ROBERT COSTA: Tonight, on this special edition of the Washington Week Extra.
SENATOR-ELECT DOUG JONES (D-AL): (From video.) Beginning with this election, I believe we’re on the road to having a competitive two-party state without one party domination.
MR. COSTA: Alabama’s Democratic senator-elect calls for unity, while a defiant Roy Moore refuses to concede.
ROY MOORE: (From video.) We are, indeed, in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization, and our religion, and to set free a suffering humanity, and the battle rages on.
MR. COSTA: I’m Robert Costa. The Alabama election jolts the Republican and Democratic agendas, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Extra. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. A new chapter in the Trump presidency began this week with the election of Democrat Doug Jones in deep-red Alabama. Roy Moore has yet to concede defeat, and Jones’ victory raises the prospect that the 2018 midterm elections could dramatically shift the balance of power in Congress.
But before we get to that, let’s talk with Don Dailey, our friend and the host of Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal, to find out what motivated the voters of Alabama to elect a Democrat. Don, welcome to Washington Week. What did turn the race for Doug Jones in that closing stretch?
DON DAILEY: I think it was probably a combination of factors. Of course, the sexual misconduct allegations loomed large in a lot of voters’ minds this week. We spoke to a number of voters leading up to election day, and many of them said that they were going into the voting booth on Tuesday undecided as to which way they were going to vote, and would probably make a final decision once they got to the polls on Tuesday. So the sexual misconduct allegations certainly played a role, but there was also the controversies that have followed Roy Moore over his years of public service here in Alabama. His twice being removed from state Supreme Court as chief justice for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the justice building, and also for his orders on gay marriage. So Roy Moore has always been a polarizing figure in Alabama in some circles, although at the same time he’s also had a loyal base of support here.
MR. COSTA: Don, when you look at the turnout among traditional Democratic voters – African-American voters in Alabama, women – they were significantly higher this time around than we’ve seen in previous contests. Was that because this election was all about Moore and the allegations, or was part of it President Trump and his own reputation in the state?
MR. DAILEY: It was certainly, I think, to some extent about the allegations, maybe President Trump to a smaller extent. And by the same token, I think it was due to a very large and successful get-out-the-vote campaign by Doug Jones in the week or so leading up to the election on Tuesday. Doug Jones really focused hard on getting the African-American vote out. He had the support of several organizations in helping him do so, the NAACP among others, and it really paid off. Doug Jones had a great ground game here in Alabama, volunteers who literally went door-to-door shaking voters’ hands and asking for their support, with a particular emphasis on African-Americans and also younger voters, who seemed to play a role in Jones’ victory here this week.
MR. COSTA: Don, in between my visits to the barbecue joints around Birmingham, I met a lot of suburban Republicans around that city who said they would write in a different name on the ballot, and they were encouraged by Senator Richard Shelby, the veteran senator in the state. How much of an influence did Shelby have in turning out those 22,000 write-in voters?
MR. DAILEY: First, I’m glad you got to enjoy our barbecue. And, second, I think Richard Shelby was, indeed, an influence on a lot of people. There are many who are attributing those 22,000-something write-in votes that were cast on Tuesday to Richard Shelby, who of course famously said that he could not vote for Roy Moore and would instead write in the name of another Republican candidate, although Shelby never revealed who that candidate was. It’s believed that by and large many of those write-in votes cast on Tuesday were cast by Republicans who couldn’t vote for Roy Moore and also couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Democrat Doug Jones. So Richard Shelby is an elder statesman here in Alabama. He is widely respected, and it’s really believed that he had a major influence, at the very least on the number of write-in ballots that were cast.
MR. COSTA: Could this state, Don, be turning blue, or was the election an aberration? You live there. You’re on the ground. Is this a trend in Alabama, or just a fleeting moment?
MR. DAILEY: I think it’s way too early to call it a trend. Alabama is a deeply red, conservative state, and I don’t – I don’t see a major turn in things here – not yet, anyway. I think this had more to do about the controversy that surrounded Roy Moore, and whether Republicans thought he would be a viable person to serve in the U.S. Senate for us, and whether people believed the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding him. No, I don’t see this as a major turn for the Democrats here in Alabama. But Doug Jones is certainly hoping to go to Washington and to prove himself, and, as he puts it, reach across the political aisle, build bridges, and make his leadership less about party and more about the people.
MR. COSTA: He’s going to be a senator to watch, that is for sure, Don. And when can we expect him to actually be in Washington and sworn in?
MR. DAILEY: Well, at least not until after Christmas. Of course, Judge Moore has refused to concede the race. He says he wants to wait until provisional and overseas military ballots are cast before he concedes. And so the secretary of state here in Alabama says that those ballots won’t be counted and the vote won’t be certified until at least December 26th, and no later than January 3rd. So it will probably be after the first of the year before Doug Jones goes to Washington.
MR. COSTA: A Christmas gift for Alabama Democrats and Democrats nationally. We’ll all be keeping an eye on your state.
Don Dailey of Alabama Public Television, thank you.
MR. DAILEY: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
MR. COSTA: Let’s continue the conversation here. And joining me tonight, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, Jeff Zeleny of CNN, Kristen Welker of NBC News, and Shawna Thomas of VICE.
Shawna, when you look at this win, it comes about 13 months, about, since the election of President Trump. And the Democrats, ever since that election, have been in some dark, dark times. They’ve been trying to figure out their next step, who’s the leader of the party, and then suddenly out of nowhere comes an Alabama victory. What has it meant to them, especially when it comes to reviving their core coalitions?
SHAWNA THOMAS: Well, I think one thing is, as we’ve said before, you can’t read too much into special elections. But what the Democrats are going to see out of this is the fact especially that the black electorate in Alabama ended up performing at basically the same level that they did in 2008, when President Obama was originally elected. They way overperformed the amount of people that we thought would actually show up and vote. So that’s number one.
And they were spurred on by something. Some of that is, once again, Judge Roy Moore is an interesting character. Some of that is also it’s hard not to see some backlash to President Trump. And I think what the Democrats are saying is, OK, what worked there, how do we keep up that momentum into 2018, especially in a year, an off-year election, a midterm election, people don’t vote as much, people usually don’t vote in special elections, and black people turned out for this.
MR. COSTA: And that’s such an important point, because I spoke to a lot of African-American voters when I was down there, Jeff, and they said that they’re worried that the Republican Party, broadly speaking, is turning back to its past. They cited the former governor from Alabama, George Wallace, a segregationist, and they say in Roy Moore, and sometimes even in President Trump, they hear echoes of a past that makes them uncomfortable. Yet, at the White House, the White House says, the president says it’s all about the tax cut, and that’s what the Republican Party is today. How is the White House reconciling those two themes?
JEFF ZELENY: Republicans would like the president to talk about the tax cut and nothing but the tax cut. They would like him to stop talking about other matters. But that simply hasn’t been what’s happened over the last year. So there is a lot of worry among moderate Republicans, as well.
And that is one factor, I think, of a worry for Republicans going forward. Yes, this is an anomaly, so we can’t read too much into it. But there were Republicans who stayed home, who could not bring themselves to vote for Doug Jones. But I know someone whose parents live in Alabama, and they have voted as lifelong Republicans, and they did not go to the polls because they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. And the write-ins. I thought president – the president on Tuesday night, he sent out a message. He congratulated Doug Jones, but he said the write-in votes played a very big factor. Of course they did. Like, they were the winners because people can vote for them. So I think, going forward here, the brand of the Republican Party is deeply bruised, I think, to say the least. And that is a worry in other states, in other House and Senate elections.
NANCY CORDES: And I do think that the fact that the RNC decided at the end to get back into this race and back Roy Moore is a decision that is going to haunt them, because had they not done that people could have said, well, this is the president popping off, and he’s impulsive, and of course he couldn’t resist backing Roy Moore, but the party doesn’t believe in someone like Roy Moore, who has espoused racist views as recently as the last week of the race. But because the RNC did get back in and support him financially, it’s much more difficult for Republicans to make that case.
MR. COSTA: But, Nancy, when I was talking to Shelby – Senator Shelby on the Hill, he said – this was his argument back. He said to reporters: Actually, it’s better for the Republican Party that a Democrat won because Moore would have been a huge burden for the party in 2018.
MS. CORDES: Absolutely, and there was so much Republican relief on the Hill the following morning that you would have thought that they won the race. They were elated. They didn’t want to all be tied to Roy Moore come 2018. They’ve seen that movie before, you know, and they don’t enjoy it. But it does signal a challenge for the party going forward because, yes, while Steve Bannon was bruised by this experience, they know that there are going to be other candidates like Moore in 2018.
MR. COSTA: Let’s pick up on the Bannon point, because the president still talks to Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, now the head at Breitbart News. McConnell’s allies, the majority leader’s allies, hope that the Alabama race is something that broke Steve Bannon’s political back, and that the president may walk away from the Bannon wing of the party. Is that what’s going to happen inside of the White House now?
KRISTEN WELKER: Look, so far it doesn’t look like that’s happening. We know that the president spoke to Steve Bannon this week. Steve Bannon is saying that he’s just getting going, that this has only energized him more to double down on his so-called war against the establishment. What I can tell you is there are a lot more voices who are talking a lot more loudly saying to the president it is time to stop listening to Steve Bannon. Is that going to happen? I don’t see that happening at this point. But there’s no doubt this is a major blow to Steve Bannon and to his entire war against the Republican establishment.
MR. ZELENY: I think it’s going to help him. You’re right about that. Ivanka Trump, she was one of the earliest people out there saying there’s a special place in hell for someone who molests children, essentially, and she was talking about this race specifically. So I think that, yes, the president will always talk to Steve Bannon. He likes the back and forth. He has a phone list. That’s what he does in the evenings. I mean, he needs this. But I’m not as convinced that – he now has seen what happens for that, so I’m not sure that he’ll be as willing to support someone who’s going to run against, you know, a John Barrasso in Wyoming, as we talked about a few months ago. That’s not – that’s just not going to happen. But Millennials, I think, is one thing. Remember that Republican autopsy a couple years ago, that the party’s dying, basically? Millennials and other younger voters here are so concerned about what the RNC did and other things.
MS. THOMAS: And I think one point about Steve Bannon is there is a world that, had Steve Bannon not gotten involved in this, perhaps Congressman Mo Brooks – who we now know has cancer, but didn’t at the time – would have run and would have just won that seat. This wouldn’t have been an issue. We wouldn’t be having this conversation.
MR. COSTA: Shawna, when you look at – you were talking about the Democratic voters that were turning out in Alabama. Doug Jones as a candidate, was he unique? Our friend Elizabeth Drew at The New Republic was writing about how it’s going to be hard for Democrats to replicate what Doug Jones did. He’s someone who prosecuted the KKK, he had roots with the African-American community. He also came across as a moderate Democrat to white suburban voters. Are the Democrats ready to look for other Doug Joneses across the Deep South and the country?
MS. THOMAS: You know, there are some projects out there where people are looking for those people, not necessarily other Doug Joneses but who is from a community that can actually speak to that community who are also Democrats. One of the things that the Jones campaign did very well is that until I think the day of the election, we didn’t really know Joe Trippi was involved in this election.
MR. COSTA: Longtime Democratic strategist.
MS. THOMAS: Who was part of the Howard Dean campaign. And that was one thing that they did well. And Doug Jones kind of admitted it in that press conference the next day, that the Democratic Party was playing a role, and he had a big Washington, D.C. person in Joe Trippi kind of pulling some strings, but they made sure that stayed as quiet as humanly possible to keep Washington Democrats away from Alabama.
MR. COSTA: You know what Trippi was telling Jones every day? I saw Trippi whispering in Jones’ ear down there. He was saying focus on the suburban business-minded Republican. That was the pitch Jones made day in, day out.
MS. THOMAS: And there was one other thing because our correspondent, Alex Jaffe, spent – VICE News correspondent – spent a lot of time in Alabama, and a lot of times when Doug Jones, up until the very end of the race, would speak at black churches, his press people would kick the press out. If we had figured out where we were going to be, tried to get inside, they would find them and they would make sure they leave, so that that message – whatever Doug Jones was saying in those black churches was not getting out.
MS. WELKER: When you talk about the suburbs and who was turning out, and you talk to Democrats, that’s one of the things that is giving them a lot of hope that they are going to be strong heading into 2018. They say: Look at Shelby County. That’s the type of area that, first of all, President Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in that area. But in this race, Doug Jones was very strong in that area and flipped that area. So that’s the type of county suburb that they need to win in order to be strong in 2018. In addition to that, the young voters and the women. The Obama coalition.
MR. ZELENY: If Democrats would only be so lucky to have a Roy Moore in every state, though. That’s just not the reality. (Laughter.) The reality is – the reality is, Roy Moore lost this race, a Republican – you know, and other people just didn’t show up and vote for Doug Jones. But there’s no question Democrats can learn something from this. But the Democratic Party has an identity crisis of its own here. We can’t overlook that. This is not just a Republican brand issue. The Democratic Party, you know, has been pulled very left here. And it has some issues in the center. The DLC that, you know, was the heart the Clinton campaign doesn’t exist anymore. So that’s a challenge for them.
MS. THOMAS: And, you know, you said there’s only one Doug Jones, and that’s true, but he is reflective of a bigger picture, which is that Democrats have had a lot of success with recruiting this year. And they’ve got people coming out of the woodwork because they’ve been inspired to run by Donald Trump. It’s the reason they swept so many races further down the ballot in Virginia, because they had good candidates. And it has been easier than usual for Democrats this past year to recruit. And, you know, the Doug Jones experiment is replicable in that way, in the sense that if you find good candidates the base is still there. And now they’re a little less demoralized than they were before.
MR. COSTA: Nancy, you know the Senate so well. When Senator-elect Jones becomes Senator Jones, should we expect him to vote with Richard Shelby, the veteran Republican, all the time, just like an Alabama Republican would? Or is he going to be more like Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia?
MS. CORDES: I see him much more in the mold of Joe Manchin. You know, he is a Democrat. He’s already said he’s interested in working across the aisle. He’d like to – you know, he’s like to work with his fellow former Democrat, Richard Shelby, and others. But, you know, he has a lot more leverage, just like some of the more moderate Republicans do at this point, if he sort of, you know, is willing to work with the other side, but holds out in certain situations as well.
MR. COSTA: Shawna, Doug Jones supports abortion rights, yet he was able to win in Alabama. What’s the takeaway for the Democratic Party here?
MS. THOMAS: I think the takeaway is with this, I mean, he is pretty much in line with the Democratic Party. The question for them is in some of these other states – say, Missouri or other places – are you OK with running Democrats who are pro-life Democrats? Who agree with you on everything else, but on this question of abortion can’t quite get there. Is that going to be a litmus test for the party? And I feel, because of the identity crisis going on, we don’t quite know how the people in charge of the party feel about that.
MS. WELKER: Well, and you say to Democrats: How do you make sure that you don’t let this moment – this momentum lapse? What’s your message going to be? What’s the unifying force going to be? And they still struggle to answer that question. And I think to answer questions like –
MS. THOMAS: Other than anti-Donald Trump.
MS. WELKER: Exactly, to answer questions like the one you’re asking –
MR. ZELENY: But it’s interesting how Donald Trump, though, he has inspired people to run for office. But in the fundraising realm, it’s not helped Democrats hardly at all. The Democratic National Committee is facing a big financial crisis, almost. And that’s been really surprising to me, that Donald Trump has not been as good of a fundraising apparatus for liberals. That could change in the coming year, like once people focus on the Senate and other things. And the Senate is in play now, no question. It’s – the Democrats still have a tough road, but it’s in play.
MR. COSTA: If the Senate’s in play, Nancy, what’s going to happen on Capitol Hill next year? Could this actually jolt the legislative agenda? Could an infrastructure bipartisan bill come forward? Could someone – something on social policy move forward? I know the Republican movement on taxes this week shows that they’re moving still in a partisan direction. But President Trump did call Doug Jones. He’s a former Democrat. He knows he may need Jones next year.
MS. CORDES: Right. And there’s suddenly going to be a lot more time on the legislative calendar if Republicans are able to push through tax reform. I mean, the entire last eight months have been completely filled with debate over taxes and health care. And we really are, in a way, starting the new year kind of refreshed. And there is an opportunity for bipartisanship. But even when it comes to infrastructure, something both sides say they want, they have very different ideas about how it should be funded, how big it should be. And so you kind of run into the same old divisions.
MR. COSTA: Let’s think about what else is going to cloud up the legislative agenda next year, because it could be more acrimony. You could see President Trump continuing to battle Democrats. And remember, on the same day Roy Moore was defeated, the national conversation over sexual harassment was the backdrop. And the president got into a very public Twitter spat with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She called on him to resign. The New York Democrat believes the president should step down now over the sexual harassment allegations from his past that came up during last year’s election. Mr. Trump shot back with a suggestive tweet that said Gillibrand used to come to his office begging for campaign donations and would, quote, “do anything for them.” Gillibrand responded in kind, in a tweet. She tweeted, “You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.”
Shawna, this is an emerging voice in the Democratic Party. And President Trump, as we keep saying, he lost in Alabama, he Republicans move forward on taxes. But the sexual harassment allegations continue to be a cloud. And it’s enabling Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand to step forward.
MS. THOMAS: I think the one thing President Trump did with that tweet – well, he did two things. One, I think it was offensive toward Senator Gillibrand. But, two, the other thing he did was say: Senator Gillibrand, I’d like you to run for president. (Laughter.) That’s – I mean, that’s what that tweet was. It elevated her status. And she already had some of that with the military sexual assault, military rape situation which she has been championing, changing the system in the military. She’s in front of the situation on Capitol Hill. But it’s also he made her, in some ways – while trying to demean her – made her his equal.
MR. COSTA: When you look at the White House and they think about Roy Moore getting bogged down in Alabama by sexual misconduct allegations, do they feel like the sexual misconduct allegations against President Trump are going to be revived day in, day out next year in the midterms?
MS. WELKER: I have had some of the angriest conversations with top officials about this very topic. They make the point this was litigated. President Trump was elected into office. He’s denied all of these allegations. I do think President Trump privately felt a connection, to some extent, to what Roy Moore was going through, because he denied the allegations as well. I think they’re starting to realize this is a national moment. This conversation is not going away. Lawmakers like Kirsten Gillibrand are going to continue to keep it in the headlines.
I do think there is a political component, though, to what we saw unfold this week. This is an issue that Senator Gillibrand has cared about for a long, long time, has talked about for a long time. But she’s really flexed her muscles in recent weeks. She was the first Democrat to call on Senator Al Franken to resign. And remember, she broke with the Clintons and said effectively that former President Bill Clinton should have stepped down. That infuriated a lot of Democrats, but it was a power play, I think, to some extent.
MR. COSTA: The Democrats – that’s such a good point – because Democrats seem to be, with Gillibrand’s move on Franken, the talk about President Clinton, clear the field in their own party so they can take on a political shot at President Trump.
MR. ZELENY: Sort of, but it’s a pretty – it’s still a pretty large bench of Democratic senators who want to run for president. Now, there aren’t many governors. The party is basically decimated at the state capital level. But Senator Elizabeth Warren, she rallied to Kirsten Gillibrand’s defense very quickly, in a very pointed way, using “slut shame” in a tweet defending her. She’ll likely run for president. But I think that the – again, the Democratic Party here has some of its own issues to work out. It’s an old party, in some respects, with Bernie Sanders lingering.
But I think the White House – in the briefings that Kristen and I are at most every day, the White House says, no, these are asked and answered, all these allegations. But it’s a different moment in this conversation. It’s much different than a year ago. You can ask if, you know, perhaps the election of President Trump was one of the reasons this conversation’s going on now. But I think that going forward it’s going to be a rallying point for Democratic women and women voters in 2018.
MR. COSTA: Everything’s changed.
MS. WELKER: Right. And there’s a moral case that Democrats are making. Why is it that the president seems to be getting off scot-free when a lot of other powerful men have not? But there’s really a political approach here too, which is that this is a winning argument for them again, and again, and again. It will never go away, because he will never acknowledge that any of these women could be right, which means it’s just a club that Democrats can use over and over again to beat him up with, especially when we’ve arrived at this pivotal moment.
MR. COSTA: And, quickly, any movement on Capitol Hill in terms of changing the protocols or the process for sexual harassment?
MS. WELKER: The legislation is moving very quickly. And, you know, Gillibrand is one of the driving forces, but there are Republicans who are signing on as well and say an overhaul like this of congressional rules is well overdue.
MR. COSTA: We’ll have to leave it there. And we’ll keep an eye on that whole process. And thanks, everybody, for joining us tonight. I appreciate it.
Remember, if you miss our show or this Washington Week Extra, you can find it later tonight and all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for watching, and have a great weekend.