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Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer on Biden behavior and 2020 fundraising

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times talk to Lisa Desjardins about the week in politics, including complaints regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s interactions with women and the “cultural moment” around sexual misconduct, fundraising for 2020 Democratic candidates so far and what voters are talking about on the campaign trail.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And what better time than now for Politics Monday, of course, with NPR's Tamara Keith, co-host of "The NPR Podcast," and Lisa Lerer, politics reporter for The New York Times.

    Now I get to ask the questions, ladies. It's exciting.

    Let's start with Joe Biden.

    It's interesting, because, last week, I know you both reported on he had a mea culpa about Anita Hill, an emotional moment for him. And now he has got yet another question about how he treats women.

    It's a large cultural moment, but it's also a politically tricky one. What does this say about Joe Biden and how important is it for his chances, and is there a chance of backlash from conservatives, who say there's no knowable standard anymore? So, what's it mean, Tam?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right, there's no knowable standard anymore.

    Democrats have taken the position of zero tolerance, but zero tolerance for what? And this is, as with so many of these things, complicated and nuanced.

    Lucy Flores in her description of it is nuanced, saying that she didn't think it was sexual harassment, didn't think it was assault, but she felt uncomfortable that he put her in an awkward position.

    And then, when you go to Mrs. Carter saying, well, in my case, it wasn't, I didn't feel uncomfortable, there is a difference between the two of them. Joe Biden was close, with friends with the Carters. Lucy Flores is somebody he was campaigning with just that moment.

    But I have been — I have covered him out in the wild over the years where I did a story in 2014, it wasn't anything remarkable at the time, where he kissed a 100-year-old grandma and went in for a hug. But times are different now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Politically, what's it mean, Lisa?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    I think it actually speaks to the larger, really central question facing Joe Biden, should he decide to enter this race, which is, is a political figure who has been in office for 40 years — I mean, he entered the Senate in 1973, before abortion was legal, before the Watergate hearings, before people had VCRs.

    This was a long time ago. And political mores in the country, and particularly in the Democratic Party, have shifted on a number of issues, bussing, abortion and certainly standards around gender and consent and this whole national conversation we're having around those topics right now.

    So I think the central question he's facing is, can he get right on those issues with where the party is now? And that's what we are about to find out in the next couple weeks.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What does this mean for other presidential candidates? Anything? We have got Kirsten Gillibrand and also Kamala Harris, who have overseen staff members in the past that have been found to have to pay recompense for sexual harassment.

    They have had trouble with that issue. When does this matter to voters?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right. And add — then add Bernie Sanders to that. His campaign in 2016 had issues with sexual harassment. He has apologized for how those things were handled, not his issue, but people he supervised.

    This is — this is a conversation that didn't happen four years ago in the presidential campaign, though it was a conversation that did get kicked off in a way by President Trump.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    And I think we are having this cultural moment surrounding the MeToo, but there is a real political risk here.

    And the political risk is that the Democratic primary electorate is expected to be a majority female. So these topics will — may resonate more with female voters. And that is what all these candidates are playing too. And they're also very cognizant of what happened in the midterms, which is that women's work powered the Democratic Party's gains.

    Women were these groundbreaking candidates, but they were also the volunteers. They were the campaign managers. I'm sure you two, like I, went to those rallies and met several PTA moms who were totally engaged politically.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And for the first time, a lot of them.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    For the time because of the Trump administration.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    And everyone running the Democratic field is very aware of those new political dynamics.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let's talk to this weekend's dynamic. It was actually a pretty big weekend in politics.

    And we will start with the man, the myth, Beto O'Rourke, who had his formal announcement — there it is — in El Paso, of course, standing on top of something.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was also another important weekend for Mr. O'Rourke and all the Democrats running, because this was the end of the first quarter for political fund-raising.

    We won't get the total numbers. They are not due until April 15. However, I want to ask you all, how important is political fund-raising for this expanding group of Democrats and who's doing well?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it is important. It always has been, but when you're in a field of a busload of people, it's particularly important to be able to show through your fund-raising that you have some amount of grassroots support. It also is important in terms of getting on stage at that — those Democratic debates.

    So, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, came out early, saying, I don't have the full numbers, but I have a preliminary number, raised $7 million in the first quarter.

    And he got out early on this, because, presumably, there will be other candidates with much bigger numbers to come, like Mr. O'Rourke, or Bernie Sanders, who's expected to have a really big number.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    And I also — I don't want to bust up any trade secrets here, but these political — these fund-raising numbers are really one of the few actual facts we have right now in this race.

    I mean, polls at this point really measure little more than name recognition. So a lot of how we're measuring who's up, who's down, who seems to have some energy has been around media coverage or Twitter or where they are in these polls that don't measure much.

    So this is a data point that shows us accurately how much money they're bringing in, how many small donors they have. That gives us some sense of the field. Now, of course, as we learned in 2012 with the Republicans, this could be a race where everyone gets their little moment, and Pete Buttigieg has his boomlet.

    And then the question is, do you have the moment at the right time? But this at least gives everyone watching this race a sense of where these candidates stand in terms of actual support compared to each other.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I don't want too much angry e-mail.

    Obviously, Beto O'Rourke is a fund-raising juggernaut. And I'm being respectful toward him. And so is Bernie Sanders, that seem to be the top of the heap right now.

    But let's get away from money. And let's talk about issues. I know you were on the campaign trail. And you were in Michigan with the president.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And I was in Iowa right before that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You were in — what are voters actually talking about in this, sort of as D.C. is all obsessed with the Mueller report a bit. Obviously, it's an important report, but what are voters talking about?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    So, I was struck by two things when I was in New Hampshire.

    The first is that voters are not talking about that report. At least, they're not asking candidates about it. They're asking about health care and climate change and school shootings and big issues that are facing the country that resonate particularly with the Democratic electorate.

    But the second thing I was struck about — was struck by was that, I asked them about it. And what I found was that it didn't seem to make a difference, what the report actually found, that the Democratic primary electorate was convinced that the president had done something wrong. And wherever the results of the investigation were, that wasn't really going to change their minds, which made me think that that issue is sort of baked in the cake, at least for the primary.

    General, of course, it's a different ball game. But that's real — it's a really long time away still.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam, you were with two different core groups of voters.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    So it was fascinating. Out with the Trump voters talking to you waiting to get into the president's rally, all of them said they wanted the Mueller report released, because they think it'll be exonerating to the president. And they were there to talk about the Mueller report.

    The day before, I spent an hour hanging out with about — or interviewing 10 young voters in Iowa. They never brought up Mueller. They never brought up Russia. They never brought up getting — booting the president out of office. They were very focused on — not so much on issues, though climate change is something that they brought up, income inequality, criminal justice reform, things like that.

    They talked about that. But the most important thing to them — and you hear this time and again — is they just want somebody who has that quality that they can't quite name that will allow them to beat the president, that will let them go head to head with him on the debate stage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The magic dust, I call it, magic political dust.

    Now, here's the point where I was going to attempt an April Fool's joke. I was going to try and say to you, hey, did you hear about this crazy candidate that's going to run? April Fool's. I couldn't think of anyone crazy enough for it to be…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It seemed like really anyone can run right now.

    So I guess I will just close by saying, hey, did you hear Congress and the president have put aside their differences?

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you, guys, so much, Tamara Keith, Lisa Lerer.

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome

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