ROBERT COSTA: The Electoral College, should it be abolished? Does the Supreme Court need to add more justices? Should Election Day be a national holiday?
Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra. This week we will discuss what the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are saying about those issues and others, all as their party works to win back the White House.
Joining us to discuss it all, Anita Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO; Michael Tackett, political reporter for The New York Times; Lisa Desjardins, congressional correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; and Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post.
Here are some of the ideas that have been floated around so far from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): (From video.) My view is that every vote matters – (applause) – and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.
SOUTH BEND MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D): (From video.) We need to begin the debate on what it will take to make sure our Supreme Court is less political.
MR. COSTA: Beyond those, there are more proposals out there. Some Democratic hopefuls are pushing for Medicare for All, reparations for descendants of slaves, among many other issues. President Trump, watching these debates, had some sharp words for calls to end the Electoral College.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) The only reason is – that they’re doing that is they want to try and catch up. So if they can’t catch up through the ballot box by winning an election, they want to try doing it in a different way. Now, we would have no interest in that whatsoever. It’ll never happen. It won’t happen – I guarantee you it won’t happen for six years.
MR. COSTA: Michael, you’ve covered presidential campaigns before. Is this what a party does every four years, test out new ideas, or is there something different about the Democrats this time?
MICHAEL TACKETT: I think these – the range of these ideas are really unusual and interesting. I haven’t heard the one about the Electoral College very many times before. I haven’t heard the idea of packing the Supreme Court, you know, since Franklin Roosevelt tried to do it. So they are – they’re road-testing a lot of things, and I think that they’re appealing to the segments of their party where they’re just trying to create some energy because several of the candidates have said you have to do more than just listen to Donald Trump and respond to Donald Trump; you have to talk about people and their lives and what you want to do for them.
MR. COSTA: And we see this pull in Congress with people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the new representative from New York. Is she pulling the party and this field in that direction?
LISA DESJARDINS: She’s certainly pulling the conversation in that direction. But it’s interesting because she’s part of a group of really just four freshmen that are kind of on that very progressive wing and that are moving the conversation. There are many more freshmen who are in the middle and are in purple districts and who are at risk because of the conversation. We saw this week Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger in her district being asked: Do you support Nancy Pelosi or not? She’s regularly asked: Are you a socialist? So for Democrats like middle-ground Abigail Spanberger, they have to walk a tricky line and they have to say, no, Democrats are not socialists. But the party right now is going through a very vigorous ideas debate, so vigorous I’m having kind of bad dreams about it at night – there’s almost too many ideas – (laughter) – but it’s – but it’s good to follow. It’s good for the party if they can continue the discussion on specifics.
ANITA KUMAR: Except that you hear some criticism from people saying they’ve gone too far left and really they need to keep their eye on the ball, they need to keep their eye on just defeating Donald Trump. And can they defeat Donald Trump with those ideas in a general election? And some people are saying no and that they should kind of move back towards the middle.
MR. COSTA: Let’s actually hear from one of those people, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He had some choice words about his party this week.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: (From video.) And I had assembled a team all ready to go. But at some point you got to say, look, I would be 79 years old when I took office, but it’s just not going to happen on a national level for somebody like me starting where I am unless I was willing to change all my views and go on what CNN called an apology tour. (Laughter.) Joe Biden went out and apologized for being male, over 50, white. Everybody else – Beto or whatever his name is – he’s apologized for being born.
MR. COSTA: Is there room in a party with these new ideas to have a moderate – Mayor Bloomberg chose not to run – to have a moderate center-left candidate win the nomination?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think Mayor Bloomberg had some specific issues. One, a billionaire kind of friend of Wall Street is not where the Democratic base is in this election. You notice that in that clip he didn’t talk about specific issues. He talked about kind of, you know, older, white, and all those are part of the reason. But the party has moved from where he is. And, you know, he was a Republican for a while, then he was an independent, and now he’s a Democrat again. He’s – you know, he’s jumped parties for his own political expediency.
The Democratic platform in 2020 will be the most liberal platform the Democrats have ever endorsed. What that means in practical terms is a whole ’nother question. We are seeing people embrace Medicare for All or the Green New Deal without feeling any obligation to endorse all of the specifics. What they’re saying is: These are ambitious goals. They suggest a sense of urgency about problems that need to be dealt with. I will put my name behind that. But I’m not going to sign up to whatever Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks is the right path to do it.
MR. COSTA: Is that dynamic hovering over former Vice President Biden as he makes his decision? Is he thinking about the same things Mayor Bloomberg was thinking about?
MR. BALZ: Well, he is, probably in a different way. I mean, he has a 40 year-plus record. And there are a number of issues where he has taken positions over the years that in today’s context are problematic – whether it was how he dealt with the Anita Hill hearings back during the Justice Thomas confirmation, his position on bussing back in the ’70s, the crime bill in 1994. There are a series of things that he’s going to have to explain. I’m not saying he will apologize for them. But he’s going to have to explain them in the current context.
MR. TACKETT: If they’re going to win the election, they have to do more than animate the population centers on the coasts. And so some of these ideas are not going to work. And so I think you’re also seeing a continuum proposed. Pete Buttigieg, for instance, the mayor of South Bend said he would endorse something like Medicare for everybody who needs it, as opposed to Medicare for All. Keep a private insurance system. I think a lot of people now agree that that’s probably where the Democrats will land, something closer to that than to Medicare for All. And Donald Trump, remember, in his State of the Union address, sort of laid down the marker and said: You know, it’s socialism. We must avoid that. And you can just bet that that’s going to be the anthem of his campaign, that the Democrats are socialists.
MR. BALZ: One example is Governor Inslee of Washington, who is running his campaign on a single issue of climate change. And I talked to him recently when he was here for the National Governors Association meeting. And I asked him about the 2030 target that is in the Green New Deal – one of the Green New Deal fact papers that Ocasio-Cortez has favored. And he said, no, no. Not 2030. Maybe 2050. So even somebody who is making that the single focus of his campaign is not taking the most dramatic or radical position on it.
MS. DESJARDINS: I was going to say, my one theory of politics that I feel safe enough to say in public – (laughter) – is that it does not work out when someone runs who expects to sort of be consoled for not having won a previous time. And I think that’s a danger for Joe Biden. You know, we saw it didn’t work out for Hillary Clinton, John McCain 2000 and 2008, Mitt Romney. It goes all the way back to Bob Dole. The American people in the last 20 years have voted for the freshest candidate that they’ve seen.
MR. COSTA: We’re going to have to 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 the Washington Week 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.