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Brooks and Capehart on Biden’s first full week and the state of the Republican Party

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Biden's use of executive actions, Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package, and the state of the Republican Party after former President Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now it's time for our Friday analysis with Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Very good, as always, to see both of you on this Friday night.

    David, I'm going to start with you.

    President Biden's been in office, what, all of nine days now, maybe nine-and-a-half. A flurry of executive orders, almost several a day. What do you make of all this? What stands out to you the most about what's happened so far?

  • David Brooks:

    I'm sort of struck by the fact that Donald Trump didn't do a lot of legislating. And so he did a lot of stuff by executive order, leaving the Paris climate accord, the Keystone pipeline, a lot of stuff on the border.

    And Biden has pretty much rolled it back. And so what Trump signed in, Biden is signing out. And, to me, it strikes me this is — mostly, it's standard Democratic policy. Some of it, I think, is quite good, the racial equity stuff that he's put throughout the government.

    I was struck, though, that my newspaper, my colleagues on the editorial board, which I'm not part of, wrote an Friday editorial saying they were over relying on the executive orders, and they should ease up a little.

    And I noticed every single member of the Biden administration, down to the people who opened the door, went on Twitter to argue back against the editorial. And I think they were thrilled to be accused of moving too fast.


  • David Brooks:

    And so they wanted — they loved having that fight. That was my impression.

    I think — as I said last week, I don't love executive orders. Nobody does, because what gets signed in can get signed out. But, so far, it seems they're mostly doing what any Democratic president would do right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, over-relying on executive orders and executive actions?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I don't think so.

    I think President Biden made a lot of promises about what he was going to do on day one, two, three, and now nine or 10. And he's following through. I agree 100 percent with David. What President Biden is doing is basically canceling out the executive actions and orders that were put in place by President Trump.

    But in a perfect world, or, actually, in a functioning world, Congress would be making laws. And one of the things I took issue with, with the New York Times editorial saying that the president should ease up on executive orders is, they use the example of DACA.

    And what I found interesting is that they didn't go the extra step of saying why President Obama used executive action in the first place. It was because years of trying to work with Congress, work with Republicans in Congress to get comprehensive immigration reform done failed.

    And so, with people in the immigrant community, Latino community saying, hey, do something, use executive action, and President Obama coming back and saying, no, I can't do that, and then, in 2012, doing it, and then trying to do it again in 2014, that's what got that particular ball rolling.

    If the House and the Senate were to actually start legislating, then chief executives, whether it's President Trump or President Biden, wouldn't have to rely, to use that word, on executive actions to actually do something to help the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of legislating, David, we're hearing today from President Trump (sic) — and I was just speaking with Brian Deese, who runs the national — chairs the National Economic Council.

    They are — it looks as if they're prepared to move ahead on their big COVID relief package, $1.9 trillion, through this, without getting into the weeds, budget reconciliation, basically meaning they do it with — they could do it without Republican votes, if necessary.

    Is that — are they giving up too soon? What do you think?

  • David Brooks:

    It's hard to read.

    There are certainly a lot of Republicans who like a lot of parts of what's in there. There are probably no Republicans who like the $1.9 trillion price tag.

    I do think he ran a unity campaign. And I think, if that means anything, he has to give it every single shot.

    But part of what they're doing is just threatening Republicans, saying, hey, we're leaving without you if you're not on board. So, you work.

    What strikes me about shaping the Democratic Party on this is how much the echo of 2009 is here. A lot of Democrats look back on the Obama stimulus, and they think Obama paid too much attention to deficits, he worked — tried to work too much with Republicans, and he didn't go big enough.

    And so what they're going to do is, they're going to go big. And it's a gigantic fiscal experiment. Economists have always worried about overheating the economy, pumping too much federal money in, so you get — you overheat the economy, you get inflation, you may spur — spark an up and then a crash.

    And they have decided that those rules, that too much fiscal stimulus will create inflationary pressure, they have decided those rules are off. And maybe they're right. Jerome Powell, the Fed chairman, seems to think they're right.

    But it is a gigantic fiscal experiment, where I don't really trust anybody actually knows what's going to happen if we spend this much, on top of $900 billion from December.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see this, Jonathan? How risky is what they're doing, do you think?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I take two things from the interview with Mr. Deese.

    One, I think that the Biden administration is working under the pressure of deadlines in March when it comes to unemployment insurance and also moratoriums on evictions. And so that is a forcing mechanism.

    The other thing that I take away from this, in terms of not ruling out using reconciliation, it goes back to a conversation that we all had last week about whether President Biden was ready to or willing to fight, whether he had it in him to fight to get things done.

    And I think, by dangling, as David said, threatening Republicans, by using the reconciliation tactic, that that is showing that President Biden is — unity and kumbaya and working together will only take you so far. And so when you take the willingness to fight and the pressure of the March deadline that's there for millions of American people, I think that is what's pushing and driving the Biden administration to at least not take reconciliation off the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, meanwhile, let's talk for just a few minutes, David, about the Republicans and what's happened to your party.

    President Trump's been out of office, what, nine or 10 days. You have already seen the House minority leader fly down to Palm Beach, apparently to make nice, the president — former President Trump invited to speak at the Republican National Committee coming up.

    You have got all this — just a lot of anger and frustration, and worse than that, flying around between Democrats and Republicans over security, over Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

    What's going on inside the Republican Party?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, first, if it was my party, I'd be running it a hell of a lot better than they're doing right now.


  • David Brooks:

    So, what's happening is, there were a couple days after the Trump — January 6, then when Trump left, where I thought the party was really going to shake off a bit of Trump, obviously not all, but at least have two wings, at least have a wing that says, Trump was one thing, but we still have our conservative beliefs, and we're going to try to work with that other wing, and we will fight with the other wing.

    But, as far as I can tell, the normal wing has collapsed. We have a party right now where you have Mary Taylor Greene. It's easier to be a Republican and be Mary (sic) Taylor Greene than it is to be Liz Cheney.

    And so a normal Republican is — now has her job threatened, and the other one is now taking over the publicity wing of the party. You see the loss. You see Matt Gaetz, the very Trumpy guy, going to Wyoming to run against Liz Cheney, where Rob Portman, who's a normal human being, a very smart human being, and, frankly, a very good human being, a senator from Ohio, decides to retire, because he can't get anything done.

    Then you see — I'm forgetting his name — Madison Cawthorn, a young freshman from — a Republican, who says — he writes an e-mail to his staff saying: I'm putting all my staff into communications, not into legislation.

    And a lot of these Trumpy Republicans, they run for office so they can get on FOX News, not to pass things.

    And so what we're seeing is a party that is, as one person said, on fire, and going, in my mind, in the complete opposite direction, which makes life pretty easy for Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does it look like from where you are, Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I — I don't know if it makes life easy for Joe Biden.

    Sure, it does if all he wants to do is executive actions. But in order to make lasting policy change, you have to pass legislation. And the only way you can pass legislation is if Democrats and Republicans can work with each other to get bills passed out of their chambers and onto his desk to sign.

    But when you have, as David described, the intraparty warfare among Republicans, and then with Democrats, you have lots of Democrats who feel unsafe working with some of the Republicans who are there on Capitol Hill, I wonder how anything is going to get done.

    I mean, we talk all the time about partisan gridlock in Washington stymieing — being able to govern this nation. I don't know what to call this now. I don't know what you call it when American legislators are fighting with each other or fearful of each other. Where does that leave governing? Where does that leave the American people in the end?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what's it going to take to fix this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I'd like to see an intraparty warfare.

    I — the problem is, the normal Republicans are so far just taking this lying down. They're laying low. I think they're — some of them are afraid of death threats. Some of them just don't want to get in the way of the Trump train.

    But you look at people like John Thune, you look at people like Susan Collins, you look people like Mitt Romney, who's been a tower of courage, by the way, over the last several months. Somehow, that wing of the party has got to get itself together, so it can stand against the wing that is very proud and loud right now.

    And if we don't have some sort of rivalry over the soul of the party, it's not only the Rob Portmans of the world who are going to leave it. It's suburban voters. There are a lot of voters on that side who do not like what happened on January 6, and they're not going to stay for long.

    So, the survival of the party depends on the rallying of what we used to think of as normal Republicans. And so far, they have — they have been — they have stuck their head up here and there, but there's been no rallying, no organization, not much of a caucus.

    And so there has to be at least the fight to defend the party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In 10 seconds, Jonathan, anything Democrats can do as all this is going on?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I have no idea, other than stand back and watch.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    On that note, Friday night.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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