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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Warren vs. Buttigieg, candidates of color

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including campaign sparring between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg and which candidates might leverage it, how much transparency matters to Democratic voters, lack of racial diversity in the next debate and reaction to the inspector general’s report on the Russia probe.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and 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.

    Amy, I want to start with you.

    Buttigieg has been under pressure to release, as we just reported in there, this client list from his time in McKinsey. McKinsey now says, you can release it.

    I should also note that his campaign spokeswoman said they will be releasing that client list soon. We will keep an eye out for that.

    Is there something on there that could damage him? Do voters care about this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, we will see what's on there and whether it matters.

    But, look, it's pretty clear what's going on right now. Iowa, as Judy pointed out, is just two months away. Pete Buttigieg is now far and away the front-runner in Iowa. That used to be Elizabeth Warren's territory. She was seen over the summer as the candidate most likely to win the Iowa caucuses. She needs to get back into contention.

    And the person that's standing in her way is Pete Buttigieg. So it makes perfect sense that she's going to be spending time trying to knock him off of the — his first-place finish.

    It's also really clear that the two of them need Iowa as a springboard. They are seeing, not only have they both been front-runners in the polls at certain points during this campaign, but both of them are expecting to use Iowa to springboard them to a really strong stand in New Hampshire.

    And that, they think, will help them go to Nevada and South Carolina, places where they're not polling as well, because, as we heard in that opening, they're not doing quite as well, especially Pete Buttigieg, with voters of color.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, when you look at this larger conversation around transparency, this battle between Warren and Buttigieg so far, it strikes me that we're having it on the Democratic side at the same time we have a president who hasn't released his tax returns.

    Is there just a different bar? Is this — and a different bar for Democratic voters in particular?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there is a battle of radical transparency going on, on the Democratic side.

    But this is about the Democratic primary. And they are signaling that they will be different than President Trump. Now, of course, they will all be different than President Trump. You have — Vice President Biden has had reporters in his fund-raisers all along. Elizabeth Warren has not been having those big fund-raisers.

    You have — Bernie Sanders released his tax returns. And he was one of the more reluctant ones in 2016. He didn't release his tax returns, but, this time, he did. And then you have President Trump, who is literally in court every few days fighting to keep his records sealed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And — sorry, go ahead.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    No, and it's also — what Tam points out is important is, in Democratic primaries, the things that may be animating voters aren't necessarily things that animate independent voters or voters who aren't voting in the Democratic primary.

    But it is pretty clear that what they're also doing here with this sparring back and forth — and I think we will see it on the debate stage too — is, who can stand up when Trump hurls accusations at you? Who's going to be able to, when they get punched, be able not only to take it, but be able to counterpunch really quickly?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, something you have looked at, though, is when two candidates kind of hone in on each other and start sparring like this, it's often an opportunity for other candidates who are not involved in that crossfire to rise.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. That's right. It's always — to rise up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Who benefits from this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    I mean, I think if you are somebody like Amy Klobuchar, you're watching this and saying, maybe this is my opportunity now. I have been sitting in fifth place. And maybe if the shine comes off those top two candidates, they drop a little bit, it gives me an opportunity to just focus on my message while not coming under attack. They're all going to be focusing on each other.

    I think it's probably good for Joe Biden too for the spotlight to be off with him. Every time the spotlight is on him, it's usually for not good reasons. We're talking about something — one of his weaknesses.

    Now the focus on the challenges for Buttigieg and Warren give him an opportunity to make his case.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the spotlight is going to be on a few more candidates. There's another Democratic debate coming up. We're a few days away from the qualifying deadline.

    That debate is going to be December 19 in Los Angeles. We at "NewsHour," of course, are co-hosting with our friends over at Politico.

    But take a look at the candidates who have qualified so far. Just a reminder, we still have a few days before the qualifying deadline. All six candidates — there you have Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, and Warren.

    All six candidates who have so far met all of the thresholds to qualify are white. If you take a look at the four candidates who are on the cusp, potentially, they have met one debate qualification, not yet the either, both Congresswoman Gabbard and Mr. Yang, I believe, have to make one more poll to qualify, and could still do so.

    There's a divide there, very clear.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Tam, you and your colleagues have been talking to Democratic voters out there.

    For a party that so desperately needs voters of color to rally and be enthusiastic behind it, is that a problem, an all-white debate stage?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, a lot of my colleagues have been out talking to Democratic voters, as you say.

    And, sometimes, what they're hearing from voters of color who are Democrats is this sort of whisper of, well, we want to take on Trump. We think that maybe — maybe somebody like a Biden or a Sanders or a — like, they — they wonder whether a candidate of color can take on Trump.

    There are a lot of — as you talk to Democratic voters, a lot of Democrats are still sort of replaying 2016, trying to figure out what went wrong, what they can do this time to beat the president. And you hear in these sort of whispered tones a number of people I talk to, women, saying, oh, I don't know if women — if a woman can beat Trump.

    And my colleagues who've been out in an Iowa just in the last week have heard voters of color saying, well, we don't — we just don't know if if — maybe — maybe we need a white guy to take on President Trump.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, yes.

    And let's be clear too, when we look at the — I don't know — we get the farm team of potential presidential candidates, there aren't a whole lot of women and people of color there. Look at governors. Look at senators.

    The only two African-American senators in the entire United States Senate are currently running for president, or were. Obviously, Kamala Harris just dropped out.

    So the pool is not that deep. And of the folks who are in the pool, they're actually running. What needs to happen is, the Senate needs to and governorships need to look a lot more like the Democratic coalition in the House. That actually is much more reflective of the Democratic electorate, the House caucus, which is majority female and non-white.

    And that is what, eventually, the theory is that the Senate and governorships would look like. But we're not there yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, before we go — rather, Tam. I apologize.

    I want to get your take on this long awaited release of the watchdog report, the Justice Department's inspector general. Very quickly, in 30 seconds, what did you make of the response from President Trump and his attorney general?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The response from President Trump and his attorney general was almost like they were looking at a different inspector general's report.

    But they — the president and Attorney General Barr have wanted to focus on sort of discrediting the entire investigation. And Barr, much as he did with the Mueller report, came out, made a statement saying, this is what I see in here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tamara Keith and Amy Walter, that is Politics Monday.

    Good to see you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thank you.

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