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Brooks and Capehart on Biden’s agenda and Trump’s impeachment trial

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the historic inauguration, the Biden administration's early actions and a looming impeachment trial.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the first Friday analysis of the Biden administration with Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    So good to see both of you. We got to spend Wednesday together virtually, but there's nothing like Friday night. It's great to have you both.

    Jonathan, I'm going to start with you.

    We have had a couple of days to absorb what inauguration was. What is — what stays with you? What lingers?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy, the thing that stays with me is the mood and the tone set by President Biden.

    And we talked about this on Wednesday, how the poem by Amanda Gorman and the national anthem sung by Lady Gaga and her turning to the flag and saying the flag was still there, just how stirring that was.

    But in the days since, the thing that I keep coming back to is that I felt I was welcomed in this country again. I had a feeling of welcome home, and that we were being led by a person of empathy, of decency, of moral character, but also one who sees the country as it is and wants to lead all of us, not just the 80 million people who voted him into office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Goes pretty deep.

    David, what about you? What stays with you?

  • David Brooks:

    Weirdly, a phrase that didn't seem too remarkable at the time, but I think sums up Joe Biden pretty well.

    He said there's this thing about life is that sometimes you need a hand and sometimes you're called upon to lend a hand.

    And that's, of course, true about life, but it's also true about the kind of family Joe Biden grew up in, and the sort of town he grew up in, and the sort of America he envisions, which is an interdependent America, where we help each other out and we help each other rise and succeed.

    It's a vision of America. And so, when he calls for unity, it's not like kumbaya, let's all come together. It's an argument for a certain kind of America where people can rise and succeed with each other's help.

    And we have lived for four years with — and more — longer with winding and very wide cleavages between left and right, between white and black, between rich and poor.

    The country has just had these ravines opened up or stay open that are ancient. And now you at least get the image somebody is working on the problem to bridge the ravines. And I do think that's why it's unity for something, not just for the sake of being united.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, he's followed up what he said on Wednesday with a — what, a flurry of these executive orders and statements.

    Does it feel like — I mean, what is the sense you're getting from this in terms of his priorities, what he's trying — what message he's trying to send to the American people? And are these things that can do — can make permanent change, even though they're executive orders?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, the message that he that he's been sending since that picture was taken is that there's competence back in the Oval Office, there's action back in the Oval Office, and that he meant what he said on the campaign trail about what he was going to do as president and certainly what he was going to do as president on day one.

    A lot of those executive actions and executive orders are about reversing some of the more egregious things that President Trump did, from the Muslim ban, to pulling the United States out of the WHO. His priorities, President Biden's priorities have been, first and foremost, COVID, getting a handle on the pandemic.

    And the first executive order he signed had to do with the coronavirus pandemic, but then let's not forget that he's submitted a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. So, that's let — that's not executive action. That's legislation.

    And if that gets passed by Congress, that is that is law, and relief will come to the American people.

    But I think, with the executive actions — and, apparently, there's going to be 10 days of this — he's trying to show that the absence of leadership that we have seen, certainly since Election Day, from the previous administration has been completely reversed and that he has focused like laser beam on helping the country and helping the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's coming through to you, David?

    And, I mean, and what's to keep this from just being the ping-pong, Donald Trump reverses what Barack Obama did, Joe Biden reverses what Donald Trump did?

  • David Brooks:

    Nothing. Nothing. There could be ping-pong.

    Lyndon Johnson used to say that executive orders are just paper. You can sign them, and then, four years later, somebody can unsign them. And that's why Johnson emphasized laws, you have got to pass laws.

    But I have to say, when I think of these E.O.s, they're strong, but they're not overly ambitious. Jonathan and I were on a couple calls during the transition with President Biden. And he said: I do not believe in the imperial presidency.

    He's a man whose life was formed in the Senate. He believes in Congress.

    And so the — if you look at these, they take actions, but they don't take actions in a way that would alarm somebody who thinks he's taking power he doesn't actually have.

    Reversing Trump policies that were — reversing Trump executive orders, he clearly has the right to do that. The others, they seem pretty modest, making sure there's mask-wearing within federal property, that's reasonably limited. Raising the food stamp benefits, that's very good policy, but quite limited.

    So, I think he's threading needles here, doing stuff, but not overreaching in a way that would alarm either members of his own party, but especially members of the other party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about that, Jonathan? I mean, do you get the sense that — because you're hearing — you're hearing some welcoming comments, but you're also hearing some pushback from Republicans. Do you get the sense that he's going to find cooperation or a closed door?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think that President Biden has been operating under the hope that his calls for unity and let's work together and let's make Washington work for the American people, that there will be some people on the other side of the aisle who will join with him in getting legislation over the finish line.

    On one of those calls that David and I were on with then president-elect Biden, I asked the question: Look, Mr. President-elect, yes, you want to work with Republicans, but what do you say to Democrats who believe that you are naive and don't see the sucker punch that's coming from Republicans?

    And I quoted Mike Tyson to him, saying, Mike Tyson once famously said, everyone has a plan until they're punched in the mouth. And so are you ready for the punch in the mouth that's coming.

    And he said, basically: You guys think I don't know what I'm doing. I have been around the block for a long time. I am not afraid of a fight.

    And so I think what President Biden is doing is, rhetorically, but also through actions, giving — showing that he wants people to come in. But time will tell. At what point does President Biden decide, OK, enough of trying to work with these folks, now I'm going to lower the hammer and now I'm going to show them that I know how to fight?

    And I suggest to anyone — or I would say to anyone who doubts that President Biden has the will and the stomach for a fight that they need to make a reassessment, because I actually believe that he is willing to fight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, he certainly, David, has the recent example of President Obama and what happened when he tried to work with the Congress.

    I mean, what do you think he faces?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I thought Jonathan's question really got the hair on the back of his neck going straight up, because he was angry, not at Jonathan, just angry. And…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    He was feisty, yes.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, he was feisty.

    And I would say — I would say it's worth giving it a shot, that the Republican Party is very divided. I know many Republicans in the Senate who would like to work with him, and they think they're issues upon which they can work for him.

    There's this Problem Solvers Caucus and then a Common Sense Caucus, this bipartisan group that did the COVID relief bill. They want to end partisan gridlock. And so I may be naive, but I'm a little more hopeful.

    And I would remind everyone, Republicans voted for $3 trillion in new federal spending over the last 11 months. That's a lot of spending they voted for. And the problem is not over. And I think there is some possibility.

    Having said that, there's a big debate now on whether the Democrats should end the filibuster. And I have spent my entire professional life supporting the filibuster, because I think it forces parties to try to at least work a little across the aisle.

    Nonetheless, in this crisis, in this situation, I just don't think we can afford two years of government paralysis. So, if Republicans do go into full oppo mode, I do think Democrats should end the filibuster.

    That will be tough, because West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has sworn that he will never vote for it. And there may be other Democrats. But we just can't have paralysis for two more years. And taking down a Senate institution, which I believe in, in principle, seems to be the necessary thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wow. Well, we will see in the coming days what happens with that.

    But we have got, what, a little over a minute or so left, but I want each of you, to ask each of you about this impeachment trial. It looks like maybe February the 9th.

    What do you expect from that, Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy, I expect the trial to be brief, meaning not 20-something days. I would — I wouldn't be surprised if that Friday after the trial starts, which I believe it might be the 8th or the 9th of February, that we could be talking about a potential verdict.

    We're talking about one article of impeachment, and we all witnessed what they're going to be talking about with our own eyes. So, I don't expect the trial itself to last very long.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, you want to go on the record of whether you expect conviction or not?

  • David Brooks:

    No. No, I do not.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I would like to know if it's even constitutional. The Constitution really says it's — the impeachment is about removal from office. It's not clear to me that they have the ability to remove somebody who's already been removed by voters.

    But, if it does happen, I hope it's short. Presidents only get one 100-day period. And they have got to use every day of that 100-day period. And so I hope it does not become a distraction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    February, a big month, coming up, just like January, but hopefully different, certainly, in a lot of respects.

    Thank you both, David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So good to see you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You too.

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