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Brooks and Capehart on COVID vaccine hesitancy and the Georgia attacks

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Republican reluctance to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the response to violence against Asian Americans and the Atlanta attacks, and the Biden administration's immigration policy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to maybe help us further understand the vaccine hesitancy among some Republicans, and much more, we turn now to the analysis of 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, smiling faces, on this Friday night.


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Good to see you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But serious stuff to talk about.

    Thank you for being here.

    Jonathan, I'm going to start with you.

    Why do you think so many Republicans, 40, 50 percent, are saying they don't want the vaccine? And what do you think the prospects are for changing their mind?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, Judy, I think part of the problem is the previous president spent the entirety of the pandemic — so, a year ago, we were hearing the president of the United States casting doubt, one, on whether the virus would come to the United States, and then, two, once it did get to the United States, calling the whole thing a hoax every day.

    And so, if you were a die-hard follower of the president, and you're listening to him telling you all sorts of falsehoods, lies, misinformation about a pandemic that you also say is a hoax, then it doesn't surprise me — it is shocking just as an American and someone who believes in science — that so many, such a high percentage of Republicans, and particularly Republicans who supported Donald Trump, being very hesitant about taking the vaccine.

    I hope that the gentleman in Yamiche's package will do what he says he's going to do, educate himself, and then decide to take the vaccine. That is all Dr. Fauci has been trying to do, folks at the CDC, the NIH, trying to educate the American people and tell them, this is how we protect ourselves against this virus and this pandemic, and these are the things we must do if we want to get to the other side and start to live what we used to call normal lives again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, how do you explain the thinking on the part of so many Republicans?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, for generations, if you asked Americans, do you trust the institutions of our society, you would get 70 or 80 percent trusting institutions.

    Then, starting around the time of Vietnam and Watergate, that began to decline. And now it is about 19 percent. And so people have built up over decades of what they perceive as failure and betrayal a sense of distrust, not only in government, in Congress, but in science and in institutions.

    And it is especially true on the Republican side, where the "don't tread on me" ethos has been strongest.

    I am hopeful that, once you detach this from politics and make it a local issue, where it is you and your doctor, or you and your neighbor, or you and your pastor, that minds can change. People really do think on two different levels.

    They think — if you ask them a political question in a poll, they will give you a political answer. But if it is the doctor saying, you know, everybody around here is taking this test — or this vaccine, it looks pretty good, it is keeping us safe, I think then, once it becomes a local issue, and not a political issue, I think minds can change pretty fast.

    And we still have that in the Frank Luntz focus group, that he said elsewhere that he really couldn't persuade people. And the Biden administration is working hard to do that, really reaching out to Republicans. Francis Collins, who is head of to NIH and an evangelical Christian, is talking to Christian groups.

    And so they are broadening the messengers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, they are trying to change minds in that regard.

    The president also out this week, in fact, today, marking the fact that 100 million Americans have had at least one vaccination now. And it is, what, just two months into his administration. He also is out around the country talking up the benefits of this COVID economic relief plan.

    And he was going to be in Atlanta to talk about that, but, today, the triples became an opportunity to speak to the Asian American community there, just a few days after these terrible shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area.

    Jonathan, what is the right message right now for the president at a time like this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I think, in the remarks that the president gave just before we came on air, just as you were coming on air, are similar to the messages he has been giving when it comes to talking about the loss Americans have felt as a result of the pandemic.

    In his remarks in Atlanta, he targeted them to the Asian American, Pacific Islander community that feels and has felt under siege, under threat for more than a year because of the rhetoric that was coming out of the White House.

    And so by an accident of timing and coincidence, the president and vice president were already going to be in Georgia, in Atlanta to tout the American Rescue Plan. But the fact that these — that the shootings happened, the murders happened, that their trip took a more mournful purpose.

    But there is one other thing to keep in mind here, Judy. Georgia flipped from red to blue. And Senators Warnock and Ossoff are in the Senate because people came out and voted for them. And we know that, because of a big turn without from Asian Americans in Georgia, that that helped put Joe Biden over the top in Georgia and Warnock and Ossoff over the top in, I believe, both of their races, the general election race and the run-off races.

    And so this trip that President Biden and Vice President Harris took today and is still ongoing has taken on so many layers of meaning that we can't even get into right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And pick up on that, David.

    I mean, at a moment like this, how much difference can it make what a president says, especially on this — as Jonathan said, this is a subject that has political — certainly, political ramifications.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, one of the things we certainly learned in recent history is that the presidency is the cultural determiner of the country, and that the ethos of the country reflects the presidency for good or ill, whether it feels like you are walking into a hailstorm or you have got sunshine shining upon you.

    And Biden ran on the soul of America. I thought that was just a very important part of his campaign. I wasn't clear how he was going to translate that into the presidency. How do you actually use the power of the office to change the soul of America? I actually thought he should have a little agency within the White House, thinking about the culture, thinking about what is the American soul, how do we tell our story, how do question keep ourselves together?

    But events have certainly given him occasions to put that issue front and center, and mostly hate crimes and killings, unfortunately. And so what this episode shows is, in the soul of America, there has been a rising tide of bigotry of all kinds, of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian violence, rising tide of all kinds, partly because of Donald Trump, partly because of COVID, partly because there are, frankly, a lot of lonely young men who have been sort of cut loose from society and who are struggling.

    And they are not enmeshed in thick communities. And they do terrible things on occasion.

    And so the soul of America is about our moral fiber, and not practicing bigotry. It is about our social connection enmeshing people. And then it is about expressing the values that we share, which I think president did today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this is not, Jonathan, of course, the only tough question facing the president right now. There are more and more immigrants attempting to come into the United States across the Southern border.

    Children and families with young children, the administration is letting them come in. They are turning back single adults. But it is adding up to a real challenge. The Republicans are saying, this is Joe Biden's border crisis.

    What do you make of his handling of this and also of the two immigration bills that passed the House this week?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    So, when it comes to Republican criticism of the Biden administration, I mean, that is par for the course. That is to be expected, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy calling it Biden's border crisis.

    But the waves of migrants coming to the border didn't start the moment Joe Biden became president. They have been coming. I think that President Biden talking about having a more humane immigration policy probably sent a message to folks who are trying get here through the Southern border that the draconian measures and sort of inhumane measures taken by Donald Trump were no longer going to be in force and that maybe it's time to go, also keeping in mind that it's not just — President Biden isn't the only reason why folks are trying to get across the Southern border.

    People are fleeing. They're fleeing terror and gangs and crime and lack of economic opportunities in their own countries. And they're moving north, seeking opportunities.

    Now, what we have seen, Judy, is that the administration has gone from the president saying we want a more humane policy to the president going on television earlier this week and saying, don't come. You have got the secretary of homeland security saying, don't come now. You have got the new ambassador for the border, Roberta Jacobson, saying, don't come, and don't come this way. Come through legal means.

    So, I think, if anything, the Biden administration has to has to land on a consistent message. And then it's got to figure out a way to work with Congress to really get a handle on what to do about immigration.

    The two bills that you mentioned, Judy, one dealing with the dreamers and another one dealing with migrant farmworkers, it's not comprehensive immigration reform policy. But these are two big pieces of the immigration puzzle that are working their way through Congress. They made it their way through the House.

    But the tough part, as we will be discussing forever, it seems, the tough part is going to be in the Senate. And will the Senate, will Congress actually work to pass something that will actually alleviate a lot of the immigration problems in the country?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, David, and sizing up how President Biden's handling all this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the short-term problem for the Biden administration is, they did have a very unclear message in the beginning and that says, don't come — you can come, but not yet, which is not a clear message, especially since it gets filtered through these smugglers, who smuggle people across the border for like 8,000 bucks.

    Their incentive is to tell people, time to go, because they make money everybody they carry. And so you get lots of misinformation spread across the border. And a lot of people are coming. We're at a 14-year high.

    The larger problem is that we have just never had a well-funded asylum system. We don't have the facilities, as it was painfully clear during the Trump years. We don't have the judges. And so people come, they get their hearing, but sometimes it takes over a year to get the hearing.

    Meanwhile, they're in the country. And if they think they're going to lose the hearing, which two-thirds do, then they don't show up. And so it's just a dysfunctional system.

    I think the Biden administration is trying to ramp up and fix it. But who's to say they won't just continue to fall behind? And the pain of that is, A, we have some chaos on the border, but, B, you get an awful political atmosphere for trying to pass immigration reform.

    And asylum and immigration are different, which is worth remembering. And so we have given up, I think wisely, on the idea of comprehensive reform. Too big a lift. But it's getting tougher to pass even these minor bills on things people sort of agree about, like the dreamers.

    And the border counties in Texas shifted sharply to the Republicans. Mark Kelly, the senator from Arizona, has got to run again in 2022. If there's a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, it becomes hard for him.

    And so the — in a weird way, this border crisis is making the immigration bills a lot harder to pass.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, whether they wanted to deal with this right now or not, they are having to deal with it. And we will continue to watch it.

    Thank you both, David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:


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