ROBERT COSTA: A divided nation, a divided Washington.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) We have no doubt that when the count is finished Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners.
MR. COSTA: The Biden-Harris ticket on the brink of history after days of counting and standoffs.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) It will be hopefully cleared up, but it’ll probably go through a process, a legal process.
MR. COSTA: But political war continues as President Trump fights on. Some Republicans urge caution.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: (From video.) We heard nothing today about any evidence.
MR. COSTA: A divided nation and a divided Washington, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. Days after a record number of Americans voted, the presidential election is finally nearing a conclusion, with former Vice President Joe Biden inching ahead of President Trump in several battleground states. But even as the count winds down, the political war in this nation continues. President Trump, as you know, is insisting the election is far from over. He is alleging widespread voter fraud, without evidence. And while some veteran Republicans are speaking up and urging him to stop, many in the party stand with him and actually feel emboldened. After Tuesday, the GOP is now clinging onto the Senate majority and has picked up seats in the House. Across the aisle, Democrats are upbeat with the White House now within reach and possible victories looming n the South and the Sun Belt, and Senator Harris is poised to be the first Black woman to ever serve as vice president, but they also know they have a lot of work to do.
And joining me tonight to discuss this historic American crossroads is Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; and Susan Davis, congressional correspondent for National Public Radio and co-host of NPR’s politics podcast.
But first let’s turn to Joe Biden, who has been urging calm and projecting confidence from his campaign headquarters.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election. Now every vote must be counted. No one’s going to take our democracy away from us – not now, not ever. Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well, but that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years.
MR. COSTA: Let’s begin with Joe Biden and Yamiche Alcindor. You’re at the White House. You’re talking to Republican sources. They know that Joe Biden may speak tonight. He is – it’s been reported by CBS News and others that he may address the nation tonight, but the Associated Press has yet to call the race. What is this moment for President Trump and for Vice President Biden? What do you hear, Yamiche?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, for Vice President Biden it’s really the culmination of decades of work, decades of service in the government. Really, this is a moment where he’s looking at – out at his career and realizing that he might be within grasp of becoming the next president of the United States, and as you noted Senator Kamala Harris would be making history as the first woman, first Black woman, first Asian to be a vice presidential – vice president of a major party, so I think – and vice president of the United States. So that’s really what’s on the cusp for them. Of course, they have a lot of things that they need to balance – progressives and governing with what looks like a Republican-controlled Senate.
But for President Trump, he’s really been resigned, angry watching TV, lashing out at people, taking names, wanting Republicans to come out and back his unfounded claims. I’ve been talking to sources at the White House who feel like this is a White House that’s winding down. The president has really made some of the most dishonest statements that we’ve seen in his presidency thus far. He gave a speech last night where almost every sentence was false, making claims about votes magically appearing, making claims about Democrats stealing the election from him. Of course, the way that our system works is that votes are being counted and that he is losing leads in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania and the new battleground state, essentially, of Georgia.
MR. COSTA: Sue, how do you read Vice President Biden’s handling of this fragile moment in American democracy?
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, Vice President Biden –
SUSAN DAVIS: Well, I think Democrat –
MS. ALCINDOR: Sorry.
MR. COSTA: Sorry, Yamiche. That was for Sue Davis.
MS. ALCINDOR: Sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: We’re all doing our best here.
MS. DAVIS: Oh, OK. We’re all doing our best. (Laughs.) You know, I think Joe Biden and I think the Democratic Party see part of what happened in this election was the American people sent a message that they want more stability, so I think that Biden has been very measured in his response here. He has not gone out and declared victory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier today said that she hasn’t even spoken to Joe Biden yet, that they don’t want to have that official phone call until the – until the race has been officially called, sort of respecting all the norms and all the traditions that Donald Trump blew up over the past four years. I think there’s going to be a big discussion over what this election meant and what it’s going to mean for the agenda and what can get done in Washington, but I don’t think that there is any doubt that Joe Biden sees part of his election as returning some semblance of normalcy and familiarity to the way the president conducts himself in the Oval Office.
MR. COSTA: So if he does end up in the Oval Office, Peter, what would his mandate be as President Biden based on Tuesday’s result?
PETER BAKER: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think, look, you know, he’s going to win a substantial popular vote victory no matter what. We don’t know yet, obviously, what the Electoral College count could be. If he ends up holding onto the states where he’s currently leading he would have 306 Electoral College votes, which by the way would be exactly the same number that President Trump won four years ago and that President Trump, of course, called a landslide and a mandate for his own agenda. I think Vice President Biden’s agenda, obviously, as Sue was just saying, is – I think is normalcy to some extent. It’s calm. The first, you know, ticket on his punch card is, obviously, going to have to be the coronavirus, which everybody is still not only suffering from but we’re seeing worse spikes than ever. This week, while we’re paying attention to the election, the number of cases in America has gone up by 50 percent to a new high, about 120,000 cases a day, and deaths are beginning to rise as well in a way that’s very disturbing. If that hasn’t gotten under control by the time a President-elect Biden takes office, if he were to win, no question that would be number one. But I think broadly speaking he wants to sort of restore alliances with our international partners, and he’ll have to work with what seems to be a likely Republican Senate which will probably temper some of the more ambitious ideas that a lot of liberals who are working for him had hoped he would be able to advance.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, I’m also trying to understand the Biden coalition. What did you learn this week? One thing I picked up in the exit polls from CNN and others was the Latino vote is certainly not a monolith. President Trump actually did better with Latino voters this time around than he did in 2016.
MS. ALCINDOR: That’s right, there is this narrative coming from the Trump campaign saying that they did better among Black men, about – among Latino men. That being said, still overwhelmingly White votes in this country backed President Trump by big numbers. When you look at the Biden coalition, just looking at the exit polls – I was looking at the New York Times exit polls, and you see something interesting: non-college-educated voters, they broke for – kind of evenly for both President Trump and Joe Biden. Then when you look at people who were making money and looking at wages, I saw at least in the New York Times exit polls that people who were making less money – under ($)100,000, working-class Americans – they are breaking – White Americans – they were breaking for Joe Biden. He still held onto a substantial number of African American voters, of course. But we see him, of course, winning critical battleground states like Michigan, like Wisconsin. That tells you that Joe Biden was able to in some ways pull together and chip away at the coalition that sent President Trump to the – to the presidency. I think the soul-searching right now that’s going on in the Democratic Party that I sense talking to sources is that there are a lot of people wondering why is this race so close. Of course, we’re not talking about the popular vote; we’re talking about the Electoral College vote. A lot of people are saying all of the messages that Democrats made, all of the messaging on President Trump’s alleged racist language, his immigration policies, separating families, all of the things that we’ve seen the president do – downplaying the coronavirus – he still was able to get a number – millions of Americans, almost half the country, to back him, and that is something that Joe Biden’s really going to have to contend with.
MR. COSTA: And, Sue, when you look at the political map, what catches your eye? I saw Georgia, such a tight race, maybe Democrats are making gains in the South. But then I look further south to Florida, President Trump did well. What’s happening in America when you look at that map?
MS. DAVIS: You know what I think is interesting about this election is in some ways it really was a status quo election. The country decided that they wanted Republicans to keep the Senate. They wanted Democrats to keep the House. There was virtually no changes in state legislatures, which is pretty remarkable in a national year. The one thing that this country decided they didn’t want any more was Donald Trump, or so it may seem. We know the election hasn’t been fully called. And I think there’s a lot of soul searching about what that means. I think Republicans in some ways feel very heartened and encouraged by this election, that there was this fear that President Trump could, you know, cause sweeping losses down the ballot, that the suburbs of this country would be out of play for Republicans for elections to come.
And that didn’t happen. And I think that the fact that that didn’t happen has sort of put Democrats back on their heels a little bit. And many Democrats, especially many progressive Democrats, not only believed that that was the election that was going to happen, but the election that they needed to be able to advance some of the ideas and the agenda items that their party supports. So the election’s a bit of a head-scratcher. And I think you’re going to have Republicans I think dug in, maybe not necessarily behind the president, but on a lot of the ideas and on a lot of the agenda that the president put forward.
I don’t think that they’re looking at this election as if those issues were big losers. I think on immigration, on trade, on the – you know, the economy, although the president was a bit more traditional on economic issues. The party has still shifted more towards the ideology of Donald Trump. He may have lost this election but he’s still going to be the most popular figure in the Republican Party, and I think he’s going to continue to have a tremendous amount of sway over what Republicans and the party stands for.
MR. COSTA: To steal the phrase from Sue Davis, dug in – President Trump is dug in. He remains defiant tonight. He has alleged widespread voter fraud and corruption, but his statements – let’s be clear – run counter to what election officials are saying nationwide. But here is a glimpse – a little snapshot of what the president said on Thursday. And we most note again, he does not have evidence to back up these claims.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) If you count the legal votes I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us. We think there’s going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof. And it’s going to end up perhaps at the highest court in the land.
MR. COSTA: Peter, where is this president in terms of his legal battle against the elections result? It was reported that Jared Kushner, his son in law, was looking for a James Baker to help out with the process. You’ve written the book, with your wife, Susan Glasser, on James Baker. What makes 2020 different than 2000, when Baker was at Bush’s side?
MR. BAKER: Yeah. In fact, I called Secretary Baker just yesterday to ask him about this. And he said: Look, there are huge differences between this and the Florida recount in 2000. For one thing, in Florida it was a recount. As president – as Secretary Baker pointed out, they didn’t get into a legal battle until after all of the votes in Florida had been counted and then gone through a machine recount. And then at that point the Democrats were seeking hand recounts and the Republicans were saying enough is enough. Here you’ve got a president who says, stop the count, period, before it’s even been completed a first time. As Secretary Baker said, that’s not an easy position to defend in a democracy. That’s not the kind of thing that the president should be doing, in his view. So if they want a James Baker type, they’re not getting any support from the actual James Baker.
And the problem for them is thy don’t really have any legal grounds right now for anything that would back up what the president is saying. The kinds of suits that they’re filing are really at the margins. Things like, should observers be six feet away from the ballots as they’re being counted or 20 feet away. Or, you know, small things like that, procedural things like that. There are some lawsuits that are being filed with larger sweep the judges are just simply tossing out wholesale without even really giving much of a back of the hand because they’re so – you know, they’re so ungrounded in anything.
And there’s nothing right now that the president has come up with that justifies any suspicion that there is a wholesale stealing of the election. I mean, to justify what the president said last night you’d have to believe that there’s this far-reaching conspiracy that stretches from coast to coast, multiple cities, multiple counties, multiple states, including states with Republican governors, and somehow they’re all keeping a hidden secret from the rest of us. That doesn’t seem very likely and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, NBC News just reported tonight that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has issued an order on this Pennsylvania case, about the count in Pennsylvania, to have ballots continue to be segregated but the count continues. The count will continue in Pennsylvania. I spoke to Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally, earlier today. He’s in Nevada. The Trump campaign’s spoiling for a fight there. They have raised concerns about fraud in Nevada. They’re fighting in Pennsylvania. What’s the real story when you talk to people at the White House tonight about how long this fight will play out?
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, that’s the key question: How long is the president going to put up a fight, and can he put up a fight in multiple states if he begins to lose multiple states? If he loses Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, can he really try to launch these legal battles to get everything recounted in all of those states. I had a Trump advisor tell me today the only the path that the president sees to victory at this point is to have recounts in those critical states that I just mentioned. So the president is really teetering on this because the math just isn’t on his side. He has to run the table in order to make this work for him.
Another thing to note is that the president – as Peter just said – he’s wanting people to believe this conspiracy theory that’s going from coast to coast. But let’s also remember that last night the president was touting a red wave, talking about the fact that Republicans picked up seats in the House, talking about the fact that Republicans looked poised to keep the Senate. You would have to believe that the conspiracy theory that the president is wanting people to believe only affected him because the down-ballot races went mainly in the Republicans’ way.
So the president is touting, in some ways, the votes that he likes while also telling people, hey, don’t count the votes that I don’t like. Don’t count the votes that look like they might not be for me. As we know, these historic mail-in ballots, most of them went to Joe Biden, mainly because Joe Biden was saying: Be safe. Vote early. Vote by mail. While President Trump was saying, actually I want you to come in person. Advisors to the president had been telling him that that was not a good strategy. But now he’s in a situation where mail-in votes are continuously coming in, and they’re favoring Joe Biden in that way.
MR. COSTA: Now, it’s scattered and somewhat muted, but some Republicans have spoken out.
RICK SANTORUM: (From video.) There may be fraud. There may be all the – we don’t know that right now. And for the president to go out there and claim that without any evidence of that is dangerous.
SENATOR PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): (From video.) The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated. I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing.
MR. COSTA: Sue, you talked about how the GOP feels like they’re in a pretty good spot after Tuesday because of those gains in the House, and the Senate’s tight. But will they speak out even more about President Trump’s handling of the result, about the election’s integrity?
MS. DAVIS: Well, I think we’ve already seen what’s happened is a really familiar story of the past four years. The president says or does something really outrageous, and on the whole, you know, key voices in the party do stand behind him. I would note that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy today sort of echoed the president’s concerns. He didn’t refute them. A lot of that pushback is coming from familiar places in the party and familiar voices – either independent people, like Susan Collins, who have been critics of the president before, or from Republicans who are retiring, like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
He still – the president still has this, like, immense amount of loyalty, especially in the House of Representatives. Senators have always been a little bit more reluctant to embrace the president’s style, and his tweets, and his statements. But in the House, I mean, he still has a furious amount of support. We saw lawmakers like Louie Gohmert of Texas has already gone to Philadelphia and is outside the convention center where they’re counting votes. I mean, the Trump campaign and a lot of his allies, and his son even, has tweeted about how they see this as sort of a loyalty test to the president that will be used to judge other Republicans down the line.
So, yes, President Trump may ultimately lose this election, but I think a lot of Republicans look at it as they will be judged about how much they defended him or were unified behind him or championed his cause on the way out. And so I think a lot of Republicans still see this as an opportunity, because they don’t actually believe he’s going to win this election. but they don’t want to alienate those Trump voters and those Trump supporters. And they want to be able to say long term, look, I was with him until the very end. And there’s no reason to believe that the president’s going to back down from these claims – these unsubstantiated claims.
And I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that there’s going to be a major fundamental break inside – from him within the Republican Party. Although, you may see a louder chorus of Republicans willing to say, OK, enough. It’s time to move on.
MR. COSTA: Peter, earlier today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believes there will be a peaceful transfer of power. I’ve been checking with my sources. They say the president’s going to fight legally, he’s going to fight politically, he’s going to say the election’s stolen, protect his brand, but he’ll ultimately leave the White House. Is there unease, though, inside of this White House and this administration that, if he is defeated and the race is called, that he will put up a fight that uses executive power and not just rhetoric and tweets?
MR. BAKER: Well, look, you know, if this race is called and the courts have rejected his claims, the Electoral College votes, and he doesn’t have a majority, I don’t see the president trying to do anything at that point. I don’t see what he could do at that point. I mean, the Constitution is pretty clear about that. His power goes away on January 20th at noon regardless of what he wants to do at that point if the Electoral College has taken its vote and Congress has certified those results.
So, you know, there’s a lot of talk about that because he’s such an unpredictable character, he’s so erratic, he’s so volatile that nobody knows for sure what he would do. You hear talk among, you know, military officers, you know, making clear they’re not going to intervene as if that was a possibility because the fact that we’re even discussing that is rather extraordinary, right, as if we’re some sort of a, you know, developing nation where the military decides these things. It’s a testament – or not – maybe testament is not the right word – but it’s a mark of how far we’ve come that people are even raising that question.
But I don’t see how he does anything if in fact the process goes to its end and he has lost. There is nothing for him to do.
What he’s trying to do here, I think, is to justify a loss so that he has something to point to to say he wasn’t actually repudiated; he didn’t actually lose. It was all just a scam and a scheme, and he was victimized by the deep state conspiracy that was out to get him.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, where does this nation go from here? I want to read you a quote from George Packer in The Atlantic magazine: quote, “We are two countries, and neither of them is going to be conquered or disappear anytime soon.” You look at the results – so many rural and exurban White voters going with President Trump in record numbers; urban voters and suburban voters going with Vice President Biden.
MS. ALCINDOR: It’s a hard thing to answer, Robert – (laughs) – because when we look at these numbers and we look at this election, what we see is two different Americas. America is more polarized than ever, and there are so many people who can’t understand why one person voted for President Trump and another person voted for Joe Biden. The people that I’ve been talking to – Democrats – essentially they’re really doing some soul searching thinking about how they move forward. Joe Biden ran on this idea of unifying the nation. He ran on this idea of going back to a decency in the White House. He has worked with Republicans in the past. We saw Lindsey Graham today – an ally of President Trump – saying, look, I’m backing President Trump. I want him to win, but I will make something work with Joe Biden if he ends up being the next president.
So you already see the sort of coalition going together that Joe Biden says he could bring together, but there is so much anger that the president has really ginned up – President Trump has ginned up against Democrats, it’s hard to see how this country goes forward feeling more united.
I should also just note really quickly that I was just in Florida, and when I was talking to people, supporters of the president, there’s a real divide with the truth in this country. The supporters of the President Trump – some of them – they only believe what President Trump says. They only believe Fox News and other conservative media. It doesn’t matter what the government says or what data says. So I think we’re in a tough position here.
MR. COSTA: And Sue, in a minute here – to Yamiche’s point – we’re not maybe a nation anymore – red versus blue, Republican versus Democrat – but as a professor at Notre Dame, Bob Schmuhl, told me this week, we’re a tribal nation politically.
MS. DAVIS: I mean, that didn’t start with Donald Trump, and it’s not going to end with him. We’ve seen this happening over a progressive – I mean, the past 10, 20 years of politics. People have gotten more divided. People live, you know – or surround themselves with less and less people that think differently from them. I mean, it is a symptom of American life right now, and I think it’s one of the reasons that disinformation campaigns have been successful, is that the cracks in the society were already there, and they’ve just been exploited. And it’s one of the broader macro-challenges, not just of the president, but of government, is to try to cohesively bring this country back together again. And I think it’s a monumental task for the next administration.
MR. COSTA: Peter, what’s your take, quickly?
MR. BAKER: Yeah, I agree with that. I think Yamiche and Sue are exactly right. I mean, you’ve got 48 percent right now – more or less – of the American people said that they thought Donald Trump should be reelected after seeing everything they’ve seen in the last four years, and for Democrats who voted on the other side and Republicans – some who voted on the other side – it’s really hard for them to understand that, and it’s just as hard for Trump voters to understand how people could vote against him. And that disconnect is so wide, so profound.
And I look at that map – we are two coasts and one middle, and I just think that that’s really, really a challenge for this new president coming in, if in fact it’s Joe Biden.
MR. COSTA: Many thanks to our reporters for joining us on this historic night: Yamiche Alcindor, Peter Baker, Susan Davis.
Stay with us for our second part of our election special carried on many PBS stations and online. We'll dig into the latest reporting on Congress in a divided Washington. Politico’s Jake Sherman will join us.
I’m Robert Costa. See you soon.
MR. COSTA: Inside a divided Washington.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): (From video.) We expanded this party, that reflects America, that looks like America.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) We’ve lost some battles, but we won the war.
MR. COSTA: The balance of power is ruptured on Capitol Hill as Republicans cling to the Senate majority and make gains in the House. Democrats are upbeat about Biden, but debating who’s to blame for disappointments.
GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R): (From video.) With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.
MR. COSTA: And both parties brace for a Senate showdown in Georgia, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Welcome back to this Washington Week special report. We now turn our attention in this second half-hour to Capitol Hill, which remains deeply divided after Tuesday’s election. Republicans are holding onto their Senate majority, but it’s not a done deal with runoff races on the horizon in Georgia. And in the House Democrats remain in the majority, but Republicans gained seats, giving them more power as former Vice President Joe Biden moves closer to the White House.
Joining me to discuss the new Congress are four of Washington’s best reporters: Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, joining us from the White House; Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; Susan Davis, congressional correspondent for National Public Radio and co-host of the NPR politics podcast; and we welcome now Jake Sherman, senior writer for Politico and co-author of Politico’s Playbook. Welcome to all of you.
Jake, if Vice President Biden is in the White House next year, it’s President Biden, he’ll maybe have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell down Pennsylvania Avenue. It could be a Biden-McConnell Washington. What would that look like? What would that mean for D.C. and the political dynamics?
JAKE SHERMAN: Well, Bob, we have some framework for that because Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell have worked together for many years. Actually, during the Obama administration Joe Biden was the unofficial liaison to Capitol Hill when Barack Obama couldn’t get deals with Mitch McConnell, but a few thoughts to keep in mind here.
Number one, the House majority is going to be Democratic but very narrow, and with a Democrat in the White House Nancy Pelosi and her team should expect that they will lose seats in their first midterm with a Democratic president in the White House, so that makes that dynamic tough. So then you switch over to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell acts out of both substance, but also political expediency, as we all know, as every politician does, and Mitch McConnell will be forced to work with Joe Biden not because any other reason but the nation needs a lot of help at this moment, needs a lot of legislating. There’s going to be more COVID relief to be done and Joe Biden’s going to focus on infrastructure and things of that nature. Mitch McConnell can work with Joe Biden. He doesn’t find him difficult to work with, as he did Barack Obama and to some degree Donald Trump, so I think it has the makings of a fruitful relationship when their political incentives line up. And they will not always line up, but I would expect that there is going to be deal-making between Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden.
MR. COSTA: Sue, what are your sources in the Senate telling you? Because there was an Axios report this week that McConnell’s ready to block Biden’s nominees if he sees them as too liberal. Is this a McConnell who’s ready to work with a President Biden, should that be the case, or ready to block a President Biden?
MS. DAVIS: Well, I think it depends, right? I think that’s a very good point about nominees. I mean, the Senate is going to – Republicans in the Senate are going to see themselves as a check on Joe Biden’s ability to fill his Cabinet with people they might see as otherwise objectionable. People that might be too progressive or too left I think are easily going to see much more of a fight coming from Republicans. I agree with Jake, though; I do think that there is certainly room here for compromise. And if you look back at the times that Biden and McConnell were able to work together, they were generally coming about in times of crisis or at times of deadline, when they had no other choice and a deal had to be cut and the two were able to do it. It wasn’t about sort of grand legislating; it was about solving problems, and right now we’re in a national crisis. We’re in the middle of a crisis that still requires ongoing legislative work. So I think both of them look at that and recognize that they don’t have a choice in some regard on what they’re going to have to do. This government is going to have to continue to address the pandemic and provide resources across the board to schools, to businesses, to the unemployed, that it’s going to have to get done. Beyond that, you know, I don’t think anybody looks at a divided Washington and sees it as likely to be some big grand breakthrough for major legislation, but I think on sort of smaller-ball competence – keeping the government open, passing spending bills, doing coronavirus relief – there’s certainly an ability for these two to be able to move an agenda through Congress.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, is there urgency, as Sue said, about this crisis the country’s facing on the coronavirus? Economic relief has been lagging for months. And I talked to Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat in New Jersey, this week; he was pleading with Congress for state and local aid to try to deal with the virus as outbreaks happen in his state, in other states. Amid this political war, what is the state of stimulus talks? And could President Trump bend a little bit in the coming weeks?
MS. ALCINDOR: From my understanding, the state of stimulus talks are that they’ve stopped entirely. Most people’s attention, of course, is focused on the election, but in the United States at least for the last three days we’ve hit record highs when it comes to new cases of the coronavirus with more than 100,000 Americans getting infected with the coronavirus per day. That’s an incredible figure. It’s also a figure that Dr. Fauci said was going to happen and allies of the president called him alarmist. But then we – of course, we’ve had the president who was trying to run for reelection by saying that the coronavirus was rounding the corner, that he was going to be getting a vaccine and therapeutics, and that he was really – that this was all something that people shouldn’t be scared of. So there is this feeling, though, with all of the hurt that’s happening – with millions of people out of work, with people getting evicted from their homes, with people dying across the country – that people need help, so at some point you would think that the leaders in Washington would want to come together and do that, but it’s going to be really hard, I think, if President Trump is continuing to launch legal battles, continuing to be – if he turns – especially if he turns into a lame-duck president, you could imagine that things are going to be even tougher when it comes to trying to get things done because the president’s attention, before it was really not on the coronavirus, now it’s going to be even more not on the coronavirus as he thinks about his legacy.
MR. COSTA: Peter, my memory of Vice President Biden during the Obama years, which you covered so closely, was him ducking into McConnell’s office on Capitol Hill, but he’s also a presidential candidate, a potential president-elect right now, who’s dealing with an ascendant left wing in the Democratic Party. What does a Biden-McConnell-Pelosi Washington look like? Does it function? That’s what so many people want to know: Could it function?
MR. BAKER: Well, I think it could function, but I don’t know that it will be – I think this is the disappointing result, obviously, for progressives and liberals in the Democratic Party who had imagined that the Democrats would take the Senate and there would be this opportunity for sweeping change, right? Things like court packing, forget that. Things like, you know, sweeping climate-change legislation or gun control or, you know, big health-care plans, I can’t imagine that happening at this point. It’s going to be much more of a steady as she goes kind of situation, as everybody else has just been saying. I think that, you know, McConnell and Biden have proven that they can do a steady as she goes kind of deal to keep things open and keep the ship of state going forward, but there’s not going to be a lot of ambition, it doesn’t seem like, where the two of them can agree. So you’re going to have a new president, if you do have him, in Joe Biden who’s going to have to turn to his executive power. We’ll see the third president in a row, really, who begins to use that sole authority that a president has to advance his agenda over a recalcitrant Congress. One area where you could see a President Biden do that, aside from things like the coronavirus, might be things like immigration. A lot of the things that President Trump has done to clamp down on immigration have been done through executive power, not through Congress. Well, Joe Biden can undo some of those things. Also some of these environmental regulations that have been lifted through President Trump’s EPA, they could begin to undo some of those things. He could get back into the Paris Climate Accord. But in terms of working with Congress, I would – I would be hard pressed to imagine, other than something like maybe infrastructure, anything of great sweeping ambition that could get through a Congress led by Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi with Joe Biden in the White House.
MR. COSTA: And Sue –
MR. SHERMAN: Bob, could I just interject one thing here?
MR. COSTA: Yeah, please, Jake.
MR. SHERMAN: I just want to make a point that all of us around the table understand but people outside of our group might not understand. We’ve been accustomed to a president who says one thing in the morning and then changes his mind by midday, right? Like, Donald Trump never had a White House that was marching to the beat of the same drum. Joe Biden is not going to be that kind of president. Why? Because we know he’s been in government for 40 years. Like, Donald Trump would send his emissaries to Capitol Hill, they’d cut a deal, only to have Donald Trump reverse on it. That’s not going to happen with Joe Biden. So from that very basic level, Washington is going to be at a much more normal pace. It’s going to be much more calm. It’s going to be much more – it’s going to be much more efficient. I mean, we almost take that for granted at this point, that that is not going to happen anymore, and that for everybody – for markets, for political markets, for journalists, for members of Congress – those are all good dynamics that are going to calm, I think, people’s nerves as we get into 2021 if Joe Biden is elected.
MR. COSTA: And in the House we have Speaker Pelosi holding onto the gavel, but also under fire from some Democrats for the party’s losses. And the tensions, they erupted on a party conference call on Thursday as moderates warned about drifting left. One of them sounding a warning was Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from the Richmond, Virginia area. I actually moderated her debate last month and she now narrowly leads in her reelection bid. Here is what she said.
REPRESENTATIVE ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): (From recording.) And we need to not ever use the word “socialist” or “socialism” ever again because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter, and we lost good members because of that. And if we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we’re going to get – (censored) – torn apart in 2022.
MR. COSTA: Strong message from Representative Spanberger, Sue. What is it – what is it like inside of the House Democratic Caucus tonight?
MS. DAVIS: Well, this has been sort of the central tension for Democrats for the past two years. It was the tension we saw play out in the Democratic presidential primary, too, is these sort of forces between the moderate wing and the more liberal progressive wing. It’s complicated because a lot of the energy inside the caucus is coming from the more progressive wing, I think best exemplified by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the more younger female dynamic members. You also saw in the same election cycle veteran Democratic incumbents losing to younger, more progressive candidates, and a lot of progressives were going into this election thinking they had the energy, they were going to define the agenda, and that is not really what I think most of the party sees as the outcome of 2020. And you have a lot of moderates who feel like the party left them hanging in this election, that when the conversation shifted to things like defund the police or when the continual attacks that Joe Biden was a socialist and they were going to move the party to the left, that they never gave a sort of cohesive pushback to those arguments, that they didn’t have a counter, and that left them vulnerable. The truth about a lot of it is that a lot of these House districts that they lost were districts they probably never would have had a good shot in to begin with if not for that Democratic wave in 2018. You know, sort of some districts set back to the norm, especially in a national election. So there wasn’t necessarily huge surprising losses for Democrats. I think a lot of Democrats see this as districts that they were lucky to ever have in the first place. And I think Nancy Pelosi’s a pragmatist. She’s not someone who’s going to agonize over these results. I think that she, similar to Mitch McConnell, they see that the majority is the only thing that matters. And she still has the majority and she still has the speaker’s gavel. And we don’t anticipate any challenge to her leadership.
MR. COSTA: Yamiche, how will Senator Bernie Sanders, someone you’ve closely covered, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, handle this? Peter said they shouldn’t expect a Green New Deal or sweeping legislation on some of their initiatives because of the gridlock. So how do they move forward?
MS. ALCINDOR: They move forward by trying to push a possible President Biden to the left. I’ve been talking to activists who say that they were happy to back Joe Biden when he was, of course, running against someone that they saw as a common enemy in President Trump. But the moment that he gets into office people are ready to essentially picket outside the White House Democrats in order to get their way. One of the things that I think is a big divide is also this idea of defunding the police, socialism, the Green New Deal. There are so many different things that are at the heart of the American life in this country that have real big implications for the future of this country. And I think there’s a lot – there’s going to be a lot of jostling for power there.
Of course, Nancy Pelosi is running for speaker of the House, but let’s remember that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she’s popular. She is someone who is charismatic. She has the ear of a lot of people. A lot of the Democratic base really like her style. So I think that you’re going to see a lot of Democrats really wanting to make sure that the Biden administration goes farther than Joe Biden has gone in the past.
MR. COSTA: And maybe that means they’ll try to install Senator Bernie Sanders as labor secretary, or Senator Warren as treasury secretary. Peter, I saw you nodding your head. Jump in.
MR. BAKER: (Laughs.) Yeah, I don’t think that’s happening. I can’t see a Mitch McConnell-led Senate confirming Bernie Sanders to the Cabinet, or Elizabeth Warren. In fact, the one thing about the Republicans maybe possibly holding on the Senate that might be good for Biden is it kind of gives him an excuse if he doesn’t want to do things that the liberals would like him to do he can say, look, I can’t get this done. There’s a good – you know, look over there, what I got to deal with. I think that Biden Cabinet’s choices though are significantly altered as a result of this election at this point. I mean, you know, is he going to get Susan Rice in as secretary of state, or does he have to go with somebody who is more acceptable to Republicans, like say a Chris Coons from – the senator from Delaware?
I think Yamiche is exactly right, that the coalition that backed Biden up until this point is a fragile one, and it was united not out of excitement over Joe Biden, or out of any particular ideology or philosophical agreement, but out of the mutual antipathy for Donald Trump. And if and when Donald Trump leaves the scene, that coalition no longer has the same impetus to stay together. And I think it’s a huge challenge for Vice President and possibly president-elect Biden going forward, how to keep them together, keep them behind him, keep them excited, and backing whatever agenda he does try to move forward with.
MR. COSTA: Jake, you heard Sue. She said she doesn’t expect a challenge to Speaker Pelosi. You cover House leadership. What’s your take? What’s your latest reporting? Is there going to be a challenge? And if not a challenge to Speaker Pelosi, will there be some kind of shakeup in the committee chairs, in the leadership structure?
MR. SHERMAN: You would think so, but I don’t – I don’t anticipate any. I mean, it seems like the Democrats are just going to rubber stamp their leadership once again. Nancy Pelosi is at no risk of being taken out. And Sue knows this well, I mean, she is the strongest speaker we’ve had in probably a decade or more. I mean, she has incredible internal support. She has – there’s no one who even wants to take her on. There’s nobody who could even get anywhere close to the votes it would need to knock her off. So she’s there until she wants to leave. And Sue is right, she cares about the majority and that’s all she cares about.
But I will say, I mean, this episode with Spanberger, who you did moderate that debate with, Bob, I mean, it is illustrative of the larger dynamic in the Democratic Caucus, the push and pull between the majority makers, the people who were the conservatives and the moderates – from districts like Richmond and Oklahoma, where they lost a seat – and the more liberal wing of the party. The Democratic Caucus has moved to the left. There’s no question about that. And whether it’s governable right now will be a – really something to behold in the next six to eight months. And this is not the Democratic Party of 2006 and 2008, when they won their majority and brought in people from Ohio, and the upper Midwest, and the Southeast, and the Southwest. This is a different kind of Democratic Party, a leftward-drifting Democratic Party, which Pelosi is going to have to do her best to wrangle over the next year or so.
MR. COSTA: Jake, a quick follow up. I spoke to –
MS. DAVIS: Bob, can I say a couple things?
MR. COSTA: Yeah, please jump in, Sue.
MS. DAVIS: Just a couple points about Pelosi that I think are worth thinking about. I talk to a lot of Democratic lawmakers who say this too. That if Biden wins this election, he’s going to want Nancy Pelosi to stay as speaker. So I think that that has a very calming effect on the Democratic Caucus, that they’re not going to want to go against Joe Biden if he wins. The other thing to remember is two years ago Nancy Pelosi cut a deal with Democrats to say that she would only serve two more terms. So if she keeps her word this would be Nancy Pelosi’s last term as speaker. And she would effectively be a lame duck speaker from the start.
MR. COSTA: Peter, what about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy? He’s been so close to President Trump. If President Trump’s off the scene, does he become the leader of a tea party-style revival in the House against a Democratic president? I spoke to Senator Richard Blumenthal this week and he said: History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. And he said the Democrats could see a revived Republican House minority try to roar back to power.
MR. BAKER: Yeah. I mean, for the last couple years in particular if they’ve been in the minority under a Speaker Pelosi they’ve had to defer to President Trump. They’ve had to be basically his backstop. They haven’t had an opportunity to really flex their muscles in a different way other than defending him, say, during impeachment. Now they have an opportunity to try to set the agenda, their own agenda anyway, as they move forward in an opposition role. And I think that some of them may relish that, that they will enjoy being in the opposition to a president rather than having to explain the latest thing that President Trump has said or defend the latest thing that President Trump has done.
Now, Kevin McCarthy’s an interesting character, right? I mean, like he was a skeptic of President Trump from the beginning. Remember, he was quoted as saying that he thought that President Trump might even be on Vladimir Putin’s payroll. Then he became one of Trump’s, you know, biggest, most stalwart defenders, even up to this last few days. Whether that – you know, how he pivots in a Trump-free Washington is a really interesting question.
MR. COSTA: Let’s have a lightning round here on the Georgia outlook on the Senate races. Yamiche, there’s going to be millions of dollars spent in Georgia. Two Senate runoffs, it looks like, in Georgia. Senator Kelly Loeffler versus Reverend Raphael Warnock. And you also have Senator David Perdue versus Jon Ossoff, the Democrat. What are your sources at the White House telling you about President Trump’s involvement in how this plays out?
MS. ALCINDOR: I have to tell you that the White House sources I’ve been talking to have not been talking about Senate races when it comes to President Trump because he is so much fuming about his own situation that he’s not – I don’t think – thinking about what help he can do for other Republicans.
I will say that when I talk to Democratic sources, they are very excited about the fact that they are having these runoffs because they think that, of course, Georgia was not at all a battleground state and, really, after Stacey Abrams went in, ran for governor, lost, but then proceeded to really focus on getting more voters registered, upping the Democratic muscle there, and they feel like that state is one that is in a way better position – much better position than it has ever been to be blue.
MR. COSTA: Jake, what are you paying attention to in Georgia?
MR. SHERMAN: Whether the coalition could replicate itself – the coalition that gave Joe Biden the state in the last couple of days – whether that coalition could be brought out again, and what people do – what Democrats do to energize that base once again.
You know, special elections are difficult for turnout, and they’re difficult to energize the base. And I just – I have a tough time seeing the Democrats could do it two elections in a row – or rather three elections in a row; the presidential and both specials.
MR. COSTA: Sue, the Democrats have to feel pretty good about the South. They are making gains there. They didn’t win Senate races like South Carolina. They didn’t win Texas. They didn’t win Florida. But they are close in Georgia, they’re making gains in the Sun Belt. How do they see Georgia, but also the South, more broadly?
MS. DAVIS: I mean, Georgia is tough, but I think so much is going to go into these two specials because, again, there is a path where if Democrats were to get really lucky and Joe Biden wins, that would mean a 50-50 Senate, and that would put Democrats in the majority.
So there’s a lot at stake in these races. I think Jake’s right; I think Republicans go into this with all the advantages. Specials, especially in the South, especially in Georgia, tend to benefit the Republican Party.
And I think another big lesson coming out of Tuesday is that money did not matter. Senate Democrats outraised, I believe, almost every single Republican incumbent. Mitch McConnell was outraised, Lindsey Graham was outraised, and none of that money translated into victory.
So I would imagine we’re going to see hundreds of millions of dollars funneled into Georgia to support Democrats. They might even outraise Republicans again, but to be really skeptical that money is going to make a big difference here.
But you are right that the South is shifting. I think North Carolina, again, is going to become more and more of a purple state. Georgia is more in play. You know, Florida might – you know, we’re always going to be debating Florida, I feel like, for the rest of our lives, but I do think there is something about the coalitions that are growing, and the Democrats, while they may not have gotten the election they wanted, still see states like Texas and other places where they are more likely to grow, where they can win, and I don’t know if the reverse is as true for the Republican Party in this very specific moment.
MR. COSTA: Peter, which Democrat is better positioned to pluck off a Senate seat in Georgia – Reverend Warnock or Jon Ossoff?
MR. BAKER: Well, that’s a great question. Of course, Ossoff just got so close to 50 percent in the first round – didn’t have a third candidate in there who was really taking away large numbers of votes, as it was in the other race. So he has, you know, a track record in this election of getting so, so close to the 50.1 percent he would need.
But, you know, it’s hard to know. I mean, I – it just – these are such different dynamics because there was a third viable candidate in Doug Collins in that other race that – yeah, in that other race, so it’s hard to measure one against the other.
I have to say, broadly speaking – I don’t know; I’m not an expert on Georgia politics, so I shouldn’t say – but this has a feel of a movie we’ve seen before where Democrats get themselves all really excited about some special election, some off-year election, they throw lots of money in a place where they haven’t won, and they say, this time for real; this really is going to be the time we really do it, and they come away disappointed.
Without the – without Trump on the ballot to really motivate Democrats to come out, which is, you know, I think one of the driving forces of this week, I don’t know whether they can replicate the kind of votes that they got in this particular moment. I mean, it doesn’t mean that Georgia won’t be turning more and more Democrat over the next number of years; I just don’t know whether January is going to be that moment where we see that tipping point.
MR. COSTA: We’re going to have to leave it there tonight. I’m looking forward to getting down to Georgia because you get to spend some time in Atlanta, in Athens, Georgia, where R.E.M. – one of my favorite bands – is from; a lot to pay attention to in the coming weeks. The political world will turn its eyes to Georgia.
In the meantime, many thanks to our reporters: Yamiche Alcindor, Peter Baker, Susan Davis, and Jake Sherman.
And thank you all for joining us for this Washington Week election special. We will keep taking you as close to the news as we can.
I’m Robert Costa. Good night.