Clip: Midterm season in full gear with control of Congress on the line

Sep. 16, 2022 AT 6:13 p.m. EDT

The last primary elections before the midterms were held and now all eyes are focused on the battle for control of Congress. With just two months until Election Day, the major issues in the news this week were inflation, abortion and immigration.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Alcindor : On Tuesday, the last midterm, primary elections, the 2022 cycle were held in Delaware, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and in other primaries, a number of Trump-backed congressional candidates won big. That came, though, as Republicans and Democrats alike were surprised.

When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham revealed his plans for a 15 week federal abortion ban.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) : I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say after 15 weeks, no abortion on demand except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Alcindor : Democrats immediately fired back.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) : So, to anyone who thought they were safe, who thought I’m in a blue state, I will be fine, here is the painful reality: Republicans are coming after your rights.

Alcindor : Meanwhile, on Tuesday at the White House, President Biden held a celebration for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, yet a worse than expected inflation report was released hours before the event that led many Republicans to pointedly criticize the president.

Also, dominating the headlines this week, Republican governors flying migrants to Democrat-led cities. Ron DeSantis of Florida flew migrants to the popular vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard, and Greg Abbott of Texas left asylum-seekers outside the Vice President Kamala Harris’ Washington, D.C.

Susan, back to you, Zolan, I want to bring in too. I want to ask you about the primary. We saw in New Hampshire, a Trump-backed candidate beat yet again -- the story happened all over the country, a Republican establishment candidate.

I wonder what you make of that race and also what it just told us about this primary season?

Page : You know, it happened in Arizona. It happened in Maryland, it happened in Arizona. It happened in Vermont.

The Trumpiest candidate in these contested primaries is the one that wins the nomination. And what does that tell us? It tells us that Donald Trump continues to have enormous sway over the Republican and the argument that he is backing less electable candidates does not convince Republican primary voters to walk away from his legacy and his approach to politics.

Alcindor : Zolan, jump in here.

Kanno-Youngs : No, absolutely. I mean, just because Trump is not on the ballot doesn’t mean Trumpism is not on the ballot. And as you were saying, the idea that we’re still even at this midterm election still in these election, in these primaries basically litigating who the rightful president is and at the point still having candidates who are out right denying some of the results of the previous election says a lot about where we are right now with our democratic system and our political discourse as well.

Alcindor : It’s head-spinning.

And, Marianna, of course, you are at the center of covering Congress. Now, there’s some interesting report. You have Nancy Pelosi saying not only are Democrats going to hold on to control of the House, they are going to expand their majority, but our friends at the newsletter say behind closed doors, Chuck Schumer is saying Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats are in trouble.

What are you hearing?

Sotomayor : I’m hearing exactly that. Many people were wondering why Pelosi was so optimistic. You definitely felt on the House side, this was the first week that they came back after a six-week recess, you definitely felt the upbeat move that Democrats were feeling. And it came after Senator Graham, and there is a companion bill in the House that introduced that federal ban that they think, when we are talking about being on the campaign trail, talking about making a difference between Democrats and Republicans, well, this is the extreme MAGA Republicans that will take away more of your freedom.

So, they were feeling that energy, but many people were thinking maybe Pelosi was feeling too much of that. One thing to note, during that press conference, she got asked if she wants to still stay in leadership regardless of what happens in November. A lot of aides and a couple members I talked to yesterday are saying that you cannot say and project negativity that you might lose the majority and you may not keep these seats, that it might be a blowout.

So, that is likely a bit of where that’s coming from on Pelosi’s end.

Alcindor : And, Marianna, you touched on it, but Lindsey Graham, he introduced this federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks. What motivated him to do this, and how are Republicans and Democrats responding?

Sotomayor : He was asked that question during the press conference he played and he simply said it is the women standing behind me. Those are a number of women who are heads of pro-life groups, antiabortion groups. And they, for a while, have been pushing him and also Chris Smith, a Republican on the house side, to update this legislation . Chris Smith has actually been reintroducing it Congress after Congress after Congress. It would put a federal ban in place. It went from 20 weeks to 15 weeks.

Even Lindsey Graham said, I have not talked to McConnell about this, I have really not talked to my colleagues either, and you hear the repercussions of that. Many Republicans are saying, why are we talking about this right now? It is not necessarily an issue we want to be talking about because we do not have the upper hand at the moment. Let’s focus instead, focus on the fact that Biden is holding an event on the Inflation Reduction Act at a time we are still seeing inflation on the rise. None of that help to Republicans as they were trying to regain the narrative ahead of the midterms election.

Alcindor : Susan, you have been covering the issues of women’s rights and politics for so long. What do you make of what Lindsey just did here and what are you hearing? Because the word on the street as Republicans were looking at Lindsey Graham like, excuse me, why? Why are you doing this?

Page : You know, if Republicans lose control of the Senate, which now seems entirely -- I mean, failed to gain control of the Senate, which now is entirely possible, it will be their own fault. It will be the self-inflicted wounds, including Lindsey Graham raising the issue of a national abortion ban after many Republicans argued the real point of supporting the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was it’s an issue that we should lead to the states. Well, this is the reverse of that.

Nominating these candidates to the farthest right in some of these contested races where it is not the strongest Republican candidate that could be nominated, letting the conversation not be focused squarely on inflation, which is -- and now crime, their best issues, if Republicans don’t do well as well as expected them to do a month or two months ago, they’re going to have themselves to blame.

Alcindor : And, Zolan, I want to bring in because I know we’re talking about abortion, but the other big issue here, were these migrants being flown all over the country and you covered immigration better than almost any reporter that I know. So, I want to ask you about this.

The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, she said, quote, of this: They use them like political pawns, treated them like chattel in a cruel, premeditated political stunt.

What do you make of what we’re seeing here and the repercussions and political sort of implications, but also the human toll? I’m thinking about migrants who are coming to this country fleeing violence and finding themselves dropped off in random cities.

Kanno-Youngs : Yeah, it is important to describe who these people are. Many Venezuelans, many South Americans who are fleeing violence, but also poverty, right, that are coming to the country, many of which, if they haven’t started the process yet, were told by their lawyers likely to seek asylum.

This tactic isn’t -- while it has been used to retaliate against Democrats, just to give you an idea of how once taboo it is, go back to November 18 at the Trump administration. You have a Stephen Miller-led effort to basically go and try and pressurize ICE officials at the time to basically do this on the federal level, take migrants to the border, bring them to San Francisco to retaliate against Nancy Pelosi, other cities to retaliate against Democrats.

Just to give you an idea of how polarizing this is, Matt the deputy director of vice, I would find it hard to find anyone say he is soft on immigration, said no, we can’t do this. He basically rejected the concerns out of the liability for the safety of the migrants as well as saying that ice did not have the authority to essentially do that.

Now you have states doing it themselves. It really does show you about the tactic we have seen before congressional elections, Republicans leading into anti-immigrant sentiment to try and galvanize the base, but also it does not solve the overall issue at hand, which is a broken immigration system. Democrats and Republicans would say that. But this does not solve the issue, a backlogged court system and a lack of consistency when it comes to the border.

Alcindor : It is striking that you are saying this tactic was seen as too out there for the Trump administration now sort of being normalized.

Page : Look at 1962. It was a tactic used by white citizens councils in the south to convince blacks to get on buses and go to northern places, including Hyannis Port, where the president had a summer house. This is not the type of comparison that Governor DeSantis should be wanting.

Alcindor : And, Marianna, in the last minute we have here, it’s Hispanic heritage month. You have been talking to Latino voters of how both parties are trying to win their votes. We only have a minute left, but please, talk to me about your reporting and how it connects to all of this, especially as we talk about inflation but also immigration.

Sotomayor : Yeah. You know, this is the first election since 2020 since we saw Democrats lose drastically a solid base in South Florida, also along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. And Democrats have been making many more investments, historic investments incorporating a number of Latino operatives to advise a number of campaigns, starting earlier than usual.

But Republicans have already been there for some time. So, a lot of Democrats I have been talking to are saying it is good we are laying the ground now, finally they are listening to us. However, it might take time to actually see those voters come back. Latinos still tend to vote Democratic, but Republicans are making gains.

You are seeing more Republican Hispanic women and men run for office, which is also an appeal, allowing a lot of these voters to say look, there are Republicans in the party who look like me, maybe I can be open to them. There are the issues of economy and how that affects both men and women, different generations, that is really going to make an interesting post midterm election about our communities.

Alcindor : Certainly. Well, thank you to our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

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