the coronavirus, and there's a sense that maybe he's realizing that. Maybe a couple of front-page New York Times articles have helped wake him up to that. But he now says he's bringing back the Coronavirus Task Force briefing, bringing back the briefings.

    We will see if that really happens and if all the scientists are there and if those briefings are helpful. But the challenge that he has at this point is that the majority of Americans tell pollsters that they do not trust the information that they're getting from the president of the United States on coronavirus.

    So, that is a problem, as he tries to run for reelection and also tries to communicate with the American public, potentially, if he's bringing back these briefings, about the pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, what do you make of what the president is saying these days, in that interview yesterday with Fox News, about how he's describing his relationship with this virus and his leadership of trying to address this pandemic?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, he's trying to do both things, which is to say, the administration has done the best that we can, this wasn't our fault, this was the Chinese fault, and it really is up to the governors to sort of take the ball from there, it's not necessarily my job.

    But, as we have seen in poll after poll, Judy, the governors of these states, red states and blue states, most of them are getting higher ratings on their handling of the coronavirus than the president is.

    Now, in a state like Arizona, that's not the case, where, obviously, there's a very big hot spot. But in places that the president points to, places like Michigan, where he said they won't let him come and have rallies there, the governor there, the Democratic governor there, has a much higher approval rating on her handling of the coronavirus.

    What he's also doing, Judy — he did it in this Chris Wallace interview, his campaign is doing this in TV ads — essentially, what the campaign message is at this point from Donald Trump is, don't be scared of the coronavirus.

    What you need to be scared of is the radical left, which is supporting Joe Biden. They are going to defund our police, and our cities are going to fall into crime and chaos and anarchy. That's where he wants the battle for the 2020 race to be fought.

    It's just that Americans aren't particularly interested in it being fought there. They want an answer to how to live and how to deal with this pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up on that, Tam, yesterday, the president did a telephone — a couple of — I guess, over the weekend, telephone rallies, or rallies by phone, including one in Arizona, where he — as Amy said, he painted this very scary picture of Joe Biden, he's going to send immigrants into your neighborhood to do terrible things, he's going to create subsidized housing with all sorts of unsavory people.

    What is the goal? Is the goal to frighten people?

  • Tamara Keith:


    The message that the president is delivering — and it's being — it's been more explicit in the last week or so — is that Democrats are going to destroy the suburbs.

    I spoke to a former Republican congressmen who represented the suburbs, until he saw the writing on the wall and decided not to run for reelection, and he said that he just doesn't see that message really selling in the suburbs.

    He says that suburban voters are sophisticated enough to know that Joe Biden is not going to eliminate their local police departments and that fair housing policy and multifamily housing is not going to lead to the destruction of their towns.

  • He’s, like:

    I live in a suburb. I don't understand how they're going to destroy the suburbs.

    And talking to pollsters, too, so far, they don't think that this is something that voters are really buying. The reason the president is making this play for the suburbs is, he won the suburbs last time, and now polls show Vice President Joe Biden up by a lot, by a whole lot for a Democrat, in the suburbs.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. I think he's…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, fill out the picture. Go ahead, Amy, yes.

  • Amy Walter:


    Well, I think he's trying to do — if he can't win those voters back, at least make them skeptical of supporting Joe Biden, maybe even sit out this election, because they may not like Donald Trump, but they're worried about Joe Biden.

    But, Judy, a state that you know really well Georgia, the Atlanta suburbs, just to show you how quickly these suburbs have changed, Gwinnett County, which for a long time was a Republican stronghold, Mitt Romney won there by almost 10 points in 2012, in 2018, Stacey Abrams won Gwinnett County by 15 points.

    So, just in six years, this suburban area has moved 24 points more Democratic. A lot of that is because the suburb has become less white. It's become almost a third African-American, and Latino and Asian population growing there, too.

    So these suburbs that the president's talking about and that he — maybe he remembers from the '70s and '80s, that's not the suburbs that have been moving over to Democrats. That's not what they look like anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK, just a little bit of time left, but I want to ask you both to quickly say something about this.

    And that is, the Congress is back, Tam, looking at how much money and where to spend money in COVID relief. Does it go to individuals? Is it going to go to cities and states? What do you see right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there's a major fight brewing.

    And the answer is probably going to be all of the above, but the question is sort of, how much money goes to what thing? How much money will go to schools to help them reopen safely? President Trump talks a lot about wanting the schools to reopen. There's something that comes after that for most parents, which is safely.

    And Mitch McConnell has said — and we will find out more detail soon — but has said that he thinks that the schools do need to get money in this. One of the big fights will be about the unemployment insurance, the sort of extra insurance, extra unemployment that people have been getting because of the pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, quickly, how much does all this matter politically that they get this done and they get the money out there?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, very important.

    If schools are the big issue here, remember, schools start opening in many states in August. So this money has to start getting out the door very quickly. They can't wait until September and October.

    The other thing is, if you look at some of the ads run by incumbent Republicans who are in danger this year, like Susan Collins, they're touting the amount of money they have brought back to their states. They would love to be able to talk about that in the reelection campaign ads than having to talk about Donald Trump, especially in some of these really competitive blue and purple states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So interesting.

    Election is only three-and-a-half months away — I looked at the calendar — today.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    We know it's coming, November 3.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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