Brooks and Capehart on the COVID relief debate and the political divide on voting rights

Editor’s Note: David Brooks  has asked to add this addendum to his comments on the program on March 5:
“I'd like to revisit one thing I said about the Weave Project on the Newshour Friday. I said there was complete disclosure of Weave donors. I said this because I was well aware of the Aspen Institute's policy of transparency, making public all donations, especially corporate ones. Aspen released the list of Weave donors to reporters when asked, and all donors to Weave are now on the Weave website, but I learned Saturday, the day after the segment, that at some point over the last few years the Aspen website fell behind in listing all donors, including Facebook. Aspen publicly acknowledged this problem in a statement Saturday and is working to fix it.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the battle over voting rights, the lifting of pandemic restrictions in some states, and wrangling over the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    From a battle over voting rights, to wrangling over COVID relief, a lot to break down this week.

    And joining us to do that, Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night.

    So, let's start out by talking about what's on the Senate floor, whether there's any action under way or not, according to our Lisa Desjardins.

    But, Jonathan, what do you make of the arguments for this big $1.9 trillion bill on each side, and what do you think is going to happen?


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy, if I knew what was going to happen, I would be a billionaire.


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Look, I think President Biden, as much as he wanted to be bipartisan, in that he wanted to work with Republicans, which he do meet with 10 Senate Republicans early on, first meeting in the Oval Office, to talk about this bill, he is forging — he has — he is forging ahead and has been forging ahead as if he won't get any Republican votes.

    And that is indeed the case. There's a solid wall of opposition to the $1.9 trillion relief — COVID relief bill. However, that's the least of his problems.

    The big problem he has — I think Lisa pointed this out in her report earlier — is that there's a rift within the Democratic Caucus, namely, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who earlier today, apparently, there was a deal struck $300 a month through September for the unemployed. And then Senator Manchin came in and said, you know what, I kind of like a Republican proposal, which is $300 a month through mid-July, maybe to August.

    And that's thrown everything in disarray last I read, last I saw. So, the long — the short answer to your question, Judy, is, I don't know where things are going to go.

    But we do know that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants this done — so does the White House — by March 14, which is when the unemployment benefits run out, they expire.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, surely, David, you know what's going to happen.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Either way, what do you make of these arguments?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I know exactly what's going to happen.

    You talked to Janet Yellen earlier about inequality. And, to me, the best thing the country could do to reduce inequality is to have a white hot labor market. And when you take a strong economy and put a $1.9 trillion benefit on top of that, you get a white hot economy.

    So, I think I'm pretty conservative on fiscal matters, but not at this moment. I think this is the time to go big and to go fast. So, I think the Democrats are on the right course.

    I think some of the reforms the moderates like Manchin have brought in seemed very sensible to me, not ending in July. You do not want to have benefits run out in the middle of the summer, when Congress is likely to not be in session.

    So, I thought the change to extend it to September and October, when they could renew, if necessary, seemed to me a smart one. So, I don't understand what Senator Manchin is thinking on that front.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, while we're talking about COVID, not this relief bill, but something else this week, several governors announced, Jonathan, that they are lifting their mask mandates.

    And President Biden, when asked about that, said it was — it sounded to him like Neanderthal thinking. He's gotten a lot of blowback since then. Smart thing to say? What do you think, Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, Judy, I'm going to leave aside the president's comments. A lot of people are upset that he used the word Neanderthal. One person emailed me and said that it was a pejorative. And I get where they're coming from.

    But we have got bigger issues to worry about here. And don't want to hear any noise from the far right or from conservatives complaining about the president's language, when, after four years, they completely ignored or pretended not to hear, see or read any of the tweets from the previous president.

    What we're dealing with here is a pandemic where, at least here in the United States, we were within reach of getting it under control. Hospitalizations, infections, deaths were on the downslope. And we have seen over the last few days, at least, that the levels of infections have stopped going down.

    You take on top of that Texas and Mississippi deciding that they're just going to give up, no more masks, open up completely. I think what a lot of scientists are looking at is the possibility of more — an upswing in reinfections, right when we were on the path, and it looked like we were on a very good path to having a summer, late summer, certainly fall where we could start — we could be back to what we used to think of as normal.

    I wish that the governor of Texas and the governor of Mississippi would spend more time thinking and looking at the science and what the science says should be done, which would then make it possible for those states to open up safely, more quickly than they're going to now.

    And by doing all of that, you get people back to work, you get economies moving again, and you get back to normal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, thoughts on all this?

  • David Brooks:

    I took one of those 23andMe genetic tests a couple years ago, and they told me I have above-average Neanderthal blood.


  • David Brooks:

    And so I was insulted by the comments.


  • David Brooks:

    No, I think — I understand opening up, because there's an economic trade-off of how closed — I do not understand getting rid of masks.

    There's no cost to wearing a mask. And I think what bothers me is, the mask issue has become not a scientific issue, not a public policy issue, just a symbolic issue. And we seem to take every practical issue and turn it into a culture war issue.

    And so people make hay out of pro-mask and anti-mask, and the anti-maskers are not doing anything in public policy terms. They're just trying to send a signal to people who feel we're in the big middle of a culture war, and they are on their side.

    And that seems to me sad and irresponsible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just a couple of minutes left.

    But, David, and I'm going to start with you on this, voting rights. A number of states that are — have Republican-controlled legislatures moving to cut back of voting access, while you have the Democrats in the Congress moving to do just the opposite, to make voting easier. What do you make of all this? What do you think's at stake here?

  • David Brooks:

    I saw a chart today of Black and white voter registration over the past 150 years.

    And, in 1870, African-American voter registration was way up here. It was very high, higher than whites. And then you had the poll tax, all these Jim Crow type laws, and it collapses, and it goes down, and it stays very low until 1940s, after the war. It goes up, and then the Civil Rights Act.

    And now we have reached a point where Black registration is higher than white registration. So, we have closed one gap in this country. And so I would ask the Republican state legislators, are we really going to go backwards? Are we going to go backwards to a time when there's a gap in political power between African Americans and white people?

    And it just seems atrocious to me that we would even think about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, the stakes here?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    The stakes are enormous.

    And it's incredible we're having this conversation, because, on Sunday, Judy, it will be exactly to the day and date, 56 years since Bloody Sunday, when John Lewis and Hosea Williams marched — and 600 other Black men, women and children marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, en route to Montgomery, to petition the government for voting rights, and were stopped less than a mile outside of Selma by the Alabama State Troopers.

    But as a result of what happened, at the horror that the nation watched that night, a week later, President Johnson went to Congress and said, voting rights are a fundamental right, and African Americans cannot fully enjoy the freedoms that come with America until that happens.

    Five months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. And what we're watching now, from Georgia, to North Carolina, to the arguments that took place in the Supreme Court this week about laws in Arizona, a concerted effort by Republicans to roll back the access to the franchise.

    Americans should — it should be easy for Americans to vote. And I think that a lot of these voting restrictions are in search of a problem that — a problem that does not exist.

    And so, to that swing that David was talking about in terms of African American voter registration and participation, to my mind, it is all an effort by Republicans to keep African Americans from voting, because, by and large, they vote Democratic. But what they're doing is that they are harming the country by preventing people from being able to participate fully.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Crucially important, and we will continue to talk about it and watch it.

    So, I'm going to break with our usual format a little bit right now, Jonathan, and say, thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because, David, there's one other thing that I do want to raise with you tonight.

    There is some reporting recently about the project that you conceived and have undertaken over the past couple of years with the Aspen Institute called Weave. It's about community-building relationships.

    You have spoken about it a few times here on the "NewsHour." It's now been made public that Aspen has paid you for this work, and Aspen has received funding from Facebook.

    At the same time, media critics are saying that you have written favorably about Facebook and about the project in your New York Times column.

    So, given that this is making news, David, we want to give you the opportunity to explain it, to ask if you are rethinking the decision not to disclose this funding relationship.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, first, we did totally disclose it. It's — everything has been public.

    I guess I would say, in 2018, after the election of Donald Trump, it seemed social fragmentation, social distrust were giant problems. And there were people solving this problem on the local level who are local community builders who we call Weavers.

    There are people like L.B. in North Carolina, who works with LGBTQ teenagers, Pancho in Texas, who works with people who've been paralyzed in construction accidents. And at Weave, it was very rewarding, it is very rewarding to bring these remarkable people in front of high school students, in front of South by Southwest audiences watch them tell their story and hopefully inspire a generation to be active in community life.

    Some people have legitimately said, you can't be a journalist and a nonprofit leader at the same time. The roles are just conflicting. And this is a real legitimate concern, which I have thought about from day one.

    I would say three things in my defense, and then one final thing.

    First, The Times completely was informed when I started Weave what it was going to be and how I was going to get compensated by Aspen. Second, The Aspen Institute is completely transparent about who the donors are. And so we released the donors.

    Third, since I started Weave in 2018, I have not meaningfully written about any organization or individual who have supported us, including Facebook. I think I have mentioned Facebook in passing or Mark Zuckerberg in passing just in one or two sentences in my Times column. And we have checked the transcripts of the "NewsHour," and I — it hasn't affected my journalism.

    Fourth, I do understand the concerns. And I understand the concerns, and I want to be beyond question. And so we're going to make some changes, and they — we're still working them out. But we're going to make some changes, so the people who've been critics have — are fully — are satisfied.

    And that's my goal in the next week or in the next few days. And so I hope we can resolve these issues, but we have been full disclosure, and it hasn't affected my journalism.

    But we are going to make some changes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are all, as always, very glad to have you as one of our most important contributors on the "NewsHour." We want to thank you, David, for putting that on the record.

    And I just want to say, on behalf of the "NewsHour," that Facebook has been a funder of our projects in the past. And, as we always have, we will continue our policy of disclosing when we receive funding from them or any organizations that we cover.

    But, David, thank you again.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you for the opportunity, Judy.

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Brooks and Capehart on the COVID relief debate and the political divide on voting rights first appeared on the PBS NewsHour website.

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