ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra. Let’s take a look at what happened this week in the 2020 presidential race. Candidates campaigned in early-voting states for the July 4th holiday, and the debate over last week’s Democratic presidential debate continues. Senator Kamala Harris of California, she’s rising in the polls, and former Vice President Joe Biden is still having to answer questions about her critique of his record. Vice President Biden also took aim at President Trump in an interview with CNN on Friday.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I come out of a generation where we were trying to be the policeman of the world. We can’t go every place. We need allies. He is absolutely dissing them. He’s embracing thugs. He’s embracing Kim Jong-un, who is a thug. He’s embracing Putin, who is a – who is a flat dictator. And he’s stiff-arming our friends. He’s threatening NATO, to pull out of NATO. I mean, come on.
MR. COSTA: Plus, new fundraising numbers show South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised nearly 25 million (dollars) in the second quarter. Mr. Biden, he raised 21.5 million (dollars). Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont raised 18 million (dollars) and Senator Harris raised nearly 12 million (dollars). President Trump’s campaign and allied GOP committees raised a combined 105 million (dollars) in the second quarter.
Joining me tonight to discuss it all, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; Amna Nawaz, national correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief for VICE News; and Brian Bennett, White House correspondent for TIME Magazine.
We saw from the president a lot of talk about immigration, but really on the Democratic side it’s Vice President Biden versus Senator Harris, and it’s still playing out.
SHAWNA THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, I think we were all curious about whether especially a debate that had 10 people on one night, 10 people on another night, would anyone actually learn anything from it. And as it turns out, we learned that Vice President Biden wasn’t ready for the question, and I think he is trying to make this argument that, like, we need to move forward and talk about what our policies should be moving forward. But the thing is, if you’re the guy who is running as the guy who has all this experience – which is what he is running as – then you are going to have to learn how to answer questions about all the positions you have taken and figure out how to pivot better, and he didn’t do a great job of that.
MR. COSTA: And she needed a moment, if you look at that fundraising number. She only raised 12 million (dollars). She’s behind the pack. So she was looking for a breakout. She got it; does it last?
BRIAN BENNETT: That’s a great question. I think she definitely was able to break out and distinguish herself in that. She also exposed the frontrunner. She exposed that Biden just hadn’t done the deep thinking on race today. I mean, he’s had a long track record of working on civil rights issues but he hasn’t done the deep thinking about what all that means today and in the context of today’s voters, and it looks like the polls are showing that impact.
MR. COSTA: And we see in the 2020 field on immigration a lot of these candidates are talking about decriminalizing border crossings. When you talk to voters, could that be a political problem for them in a general election, or not?
AMNA NAWAZ: I think, you know, most of the Democratic early voters I’ve talked to so far – and I was in Iowa a few months ago as well, talking to people who are kind of eyeing the Democratic field – immigration is just one of those, like, we don’t want to do what the current president is doing. (Laughs.) So basically, they have not gotten to the level of detail of, like, whether we get rid of Code 1325 in the immigration code or not; like, no one’s quite there yet. That’s going to be something that works itself out, I think, on the debate stage, and there’s a lot of different thoughts of school about how to best approach that. Most of the people I’ve talked to so far are basically saying, OK, I’m going to have my favorites, but the debate stage is going to be a great place for those arguments and the field to thin itself out, but what I’m really looking for is who is going to beat President Trump and that’s going to top everything else.
MR. COSTA: Well, let’s look at the latest poll. According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll of Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden remains ahead of his rivals; 29 percent say Biden is their top pick. Senator Sanders is second with 23 percent. And Senator Harris and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, they’re tied in third place with 11 percent. When you look at where this race stands, Biden is still at the top, Harris surging, Warren and Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders all kind of hovering. What do you make of the whole state of play?
PETER BAKER: Well, look, we’re very early, obviously. It is a good moment for Kamala Harris. The question is, do you want to peak too early? We’ve seen this happen before where two candidates end up getting into a slugfest and they end up both damaging each other to the point where somebody else comes forward. So you know, we wouldn’t have said at this point, you know, in previous cycles that we had a sense of where the nomination was going to end up. I think the trick for Vice President Biden isn’t that he’s necessarily even arguing about segregation and busing; the question is that he’s arguing about the 1970s, right, and we’re – and we’re hearing into the 2020s. And if you’re a party outside of power, your typical argument is we’re the party of fresh ideas, we’re the party of change. And is he going to be able to sell himself as the party of change or, in fact, is his argument come down to what you just said, which is I’m the guy who’s going to take out Trump? How long will that argument sell for him?
MR. COSTA: Well, what about – what about Buttigieg? Mayor Buttigieg is running as that generational change candidate. He’s at the top in terms of fundraising, but he’s lagging in the polls. What explains the gap?
MS. THOMAS: Well, I mean, I think we’ve seen those polls that are out of South Carolina, but he is not polling that well with the black community and African Americans are a major part of the Democratic base. And you know, if you – if you take a look very specifically at South Carolina, older black Americans who are – who are highly religious, there is an issue there with the gay community, and he is going to have to figure out how to message around that to a certain extent.
MR. COSTA: How do you make – what do you make of his handling of the South Bend police shooting? Does that –
MS. THOMAS: Well, that’s another thing that people –
MR. COSTA: But the way he addressed it in the debate, was that enough to try to maybe win support from some black voters in South Carolina and elsewhere?
MS. THOMAS: I don’t think so.
MR. COSTA: Not yet at least.
MS. THOMAS: I think he is going – not yet, and I think people are going to have to keep reporting on what else is going to be done in South Bend, Indiana. I think people will be paying a lot of attention to it and he is going to have to figure out how to message it a little bit better. But it’s not great.
MR. COSTA: When you’re talking to your sources at the White House and they see this Democratic field, what do they – what do they see?
MR. BENNETT: Well, they were definitely worried about Biden, because there is a concern that Biden could take away some of the Democrats who voted for Trump in Rust Belt states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and others. And they’re starting to not worry quite as much about Biden. When we talked to Trump in the Oval Office, he mentioned Warren and Warren’s surge. I think he felt like she had a really strong debate performance and would be a tougher adversary in a debate performance or going head-to-head on points.
MR. COSTA: And, I mean, Senator Warren is really competing against Senator Sanders for that progressive Democrat.
MS. NAWAZ: That’s right, and her, you know, “I have a plan for that” line has been catching on. People are seeing her do better and better in small rooms and big rooms. Those details are coming forward and setting her apart in a way that others haven’t. But what I will say, just to echo what Shawna had said earlier, was that the fact that race is coming up again and again as the kind of issue that can either help to push someone forward and give them a boost or really bring them down and show their weaknesses, I think we’re going to be seeing more of in the months ahead. That and climate change I think are two things that the Democratic candidates are going to have to get their messaging tight on.
They’re going to have to know exactly where they stand. The fact that Biden didn’t have an answer for that that was in some way sufficient on the busing issue was, quite frankly, really shocking. And the reason it resonates is because it’s not about the past. It’s not necessarily about the decisions he made 40 years ago. It’s about the fact that we still live in a highly segregated country. On busing alone, right, like more than half of American schoolchildren go to what they call racially concentrated schools. It’s very much a reality for a lot of people out there who are going to be voting.
MS. THOMAS: And they want to know that Joe Biden has some idea of what they are going through. I think the other problem for Vice President Biden – and maybe this will end up not being a problem – is that he has a lot of name ID, and he has a lot of name recognition. And he was President Barack Obama’s vice president. Much like Hillary Clinton, in some ways, the only way to go is down if everyone already knows who you are.
MR. COSTA: What about that CNN interview? He’s talking about NATO and he’s talking about foreign policy. Why hasn’t he faced a lot of heat so far on his vote for the Iraq War – to authorize it? He’s running as this Democrat who will return things to normality in terms of U.S. foreign relations. Not really getting called out on the Iraq War in the same way Secretary Clinton was in previous runs.
MR. BAKER: Yeah. I think Eric Swalwell at one point, the congressman from California, said how about the Iraq vote. But I think you’re right, most of them aren’t because most of them aren’t really comfortable, I think, with foreign policy themselves. And I don’t think that they think that foreign policy is the terrain on which they’re going to win the nomination, right? That the electorate out there, on the Democratic side anyways, is animated and exercised. But they’re exercised about health care. They’re exercised about economics. They’re exercised about race or immigration, perhaps, but not about, you know, are we doing a better job in our alliance.
By the way, we have to point out, that the vice president there had a Trumpian moment where he exaggerated beyond the facts, where he says President Trump wants to pull out of NATO. That’s not what President Trump is saying. He has been tough on NATO, but President – Vice President Biden has to be careful that he’s going to get into the same position that sometimes President Trump gets in, by stretching facts in a way that gets him in trouble.
MS. THOMAS: But maybe there’s a CNN producer watching, and they’ll add an Iraq War question to the debate in a few weeks. You never know. (Laughs.)
MR. BAKER: There you go. Let’s find out. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: It was interesting this week, Jeh Johnson, the former Obama official, warned the Democrats to not go too far to the left on immigration. He said – are you hearing that from some Obama officials and others on the immigration front, that maybe the Democratic candidates are pulling the party too far to the left?
MS. NAWAZ: You know, earlier Shawna had mentioned that the Obama administration had also struggled with their own surge of people arriving from Central America across the southern border. No administration has figured out how to handle it both politically and logistically really well. I think the Obama administration – I’ve talked to people who were part of managing that surge – did the best they can under extraordinary circumstances. It’s a very difficult issue.
There is both how that is perceived back here, in your home country in terms of the politics and in terms of how you handle people who are coming. Our immigration system is fairly and objectively a total mess. (Laughter.) It needs an overhaul. And there’s also the issue of how you handle things abroad. And it’s that rare kind of bringing together of foreign policy – which is not a strong point for a lot of the Democrats – and politics of immigration here. So it’s not a winning issue necessarily, other than to say: We won’t do what this administration is doing.
MS. THOMAS: But if – but if the president of the United States can basically say to whoever – whichever Democrat ends up winning the nomination, call the – say that they’re for open borders, whatever open borders means. If he can frame them that way, there are a lot of people who I think that sounds weird. Like, that – are we just going to let people just walk across the border, and everyone gets to come? And that’s not really what anyone means, but the president can make that argument. And that might be a really – that might be a difficult argument for someone to fight against if they’re a Democrat.
MR. COSTA: A final thought, Brian, for the Extra. I promised we would talk about Justin Amash a little bit more, the Michigan congressman, a libertarian Republican. Leaves the GOP – was a libertarian Republican. Leaves the GOP. Could he run for president in 2020 and be a threat, not to win the presidency, but to take enough votes away from President Trump to be a problem in some states?
MR. BENNETT: So there’s some concern inside Trump’s circles that Amash may try to run as a Libertarian candidate and could be a spoiler in certain important states. We saw how thin the margin was in 2016. I mean, it really came down to tens of thousands of votes in a few – handful of states. And so there’s a concern that someone like Justin Amash being on the ticket could be a spoiler for Trump.
MR. COSTA: That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. And see you next time.