Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
An insurrection at the US Capitol Building on Wednesday has us taking stock of democracy in America this hour. We start with-
Grace Segers: Grace Segers, political reporter for CBS News. I was in the Capitol on Wednesday, reporting mainly from the Senate Chamber.
Amy: What started as a historic day in the Capitol, where for only the third time in history Congress was debating whether to overturn the votes of thousands of Americans, ended with violence and tragedy.
Grace: Well, it's funny. I did expect it to be a bit of a weird day because of the inherently unusual thing of having dozens of Republicans challenge the election results in several states, which is pretty much unprecedented.
Paul Gosar: Mr. Vice President, I, Paul Gosar from Arizona [crosstalk]--
Mike Pence: To what purpose does the gentlemen from Arizona rise?
Paul: I rise up, both for myself and 60 of my colleagues, to object to the-
[Paul Gosar trails off]
Grace: A difficult day. A day which would require a lot of concentration and very exactness in my reporting. Then everything was just flipped upside down so suddenly.
You can't have electronics in the Senate Chamber. What I usually do is I'm in there for about 30 minutes or so, and then I'll come out for 5 minutes to write an email to my editors, let everyone in the bureau know what's going on. I had actually come out of the chamber and was in the press gallery writing an email and then all of a sudden, I heard a Senate gallery staffer shout, "Pence has left." He had just been taken out of the room, and I assumed that it was for security purposes.
My first thought was, "Oh, wow, I guess those protesters outside have gotten a bit more rowdy." Then the next thing I knew, there was a Capitol police officer at the door of the Senate Press Gallery saying, "Lock the door now," just shouting it through the room, and I realized, "Oh, my God, this is serious."
Then the officer was telling all of us who were in the press gallery outside of the chamber, "You need to grab your stuff and you need to get inside the chamber, and we are going to lock you inside the chamber." Definitely, kind of illegally, [chuckles] took my phone and laptop into the chamber. because I needed to tell my editors that I was alive, and to also tell my loved ones that I was okay. The next thing I knew, the doors were being locked behind us.
The press gallery sort of overlooks the Senate Chamber floor. It's like the lip of a fish bowl, and the reporters are looking over this lip into the fishbowl where all the Senators are on the floor. It was very clear that something was wrong. All Senators pretty much were on their phones, standing, looking extremely stressed, and there were police officers all around the doors.
Senator Amy Klobuchar put on kind of her best mom voice and shouted, "Shots have been fired. Get away from the doors. This is serious." There came a point where all of a sudden, Senators were being evacuated, and it seemed for a moment that they were going to leave the reporters in the Senate Chamber. Which would have been very unfortunate as rioters broke into the chamber just moments after Senators had left.
Fortunately, a Senate gallery staff shouted down, "Hey, what about us?" Police officers just told us, "Okay, follow the Senators." They were literally steps away.
Amy: Grace, there's been a lot of criticism about how Capitol Police responded, and we've already seen at least one resignation. From your perspective and what you saw, both before all of this happened in terms of the preparation for security going in that day and then as you were being evacuated, what was your perspective on this?
Grace: Well, going into the Capitol in the morning, it seemed pretty normal to me. Even though I wasn't starting work until about 11:00, I got there at about 9:00 due to security concerns. But going into the Capitol, it was the same security process as ever. I just showed my badge and went through the X-ray machine and things seemed pretty normal.
As for once the crisis really started, it's very hard for me to say. Because from my individual perspective, the Capitol Police did a good job of getting the Senators and getting reporters out of there, and safely ushering us to a secondary location. In that location, we were just surrounded by security, both police officers, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, just a whole bunch of officers.
From that perspective, I have to say I felt as if the officers taking care of us did a very good job. On the other hand, people stormed the Capitol. Rioters, domestic terrorists took control of our nation's capital. That just speaks to a massive failure at some level. I do think leadership of Capitol Police should be held accountable. I do think that the individual members of Capitol Police who were taking selfies with these rioters should also be held accountable.
I don't think there's an easy answer to that because there are many people I saw who were risking their lives to protect Senators and us, but there were others I know who weren't taking those same precautions, so it's a hard situation.
Amy: Grace Segers is a political reporter for CBS News. Since the attack at the Capitol on Wednesday, there've been calls to invoke the 25th Amendment. In a prerecorded video on Thursday night, President Donald Trump, still clinging to the lie that the election was stolen from him, acknowledged that a new administration will be sworn in.
President Donald Trump: My campaign vigorously pursued every legal avenue to contest the election results. My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote. In so doing, I was fighting to defend American democracy.
Amy: A flurry of Trump administration officials have announced their resignations, and articles of impeachment are expected to be brought to the House floor. The ugliness apparent in Wednesday's attack on the US Capitol is something that will be seared in our collective conscience for some time.
We've long watched as President Trump and the right-wing echo chamber repeat lie after lie and use divisive rhetoric to insight his base. But as President Trump prepares to leave the White House in the coming weeks, those who remain in Washington will have to deal with the loyalty he's fomented among his base and the anger that's been released.
Joining me to discuss how we got to this moment and where we go from here is Adam Serwer, staff writer at The Atlantic covering politics; and Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker.
Adam Serwer: When you look at what happened at the Capitol, there's a very tragic echo of the Reconstruction era. Where you had-- At that point, the Democrats were the Party of white supremacy, and the Republicans were the multiracial coalition. You can see examples from all over the South of armed mobs storming state capitols, or courthouses, or other places of government in efforts to overturn an election on the grounds that the opposite party should not be allowed to rule.
There's something unique about a mob being incited on the Capitol by a sitting President, surely, but the idea that the multiracial party lacks the fundamental political legitimacy to govern is actually quite an old one. It's an old one because America has had a multiracial democracy only for a few short years in its long 244-year history; shortly after the Civil War until 1877 and from 1965 on. So it's a very fragile thing and it's an experiment that could fail.
Amy: Jelani, speaking of this and this idea that we keep hearing about this was such a surprise, and no one saw this coming; you, in September, wrote about the possibility of election-related violence associated with Trump. You compared it to a weather forecast. That all the elements were there for a hurricane. It was just a matter of if they all lined up in the right way, which, sadly, they did. What do you say to those who still believe this was just a for-once-in-a-moment time, this is a once-in-every 500-year kind of flood situation, rather than a predictable hurricane?
Jelani Cobb: Yes, I wrote about that in September and I was late, quite frankly. I could have written that piece in June or March. We could have written that piece in November of 2016. All of these elements were easily and readily discernible. One of the, I think, fundamental things- the reason I made the weather forecast comparison- is that the United States has consistently impaired by its inability to reckon with its own history.
If we do recognize history, we think of it as something that is hermetically sealed in the past, like this just happened and it was an interesting fact. When historians talk about the past, they're looking at the conditions that led to those kinds of situations happening, and wondering if those conditions would yield a similar result in different times.
To the point that Adam was making; the idea that you have to remove people who are representatives of a multiracial aspect of American democracy and that that is illegitimate is fundamental. [chuckles] It's almost mechanical. If you're looking at the number of times that this has happened previously-- If you even remember- not going that far back into history- if you even remember in 1994, when Timothy McVeigh destroyed, obliterated the Alfred Murrah office building in Oklahoma city, and he attacked the federal government because he believed it was too friendly to the interests of Black people. That was his motivation. We can find those kinds of dynamics again and again and again.
It wasn't really clairvoyance, or really even a great deal of insight to say these situations are likely to generate political violence. It's literally just reading, just looking at what has happened.
Amy: Right. For both of you then, you are correct. You go back and you read these histories, and what you also recognize is that national political leaders either looked the other way, encouraged it, or hoped that they could just bury it and move on. Am I naive to think that maybe this time we may be more willing to look at it in its face?
I just want you to respond to how President-elect Biden talked about this. Not only did he call them domestic terrorist and insurrectionists, but he said; nobody can tell me if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently.
Adam: The President-elect mentioned reconstruction in his speech introducing his Attorney General nominee yesterday. I think that that's a very important echo because the Department of Justice after all was created by the Ulysses S. Grant administration to enforce civil rights in the South. There's a great deal of history there in conceiving of the Justice Department is something that they're supposed to defend the rights of the people.
I think that when you look at the protests that you saw over the summer in response to police abuses, that is also another echo of that era in which people were reconsidering what it meant to really extend the rights in the Constitution to people, regardless of race. The issue is, though, is that American progress is often followed by backlash.
At this moment, we're having this reckoning where we're looking at President Trump a little more honestly. I don't think it's a coincidence that that's happening now that there's two years before the next big Congressional election, rather than right before the last one that just happened. It's a little easier to do that politically for Republicans now. The political incentives for Republicans to do something about Trump haven't necessarily changed that much compared to the last four years, in which they enabled him to be behave as recklessly as he has.
Amy: Jelani, you still had, even after all of what we saw on Wednesday, almost 60% of the Republican body- House and Senate- continue to vote against Joe Biden. What does this tell us about the possibility going forward of a Biden coming in and really being able to like move us beyond this- have a Republican Party that is willing to move beyond this and to a better place?
Jelani: Just on the basis of it, there was this conversation around the time that Biden was being certified as the winner, or at least the electoral votes were coming in to give him the victory; that having spent decades in the Senate and knowing how to glad-hand and maneuver bills through the legislature, he would have a different relationship with Congressional Republicans than Barack Obama did.
I thought that was a tremendously naive idea. For one, we've seen no reticence, seemingly no remorse from the Congressional Republicans who voted, effectively, to side with the mob that stormed Congress this week. The yield of that simply means that in the moment, people are taking some heat for it, but they have not fundamentally come to the conclusion that they were responsible. That in any way, this canard about the election being stolen had led to violence; including, as we now know, the death of a Capitol police officer. There's nothing to indicate, I think, that we're moving in a different direction as it pertains to this.
Then the other bigger problem is that I think Americans are thought of as optimistic. That optimism can easily bleed over into a denial. When we look at all of the moments that have preceded this, we've just bright-sided them. When Donald Trump emerged and began calling plays from the Fascist playbook, people began saying, "Oh, he's unusual. He's an outsider. He's a Maverick," he's these other things, as opposed to saying what he was.
Adam can probably speak to this, too. There was a whole slate of Black journalists, opinion analysts, policy people who were saying that this was being driven by the idea of racial retrenchment. We kept getting pushed back on and heard the famous cliché now about economic anxiety. The real willingness to make a committed approach to saying, "We have to address what has happened," and fundamentally recognize the danger that it presents to the Republic, I'm still not certain that we're there.
Amy: Adam, you want to respond?
Adam: Yes. Look, my mother was born into a state where my grandfather could not vote because he was Black, and most of the country was perfectly fine with that at that time. I think what I'm saying is not particularly unusual for millions of Black people in the United States. That gives you a fundamentally different perspective on the concept of freedom in the US and how fragile it actually is. That I think because of the way that history is taught in this country, most people who do not have that history within their family can sometimes struggle to understand.
The Trump era is ending in dramatic fashion with the Governors of Maryland and in Virginia offering to send their State National Guards into the Capitol to defend it from an insurrection incited by the President of the United States. That is dramatic. I would not have necessarily predicted that it would end in that way. But as Jelani said, it was clear from the beginning that Trump was the kind of person who would make those kinds of decisions and whose tenure as President could lead to that type of thing.
Amy: Because it seems so much of this is driven by the idea that there really aren't consequences to these actions that we saw at the Capitol. Yes, some people are going to be arrested. We now are watching members of the Cabinet resign, and conservative commentators denouncing the President, but at some point, there has to be significant consequences to that; including, for the President.
Jelani, I'll start with you. Does the President need to be removed from office in some way? Does something more significant need to happen?
Jelani: I don't think that anybody who takes democracy seriously thinks that one branch of government should be able to weaponize a mob and send it to do its bidding to immobilize another branch of government, and then say that your democracy is in good shape. I think that you, fundamentally, open the door to all kinds of abuses if there aren't immediate, swift consequences for that action. Especially now that we know that people have lost their lives as a result of these acts- needlessly lost their lives.
Just think about this contrast for a moment. One of the most somber things that any President does is send people into harm's way. That you know as a person who takes the oath of office that you may have to request that Americans do things that may likely get them killed in defense of American democracy and national interests.
What we have is the neatest inversion of that idea that we can imagine. Where we have people being killed needlessly. Where the people who were trying to uphold the interest of national security are actually being attacked on behalf of the President of the United States. If we're looking for a more profound betrayal of the office, I don't think that we can find one. Short of removal from office, I don't think that we have done enough. Anything less than that will be insufficient to say that this can't happen.
Amy: Adam, what do you think needs to happen, and what about for members of Congress as well?
Adam: I think Donald Trump should be immediately removed from office, and he should be barred from ever holding office again. Then to the extent that he bears legal liability for any of the things that happened during his administration, he should face the consequences.
Again, to go back to the Reconstruction era. The men who overthrew the Reconstruction governments by force, they became Governors, they became Senators, they entered their lives as prominent government officials. That's one possible future when you look at this. If there are no consequences for it, there will be more mobs, there will be more violence, there will be more attempts to overthrow the results of free and fair elections by force.
I think people should really be aware of what will happen if people are not held accountable for this. There will be more violence, there will be more blood, and there will be more attempts to subvert American democracy by force.
Amy: Right, so this idea that; come on, this was just Trump and that's him, but we'll get back to "normal" politics once he's gone.
Adam: Look, we have the lessons from American history. They're there if we want to see them. When you do not punish people, or when you do not hold them accountable for violently trying to overthrow a government, they will try again. It's just that simple.
Jelani: This conversation is- it has to be anchored in history in a particular way. That's one of the failures, I think, for us to not have this conversation historically. There are a few people who've been trying to make sure we do that. I think Adam has been doing a really good job of that. I would encourage everyone to look at what happened in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.
I've been talking about Wilmington nonstop because that's where we have one- there are many other examples we could go through, but that's one of the most easily-recognizable instances of this. Where a duly-elected government is tossed out of power- a duly-elected, multiracial state government is tossed out of power by white supremacists.
At the very least, we can't use the word unprecedented when we look at the events of this past week. We have to understand that this is actually part of the suite of history and part of a longer, bigger problem that we have never really grappled with accurately.
Amy: Adam Serwer, Jelani Cobb, thank you both so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
Jelani: Thank you.
Adam: Thank you very much.
Amy: In the midst of the crisis in Washington, D.C. this week, we learned that Democrats were victorious in both Senate runoffs in Georgia. Republican Senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who hitched themselves to President Donald Trump, were defeated, handing control of the US Senate to Democrats. President-elect Joe Biden will enter office on January 20th with a coveted trifecta. Democrats control the Executive branch and hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but that doesn't mean passing legislation will be easy.
Sahil Kapur: It is the slimmest majority imaginable for a Senate Democrat.
Amy: That's Sahil Kapur, national politics reporter for NBC News. What 50 votes does get you in the Senate is control of the calendar, the agenda, action on the floor.
Sahil: Democrats will get to decide what business comes up on the Senate floor for a vote. That's enormously important because there are many pieces of legislation, such as $2,000 stimulus payments, that were all but guaranteed to pass the Senate if Mitch McConnell had allowed a vote, but he didn't.
McConnell has used that power very effectively, as majority leader, to control the Senate tightly, and to make sure that pieces of legislation and certain nominations that don't have the approval of the conservative movement are not allowed consideration. With Chuck Schumer on the floor making that decision, Joe Biden's agenda has a fighting chance.
Amy: But it's hard to pass much with just 51 votes because of the filibuster.
Sahil: 60 votes will be needed for most pieces of legislation. If you're thinking voting rights, gun control, climate regulations; that stuff is going to require bipartisan support, and it will be very difficult for Democrats to get a significant number of Republicans on them. The key thing to watch for is the budget reconciliation process. That is the one vehicle that a Senate majority can use to pass legislation with a simple majority and that's immune to a filibuster.
Items that involve taxation and spending can be included in budget reconciliation. I would expect that to be the main vehicle that Democrats use to pass spending on climate change action, on infrastructure, bolstering the Affordable Care Act, and probably raising taxes a little bit, too. Remember, it was this process that Republicans used in 2017 to pass a major tax cut without any Democratic support.
Amy: You can only use that though once, right? There aren't multiple budget reconciliations that you can do?
Sahil: Once in a year, yes. You have to pass the budget vehicle and then that vehicle can be the course.
Amy: Right, so you got to be very judicious in picking what goes into that legislation. What will Senator Warnock, Senator Ossoff- how do you think they will be in the Senate in terms of where they fit on the ideological spectrum, especially given the fact that Warnock is up again in 2022 because this was a special election?
Sahil: It's a fascinating question, and I've wondered about this myself. Let's start with the fact that these two ran unabashedly as progressives. They did not run away from their Party or their Party's progressive agenda the way so many other Democratic Senate candidates in places like North Carolina or Iowa did. They won in a state like Georgia- as historically conservative as Georgia- while running unabashedly as progressives.
That is a significant thing that I think will make them feel not only free, but feel a little bit compelled to govern as progressives as well. Because a lot of the voters in the Atlanta Metro area that were essential to their victory aren't really expecting them to be milquetoast, and aren't really expecting them to sound a little bit like Republicans when they come to the Senate. It's not quite the profile that someone like Joe Manchin or Jon Tester runs on in their smaller, rural red states. I would expect them to be progressives.
Amy: That's such a good point because even in Georgia, for years the conventional wisdom was, "There's no way Democrats can win, unless they put up a moderate-to-conservative white person who can appeal to those Republican-like voters in the suburbs." They tried that again and again and again, and it failed and failed and failed. Yet, what we learned, it seems, from 2018 to 2020, is putting an African American candidate on the ballot in a state that is more than a third African American and having that candidate, as you said, run on an unabashedly progressive platform is actually the recipe for success.
Sahil: That entire Democratic playbook, Amy, is about to face a reckoning. The idea that in purple or red states what you need to do is basically run as a vanilla Democrat, distance yourself from the Party platform, downplay the prospect of your Party taking control; that did not work this cycle when Democrats tried it. When Democrats did the opposite in a place like Georgia, lean into who they are and not really be embarrassed about it, it worked quite well.
The other thing to keep in mind is that there are certain progressive populist measures that have a direct impact on people's [sound cut] [inaudible 00:29:18]. Like the $2,000 stimulus payments that are easy to understand and easy to run on, which Ossoff and Warnock emphasized aggressively. They were hammering that message in the final days, probably the final two weeks or so before the election, and we saw the results. People like to vote on a direct economic benefit to them, whether they generally identify as a progressive or not.
Amy: Sahil, don't you think he's going to get- especially, Warnock, considering the fact that he's up in 2022- but don't you think he's going to get advice for many Democrats that, "Whoa, you got to be careful, though, in a midterm election if you're voting on things like raising taxes and more spending beyond this stimulus check. You're going to lose all of those affluent suburbanites who fled Trump during this era, and you can't win reelection without those folks being an important part of your coalition"?
Sahil: That is going to be a bigger question for the Party, I think. I'm sure Raphael Warnock, the Senator-elect, is going to get lots and lots of advice from lots of Democratic consultants about this, but he did run a race in a way that many of them had not expected could be won in a place like Georgia. He's probably not the candidate you would necessarily pick out of a lineup if you're a Democratic consultant over the last decade thinking about how to win in Georgia. He did it his own way and he won.
I suspect he's going to trust his own political instincts there, but you're right. He will have to be a little bit careful. Because as a Senator in Georgia, you can't quite vote and govern the way someone like Bernie Sanders in Vermont would, or even someone like Chuck Schumer in New York would. Yes, it is a bit of a different calculation for Raphael Warnock.
Amy: Finally, let's go back to Congress. What does it tell you, as we're watching Senators who previously had been on the sidelines now voicing opposition to what the President's doing, some even calling for him to be either impeached or have the 25th Amendment used to remove him from office, that we have members of the Cabinet resigning, we have members of the White House resigning; what does it say to you about this point and about the Republican Party going forward?
Sahil: Well, the context here is key. We are two weeks before the end of Donald Trump's presidency. It's not a huge difference if they resign now versus they're forced out in two weeks, but it does have a symbolic significance that they have chosen to take a stand. Look, the sight of an insurrection against the United States Capitol has rattled a lot of Republicans in and off Capitol Hill. I think a lot of what we're seeing is a reaction to that.
The other thing that I think is going on is the Georgia runoffs have also had an impact in some quarters of the Republican Party in terms of the Trump phenomenon. It's punctured this aura of mystique around the President that he has this magical impact on Republican turnout. It didn't really work in Georgia because he wasn't on the ballot. I think one of the lessons is that when Trump is not on the ballot, he is not very useful to Republicans and he's, in fact, an albatross around their necks. As we saw with Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, how badly they lost suburban areas that Perdue at least had won pretty comfortably in his previous Senate race.
I think this will cause Republicans to do a lot of thinking not only on the impact that Donald Trump has had on the Party substantively, but whether it is at all in their benefit or whether it is detrimental to them to continue with his political style and continue to embrace his approach to politics.
Amy: Sahil Kapur, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about this. I really, really appreciate it.
Sahil: Always a pleasure.
Amy: Sahil Kapur is a national political reporter for NBC News.
It's Politics with Amy Walter from The Takeaway. The fragility of American politics was on stark display this week. A mob of violent Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol as members of Congress were debating whether to overturn Joe Biden's electoral victory. President Trump's norm-defying first term has drawn sharp criticism over the last four years, but the events of this week have drawn almost universal condemnation. Republicans have called for the President to step down, members of his administration have resigned.
Meanwhile, the US registered more COVID-19 deaths in a single day than ever before, and the latest jobs report shows another 140,000 people out of work. Soon, Joe Biden will assume office against this unprecedented backdrop of hyperpartisan division and violence, and he will have to decide how to navigate in this moment.
Joining me now is Joel Payne, Democratic strategist, former aide to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, and host of the podcast, Here Comes the Payne; and Brendan Buck, Republican strategist at Seven Letter, and a former aide to Republican speakers of the House, John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Joel and Brendan, thank you for joining me.
Brendan Buck: Hey, Amy.
Joel Payne: Thanks for having me.
Amy: Joel, I'll start with you; and Brendan, I'd like you to respond after Joel. Let's just start by reflecting on what the attack on the Capitol meant for you, how you process that, and what it tells us about the state of American politics and where we go from here.
Joel: Well, Amy, it's hard not to take it personally. I've spent eight years professionally of my career on Capitol Hill in those offices. I worked in the Capitol Building for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2009, '10 and '11. Seeing those images are jarring, and I still have a lot of friends and I'm sure Brendan does as well, people who work in there, you develop relationships with those Capitol police officers. To see that loss of life from that gentleman who was doing his job, to see even the loss of life from the protester, it's heartbreaking.
It also-- It's the people's house, right? While it was my workplace, it's hard not to feel it as an American and feel like it's an attack on our house collectively also.
Brendan: Yes, the building is personal for any of us who worked there. You never forget the wonder that you feel when you first walk into that rotunda, you first step foot in the chamber of the House, it's special. It's where important things have happened in this country. It's where you go to do good. All of us who got involved in politics did it because we believe in things; because we want to make things better for people, we want to go have a battle of ideas, and there's a romantic notion to it.
Then to see it desecrated like that, to see not only not good happening there but to see such, frankly, evil people trying to undermine the very democracy that that building stands for was painful. It was emotional for me. It was emotional for a lot of my friends and former colleagues. It makes me angry about what happened, but it also makes me angry about what it means for the country, and how easily people can be misled today and what it can lead to and that there are consequences.
I'm hoping- and I'm sure we'll talk about this- some silver linings to it, but it was really painful.
Amy: Yes, so let's talk about those consequences. Because we've heard, thus far, calls for the President to step down, for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, the House, perhaps, will bring articles of impeachment to the floor, members of the Trump cabinet are resigning. Brendan, is that enough? What really needs to happen in order for it to be very clear that there are consequences not just for ransacking the United States Capitol, but for the folks who encouraged it or emboldened it in any way?
Brendan: Yes. I guess, perhaps, we go back to the concept that politics is a team sport and that you can't get a lot done without help from your colleagues. I'm hoping that there is a period of at least isolation for some of the people who did this. Now, there are no simple answers here. I think what is potentially most troubling is that a lot of these House Republicans in particular are going to go home and they're not going to face any consequences from their voters, and that's ultimately in our system, where you face consequences. Donald Trump faced the consequences with voters and is now going to be removed from office.
The incentive structure has not fundamentally changed. I'm happy that there were a number of Senators who reversed course on objecting to the Electoral College. I'm happy that there are some people calling out Senators Hawley and Cruz from the Republican Party. I fear, though, these members of Congress are going to go back home now and what they're going to hear from their constituents is, "Don't surrender. Don't give up on Donald Trump. There was nothing wrong with what happened."
That's why I think you still saw 100 or so House Republicans continue to vote after what happened. It's not easy to bring consequences down on people when their voters still like what they saw.
Amy: What about, though, sort of official Washington, Brendan, that donors, that PACs, that others say, "You know what? No, we're not donating to anybody who supported this, and the people we are going to support are the people who stood up and did the right thing"?
Brendan: Yes, there are certainly places where you can make people feel pain. You're already seeing that with Josh Hawley. Some of his biggest donors are backing away. I know that there are conversations among corporate PACs, saying they're not going to give anybody who participated-- That's one one pain point but, of course, Josh Hawley was fundraising off this himself, and so there are other outlets where they can get money.
The old days where the Party was able to sort of hang over the Party or over members and tell them what to do and use money to influence them, those days are long gone, and so it's harder than ever to get people to do that.
Amy: Joel, I'm wondering if you can talk to us, too, about what do you think Democrats should be doing right now. What happens with this impeachment?
Joel: Well, I think impeach and remove is so important because it bars President Trump from ever seeking federal office again. I do think that that is the functional purpose of doing that. There is also a message to send that you're not going to accept that kind of behavior, and to anybody in the future who might want to replicate the Trump model, that's a discouragement to them, so there's a reason why you would want to do that.
There are a lot of ramifications around how to do it. Is it better to do an impeach and remove? Is it better to go through 25th Amendment and Mike Pence? That's the debate that's going on right now, but Democrats are pretty united on that idea.
Amy: Joel, let's talk about the path ahead now on January 20th and beyond for President-elect Joe Biden. After the results of Georgia, he's now got the trifecta. He's got the House and the Senate. We know it's a very slim majority, but what do you think his first priority here should be, and do you think it's realistic this idea about like a reset? That he's going to come back, return us to normalcy, move on beyond Trump. How does that happen?
Joel: Well, the reset is something that Joe Biden has talked about a lot, but he needs a good faith partner on the other side. Joe Biden can want to do that all he wants. I mean, Barack Obama was elected with much more fanfare, frankly, and a lot more wind at his back. He had a bigger Senate majority, he had a bigger House majority in 2009 when he took office, and still was thwarted by Mitch McConnell and by Congressional Republicans.
I think Joe Biden, if the moment carries forward, sure, there's a chance that Biden could do all the things on a bipartisan basis that he wants to do. I think he's certainly going to govern from the middle because that's his gut, but also I think the moment is going to require him to do that. He's going to have to act quickly on another stimulus package.
I imagine a lot of the fighting on the Democratic side of the aisle will be between the progressives and the moderates about whether or not to axe some of these what we call democracy reforms. Things like filibuster reform, judicial reform. Maybe even something like bringing back pork projects, which Brendan, I know you and I started politics where that was a thing and nowadays it's not.
There are a lot of kind of ways of government that have to be decided, and I think that Biden will have a lot of pressure from his left-flank to be aggressive on those things. I think the pressure from the country will be to govern from the middle and that's the tension point.
Amy: What do you think about that, Brendan? Because you were up there during the Obama era and he, obviously, had a much bigger majority than what Biden is working with now. How do you think Republicans are going to react to him and to this moment?
Brendan: I do think potentially this moment provides an opportunity for everybody to stop and sort of take stock of why you're there and what you're trying to do. I don't think we should delude ourselves into thinking that we are now going to be entering a period of bipartisan harmony. That's just not realistic. For the reasons we talked about earlier, there's still going to be a lot of incentives and structures for Republicans to oppose Joe Biden. There's an old saying on the Hill that the job of the minority is to become the majority and not necessarily to do anything constructive.
That said, there are some things that are potentially front-burner items. Certainly, a COVID package of some sort is not a particularly partisan or political issue. That could be a good first step for Joe Biden to set a good tone. I do think, and it's something that Joel hit on at the end, there's going to be some intense pressure from the left to do big things.
I can tell you when you're so divided and you can't get much done, members of Congress start to get very antsy, and particularly, your base gets antsy. Even if you don't think that you have a way of getting something across the finish line, they want to see you start trying. It will be interesting to see how much Joe Biden can resist and push off the temptation to do some of these really big controversial things like Medicare-for-all or a Green New Deal. That would imperil that majority, and potentially give Republicans an opportunity to jump right into the role of the opposition party.
Amy: Joel, how much pressure do you think there will be, post-Trump presidency, to use the power of the government- the Department of Justice and other forms of government- to exact some sort of punishment on President Trump or on members of his administration?
Joel: I think the central question we're kind of getting at here is like what is Joe Biden's approach? Is he going to go the Jerry Ford Model? Which, of course, when Jerry Ford took office, his goal was to kind of be a healing balm for the country, pardon Nixon, bring the country together, not use his time in office to exact revenge on Richard Nixon and all of his political allies. I don't think that there is an appetite for that in the country, broadly, and also in the Democratic Party, and I don't think Joe Biden can do that.
Also, we're complicated by the fact that Joe Biden's window is probably really small here to do something big. Given the fact that there's a lot of discussion that Joe Biden might be a one-term President, given his advanced age. There are a lot of things at play here that are going to limit Biden's time. He's probably got about the first part of this year to really enact an aggressive proactive agenda, and there's going to be so much pressure.
I cannot overstate enough how much pressure there will be on Biden to act quickly. Speed is everything when it comes to moving in Congress.
Amy: Right. Given what you've seen about the folks he's put around him, do you think he's able to do this?
Joel: I think he's able to if he wants to. I don't know if he wants to. I had a Democrat joke to me that Joe Biden might've been the most unhappy person to have those Georgia races go the way they did. Not because he didn't want Warnock and Ossoff to win, but because it kind of boxes him in. In a way, Joe Biden was somewhat tailor-made to be President of a divided government. A Democrat-only government, that's a lot of pressure on Joe Biden. Can he live up to all the expectations of his base? Time will tell.
Amy: Brendan, where does the Republican Party go from here? We keep hearing about this is a Party that has been molded in Trump's image and it's going to be very hard to disentangle it. Or do you think maybe it doesn't last as long as some folks are predicting?
Brendan: I don't think he's going anywhere. As I said, I don't think there's going to be a clean break. I am somewhat hopeful that what happened in the last week will finally show people that there are some consequences to Trumpism. Because for a long time, Republicans have-- It took some of them a while to get there, but eventually all jumped on this bandwagon, and they found that the politics worked for them and they didn't ever really see the downside.
When everybody is swimming in this pool, it's easy to get away with some of the more shameless things that happen. Now, they saw that there are consequences to that, up close and personal. They saw that when you lie to people and you mislead them about things, they believe you and they're listening and it can get dangerous.
I don't know that there's going to be any immediate, swift rejection of Trump or Trumpism, but potentially there will be some reflection where they think, "Well, maybe I shouldn't mislead people quite so much. Maybe I should start being a little more direct and honest about what I say," because, yes, people are listening and people will do things if they feel like things have been stolen from them.
Amy: Right, or do you think this ushers in a more kind of a return to the traditional Republican or is that model, is that sort of gone forever?
Brendan: Well, we are in such a post-policy world, and what Donald Trump was, was a cultural leader more than he was a political leader. The Party is going to have to find some way to be beat him with something else if they want to. You can't just offer an old agenda. You need to be able to speak to the reasons that he won. I think they need to appreciate that dusting off the old policies isn't going to do it, and they need to find a way to communicate with people who feel like Washington hasn't been listening to them.
Amy: Joel, I want you to think back over these last few years, the time you have spent in politics on Capitol Hill, and help us understand how we got to this place.
Joel: Amy, look, it is easy to be very kind of lazy and reductive with our analysis. I'm guilty of it as well, so I try my best not to be. But it is hard not just as a Democrat, not just as a political pro, but as an African American, to not draw a straight line between what we saw with this siege at the Capitol and the seeds of it, which started a decade ago with the Tea Party.
I want to be clear. I'm not suggesting that everybody who was associated with the Tea Party was associated with who was on the Capitol and doing all of the gross, disgusting, illegal things. I will say that that movement has roots in the Tea Party because it started out as an anti-Obama movement. They disguised themselves as a movement that was focused on spending and concerns about spending, given the fact that Barack Obama was in office, but you got to remember, these folks came out of nowhere.
They had no problem with spending when George W. Bush was the President, who was spending exorbitant amounts of money when he was passing tax cuts for the wealthy. Then Obama comes in, and then they become the freedom caucus. Then these folks kind of transform a bit. Some of them break off, and then some of them become the base of Donald Trump's Republican Party in his hardcore Republican base.
For me, what we saw this week was a culmination of about a decade of aggressive activation of this base of the Republican Party, but this particular part of the base that really has been ginned up to not believe in institutions. To believe that everybody in government is lying. To believe that everybody in government is working against them. They believe in the deep state. They believe in conspiracy theories like QAnon.
Really, in a lot of ways- and Amy, I heard you in another recent platform discussing this, and I totally agreed with you- it's the logical evolution of what we've seen in the last decade of politics, which is really kind of the spans of my career as a senior political guy on Capitol Hill. I very much see that, and I can tell you as an African American, it's hard not to draw a straight line between race and what happened. It's hard not to say that really and truly, this all comes down to a lack of acceptance by a population of America that an African American man became our President.
Amy: Yes. What do you say to people who come back at that and say, "You know what? Look, I voted for him because tax cuts. I voted for him because of judges. I never approved of all this stuff he said about immigrants, et cetera, and you're just putting this all into this one deplorable basket and that's not fair to call 75 million people racist deplorables"?
Joel: No. In fact, I wouldn't call 75 million-- I mean, you literally can't build a movement off of 75 million people all being one thing, one monolith. But we do know that that really insidious base that we saw realize its natural evolution this week, we know they've taken over the Republican Party. That's the only way to explain why you've had folks like Mitch McConnell, and Mike Pence, and Kevin McCarthy, all buy into Trumpism when we know--
I mean, Amy, your journalist. People will tell you, off the record, Republicans have been concerned and clamoring for changes to Trump's rhetoric for a long time. It came home to roost this week because their personal safety, their personal space was threatened in a way, by the way, that millions of Americans have been threatened over the last four years.
If you're an undocumented migrant, if you're an organizer of the Women's March, if you're a racial justice marcher for George Floyd, or Jacob Blake, or a number of the other hashtags that have grown out of police violence; you have felt that threat for four years. It just so happened that it attacked Republican political elites this week, and I think that's what we are watching the remnants of in the days following this event.
Amy: Brendan Buck, Republican strategist at Seven Letter, and a former aide to Republican speakers of the House, John Boehner and Paul Ryan; and Joel Payne, former aide to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, CBS News political contributor as well. He's also the host of the podcast; Here Comes the Payne. Thanks to you both.
Joel: Thank you.
Brendan: Thank you, Amy.
Amy: One more thing from me. In times of tumult, it's hard to understand if we're at a tipping point, that place where there's no return to the former ways, or if we're just in a short-lived change in behavior. Policy changes often come long after the events that precipitated them and, of course, changing hearts and minds is a long and complicated process.
As we watched this week's events unfold- a riot at the Capitol, resignations from Trump's cabinet, the swift condemnation of Senator Josh Hawley by many conservative voices- it's easy to think, "Well, maybe we've reached that place." A place where whipping voters into a frenzy over illegitimate claims of voter fraud is not acceptable. Where Americans across the political spectrum can now see the risk in electing a demagogue. Where those who traffic in grievance and hate are shunned instead of exalted.
We also know it's not that simple. Members of Congress watched a mob destroy the Capitol and then came back to vote to do the very thing those people demanded; overturning the election results. The bigger worry for many of them was not whether the democracy would hold, but whether they would risk a primary challenge next year if they failed to take Trump's side.
We also know banning Trump from Twitter and Facebook won't keep millions of Americans from getting misinformation and conspiracy theories. We know websites and social media platforms keep churning out these lies because there's money to be made. But while our information ecosystem is more complicated and difficult to regulate than ever, leadership- real leadership matters as much today as it ever has.
It's not easy telling people what they don't want to hear. It's easier to duck and dodge the truth as much as you can, but at some point, the truth catches up with you and it's caught up with America. If you want to see change come to our politics, reward the leaders, even those you disagree with, even those who you may think have come to recognize this dangerous moment too late.
I know it is hard to be optimistic. We've been here so many times before, where it feels like we take a step forward only to go two steps back, but what keeps this democracy afloat is faith and hope. Please hold those values close to your heart. It's not easy, but it's the only way to heal.
Our senior producer is Amber Hall. Patricia Yacob is our associate producer. Producer Jackie Martin helped us out this week as well. Polly Irungu is our digital editor. David Gebel is our executive assistant. Jay Cowit is our director and sound designer. Vince Fairchild is our board up and engineer. Our executive producer is Lee Hill.
Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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