Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter. Good to have you with us. Since his first moments on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has had a consistent message; it's time to stop the fighting and start the uniting.
President Joe Biden: This politics is pulling us apart. It's ripping this country apart at the seams. Our politicians, our politics today traffics in division, and our President is the divider-in-chief. This nation needs to come together. It has to come together.
Amy: Even as #resistance was in full swing, Biden argued that Americans were exhausted by the chaos and the conflict.
President Joe Biden: I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify. Who doesn't see red states and blue states; only sees the United States. With unity we can do great things, important things. We can write wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make healthcare secure for all. We can deliver racial justice, and we can make America once again.
Amy: But just days after that inaugural address, President Biden is learning that the Republicans definition of unity is not the same as his.
Sen. Rand Paul: Democrats claim to want to unify the country but impeaching a former president, a private citizen, is the antithesis of unity.
Sen. Marco Rubio: Unity and ideology are two separate things.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: If the talk of unity and common ground is to have meaning, then I cannot imagine the Democratic leader would rather hold up the power-sharing agreement than simply reaffirm that his side won't be breaking this standing rule of the Senate.
Amy: Just a week into Biden's first term, with the scars from the January 6th attack on the Capitol still fresh, an impeachment trial looming and the two sides seemingly miles apart on an agreement on a new COVID aid package, Washington looks as divided as ever. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is having its own problems with unity. On Thursday, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz flew to Wyoming to campaign against his own colleague, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney. Cheney was one of just 10 Republicans to vote to impeach president Donald Trump.
The same day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a pilgrimage to Palm Beach to make amends with Trump after he, at one point, said the President bore responsibility for the attacks on Congress.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy: I don't believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally. If you listen to what the President said at the rally, he said, "Demonstrate peacefully."
Amy: Here to talk about whether Biden's hope for a new tone in D.C. has already been dashed is Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times. Hi, Peter.
Peter Baker: Hey, how are you?
Amy: I'm good. Listen, I want you to talk a little bit about this issue because you wrote about it recently; this idea that Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas of what unity means, what Biden defines it as and how, say, a Mitch McConnell defines it. What did you come up with?
Peter: [chuckles] Well, I think that unity in some ways is being used as a touchstone for civility, which is a little bit of a different thing. When you talk to Joe Biden, he doesn't really mean that everybody is going to agree on everything. In fact, he specifically says it's okay that we don't agree on everything. That's the system. We designed the system to have disagreements and fight them out.
I think what he's saying is when we fight them out, let's do it in a way that respects each other and treats each other with dignity. That's something of course that sounds different than in the last four years. It doesn't necessarily mean that we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. The problem of course is unity can mean anything to anybody. What you're seeing from the Republicans is a disappointment that the new president has gone so quickly with executive actions without bothering to try to reach out to Republicans on anything that he's done so far, other than the beginning of the COVID relief talks.
I think that they're saying, "Okay, fine. Unity is great, bipartisanship is great, but where's the action?"
Amy: Right. Well, to that point, not surprisingly, Peter, you're used to this. You are already getting pushback as are many reporters from some Democrats. As someone that you probably know well, Dan Pfeiffer, the former Obama communications director, wrote recently that reporters in Washington are setting an unfair standard for Biden. They say healing the soul of the nation is much more than making Congressional Republicans happy. Then he goes on to write; Biden's obligation is to reach out to Republicans and find common ground, it's not to abandon his agenda in favor of the rejected Republican agenda. The opposition is trying to set up a false choice between unity and progress, and we can't let them do that.
I'd love your response to this, and how we in the media should think about this term of unity and how to measure it- the promise that Biden made on it.
Peter: I think the person who set the standard is the President, not the media. The media is trying to understand what standard he has set so that we can, in fact, measure his performance against his promises. Now, the problem again with the word unity is that it is ill-defined, and I think that it sounds really good in a divided moment, but the truth is we're never going to get back to the moment of World War II solidarity where everybody was pulling together. We're just not built that way anymore. It's just not the way this country is. With gerrymander districts, with fragmented media, with tribal politics, we're always going to be divided on some level.
I think the question for the media, as we talk about how the President is doing, is trying to figure out what standard that he has set and then measure him against that.
Amy: Yes, it's a good point. The one thing that Washington did seem, for a very short moment of time, to be unified about was the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol was to hold President Trump accountable. We had, at one point, Mitch McConnell saying he was open to impeachment. Obviously, the third-ranking House Leader, Liz Cheney, voted to impeach.
Now here we are, just a few weeks later, McCarthy backtracking. Only five Republicans in the Senate saying that impeachment of Trump is even constitutional. What happened?
Peter: [chuckles] Yes, that didn't last very long, did it?
Peter: It's interesting. It reminds me actually of these-- It's a terrible analogy, I suppose, but it reminds me of these gun shootings. Where in the first few days, everybody is horrified, and we have to take action and we have to do something. The more time passes, the more people drift back to their normal ideological or partisan corners. I think what you've seen here is that the attack on the Capitol shocked a lot of people in both Parties.
Obviously, Republicans were very angry- most of them or many of them anyway- very angry at President Trump. But once we got into what to do about it, once we got into the question of impeachment, people began to start looking at it as us-versus-them again, rather than what did Trump do and what should we do about it.
Amy: Right. Well, let's talk about the Republicans for a moment, too. Because they were unified [chuckles] at one point, then they were not unified. Now, they seem to be unified again behind the President. Yet-- I mean, I don't know if I've ever seen this before. I'm curious if you have, Peter. I don't remember seeing a member of Congress flying to the district of one of his colleagues to campaign against them, as we saw with Matt Gaetz and Liz Cheney.
There's some irony, it seems, about Republicans arguing that Biden is derelict on his unity messaging, when Republicans themselves are fighting amongst themselves.
Peter: Well, that's of course what a lot of Democrats would say is you're digging Biden on unity, but this is a Republican Party that doesn't- first of all, doesn't have unity itself; and second of all, isn't really interested in unity with Biden at all anyway. It's not exactly like they spent the last four years, when Trump was in power, seeking bipartisanship.
You have this-- Both sides are looking at each other with such a jaundiced lens that it doesn't obviously speak to that desire that the new president has expressed. But you're right. Matt Gaetz going to Wyoming is a pretty extraordinary thing. I'm not sure it was unprecedented. It's good question. Obviously, Liz Cheney herself had come out against the reelection of a colleague who she thought was way out there; this Tom Massie fellow. I don't think she actually went to his district, though, or did anything as brazen as showing up in the backyard of a fellow incumbent to directly campaign against them.
That's Matt Gaetz's style. He's very much of a Trumpster. He likes in-your-face politics and I think he got a decent crowd, it sounds like, from his trip there.
Amy: Yes, and whether it works or not is going to be really interesting. I know that they're already candidates looking to primary her. One thing I'm looking forward to, Peter, now that the election is over, is actually reading again. I'm excited to read your book about James Baker. Maybe you can help us go back. Because you wrote a book about a time in which one person could kind of be this- I don't know if you would call him a unifier, but could actually find a way to try to get both sides to be willing to compromise, to be willing to give up some stuff.
I'm wondering if in this moment in time you look back and say the James Baker era, that was nice and all, but there's no way we can have that moment again.
Peter: Yes, it's a great question. James Baker, for those who don't remember him, was of course Ronald Reagan's first Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, and then George Bush's Secretary of State. Really for a generation-- He also ran five presidential campaigns, which is really extraordinary. Think of Karl Rove merged with Henry Kissinger into one person who managed to do both campaign and policy. Pretty rare. For a generation, he was this dominant force.
You're right. He was a dominant force not because he was a unifier in the sense that we're all in it together, but he was a deal-maker. He was a negotiator. He crossed the aisle. Ruthless, tough partisan during election years. Everybody who remembers the 1988 campaign of Bush vs Dukakis would remember that Jim Baker doesn't pull his punches. But as soon as it's over, he sits down with Democrats who have control of the Congress afterall to make deals. That's what's so unique about his story and what seems so different than today.
We get this question a lot; could a Jim Baker succeed in today's environment? I think that the trick is-- I mean, look, he's uniquely skilled. I think he would do better than most of the people who are out there right now, but the environment has changed and the incentive structures have changed, right?
Amy: That's right.
Peter: It used to be, when you and I were growing up, that if a member of Congress wanted to succeed, he or she would go get a member of the other Party, sign on to a Bill, go to the press gallery and say, "Hey, this is bipartisan." There was a perceived reward for that even if it was just lip service. Today, the notion that you would be bipartisan, you would be flayed. You would be excoriated by your own Party and because of gerrymandering, you're more worried about your own Party primaries than you are about reaching out to the middle.
Amy: Right, and this idea of protecting the institution rather than protecting your own immediate political interests, that seems to be gone as well.
Peter: Yes, absolutely. I think, again, a Baker would have made sure we got a COVID relief package last year faster than we did. I think he could have avoided some of the train wrecks we've seen in recent times, but I don't know that he could have brought the Parties together for big sweeping legislation. I think that's Biden's challenge. I think he has the instincts that Jim Baker had. I just don't know whether the environment is open to that kind of thing.
Amy: How realistic do you think Biden is about what he's up against? He's not naïve. He's been in politics for a long time, even though he started in the Baker era, he knows what he's up against.
Peter: Yes, he knows what he's up against. Look, it's been 12 years since he was in the Senate. You hear some senators say, "Hey, guy. It's different than when you were here." I think he understands that, I think his people understand that, but it's still in his blood. He's still a creature of the '80s and '90s and so forth. It will be interesting to see what happens, whether he can do something different than what we've seen in the last few years.
Amy: Peter Baker is the Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times. Peter, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.
Peter: Hey, Amy. It's great talking to you as always.
Amy: As we've been hearing, President Biden's message of unity on the campaign trail has been met with the very real challenge of governing. I should know this isn't a surprise to anyone, not the least of which President Biden himself. For an inside take on unity and the hope for bipartisanship, I spoke with Senator Mark Warner. Warner is a Democrat from Virginia who was part of a bipartisan group of senators who after months of stalemate reached an agreement in December on the $908 billion COVID Relief Bill.
That group has now grown to 16 senators, 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans, with the hopes of reaching another agreement; this time on President Joe Biden's proposal. I asked Senator Warner to weigh in on this idea of unity, and what he thinks it means in this moment of incredible polarization.
Sen. Mark Warner: First of all, there's never been a new administration that's come into this much chaos. We have a new administration that's come in that got none of the just plain courtesy of a proper transition. Didn't get access to much of the government in most cases until actually January 20th. We have still the aftermath of an insurrection on January 6th, and we have a pandemic that's raging. I've been in a lot of contact with the White House and many of these folks who are experienced, but they already feel like they've been in for six months or nine months rather than four days or five days. Number one.
Number two. I think we need to think about-- There's unity in terms of the need around accountability for what happened with Donald Trump, and the need to get a COVID and a stimulus package out, but there are other things that are very much, I think, reflective of what I would call unity on a broader sense. There is the fact that we have a president that's not going to lie on a daily basis to the American public and to the Congress is a sign of unity. There's not a single one of my Republican friends that have not acknowledged that.
The fact that we have a president that's going to, at least in relationship to COVID, be science-based and not try to underestimate the threat. The fact that Joe Biden has said chances are another 100,000 Americans will die, that is a totally different approach. That is, I think, a unifying approach for the country. The American people can handle anything if you tell them the truth.
The third in unity is that Joe Biden, when it became evident that the million-vaccines-a-day could be achieved, didn't try to then stand on his laurels and say we got this done and brag about it. He upped the number to 1.5 million, and said we're all in this together. I think that is the kind of unity that the American public is looking for. I think that's also the kind of behavior that my Republican colleagues are. Tell the truth, make it science-based, call on Americans to rise above our differences to get a common goal accomplished in terms of vaccines.
I think there was a lot more unity than what may be the back and forth of these first couple of days. There clearly is-- What happened on January 6th, for me who was on the floor of the Senate, to all of my colleagues, to our staff, that's seared into people's memory. The idea that we are not going to hold some level of accountability to that- and we can debate whether the appropriate process is an impeachment, or a censure, or use of the 14th Amendment, but you got to have some accountability as you kind of try to reunify.
Amy: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about. Because it seemed, Senator, that in the immediate aftermath of those attacks, you had a number of Republicans, including very high-ranking Republicans- Liz Cheney over on the House side, Mitch McConnell on the Senate side- suggesting that there was going to be accountability; that these were impeachable offenses.
Now here we are, it's only been a couple of weeks and you have all but five Republicans saying that this impeachment process is unconstitutional, and it doesn't seem like there's going to be consensus for something, as you pointed out, like even a censure. Where can this accountability come from?
Sen. Mark Warner: I hope you're wrong, and I'm not 100% sure that the vote in the Senate the other day was reflective of where the impeachment process may end up. I'm under no illusion, at this point, it's going to get to 67. But just in the last few days, we've had another example, at least reported in the press, that Donald Trump tried to intervene with mid-level Justice Department officials; trying to overthrow the election again and was only held back because there was going to be mass resignations if he'd taken that illegal act.
How many more of these stories will trickle out between now and February 8th when the process begins? I think we need to bake into the record in a formal sense; what happened, what were the facts, what kind of language and direction Trump gave to insurrectionists just for a historical record of them, if nothing else.
Amy: Let's get to the other topics that you are deep into, and that's a COVID package- the next COVID rescue package. There's been a lot of back and forth, but you are part of this bipartisan group of 16. Have you given it a nickname?
Sen. Mark Warner: It's been called-- [laughs] It depends on who you're talking to. I think it's been called the Common Sense Caucus. That's been probably the white version. Some of us call ourselves The 908 Caucus because we were proud of the fact of what we did in the last stimulus. I can assure you, there are some Democrats and some Republicans who have less flattery names for the group.
Amy: [chuckles] Okay, so we'll just [crosstalk]--
Sen. Mark Warner: It's more than 60. One other thing that is important for the record is that because of our success with the last COVID package, our group more than doubled to 16, and there are another. 6 to 10 members who want to participate.
Amy: Who are also Republicans?
Sen. Mark Warner: Both Republicans and Democrats. I can assure you, there are more than 10 Republicans who've expressed interest in participating in these bipartisan efforts. Now, does that mean there are more than 10 that are going to get to a number on this package that President Biden has proposed? I'm not saying that but I am saying that there are more than 10 Republicans who are interested in working in a bipartisan fashion. I think we need to break this package into two components.
One, the COVID relief activities where I think there's virtual unanimity, and then there's the stimulus components where there's more of a case to be made. I believe the economy needs additional stimulus. I think one of the things I wish the administration had had a little more time to do is to get economists from Left to Right to make the case that we need more stimulus and we need it now in this next quarter, to make sure that we don't repeat the mistakes of what happened after the great recession back in 2008 and '09, when we frankly undershot and it took the recovery an extra year to pick up steam.
Amy: Well, there is some talk right now because Republicans-- At least it was reported on Thursday morning. Some of the Republicans in this bipartisan caucus were frustrated with what they saw as a sort of Democratic intent to just move ahead no matter what. That they're doing all of this, everyone's having these conversations and at the end of the day, it seems as if what is going to pass will be something that only Democrats agree on and it goes through this thing called reconciliation.
How likely is it, do you think, that either there is a Bill that gets bipartisan support that passes, or it seems there's also this possibility that there are two Bills that come out. One that goes to the smaller package that you talked about, just COVID, that you can get Republicans on board with; and then a bigger package, the one that you talked about, more stimulus money, maybe tax credits, minimum wage increase that sort of thing.
Sen. Mark Warner: Well, I think even in a two-package approach that the first Bill needs to include not only COVID provisions, but some stimulus provisions.
Amy: What do you consider a stimulus provision?
Sen. Mark Warner: I think the direct checks appropriately tailored are stimulus. I think the assistance for state and local governments appropriately tailored are stimulus. I think the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit are clearly stimulative for our poorest Americans. I think the extension of the unemployment benefits, I think there's wide agreement on that. Part of the reason why this is packaged, particularly if you go to the reconciliation processes- which is kind of complicated mumbo jumbo- but that process takes a little bit longer and the unemployment runs out March 14th. You can't delay if you're not going to have a gap for people who are unemployed.
This was one of my concerns. The last package we had had a longer extension of unemployment, but it got cut back because President Trump and some folks on the Democratic side were more interested in checks than they were on extended unemployment, which I found disappointing. That's what's driving this timeline not having another gap on unemployment.
On the COVID side of the House, you have vaccines, you have healthcare, you have schools reopened. You have some people put rental assistance on the COVID side rather than the stimulus side. There are these two packages. I don't think it'd be fair to think, though, that even my Republican colleagues who may not want to go as big as I'd like, will take some of the stimulus components like unemployment extension in their approach.
Amy: How long, Senator, do you think you have to make this choice about continuing to negotiate with Republicans or saying, "Well, we're not going to agree. We're not going to get 10 Republicans on board with this. Let's just go with the Democrats-only approach"?
Sen. Mark Warner: I think that the first-round decision literally has to be made in the next 48 hours to 72 hours because to start the budget reconciliation process, it really needs to start next week. Even starting next week, you wouldn't get a Bill to President Biden until the end of February or potentially even early March.
Your listeners probably don't want to know-- You put a budget out, and then you have to have it amended, and then you have to do it on an individual committee basis. It was not meant to be an easy process. I would point out that this was the process my Republican friends used to give the $2 trillion tax break, which was again counter to the normal reconciliation rules a few years back, so neither Party comes to this with clean hands.
Even if you start the budget reconciliation process, there's nothing that- as that moves forward that doesn't say that a bipartisan group of us could still come up with an alternative, or that you could still have bipartisan amendments through that process in an effort to at least gain a couple of potential Republican votes even through reconciliation. It's not like if budget reconciliation starts, all bipartisan efforts are out the window. Reconciliation does not stop 60 of us from coming up with a different alternative at any point before we vote on reconciliation.
Amy: You don't think that that would even poison the well, so to speak, for attempts to do other things in a bipartisan way? In other words, that Republican say, "These guys were operating in bad faith. They never really thought they were going to get us on this Bill."
Sen. Mark Warner: I've been through a bunch of these negotiations in the last couple of years. We all use pretty fiery language at times, and say we're going to take away our toys if we don't get agreement, but we're back at it. The truth is nobody was more difficult and more my-way-or-the-highway than Donald Trump, but if you look at the last three COVID Relief Bills, they were all bipartisan, they all got more than 90 votes.
I remember this last one, where clearly our bipartisan group put it together, the amount of grief we got from both the Left and the Right for doing that and all the way up until voting day, and then we got 92 senators voting for it.
Amy: Are you saying that senators are dramatic, is that what you're suggesting?
Sen. Mark Warner: Is there gambling going on in this situation? Oh, my gosh, I'm shocked [crosstalk]--
Amy: I can't believe it. That there are things that they say in the press that they're not saying behind closed doors? Interesting.
Sen. Mark Warner: That hyperbole may sometimes be the rule-- Please, I know this is a conversation and you've got tender ears listening, so we may not want to reveal that fact, but-
Amy: As it goes. Well, Senator Warner, thank you for taking this time to talk with me. Good luck.
Sen. Mark Warner: Thank you so much.
Amy: Senator Mark Warner is a Democrat from Virginia. We spoke on Thursday afternoon.
In 2020, almost 30 States expanded access to absentee ballots and early voting to make voting easier during the pandemic. Ahead of the general election, states saw a record-breaking number of requests for mail-in-ballots. While Republicans have historically relied on absentee ballots, President Trump's attacks on the integrity of vote by mail meant that more Democrats took advantage of the early vote option than Republicans.
As President Trump continues to claim without merit or proof that election fraud was responsible for Joe Biden's victory, Republican legislators in states won by Biden, including Georgia and Pennsylvania, are pushing for laws making it harder to vote absentee. One of the best reporters on the voting law beat this past year was Grace Panetta, a senior political reporter at Business Insider. I started by asking her to give us a sense of how widespread the change in voting access and behavior was in 2020.
Grace Panetta: We saw immense change in the way that people voted, definitely compared to 2016 and 2020. Some of that was due to states actively changing their laws, and the rest of it was due to consumer choice; simply voters choosing, for example, to take advantage of a no-excuse absentee law in their state that they may not have thought to use before. In total we saw 29 state legislatures, both controlled by Democrats and Republicans, enacting a total of 79 Bills expanding voting access in response to the pandemic. That's according to a Brennan Center analysis.
On top of that, there were a lot of other changes. Either big-scale changes or little procedural ones made by governors, secretaries of state, local election officials. We really saw the entire picture change. In total, almost 40 states made some sort of change to their voting procedures in response to the pandemic, and many of the ones who didn't were those who were already all-mail states in the first place. It was really a massive change across the board.
Amy: Right, and so pandemic-related to everything from having so-called drop boxes, to the number of days where early voting was open, early vote in-person. What sorts of other changes were made?
Grace: Definitely the biggest one, and the one that caused the most controversy, was expanding voting by mail. A lot of states before 2020 required an excuse to vote absentee. Some of those states changed those laws before the pandemic, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, but others made those changes in response. That's what caused a lot of this controversy around it. We also saw extended deadlines for when voters could return mail ballots, and just more innovations that these all-mail states have been using for years to streamline the process.
For example, giving voters time to correct their ballots, explaining things like signature matching to voters; all of these little changes that we don't normally think about.
Amy: Now, we're hearing a number of state legislatures talking about going in, reworking, rolling back many of these laws. If we can talk about a couple of those states. One is Pennsylvania, where we had so much consternation post-election. There's a Republican legislature, but there's also a Democratic Governor.
Do we assume that there's just going to be a stalemate in Pennsylvania, or do you think there's actually some bipartisan work that can be done? Because we also heard Democrats complain about the law. There wasn't enough time to tabulate the early vote before election day. There were- both sides complaining that there were some vagueness in the law. What do you think happens in a place like Pennsylvania?
Amy: The Pennsylvania legislature is dominated by Republicans, but they do have a Democratic Governor, Tom Wolf, who is almost certainly going to veto any efforts to restrict voting. That's also the case in Michigan and Wisconsin. This also highlights the importance of the 2022 midterms, as all those governors are- or all those governorships are up for reelection. [chuckles] There's a voting angle to every election.
In Pennsylvania, some of the main ones the legislature is trying to roll back, no-excuse absentee voting, which the Republicans passed in 2019. They're considering, they've also introduced Bills, to limit who can put themselves on the permanent early voting list, who is able to send out absentee ballot applications. Another big issue in that state was signature matching. This is a place where, like you mentioned, we could see legislators coming to a bipartisan sensus and just clarifying where there are some, in many cases, very, very outdated laws that, for example, don't provide a lot of clarity on signature matching, laws that aren't super clear on where voters can cure their ballots or when they can do so.
Which was the case in Pennsylvania. You had some counties that allowed voters to fix issues with their ballots, some that didn't, because the legislature didn't state a requirement either way.
Amy: A lot of focus on Georgia. Man, Georgia. Everybody is talking about Georgia. As we know, not only did we have the special elections where Democrats were successful, Biden winning there, we've got another couple of elections in Georgia in 2022; the Governor's race, and newly-elected Senator Warnock up for his full term in 2022. There's a Republican legislature and a sitting Republican Governor, and lots of talk about restricting no-excuse voting, passing more restrictive voter ID laws, getting rid of drop boxes.
What's going on there? Do you think that that really could stall momentum that Democrats have built up over this last two years in terms of voters coming out and getting to the polls and voting for Democrats?
Grace: Georgia is going to be probably the biggest battlefield and minefield for voting law changes. Mainly because, as you mentioned, they have complete Republican control of the state government. The Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, has endorsed or signaled support for some of the measures introduced, which include ending no-excuse absentee voting. Which, like in Pennsylvania, was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and Governor. They all want to ban drop boxes and require an ID to request an absentee ballot, which is already the case for voters who request online.
This is obviously in response to the fact that Democrats won all these elections, and Republicans think that making it easier to vote benefits Democrats, but it's not really necessarily true. It could really end up backfiring in a state like Georgia where there's so much attention paid to these issues. Especially for someone like the Governor, Brian Kemp, he is going to have to be up for reelection in 2022. Stacey Abrams, a leading voting rights advocate and 2018 candidate, is likely going to run again. This could be a case where attempts to suppress the vote backfire, and it makes voters even more angry and even more determined to go out and make their voice heard, especially when it's so transparently a response to try to rig the rules of the game and to benefit one Party over the other.
Another reason why this just may be short-sighted for Republican lawmakers to limit these voting rules and voting opportunities is because Republicans actually did quite well down the ballot in 2020 with record-high levels of mail voting, in-person early voting, all these expanded opportunities.
Amy: Especially since it wasn't that long ago where Republicans really dominated in many states the early vote because their voting base, many of them are older and they like voting by mail. If you make voting by mail harder, you may actually be hurting the kinds of voters that you need to come and vote for you.
Grace: It is crazy to think that before 2020, it was- in many states, Republicans were really taking advantage of mail and early voting. It's a smart strategy because you want to bank as many votes as possible before election day. What we saw a lot in the 2000s and the 2010s in state legislatures where lawmakers really, really focusing on voter ID, this non-existent scourge of voter impersonation, but not really touching absentee voting at all.
It's also firing on both cylinders. We're seeing more movements in legislatures now to strengthen existing voter ID laws, limit what IDs can be used to vote or introduce new ones.
Amy: Voting behavior, as we said, it changed literally overnight, where Democrats overwhelmingly voting early or by mail. Republicans overwhelmingly voting in-person. Whether that continues, like is this the new pattern now that holds, or was this just a pandemic plus Trump bump?
Grace: Yes, I think the answer to that question really relies on how much sway Trump and his allies and the people who pushed all these lies and conspiracies about mail voting are going to hold, both over the GOP and over our national discourse in the time to come. It is probable that in 2022- hopefully, knock on wood- the pandemic will be over and it'll be completely safe to vote in-person, and we will maybe be entering a new era where election night is over and we're going to have to wait multiple days for results to come out.
It's just hard to say how it'll break down when we're not really sure how much these conspiracies are going to continue to take hold over our country.
Amy: Right. The other issue I have heard from Democrats is a worry that combining something like more restrictive vote by mail with closure of polling places-- I mean, are legislatures also going to be able to say, "Well, we don't need as many polling places because look, so many people voted by mail. Let's close down or consolidate these voting centers or places where people vote in-person." That that could have a really disparate impact, especially on voters of color, or voters who are living in urban areas.
Grace: Yes, absolutely. A precinct consolidation can have all kinds of impacts and making it harder to vote. Although one positive thing that may come out also off of 2020 and in-person voting is more and more states and counties experimented with moving to a vote-center model. Where instead of having to go into a specific precinct, voters can go to any vote center in the county or in their area and cast a ballot. By doing that, they were able to have fewer open and account for the fact that there was a shortage of workers. Kentucky had a lot of success doing it.
But, yes, there may be more nefarious efforts to cut voting locations that are actually needed and useful. Given that Republicans are now so overwhelmingly voting in-person and did so in 2020, there may be less of an appetite to reduce those opportunities. It's just something that we're going to have to be looking at.
Amy: Grace Panetta, thank you so much, as usual, for enlightening us about what's to come. You are going to be very busy, I'm sure, tracking all of this for the next year or two.
Grace: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me as always.
Amy: Grace Panetta is a senior politics reporter covering elections and voting for Business Insider.
As we know, every 10 years the government conducts a census.
Population data from the census is then used to determine how many representatives a state gets in the house, a process known as reapportionment. Every state uses this data to draw congressional and state legislative district lines, aka the process of redistricting. Now there's nothing new about politicians trying to draw districts in their favor. In fact, the term gerrymander goes all the way back to an 1812 map drawn to favor Democratic Republicans in Massachusetts. But tolerance for this kind of bare knuckled power grab has waned considerably, especially as gerrymandering is cited as one of the big causes of our current political polarization. This year, the whole process is further complicated by a delay in the census results due to the pandemic, and a fight over whether or not undocumented immigrants should be included in the count.
The latter was resolved with an executive order when Joe Biden took office. Undocumented immigrants will be included as they have been in every census, going back to the first one in 1790. For more on redistricting and how the numbers might shake out, I spoke to-
Dave: David Wasserman, [dog barking] House editor of the Cook Political Report.
Amy: That's Dave's dog Izzy. Anyway, when it comes to redistricting, Dave is the guy. Just so our listeners understand how dedicated you are to redistricting and the redrawing of congressional lines, can you tell everybody how many maps you have drawn by hand?
Dave: I've lost count, but I started getting into this in college when I wrote my honors program thesis on it. Then in the 2010 cycle, I decided to sign up for a Twitter account to cover the process. I figured that a good handle would be @Redistrict and the name kind of stuck. I figured I would just use it for a year or two until the process was over. Then people started calling me by that name and here we have it we're in another decade and so I guess the name is relevant once again,
Amy: The technology has changed so much though, Dave, even from 10 years ago or when you started in college, where you literally were drawing by hand. Do you do most of it now on the computer or is there something about doing it by hand that you enjoy or you find to be a better more fulfilling way to do it?
Dave: I've always done it using using software and apps. A big myth about redistricting is that the technology has gotten a lot better in the last couple of decades and allowed for much more sophisticated maps. That's actually not true. We are looking at basically the same capabilities for parties and insiders drawing maps as existed in 1990. It just can be done a lot faster.
Amy: Don't we have more information in the sense that, the information we have about the people who live in these states, all now the stuff you can scrape from digital footprints and et cetera, has become easier and easier too, so you know a lot more about the people within these districts?
Dave: That may be true. Look, there is better micro-targeting than existed 10 or 20 years ago, but the big difference is the extent to which the American electorate has self sorted geographically. In 1992, only 38% of voters in that presidential election lived in what we would call landslide counties. Counties that gave at least 60% of the vote to either nominee. In 2020 that was 58%. We've seen America sort into red and blue and when voters are pre-sorted, it makes it a whole lot easier for mapmakers and partisan gerrymanderers to contort district boundaries in a way that guarantees them safe seats and tries to pack the other side into as few districts as possible.
Amy: Let's rewind a little bit, go back to the beginning here, which is the fact that, yes, we are at the beginning of this cycle. Normally by this time every 10 years, the census would have come out with all of the data and said, here are the States that based on census information we've put together are going to be gaining seats. These are the States that are going to be losing seats, something called apportionment, but we don't have that information yet and it's going to be a while before we do. Can you help us understand why that is, and what that's going to mean for this process that look, in a number of states, they have legislative elections this year.
Dave: Like everything else in this past year, blame COVID, because when we take stock of when the data usually comes out, you're right. By statute, the census bureau is supposed to release the reapportionment counts, the totals of every state's population, in December of the census year. This time around the delays in collecting that data and ensuring its accuracy meant that the census bureau blew past that deadline.
We're now expecting those reapportionment counts to come out in March. Now, we have a pretty good idea of which states are going to be the winners and losers. We've known for a long time that Texas and Florida have been gaining population and we'll probably pick up three and two seats respectively. A couple other States like Arizona, Colorado, maybe Montana will gain. New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, are some of the usual suspects losing seats.
We expect that to happen again. Pennsylvania, perhaps Rhode Island, West Virginia, Alabama. We have a good idea, although not the exact apportionment numbers. Then the second step in the process is when the bureau releases the detailed data, down to the block level, that then allows states to kick off the redistricting process.
They need that because even in states that aren't gaining or losing seats, they have to update their boundaries to ensure that districts are equal populace. When that data comes out, we may be looking at July, and that leaves a very compressed window. Keep in mind that's not typically a time a lot of state legislatures are in session, and in about two thirds of states, the process comes down to state legislature for primary responsibility drawing these lines for both congressional maps and state legislative districts.
There are a number of states that have December filing deadlines in the year proceeding the election. Those filing deadlines in some places like Texas or Illinois may need to get pushed back. It's possible we could see a number of primary dates pushed back later in the year 2022 for the midterms. Then for states with off year legislative elections like New Jersey and Virginia, it's likely at this point that courts will instruct the states to hold their elections under old boundaries, under pre-census boundaries, until the states can complete the process in time for 2023.
Amy: You pointed out that we have a pretty good sense of which states are gaining and losing seats, but we still don't know exactly what that looks like. Can you tell us which states are on the [unintelligible 00:48:08] I know New York is one of those that it seems to me from what I've been reading, that the difference between losing two seats and losing three seats, that's a big deal.
Dave: There's a bit of a bottleneck given the state's geography at the Bronx Westchester line. How many states are going to be in upstate New York? How many states are going to be- how many seats are going to be in the city? If New York were to have 26 districts, then upstate would have enough population for almost exactly 11 seats according to the current estimates, whereas if New York only had 25 seats, then upstate would have enough for 10.5. There would need to be one district axed from upstate New York and likely one in the city as well.
That ripple effect has huge implications for how competitive districts are, which incumbents could be threatened. One big controversy leading up to Biden's inauguration, was the Trump administration was trying to exclude undocumented immigrants from reapportionment counts, which would have been a pretty big change to longstanding policy. That might have cost New York, California, Texas, a number of seats and because the clock ran out on that push, that is a slight boon to New York's chances of holding on to 26 seats instead of going down to 25.
Amy: Dave, can you go through the differences between the way redistricting is being done this time versus say 2011, and if there is a distinct partisan advantage for one side or the other, just knowing what we know right now.
Dave: There are a lot of differences. First of all, in the 2011 process, Democrats got clobbered. Republicans had just come out of a great midterm year. They took control of Congress back, or the house back in 2010, in addition to a whole slew of state legislatures, and so they were able to draw more than four times as many congressional districts as Democrats. That was around 219 to 44 was the count and the rest of states were drawn by commissions or courts.
This time around, Republicans are less dominant than they were. There are fewer Republican trifecta states because Democrats won governorships in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, in Louisiana. Michigan moved to a commission process. There are more commissions obviously than there used to be. California was the big addition last time around and implemented a pretty successful citizens commission that was prohibited from taking into account partisan and incumbent data in the process.
This time around it remains to be seen whether the states that passed ballot initiatives creating commissions will be as successful. Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia have passed commissions that have a good deal of authority and are likely to draw a map with input from commissioners of both parties, appointees who are kind of a mix of being appointed by state legislative leaders and being selected by other commission members or retired judges.
Then you have three ballot initiative commissions that are less powerful in Utah, in Ohio and New York.
These states are kind of the gray area here because we're still waiting to see whether the legislatures in those states will let the commissions do the work or overrule them. The temptation on the part of parties to impose their will for the next 10 years, the pressure's going to be pretty great because given the margin in the house, keep in mind Democrats have 222 seats, which is only four more than the 218 required for a majority. There's going to be heavy pressure on both parties not to unilaterally disarm and to take control of the process where they can.
Amy: I wonder, will you see Democrats, for example, look at states where they were encouraging nonpartisan commissions, say in a state like Michigan, or we know that now in Virginia there is an independent commission. Are they going to look those commissions now and say, man, we could have gotten better lines. We could have had more Democratic success had we not put a commission in place.
Dave: Well, it is a situation of be careful what you wish for in some states. Michigan, the legislature is still Republican, even though there's a Democratic governor. The commission process kind of replaces a process that would have been gridlocked anyway, although Republicans did draw the map there 10 years ago. Virginia, a lot of Democrats are wishing that they hadn't been so vocal in favor of redistricting reform the last couple of years, because now they do control state government.
If they had retained the authority to draw the map, they could draw highly advantageous maps at all levels. Really the two big mysteries to me are New York and Ohio. Ohio has a new commission that is empowered if the legislature can't agree on a map with a majority of support from both parties within the legislature. I don't think that's going to happen because Republicans and Democrats have very different visions of how to draw a map. If the commission can't agree after a couple of rounds of negotiation, then the legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, can pass a map that's valid for the next four years on a simple majority vote.
A lot of people expect that's what will happen and that Republicans could end up gerrymandering Ohio. Now in New York, there is a new commission that was passed after a a push from Governor Andrew Cuomo who had advocated for reform, yet the commission can't even agree on who its chairperson should be so far. It's essentially--
Amy: Seems very New York to me. [chuckles]
Dave: It's essentially, five Democrats, five Republicans. They don't have a budget yet because the funds for the commission haven't been released and it's unclear where they should be coming from. A lot of people in New York are telling me they think that this commission was set up to fail, and that Democrats who hold a super majority in the New York legislature in Albany will end up drawing the map they want anyway.
If that were to happen, then Democrats could convert a map that currently has 19 Democrats and either seven or eight Republicans, depending on the result of one unresolved race upstate, to a map that is something like 23 Democrats to three Republicans. That in itself could be a huge swing when it comes to the battle for the house in 2022.
Amy: Great point. You talked about though that the city is also likely to lose one of those seats, and there's a lot of talk about, what that would mean, with one of the names being floated, of course, is the most famous representative, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and that her district could get merged with another district, which would set up quite a contentious primary. How likely is it that something like that is going to happen?
Dave: I don't think it's all that likely. The reason is that no other incumbent Democrat, for all the talk of how much of a thorn in the side AOC can be to the party. No other incumbent Democrat really wants to face off against her in a primary. I think it's far more likely that one of New York's more senior members will end up retiring. In my mind the likeliest candidate could be Carolyn Maloney who represents a district on the upper East side of Manhattan that was long known as the silk stocking district.
She is going to be 76 years old in 2022. She just came off of a primary that she nearly lost. It would be easy to divide her district up into a number of pieces, parts of which for example Astoria in Queens, could go to AOC who represents the district next door. That could be a convenient solution for a complex jigsaw puzzle in the city.
Amy: When all is said and done, Dave, if you look at the fact that as you said, there are some significant differences from last time, but Republicans still have trifectas Republican control of the legislature and the governorships in some of these big states that are gaining states like Florida and Texas and Georgia. When all is said and done, is it likelier that Republicans come out of this whole process nationally netting Republican leaning seats.
Dave: I do think it's likely. For all of the states that Democrats are looking at gerrymandering, there are even more states that Republicans are looking at reshaping to their liking. The pressure is going to be immense. It's fashionable for both parties to decry gerrymandering and at the same time, all of a sudden there becomes a lot of enthusiasm for it when the other side is doing it and it becomes an arms race. I expect this process to be an arms race, but with the caveat that courts may step in if legislatures are up against deadlines and can't agree, or can't corral the votes to pass a map.
This becomes Lord of the flies. If the members of state legislatures can't agree on a plan because some people think it affects their friends adversely, then the courts, either state or federal courts can take over the process. Look, I think on balance Republicans, because Texas is picking up three seats, Florida is picking up two, North Carolina is picking up seat. Republicans could very well net five seats out of this process, which means that the house would start out as a toss up before you even get to who's running and the quality of the candidates and the larger political environment involved.
Amy: Dave Wasserman, I could talk to you about this for many, many more hours, but we have to leave it here. Thanks so much. I look forward to seeing your maps, which you are also uploading, are you not? Both to your Twitter account and Cook Political Report?
Dave: That's correct and I look forward to nerding out with everyone over the course of the next year.
Amy: Dave Wasserman is House editor at The Cook Political Report.
[music] One more thing for me today. Something we can all agree on, it seems, is that we're having a hard time agreeing on what it means to compromise. In this time of choose your own news, we literally are not living in the same realities. There's an old saying that politics ain't beanbag. It's rough and tumble and not for the faint of heart, but today it's more than that. Politics is now a zero sum game. I win, you lose. Every vote, every bill, every hearing, is an existential threat. We can no more expect Joe Biden to fix this than we can expect him to be able to fly.
The only people who can change it? Well, it's us. And right now, a lot of us would rather see fighting than fixing. A recent Pew research poll lays this out pretty starkly. When asked if President Biden should work with Republicans in Congress even if it means disappointing some of his voters, 62% of Democrats agree. But just 38% of Republican voters thought that Republican leaders should work with Biden. In other words, Democrats are more willing to let their leaders compromise than Republicans are.
Given that President Trump spent four years in office telling his supporters that Democrats were coming for them and their way of life, it shouldn't be that much of a surprise. Those who stand in the way of working in a more civil and productive way are only there because they're rewarded for it. The only way to make it stop is to stop giving them the attention and the votes they crave.
That's all for us today. Our senior producer is Amber Hall. Patricia Jacob is our associate producer. Polly Irungu is our digital editor. David Gable is our executive assistant. This week Sean Sandra was our board op and Vince Fairchild was our director. Our executive producer is Lee Hill. Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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