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Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg on Trump’s immigration tweets, trade war fears

Tamara Keith of NPR and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections join Judy Woodruff to discuss the impact of President Trump’s tweets on “Dreamers” and the border wall, fears of a trade war between U.S. and China rattling markets, and protests over education funding by teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We return now to the politics of immigration and the impact of President Trump's series of tweets on so-called dreamers and the wall.

    For that, I'm here with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections.

    And welcome to you both. It is Politics Monday.

    So, Tam, we have been talking about immigration, the president's tweets. What is driving this? We know the president feels strongly about this issue, but what do you think he's trying to accomplish? How do we read this?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, there are a lot of different ways to read it.

    Certainly, the news of the caravan is something that has been bubbling up and is out there, but also this is a core issue for President Trump, dating back to his ride down that golden escalator at Trump Tower when he declared his candidacy and he talked about Mexico not sending their best people.

    This is something that he believes works for him. I know, last week, I mentioned I was watching a lot of depositions. Well, in one of those depositions, he talked very openly about how he felt like he was really on to something by talking about immigration so much, that it was catching fire and that it was working for him.

    And so, this is, in some ways, a base play. This is about riling up his base in a midterm year and following this big omnibus spending bill where the president didn't really get that much wall funding, and there were a lot of Democratic priorities in that bill.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Stu, is it likely to help the president with his base? What effect does it have on voters?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Well, I note that immigration is both an economic and a cultural issue, economic because its involves jobs, but cultural because it involves a discussion of who we are as a people and a country and where we want to go.

    And the two parties divide very dramatically along these lines. No, I don't think it — I think the president has to keep his position because it does play to his base, to older voters, rural voters, evangelicals, older whites, older white men, and while the Democratic Party is a party of African-Americans, Hispanics, voters of color, younger voters, people who think differently.

    But when you look at the two sides, I just can't believe that most voters, and particularly most Democrats, will think that the president is on their side, and not the Democrats. I just think that doesn't pass the smell test.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you're saying maybe it backfires? It hurts him more than it helps him?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Well, I think it helps him with his base, but his base is too small. He needs to expand his support, not contract it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Surely the White House thinks about this, Tam.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Surely, the White House thinks about this. And they did a background call today with senior administration officials pushing on this immigration issue.

    Here's the sort of larger thing that's going on. There isn't a clear next big thing at this moment that the White House is working on. They passed that tax bill. They passed the big spending bill. And now what?

    So, the president gave an infrastructure speech last weak where he barely talked about infrastructure. Now he's tweeting about immigration, but there's not really an appetite in Congress to take this on right now.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Just one final point, Judy.

    I think we have seen from the elections in Virginia and the special election in Pennsylvania the core, the crucial voter swing group is suburban voters, particularly suburban women, and this immigration issue is not going to help the president with them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, speaking of things, whether next things or the last thing, Tam, the president has been talking a lot about trade. The administration has gotten out of trade deals. They have imposed tariffs now. They say they're imposing tariffs on China. The Chinese are reacting.

    What's the political calculus there?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    This goes back to exactly what we were talking about before, which is, it's all about the base.

    And this is something that he campaigned on. Going tough on trade, going tough on China, that was a core part of the president's campaign and part of the way he attracted some of those more conservative white Democrats, who he was able to draw over, because that message on trade resonated with them.

    Now the markets are doing some wild and crazy things, and there's been a lot of instability in the markets. The White House is saying, you know, we look at long-term trends.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, clearly, Stu, this plays well with some, but not with everybody.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Exactly.

    It plays well with the industries he's protecting, with the CEOs and the workers in those industries he's protecting, steel, aluminum, washing machines and the like. But it hurts him everywhere else and it hurts him in more places and among more voters than it helps him.

    This is really going to split the Republican Party, because there is still a huge free trade party element within the party and particularly rural America, agricultural America. That's the president's base. He's got a problem.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, that's what we thought, Tam.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Right.

    And China, with this move, it's not a big move. It's $3 billion, right in line with what they think the effect of the steel and aluminum tariffs will be. But it's targeted at things like pork and Iowa. And guess where President Trump did really well? Iowa.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Stu, do we just watch as the trade specifics roll out and say, well, he…

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes.

    We don't know how it's going to develop. And that's — you know, the devil is in the detail here. Exactly how does the U.S. respond after the Chinese? How about Western Europe? How about U.S. — other allies in terms of trade issues?

    So we don't know. But it is — I think this has been one area where the president has been successful, the economy, jobs, the stock market. And you see how talk of trade has rattled the markets.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Absolutely, today, down 771 points at one point before it settled down.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Very quickly to you both.

    Tam, on these teachers strikes, really interesting, teachers in state after state who argue their pay is so low, something has to be done about it. Funding is low. How does that play politically?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, it is a fascinating political dynamic, in that teachers unions, among unions, are those that have held up.

    They are stronger than a lot of other unions are at this point, and they tend to be very Democratic. Teachers unions are allied with Democrats.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But not all of these teachers out striking are union members. Is that right?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes.

    No, look, this is another one of those cases where you have to kind of look as which swing voters are affected. And teachers tend to be disproportionately female. They talk about kids and families and education and just the sorts of issues that resonate with which voters? Suburban voters and suburban moms in particular, swing voters.

    This is another — I know we — I keep — I feel like a broken record here.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's OK. It's all right. We like broken records.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    But, once again, it's hard to see how Republicans benefit from this.

    The biggest hit may be on state legislators and governors. But to the extent that it impacts the overall effort, energy, enthusiasm, fairness, our kids, that got to help the Democrats.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And when the teachers, Tam, talk about what they have been spending out of their own pocket to take care of these kids' needs in school.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, and you have Oklahoma, where many schools aren't even in session five days a week. They're in session four days a week. It's a pretty stark situation.

    And, very quickly, the teachers start talking about tax policies in states that are run by Republicans.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes, well, we are watching that one, too.

    Tamara Keith, Stu Rothenberg, Politics Monday, thank you both.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    You're welcome.

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