Full Episode: Washington Week full episode, November 11, 2022

Nov. 11, 2022 AT 12:39 p.m. EST

Control of Congress hangs in the balance but for Republicans, the finger-pointing has already started after the red wave fell flat, with some openly criticizing former President Trump. Join moderator Yamiche Alcindor, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Weijia Jiang of CBS News, Jonathan Martin of Politico and Ayesha Rascoe of NPR to discuss this and more.

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Yamiche Alcindor: Congress influx and Trump's influence in question.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Definitely not a Republican wave, that is for darn sure.

Yamiche Alcindor: Control of Congress hangs in the balance as the number of key races are still being decided.

Unidentified Male: Donald Trump gives us problems politically.

Yamiche Alcindor: For Republicans, the finger-pointing begins as the red wave falls flat. And some openly criticize former President Trump.

Joe Biden, U.S. President: Tuesday was a good day for America, a good day for democracy and it was a strong night for Democrats.

Yamiche Alcindor: Meanwhile, President Biden celebrates better than expected after Democrats define history.

Plus --

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL): We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, (D-MI): We will make Michigan a leader, a place where every person is respected and protected under the law.

Yamiche Alcindor: -- a look at some of the winners this week and what lies ahead for 2024, next.

Good evening and welcome to a special edition of Washington Week. It has been a wild, wild midterm cycle. Election Day has stretched into election week. And at this hour, it is still unclear which party will control the House or the Senate. In several key races, votes are still being counted. Some of those results could take weeks, that's right, weeks.

Currently, Republicans are expected to hold a slim majority in the House. 28 races are still undecided. In the Senate, three races are still undecided. And next month, the high-profile Georgia Senate race between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will go to a runoff. That race could end up determining which party controls the Senate.

And while there is a lot of uncertainty, what is clear is that the Republican red wave, it simply did not happen. Many of former President Trump's highest profile endorsements ultimately lost their races. That's led some in the GOP to question whether Trump is a drag on the party while still celebrating party wins. Meanwhile, Democrats, including the president, are praising the results.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) : Two years ago when I became leader, Republicans had less than 200 seats in the House. That cycle, we picked up 14 seats. Tonight, we built upon those gains two years ago. And it is clear that we are going to take the House back.

Joe Biden: We lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic presidents first elected midterm, at least 40 years. And experts said we couldn't beat the odds but we did beat the odds.

Yamiche Alcindor: Joining me to discuss all this and more, Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post, Weijia Jiang, Senior White House Correspondent for CBS News, Jonathan Martin, I call him J. Mart, Politics Bureau Chief at Politico, Ayesha Rascoe, Host a Weekend Edition Sunday on NPR. Thanks to all of you for being here around the table. I love to have everyone here.

Dan, you have covered politics longer than all of us, so I'm going to start with you. It was the red wave that wasn't. The GOP, even if they take back the House, this could be the best midterm election of any president at least in the last two decades. What are your biggest takeaways for what the election tells us and the lessons here?

Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post: Well, having covered a lot of these election nights, this was one of the most astonishing, certainly for a midterm, because it defied almost all the elements of history that we use as guides to let us give a sense of where things are going.

I think one of the big takeaways is that Donald Trump has created a different electorate in this country. In 2018, we had record turnout. In 2020, we had record turnout. And in 2022, we had near record turnout. Normally, the party that holds the White House has trouble getting its voters out in a midterm election like this. But in this case, they came in droves, and it defied the expectations. And so as a result of that, you have the party that may well capture control of the House disappointed and fighting among themselves, and the party that could lose the House quite jubilant that they are as close as they are.

The Senate is still up for grabs. It is very possible, maybe even likely at this point, that the Democrats hold that. So, it is just a year in which it really was a choice and not a referendum on the party in power.

Yamiche Alcindor: And,, Jonathan, J. Mart, there are a number of races that we said are still not likely to be called, but there is Nevada and Arizona that are those key Senate races. Tell me a little bit about what you are thinking and seeing both on the House and but also on the Senate side in terms of where things are heading.

Jonathan Martin, Politics Bureau Chief, Politico: Well, I think we are coming on the air tonight, and your viewers should know that there have just been thousands of votes counted in Nevada. And it looks increasingly like Senator Masto, who is the incumbent Democrat there, is probably going to find a path to reelection. She is only down under 1,000 votes statewide and there are still 40,000 more votes to come just from Las Vegas and Reno alone, those metro areas. So, she appears to be on track.

That is important, because if she does close that gap and overtake her GOP challenger, that all but guarantees Democrats will hold the Senate, because Mark Kelly in Arizona is even better shaped right now than her. And, Yamiche, that would make Georgia for those watching at home only relevant as the Dems would have a one-seat majority or a zero-seat majority with the V.P. breaking the tie. So, Nevada is the key tonight. It looks like Masto is going to be able to hold on.

Yamiche Alcindor: And there's a lot going on in the House side too.

Jonathan Martin: Yes, absolutely. And what's fascinating about the House is that there is drama in terms of both sides of the aisle, in terms of who is going to be in charge. Usually after a House election, at least one part that we know who is going to be leading the caucus, it is now uncertain. I spoke to Speaker Pelosi, if Democrats do go in the minority, where or not she would stay, resign, or perhaps stay and serve I the minority, or perhaps stay and try and serve as minority leader. So, she has three options that are sort of that are sort of fascinating to watch.

There is intense hope among a lot of younger Democrats in the House. There is going to be a passing of the baton to that next generation, but they weren't expecting this election to be so close. And now, Pelosi, I think it is more of an open question as to whether or not she will move on.

It is a mess with the House GOP because of the opposite. They had high hopes for this election. And now it seems like if they do have the majority, Yamiche, it is only going to be three or four-seat majority, which is so darned close, it could be even closer than that. And so if that is the case, Kevin McCarthy is going to have a really hard time finding the votes to become speaker, because he has critics on the far-right of his caucus that are not vote for him for speaker. That could create an extraordinary story on the floor of the House in January, because you have to get 218 votes in the floor of the House to be speaker. And if he can't find his entire party unified, those Democrats are not going to bail him out.

Yamiche Alcindor: No, those Democrats are definitely not going to bail him out.

Weijia, one of the happiest people I have seen this week is on your beat, President Biden is chipper, I think. Tell me what you are hearing at the White House behind closed doors and what they're saying, and what also they think this says about the message that Democrats are putting out there that really was also about democracy in threat, inflation and abortion. It was sort of a trifecta. Some people thought it was sort of messy, but it worked in some ways.

Weijia Jiang, Senior White House Correspondent, CBS News: Right. And it is not in this administration's DNA to gloat and to say, I told you so, but, basically, behind the scenes, they are saying, I told you so, because there was so much criticism against their strategy to focus on a variety of issues, and not just the economy. In fact, the president's last primetime address was about the threat to democracy. And he made that just a few days before Election Day, and a lot of Republicans said this shows that he is out of touch because people are really just so stressed about paying their bills, that he's choosing to focus on something that is not what is top of mind for people.

But we just saw that is not true. Abortion was a factor. Yes, the economy was a factor, the threat to democracy was a factor. And so that is what we heard from the White House from the very beginning, that they were going to focus on these issues and on the president's accomplishments because they wanted this to be a policy-driven campaign, not a personality-driven campaign. Which is why the president did not do a lot of the big campaign rallies that previous presidents had done until the very end, when he wanted to make sure it would drum up enthusiasm to get people out to vote.

And to Jonathan's point, the other reason why he's very happy is even though the Republicans look like they are poised to take over, the White House feels that there is enough wiggle room, there is enough fractures within the party, that they will still be able to accomplish things on his agenda. It's going to be tough. They acknowledge that. But they are certainly much more optimistic than they would have been if that so-called the red wave had happened.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes. And, Ayesha, we were just talking about personality not being at the forefront, and I think that that is very much true and that's what I'm hearing from I sources. But there's also this idea that candidates do matter in some ways. How much did candidate quality matter when you look at these election results, especially even in a place like Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman bested out Dr. Oz, who was this Trump-backed candidate, that some just saw as simply unqualified?

Ayesha Rascoe, Host of Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR: Well, here is the thing. I mean, I think this election was a real test of whether races had been nationalized to the point, and whether the electorate was so polarized, that, basically, if you had an R and you were a Republican, they would vote for you. If you were Democrat, they would vote for you.

I think what this shows is it matters who you are because you saw those split tickets, you saw in Georgia where you had Governor Kemp get re-elected, right, but then you have Herschel Walker. They were people that voted for Kemp, they did not vote for Walker, right? They did not. And then you see in Pennsylvania, where you had Oz, you had someone where Trump put that thumb on the scale and you got Oz, but people did not glean to him. People felt like he was a carpetbagger, he was kind of a snake oil salesman. That is what people felt. I'm not saying that's who he is, but that is the way people felt, and that is what happens when it came to, and you saw the results of that. And it really hurt the Republicans.

Yamiche Alcindor: Certainly. And, Dan, you are also hearing some in the GOP say now out loud their criticisms of Trump, some of the things that people would only say on background are now somehow materializing on national news. And for me, it strikes me that the Capitol attack, where you saw people ran from Trump and ran right back. I wonder how much you think people are going to run from Trump and run right back, or if this is really a real sort of test and a real sort of example of people saying this is the limit for us.

Dan Balz: It may be an inflection point for Donald Trump. We've said that a lot of times over the last six years, and I would say almost every time, we have been proving wrong. So, I don't want to go too far out on that limb. But there is something materially different about this.

I think after 2020 and after the attack on the Capitol, despite the attack on the Capitol, I think Republicans felt that they could not win and they could not win this year without Trump being in the tent and part of it, that they needed his voters. But in getting those voters, they also got Donald Trump meddling in these elections. And to look at the Senate, you can argue that had they had different candidates in Georgia and in Pennsylvania, they would have one those two races, in which case they would have the Senate.

So, I think that the issue now is, will they conclude from this that instead of thinking they can't win without Trump, that now they can't win with him.

Weijia Jiang: That's exactly what I was going to say. It's because for the past two years, the open ended question that we have talked about so much is what power does Trump still has within the GOP. And I think a lot of candidates were concerned that remained a lot of power. And now they see the results, and that is just not the case, because those candidates who he endorsed actually underperformed.

On the flipside, the president was trying to avoid the areas where there are really tight races, President Biden, that is. And it turns out that the places where he did go, those candidates overperformed. And so you're right, Dan. I think now the question, it was always, how much Trump could help a candidate, now, it's how much can he hurt them.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes. And as we discuss -- I'm going to get to J. Mart because my question is for you. But as we discussed the midterm week that was, we also have to, of course, look at 2024. I you're your head is spinning at home but we have to do it.

Former President Trump is widely expected to announce another run for the White House next week. And President Biden also said he signaled at least that he's intending to run but has left the door open, that he perhaps may not. He's saying it's going to be a family decision. So, there are a lot of questions sort of whirling, really, within both parties about the future. And, J. Mart, you are about to jump in, I want to come straight to you here. You told our producers, I have a lot to say about. So I'm just going to let you take it away.

Jonathan Martin: Well, I can't recall a moment in American politics where the ostensible frontrunners of their parties had so many people in those parties dreading their candidacies. I think on the Republican side, it is self-evident, there's a ton of people who are ready to move on from Trump.

With Democrats, it's a little more complicated, Yamiche, because there is, I think, certainly support for Biden and certainly a great deal of goodwill for him. It is just that there is a feeling, I think, from a lot of Democrats that it's to move on, that he served the purpose of getting Trump out of the White House, he'll be 82 years old in 2024, and perhaps this thinking goes, it is time to get somebody of the next generation to run.

The exit polls the other night that we all saw show you overwhelmingly that most Americans want Biden to hang it up in '24. He doesn't seem quite ready to do that, at least as of right now.

Yamiche Alcindor: You don't say.

Jonathan Martin: Yes. It is hard. Look, it's hard for politicians to walk away, like it's hard for athletes to walk away, right? He has that competitive gene in him, and I think it's going to be difficult.

I will say real fast on Trump. I think what is happening is this is a conversation that was deferred from 2020 because of what happened in the aftermath of '20 and Trump's denialism about the election. This should have been happening then, because at that point, his party had lost the House, Senate and the White House on his watch. But he basically paralyzed, he froze that conversation in '20 because he was so fixated on saying the election was stolen, and he has now put off today that conversation.

And the last thing I will say is the GOP can tolerate a lot from Trump, a whole lot. What they can't tolerate is losing. And I think that could ultimately be, ironically, with Donald Trump, the biggest winner, he claims, his ultimate Achilles heel could be that he's actually a loser.

Yamiche Alcindor: Wow, that could be it.

Ayesha, abortion was also a big part of this midterm cycle. We saw nationally that it was the most important issue to voters only after inflation, based on some exit polling from NBC News. I wonder what you make of abortion victories. We saw five states voting on abortion-related measures. In all five states, including Kentucky, every single vote went for people who were supportive of abortion rights. What does that say?

Ayesha Rascoe: Well, I mean, it says that this is an issue that a majority of Americans support some form of abortion rights. Like, yes, they may not support total abortion rights or may support some limits, but they do not want abortion to be outlawed. And that is clear when you look at all of these races over and over again.

And I think that, really, some in the media, let's take some blame for that, underestimated how much of a role that will play. It was clear after Dobbs that there was some momentum. I think the thought was that that momentum had stalled. But, clearly, that is not the case. And that in places like Pennsylvania or other places where there was a real fear that you can have a rollback of abortion rights, you saw Democrats, you saw independents go to Democrats because they did not want abortion rights to be taken off of the table.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes. And another big thing, Dan, that we've been talking about this is the threats to democracy. Ayesha was talking about it in terms of the president's speech and the decision to focus on that.

But there's something that's interesting that I've been thinking about, is there were some Democrats who people are saying meddled in the elections by supporting election deniers, and people were worried that that was a risk. But it turns out that all of those election deniers that were backed by Democrats, where Democrats they spent millions of dollars, they lost. What do you make of the implication of that? Is there a danger there?

Dan Balz: Well, there is a danger. And I think that there is a debate within the Democratic Party and more broadly than that about whether even if it is successful, whether that is the right thing to do in politics, whether you should raise up people who would, in fact, threaten the state of democracy. So, that remains an open question. But as a political tactic, it was successful.

Now, would it have been any less successful if they hadn't gotten involved? Perhaps not. So, I think that is an open question.

I want to go back on the abortion issue for a minute, because I agree with you. I think at the end of the campaign, there was this kind of this sense that it had faded. And I'm as guilty of that is anybody else because we saw how important inflation and gas prices and sensitive issues were to people.

But I remember conversations I had with voters in August with women voters, suburban women voters. And they were so passionate at that point. They were passionate about the abortion issue. They were passionate about democracy. And I think that when you look at what was going through their minds, there was something visceral of those issues. And when there's an issue that is that powerful, that doesn't fade away.

And I think it is easy for us to sort of look at a poll and say, oh, it is not as important as it was. In a way people think, they don't think about issues in quite that way. They don't think of them in a poll way. And so I think that ended up being so powerful in the outcome of this election.

Ayesha Rascoe: And just really quickly, I mean, I think that those two -- so, you have two things. You have abortion, which Republicans don't have much room to maneuver on at all, and then you have Trump, who is not going to give them room to maneuver. So, those are two things that are going to really be hanging over Republicans when it comes to 2024. Like what are you going to do on abortion when there is really no room to negotiate, and Trump is not going to allow them to negotiate?

Dan Balz: Well, the other aspect of it is that on the issue of democracy, for a while, one could say, well, this is Trumps problem. But over a two-year period, it became the Republican brand, and that caused people to have a great pause.

Jonathan Martin: And that is the key point, that's the overarching, I think, point about this election. My co-author, Alex Burns, and I wrote a book called This Will Not Pass. And I think good news and the bad news for Democrats is that Trumpism will not pass. I think it is bad news for Democrats because Biden's hope was that the fever would break after he took office, that the Trump era would end. Well, it obviously hasn't.

The good news for Democrats is, because it hasn't faded, there are voters who are still really engaged and extremely tuned in. And, yes, independents, who can flip either side, are still voting for Democrats because they still, Yamiche, are afraid of Trumpism and they still want to reject it. Just because Trump is not in the Oval Office anymore doesn't mean that issue not animating. And I think that is what the big story this election.

Weijia Jiang: I think that Trumpism and Trump are two different things now. And so now we are in a situation where Republicans are asking who is the person who can still provide Trumpism, still give voters what they want in that sense. That is not Donald Trump. And so --

Yamiche Alcindor: And in talking about that and thinking about that, I was going to ask you about Michigan. I know you're at the White House, but Michigan saw these huge wins because, for the first time in 40 years, Michiganders are going to have a Democratic-controlled legislature and a governor's mansion. And that message was all about really anti-Trump and also all about making sure that women's rights were going to be protected, LGBTQ rights.

I sat down one-on-one with the governor of Michigan who said, we're ready for this fight nationally. I wonder what you make of sort of the people that are coming up, maybe some of the names that we are seeing, Governor Whitmer, Gretchen Whitmer being one of them, as being people who are ready to say, I'm going to fight Trumpism here, Weijia?

Weijia Jiang: Well, I mean, I think that that was brewing. I mean, look at what happened to her in particular, right? And so I think that we should expect to see much more of that. I mean, I think people are less afraid now to really confront it because they see that if you do, that doesn't mean it's not going to cost you. I mean, that means it could actually help you. And so from that sense, I think that it is not necessarily surprising. But, of course, the outcome is remarkable.

Yamiche Alcindor: I have to ask you about Sean Patrick Maloney, because, J. Mart, you're -- I want to ask you about this because he lost his race even though Democrats are doing well. What does that say?

Jonathan Martin: Well, he had this Hudson Valley District in New York, I think, ironically, because it's seen nationally as this bastion of liberalism. Democrats actually had a really rough go this year in New York, in part because of what was happening in the race for governor, where you had the Democratic incumbent, who was an appointed person -- not appointed, but someone who had taken office when Cuomo quit and who was fairly weak comparatively to that state's politics. And I think that helped down ballot and it hurt Democratic incumbents, like Sean Patrick Maloney. And I think if Democrats do in fact lose the House, it will be almost entirely because of their losses, ironically enough, in, yes, New York State.

But going to your point earlier about I think what Tuesday night also offered us, Yamiche, is a glimpse in both parties of the next generation.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes.

Jonathan Martin: I think certainly on the Republican side, folks like Ron DeSantis, but don't forget these Democrats who were elected Tuesday too, Gretchen Whitmer overwhelmingly re-elected. If you win Michigan twice as a Democrat like that, boy, you are going to be in the national conversation immediately, and she certainly is. But don't forget Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania, who helped Fetterman a great view on top of the ticket, Wes Moore in Maryland and Maura Healey in Massachusetts. All of these new Democrats are going to be born on Tuesday.

Yamiche Alcindor: Well, Ayesha, I want to ask you about a Democrat that has an uncertain future right now, which is Stacey Abrams. She lost, and there are a lot of people who were saying this is what black women -- and I'm hearing this from experts -- this sort of what black women do. They work hard in Georgia. She was able to mobilize. Georgia is kind of purple because of -- some people say because of the work that she did, but she lost the race.

Ayesha Rascoe: And she lost the race. And, I mean, you do hear from some black women that it has been reported about the disappointment and the frustration of her coming forward, doing all this hard work, but not really seeing the fruits of that, not for herself. And I think it is a tough loss.

But I don't think that Stacey Abrams -- I don't think we need to count her out. I think that she will find a path for herself, whatever that may be. She is a political talent, my goodness. And so I think that the Democrats can find something for Stacey Abrams. It is just not clear what it will be.

Yamiche Alcindor: And in the last ten seconds here, Weijia, how long can Biden sort of hold off on 2024 if we end up seeing a Republican --

Weijia Jiang: He says he's in no rush. The party, I'm sure, is in a rush, right, because 2024 has already started. So, he said he is going to take some time over the holidays, it's going to be a family decision. And perhaps in the New Year, he will make an announcement, but not yet.

Yamiche Alcindor: Not yet, but you are going to be asking him, I'm sure, right?

Weijia Jiang: Every chance.

Yamiche Alcindor: Well, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much to our panel for your reporting. And for you all at home, thank you so much for joining us.

And don't forget to tune in Saturday to PBS News Weekend. Anchor Geoff Bennett talks to Maxwell Frost, the first person from Generation Z, that's right, Generation Z, elected to Congress.

And, finally, to all of our men and women who served the nation in uniform today and always, we salute you, we owe you our deepest gratitude.

I'm Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.


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