Biden needs 'reality-based message' to form 'governing coalition' to tackle nation's problems: Veteran Washington reporter Steve Roberts

Roberts joined ABC's "Powerhouse Politics" podcast ahead of the inauguration.

In an interview on ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast with Political Director Rick Klein, Roberts argued that Biden won't be able to bring President Donald Trump's most ardent supporters over to his side, but he could appeal to Republicans who've become "disillusioned" with Trump and the party's politics he shaped over the last four years. If he can, it will "help sway some of the Republicans on Capitol Hill who have been petrified of retaliation by Trump and Trump supporters."

"If it's a reality-based message that is rooted in a sensible, sane, practical approach to problems, I think he has the possibility of creating a governing coalition that can move forward on some of these issues," Roberts said. "It's going to be very difficult but it's at least plausible."

The 2021 Inauguration Day will be unlike any other. The global coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging the country. Twenty-five thousand National Guards troops are in Washington to assist with security following the violent mob of Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent the certification of Biden's victory on Jan. 6. And nearly a third of Americans -- and seven in 10 Republicans -- don't view Biden's presidency as legitimate.

Perhaps most significantly, Trump and first lady Melania Trump are departing Washington before the ceremony, making him the first president in over 150 years to skip his successor's swearing in.

"The sense of polarization in the country, fomented largely by Donald Trump, down to the very last minute, refusing to go to the inaugural, refusing to invite the Bidens to the White House, refusing to participate in these rituals that have cemented and symbolized ... that's why today is different," Roberts told Klein. "This is first time when that that strong powerful sense of national unity has been disrupted by the actions of the outgoing president."

Asked about Trump's legacy, Roberts said that he did fulfill his campaign promise to appoint conservative judges to the federal judiciary system, noting the president was not just able to fill three Supreme Court vacancies, but he was also able to get over 200 judicial appointments confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"(This) is going to be felt for decades, generations from now ... people who were appointed by Donald Trump are going to be on the federal bench and that certainly has to be part of the legacy," Roberts said. "Frankly, that's one of the reasons why a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill swallowed hard and accepted Trumpism, even though they knew in their hearts that this was a profoundly disruptive and unqualified man to be president."

But another legacy that will also have a lasting impact is Trump's "war on facts."

Roberts said it "has been a consistent policy to undermine independent sources of information, including many in his own administration," whether it be on coronavirus, the election, climate change, the economy or Russia's extensively documented attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

"What we're dealing with here ... and what's going to be such a problem for the Biden administration, is that there's no longer this common understanding of what the basic facts are about these national problems we're facing and no common understanding about who the authorities are that can provide those facts," Roberts said, adding that Trump's attacks on the news media have contributed to this.

"That's going to lead to a profound legacy going forward, and one that's going to be very difficult to reverse," he added.

While a force in his own right, Roberts was married to the late Cokie Roberts, a Washington fixture who became a "living legend" covering politics for decades at NPR and ABC News. The couple authored several books together, co-wrote a weekly column and had been married for more than 50 years when she died in September 2019 of complications from breast cancer. It was a loss felt deeply in the nation's capital and across the country by not just those who personally knew her, but by those who knew her through her work.

Klein asked Roberts how he thinks his late wife would be processing this moment in U.S. history if she were still alive.

Roberts recounted how Cokie, who he called a "creature of the Capitol," grew up in the halls of Congress, getting the front row seat to legislation in action as a child of two Louisiana representatives.

"She deeply loved the Capitol, and she deeply loved the institutions of government, and she deeply loved our country," Roberts said.

When both she and Roberts were covering Congress as reporters at different outlets, Roberts said they would commute to and from home together, and that when Cokie would see the "illuminated Capitol dome ... she was inspired and energized" every time.

"I think today, she would be looking at some of the strengths of the American system, not the weaknesses. I think she would be saying what the last weeks and months and even years, for all of the ways in which the American system has been threatened, the bottom line is today, as a new president has been sworn in, that the system survived," Roberts told Klein. "I think she would say that the story of the last few months is not the fragility in the system but the strength of the system."

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