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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on U.S. pandemic response polling

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including protests against government COVID-19 restrictions, polling on how Americans more broadly feel about reopening the economy amid a public health threat and China’s role in the 2020 campaign strategies of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back in this country, President Trump's coronavirus response, from social distancing to a ban on travel from China, is being challenged from both sides of the political aisle.

    Amna Nawaz has more for Politics Monday.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Here to break down the political motivations behind those anti-social distancing protests and the state of the 2020 presidential race, 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."

    Welcome to you both. Good to see you both, from a safe distance.

    Amy, I want to ask you about those protests William reported on earlier in the show. I'm sure people have been seeing these pictures across the headlines, people protesting the stay-at-home and shelter-at-home directive that so many are under.

    They are modest demonstrations, but they are popping up across the country. When you look at where they are happening, what stands out to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's not so much where they are actually protesting, because it seems like it is popping up in all kinds of states, red states and blue states, Democratic governors, Republican governors.

    What stands out is some of the polling we have right now on how people feel about the stay-at-home orders. And what it suggests is, these folks who are out there protesting represent a pretty small element of the American public opinion right now.

    About 30 percent, both in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal a Pew poll, saying that they are more worried that their governor or the country won't open up soon enough than they are worried that we will open up too soon and more people will get sick.

    The question now, Amna, is whether this 30 percent represents a ceiling or whether that is a floor. Will we see that start to grow, especially if the president keeps focusing on this and focusing his anger on certain governors?

    Because what we saw in, for example, in the Pew poll, is that while Democrats are united on the worry that government is going to open too — is going to allow businesses to open too soon, and maybe the spread will get out of control that way, Republicans are evenly divided on this question.

    And so I'm going to be watching very closely over this next week or so to see how the president is responding, as some of these states are saying they are going to open at the end of this week, like Georgia, or starting in the very first week in May.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, what about that tension?

    You saw the numbers in that poll just go by there. Is what we're hearing from the president lining up with where the concerns of the majority of the American public seem to be?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, well, the president has lined up on all sides of this one, in fact.

    He has expressed concerns about the cure being worse than the disease. He's expressed those concerns almost immediately after announcing social distancing measures.

    And in the case last week, he announced that the — that there would be these new guidelines to guide governors in their plans to reopen, but that he was sort of turfing it over to the governors, giving the governors the responsibility.

    Of course, the Constitution also gives the governors the responsibility there. But, as he did that, he said, we want it to be slow, we want it to be responsible.

    And then, within hours, he was tweeting, liberate Virginia, liberate Minnesota, liberate Michigan, targeting states with Democratic governors, of course, in some ways, sort of contradicting his own recommendations shortly after making those recommendations.

    It is a tough balance. The governors say that they're frustrated with having to have things be closed, but they also are putting health and safety first. And in some ways, as Amy was talking about, this is — it is a small part of the population that is doing these protests, but they're getting a lot of attention, because it's something visual that's happening right now.

    And it's not unlike the Tea Party, the early days of the Tea Party movement, which ultimately did have a major influence on politics for a little while, though that certainly has faded at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it's sure to be a key campaign issue in the months ahead leading up to the November election.

    Another key issue was revealed to us in the form of new ads from both the Trump and Biden camps. This is going to be sort of a foreign policy test moving forward, how the U.S. handles its relationship with China.

    Take a quick listen to clips from both camps right now.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    I believed in 1979 and I believe now that a rising China is a positive development.

  • Narrator:

    Deadly epidemic. But, after 40 years, Joe Biden failed the test.

  • Narrator:

    Trump praised the Chinese 15 times in January and February as the coronavirus spread across the world.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's a tough situation. I think they're doing a very good job.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy and Tam, we just got a couple of minutes left, but I want to make sure I get both of you on this.

    When you look at these dueling ads now — Amy, over to you first — what's your takeaway from this message?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Trump is the one that really started this war on — of advertising on this issue of China.

    And there's nothing particularly new here, an incumbent president trying to define his opponent as early as possible. In 2004, you will remember the swift boat ads. In 2012, you may remember the Obama attacks on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.

    So, this is all about sort of setting the stage right now, the incumbent president, trying to put his opponent on his heels. Even an opponent as well known as Joe Biden is not as well-defined as he will be come the fall.

    Biden pushing back, of course, with the worries of many Democrats ringing in his ears: Don't let yourself get swift boated.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, is the new line now? Is this the new question?

    Yes, go ahead.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, yes, what's notable about that Trump ad is that it's from a Trump super PAC. It is not from the Trump campaign itself.

    President Trump has had this sort of weird thing going on, where, sometimes, he's very critical of China. Sometimes, he's more critical of the WHO for not being critical enough of China.

    But then, when reporters have asked him, well, what are you doing about China, he sort of backs off. President Trump has a very mixed record, wanting to sort of promote the trade deal that he got with China. And, in doing so, he has been reluctant to go too hard on China or on President Xi.

    And he's gone — he's sort of vacillated back and forth, including a tweet at one point praising the transparency of President Xi and China.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's an issue I'm sure we're going to be covering, and sure to come up in both campaigns in the months ahead.

    Tamara Keith and Amy Walter, good to talk to you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Good to talk to you.

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