Tamara Keith and Annie Linskey on political extremism, the Build Back Better bill

NPR’s Tamara Keith and and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including political extremism in the Republican Party, how Democratic lawmakers are working to pass a much narrower version of the once-ambitious Build Back Better bill, and the White House navigates how to secure abortion protections after the fall of Roe.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to pass a much narrower version of the once ambitious Build Back Better bill, while the White House continues to navigate how best to secure abortion protections after the fall of Roe.

    To discuss the political stakes of all this, I'm joined now by Tamara Keith of NPR and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post. Amy Walter is away.

    Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here.

    I think it's fair to say that was a very sobering report from Laura Barron-Lopez there.

    Tam, we have covered, you have covered individual moments like that for years. When you see it pulled together like this, what does it say to you about this moment we're in as a nation?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    There is a rising fear in many corners of this country that political violence — that the country is just crackling and ripe for even worse political violence than we have seen thus far.

    Also, I will add that the QAnon conspiracy theory is full of violent imagery, of fantasies of assassinations of political enemies, a long list of political enemies taken off to Guantanamo. That imagery is very much part of QAnon, which is very much part of the political dialogue in America on the right. And it can't be ignored.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you say on the right there, because it's a key point to make.

    Annie, we just heard their sentiment Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say, look, it's up to the voters to decide if this is acceptable to them or not. It is clear the Republican Party now houses these kinds of conspiracy theorists, extremist ideas, authoritarian ideas.

    Do you see anything among leadership or on the electoral landscape that would change that?

  • Annie Linskey, The Washington Post:

    Yes.

    I mean, that was such a powerful report. And I think hearing Mitch McConnell's response, which is essentially, let's let the voters decide, is a unique response on the Republican side. I mean, I think Tam is absolutely right that the QAnon theory certainly does have this imagery.

    But we have all been to political rallies where emotions run high. And I have been at Democratic events where certain — people in the audience become on — say violent things. And the difference is, the leadership on the Democratic side will tend to turn the volume down a little bit, rather than sort of stepping aside, which is what McConnell is doing, or what some of the other people and the candidates for office in that report are doing, which is really just fostering and normalizing the kind of extreme violence that we are not used to in modern politics.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you feel like it's become normalized, on that side, at least.

  • Annie Linskey:

    I mean, it's — you just see so many of those ads. And you're also not seeing the response from the leadership.

    And, to me, those two things, the sort of silence or even the sort of gentle nudging in that direction, combined with the just seeing more and more of it, I mean, that is the path to normalization right there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we have seen, of course, Democrats come out and condemn it. The president has come out and condemned it several times over.

    But he's also of course, got an eye on this quickly closing legislative window, I think it's fair to say. And when we talk about Build Back Better, first of all, it's a phrase we haven't heard a lot of lately. This is not the ambitious plan they once put forward.

    So what does it mean right now, essentially when you look at the fact that this plan was brought down by a member of their own party, by Senator Joe Manchin?

  • Tamara Keith:

    As President Biden has said many times over the last year-and-a-half, in a 50/50, Senate, every senator is president.

    And Joe Manchin has — every senator, including Joe Manchin, but especially Joe Manchin, has an outsized vote on these matters. The White House is seemingly willing to try to bag any win that they can get.

    And so they have pivoted from not really wanting to talk about defeat on the climate measures that were being discussed, and sort of holding out hope, but I don't know what kind of hope they're holding out, to talking about what Joe Manchin will support and what President Biden will take, which is — without congressional action, there is going to be a cliff, a huge spike in Obamacare premiums that would hit millions of American families, as they're dealing with higher prices on so many things, and right before people go to vote in the midterms.

    So that would be kind of a political nightmare, if that is allowed to happen. So this legislation they're talking about, this very, very, very, very pared-back legislation, would take care of that Obamacare — Obamacare cliff and would also allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, details obviously still to be worked out.

    Problems could still arise. But the idea is, these are two things that affect Americans. And it's something that Democrats could campaign on, as long as they leave out the fact that this big, bold Build Back Better went away.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those are necessary caveats. So, details still to be worked out. Things could still change.

    Annie, what's your take on this?

  • Annie Linskey:

    I have to say it's very fashionable right now among certain people to talk about what a terrible job Joe Biden is doing.

    I mean, his approval rating is awful. And this is a much smaller package than he had conceived of and he had talked about and his people have talked about. That being said, for this to pass, a cap on prescription drugs, I mean, it would actually be quite a big win. I mean, even though it's not the giant win, it's not the, like, medium win, it's still a win.

    And it's one that Democrats and Republicans have diabetes. They both pay for high costs of insulin. And this is the type of legislation that could help certainly around the edges and perhaps more in the midterms.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, what about the White House response in the fallout after the fall of Roe? They have faced a lot of criticism for not having something ready sooner to respond to that and secure some of those protections. What are they saying about that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, it seems as though this White House and the fall of Roe was just the latest example, but that this White House is sort of unwilling to flaunt their executive authority, that the president — other presidents do executive actions that amount to basically glorified press releases, but they treat it like a really big deal.

    And this president has executive actions. Now, maybe there is some criticism that they maybe waited a little bit too long on the executive actions to respond to the Supreme Court decision. But instead of trumpeting it, President Biden and his team emphasize that, well, their powers are really limited. There's only so much they can do.

    And it almost seems like they're headed down that path on climate change-related administrative actions as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Annie, in the House, of course, we have seen Democrats taking what action they can. They want to show they're trying, right, even if it doesn't go anywhere in the Senate.

    But the most coherent message among Democrats right now just seems to be, look, if you want these rights protected, show up in November and vote. Is that fair?

  • Annie Linskey:

    I think that's certainly what's coming from the top of the party.

    I think it's absolutely not enough for voters. And even you're seeing lawmakers who are state legislators Really pointing the finger to Washington, and even to Joe Biden himself, to even President Biden himself, and saying, this is not enough, do better.

    There's one lawmaker in Texas who came out and said, look, we need a little bit less Washington and playing nice from Joe Biden and a little more Texas, a little more of a rough edge here. And so they want to see a fighter.

    And I think, to Tamara's point, I mean, this was not a surprise, by any means. And so for Biden to take so long to put out an executive order that surely had been prepared well in advance is sort of mind-boggling to a lot of people. He's just really an imperfect messenger on this particular issue, and has left a lot of Democrats sort of wanting more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And when we say too long, we should point out, so the leaked draft of that decision…

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … ruling came out in late May, right, the decision in late June. It was two weeks is my recollection was that…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Annie Linskey:

    And even when the court said, no, that they were going to take the case, I mean, arguably, there was an entire year to prepare.

    And, certainly, ever since the leaked decision came out, there was — it was clear that this is — was a pretty good signal of where the court was going.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Now, during those two weeks, President Biden was on an overseas trip dealing with Ukraine and other crises. And then, just this last week, he was also on another foreign trip. So he's had a very busy travel schedule.

    But this is a White House, as every White House, who says they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do we — are we likely to see any other action from them on this front?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I mean, I don't think so.

  • Annie Linskey:

    It's hard to see at this point. I mean, I think they have kind of emptied the arsenal.

    But, I mean, Democrats are still pushing. And if there's anything that this White House has responded to, it has been being pushed from their party.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And, also, it may not be a signed executive order. It could well be actions taken at the — at the agency level that don't get as much attention, unless they were to tout it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Which they are likely to do, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Who knows.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will follow it all. It's certainly very important.

    Tamara Keith, Annie Linskey, thank you to you both.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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