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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s tariffs and California campaigning

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest in politics, including how primary campaigning has become more national, the changing role of California, an interview with Jared Kushner and why President Trump’s trade war with Mexico could have such a big impact.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday, which brings us to Amy and Tam.

    That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of the "Politics With Amy Walter" podcast from WNYC. And Tamara Keith from NPR, she also co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Welcome to you both.

    You probably know this already. Yesterday marked eight months exactly until the Iowa caucuses. As Jonathan Martin of The New York Times pointed out, only one Democratic candidate was actually in Iowa this weekend. That was Tim Ryan.

    But take a look at this map really quick. I want to ask you about this. This — the dots on here actually show how many candidates have made at least one stop in each of those states. They have already visited 30 states and territories this cycle.

    Amy, at this point in years past, that map looked very different. There was a lot more concentration in other states.

  • Amy Walter:

    It was other states. Plus, there were many fewer candidates, right?

    And so when you have so many candidates all trying to get attention, they're going to spread out a little bit more. What this tells me — it tells us too is just how nationalized this whole primary process has become.

    When I started covering politics, in 1992, no one challenged Tom Harkin in Iowa — he was running for president that year — because he was the senator from Iowa. Why would you ever challenge a sitting senator from Iowa?

    Today, look how many Democratic candidates came to the home state of Kamala Harris in California. The goal, I think, for so many of these candidates is, because our media landscape is so nationalized, whether we're getting it from this program, or cable news, or from our Twitter streams, we're all getting the same news, whether you're sitting in Iowa, whether you sit in Birmingham, Alabama, or in California.

    So if you make a great speech that gets picked up, and you get a viral moment from another state, everyone in Iowa is going to be able to see that too.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Tam, here's a fun fact my "NewsHour" colleague Tess Conciatori pointed out.

    When you look at California, it's the only one of all those states out of the four major early states that half the candidate field has gone to, meaning no other state has had more visited — visits from 10 candidates.

    California is playing a different role this year.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    So California's traditional role — and I came up reporting in California, so I know this traditional role well — is, it was the ATM. Candidates would go to L.A. They would go to Brentwood. They'd go to Beverly Hills. They'd go to Palo Alto. They would go behind closed doors.

    You would never see them as a member of the public or a member of the press. They would just go raise money and fly right back where they came from, go take that money, and take it to Iowa, take it to New Hampshire.

    Well, now California has moved. They have done this many times. They have tried moving up their primary to gain relevance. And, this time, they have moved up into Super Tuesday. And so they are a big state with a big prize of delegates.

    But don't put too much weight on those delegates, because they are not — it's not a winner-take-all state. So even though they have a ton of delegates, they often end up being divided somewhat evenly. And so it doesn't end up being the big payload of delegates that candidates would hope for or you might expect.

    And the other thing is that they have vote by mail. So, in fact, people in California could start voting at the same time that people in Iowa are caucusing. But what they won't know is whether candidates have made it out of Iowa or New Hampshire.

    And so many people will probably wait. Vote by mail means that some of those ballots will not be fully counted. So, if it's close, it could be a very long time before anyone knows the result of the California primary.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and there's another — those are good things to remember.

    The other key factor, remember, is, it's an open primary on the Democratic side. So even if you're not registered as a Democrat, if you're registered — non-party preference is what they call independents in California — you can vote there.

    Now, there are more non-party preference registrants in California than there are Republicans. So that's a big pool of voters, number one, who don't show up at the Democratic Convention, but, number two, that Democrats can go ahead and target.

    But I still think these early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, are going to play their traditional role, which is culling the field and saying to voters in California and all these other states that are coming up on Super Tuesday, these are the most viable candidates.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the ground game obviously still very important.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We are still seeing the candidate spend a lot of time in those places, something to track for sure.

    I want to ask you about something else, though. It was an interview that aired last night with the son-in-law to the president, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

    There is one moment a lot of people are talking about in which Kushner was asked by Axios' Jonathan Swan about Donald Trump's vocal support for the so-called birther movement, right? That was questioning President Obama's citizenship.

    Let's just take a quick listen to that exchange now.

  • Jonathan Swan:

    Was birtherism racist?

  • Jared Kushner:

    Look, I wasn't really involved in that.

  • Jonathan Swan:

    I know you weren't. Was it racist?

  • Jared Kushner:

    Like I said, I wasn't involved in that.

  • Jonathan Swan:

    I know you weren't. Was it racist?

  • Jared Kushner:

    Look, I know who the president is. And I have not seen anything in him that is racist. So, again, I was not involved in that.

  • Jonathan Swan:

    Did you wish he didn't do that?

  • Jared Kushner:

    Like I said, I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, what did you make of his refusal to answer?

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is sort of a time-honored tradition in interviewing people who are connected to President Trump in some way, whether it be economic advisers or a member of his own family, or any Cabinet members.

    You ask these people — reporters or members of Congress in hearings ask them, well, what do you make of this thing that the president did? Do you disagree with the president's view on tariffs?

    And they squirm. They try not to answer. They don't want to make the president mad. And so you end up with things like what happened there, which is, a lot of people in the president's administration just don't want to cross the president, especially probably a member of his family.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, he tried to also have it both ways. He didn't want to cross the president, but he also didn't really defend the president either, right?

    He didn't come out and say, there wasn't — that wasn't racism. That's not racist. The birtherism thing isn't racist.

    So you can — then he's able to play both sides, right, to say, I never came out and defended racism, but I also came out and defended the president.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, it's worth pointing out we don't hear a lot from Jared Kushner…

  • Amy Walter:

    No, we do not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … for someone with such a very senior role, a lot of influence, a huge portfolio. What do you make of his decision to come out and give an interview now? And what stood out to you from what he said, because they covered a lot of ground?

  • Amy Walter:

    They covered a lot of ground.

    They also went very much into the work that he has been doing on Middle East peace, working with Palestinians, and his relationship with the Saudis.

    But what came across was, he doesn't — to Tam's point, he doesn't act or behave much differently than many other people in and around the Trump orbit. So it's not as if, just because he is the son-in-law, that he has some sort of special sauce or something about him that makes him that much different than the other people in Donald Trump's immediate orbit.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, somehow, after all this news, it's only Monday still.

    (CROSSTALK)

    Yes, a few more days to go.

    But I wanted to ask each of you to kind of look ahead and tell me what is it you are tracking this week. What's the big story that you're going to look out for?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I think the tariff issue is a really big deal, the fact that the Mexican government now, many top officials are here in Washington, trying to encourage the president not to put these tariffs into place.

    If they do go into place, it's starting June 10. The president tweets both before he left and since being in London suggest that he is relishing a fight. But we also know that he has come right up to the line before. Remember, he was going to close the border completely with Mexico and the U.S. And he's backed off. So let's see what he does.

    But, certainly, for the markets, for big industries, like the auto industry, for people who are invested in the stock market, this is a very big question about whether these tariffs actually go into place.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that deadline, again, is June 10 that he's put into place.

  • Amy Walter:

    June 10, right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about you, Tam? What are you watching?

  • Tamara Keith:

    OK, so Amy stole my thing.

  • Amy Walter:

    I'm sorry.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    But the other thing that I'm watching is this disaster bill, the disaster aid funding bill.

    It was supposed to be on a glide path. The president said, OK, I'll support it, even though it doesn't have border funding in it. And then it was, in theory, going to be passed by unanimous consent in the House.

    Three different times, Republican House members jumped up and said — during recess — and said, actually, no, I object. We can't pass this by unanimous consent.

    So the House will be back. In theory, it will easily pass with the Democratic House. But the question is whether the president's view on the deal being OK has changed over that time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Definitely one to watch.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thanks for being here.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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