UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER: Hey NPR. This is the Oakcliff (ph) sailing crew. It's 1:10 a.m, and we are - have completed 120 nautical miles off the coast of Maine for the Monhegan Island Race. This podcast was recorded at...
ASMA KHALID, HOST:
2:11 p.m. Eastern time on - oh, my God, what day is it? Sorry, guys. It's Wednesday, right? OK - on Wednesday, September 2.
UNIDENTIFIED NPR LISTENER: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. Hopefully we'll all be in our own warm beds. Here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: That one's fun - and dangerous - but fun.
KHALID: Did they say, though, it was 1:10 in the morning when they were doing this? That part did not sound particularly fun if I caught that correctly.
SNELL: Well, that's fair (laughter).
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: I both want to be there and then am scared about being there.
KHALID: Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.
WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh, congressional editor.
KHALID: So today is going to be an all-Congress episode, which we haven't done in a while. And I'm glad that both Kelsey and Deirdre are here because you all are obviously two of our congressional experts. And I guess, you know, part of the way we wanted to frame this conversation is to talk about the state of both parties. And let's start with Republicans because I do think there is a sense of what even hypothetically a President Trump second term would look like in Congress. And I know, Kelsey, you've been having some conversations with people about this hypothetical and what that might mean.
SNELL: Yeah. I mean, the conversations that I was having with people as I was looking ahead to, you know, to what a Republican agenda would be kind of told me a lot about where Republicans are right now. And that's in part because the platform that they adopted going into the Republican convention was the exact same platform that they adopted in 2016 with very few changes.
I mean, they were essentially promising at the convention that four more years of President Trump would be essentially the same as the last four years. And they - that means that they're bound - basically the entire party to the policies of the president. But these aren't necessarily policies that all Republicans agree on. Like, I'm thinking about health care and about immigration. I'm thinking about trade. These are all things where Republicans have been divided in the past. And, you know, even spending is something that divides them. But they have bound themselves, like I said, to President Trump's vision.
WALSH: Well, and, Kelsey, they still have a lot left to do, right? I mean, the one big thing they did accomplish when they had full control of both chambers of Congress and the White House was the big tax reform bill. But they failed at getting through some of those big agenda items that are still on their list for the next four years, like you mentioned immigration, coming up with a health care replacement policy as they work to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And obviously spending is something that they have not touched really at all, and some would argue they've sort of gone backwards in terms of their principles on spending reforms.
KHALID: You know, Kelsey, I think one thing that's worth noting is that President Trump began with, you know, Republican control in Congress. And I guess to a layperson, it seems somewhat confusing to hear Deirdre outline - and actually both you guys outlined some of these big Trump policies, whether it was around immigration or trade that weren't able to get traction in Congress because he had the numbers numerically, you would think, to be able to do these things in Congress.
SNELL: Yeah. And I think a really good example of that is health care, where Republicans tend to agree with the concept. So they agreed on the concept that they wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That was fine. But the next step of that became, how do you replace it? And there was absolutely no agreement about how you move forward with replacing the Affordable Care Act. The same kind of thing happens when you move into spaces like immigration, where they generally agree on the concept that there should be more border security and that there should be changes to illegal immigration.
Well, most people, when they talk about a comprehensive immigration reform, they're talking about making changes to legal immigration as well. And there is tremendous division among Republicans about that. And there's, you know, frankly a lot of division among Republicans about the concept of security, how you secure a border. It is not Republican orthodoxy - or it wasn't before - that you needed a wall. But President Trump firmly believes that that is part of a border security plan. And that has gotten them, you know, crosswise of one another to a point where they just can't move forward on immigration.
KHALID: You know, it feels like one place where some of these dynamics are playing out is around attempts to reach some sort of agreement around a coronavirus aid package right now.
SNELL: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There are so many conflicts happening around coronavirus aid that it's kind of hard to know exactly where to begin. And that's actually part of the problem. They don't know where to begin. Republicans disagree amongst themselves about how much aid should be passed. There's some people who want it less than a trillion dollars. There are some people, particularly senators who are trying to save their Senate seats - say, Cory Gardner in Colorado or Susan Collins in Maine - who think that this should be a fairly expansive spending package. And then you've got Democrats who are in the room saying that they want, like, $3 trillion. This is a big mass. And it's a big mess that is running very quickly into a deadline to keep the government open at the end of September, which as Deirdre well knows, we keep running into these deadlines over and over and over.
WALSH: Exactly. And the Republicans that control the Senate, the last thing they want is more drama around a government shutdown. I mean, they didn't want the last one and tried to do everything they could to avoid it and end it. They're sort of at the behest of what the president wants. If the president decides he wants to tack on a new demand onto some kind of package, it can throw the whole thing sort of into disarray. And so I think most people on the Hill are just hoping that they just sort of work on some sort of overall package to continue current levels of funding past the election, get through it and sort of revisit the issue on the other side of the election.
KHALID: All right. Let's take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk about Senator Ed Markey's primary win over Joe Kennedy in Massachusetts.
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KHALID: And we're back. And last night, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey won his primary, which in the state of Massachusetts essentially means he won reelection.
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ED MARKEY: The time to be timid is past. The age of incrementalism is over. Now is our moment to think big, to build big, to be big.
KHALID: He fended off a primary challenge from Joe Kennedy III, his last name Kennedy being very famous in the state of Massachusetts. And he is, in fact, the only member of the Kennedy family who is currently in federal office. But his loss also marks the first time that a Kennedy has lost a statewide race in Massachusetts. Deirdre, what did you make of that race and the fact that Joe Kennedy was not able to be successful last night?
WALSH: The race has just been fascinating because it's sort of flipped the old sort of political scripts in a state like Massachusetts and sort of more broadly in the Democratic Party. I mean, you had Ed Markey, who was first elected to Congress 1976, sort of wasn't all that well-known statewide getting a challenge from a Kennedy, you know, sort of a political dynasty who sort of initially made the pitch that he was running for sort of a new generation of Democrat to take the seat. The issue was he never really made an argument about why he deserved the job or wanted the job because Kennedy and Markey weren't really ideological opponents. They sort of were both viewed as progressives.
And I think another thing about this race that's really interesting to me as someone who's watched politics and sort of forced to learn about politics going to school in Massachusetts is - sort of political makeover that Ed Markey gave himself. He, you know, was somebody who had a lot of experience in Washington. Some people, you know, criticized him for maybe spending too much time in Washington. But then he became known as the sort of father of the Green New Deal. He became synonymous with the Green New Deal, which was wildly popular with progressive young voters. And he sort of became their champion. And he sort of became the hipster in high-top Nike Air sneakers, you know, in these viral video ads.
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MARKEY: All across America, the essential people are demanding a new deal. Well, they call me the deal maker.
WALSH: And he's sort of - without attacking Kennedy personally or his family, which are pretty popular in the state, he had a new twist on the sort of famous line from then-President John F. Kennedy.
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MARKEY: With all due respect, it's time to start asking what your country can do for you.
KHALID: Ouch. I mean, I remember when I first saw that ad. I just thought, wow, that is an incredibly bold ad. But also, I felt like it was just a gutsy ad to run in Massachusetts, where, you know, there's been some, like, generic polling I remember of just like a generic Kennedy. And he would often win on ballots. Just like the idea of a Kennedy is very popular, had historically been very popular in the state.
SNELL: I mean, Asma, you understand the dynamics of politics in Massachusetts probably the best out of all of us. You recently were living there and covering Massachusetts politics. Did people know Markey?
KHALID: I have to agree with Deirdre here that he was definitely the lesser-known member of the delegation. Right? I mean, he's lesser known, for example, than Senator Elizabeth Warren. But there's also just other members of the congressional delegation that I think are just known more, seen around town more than Ed Markey. You know, he had been outspoken around net neutrality. But I really do think his attachment to the Green New Deal gave him this sort of new lifeblood and this just new dimension to who he was in running this race. And we saw that there was a lot of excitement and energy around his campaign, specifically from younger voters. Younger voters seem to prefer him over Joe Kennedy even though Kennedy was trying to make this generational change argument.
WALSH: And Markey was sort of already planning ahead because even though Kennedy hadn't officially announced he was challenging him, he went out, you know, February of 2019 when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York freshman Democrat who created the Green New Deal, sort of rolled it out. And he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her on the front lawn of the Capitol and sort of laid claim to being the Senate author or father of that proposal.
KHALID: You know, there was another race out in western Massachusetts that I also thought was fascinating yesterday. And that is Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He fended off this progressive challenger, which was notable because we have seen moments where progressive challengers have been really successful. And, you know, I think we can talk a lot about maybe why this didn't work in western Massachusetts. I think the demographics certainly didn't favor kind of a young upstart as much as some places where we've seen these people to be successful. But, you know, Kelsey, did you find that race surprising? It was a pretty big victory for Neal.
SNELL: You know, I wasn't particularly surprised by this. So I'm the odd man out in the sense that I have not done time living in Massachusetts. But I definitely put my time in covering the Ways and Means Committee as a tax reporter for very many years. There are a couple of things that I would say made this race easier for him than it would - was for, say, an Eliot Engel in New York, another chairman who lost in a primary from a progressive challenger.
One thing is that Richard Neal is representing a district that's roughly 85% white and largely comprised of white-collar workers. He is kind of known as a constituent services guy. He's the one who's going to make sure your kid gets into a service academy and you get a flag flown over the Capitol for your grandparents' birthday. That's the kind of guy that he kind of crafted himself to be. So he fit his district in a way that some of these people who are losing primary challenges just simply do not. Eliot Engel is a 73-year-old white guy who's representing a district that's roughly 32% Black and 23% Hispanic.
A lot of the changes that we have seen through the primary process for Democrats have been, you know, progressive challengers in extremely safe Democratic seats challenging people who maybe didn't fit their district anymore. And a lot of the credit goes to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, as we've said, was kind of the vanguard of all of this. And she is getting personally involved in recruiting people and supporting people who are running these primaries looking to, you know, just make the Democratic Party look a lot more like the voters who are in those districts.
KHALID: All right. Well, we will leave it there for today. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress.
WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh, congressional editor.
KHALID: And thank you all for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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