Brooks and Capehart on Build Back Better plan, Biden overseas trip, VA Gov. race and more

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including progress on President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan, how that affects Biden’s overseas trip and the latest on the gubernatorial election in Virginia.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    While the president travels overseas, lawmakers at home consider his Build Back Better framework, and Virginians cast their vote for governor.

    There's a lot to unpack in this week's analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Welcome to you both. Good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Great to see you, too, Amna.

  • David Brooks:

    Good to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, this week, we got the framework for what is now the White House's $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan. I have said that so many times now.

    Quick reminder for folks at home who are still following along. Here's what we believe to be in the framework now, we understand, just ticking through, universal pre-K, child care, an extension of the child tax credit, climate change investments, strengthening the ACA.

    How they're paying for it, tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

    David, you got to give a little to get a little. Notably, paid leave is now totally out. What do you make of how this shook out?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it's not as good.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I liked it better when it was $3.5 trillion, actually, and for a couple of reasons.

    The core problem all the way along is the Democrats' unwillingness and inability to prioritize. What's this about? In the original proposal, there was a little family leave. There were some electrical chargers. There was health care or vision care for seniors. It was like a grab bag.

    And they had to cut it back to make Joe Manchin happy. And instead of just saying, let's pick up what really we need to do for this country, and let's do it well, they just cut everything back a little. And so, to me, the problem is there's so much stuff that's sunsetted, that is going to end in a couple years.

    To me, the most valuable single proposal in there was the child tax credit. It lifts kids out of poverty. But it not only does that. When you're not growing up in poverty, you do a lot better in school. And so it's a big education reform. That's extended for a paltry year now.

    The ACA subsidies, the health care subsidies, that's five years. The pre-K, that's only six years. So, future Congresses could easily get rid of all this. And if that's the case, then there will be no lasting impact.

    Now, I don't want to down-sell this. There's still good stuff in there, the corporate taxes and all that stuff and the subsidies for the health care. But it's not what it was because they can't pass it if they drop anything. So, they just shrunk it down.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, it's not what it was.

    The president says, though, that nobody gets everything they want, right?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. That's true.

    But it's not that they shrunk. You talked about paid family — you talked about paid family leave went from 12 weeks, to four weeks, to no weeks. So there are things that were in the bill that are no longer there.

    But I'm going to be the sunny optimist for once here.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Even though it's not $3.5 trillion, it's $1.75 trillion, still more than has ever been spent on anything in the history of the country.

    And everything that's in that framework is something that is beneficial to the American people and beneficial to the country going forward. I understand your pessimism about the child tax credit only being extended for a year, but we know how Washington works.

    Yes, future Congresses could wipe it out. But once something is in law, it's kind of — it's harder to take it out than it is to get it in there in the first place. So the fact that it's survived this framework, I think, is a very good thing.

    Pleasing Manchin and pleasing Sinema is something that I'm still trying to figure out how they do it. But if I could be in a room with both of them, I would say, listen to David Brooks. Pass the thing. Just take yes for an answer. And let's move on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to come to Manchin and Sinema in a moment.

    But just to follow up on that for a second, paid leave, just as an example, that was a signature issue, right? For it not to be in there at all, what kind of message does that said, that the president couldn't get that done?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, it says that he compromised. He wants to get something done. Something had to go by the wayside. No matter what it was, family leave or something else, it would have been really bad.

    I think that the president is hoping that — let's not forget he's still in year one of a four-year term, that maybe they can come back, especially if Democrats hold the House and hold the Senate, fingers crossed, that they could do it.

    But that's what compromise is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, David, what about the president overseas right now? Does this, the fact that it's still a little bit uncertain back home, that he couldn't get these things done at home, does that complicate the case he's making overseas?

  • David Brooks:

    I don't think so. I mean, I think it's going to pass.

    I'm impressed, or struck, I should say, by how flexible and regressive it's been on all this. Like, way back when this all started, Bernie Sanders was talking about $6 trillion. Joe Manchin was talking about 1.5. We ended up at 1.7. So guess who won that? Joe Manchin played tough. He endured a lot of criticism, but he sort of got the overall top-line number he wanted.

    We will see if he likes the guts of it. But the fact that the progressives really said, OK, better than nothing, or made the case that Jonathan just made, that there's a lot of good stuff still in here, that shows me it's going to be passed. They're not going to walk away.

    I doubt Manchin would walk away at this point, after having sort of won. And so I expected that, after what has been a pretty depressing few weeks of over how slow it's been, but, in a month, nobody will remember that. They will just remember the thing got passed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk about the Virginia governor's race, obviously something we're all following very closely, the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

    It has tightened. When you take a look at the state of the race, the latest numbers from the Washington Post poll show 49 percent from McAuliffe, 48 for Youngkin.

    Jonathan, this is a state Biden won by 10 points in 2020.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    They haven't — Democrats haven't a lost statewide race since 2009 in the commonwealth. Why is it as tight as it is?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    One, because this isn't Ken Cuccinelli, who Terry McAuliffe ran against when he ran for governor in 2013. This is someone who has been able to sort of embrace Trump without embracing Donald Trump. I'm talking about Glenn Youngkin.

    People are making a lot about the fact that 10 out of the 11 gubernatorial races, the person who won is from the opposite party of the president in the White House. The one exception? Terry McAuliffe.

    What people don't talk about beyond that is, Terry McAuliffe won by three points. It was a turnout election. And what made that election an anomaly by Virginia standards is that they had presidential-level turnout in an off-year election. And this race has always been a turnout race.

    If Terry McAuliffe is to win the Democratic coalition, particularly African-American voters, need to come out at the levels that they did last year for Joe Biden.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There's clearly concern in the Democratic Party, though.

  • David Brooks:

    Sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    They are calling out the big guns to stump for McAuliffe.

    Take a look. Recently, they had both President Biden and former President Obama. Here's just a bit of what President Obama had to say.

    Barack Obama, Former President of the United States : But, with Terry, you don't have to wonder what he's going to be like as governor, because you have seen it. He walked the walk, didn't just talk the talk.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Glenn Youngkin, meanwhile, has been campaigning with officials who've repeated the lie of mass election fraud. He's been leveraging parental anger over Critical Race Theory, which is not being taught in schools.

    Here's just a clip of one of his recent ads.

    Glenn Youngkin (R), Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate : When it comes to the economy, Virginia has a choice. My day one game plan will lower taxes, eliminate the grocery tax, and save Virginians nearly $1, 500, year one.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, there has been a lot of early turnout already.

    Do you dare to make a prediction in what happens here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the last week has been pretty good for Youngkin, so the early turnout would probably be a little more McAuliffe side.

    I think it's close because the economy has suffered because of the Delta variant, and because of cultural issues. I think the swing in the last week can only be the culture issues, the school board issues. There's a case of — it's more complicated than Republicans are making it out to seem, but sexual assault in a girl's bathroom with a fluid-gender guy as the — as the alleged perpetrator.

    And so that's suddenly turned into a big thing. And so it's a question is — are people from outside, are certain teacher or education, schools imposing values that we don't agree with on us and imposing them on our kids? And that has made a lot of people angry. And I think that's the issue of the last week that has really seized people.

    And how the Democrats let themselves get on the wrong side of that issue is a bit of a mystery to me. It's a no-brainer that people have very diverse views on gender and all this stuff. And you got to show you have room for all kinds of views in your party on that and you're not some tool of the left.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, if Democrats lose this, though, what does that say? What's the message?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the first message is, you can't defeat every Republican just by talking about Donald Trump a lot.

    And so that will send shockwaves through the Democratic Party. If they lose this in a plus-10 Democratic state, it will be a bit of panic time for Democrats, I would think.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It would show that fear and anger win the day.

    The fact that we're having a conversation about Critical Race Theory that is not taught in public schools in Virginia, it just goes to show how Republicans have decided that picking at white grievance and tap-dancing with white supremacy is their way back into power.

    And if Glenn Youngkin wins, yes, the Democrats should be afraid, because fear works. And I like to say, whiteness is a hell of a drug. And going into the midterm elections, we will see just how successful it can be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, that is Virginia.

    Let's broaden it out just a little bit, because last night was something called the Sammies. It's an award from the Partnership for Public Service honoring government workers and their accomplishments. It's really lovely. They honored everyone from people who led the COVID response, doctors and health officials who ramped up testing and ran vaccine trials, to a HUD team that — for their foster program work.

    They basically help to support kids who age out of the system. Wonderful, extraordinary work being done by the government.

    And yet, and yet, when you look at the latest numbers from Pew, public trust in the government is down to 24 percent. Even this number, a new poll from Georgetown's Institute of Politics and Public Service, 63 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

    David, what's going on here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, I occasionally — we get to sit in off the record on government agency meetings, say, at HUD. I remember a HUD meeting I was at several years ago.

    And I was amazed at the quality of the civil servants. And I'm always struck by that. These are people not paid a lot of money, lots of advanced degrees, vastly overqualified for some of this work, but they believe in it. They're not particularly ideological, by the way. They believe maybe in housing policy, education policy, transportation, but it's not like they're flaming ideologues of left or right.

    They just want to do the job. And so I have really come — living in the swamp here in D.C., I guess, I have come to really respect civil servants, because just because I have gotten to know and watched them operate.

    As for the trust, to me, it's the number one statistic if you want to understand politics in this country. If you ask people from, say, 1940 to 1967, say, do you trust government to do the right thing most of the time, you got 75 percent answers, yes, I do.

    Then Vietnam comes along, then Watergate comes along, and it plummets in the '70s. It ticks up a little under Clinton, a little under Reagan, a little under Obama. But it's been pretty much low 20s. And it dumped down to 19.

    And when no trusts government to do the right thing, it's just hard to rally people to want to use government to do the right thing, because they just don't trust it. And so that's just a fundamental problem with our country, which is not universal.

    In countries all across the West, they don't see levels of distrust the way we have. Distrust just leads people to pull inward, to fear, to believe conspiracies, not want to get vaccinated. It leads to problem after problem after problem. And how we rebuild trust in this country is just a major challenge.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, we have got about a minute left.

    What do you think when you look at these numbers?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, when I look at these numbers, it just goes to show that, when you ask people generally, do you trust the government, for a lot of people, the government is a faceless, malevolent blob that is harming their lives in some way or not getting anything done.

    But if you were to ask those same people their opinion of the folks who won the Sammies, I bet their approval rating would be through the roof. When you put a face on government, when you show the people who were doing the really hard work — and David just talked about, yes, they're bureaucrats, they're overqualified, but they do this because they love the work.

    And they could be making more money in the private sector, and yet they want to serve their country. They want to do good. And I think, in the end, that is what I think the American people — that's what they trust. It's just too bad they don't see enough of it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Some wonderful work being done. And we're grateful for it.

    We're out of time.

    I didn't get to ask you what your Halloween costumes are, but I will let people on Twitter guess, and you can tell them if they're right or not.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    How's that? Sound good?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, always good to see you.

  • David Brooks:

    Good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Great to see you, Amna.

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