ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey there. We've got some big news. The NPR POLITICS team is going to be hitting the road. We will be in Atlanta, Ga., on March 8 making a podcast live onstage. And we'd love to see you there. So head to nprpresents.org to grab a ticket. And see you soon.
JOHN G: Hi there. John G. (ph) here. I'm on my lunch break in the beautiful city of San Francisco, Calif. And I'm currently in search of a reliable Internet connection that will allow me to submit applications to law schools across this country. This podcast was recorded at...
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:
1:12 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19.
G: Please note, things might have changed by the time you hear this, like hopefully my admission status to law school. Have a great day.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good luck.
KURTZLEBEN: I know. Hey there. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. Senator Bernie Sanders has announced that he's running for president again. But this time, he's in a field of candidates who hold many of his progressive policy positions. Plus, a majority of Americans oppose Donald Trump's emergency declaration. We'll talk about why that matters. I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, political reporter.
KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid, political reporter.
MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, political editor.
KURTZLEBEN: And a little bit of housekeeping. Pardon the pun here, but, Asma, before we get started, you're at home in Boston today. And you've got some construction going on. There's going to be some noise in the background.
KHALID: Yeah. Hopefully, it's not too loud, guys, but sorry, we have some people working on some pipes and plumbing in our basement of the condo association.
MONTANARO: Are you on the board or anything?
KHALID: Well, we only live in a three-person condo association, as many homes in Boston are.
KURTZLEBEN: What? Good to know.
MONTANARO: OK. Well, good luck with that.
KURTZLEBEN: Well, let's...
MONTANARO: Good luck with that bureaucracy. It sounds lovely.
KURTZLEBEN: Let's broaden out from a three-person homeowners' association to...
MONTANARO: To a three-person podcast.
KHALID: That was good, Domenico. That was good.
KURTZLEBEN: Bernie Sanders - so Bernie Sanders is running for president again. So, guys, let's start with this - is it very surprising or incredibly surprising that he's running?
KHALID: I mean, I - OK, look...
KURTZLEBEN: Sorry, I'm being sarcastic. I mean, like, we...
KHALID: Like, we knew, clearly, there were signs in the last...
KHALID: ...Recent weeks that he was very seriously considering this run. But, look; I will say that if I were to have gone back, like, a month or two, I was a little bit more on the fence about whether he'd actually jump in and in part because I did a lot of reporting up in New Hampshire talking to people who were his surrogates. I mean, these were people who were sort of very involved in the Bernie operation during the 2016 campaign, and not all of them necessarily wanted him to run. Some of them thought it would not even be a good idea for him to enter the race. I mean, obviously, some of them are still on board with him. So I kind of thought like, hey, if your own loyal supporters aren't so sure about this, are you really going to do this?
MONTANARO: You know, to Asma's point, I mean, the fact that, you know, so many activists that she's talked to on the campaign trail have said that they're kind of open to other candidates really tells you a lot about where Sanders is at and kind of the work that he has to do. One, he's 77 years old, and, frankly, a lot of younger activists are saying that they'd rather vote for somebody who's younger who might have a chance at two terms and that they want to be in the White House for a longer period of time and someone who represents them, you know, generationally even.
KHALID: And Bernie Sanders actually brought up how he sort of sees himself in this race on Vermont Public Radio this morning when he initially announced his campaign.
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BERNIE SANDERS: We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.
MONTANARO: You know, this is a historically diverse field. At this point, Sanders and John Delaney are the only two straight white men who are running.
KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah.
MONTANARO: ...For the nomination of 12 declared candidates.
MONTANARO: But also the fact that - the irony that Sanders has to feel with the fact that he came from the fringes of the, you know, of caucusing with the Democratic Party...
MONTANARO: ...Even though he's an independent, was able to take these, what were seen as fringe ideas, make them really the mainstream policy platforms of almost all the 2020 candidates and he's not even seen as the guy who's the likely nominee.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, let's get into that because I was looking back at the debates from 2015 - you know, ancient history at this point it feels like.
KURTZLEBEN: But very first question he was asked in a 2015 debate was about him potentially being an outlier on that fringe you're talking about, about him being a democratic socialist. Here is CNN's Anderson Cooper asking him about that.
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ANDERSON COOPER: You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?
SANDERS: Well, we're going to win because, first, we're going to explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent - own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
KURTZLEBEN: And so that idea of democratic socialism, yeah, like you were saying, Domenico, it's not so out there anymore. We have democratic socialists in Congress now. We have them at the state level. So tell me how is he - is he going to stand out this year? What do you think, Asma?
KHALID: But I will say, Danielle, to that point, I do still think the label of democratic socialism is still - it's a tricky label for Democrats. I was out with Kamala Harris yesterday in Concord, N.H., and she was specifically asked about this saying, you know, the person who won here last cycle, Bernie Sanders, is a democratic socialist. And she was asked if she needed to move more in that direction. And what I thought was so interesting about her response is she said right off the bat I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist, but in America today, not everyone has an equal opportunity. And then she sort of goes on to talk about economic inequality and disparities and whatnot. So it's not that the messaging isn't there. It's still that the label is something that not most of the other candidates are subscribing to.
KURTZLEBEN: Let's get into this idea that, you know, a lot of these really pretty progressive policies that Sanders espoused in 2016 are now very widely accepted on the Democratic side, that the Overton window has kind of widened because of him. I mean, "Medicare-for-all" is heavily embraced by a lot of these candidates, $15 minimum wage, paid leave. So, Asma, you've been out there on the trail. Is Bernie Sanders' 2016 coalition of voters, is it fracturing? Are they going to other candidates? Is he - does he still stand out?
KHALID: I mean, you could make the argument that he is somewhat a victim of his own success this time to your very point because so many of the other candidates running this cycle do espouse similar, if not identical, positions on some of these really key public policy issues. And look; I mean, I don't know that I will say I can say with confidence how much of his coalition will stay together. What I will say is it is pretty unanimous when you talk to voters up in New Hampshire. And we should point out New Hampshire is the state that really put Bernie Sanders on the map during the 2016 cycle, right? He clobbered Hillary Clinton in that primary. And so he did just so well, and it's not hard to find former Bernie Sanders supporters in New Hampshire.
And when I ask people - I've often been asking them, I mean, who did you support in '16 and why, a lot of those people are not necessarily with him now. And I don't know that they see that he's the only one who - the only progressive option. There was one woman I want to tell you about in particular I met. Her name is Arnie Arnesen. She's a radio show host. She kind of considers herself Sanders' ideological twin because she says she sees so much of herself in terms of his own progressive visions. But she told me flat out she thought that he could play a more important role in 2020 by staying out of the race for president.
KURTZLEBEN: In 2016, he was unexpectedly popular. He did quite well in the primaries, but he was also, to some voters, quite divisive. He - there was a pretty hard rift in the Democratic Party between his supporters and some Clinton supporters and so - you know, some complaints that, for example, he could have done more to rein in the so-called Bernie Bros who were saying some sexist things online and that sort of thing. So I'm wondering, does he face any - do you guys see him facing any leftover bitterness, any sort of a hangover from 2016? Or does he mostly just benefit from his success in 2016?
MONTANARO: Well, I think that there are some things that viewed through 2019 lens and the way Sanders talks about, whether it's misogyny or race, that, you know, it doesn't necessarily strike some in the activist base as being the most sensitive. I mean, in talking about the idea that there were people online who were harassing women who were part of his support network, and his answer for that has essentially been, well, I was running for president. You know, you can't expect me to know everything about that. And, you know, that kind of flippance (ph) is not something that I think this base really wants to hear about in that same way. I will say that I think that he is still somebody who, because of his name ID, because of how strongly he ran in 2016, he's going to be a top contender for this nomination and also because he stridently makes his case.
MONTANARO: Good luck winning an argument against Bernie Sanders, right? He's been making the same case with the same kind of talking points for the last 40 years. He knows what he stands for. He knows why he's running. And you can't count him out because, you know, he knows exactly the areas where he wants to, you know, ply with those facts.
KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, we'll keep our eye on Bernie Sanders and all of the other candidates, including new ones. For now, we're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, we have a new poll showing that Trump's emergency declaration is pretty unpopular. So we'll be right back with that.
And we're back. So let's talk about this new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. The big finding is that 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump declaring a national emergency over his border wall. So, Domenico, you wrote the article on this. You analyzed the poll. What do you take away from all of this?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, so let's just go through some of the numbers, but only 36 percent of people approve of the president declaring a national emergency; 61 percent disapprove. Nearly 6 in 10 also don't believe that there even is a national emergency at the southern border and that the president is misusing his presidential authority. Now, those sound like huge numbers - right? - 6 in 10 Americans. It's like everything with Trump has become a proxy for his approval rating. You know, the fact of the matter is his approval in January was, you know, kind of close to some of these numbers. This is a little - this a little bit outstrips that. But, essentially, it holds true that if you don't like the president, you probably didn't like the national emergency. And if you do like the president, you probably approve of him declaring a national emergency.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. And there are some hard partisan divides here as well, right?
MONTANARO: Absolutely. No question about it. And I think the thing that jumped out to everybody is the fact that 85 percent of Republicans approved of the national emergency. It's understandable that 94 percent of Democrats disapproved of it. And then you've got 63 percent of independents who are with Democrats saying they disapprove. And that really - I mean, I've said so many times - should be a warning flag for the White House. The president and his aides don't apparently seem to care about winning over the middle or winning over potentially persuadables. It wasn't how he ran his campaign in 2016, so it's not how he's going to run his campaign in 2020. But we already had one referendum on that kind of politics in the 2018 midterms. And Democrats won 40 seats that were previously held by Republicans. Of course, President Trump wasn't on the ballot. He's going to be on the ballot in 2020.
KURTZLEBEN: OK. So there are these hard partisan divides on immigration. Donald Trump has really shaped how Republicans talk about immigration, taking a really hard line. So let's talk about the Democrats. Asma, you have this really great, really thorough piece out today about how Democrats' stances on immigration have changed over the years and arrived at where they are today.
KHALID: Yeah, yeah. Danielle, it was a super fascinating story to do because I've been wanting to do this for a while. I think that there is this kind of myth - right? - that the Republican Party has been the only party that's really substantively moved on immigration. And, in fact, the Democrats have had their own evolution on this as well. And I think the - probably the starkest way to understand just how much Democrats have moved on the issue of immigration is when you look at this question that the Pew Research Center has been asking.
So they started - I think if you go back to 1994, they asked Americans whether or not immigrants strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents. And at that point in time, Republicans and Democrats were pretty even. Say, about a third of Democrats thought immigrants strengthen the country. You ask Democrats that same question today, and over 80 percent of them agree with this statement. And it's just a phenomenal, phenomenal shift.
KURTZLEBEN: So what's behind that? What pushed that along?
KHALID: You know, I would say it's kind of multifaceted, but if I were to outline kind of two big things, one is that actually key constituencies within the Democratic Party have evolved on this issue. So in the '90s, you had groups like the NAACP, as well as some labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, who really saw immigrants as a potential threat to American wages and American jobs. That has sort of substantively changed maybe since the year 2000, you could say. And at this point now, you have groups like the AFL-CIO who have been supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. And you have groups like the NAACP now seeing immigration much more as a civil rights issue than as a jobs and labor issue. So the entire framing of immigration has really, really shifted.
And the other big thing is just the strength and the power of activists. And you hear this from people - you know, I spoke to Cecilia Munoz, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama administration. And she said, really, you just have now the power of the activists influencing how Democrats see this conversation...
KHALID: ...To the point where, like, you know, we hear a lot more, say, about border enforcement because that's what the activists are talking about. But she worries that we're not talking that much about reforms to the legal immigration process - right? - because that's not something that you hear the activists focusing on.
MONTANARO: You know, one other thing to keep in mind, you got to remember in the mid-1990s up into, you know, 2000 - in 2000, the country hit a peak of border apprehensions. There were some 1.6 million people who were apprehended at the border. You could say that there was a national emergency or a crisis then and that there was a way to talk about that, unless you are in favor of open borders. But if you were to look today, those numbers have dropped dramatically fourfold. So there really isn't the same kind of reason for talking about illegal immigration in the same way as an urgent issue as it was then.
KURTZLEBEN: So how much is this about Trump also?
MONTANARO: I think there's definitely been a shift because of the way President Trump has talked about the wall, for example...
MONTANARO: ...And immigrants in general - right? - where Democrats have had to be more absolutist about the way they talk about immigration and being pro-immigrant rather than take a sort of middle-of-the-road approach or be able to say, on the one hand, crossing a border illegally is wrong. On the other hand, we have to, you know, stay open to the plaque on the Statue of Liberty that we take in everybody.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Yeah.
MONTANARO: That's been a defining line because President Trump has talked the way he has talked about this. You know, over the years, Democrats have sort of changed the way they've talked about immigration. You know, they've had some pretty tough talk. I think back to the 1990s, for example. 1995 - here was Bill Clinton at the State of the Union address.
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BILL CLINTON: All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more.
MONTANARO: Right. That's a big shift from what you hear today. There's some context around that I want to talk about, but then I also want you to listen to another clip from 2005 of then-Senator Barack Obama. This was tweeted out by President Trump and has been talked about by some of his White House advisers.
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BARACK OBAMA: We are a generous and welcoming people here in the United States, but those who enter the country illegally and those who employ them disrespect the rule of law. And they are showing disregard for those who are following the law. We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.
MONTANARO: That's something that President Trump actually wound up tweeting out before the 2014 midterms to sort of say, hey, I agree with Barack Obama. There was a whole lot more context to both of those things, including with President Obama making a almost half-hour speech on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
MONTANARO: And President Bill Clinton back in 1995 at the time had just lost the House, 1994, to Republicans where they had the Republican revolution. And these are examples of Democrats trying to thread the needle to try to have a softer approach on immigration but first talking about the need for strong border security.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well - so let's bring this to 2020 right now. Like, we know that Donald Trump's strategy in 2016, 2018 was to focus on the border, focus on his wall, focus on immigration. So, yeah, we can assume he'll make that a key part of his campaign in 2020, so let's talk about the Democrats, though. On the campaign trail, what are Democrats highlighting on immigration? What are the policies they're bringing up?
KHALID: They talk about comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, Kamala Harris was asked about immigration yesterday at a town hall in New Hampshire. And what I found really interesting is she did not once mention border enforcement. She talked about a very sort of humane system. She talked about the DACA program, about creating some sort of system that would allow families to stay together, whether that meant providing some pathway towards some sort of legalization for the parents of these DACA recipients.
And so to me, what's really interesting is again and again I've been paying attention to this because I really want to see when I start hearing Democrats talk at all about border enforcement because I would argue we don't hear about it much. And I don't know, you know, if that leaves some gaps for them. When I talked to Cecilia Munoz, who handled immigration during the Obama years, for her, that's a bit worrisome. She has this idea that, you know, look; it's becoming very close to being a taboo topic at this point, border enforcement. And she worries about that because she's like, you cannot just be a party that is against what Donald Trump stands for.
KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, as Democrats formulate their stances on immigration, or anything else for that matter, we will be here. But for now, that's a wrap for today. We will be back as soon as there is more news you need to know about. Until then, head to npr.org/politicsnewsletter to subscribe to a roundup of our best online analysis. Until then, I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, political reporter.
KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid, political reporter, too.
MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, political editor.
KURTZLEBEN: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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