tv Newsmakers JB Poersch Senate Majority PAC CSPAN September 8, 2019 10:02am-10:36am EDT
>> this weekend on american history tv, this evening at 4:30 eastern, scholars on the history of u.s. policy toward iran and iran's nuclear program. at 6:00, historian dan albert talks about his book, are we there yet? the american automobile past, and present. explore our nations passed on american history tv, every weekend on c-span3. steve: joining us on newsmakers is jb poersch. he is the president of the senate majority pack. thank you for joining us. j.b.: thank you, steve. steve: let me begin with the senate republican leader up for reelection in kentucky. we have not seen him public in the last month because he fractured his shoulder as a result of a fall that took place in louisville at his home.
what can we expect when he comes back and sizes up that race? j.b.: i think when we come back in the senate, obviously the first focus is going to be this is the legislative session to follow a month of gun violence in several cities around the country. so i expect a serious conversation inside the senate. i think where we are with americans is that there's more of an expectation that something's going to get done, and i think both caucuses are going to feel some pressure for some, not just overall result, cosmetic results, but they want to see something that goes toward gun violence and gun safety. steve: is amy mcgrath of the strongest candidate? j.b.: i think she's a very strong candidate. i think she ran well. she fell short in a really tough district. she has a terrific story to tell about her time in the military. right now, it seems she's the
likely candidate to take on mitch mcconnell and there's a lot of enthusiasm for it. she's obviously been raising strong money for it and she's going to be a handful for leader mcconnell. steve: but quickly, are there lessons from five and a half ago when there was the other campaign against senator mcconnell? j.b.: well, i think for the candidates, i think amy mcgrath, by nature, will demonstrate discipline as a candidate and i expect that. but let's not kid ourselves. this is a race that's very much about mitch mcconnell in a state that obviously donald trump won by 30.5. senator mcconnell's very unpopular. and uniquely unpopular, where his job numbers are in the low 20's, even in the teens.
and this isn't something we've seen for some time. he is uniquely vulnerable and it shapes up to be an interesting race. steve: what is his biggest weakness? what are you going after? j.b.: i think it's going to be hard for him to make a claim that kentuckians believe he is still rooted in his own state and his own state is his main focus. it won't surprise me if the campaign shifts to one where he makes his focus about delivering for donald trump, hoping that trump's far more popular than he is. but his hard argument is about whether he has gone washington beyond the point where he can't be saved anymore. steve: let me turn to my colleagues. >> i want to ask you about the politics of gun control. the senate map is concentrated on republican battleground
states, like arizona, georgia, north carolina. gun control is a fraud issue for -- fraught issue for democrats. are you encouraging democrats to aggressively tackle the issue, even in states where it's been challenging to talk about these issues? j.b.: i think voters see the conversation that's happening, especially the idea that's coming from most democrats as reason, this conversation around background checks normally has public support, nationally, 75%-80% of the population. certainly, voters want to make sure the conversation goes comprehensively and not just to gun safety and gun violence. but i think not only is americans ready for it, i think you're going to see they're expecting action. >> would you encourage democratic candidates to actively campaign on the issue? j.b.: i would encourage both
democrats and republicans to find answers to this that includes background checks. steve: crystal hayes. crystal: i also wanted to ask, of course guns are going to be a big focus. what are some of the other issues you guys plan to focus on in ads or some of the main themes? j.b.: the economy is never going to go far in any federal election. in particular, and this one, it -- in this one, it will be on people's minds, where donald trump and the republicans will argue it's a great economy. but for a lot of americans, they're still wondering why they haven't benefited from it more. health care was a prime point in 2018. you have no reason to believe that it won't be an equally hot issue in 2020.
and the fact that republicans, all these years later, or so reluctant to go on record with anything. most of them are on record as being for plans that risk access. crystal: on gun control, we heard murmurs the senate could pass something. it may not be sweeping background checks, but if they pass something, would that take the pressure off? j.b.: i would warn senators on both sides you can't put lipstick on this pig if you can just get away. some of the stuff about red flags and trying to detour the conversation, that's not going to be enough. >> talk about the senate map a little bit. a realistic is it for them to take back the majority? and how much interplay will there be between the presidential campaign and the senate race? j.b.: this does look like a map that's primarily about first and second presidential battleground, different from the map the senate fought on just two years ago, where democrats
were defending 26 democrats, nine of whom were in trump states. alabama was the 10th. this time, we're only defending nine, two incumbents are in trump states. i think that was likely the majority of focus and the opportunity for democrats to pick up the majority. that number is either three or four, depending on who the president is. and it's very much within our grasp. >> how much concern is there that if democrats nominate someone more progressive, may be running on issues that are not necessarily popular in these states, how much worry do you have that someone like elizabeth warren could cause democrats? j.b.: i think this is a conversation, is a democratic candidate going to be able to talk and connect with americans and connect with their challenges?
this isn't about politics. this is about putting meat and potatoes voters want to see. >> you're not concerned about who the candidate would be? j.b.: so far, this has been a competitive field. it seems it's going to go on for a while. i don't think there's a clear candidate either way. and the more point here is that it feels as if voters are looking for an alternative to donald trump, and i think they're going to find it. steve: to that point, two senate races, very competitive one with doug jones seeking election in alabama. how do you approach those southern states? j.b.: josh has written about georgia and i think is right. georgia is a really good opportunity for democrats. our own internal data suggests a really competitive situation. i obviously have more data about senator perdue, the republican,
his seat, and the one newly created. i think is early. i think seats, the candidates, i think this is still going to take shape. there is a primary in the produce e. -- perdue seat. i think you're going to see good candidates. we're going to have to compete here and we will. crystal: you kind of outlined some of the main states you're going to be focusing on, some of the best chances. j.b.: i think when it comes to picking up seats, colorado is an attractive opportunity here. i think cory gardner has worked himself into a situation where he comes off very much as an inside washington, within his own party, has shown his allegiance to the president. i think he ran as an independent. but in a state like colorado, that has grown more democratic and progressive, that's a good
opportunity for democrats, certainly arizona'a really competitive. we have confidence because we beat martin mcsorley once. -- mick sally once. i expect that to be the case again. i think general kelly is a terrific candidate. and you'll see places like north carolina, iowa, and i hope even texas and georgia. crystal: we were talking about some of the candidates. can you talk about recruitment and candidates within those states you just identified? there is strong candidates and every one of those races. you talk a little bit about -- recruitment? j.b.: i think candidates will grow, but there are several good candidates across the country that have been excited to see fresh faces, women in many places, veterans. i think some of the new energy that was so key in the house,
where democrats pick up 40 seats, demonstrative in some of the recruiting that's occurred here. as i suggested earlier, i don't think every field is set. that is certainly the case for both seats in georgia. in general, candidates like perhaps teresa greenfield in iowa, mark kelly, who we already talked about, and even john hickenlooper, the former governor, these are all good candidates give us good opportunities to win. steve: you mentioned maine, and the senator said he would not hesitate to campaign for susan collins. your reaction. j.b.: well, i think in general, susan collins and past races, has won by comfortable margins. this would be the 30th year in the senate. it's been a long run and i think
you're going to find mainers asking the question about what they are getting out of the deal. i think they are more likely to see her as making an effort to work with the other side. but voters in maine don't see her as being a real answer to trump. and i think being on the ballot with donald trump, it was certainly hard for a senator like kelly ayotte four years ago. i think it's going to be a particular challenge for her. and this is going to turn out to be a competitive race. steve: would you advise senator manchin not to campaign against her? j.b.: i would advise him not to. he's headstrong. he's from a tough state. i'm very glad that he's decided to remain in the senate, not run as a governor. he indicated last weekend he was doing it because he knows that he matters in the senate.
but we'll see. >> why have so many compelling senate recruits like stacey abrams in georgia, steve bullis in montana, the one in texas, decided not to run for senate and longshot presidential campaigns? abrams has two opportunities and passed on both of them. what is making it not as intriguing? j.b.: i've been around this for a while. it doesn't feel drastically different from any other party. not every candidate says he is. -- says yes. and the presidential ring has always been attractive. and people seem eager to try it on. what i think is different is the organic feedback that a lot of those presidential candidates get around the country, and even in their own states, where they say hey, why aren't you thinking about the senate? we're happy with the field of
candidates we have. if someone to continue to consider it, that's ok too. >> hickenlooper changed his mind about running for colorado. you think any of the other candidates will do the same? j.b.: i don't know if either one is. you have to take them at their word. governor bolick and former congressman beto seem focused on the presidential races. beto is going to be on stage in a week or so for that debate. and yet, the senate, because of what it means around judges, what it means around cabinet positions, and certainly this concept that nancy pelosi's been aggressive in moving legislation and getting to the desk of mitch mcconnell and everything dies, those are compelling reasons. we'll see if folks get in.
crystal: can you talk a little bit about texas? do you think it's a long shot or do you think this could be the year it turns blue? can you outline the differences between 2018 crews? steve: and a number of texas house republicans are stepping down, how that affects the dynamic. j.b.: i do, even though you hear it said the state is changing and changing quickly. but the most powerful evidence is really in beto's race last time. what you saw in the results when you polled it is that hispanic turnout was predictable for an off year election. and yet they vote in san antonio, in houston, also in dallas, bigger numbers than voters are changing. i think these changes are systemic. this is a transient vote.
yes, it is high educated. yes, women are a big part of it, but it's going very quickly. i think we can motivate hispanic voters to be a big part of the presidential, gives me hope the change we're seeking in texas can come next year. crystal: when you look at the issues of gun violence, two mass shootings in the last couple of weeks, is that going to help or trumping on ballot immigration kind of negated? what is your outlook? j.b.: i think when you look back, people are surprised trump is in a half-point margin. texas was a bigger. certainly, his job performance numbers haven't been particularly compelling in texas all along, even before these shootings. and i would expect that's not a particularly strong entry point to the president. i don't know to the extent it will be competitive in the presidential, but i expect it will be tighter than it was at that level.
that creates an opportunity for the house races you mentioned, steve. and i do for the senate. i also think that people in washington, the city that gets nearly everything wrong, misunderstands the race from before. cruz, for all his faults, was recently popular the entire time. his job performance was somewhere between 49-50%, and that brings us to john cornyn, who's not, despite his years around, not somebody who is particularly well defined, and seems to be go along, get along, special interest kind of guy, not particularly probably learn -- popular. he is some kind of vulnerable. steve: do you have an estimate of how much he will raise in spending? j.b.: i don't have a dollar figure. we were quite lucky to be successful raising funds last
cycle, the super pac been -- i'm -- $167 million. we'd like to get there again, a little too early to say that. but obviously, one, we're ahead of fundraising figures and two, that's a very excited and hopeful democratic race at -- base out there. >> candidates didn't talk about trump at all. he's going to be on the ballot in 2020. do you expect him to come up because he's a force? j.b.: it's hard not to talk about the elephant in the room. i think he's certainly going to be talked about more in senate races because i really do believe for this set of incumbents, most of them are vulnerable because they've only been there one term or they are not particularly well defined. the conversation underneath is are these republican senators any answer back to the president?
the most call -- common language you hear from a lot of republicans are followers, go along get along. i think they expect more and republicans have a difficult time showing any level of independence. trump is part of that conversation. >> you've done a lot of pulling on focus groups. how would you describe the groups that are winnable? j.b.: probably not as small a pool as we keep saying. it can't be possible that in 2016, that people were changing their minds up to the last minute and then report after report makes you believe there's only three or four undecided people in the whole country. i do think people are open to debate, somewhat weary about
this. yes, you know, when i listen, when i have the opportunity to listen to voters around the country, there are partisans, but a lot of people are still concerned about where we're going, economically and otherwise. steve: you just returned from a focus group. tell us what you learned. j.b.: focus groups are one way to listen to voters. that was certainly part of the conversation. i think that in michigan, they realized they're about to be center of the world and is likely to be a competitive state in the presidential. i think they take that responsibility seriously. i think they see the economy improved, but there's concern that i suggested. look at michigan. it doesn't look like we've had significant move forward with the auto economy. it seems to be getting worse instead of better. so, certainly that level of economic anxiety still exists. and i think that's part of the reason why the presidential will be competitive. we have an incumbent senator
, gary peters, who is well-liked, former veteran, teacher. there seems to be an interest that they keep them. there is not an easy argument why you want to replace him, especially given the current situation. crystal: when you kind of look at these attacks from republicans, and also the president, on labeling democrats as socialist, do you have a strategy? are you preparing to defend against that? and did you hear any of that? have you heard from voters? j.b.: no. that's funny, very little feedback on it. republicans themselves were more wound up in dropping that, but i think somewhere along the line, they're beginning to realize people don't know what they're talking about. i think that the idea that they have to push back and argue that democrats offered this all
pervasive government has the answer to everything. i'm not convinced you're going to hear that from most candidates, let alone any of the candidates. i do think that you're going to see some out-of-the-box solutions from this set of democratic candidates, both presidential and the senate. >> i noticed there's been more of a focus on mcconnell, it seems, than trump on the 2020 trail. is that a strategy and will it help? we saw that in 2018, focusing on pelosi, i know there's a difference there, but can you argue whether it will work? j.b.: most things that have power, politically, don't come as strategies from washington. they come organically around the country.
and mitch mcconnell is a very powerful metaphor for a broken washington. and he's carrying that now more than whatever. and certainly, even among republicans, a certain borderline anger at their own party that they just keep saying more of the same. they're not completely shielding it from whatever donald trump takes. i think mcconnell is a face of a lot of the chaos and disarray. but more to the point, the broken washington people are tired of. steve: senator mcconnell said he would not hesitate to fill a vacancy on the supreme court if there is a vacancy. how big of an issue is that for voters? j.b.: even if you're a republican or a conservative, you're certainly aware of the
hypocrisy, and that brings it right back to the business as usual mentality of washington. i think you're going to be surprised at the number of candidates that are going to find themselves trying to distance themselves from mitch mcconnell. >> will your group that involved in democratic primaries? also the republican primaries. in alabama, one is still hanging out. would you consider getting involved? j.b.: i think the data that exists, we haven't in a democratic primary. i'm not one to take any options off the table. we'll see what happens in the future, but it's not our want. i wake up every morning thinking about, are we going to beat republicans? >> you think it's wise to pick favorite candidates? i know the sec endorsed hickenlooper, even with a credit field.
what do you think of the logic of that? j.b.: there's some endorsements, obviously still the primaries. i think the fcc and the democratic party in general wants to have opinions. we already talked about the stakes at play. i don't begrudge the d fcc for wanting to make sure we get the best candidate, give them an opportunity to raise money, and an opportunity to win. steve: about a minute left. crystal: some of the candidates you're still talking with or being recruited, do you see any shift in the types of candidates that you all are talking with? is there more progressives coming out? j.b.: well, i think that among the candidates that are running, that it runs a lot. i don't think democrats are afraid of progressive nature. you've seen several candidates
that aren't necessarily longtime experienced candidate. and then you have somebody like governor hickenlooper, who even though he's been in colorado as governor, people see him as somebody that's a little outside the box. i guess i simplify the candidates running that way, as well. more than anything, there's a certain energy here that we're eager for change. democrats want to see the senate empowered and they want to see a democratic majority. steve: still 14 months away, but defined a great month figure pac -- for your pac in november. j.b.: it would be winning the majority. it doesn't mean i can guarantee this far out that we can get there, but i think historically, four seats pickup for either party is more than possible. the average is higher than that.
steve: and the chance of defeating mitch mcconnell, what are the odds? j.b.: i think it's hard. nate silver said if it 15-20% to start. that may not be far off. it is a hard race. i expect that it is getting better. what is interesting is, simultaneously true, this race may already be in single digits. steve: jb poersch, thank you for being with us on newsmakers. as we continue the conversation, crystal hayes, let me begin with you, your takeaway. what did you learn? >> i think looking at texas in this race and knowing democrats feel this is a seismic shift in texas and moving forward, that it really could come more of a blue state. looking forward to this race, right now we don't have a main highlight candidate for democrats. i think that will be interesting moving forward, seeing how much money poured into those races in texas.
not just the senate, but also in the house. steve: he made reference to your reporting in georgia. what about stacey abrams not deciding to get into the race with two states on balance? >> that's a big blow. it was her great opportunity to win in this statewide election. because the fundraising ability, she has the organization. she's looking to run for governor. that speaks to the challenge democrats face. you have these candidates that can win in red states, and they are choosing to run for president or even in abrams' case, not run at all. steve: what about alabama? >> alabama is going to be a difficult race just because it's so conservative. it will be interesting to see if they tried to amplify. he's running again. he's the one candidate that can lose in atlanta. i think you might see some funny business from the
democratic side. steve: how big of a factor the republican senate will be. can you address that? >> mitch mcconnell is almost a more potent name for democrats than donald trump, especially in these more moderate, conservative leaning states. i expect mcconnell's race to be one where he's clearly the favorite. amy mcgrath stumbled a bit as she started her campaign. but mcconnell reflects everything that the democrats have problems with with was -- with what was going on on capitol hill, and it's not just kentucky, but a national symbol for democrats. >> we've already seen that, right? candidates have been mentioning him way more. as we get into this gun debate in congress as they come back from recess, we're going to hear more and more. steve: and he seems to embrace the moniker, grim reaper. >> he always said the leader is not popular. you're always going to suffer, whether it's him or policy in the house. -- pelosi in the house.
i think democrats have to figure out how much to run on policy, how much on health care and the economy, and how much on personality. it is a tricky balance. week: they are back this after a five-week absence. what do we expect? >> you'll hear a lot about guns. that's not a surprise. there's going to be press conferences, speeches, and even the house judiciary is scheduled to markup a few bills. those won't be taken up in the senate. the senate is talking possibilities. we've seen some reporting from the new york times and politico about the ideas floating around the white house that might be possibilities. but talking to people on capitol hill, it seems very unknown. and it's all going to come from the white house. when we get a more clear view of things, as to where republicans are in the senate, it should be interesting.
>> we have been here before with the gun debate. is this any different? >> i thought it was interesting that jb didn't promise democrats in these districts were going to run on gun control. in these races, i think arizona is going to big one because mark kelly, it is a big story of his story, his biography. but there is reticence among liberal-minded democratic strategists about whether aggressive gun control can play in these battleground states. that is what is on trump's mind and the white house is wary of measures being proposed. steve: agree or disagree? >> it will be interesting if the senate takes action how that will go into the 2020 cycle. if they take some steps, if it is not sweeping background checks, what that would mean for the race and whether it would help or hurt. >> this and it is in play.
there is going to be a lot of attention paid to the senate, especially if trump stumbles. i think democrats are going to be in reach of getting a senate majority, even though it is a little bit of a challenge. steve: we follow your work at national journal.com and usa today.com. to both of you, thank you for joining us on newsmakers. ♪ >> c-span's washington journal is live with issues that impact you. coming up monday morning, gabby about theike talk return of congress from the august break. matt will be on to talk about a new survey on credit card use and consumer debt. onch washington journal live
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