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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s tweet storm, Biden’s strategy shift

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest in politics, including a “total shift” for the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, what kind of change Democratic voters are seeking and which politicians represent it, the fallout from President Trump’s recent tweets and why he likes talking about race and immigration.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And here to break down the day's political news, 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 from NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Welcome to you both. Good to see you. Happy Monday.

    Tam, I want to start with you.

    Let's pick up where — Lisa actually started her report there, Joe Biden's health care plan, swiping, as we heard him there, to some of his presidential candidates — fellow presidential contenders there.

    This is a tonal shift, it's fair to say, him kind of directly hitting at the other contenders. What do you make of that? Why now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And Bernie Sanders has also been, particularly through statements, hitting at some of his opponents as well. And there's something else going on. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden no longer have a lock on the top of the Democratic race.

    They — it would be difficult now to call them — either of them — front-runners, because there are footsteps at their heels. And in some cases, in fact, they're pulling behind Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren.

    So, part of what's happening here is, these candidates need to fight. They are — they are now fighting for their place. Joe Biden can't sit back and say, well, I'm in the lead. I can't touch these other candidates. I can't get my hands dirty.

    No, he has to get his hands dirty now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is that what's happening, Amy? He's got to get in it?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. And — he's got to get in it.

    And we saw that from the debates, right? He was literally just a punching bag up there, while folks, whether it was Kamala Harris or Eric' Swalwell or others, were coming after him. He looked like he was on the defensive the entire time.

    Now he's saying, I'm going to go on the offensive, and really direct this debate on an issue where he thinks he can really be strongest.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that was on health care. We saw him right there.

    But it's not just on those issues. I want to point you towards a recent poll. NBC/Wall Street Journal asked Democratic primary voters what kind of candidate they're looking for. Is it for someone who's pushing large-scale change, right, tends to be more expensive, harder to pass, or incremental change?

    It's not an even split. There's a bit more looking for that large-scale change. What does that say about what the candidates are pushing?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    And the other issue there is, who are — who, as candidates, are in each one of those categories, right?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    There are a lot more candidates fighting for that 54 percent than fighting for the 41 percent, because you do.

    You have Kamala Harris, Senator Harris. You have Senator Warren. You have Senator Sanders, to a certain degree, Pete Buttigieg, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, also in that 54 percent.

    Biden's kind of by himself in that 41 percent. There are others who are trying to take a more moderate, again, let's do more incremental change, not the big, bold, more expensive progressive change, Amy Klobuchar, Senator Michael Bennet, Governor John Hickenlooper.

    None of those folks are polling anywhere near the top. They're in the single digits.

    So, the challenge, I think, isn't just where the voters are, but also who are the candidates who are in those lanes, and who fights to be at the top, and how many voters are left once you split those folks all up?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Speaking of some of the divisions within the Democratic Party, Tam, I want to ask you.

    A few days ago, there was a big story we were all talking about, the division between Speaker Pelosi and some of those younger freshman members of Congress, those four women of color who like to call themselves the Squad.

    The president weighed in. Everything kind of shifted. What a difference a couple of days make. Where are we now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, so President Trump has an incredible ability to unite Democrats against him.

    That said, in the press conference that the Squad held, there were some veiled comments directed towards Nancy Pelosi. I think was Ayanna Pressley who said something to the effect of, our squad is bigger than four people.

    So there were some little subtle jabs there too. But President Trump used racist language in a tweet, and then has continued to follow up. He's sort of modifying the message a little bit.

    But in terms of his campaign, if he could run against the Squad, instead of all those other people who are running for president, he would be glad to. And in some ways, on many days, it seems like he is running against those House members, rather than any of the candidates that are actually running for president.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and that's what — that 54-41 number that you put up, that's not just about the presidential campaign. That's also happening at the congressional level, right?

    Do we do big, bold things — this is what the Squad would argue — even though they may not ever get passed, but we need to set a marker and we need to really push for big, substantive change, vs. Pelosi and folks in leadership saying, we need to pass what we can actually get done and make real movement on issues?

    But I think even more fundamental than that is, part of the reason that Trump loves playing on this — this issue of immigration and race and cultural issues is, he pushes extreme this way, and many of the Democrats — we saw this in the debate — came out on the other extreme, whether it was on issues of health care for people who are in the country legally.

    Almost all the candidates said they would allow government health insurance to cover those folks, and then decriminalizing illegal border crossings. This is where the president likes to play, which is to say, you might not love my positions on these issues, but look at what Democrats are doing. They're going to have open borders. Everybody's going to get free stuff.

    To make it a choice about the other side, rather than making it a referendum on what his administration is actually doing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's the terrain the president wants to be fighting on.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Towards that point, I want to get your take on this. Just a couple of minutes left.

    Take a look at this Gallup poll from last month. They were asking people about the top issues, what they consider to be the top problem for the country. Immigration is now ranking higher than it ever has before.

    It's up, I think, 1 percentage point from the highest point Gallup has ever measured, measuring back to 1993.

    This is a bipartisan issue now, Tam. What do those numbers say to you?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    What those numbers say is that it is a bipartisan issue. Now, those numbers cover up that Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas when they say that immigration is an issue.

    So Democrats will say it's family separation, it's terrible conditions in some of these detention facilities for migrants. And Republicans will say, it's people pouring across the border, it's caravans, it's MS-13, very different ideas of what the word immigration or the issue immigration is.

    But it is a top concern for both parties.

  • Amy Walter:

    And this is also why you see Joe Biden talking about health care. In fact, a lot of Democrats that I talk to say, I wish the campaigns, the candidates and Congress would talk — Democrats in Congress would talk a lot more about health care.

    That's also a top issue. And it's where Democrats have a tremendous advantage, like they did in 2018. But, instead, they're getting pulled over to talk about the issues Donald Trump wants them to talk about on his terrain and on his turf.

    Make him, is what Democrats tell me, play on the terrain that is more suitable to Democrats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You think we will Democrats try to stick more to the issues where they can win?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, but that's really tough to do. The president is going to bring the attention and the media.

    And how Democrats respond to him and then go forward for the next step is going to be…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will be tracking it all there.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday, good to see you guys.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thanks.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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