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Brooks and Capehart on infrastructure talks, VP Harris’s role and Trump’s influence

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including negotiations between President Biden and Republicans over infrastructure, Vice President Kamala Harris's focus on the border and voting rights, and Republicans who are speaking out against former President Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's very good to see you. And there is a lot to talk about.

    David, let's start with where we are on these so-called infrastructure negotiations. I'm not sure that term tells us everything. But, today, we're hearing President Biden focus on the good news in the jobs report, but also we're learning that the talks with Republicans on coming up with some sort of infrastructure compromise don't seem to be going anywhere.

    If they don't, David, has this all been a waste of time?

  • David Brooks:

    No, I don't think so. I think he's compromised a lot more than I thought he would. He's come down on the overall size of the package by a trillion. Republicans have come up by $200 billion. He's compromised on what kind of taxes, a mix of taxes. He wants to make sure there are some corporate taxes, but is willing to bend on the original proposal.

    And I think he needs to do that. He needs to do that, in part because there are a lot of moderate Democrats who are nervous by this bill. And even if Republicans and the Democrats don't eventually come to a deal, it strengthens his hand to go to Joe Manchin and other moderate Democrats and say: Hey, I really tried.

    And if he wants to say, let's do this through reconciliation, a process by which they only need the Democratic votes, he's made a good-faith effort.

    The fact is, he's in a weak position. He's got 50 votes in the Senate and a small minority — majority in the House. He's got to do this sort of thing. So I think he's doing it reasonably well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, is this something the president helps himself by doing, no matter how it turns out?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Absolutely, because he does need to show, particularly to Senator Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, that he's making a good-faith effort at the bipartisanship that those two and particularly Senator Manchin say that they want.

    However, this comp — these talks in these negotiations and the back-and-forth, as you just — you reported earlier, Judy, that the president and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will be talking again on Monday. But as we learned last week, I believe it was, from Secretary Pete Buttigieg, secretary of transportation, that — and I'm looking down here — it's fish or — it's a fish-or-cut-bait moment.

    And he was talking about that in terms of the week of June 7, when Congress is back, and just in saying that we need a clear direction.

    And so I think, after the phone call on Monday between the president and Senator Capito, we might get a clearer view of what that clear direction is and whether the president is going to fish or cut bait.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it sounded like, from listening to Brian Deese a little bit earlier tonight, who directs the president's Council of Economic Advisers, that, right now, the White House isn't saying what they think amounts to something. But we will watch this space.

    Something else I very much want to ask both of you about are the assignments, David, that the president has given his vice president, Kamala Harris. We don't hear from her very often. But the president's given her now several big assignments. One of them is dealing with the Central American countries that are sending so many migrants or trying to send them. They're coming to the United States, trying to.

    Talking to — trying — saying to her, we have got to stop this. We have got to at least cut back on the number who are trying to come to the U.S. And then, separately, the very important assignment of working with these states where Republican legislatures are trying to cut back, restrict on voting rights.

    Is this something that Vice President Harris, she's got to do well on it? How risky are these assignments that he's giving her, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Extremely.

    She asked him for the democratic — the voting rights. She asked for that. So — and I give her credit for taking on something hard. It's essentially being asked, on Monday, we'd like you to solve the Middle East peace problem.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And, on Tuesday, why does evil exist in the world? And, Wednesday, why does consciousness arise from the brain?

    I mean, these are all extremely hard things. And I'm dubious that she can do much. She doesn't actually have much power over the border, as her aides have made clear. The odds stacked against some of the voting rights things in the Congress are pretty high. She doesn't have much control over this, what's going on in the states.

    The only thing I can think of for why she's agreed to take these assignments and why the administration wants her to do it is, they want to turn up the public pressure on all of them. I don't think she has much control over what happens in state or federal legislatures. But she can turn on the public pressure and try to change public opinion.

    But that, too, is a tall order. So, she is certainly taking lofty challenges.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, you have talked to her, you have interviewed her just in the last few days. How do you see all this? How does she see it?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, actually, I interviewed Vice President Harris a week ago today, and it was to talk about the one year since the murder of George Floyd and the 100 years since the Tulsa race massacre.

    And at the end of the interview, Judy, I asked her, is there a question that I didn't ask that you wish I had? And just give me the answer. And she shouted — before I could finish, she said voting rights.

    And then she went and talked about how our democracy is weaker when people are prevented from voting, and our democracy is stronger when everyone who can vote is allowed to vote. And then we find out a few days later the president's assignment.

    Look, as David said, this is an assignment that she asked for after meeting with civil rights leaders at the White House earlier — this is June — so early May. And having interviewed Vice President Harris before when she was a senator and when she was California attorney general, this is something that she truly cares about.

    And so taking this on, in addition to the Northern Triangle, in addition to expanding broadband access, she is operating in the mode — the same mode, maybe even an enhanced mode in the vice president — of the vice presidency that President Biden did or acted when he was vice president to President Obama.

    The one thing he said to President Obama was, I want to be the last person in the room.

    And being eight years in that position, and now being president of the United States having a governing partner with him, which he has in Vice President Harris, it seems like the president is unafraid to hand her one difficult task after another.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it certainly — we are now focused on the fact that she has these assignments. So, we will watch and see where it goes.

    I do want to turn you both to a couple of Republicans, prominent Republicans, who've been speaking out in the last few days about former President Trump. Last week, Paul Ryan, former speaker of the House, made a speech at the Reagan Library, was pretty critical of President Trump, not by name, but said it's time for the Republican Party to stop focusing on personalities and focus on principle.

    And then you had in the last few days an interview given by President Reagan's — one of his chief strategists who is still around, in his 90s, a man named Stu Spencer, David. He lives in California.

    He gave an interview and said to The Los Angeles Times and said — was very critical of President Trump, said he's doing bad — terrible damage to the Republican Party.

    But then the man who was President Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, gave a speech just last night in New Hampshire. And I'm just going to play a little bit of that for you and our audience.

  • Former Vice President Mike Pence:

    You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don't know if we will ever see eye to eye on that day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, he went on to say: But we are still very proud. I'm still very proud of everything we accomplished over four years.

    Taking these comments together, do we have any clearer picture of what's going on in the Republican Party?

  • David Brooks:

    Have we ever seen daylight between Pence and Trump before? I'm not sure we have.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I think this may be like the universe cracking in half.

    I do think there's a — there's a pre-Trump Republican Party who all the gentlemen you just referenced to are members of. And they want it to be a conservative party. They don't want it to be a January 6 party. And they don't, frankly, want it to be a Trump party. And so they're trying to angle the party away from being a January 6 party.

    Trump rebutted, and he wants it to be a stolen election party. And what will happen? There are two sides of this argument. I think the regular Republicans, the establishment Republicans, are hoping that he sort of fades away. He's off Facebook for another two years. His blog has been closed for lack of interest. Maybe there's some fading way.

    And I think there's — that's a plausible road map. I wouldn't bet on it. But I suspect the Republicans will do pretty well in 2022. The out party tends to win these midterm elections. The Republicans control the maps in state after state. And so, at the end of 2022, we may have a victory for the Republicans in the House and possibly even the Senate, which will be a non-Trump victory.

    And then the party might look different. I think that's a long shot. But I think Trump is really still the major force. And January 6 is still the major myth of the Republican Party. But if you're an establishment Republican, that's what you would be trying to do, in the hope that you can gradually, gradually sideline this guy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, how do you see what's going on in the Republican Party? And David's right. People are starting to talk about 2022.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, I think it's just — what's happening in the Republican Party is sheer insanity, the fact that a January 6 commission couldn't even get approved by the Senate. But that's a whole other conversation.

    My concern about the Republican Party is, you have these lofty speeches from Paul Ryan and Mike Pence. You have the principled actions of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and yet the bulk of the party isn't with them. The bulk of the party is still with Donald Trump. The Republican Party can't seem to quit Donald Trump.

    And I would argue that the 2022 midterm elections, where, again, Democrats are in big trouble, at least in the House, in terms of maintaining the majority in the House, if the Republicans do indeed take the majority away from the Democrats in the midterm elections, I think they're going to learn the wrong lessons, and that Donald Trump, Facebook or no Facebook, and the people who follow him will take that as, see, our message works, this is what we need to do to go forward as a party.

    And I think that the Republican Party's journey in the wilderness will just be a lot longer, and it'll be a lot uglier for American politics as a result.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, I'm giving you the last word.

  • David Brooks:

    It takes three election losses to really change a party, in my view.

    And Democrats keep messing up by allowing the Republicans to win.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And so if Democrats would nominate some conservative candidates in places like Georgia, Florida and Ohio, they'd have a better chance of not relying on Joe Manchin.

    And so we will see if they can do that. But if they can't do that, and if they nominate progressives in non-progressive places, then they get what they get.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, we're going to let you — we're going to let you come — have your comeback on that — on that next Friday.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    All right, next Friday.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next Friday. You have got a whole week.

    All right, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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