What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on U.S. role in Afghanistan fallout, midterm elections

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the fallout in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal and how it could affect America’s midterm elections.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The weight of the fall of Afghanistan falls heavy on the White House.

    We look at President Biden's response to the chaos with Amy Walter, editor in chief of The Cook Political Report, and Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR.

    It is so good to see both of you on this Monday. But the news, as we are reminding everybody, is very heavy this day.

    Amy, presidents are judged by moments like this.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you see from President Biden? And how do you think he's going to be seen?

  • Amy Walter:

    So, what we heard, especially today, from President Biden was a focus on the policy, the policy that, for all intents and purposes, seems to be popular, at least if you poll the question, should America leave Afghanistan?

    A majority of Americans say, yes, we should. Americans long have disliked spending blood and treasure overseas. But if the question is, how competently was it done, and this is a president who sold himself as someone who's going to come in and bring competency back to the Oval Office, was going to bring the adults back to the table, and, on that front, he failed.

    And what the question will be going forward is, where will Americans continue to judge him? As somebody who put a policy for that they liked, but then the execution of it failed, or will the execution of it become less sort of salient the farther away we get from this?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    I think the most important thing for these next few weeks, of course, are the scenes that will be coming out of Afghanistan, not just of the civilians, but of the troops who are being brought in, the American troops being brought in.

    If tragedy should befall any of them, the impact politically, I think would be pretty significant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The humanitarian consequences.

    Everybody's looking to see, Tam, what the toll is on this country. We're waiting to see. But it is always political season here in Washington and in the minds of people who are thinking the Democrats could suffer from this. Republicans could gain.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly.

    And President Biden, in the way he is presenting this, is that it was a binary choice. It's either in Afghanistan or out of Afghanistan. Now, some critics say that there should be a residual force that stays.

    Many critics, including both Democrats and Republicans, argue, sure, withdraw U.S. troops, that's fine. But, as Amy says, people are arguing that the execution was quite flawed. And, as Amy pointed out, this is an administration who came in to be the people who could get it done, who know how to pull the levers of government to make government work.

    And it's not just Afghanistan. Right now, there is also a crisis at the border, with the largest number of apprehensions at the border that have ever in history happened in a single month. And that number just came out. Now they say, oh, it's some Trump era policy that's part of the problem at the border.

    Well, they're also blaming Trump era policy for what's happening in Afghanistan. And at some point in a presidency, the public stops buying that.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and the president said today, the buck stops with me. I'm the president. So, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He flat out said it.

  • Amy Walter:

    He said it, right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, at a time — I mean, I will say, at a time the country's dealing with COVID, worried about the economy, is what happens in a country thousands of miles from here going to matter in the midterm elections?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    Well, and foreign policy rarely…

  • Tamara Keith:

    Rarely registers.

  • Amy Walter:

    … registers with voters, right, even in a presidential campaign.

    But it is the imagery. And I think that's going to be the question. I think back to the summers of other first-term presidents and what we remember from that. And when we think about President Obama, and it was the town halls, right, those — the health care town halls, the anger from constituents. We think about President Trump and what was happening in Charlottesville. Those images really seared.

    Those things, some of them were impactful for the actual election. Others of them, just — they sort of built the story about that president, right? It was a telling moment that may not be the definitive sort of issue in the campaign. But it sort of set the course for the narrative of the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is interesting, I think, Tam, when you think about the president's statement — speech today.

    We spoke about it with Lisa a few minutes ago. But this was about as determined as you have seen him talk about anything in his time in office.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And, in a way, his tone and message on what should be done in Afghanistan has not changed a single bit from the campaign, to the presidency, to a speech he delivered two months ago, to a statement he made two weeks ago, to what he's saying now.

    He is firm in his belief that this is the right action, that this is the right policy. And behind the scenes, administration officials are saying, yes, we know that this happened far faster than they were expecting, but they insist that they were running tabletop exercises, that they were planning for this scenario.

    I think what happens, as Amy says, in the next week or two, whether American lives are lost, whether the U.S. is able to keep its commitment to thousands of Afghans, that will determine — we're just too early in this…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are…

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    … story to know where it ends and what the political implications are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are very early.

    And we are early, if you will, Amy, in the political cycle.

    I mean, it's…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So…

  • Amy Walter:

    But the juxtaposition of the comments that the president made in July, just a month ago, to Yamiche…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    … saying this is not going to be Saigon, and then the images, I mean, those two things side by side are really, really powerful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hanging on the airplane.

  • Amy Walter:

    Again, they — it may not be the definitive issue, for sure. But that image is indelible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment