ED O’KEEFE: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are racing the clock, polls are tightening, the rhetoric’s heating up, and voters just want it all to be over. I’m Ed O’Keefe, in for Gwen Ifill, tonight on Washington Week.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) I am not on the ballot. But I tell you what, fairness is on the ballot. Decency’s on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Progress is on the ballot. Our democracy’s on the ballot right now.
MR. O’KEEFE: It’s down to the wire. Trump and Clinton are delivering closing arguments on why they should be president.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) If Donald Trump were to win this election, we would have a commander in chief who is completely out of his depth and whose ideas are incredibly dangerous. Or maybe, heaven forbid, start a real war instead of just a Twitter war.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Hillary has been there for 30 years. And she has accomplished nothing. She’s just made things worse. Look at her record.
MR. O’KEEFE: National polls show the race tightening in the wake of Clinton’s reignited email controversy. The news has reinvigorated the Trump campaign.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Our magnificent, historic movement has surprised the world and defied expectations at every single turn.
MELANIA TRUMP: (From video.) He certainly knows how to shake things up, doesn’t he? (Cheers.)
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) He has shown us who he is. Let us on Tuesday show him who we are. (Cheers.)
MR. O’KEEFE: In the most unpredictable election in modern history it still comes down to fundamentals – voter turnout and the battleground states. So which campaign could win it all? We’ll get answers and analysis from Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post; Josh Gerstein, senior White House correspondent for Politico; Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for Real Clear Politics; and Manu Raju, senior congressional correspondent for CNN.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, from Washington, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week, Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post.
MR. O’KEEFE: Good evening. The battleground blitz has begun. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are slugging it out as national polls show the race has tightened dramatically since last Friday. That’s when the FBI announced it was revisiting Clinton’s email investigation. Two weeks ago Clinton led Trump by 6 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That lead has dwindled to just 2.4 percent this week in a four-way matchup. With that tight of a margin, both candidates are fighting for every vote by going negative and spending millions of dollars attacking each other’s fitness to serve with ads like this.
ANNOUNCER: (From video.) Decades of lies, cover-ups and scandal have finally caught up with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is under FBI investigation again after her emails were found on pervert Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Think about that.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) She ate like a pig. A person who is flat-chested, it is very hard to be a 10.
MR. : (From video.) Do you treat women with respect?
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) I can’t say that either.
MR. : (From video.) All right. Good.
MR. O’KEEFE: Now, whether these ads energize people or depress voter turnout, especially when they air during a thrilling World Series, remains to be seen. But, Karen, my gosh, is this how it’s going to end?
KAREN TUMULTY: Well, you know, Ed, as you said in the intro, this is the wildest, nastiest campaign in recent history. How else would it end? (Laughs.)
MR. O’KEEFE: Right.
MS. TUMULTY: But the fact is, a few weeks ago, when Hillary Clinton was opening up what was beginning to look like a comfortable lead, they were planning to sort of go positive, to go a sort of higher altitude at this phase of the campaign, really be laying out her vision of governing, laying the premise for how she would govern, maybe doing a few things to lift up some of these Senate candidates. Don’t forget the Senate’s also on the line here. But, yeah, these tightening poll numbers – when you look at the map, Clinton still has a lot more ways to get to that 270 electoral votes than Donald Trump does at this point. But it is a real race. And that is why you’re going to be seeing – they’re both staying really heavily negative. Who would have thought a closing argument ad would have had the word pervert in it?
MR. O’KEEFE: Why did I know you were going to bring that up? (Laughter.)
MS. TUMULTY: And, you know, it’s just going to be slugging it out now through Tuesday.
MR. O’KEEFE: Alexis, I think what was – to Karen’s point, that they had hoped they could end on a positive note. There was talk of, you know, what can she do to help congressional candidates in Arizona and Georgia and Texas and places like – all that’s out the window. What she was doing this week, going from apologizing at the beginning of the week to now talking again about Trump and really talking about him in ways that sort of are designed to help the voter visualize what it would be like with him in the White House, that’s a pretty stark departure from what they were planning.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: And stark is exactly the word that Secretary Clinton and her number-one surrogate, President Obama, have been using, trying to paint these rhetorical pictures for the base voters that they’re trying to turn out. And when I say “they,” they are both working very intensively together, coordinating in the states that really make a difference now coming down to the wire, because lots of states do early voting, but we know that we’re heading into states that do same-day voting. And we’re seeing them dive into those states – Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, to some extent Michigan. And they’re spending a lot of time this weekend with the get out the vote efforts.
So when we see Secretary Clinton talking about what Donald Trump would be like as president, she’s creating those pictures to women, trying to describe what he’s like with women, to African-American voters. She has really created on the stump a dire picture of what Donald Trump has been on the questions of race, talking about his endorsement from the KKK newspaper, for instance. And so strategically you’re exactly right, whether she’s talking about him as a commander in chief of what he would do with the power. President Obama has tried to describe what he would do with the power that he has, arguing to the electorate that a man who has the power before he’s president will use it different ways as president.
MANU RAJU: And, Ed, it’s not just – it’s also a shift not just in the message but also where they’re spending their time ahead of – you know, when things were looking a lot better for the Clinton campaign two weeks ago we were talking about they could possibly flip Arizona, Georgia, Texas suddenly became a possibility – looked like a possibility. But now it’s all about maintaining that so-called blue wall of defense, making sure they don’t lose a Colorado. They really weren’t paying much attention to Colorado, but one poll has that state very close. Wisconsin, also a state that Trump was spending heavily on in that state, and Clinton was sort of ignoring. Now they have to pay attention to a state like Wisconsin. That has been real shift in this campaign, and it suggests it’s going to be very close come Tuesday.
MS. TUMULTY: And there are, by the way, some constituencies they’re worried about too. They’re seeing big surges in Latino voting, but African-American voting is not where they hoped it would be.
MR. O’KEEFE: Yeah. Clinton may be maintaining a lead nationally, but she is paying a price for her decision to use a private email server when she was secretary of state. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Trump has an eight-point advantage over Clinton on issues of honestly and trustworthiness. He leads 46 to 38 percent among likely voters. Similarly, Trump holds a nine-point edge on dealing with government corruption, this despite the fact that The Washington Post and other outlets have documented Trump’s history of questionable business practices, charitable donations, and, later this month, there’s a class-action lawsuit against Trump University set to begin.
Manu, the Trump campaign polls are one thing but the electoral map, as Karen pointed out, is another. And there are much – well, there are fewer options really for Trump going forward.
MR. RAJU: There really are. I mean, that’s the one thing that gives Democrats – makes them feel a little bit better, because Donald Trump is going to have to run the table in order to become the next president. That means flipping states like Pennsylvania – a state that Republicans struggle in in a presidential election. He’s going to have to do that. Maybe they’re spending some time in a state like Michigan. He’s going to have to, perhaps, turn a state like that. And also North Carolina, very close right now. So Donald Trump has to do a lot of things right on Tuesday to win. Winning those traditional battlegrounds, like a Florida and Ohio, but also turning some of those other swing states that have been tilting towards Clinton in the last several weeks and months.
It’s still going to be difficult, but certainly the momentum is behind him because of this FBI investigation. One poll to point out, in New Hampshire, 49 percent of likely voters – in a recent poll in New Hampshire – said that they were concerned about this new FBI investigation and said that they were less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. We’ll see if that is – play out nationally in other battleground states, but a cause of concern, for sure.
MR. O’KEEFE: Well, good segue there. Let’s talk a little bit more about that FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which came back online – pardon the pun – last week, and has rocked the campaign ever since. The White House initially said it would neither defend nor criticize FBI Director James Comey, but the president did just that on Wednesday during an interview with NowThis News.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) We don’t operate on innuendo. We don’t operate on incomplete information. We don’t operate on leaks.
MR. O’KEEFE: So I can remember, Alexis, news conference after news conference where he gets asked about some ongoing investigation, he says, well, I’m president and I oversee the Justice Department and I really can’t get involved. He took the bait here. Is he venting frustration or what’s going on?
MS. SIMENDINGER: He took the bait. In fact, after his spokesperson was like, no, no, no, we’re not going to go wading in here. But he did. And I think the message was actually quite pointed, and it was considered a slap at Director James Comey and the FBI in general where he was trying to suggest, in that response, it would have been better – you know, if you read between the lines – if we had all stuck to what had been the playbook or the protocol that had been, you know, embraced. And I should mention, Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, Democratic leader in the House, and Chuck Schumer from New York both also weighed in on the same day with a rebuke to Director Comey – direct.
MR. O’KEEFE: Schumer, who really brought Comey to light – to the national stage the first time, back when they had the attorneys firings. Josh Gerstein, about that FBI investigation, when Comey testified over the summer to Congress he said his agency is, quote, “resolutely apolitical.” But this week, we have this mess he’s in the midst of. And then we learned that the FBI remained mum on the fact that it was looking into Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager’s ties to Russia. Meanwhile, it seems that any of you who cover the FBI and the Justice Department are easily getting phone calls returned from FBI personnel for the first time. Has this agency been sucked into politics like never before?
JOSH GERSTEIN: Well, I mean, Comey certainly is totally caught in the crossfire. I mean, he’s got people coming at him from both sides. You know, to have the president of the United States criticize you even implicitly or indirectly is not an easy thing for the FBI director. And then to have Republicans on the other side criticizing him. And perhaps most worrisome for him is his own rank and file. There’s been this huge number of leaks about investigations, inquiries into the Clinton Foundation being bottled up.
And many people say there’s a rebellion in the ranks of the FBI, where people are feeling that some political pressure is being put on from the top to shut down Clinton-related investigations. They’re not necessarily blaming Comey himself for that, but in some cases they are saying he’s acquiesced or the Justice Department has put that kind of pressure to shut down these investigations. Of course, the Clinton folks say there’s nothing substantive for them to be investigating at all anyway.
MR. O’KEEFE: Now, part of this you discovered, and you wrote today, might have to do with the demographics of the FBI, right?
MR. GERSTEIN: Well, I think that could be a factor here. I mean, the backlash that Comey is feeling for interfering, in their view, of some of these agents, with the Clinton investigations, I think you have to look at what is the likely political outlook of a lot of the FBI agents. And when you see that they have a 67 percent white male workforce, an 80 percent white workforce, that Comey himself has complained that the numbers have been sliding in a more white male direction than they’ve been in the past. He’s called it a crisis. I think he was thinking more about them investigating crimes on the street, but now he may be facing it as a kind of crisis that’s contributing to the difficulties finding and managing these very politically sensitive investigations.
MR. O’KEEFE: Yeah, he gave a speech at Bethune-Cookman University over the summer where he said: I’ve got nothing against white people, especially tall, awkward, male white people – like himself, he said – but this is a crisis for reasons that you get, he was saying to a predominantly African-American audience. And he’s worried about it. And I think you also wrote that if he were running for – if Trump were running for president among just the FBI workforce, he’d run away with it, probably.
MR. GERSTEIN: Yeah, I think there’s no question that he’d win handily, because their workforce right now doesn’t look like America. And Comey’s acknowledged that he knows that’s a big problem for them in the long run. I don’t think he realized what problem it would be for him in the short run.
MS. TUMULTY: Although, you’ve got –
MR. O’KEEFE: Go ahead.
MS. TUMULTY: You’ve got to wonder the implications if Hillary Clinton is elected in this relationship.
MR. O’KEEFE: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll get into that in a moment. As unconventional and unpredictable as this election has been, it’s again coming down to the same old battleground states – Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and the Tar Heel state of North Carolina. Can either candidate, Karen, expand the map at this point?
MS. TUMULTY: Donald Trump still believes – is still arguing, at least, his campaign is, that they can flip some states, that, again, Pennsylvania has not been friendly to Republicans. If he could do that in Pennsylvania there’s, you know, a reasonable chance that he could do it in other parts of the industrial Midwest as well. The other place that he is still saying, against all evidence of early voting, but where he’s still saying he has a chance is Nevada. He’s going there this weekend. That was a surprising move, I think, to a lot of people. Donald Trump has no choice but to play offense on this map. And New Hampshire, another state. That one looks like it’s right on the edge.
MR. O’KEEFE: Are they – I mean, there’s some public polling. But do we get any sense that they’re seeing something we’re not when it comes to this? I mean, we’ve seen this song and dance before. We saw it in ’08. McCain claimed that there was a chance. Romney spent his last hours of Election Day in Pennsylvania. But is there something we’re not seeing?
MR. RAJU: I think it’s going to be really – the polling, it’s going to be really interesting to see how right and how wrong pollsters have been. It’s very hard, I think, in this electorate to determine who’s going to be a likely voter, especially with a lot of the people not very enthusiastic about their choices and who’s actually going to come out to the polls come Election Day. But I think if you look at the early voting numbers that gives you some indication about where things are going. And giving some cause for alarm among Democrats, because some of those numbers are down compared to past election cycles.
So in that regard, we’re getting a sense that maybe things are looking a little bit better for Donald Trump. But at the same time, just because we know which parties have come out to vote, who’s registered to vote, maybe they’re voting for the other side. Maybe some Republicans are voting for Hillary Clinton because they’re unnerved by Donald Trump. We just don’t know yet.
MS. TUMULTY: Or with so many more people early voting, in a lot of states the vast majority of the votes are going to be in before Election Day. We don’t really know if these early votes are indications of what Election Day voting is going to be like or maybe people who originally in past elections voted on Election Day are just moving and voting in a different pattern. It’s really hard to read what that vote really means.
MR. GERSTEIN: And this was one of the things that was puzzling when Trump started suggesting that people who had voted early might want to go out – who had voted early for Clinton – might want to go out and change their votes. I mean, you would think that most early voters are going to be the most enthusiastic backers that just can’t wait – they’re waiting at 9:00 a.m. when the early voting center opens to get in there and cast their ballot. Whether they’re going to run to change their mind, I’m a little doubtful that that’s an effective strategy.
MR. O’KEEFE: One of the things that we’re watching, all of us, of course, is the potential for shenanigans. The Justice Department is planning on sending poll monitors down to North Carolina. Remind us what exactly they’re going to be doing.
MR. GERSTEIN: Well, there’s different states, they’re able to do different things. They can monitor just about anywhere. To observe, they actually have to have special permission to get in and see if people are being denied voting, if people have complaints, if there are problems with the voter rolls. But the total number of Justice Department observers has been cut dramatically because of a Supreme Court decision a few years ago that covered the Voting Rights Act and cut out a significant section of the Voting Rights Act. So they’re more limited in what they could do than in past years.
But there’s also a lot of litigation going on that doesn’t directly involve the Justice Department. There’s at least five lawsuits Democrats have filed this week, mostly in these same swing states, going after Donald Trump’s campaign, Roger Stone, this Trump backer, and his Stop the Steal effort, saying that they’re going to try to intimidate voters at the polls. And on Friday, Friday evening, they were able to actually get an injunction barring that kind of intimidation in Ohio. And it might actually apply in other states as well.
MR. O’KEEFE: Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada were the three others?
MR. GERSTEIN: Nevada and North Carolina as well.
MR. O’KEEFE: Hey, Alexis, real quick, I know the Clinton campaign is now touting what it’s calling the Clinton coalition.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Yes.
MR. O’KEEFE: Quickly, what does it include?
MS. SIMENDINGER: The Clinton coalition or the Hillary coalition begins with Latinos, it goes into Asian-Americans, which is interesting, talks about Millennials and suburban women, and then African-Americans come at the end of this list that we were hearing about today. So the campaign is talking about a base of voters – I mean, the point of this is to say that it’s not quite the same as Barack Obama’s base, and very much represents, as far as Democrats are concerned, not just the blue wall, but the future of what the electorate is going to look like in more and more states.
MR. O’KEEFE: Because we’ve got explosive early vote turnout among Hispanics. Explosive was a word I saw people using earlier today to describe it in Florida – Central Florida and South Florida – Arizona, right? Nevada?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Nevada.
MR. O’KEEFE: And to some extent North Carolina.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Exactly. And the Clinton campaign today was eager to try to tell reporters about what it’s seeing that Karen was describing in early voting. More than 35 million people have voted early. But based on the analysis that they can do inside the campaigns, what they’re arguing is that Donald Trump – there has been no obvious surge of this kind of early banking of votes, your own coalition, in which they can, you know, say mathematically, for instance in Nevada, that he – they’re arguing he would have to do 10 points better than Hillary Clinton in Nevada to win Nevada. And that’s, you know, one of the arguments they’re trying to make.
MR. O’KEEFE: And there’s – he’s really – there’s no reason to believe he can make that up at this point, given the way things are –
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, unless there is just an enormous number of secret Nevada voters who – you know, I mean, they’re just saying mathematically you can’t do it. So that’s why watching these states it’s not just the polling but that ground game is so important to watch.
MR. O’KEEFE: Manu, Trump has spent a lot of time in Ohio, but has also made plays this week, as you mentioned, for Michigan and Wisconsin. Do they see Ohio as wrapped up?
MR. RAJU: I think that they have a very good chance in Ohio. The demographics certainly are helping him. His issue on trade and railing on bad trade deals. And down ticket Rob Portman, the Senate candidate – the senator, has sort of wrapped up his race, in some ways helping Donald Trump on Rob Portman’s own coattails. That is probably one of the states in the – in the Rust Belt that Donald Trump is probably best positioned to win right now. I think Michigan and Pennsylvania will be a lot – much more up for grabs, a lot harder for Donald Trump. But certainly right now there’s a good feeling within the Trump world that they could win that state.
MR. O’KEEFE: But regardless of who wins, both candidates will have to try and reunite a nation divided by polarization in their own parties, here in Washington, and among voters nationally. And, guys, in our remaining moments, I think it’s important to acknowledge that, that come Wednesday/Thursday things are going to be just as bad and divisive as they have been.
I wanted to start on the Hill. A lame duck begins later this month. They go into a new Congress. And there’s no reason to believe it’s going to get much better.
MR. RAJU: I think it’ll be very hard to get anything done by the new president, because if you look at the House and the Senate, no matter who’s in charge it’s going to be a narrow majority, maybe even a 50-50 Senate, and in the House, a very narrow majority in the House. And what does that mean? That means that, particularly on the Senate side, you’re going to need 60 votes to get anything done. You need to get bipartisan support to get things done. And that’s going to require a lot of leadership from both sides. And the challenge for the – for the Democrats is that they’re going to – in the Senate, they are going to have a number of red-state Democrats who are up for reelection in 2018 who, if Hillary Clinton is president, are going to be running away from Hillary Clinton. So a very – and you’re already talking about – Republicans are already talking about launching investigation after investigation against Hillary Clinton if she were to win. So I think we’re going to see a lot of warfare in the new Congress.
MR. O’KEEFE: If Trump wins, he’s the head of a fractured Republican Party. If Trump loses, he’s the former nominee of a fractured Republican Party.
MS. TUMULTY: I think if Trump wins it’s now his party. I think he’s the dominant figure. If he loses, a lot of it’s going to be the margin. If it’s a resounding loss, then the anti-Trump forces can say, you know, we were right. If it’s narrow, there’s going to be a lot of recriminations.
MR. O’KEEFE: And, real quick, if either – win or lose, both of them are going to be under an ethical cloud.
MR. GERSTEIN: Oh, there’s no question about that. There’s going to be litigation continuing. Hillary Clinton’s going to continue to be under this FBI investigation, we expect, agents poking around the Clinton Foundation. And Donald Trump, you know, he has 14 women he’s promised to sue for defaming him, and they’ve said they’ll counter-sue him. There’s the Trump University case that you mentioned that’s going forward. So there’s a huge hangover for either of them after this election.
MR. O’KEEFE: And, real quick, during the final months of his presidency, is there anything President Obama can do?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, you mentioned the lame duck. You know, the president is trying to do as much as he can through executive action, but he would still like to see Supreme Court or TPP, which is trade, and forget that. Those two are not happening.
MR. O’KEEFE: Well, that’s it for now, but the conversation continues on the Washington Week Extra, where we’ll talk about Paul Ryan’s future as speaker of the House and Melania Trump’s announcement that she will make cyber bullying a priority issue if she becomes first lady. And while you’re online, find out why not all write-in votes may count in this election. Regardless of which candidate you support, exercise your right to vote. Vote early. Vote next Tuesday, November 8th. Then come home and tune in to PBS NewsHour’s coverage of Election 2016. Oh, and please don’t forget, turn back your clocks on Saturday night. Enjoy that extra sleep.
I’m Ed O’Keefe. Have a good night.