Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer on infrastructure law, Bannon indictment, Leahy retirement

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the new infrastructure law, the indictment of longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon on contempt of Congress charges, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy’s retirement.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, President Biden celebrates a major legislative win on infrastructure that could be a much-needed political win at a time when his approval rating with voters has been sliding.

    Here to weigh what today's signing could mean and more, Tamara Keith of NPR and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times. Amy Walter is away.

    It's so good to see both of on this Politics Monday.

    Tam, let's start with the president today, a big — a lot of happiness, big smiles at the White House on the signing of this infrastructure bill. It does come at a tough moment for the president. Is this likely to lift him politically? How do you see it?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    It was a big bipartisan party on the South Lawn, a party that he had been eagerly hoping to have.

    But in terms of items that people are going to see in their everyday lives any time soon, that's not really what this is. This is a long-term investment. Last week, we were asking the commerce secretary, how long until this broadband shows up? And the answer was, well, it may not be this year or next year. It could take some time.

    And so the political benefits may not be immediate. And, also, like, if you talk about things that Americans are acutely worried about, yes, they drive over a bridge that they have concerns about, but going to the gas station, going to the grocery store, dealing with COVID still in their lives, those are items that are more top of mind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, how do you see the political equation here for the president?

  • Lisa Lerer, The New York Times:

    Well, I think Tam is exactly right.

    That lag in terms of when these projects will actually come to fruition is really important here. When are you out talking to voters — I was out a lot during the elections that we had earlier this month — people are not saying, man, I wish I just had better infrastructure, right?

    They are talking about the cost of milk, the cost of gas, about what is going on with schools, when life is going to get back to some kind of pre-COVID normal. So I think there has been a lot of focus in Democratic circles on getting things done. And that's really important.

    They have — the Democrats have to look like they're governing. But it is not just getting things done to get things done. You have to get things done that actually impact people's lives. And I suspect that we will see Republicans really continue to drive that economic message home, to push concerns about inflation, about schools, and about crime.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It does — it raises all kinds of questions. And we will see where that goes.

    I want to turn to something very different, and that is another story we are reporting tonight, Tam. And that is the indictment of former President Trump's very close adviser, Steve Bannon. He refused to cooperate with the House special committee looking into the attack on the Capitol back in January.

    We saw — we aired earlier his — some of his reaction. He is going on offense, he says, and he specifically singled out the president, Speaker Pelosi, and the attorney general. How do you — how does one weigh the advantages for the committee of going after this prosecution, getting to the bottom of it, something so important to members of — some members of Congress, but, on the other hand, the potential for retaliation?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and, certainly, Steve Bannon is going to fight this. He is a podcast host. He is someone whose brand is built around being loyal to former President Trump, who really has nothing to lose in fighting this fight.

    And so he is going to fight this fight, and seems to have very little incentive to cooperate, even though he was — he had meetings very near the White House the night before the insurrection. It was — on his podcast, he talked about, things are going it to be wild.

    In terms of will going after this compel him to testify, will that change things materially, it's not clear that it will. The United States is currently in a situation where we have different sets of facts depending on your politics. And this being as politicized — I mean, it was already politicized. That isn't really going to change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Democrats, as we said, Lisa, are — say they are determined. They say this is important for the country, for our democracy to get to the bottom of what happened.

    But the Republicans, many Republicans are looking at it as purely political.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    That is exactly right.

    And it is not clear that this will help Democrats all that much when it comes to the midterm elections, that Americans are that focused on — remain that focused on January 6, particularly when they are facing the kind of pocketbook issues we were talking about earlier.

    I also think that — but I do think today was a victory for the investigation. It was a victory for Congress. If there hadn't been consequences for Bannon refusing to comply with the subpoena, that would have really crippled this investigation.

    And part of what we are seeing here is an effort by Republicans to just run out the clock. Republicans very feel confident about their chances in these midterms, particularly in the House. And they have made very clear in their words and actions that they have no intention of continuing this investigation, even though it is really important for the functioning of our democracy to sort of understand what happened on that day.

    That is not something that is on the Republican agenda. So they feel they can just run out the clock, they can take control of the House and they can basically push this thing aside.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A message from a number — a growing number of Republicans is, we want to look ahead. We don't want to look back.

    That has all kinds of implications.

    But the last thing I do want to ask you both about is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, as we reported, longest serving member of the United States Senate, finishing eight terms. He's not running again. He's 81 years old, just for a moment about his legacy.

  • Tamara Keith:


    And, sometimes, retirements are about politics, and, sometimes, retirements are just retirements.

    You know, this is not an important part of his political legacy, but, to me, what stands out about Senator Leahy is all of the times I have seen him at events, at inauguration, or State of the Union or any of these events, where he has his camera. He has like a nice lens, and he's taking pictures.

    He's been in the Senate this long and has been part of the Washington establishment this long, and yet he marveled at the functioning of our government enough to continue to be a tourist, if you will, in Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not all the senior members of the Senate, Lisa, are saying they're going to retire. We're thinking of Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

    But what about Senator Leahy and the legacy he's going to leave after he leaves next year?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Well, I do think this is a bit of a moment for the Democratic Party, a moment that's perhaps some in the party would argue is overdue, but will come, where you have a party where they have senior members that are octogenarians, septuagenarians.

    That's most of the leadership in Congress is in their 70s and their 80s. And so this is a thing that is going to happen to this party, that a younger generation will eventually have to take the reins. And it's not clear who is going to rise up in this moment.

    But I think this is the beginning of what we're going to see happen in this party over the next several years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we should point out he has a year left, but he has announced. And we will see what happens in the state of Vermont.

  • Tamara Keith:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very good to have both of you.

    Tamara Keith, Lisa Lerer, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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