Brooks and Capehart on Biden’s shifting immigration policy, the Jan. 6 investigation

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 decision to tap the country's strategic petroleum reserve, a return to pre-pandemic border policies and the latest on the Jan. 6 investigation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    What you were just hearing about, that return to pre-pandemic border policies, President Biden's attempt to reduce pain at the pump, and the January 6 investigation all heating up.

    To discuss another busy week, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post, new position.

    Congratulations.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thank you, Judy. Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So good to see both of you. And there is a lot to talk about.

    Let's start, David, with the report that we just heard Amna talking to a reporter about. And that is the Biden administration rescinding this rule that was handed down under President Trump, the argument being that COVID — we're in a different place with COVID, this is the humane thing to do. Is it the right thing to do?

  • David Brooks:

    Intellectually, yes.

    I mean, it was — there seems to be a bipartisan agreement, Republicans and Democrats, saying the reason it was put in place for COVID reasons doesn't pertain anymore. It's just not — it's not a health matter. It's become an art of convenience to simplify what goes on at the border.

    The question is what plan they have in place. And we're at a rate now where there are two million encounters at the borders a year. Like, two million times, U.S. officials are encountering immigrants or people are trying to get in.

    And it's just flooding the system. And there's a lot of skepticism that there's a system in place, if we not get rid of 42, that they will be able to have the hearings, do all the stuff we normally do with asylum seekers.

    And so, as we just heard, it's just a gigantic political issue. And in the bumper, that little quote there, that 21 percent of Americans say immigration is the highest, if you think about the dominant issues right now, inflation is number one, immigration is probably number two. Probably education and crime are three or four.

    These are all nightmare issues for Democrats right now. And so Republicans put up this long fact sheet. And I don't want to vouch for its veracity. It's a partisan fact sheet. But you see the ads writing themselves, chaos at the border, drugs coming in, record opioid deaths.

    Republicans are going to go to town on this one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Republicans against it, Jonathan. Even some Democrats are saying they think it's the wrong thing.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. And I think the — what it points to is the lack of a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

    And this is something that's vexed Republican presidents. I remember when President George W. Bush wanted to do something. It's vexed Democratic presidents. President Obama wanted to work with Congress. And Congress gave him the stiff-arm. And that's what pushed him to do DACA, after saying over and over again that he had no power to do anything about immigration.

    This is a political problem for the president, for the White House, for Democrats. In a normal, functioning Congress, the White House and the House and the Senate would be able to get in the room, get together, and come up with a solution.

    But there's no political will on the part of Republicans. And it's great that they put out what — you called it a fact sheet, but a fact sheet with no policy prescriptions. A functioning party would say, Mr. President, you're in trouble, the country's in danger. Here's what — here's our proposal.

    I have yet to hear what the Republican proposal is, other than fearmongering.

  • David Brooks:

    Build a wall.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, yes, there's that.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we just — yes, we just seem stuck on this issue.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, it's a complicated moral problem. People are coming here not because their lives are great back home. They're coming here because situations in a lot of Latin American countries are deteriorating. And some of them are genuinely in horrific circumstances. And one's heart leaps out to them.

    And yet they're coming in such large numbers, it's probably beyond our capacity to absorb all the people who want to come. And a lot of people are coming for economic opportunity. I don't blame them. My ancestors came for economic opportunity. And they — I wish they would go through the regular means.

    But it takes a morally complicated government or a policy or a collective mind to say, we're going to help the people we are capable of helping. How many people are we capable of helping? And how do we help them humanely? And how — for those who can't, how do we say sorry, but how do we do it humanely?

    And that kind of moral nuance is not something we have seen a lot of in American policymaking for a while.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're not seeing that.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    No.

    And it's made more complicated because the party opposite the president, instead of lending a hand, is hurling brickbats and not being part of the solution. The only way we get to this nirvana you're talking about, David…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    … is if the Republican Party wanted to be a true negotiating partner wanting to get something done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, another hot issue, I think it's fair to say, that surface this week, and it's something the president announced yesterday, David, and that's that he said, yes, the jobs numbers are looking good. And we had more proof of that today.

    But the administration is still very worried about inflation, very worried about the price of gas. The president announced he's going to release 180 million barrels from what's called the Strategic Petroleum Reserve just to try to get gas prices down a little bit.

    Is this — is this a good move at this moment?

  • David Brooks:

    It's hard to know.

    Presidents always do this. They always release from the reserve, and it never works. Now, in Biden's — to his credit, this release is way bigger than any other president has done. And so they're trying to dump stuff on the market. And they're saying that it may produce a 10, 15, 20 percent gain per gallon at the pump.

    And so that would have some effects. That is far from certain, because when we release from the reserve, the markets think, well, they're releasing now, but they're going to have to put back in the reserve. And so the markets can think long term and think, well, that's not going to really reduce demand.

    Second, we're not the only people producing oil, in this country. OPEC could say, we want to keep prices up. If they're releasing, we will just limit our supply for a little while. And so there are plenty of other actors who have the chance to mess with our plans.

    And so I remain, I guess I would say, guardedly skeptical…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    … that this is going to do — that this is going to do much for the people who are paying 60, 70 bucks to fill up their tank.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size this up?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, the key thing you said, David, is that markets think long term, but presidents think in short — well, they try to think long term, but when presidents go to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, this is short-term thinking.

    There is short-term pain that the president has to deal with. And the reports I saw showed that this release would could lead to 10 cents per gallon, up to 35 cents per gallon for consumers. When you — when you are a consumer, and you're saving 10 cents, that adds up; 35 cents, that's huge.

    And gas prices is — they are the one thing that consumers feel immediately. And so, if you're a White House looking at tough economic news, and the American people are angry about inflation and everything, if you can give them something where they're saving in the short term, you will go with it.

    But David is right. The market does think long term and think, yes, they're releasing it, but they're going to have to buy it back. So — but I think administrations always do this, but I think it's the right thing to do for their political calculus right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're saying it's — excuse me. They're saying it's for six months. I looked at the calendar. That's right about November, David.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think — do you think this is going to matter in the elections this year?

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hello.

  • David Brooks:

    As Jonathan said, you look at the — you drive down the street, you see the gas prices.

    And I was out in California, and it's like, whoa.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh.

  • David Brooks:

    And so it's definitely going to matter.

    The — substantively, the better policy, in 2015, Barack Obama and Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker, did a deal where they increased production, which the Republicans wanted, lightening regulations on producers, but then, in exchange, increased money for green energy, which the Democrats wanted.

    And Joe Manchin saying, let's do that all over again. And that sounds like a good idea. But it probably won't help Joe Biden between now and November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. That's the question.

    Do you think it helps Democrats at all between…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Which…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Between now and the midterms.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    David — what David was just talking about, it's long term.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    So, in the short term, no, it's not going to help them.

    But I do think the SPR, that will help.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The January 6 Committee, two developments this week, David.

    One of them, there's this seven-and-a-half-hour gap in the phone records from the White House on January the 6th. There appears to be a gap. The committee's still figuring out what that's all about, whether that was deliberate where it was an accident. We will see.

    The other is that the members of the committee — I ended up talking to two of them this week, Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren, who are just more openly critical of the Justice Department for not picking this up and running with it and moving towards some kind of prosecution of people like Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff.

    Zoe Lofgren said to me yesterday — what did she say? What he did was completely lawless, she said.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, first, on the gap, it sparked a bunch of conspiracies, reminded us all the Watergate, so we could all plug and play on that one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    But is he using a burner phone secretly?

    And I think CNN seems to have the most plausible explanation, which is, when — the record-keeping in the Trump administration is not always meticulous, was not always meticulous, which I know was a shocker for everybody. And — but, apparently, when he went into the Oval Office, he didn't use the White House phone system, and then it wasn't recorded.

    That could be it. They were just bad record-keepers. It is weird that it happened to be at the crucial moment on January 6. So I assume we will find out here.

    To be honest, I trust Merrick Garland. The political players on Capitol Hill are political players. And they're going to go maximalist. They have no incentive to be balanced. Merrick Garland and the Justice Department have an incentive to be like prosecutors. And my overall approach to this whole deal, there have been a lot of extremely questionable things that have been done.

    But the Trump administration does us a favor by doing most of their questionable things out in the open.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And I haven't seen much that would make me think that there's some hidden, gigantic scandal, like, there's some phone call somewhere where Donald Trump was saying, storm the Capitol.

    If that call exists or that e-mail exists or that tweet exists, then we're in a whole new ball game. But it's easy for people who want to delegitimize Donald Trump to get excited that they have got something and get a little overpoliticized about it. So, right now, my trust would be of the Justice Department.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you read all this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, when it comes to the attorney general, I think what Chairman Schiff and Congresswoman Lofgren, their upset with him over the contempt charges, I think, are — they're valid.

    They have passed out of the House. They're sitting at DOJ. And no one knows what's happening with them in terms of prosecution.

    Where I agree with David in terms of trust Merrick Garland is on the call from the — from Democrats and folks on the left for the DOJ to investigate Donald Trump. And I think these are two separate things. And when it comes to investigating the former president, I — it would be, I was about to say, insane if Merrick Garland telegraphed that this was happening before he had all the I's dotted and the T's crossed.

    This has been — there are lots of former prosecutors out on television who keep saying the same thing you're saying. Trust — they trust — they trust Merrick Garland. But, at some point, that trust is going to erode.

    But, right now, when it comes to the contempt charges, I say, Mr. Attorney General, what are you doing? But when it comes to the overall issue of, should Donald Trump be investigated, I'm willing — I'm willing to wait, because I want DOJ, I want the attorney general to be as careful as possible, to make his case as bulletproof as possible, if there is one, so that it doesn't make things worse by falling apart.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Their focus right now seems to be Mark Meadows, but we will see.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

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