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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on President Trump's legacy

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump's legacy, President-elect Biden's first days in office, and how Biden will be received by Republicans.

AIRED: January 18, 2021 | 0:08:21
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Just days after the second impeachment of outgoing President Trump and

days before the inauguration of incoming President Biden, it's time for our regular Politics

Monday duo.

That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

It is so good to see both of you.

And this is the last time the three of us will be gathering on a Monday during the Trump

presidency.

So, Tam, let's start by talking about that.

So much has happened in the last days of President Trump's time in office. But when you think

about his legacy, what are you thinking at this point?

TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: You know, every time we think we know what his legacy

will be, more things happen.

And, you know, in the end, his presidency ended with him denying the result of the election,

leading his supporters into believing something that caused an insurrection. And he also did

oversee the loss of the House and the Senate for Republicans.

So, he -- oh, and he was impeached a second time. So, in the end, there is a lot of stuff

on that last couple of months' resume that tarnishes what many of his supporters say

were good things, like passing the tax cuts or building the wall.

I mean, you talk to supporters of the president, and they still love what he did for -- on

policy. That is what they will say again and again. But in terms of the overall picture,

gosh, there is a lot to tarnish what his supporters like.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, there is. And people will point to his foreign policy and say there

are aspects of that that they like. But you are right, so much of that getting overshadowed

right now.

Amy, you have taken a look, among much else, at the public opinion polls here at the very

end. What do the American people saying when they look at President Trump?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right.

Judy, we have had a lot of polls that have come out this week. You know, this is the

sort of typical time when the final moments of a presidency, the sort of check-in, as

you said, about how people are feeling about the outgoing president and then the incoming

one.

And these, of course, were all taken since the event at the Capitol on January 6. What

we find is, there has been a drop in the president's overall approval rating, on average, about

six points across all of these different polls.

You have some polls that show the president at historically low ratings. Pew had him at

29 percent job approval rating, others, like the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, that show

him basically where he has been for most of his presidency, right around 43 percent.

But what is notable, Judy, is that, in almost every single one of these polls, 75-to-85-plus

percent of Republicans consider -- continue to give the president high marks, think that

he has done a good job, is currently doing a good job as president.

And that matters because of its impact on the people that are sitting in Congress right

now. There is not a political incentive for Republicans to distance themselves from the

president. And, as Tam pointed out, this is a legacy that certainly not only is it right

now not looking very good -- he has one of the lowest overall approval ratings in Gallup

history leaving office -- but it also means that he is going to have a legacy, I think,

that is going to continue to evolve even in these next few months.

Every president, right, over time sees his legacy change and evolve. But, in this case,

just in the next few months, as we have these impeachment hearings, as we have hearings

run by a Democratic-controlled Congress, opinions of this president could look very different

at the end of the year even than they do right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And as we see how his loyal followers are prepared to work, or not, with

President Biden.

And, Tam, you have done a lot of reporting on what we should expect from Joe Biden, the

president-elect, once he takes office. What are you hearing about -- what should we expect

in the way of messages from him, both in his inaugural speech and in what he does in the

first few days in office?

TAMARA KEITH: Right.

As Yamiche was saying, unity is expected to be a theme. Of course, that is something that

Biden ran on, the idea of restoring the soul of America and unifying the country. It is

a tall order.

I spent a lot of time talking to historians and one former speechwriter over the past

few days. And this is a unique moment, uniquely challenging. And none of them thought that

a single speech could really change much.

But in terms of precedent, I mean, FDR had the Great Depression, but he didn't also have

a pandemic, though they say that there is a model there in sort of leveling with the

American people.

And the other example that they thought of was potentially Richard Nixon, which is ironic,

because his legacy is not one of unity, to say the least. But he came in at a time of

great social and racial division in the country.

In essence, Biden doesn't have a guidebook to follow here. There isn't a playbook for

this. It is going to be a challenge. And then will come in and do a lot of executive actions,

as presidents have come to do, reversing much of -- as much of what his predecessor did

as he possibly can.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, I mean, all we can think about at this point are the challenges

facing Joe Biden.

Is it pretty much an uphill situation that he is facing as he steps into the White House?

Is it all -- is it all uphill? He gets up every morning and thinks about the tough moves

he has to make, the tough decisions he has to make?

I want to ask you that. But I am also curious, how receptive do you think the American people

are? How open are they to see what he does?

AMY WALTER: Well, that is what I was going to say, Judy, is, it is one thing to come

into office with all these challenges in front of you.

It is another to come in at a time where we are as polarized as we are. You look back

even not that very -- not that far, back to 2009, when Barack Obama was coming into office

with the financial crisis. But he had a really deep well of good will, overwhelmingly positive

favorable ratings.

Right now, it looks, at least in the most recent polling, that, while people feel generally

good about Biden, it's not off-the-charts good. It's fine, right, and, as I said, Republicans

overwhelmingly, not only supportive of the president, the current president, but not

feeling very good about the incoming one.

But the most important thing, Judy, I think - - and it -- is how important it will be for

Joe Biden to preach unity is, of course, coming through in his speech, but it will be effective

if he is able to make government effective.

Making this vaccine rollout work is going to do more, I think, to unify the country

or at least to minimize our partisanship and our polarization than any speech could ever

do, because part of the challenge we are in right now as a country is the loss of faith

in our institutions, government being one of them.

Government failing to do the things it should be able to do is what has gotten people to

lose faith and to believe in many of the conspiracy theories out there. So, I think that would

go a long way, not just in helping the country, but in -- also in helping the opinions that

Americans have about their institutions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will see. We will be talking about it next Monday and for Mondays beyond.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: But this is the last time we will see you both during the Trump administration.

Thank you both, Amy Walter, Tamara Keith. Thank you.