Brooks and Capehart on Jan. 6 anniversary, voting rights

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Joe Biden’s address marking the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, and the status of Democrats’ voting rights legislation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, with the renewed push on voting rights, and with vaccine mandates getting their day in court, it has been a full week.

    To consider it all, we're joined by Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Very good to see both of you, even though you're not here in the studio.

    I was going to start with something else, but I have to begin with January 6, Jonathan, listening to what our correspondents were saying and thinking about what President Biden yesterday said, taking it right to his predecessor, saying that former President Trump was holding a dagger at the throat of our democracy.

    That's a stunning statement. What do we make of that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It's a stunning statement, Judy, and it is a true statement.

    The thing to keep in mind about President Biden is that he is — since the campaign, he has been — never been more clear, focused, direct, passionate, and determined than when he is talking about American democracy or as, he called it, the soul of America, and the damage and danger that Donald Trump was to both.

    He started his campaign talking about Charlottesville and why that animated him to jump into the 2020 race, and then there in Statuary Hall as president of the United States, to his mind, the clear and present danger of Donald Trump and what he did as president and what he could do down the road if he decides to run for president in 2024.

    I think the president, after almost a year in office of getting some legislative wins under his belt, decided that the anniversary of the most dangerous moment in history for Congress, that that was the time to say clearly and forcefully that what happened in that building was a travesty, and that he's going to do everything that he possibly can to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

    And the first step in that is talking about it, naming names, and trying to hold them publicly accountable for what they did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what do you make of the — of President Biden using this stark imagery, hold a dagger?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I thought the president was right to not talk about Trump directly for most of this past year, because there was the hope Trump would fade away.

    And I must say, on January 7 of last year, I thought what — the events of January 6 were so horrific and so disgusting, that it would be an inflection point and people would look at the whole Trump era as something lamentable and terrible. I was wrong about that. Donald Trump has not faded away. He is, if anything, stronger in the Republican Party.

    So, if Donald Trump's not going to fade away, you might as well tell the truth. And you might as well go after him directly. And you might as well go after him with the passion of a man who worked for 30 years, more than 30 years, in that building, and who mentioned yesterday that the Rotunda, where they were sitting, that's where Abraham Lincoln sat.

    That's — a few feet down the hallway, there's John F. Kennedy. A few feet down the other hallway, there's Tip O'Neill. And so this is American history that was trampled, something Joe Biden has devoted his life to extending and making prosperous.

    So there's got to be strong emotions there. And I'm glad he expressed them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, as you're pointing out, as David is pointing out, this is a turn for President Biden. He hasn't wanted or hasn't spent a lot of time talking directly about the former president, but now he's going after him.

    Is there a risk in that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    There are risks in everything.

    But I think that the president and the White House have made the calculation that, if you're going to take any kind of risk, if the risk is in defending American democracy, then it is a risk worth taking. And I think that the president — the speech yesterday was terrific. It was what the nation needed to hear.

    But it can't be the last step. It has to be the first step of many to remind people about what happened, who did it, and also to remind people that, even though the focus right now is on Donald Trump, what Donald Trump unleashed will survive Donald Trump, whether he runs for president or not.

    And that is the big danger that I think a lot of people are — might be getting themselves into, by focusing so intensely on Donald Trump and the damage he did to this country, that they're maybe not paying attention to the forces that he unleashed that can't be put back in the bottle now that they have been unleashed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, pick up on that. I mean, how — is it a gamble for President Biden to be taking this tack right now in his presidency?

  • David Brooks:

    I don't think so. Democrats criticizing Donald Trump is not exactly a new thing. It's not exactly a risky thing for Democrats.

    To take it down a notch to the crass political level, the Democrats are going to try to win — keep that — their majorities in 2022. Joe Biden presumably is going to try to keep the presidency or at least have a Democrat in the presidency in 2024.

    His approval ratings are not high enough to do that on the basis of his own accomplishments. And, frankly, he didn't win the presidency the first time because people love Joe Biden. He won it because people really dislike Donald Trump.

    And so raising the saliency of Trump is probably the smart thing to do. Now, there are clear limits to that, as we learned in the Virginia gubernatorial race, when the Democrats tried to tie Youngkin to Trump, and it didn't work. So, I don't think it's the only thing he can do to keep Democrats in office.

    But it's certainly a key part of it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the things we're seeing the president and the vice president do, they're heading to Atlanta, Jonathan, next week to make what they're calling a major speech or statement on voting rights, a big push for legislation that they have not been able to get through Congress.

    Meantime, some Republicans — and I know you all talked about this a little bit last week. But, meantime, Republicans are coming back and saying, well, let's look at electoral vote count reform.

    I asked Vice President Harris about that when I had a chance to talk to her yesterday. Here's what she had to say about how to think about these two things.

    Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States: It's not a solution to the problem at hand, which is that, right now, in the United States of America, we need federal laws that guarantee the freedom and right of every American to have access to the ballot, to be able to vote.

    The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Freedom to Vote Act address that issue. And those are the issues that are present and that are imminent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, Jonathan, she's saying voting rights has to come before anything with the electoral vote count.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, because, as she was saying, what is happening in the states is happening because of the big lie, suppressing the vote, keeping people from voting, and also now the prospect of, once people have voted, boards of elections that have now been taken over by state legislatures having their votes tossed out.

    So that's why there's such this — there's this big push for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to be passed or the Freedom to Vote Act to be passed.

    But I also think in the — in your interview with the vice president, I think she goes on to say that it's not an either/or. Both of these things have to be done. It's a matter of priority.

    And when it comes to the Electoral Count — the Electoral Count Act, Congressman Jamie Raskin, who's a member of the Select — January 6 Select Committee, writes in his new book, "Unthinkable," about how they saw, months — by May of 2020 that the Electoral Count Act was probably the way that Donald Trump was going to try to mess with the election, because it was so squishy.

    So the Electoral Count Act must do — it must be reformed. But doing that instead of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act or the Freedom to Vote Act, that's not a solution to the near-term danger that faces the right to vote right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How you — David, how do you see movement on these two things, or not?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think we probably need to do both.

    But I really do think the Democrats have to completely revamp their approach to the national emergency January 6 started or Donald Trump started and is continuing, expanding right to this day. There are sort of three elements to an election. There's casting the votes, there's counting the votes, and then there's certifying the results.

    We do not have a crisis in casting the votes. We just in 2020 had the highest vote turnout in American history. We don't have at all a problem in counting the votes. We counted the votes without fraud and without error pretty much in 2020, as we have seen.

    We have a complete crisis in the certification of the votes. It's that third thing where we have the complete crisis, where state legislatures are politicizing the vote certification, where they're attacking the people who bravely stood up to Donald Trump, where Republicans are running for these local judge — clerk — judge of elections positions, Republicans who are Trumpian and will use them for nefarious ends.

    And so we have this massive assault on our democracy in the certification of the results. The problem with the Freedom to Vote Act is, it has very little about that. It's all about elements one and two. And so, to me, what the Democrats need to do is really focus on the certification, protecting the people who are nonpartisan in certifying results.

    The Democrats need to get much more active locally on these local races for judge of elections and all those other things. And they're not doing that. The Republicans are far outpacing them on the ground and on the grassroots.

    And so, to me, that's — the house is on fire on that. And so we should be focusing on that, and get — take care of that immediately. And then we can do the other voting rights, which are very hard to pass. We could do it now or we could do it later. But we need to focus on that third thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, what about that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I agree with David that the house is on fire.

    But I don't agree with David — and David mentions this — has mentioned this at least three times about how there's no — the vote is not being suppressed. I — there are a lot of Democratic and progressive activists and actual voters who would disagree with that, especially those who are standing in line for hours and hours in multiple locations, multiple states in order to vote.

    But, look, all of these things that we are talking about need to be addressed. The only problem is, we don't live in a monarchy, and we don't live in a dictatorship, where President Biden, King Biden, dictator Biden can just go and say, this shall be done.

    What the Senate needs to do is to take action to ensure that whoever wants to register to vote can vote, that the person who registers to vote is able to vote as conveniently as possible and then, when that person does vote, that their vote actually gets counted, and that their voice is actually heard by not having a state board overturn the voice of the people, the will of the people at the ballot box. That has to be done.

    And that can only be done at this point if the United States Senate rallies around and gets it done. But, unfortunately, we spent a lot of our time talking about two senators, one in particular, who still, even though the house is on fire, is refusing to be a part of the solution to put the fire out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, put the button on this. Why isn't that the priority? You have got 30 seconds.


  • David Brooks:

    I don't think the problem — the answer is in Washington.

    Democrats need to rally people in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in state capitals around the country. They need to work on state legislators. They need to make it extremely painful for anybody to vote to politicize the certification of a result.

    I think the focus on Washington is the wrong focus right now. And the Republicans know this, and they're doing something about it. And Democrats are not, I'm afraid.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Clarion call from each one of you.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both on this Friday night. Thank you so much.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Judy.

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