ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
The first week of public impeachment inquiries wrapped up on Friday, so let’s continue our conversation from the program. Joining me at the table: Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Heather Caygle, congressional reporter for POLITICO; and Michael Crowley, White House correspondent covering foreign policy for The New York Times.
We finished up, Dan, talking about this country being divided, Republicans sticking with President Trump. There’s a gubernatorial race in Louisiana on Saturday, just a few days after Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin was defeated in a red state. Could the Louisiana race, if John Bel Edwards, the incumbent Democrat, wins, could that rattle Republican ranks, or is it just another datapoint that’s not going to be deeply considered by the GOP?
DAN BALZ: Louisiana is probably a little less important than Kentucky was because in Kentucky you had an incumbent governor, Republican, voted out of office, whereas here it would be a Democrat governor who’s retained if that is the case. Republicans would certainly celebrate if they were able to knock him off and they would make a big thing out of it. The reality is Louisiana is a very red state in terms of presidential politics, so in terms of the long run I think it has less impact than Kentucky.
MR. COSTA: Heather, Democrats did so well in the suburbs in 2018. When they look at the suburban vote in 2020, do they feel like impeachment helps them to expand that coalition or not?
HEATHER CAYGLE: There’s definitely a concern that not is the answer. There was a private meeting on Thursday after Pelosi’s public bribery comments where at least half a dozen moderate freshman Democrats, ones that had flipped Republican districts in the last cycle, stood up and went to the mics and said we need to pass President Trump’s trade deal, we need to do it by the end of the year, we need something to take home that is not impeachment. And so that shows for them there is still significant concern about how impeachment could backfire in their districts. And some were even – they even were strong enough to say we might not come back next year and you won’t have your majority to a lot of other Democrats who are in safe seats, and that’s pretty strong wording to tell your colleagues even if it is in private.
MR. COSTA: That’s a great point about the USMCA – Democrats, some of them, calling for it. The White House knows that, Yamiche. The White House also looks at the stock market, a record high in the stock market this week. So do they feel good about what their agenda is, even though it’s stalled? Do they feel good about their outlook for 2020 running a grievance campaign, running on some of these points about the USMCA and the economy?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: They do feel good, and President Trump in between his tweets attacking Ambassador Yovanovitch tweeted that the economy was going great. So what you have is President Trump also intertwining his policy in the middle of all this impeachment inquiry news. There’s also this idea that President Trump today, as he was making the comments basically defending himself and defending his tweets, he was at a healthcare policy event where he was saying that I’m focused on trying to lower healthcare costs. So the White House has been making the case that Democrats are wasting a lot of time and they should be focusing on more legislative goals. The only issue is that the White House has a lot of things that it also hasn’t made clear, one of those being the gun policy. I was told months ago that the White House policy on guns was going to be coming; it has not really come yet. We’re still waiting on that. So there are some things that the president can take to his base and say look what I’ve accomplished for you, but there are also some legislative goals that they haven’t accomplished yet.
MR. COSTA: Michael, what about on foreign policy? Republicans saw the president; some of them even met in the Oval Office with President Trump and President Erdogan of Turkey this week. The U.S. – the Trump administration working in a pretty friendly way with Turkey, despite how Turkey’s handling Syria and the Kurds. And they also see President Zelensky of Ukraine turning potentially to Russia to try to broker a peace in that hot war in Ukraine, in Crimea. Could the Republican hawks start to break, or do they just – are they trying to figure out and navigate this on their own while still sticking with the president?
MICHAEL CROWLEY: I mean, you would think if there is anything that would cause them to break it would be a fundamental part of Russia policy like our having Ukraine’s back. You know, Republicans in the Senate really feel deeply about standing up to Vladimir Putin, Russian aggression. Remember, Mitt Romney when he ran in 2012 said that Russia was the greatest geopolitical threat, and Barack Obama ridiculed him, and in many ways Romney was vindicated. And that has been a through line for Republicans, particularly ones who are focused on national security, for the subsequent several years. But even in this case, where we’ve seen that, you know, President Trump now, it’s not clear that he does have Ukraine’s back, the Ukrainians are trying to figure out where they go from here, how much can we count on the Americans, Putin and Zelensky are kind of circling each other in some new ways, testing some new diplomacy.
And let me just say quickly in general when you zoom out President Trump’s foreign policy is just where is it, what is it. I mean, the North Korea talks are dead in the water. The North Koreans are warning if we don’t get something going by the end of the year they may go back to a much more aggressive posture. An effort to have a peace deal with the Taliban completely fell apart. The Middle East peace deal of the century that Jared Kushner was going to roll out never seems to come, and Israel doesn’t have a government – it’s not clear when they’ll have one. What are – and then of course Turkey and Syria, a total scrambled egg. What are President Trump’s accomplishments? The talking points are a little – are more than a little murky for him right now, and it’s hard to see where he takes it for the next year. Everything is very unclear.
MR. BALZ: You can add to that, you know, the talks with China and Iran, two other very big foreign policy initiatives, if you will, that he’s undertaken that, you know, he’s not been able to bring full circle.
MR. COSTA: Well, does the president, though, Dan, pay a cost? I mean, Larry Kudlow, the national economic advisor is out there today saying there is progress on China. The markets love that – those comments. The markets soared after Kudlow spoke. But you don’t really have commitments from China on the number they’re going to do in terms of agricultural purchases. You don’t have a real commitment from the U.S. on tariffs. So it’s TBD on China trade. And, as we’ve been discussing USMCA hangs in the balance. Does he pay a cost on trade in the Midwest in 2020 if this stuff doesn’t happen?
MR. BALZ: Potentially, yes. But the farmers in the rural areas of Iowa, and Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and some of the other places, still are more pro-Trump than anti-Trump, despite all of this. And they’ve poured billions of dollars into those, you know, farms. So they’re doing everything they can to alleviate the pain. But if – you know, as we’ve said, if this goes on another year he’s likely to pay some price. And in a number of those states, you know, a little bit can go a long way in defeating him. So he doesn’t have a big cushion. In Iowa he does, but in Wisconsin, for example, he doesn’t.
So but I think that for Trump, and for the election, so much of it is kind of the totality of his presidency, rather than specific policies. People will grasp onto different things, but as we’ve seen in a number of the special elections and as we saw in the midterm, there is energy on the left – or, on the Democratic side to end his presidency. And there is energy on his side to preserve it. And it all revolves around him.
MR. COSTA: Let’s stick with that point, because what’s happening with Chairman Schiff and Speaker Pelosi, that’s one world of the Democratic Party. But a new candidate entered the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign this week, Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts. He launched his bid. Patrick has tried to position himself as a candidate who can win over both moderate and progressive voters. We see Michael Bloomberg coming in, the former New York mayor, Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor. What’s happening in the Democratic Party? Is there uneasiness about Senator Warren and Senator Sanders? Is it as easy to explain as that? Is it Vice President Biden perhaps not surging ahead in the polls?
MS. CAYGLE: I certainly think that Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg believe that. I mean, they see an opening, or they probably wouldn’t jump in. I talked to several Democrats on the Hill though this week to see what they thought, and a lot of Democrats in the House are very loyal to President Biden – or, Vice President Biden, even if they haven’t endorsed him. You know, specifically in the Congressional Black Caucus. And I talked to senior members of the CBC to see if they were thinking about changing – if this changes their calculation at all. And they said, no, not really. If anything, this encourages us to come out more vocally for Biden and sooner rather than later. And there is some talk of having these members even go down to South Carolina soon and make a big public show of support.
And what they said to me is, particularly with Deval Patrick, he doesn’t have a presence on the Hill, and he doesn’t have a presence in the African American community to them. And so, I mean, for them the calculus is not really changing that much. But obviously these guys think that they have a chance, or why else would they jump in?
MS. ALCINDOR: As I hear you talking about the Congressional Black Caucus I’m thinking about the reporting that I did in South Carolina. And what I knew was – going down there – was that president – that Vice President Joe Biden had a lot of support among African American voters. What I learned was that a lot of voters see Joe Biden as an extension of President Obama’s decision making. So it’s not just that they think, oh, this is someone who was with Obama, so I like him.
This is someone that’s saying, oh, well, President Obama looked at him, saw him, vetted him, kept him for eight years, and said this is somebody that I want by my side for my entire presidency. As African American voters are looking at other candidates they’re saying, well, why would I overrule what was OK for Obama? So I think that that’s something that’s really, really cementing people’s support with Joe Biden, and something that I learned. And it was somewhat surprising to me how much people were loyal to Joe Biden.
MR. COSTA: When you step back, Dan, you think about Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend mayor, as Vice President Biden had struggled he had started to gain some traction in many polls. Does Bloomberg’s possible entry, from Mayor Bloomberg, and the entry of Governor Patrick complicate Buttigieg’s path?
MR. BALZ: Well, potentially it does, but we’re going to – we’re going to have a situation in which, particularly with Mayor Bloomberg, he’s not going to be involved in the conversation in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, or Nevada – the four early states. He’s going to – we’re assuming he’s probably going to get in sometime next week. He’s going to be focused on super Tuesday, which comes right after those four states. So for Mayor Buttigieg, he’s got an opening in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He has moved up in both of those states.
How much a Bloomberg entry will affect voters’ thinking in those two states, it’s way too soon to know that. But he still has an opportunity to score well. And that could scramble – you know, scramble the deck at that point. So we just have to wait and see. The Bloomberg strategy is a very unconventional strategy, but it is backed by a ton of money. And nobody – you know, nobody underestimates the potential that that money could have an impact. But it’s a difficult strategy. For Deval Patrick, for Governor Patrick, it’s even more difficult because he doesn’t bring the resources that Mayor Bloomberg can bring to it.
MR. COSTA: We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our Washington Week website. While you’re online check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us and see you next time.