What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What’s at stake for Republicans in Alabama’s runoff election

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join William Brangham to discuss Sean Spicer’s Emmys cameo, the runoff election in Alabama, last-ditch GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the Democratic push for “Medicare for All.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    And it's the beginning of the week, and so we are joined now by our regular Politics Monday duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Thank you.

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    Thank you.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Before we get to Alabama and policy and all that stuff, let's talk about Sean Spicer and his little cameo last night on the Emmys.

    For those who didn't see it, he comes out, and it seems like he's trying to poke fun at his first day of the job, President Trump's inauguration. He comes out and, all evidence notwithstanding, he says that president had the biggest audience ever in the entire history of the universe. And then that was his declaration. And he pointed his finger at the journalists and told them, report this.

    Last night, during the Emmys, Stephen Colbert is wondering about the size of his audience. And out comes Sean Spicer.

    Let's take a look at that.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • SEAN SPICER, Former White House Press Secretary:

    This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period, both in person and around the world.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    What do you make of that?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    You know, this is life imitating art. Right?

    He was actually channeling Melissa McCarthy, who you see there, who was making fun of him in her "Saturday Night Live" skit.

    Look, this, to me, is a sign about where we are more broadly as a culture, which is, there is no such thing as having bad publicity or notoriety. You can always cash in on it. And it's very short-lived.

    So, the name Sean Spicer is one that most people know today. It's hard to know that it's going to be the same a year from now. So, take it while you can get it. Take it to the bank. A lot of other Trump supporters, his former campaign manager, for example, got fired, and then ended up as a CNN commentator, is a lobbyist now.

    So, people trying to use their cache while they can here in Washington.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Tam, what do you think about this?

    Is this us not being able to take a joke? Or is this us, as many people have argued, that we're being encouraged to chuckle at the idea that it's just fine for the press secretary to lie to the American people?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, this is Sean Spicer's rehabilitation tour, his image rehabilitation tour. He also went on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and then today, in an interview with The New York Times, said that he regretted that press conference where he came out and told reporters, report the facts that were not the facts. They were alternate facts.

    And that was sort of the original sin of his entire time as press secretary. He came out and said something that was unverifiably untrue. And it led to further questions about whether what he said was true, whether what was said from the podium in the White House press Briefing Room, which has typically had some connection to reality, whether that could be trusted from this administration.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Some connection to reality. I love that.

    OK, let's talk about the runoff next Tuesday in Alabama, very big Senate runoff race.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Roy Moore and Luther Strange.

    What is at stake in that particular race?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Well, these are two Republicans that are challenging each other.

    And what's interesting here is, it is the choice between which Alabamans are going to like more. Or their choice is between loving Trump more or whether they dislike Mitch McConnell more.

    That is what they get a choice between. Roy Moore is the outsider. He is a former state Supreme Court judge. He has been kicked off the bench twice now, but he's running as the anti-establishment, anti-Washington firebrand.

    Luther Strange is in a Strange position, which is, he's been endorsed both by Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is coming down on Saturday to campaign for him. But he also has the support of Mitch McConnell and the leadership. So, really, what we're looking for here is, how strong is the Trump connection?

    Can support from Trump, the president, coming down, giving outward, in this case a rally, outward support, enough support to overcome what voters' reticence, especially in a place like Alabama, for the establishment — Roy Moore, polling has shown him ahead, some by bigger margins, some by smaller.

    So, Luther Strange, who is the incumbent right now — he was…

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The interim.

  • AMY WALTER:

    … the interim here, replacing Jeff Sessions, starts off as the underdog.

    The real question for Republicans, what really is at stake, two things. One, if Roy Moore wins and comes to the United States Senate, the fear from Republican establishment people like Mitch McConnell is, he's another rogue agent. They have very few votes that they can lose. They only have a 52-seat majority. They can't afford somebody else who goes off on his own tangent.

    And the second is, it may encourage, if he succeeds, it may encourage other candidates to challenge sitting Republican incumbents. That's not something they want to deal with.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    So, Tam, the president can read the polls. He must know, even if he prefers Strange, that he might be backing the guy who ends up losing. Like, why is the president — why is he willing to risk capital on this?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    I haven't quite figure that out, to be perfectly honest.

    It's a big question. And the other thing is, President Trump is doing what Mitch McConnell wanted him to do, which is endorsing Strange and working for Strange. But the flame keepers of President Trump's, you know, agenda, the Steve Bannons, the Sean Hannitys, they have all endorsed Moore.

    And so it's this really bizarre fight for, you know, who is the really — the true Trump candidate, the guy who Trump endorsed or the guy that all of Trump's allies endorsed?

    And I don't know how this is going to turn out and what it will mean for President Trump's political capital. The interesting thing is, in this case, he's for the incumbent, whereas, in some other states, he's talking about wanting to primary the incumbent Republican.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Right.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Right.

    Let's talk about health care quickly.

    The GOP, it seems like, are taking one last stab at putting the dagger in the Affordable Care Act with the Graham-Cassidy bill. Why are they pushing for this?

  • AMY WALTER:

    It's about a deadline. That's usually what gets people motivated in Washington, is, they look and they see, we only have a certain amount of time.

    In this case, September 30 is the last day that Republicans can pass a health care bill with just 50 votes under this reconciliation deal. After that, they have got to get 60 votes. So this is really the time to be able to do this.

    Talking to folks who cover this today, there is a great deal of skepticism that this is going to happen. It's pretty clear that the folks that held out on the first version, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Rand Paul, are not committed to this. Rand Paul has already come out publicly and said he's not for it.

    So, still, I wouldn't say it is impossible, but it's — the odds are longer.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Last to you, Tam.

    On the Democratic side, you have seen Bernie Sanders has been pushing his Medicare-for-all plan. We just saw Hillary Clinton express some skepticism about that, sort of implying that it wasn't that realistic.

    But yet a lot of Democrats, including many who are thought of as 2020 contenders for the presidency, are signing onto this. So, why are they risking capital on something that may never go anywhere?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, and Bernie Sanders says this bill is not going anywhere.

    They, I think, see this as a way to send a signal, to say that they care about health care. And they're not talking about what's practical and pragmatic. They aren't at that stage yet. It's — 2020 is a long way off.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you very much.

  • AMY WALTER:

    You're welcome.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    You're welcome.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest