ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra. The 2020 race is expanding with two more contenders joining an already-crowded field this week, bringing the total number of Democrats to 24.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his bid.
NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D): (From video.) I intend to break the mold and I intend to make history and I intend to win.
MR. COSTA: And Steve Bullock, governor of Montana – a state President Trump won in 2016 – jumped in, too. Meanwhile, Washington Governor Jay Inslee introduced a climate plan.
WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE (D): (From video.) We need a full, complete, 100 percent mobilization of the United States economy to defeat the climate crisis and put 8 million people to work.
MR. COSTA: Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke is trying for a reboot and rebranding. Former Vice President Joe Biden went to New Hampshire. California Senator Kamala Harris said he might make a good VP for her.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): (From video.) I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job.
MR. COSTA: Joining me tonight, Philip Rucker, Washington bureau chief for The Washington Post; Amna Nawaz, national correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Hans Nichols, correspondent for NBC News; and Susan Davis, congressional reporter for NPR.
HANS NICHOLS: I’m still chuckling over that last line.
SUSAN DAVIS: That was a pretty good line. (Laughter.)
MR. NICHOLS: It was a good line, right? I mean, I’m trying to think how I can use that in this context. Like, Phil, you’re a great Washington Post reporter; I want you to stay there, you know? (Laughter.) It was such a good – you know, this is where – this is where it gives an indication of who’s going to shine in the debates. It’s who has personality, who’s comfortable. And Kamala Harris, former prosecutor, knows how to get off a one-liner, knows how to read a room. She could have a breakout moment in the debates. You know, Pete Buttigieg, we were talking earlier, pretty clever, witty guy. I mean, Joe Biden knows how to practice a one-liner. He’s been there before, so he won’t – these debates are going to be fascinating.
MR. COSTA: But is it going to be just about personality? Or you see Senator Warren; she keeps rolling out policy plan after policy plan. Can she – she’s been bouncing up in the polls, because of that perhaps.
MS. DAVIS: She has been. And you hear a lot when people are on the road with Warren is that she wins over crowds, that she’s much better on the stump than you might think, and that people are really responding to her ideas. Her intellect, her policies, I mean, in a lot of ways she’s driving that conversation. But I agree, she’s also someone who has just been kind of hovering in the single digits and is going to need kind of a breakout moment in these debates. I think the question that I’m looking at for Warren is, you know, if Joe Biden’s the presumptive frontrunner based on polling at this stage of the race, you got to swing at one of them. And I think Warren feels pretty comfortable maybe taking a swing at Joe Biden, and they have been at odds in the past over things like bankruptcy legislation, and they’re intellectually very different people. And I think Elizabeth Warren believes she will be a better president than Joe Biden.
MR. COSTA: We keep talking about the debates. The first debates are when, next month?
AMNA NAWAZ: They are. They’re here before we know it.
MS. DAVIS: End of June.
MR. NICHOLS: End of June.
MR. COSTA: And what we know about how it’s going to be set up? There’s 24 candidates; how do – who’s going to – CNN’s doing them?
MS. NAWAZ: So I think they’re limited to 20 candidates overall. It’s going to have to be split across two nights. There are – correct me if I’m wrong, everybody – I think there’s two metrics, basically, by which you can make it; one is by polling, one is if you get 65,000 individual donors. And –
MS. DAVIS: From 20 states.
MS. NAWAZ: From 20 states, thank you. But I think if more than 20 candidates reach that, then they’ll have to either mix or you have to reach both metrics to be able to make the stage. It’s like a changing algorithm; it’s crazy. But the point is right now there are going to be two things, I think, to watch for in those debates. One is on the policy side how these candidates field those questions, because I think voters are very attuned to, like, we don’t want to be politicked to; we want to know what you will stand for. And people are also assessing who will beat Donald Trump. That is still the number-one thing for Democratic voters, is which one of these candidates we think stands a real chance at defeating Donald Trump.
MR. COSTA: And that question is also on the mind of President Trump. Almost every tweet, every interview he gives, he’s talking about Vice President Biden or Senator Sanders.
PHILIP RUCKER: He’s clearly concerned about Biden. That’s because the public polling is showing that Biden would defeat Trump in a head to head, as is the president’s private polling. There’s concern about Biden because of the three industrial Midwest states that he could take off from Trump: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And if Trump can’t win those three states again in 2020, he’s going to have a difficult time getting to the 270 electoral votes that he’ll need to win reelection. But there’s also some concern about other candidates, too. At various moments Trump has been very impressed by Kamala Harris and the energy level that she seems to have generated in some of her crowds. He has made a couple comments about Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend. There are a lot of interesting candidates out there who could be a competitive foil for the president.
MR. COSTA: What do we make of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio jumping into this race in May?
MS. DAVIS: I mean, why not as this point, seems to be a lot of Democrats’ attitudes. I do think you get a sense when these Democrats are sizing each other up that no one really thinks that anybody has a clear electable path. You know, I think there’s a lot of goodwill toward Joe Biden, but I think there’s a lot of Democrats down the ballot who look at him and think: It’s more my time than his. So if you’ve got nothing to lose and you want to make a point – you know, a lot of these candidates get in, we talked about Jay Inslee, we talked about Eric Swalwell, these second-tier candidates – if you want to force the party to have a debate about something, you know, Inslee’s in the race to talk about climate change. Swalwell’s in the race to talk about guns. De Blasio, if he wants to make an issue, he might be able to provoke a conversation.
MR. COSTA: Hans?
MR. NICHOLS: I have no idea why Bill de Blasio is running. (Laughter.) I just don’t. I don’t – I mean, he can articulate a reason why, but he’s not particularly popular in his home state.
MS. DAVIS: Or his own party.
MR. NICHOLS: Yeah, or his own party. I mean, the challenges for him to get the nomination seem, you know, pretty significant. But, you know, on this whole idea of, you know, who the White House is worried about or wants to run against, you know, parties are almost always wrong about who they want to run against. I mean, had you asked Hillary Clinton sometime in early 2016, would you like to run against Donald Trump? I think she would have said yes, right? And the people that really scared her were, like, the Jeb Bushes. And do any of us at this table think that Jeb Bush would have actually beaten – would have defeated Hillary Clinton, had he been his party nominee? I’m not so certain.
MR. RUCKER: Part of the calculation now, I think, I just once the field got so big, and there are 20 Democrats running for president, these politicians look in the mirror and think: Well, I should be among the top 20 Democrats in the country. And so Seth Moulton gets in the race, and Steve Bullock from Montana gets in the race, and now Mayor de Blasio, even though he has a lot of his own political problems back home.
MR. COSTA: Well, one of the real tensions seems to be in the Democratic Party if you’re a Bullock jumping in, or Pete Buttigieg, you’re trying – or even Vice President Biden, part of your argument is you can speak to Trump voters in rural parts of the country, the Midwest, maybe the South. Others are saying, the primary shouldn’t be about that. It should be about progressive values, different kinds of policy proposals. Is that – am I – do you have the same read?
MS. NAWAZ: We talk every election cycle about the swing voters, right, the elusive swing voters. I think statistically we’ve shown that the number of people who self-identify that way has been shrinking, but they matter. We know that they’re out there. They’re people that voted for Obama in both ’08 and ’12, and then voted for Trump. It can happen again. We also know the Democratic Party has been making a real effort to try to reach some of those people, right? They’ve had some kind of sessions where they’re informing people, like, this is how you can talk to – this is how you can go on Fox News and talk to people who self-identify as Republican. These are the kinds of messages you should be using. And now you have Democratic candidates going on Fox News to do town halls. There’s clearly an effort being made there.
MR. COSTA: Not everybody.
MS. NAWAZ: Not everybody.
MR. COSTA: Senator Warren said no thanks to Fox News.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, at this point too, if you’re not getting any traction you need to make news. And I think Warren is good at that, both through, like, ideas and understanding to take on Fox, and then she’s just trying to consume as much oxygen as possible and keep the attention on her.
MR. NICHOLS: And on impeachment she did it twice, right? She did it once on the road and then once from the well of the Senate, talking about how the facts demand at least the beginnings of an impeachment proceeding.
MS. DAVIS: And when you’re the first one out and you take a very clear position, you do force the other candidates in the race to respond to your position. And I think she’s trying to use this as a foil to get people to keep talking about her.
MR. NICHOLS: Do you guys remember the Kosovo primary of 1999, right? (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: Enlighten us, Hans.
MR. NICHOLS: There was an issue of whether or not the U.S. should have a bombing campaign against Kosovo. And everyone thought John McCain won the Kosovo primary, right? He clearly outflanked George W. Bush on this issue that no one was really thinking about, and everyone started looking at John McCain really closely. Now, he ended up not winning the nomination that cycle, so it’s not a great example. But there’s going to be something between now – and there are going to be several things between now and when they actually vote in Iowa initially on these – how the candidates will really shine and really distinguish themselves.
The interesting thing about this cycle is you’re going to have the commentator in chief. You’re going to have President Trump constantly being the pundit in chief. I mean, when this debate at the end of June, the president has – you know, he’s added a stop in South Korea. The president will be meeting with President Xi, President Putin, pretty much all the world leaders in Japan. Do you think he’s going to find some time to turn on the TV and watch the debate, and maybe offer just a little bit of analysis from afar? I suspect so. And that’s what’s going to be fascinating about these next six to nine months.
MR. COSTA: The one Democrat he doesn’t have a name – a nickname for? Speaker Pelosi. It’s always just Speaker Pelosi or Nancy Pelosi. That tells you something about power and respect.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts, or watch it on our Washington Week website. While you’re there, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.