NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

White House Courts Red State Democrats In Upcoming Legislative Battles


Today at the White House, President Trump met a bipartisan group of senators and made a point to cozy up between two Democrats. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are senators who are up for re-election next year in states that Donald Trump won. President Trump sees these red state Democrats - there are a total of 10 of them - as potential keys to his success on Capitol Hill. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here to talk about this. Hey.


MCEVERS: So the point of President Trump's meeting today was to build support for his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. First, let's talk about how that's going.

DAVIS: Well, the fact that of the 10 Democrats at the White House this afternoon, six of them were Democrats tells you that - where the White House's priorities are right now. In addition to Heitkamp and Manchin, that group today also included Montana Senator Jon Tester and Indiana's Joe Donnelly. Those four, in particular, are at the very top of the White House list of potential Democratic allies - not just on the upcoming Supreme Court vote, but on other priorities like finding a way to replace Obamacare. The president, like every other president before him, still faces the reality that he's going to need 60 votes to get basically anything through the Senate.


DAVIS: And he's only got 52 Republicans. So when you're going to keep hearing - Trump will need eight Democrats to do X, Y or Z - this is precisely the group that they're talking about.

MCEVERS: OK. So you mentioned four of the 10. Who are some of these other red state Democrats?

DAVIS: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill is another. Trump won her state by 19 points. The remaining five are senators in those very familiar battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Trump won all of those by eight points or less, so they're a bit more competitive. But they're also home to those white, working-class voters we heard so much about in the 2016 election that swung hard towards Trump and the Republican Party and that Democrats are very desperately trying to win back over in time for the next election.

MCEVERS: So how open are these red state Democrats to Trump's appeals?

DAVIS: You know, to varying degrees, there is some warmth and some inclination to work together. If you remember, so many of the issues Trump campaigned on, from trade to protecting Social Security to spending more on infrastructure - these are all traditional Democratic platforms, right? So you have senators like Heitkamp and Manchin saying, look, if this is what you want to do, we can work with you on these issues.

But you have other Democrats like Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. They've already come out and said they're going to - they're going to they're going to oppose Gorsuch for Supreme Court. And they're staking out a position more in line with the progressive opposition. And it's worth noting that so far, when the party pressure was on, Democrats have largely stuck together, like they did to oppose the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

MCEVERS: So talk about that pressure. I mean, are they facing it from their own party's base and leaders?

DAVIS: Yes. I mean, you know, this is the tightrope that this group of 10 Democrats are going to have to walk for the next two years. And for each one of them, they're going to have to make different calculations based on their home state politics, where, in many cases, the president is very - is very popular and may remain very popular up against their national Democratic Party that increasingly is seeing itself as the, quote-unquote, "resistance" to President Trump. So here's - the here's the tough part, right? If they side too closely with Donald Trump, will it diminish their enthusiasm among traditional Democratic voters? But if they stand against him at every turn, will they risk alienating those very voters they're going to need to win re-election in these 10 red states?

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sue Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.