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New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the assimilation of Indigenous students in Indian boarding schools, President Joe Biden's budget plan, the child tax credit, and the latest reported in books on the Trump administration.
It has been a full week of political news, with Democrats pushing an ambitious plan for education and health care, child tax credits hitting the bank accounts of American families, and former President Trump the subject of two new books.
Luckily, here to make sense of it all, we have Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.
It is so good to see both of you, as it is every single Friday.
So — but I do want to start, Jonathan, with what we heard a little earlier on the program from the secretary of the interior, this 100-year-plus-long system in the United States of taking Native American children from their families, putting them into boarding schools. Many of them never were sent back home.
What is your sense of the process the Biden administration has set up to investigate? And then who should be held accountable?
Well, one, I think it is terrific that Secretary Haaland is the one who's going to be leading this effort as secretary of the interior, the first Native American in a Cabinet position to do that, a Pueblo woman, but also someone for whom this is not far — this is not distant history. This is in her family.
I — we have to investigate. We have to know our history. And we have do know our history in order to atone for our history. And we need to do that in order to be better, to be better people, to be better Americans, to be a better nation.
And just hearing the word boarding school, for a lot of Americans, you hear boarding school, you think the kids in "Different Strokes." You think of the British royal family, where lots of well-to-do people go and become you know high-born and well-bred.
But that's not what happened to Native American children. It was the exact opposite. They were brutalized. We don't know why they disappeared, or maybe they were killed. We don't know. But we need to know. And terrific that this is happening.
And how the nation should atone for this, that should be part of the discussion. I don't know exactly how we should do that, but we should talk about it.
How do you see this?
Yes, I think it's traumatic.
I mean, the Canadians are ahead of us on this. They have been going through this for the last six years — six months or so. And I have been watching the — it's been a national trauma, as they face that reality, but a trauma that has to be faced.
I think what strikes me, looking back, one, it's there are so many levels to what happened. One is just the raw racism. I mean, they weren't taking Ukrainian kids and ripping them from their parents. They were just taking Native American kids.
The second was the ideology. There was — after Darwinism, there were all these pseudoscientific crappy beliefs in races and in some civilizations were better than other civilizations. And, therefore, the idea that you're doing somebody a favor by taking them away from their heritage is — that was a pseudointellectual belief system that was pervasive, not only in the fringes, but pervasive in Western society, this crazy, really garbage science Darwinism.
And then the final thing which is to be appreciated, which they did not have then, but hopefully we're getting now, the idea that cultural diversity is a plus, and not a minus. And this is a — it's not a recent phenomenon in world history. The Book of Jeremiah embraces cultural diversity.
But it's — it was not commonly believed. And now I think one of the things we have done is, we have come to cherish different heritages and the way they interact and the way we can integrate without assimilating.
We can certainly hope so.
It's just been, as I said to the secretary, one of the most disturbing things I have ever read about. The more I read about it, the sicker I became.
But let's bring it forward and talk about what's going on right now in the Congress, Jonathan.
The Democrats, President Biden working very hard to try to push through this $3.5 trillion plan to boost education, health care, a number of other things, as a companion to the infrastructure package.
What are the prospects? Does it look like they're going to get it done?
I have a note written to myself for you, Judy, and it is: "Honestly, I don't know."
There are so many moving pieces here. The 3.5 — well, the bipartisan — the $3.5 trillion plan is the American Families Plan, the American Jobs Plan. It is everything that the progressives and Democrats have wanted for maybe generations.
You have got Senator Portman, Republican. They're all trying to come up with this compromise. But if the Republicans walk away, it falls apart, which I'm sort of girding myself for that prospect. But the other thing is, let's say there is an agreement with the Republicans. The president only has like — he can't lose anyone.
And that's a very real prospect, especially when you have Senator Joe Manchin out there saying, the price hike is probably too high. We got to pay — we have to have it all paid for. And I don't like the climate change stuff that's in it.
So that's why, after saying all, that's why I say I don't know what the prospects are. But we will find out on Wednesday.
But you know the answer, right?
I have a very firm guess.
First, starting with the Republicans, my basic view is, they're in the ballpark. They have gotten as far down the road, to mix metaphors, as is likely.
And so you look at the Republicans, say, that I thought they might have walked away when Joe Biden sort of denounced the agreement — or he had made a couple hours before. They did not walk away.
Senator Portman from Ohio, the Republican, is saying, hey, if we walk away from infrastructure, the Democrats will just throw it into their reconciliation package, and we won't have any say over it. So let's stay in the game.
And then, on the Democratic side, getting to the 50, I would say the Bernie Sanderses of the world have come down quite a lot. And they really are more than I associate with Bernie Sanders practicing the art of the possible. And so they got down to $3.5 billion (sic). And I imagine they will have to come down more.
And then, if you look at the Manchins, President Manchin and Vice President Tester and Sinema and all the people who actually run this country…
… they're saying, let me take a look. They're not saying, yes, they're going to support this thing. They're not saying no.
I think they're going to negotiate. And so I would — I really don't know either. But I do think they have done a pretty good job of getting closer, so they're in the ballpark of where it seems plausible.
Well, I had to ask you, even though I suspected you might not be prepared to tell us the final, final.
But another thing we did — that did happen, for sure, this week, Jonathan, is these checks for child tax credits are now in the bank accounts of millions and millions of American families.
Is this going to make a difference?
Well, in the short term, it's going to make a difference to those families who get those — who get those checks.
Everyone likes to get money, whether they find them in a coat pocket or wherever. But when it's the federal government saying, we know you have been through a hard time, and here's some help, that is terrific.
The problem, however, is twofold. One, it's temporary. I believe it's only just one year. And then the other problem is, a lot of the people who really need the checks and should be getting the checks won't be getting them because they don't make enough money to file taxes, and, therefore, there's no record of them at the IRS.
The Biden administration is moving quickly in trying to resolve that. But those are short-term problems.
I think, in the long term, the administration and Democrats would love to make this permanent. And we have been around this town a long time. Once you get an entitlement or something like this on the books, it's kind of hard to wipe it out. And I think this is going to be something that will be popular, and that there will be popular pressure on Congress to make it permanent.
Yes, if you ask me to pick one policy to reduce poverty, this would be it, the child tax credit.
I give Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado, the Democrat, he's been pushing this for years and years. Marco Rubio had a plan. The conservative think tanks all have their plans. It's — they're — this is the — if you want to get rid of childhood poverty, you give people, the families, the money to make choices for their kids.
You get the kids in better environments, because the families are less financially stressed. The kids — you can just have this massive effect. I'm betraying my Canadian roots. Canada did this a couple years ago. Massive effect. The estimates now, what's happening now, reduction of child poverty by 40 percent.
Very rarely do you get a social program that reduces poverty or has any effect that big. So it's a big effect. There are some Republican talking points that it'll create dependency on government. There's no evidence of that in Canada or Australia, the other places. People are not aging backwards to qualify for this.
Like, they're not turning it to children so they can get the benefit. So, even from a conservative point of view, this is a fantastic program, and making it permanent is in this $3.5 billion (sic) thing that hopefully will build on what's already been passed.
And it should have, it did have — until this town became so partisan, it had complete bipartisan support, this idea. As I say, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, they had their own versions of this, smaller, but in the right direction.
I talked to Treasury Secretary Yellen about it yesterday, asked her that question about, could it discourage some families from going back to work? And she said, we don't think so. We think parents are going to continue. But we will see. We will see what happens.
Last thing, Jonathan, two books out in the last week or so with former President Trump at the center in the final days of his administration, after the election, desperately trying to reverse the election results.
What do we learn from this? What do we see? And are there heroes in people like Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley?
Well, on the one hand it's nothing new, if you have been hanging on with your fingernails, watching all of it in real time.
I sort of liken it to a coloring book. When you get a brand-new coloring book, you have the dark out — you have the outlines. And then you take the color — you take the crayon and then you color it in.
What these books are doing, they're coloring in more — giving us more information about the skeletal view of what we know. And it's vivid. It's horrifying. It's dangerous, particularly what we find out from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I would say he's a hero in — now we're finding out all of the things he did behind the scenes. Part of me wonders, why can't we have heroes in real time? Why can't these folks who were speaking off the record or on background in real time and doing so maybe more openly now that the demonstration is over, where were they when the country really needed it?
Yes, it's tough for military. I'm — this was the Jim Mattis problem. It's tough, if you're a military person, to speak up.
But I — one of the stories, the outrageousness of those four years was the outrageousness. But another big story was that, in every department of government, there were people who did the right thing. And they made sure the system basically worked.
And I would include the secretaries of state in places like Georgia, Republican, who did the right thing…
… the judges.
So, people did the right thing. And the system basically held.
And we — and there are more books to come. We're going to find out even more.
Thank you both. Very good to have you here.
Have a great weekend, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks.
You too, Judy.
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