Brooks and Capehart on Kabul attack, Jan. 6 investigation, voting rights

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including the bombings in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed U.S. service members, the commission investigating the Jan. 6 riot, and voting rights legislation.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And now to the 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 in real life.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks. Great to see you too.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David what a week. What a week. We saw all the highs, heroic efforts, over 100,000 people evacuated, the deadly attacks punctuating this week in Kabul. The president has to deliver remarks to the American public after the loss of 13 service members' lives.

    What do you make of how he is handling this moment in his presidency?

  • David Brooks:

    I think very poorly.

    I thought the decision to leave was a mistake. I thought we had achieved some level of stability, and we could manage the problem. And I think we just invited the downfall.

    And the sad thing to me is, one of the good things that has happened in the Middle East over the last several years is that people have taken a look at the Taliban, and they hate it. A survey of 11 countries, Muslim countries, only 13 percent of positive views about the Taliban.

    In country after country, people are sickening of religious theocracy, because they just find it doesn't work. And that's in Iran. That's across the region. And so, at a time when liberal democracy is beginning to have a little momentum, and theocracy is taking some blows, we now have a period where we're seen to be brutally abandoning Muslims, not living up to our allies, betraying our — the people who helped us.

    And we're doing it in the most shambolic way. And so I think a lot of people take a look at this week, and, certainly, a lot of the people I have been reading think it's — this is what national decline looks like.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, when you look at where the American public is on this, going into the announcement that the U.S. would be withdrawing back in April, if you look at poll numbers, it was very high support for U.S. withdrawal across the United States, right?

    Sixty-nine percent of Americans in April said, we support the Americans and American troops leaving. If you look at a recent update to that, August 21 to the 24th, that had fallen to 47 percent.

    What do those numbers say to you?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, actually, if you look at this — that Morning Consult poll, yes, the numbers are way down from where they were in April.

    But over the last nine days, that number has ticked up. It was at 38 percent when Morning Consult first started polling people right when the withdrawal was happening. And then it's ticked up 38, then to 45, and now this new poll that you're citing has it up to 47 percent.

    Generally speaking, when Morning Consult asked the folks surveyed, do you support withdrawal, generally speaking, it's 50 percent. This 47 percent is, do you support withdrawal if it still means that the Taliban takes over?

    That being said, as I said last week, and it still holds firm this week, President Biden is where the American people are. The American people for a very long time have wanted to get out of Afghanistan. They wanted to be done with the war. And a P poll that was released last week after we were on showed that 62 percent of the American people surveyed didn't think that the war in Afghanistan was — quote — "worth fighting."

    So, the withdrawal hasn't gone very well. But withdrawing from a war that you weren't winning, that you lost, to expect it to go well, I think, is to be overly idealistic.

    That's not to denigrate anything that has happened in Kabul, both to the 13 service members who've lost their lives, the Afghans who were caught in the blast, but the American people wanted out of this, and the president is listening to them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, David, let me get your reaction to that, though.

    Do you — I mean, given that everyone has said, yes, starting wars is very easy, ending them is difficult, it would have been chaotic regardless, you still believe that the U.S. shouldn't be leaving at this point?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, now it's too late.

    But, yes, I thought that's — we talked about it weeks ago. And I thought, over the last year, we had 2, 500 people in there. They were not in combat roles. We hadn't had a combat fatality in a year or more. And we were — we and our allies were providing a measure of stability for decency to live in Afghanistan.

    And there are some — some problems you don't solve. You just try to manage them. You just try to live another day, so the Afghans can decide their own future. We have learned over the last 20 years we can't decide anybody's future for them. We can't invade and tell them, here's the kind of government you're going to have.

    But the Afghans can create their own future if they have a ground of stability. They now have — some of the worst regimes on earth are about to take over their country and murder a lot of people and take a lot of girls out of school. And I thought this was an eventuality that was to be avoided with minimal cost.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the way that this has unfolded, David, has opened the president up to criticism from veterans groups, among others, people trying to get many of those refugees out, and, of course, to people from across the aisle.

    You have a number of Republicans coming out recently speaking very critically about the president's leadership, or lack thereof, as they say, but it really does run the spectrum of Republicans. You have everyone from Senator Ben Sasse, to Senator Ted Cruz, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, and, of course, former President Trump.

    Is this criticism fair? Is this just politics? What do you hear from them?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it's both.


  • David Brooks:

    But I think it's — I think the criticism of the policy and the withdrawal are completely fair.

    Republicans have still managed to screw this up, at least some of them. Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy have said, we shouldn't take the — a lot of refugees. And Ben Sasse, to his credit, has said, no, we need to take these people.

    And so these are people who are working closely with Americans in Afghanistan. To do that, you have to get vetted. They don't just let anybody do that. And so they had an opportunity, if they were going to harm, could do harm in the worst possible way.

    And then, if we let them in, there's another vetting process. So these are people who we owe, who made a moral commitment to us, who we're in danger of betraying. And Republicans decide to play the immigration issue.

    And so that's just — it's just the way Trumpian politics has taken over part of the Republican Party. I'm glad to say that most Republicans and 79 percent of Republican voters want to take these people in, but there's that Trumpian wing. It's, oh, it's all immigration, and they're all just a bunch of criminals and terrorists.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, about that messaging?

    There is this divide within the Republican Party about how to treat the influx of people we know are coming from Afghanistan now seeking refuge here. You see that divide. What does that mean?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It means, to David's point, there's a sliver of the Republican Party that is dealing in xenophobia and racism.

    Let's just be plain about it. And, to David's point, you have folks coming to this country who helped us in the most incredible way, who sought to work with American service members in the service of democracy.

    And so this party that used to be all about American strength and American exceptionalism now wants to shut the door on people who have shown themselves to be exceptional in standing up for democracy in their own country, working with us. It's racist, it's xenophobic, but, sadly, it's not surprising.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I need to ask you about another big story in Washington we didn't pay enough attention to because of these extraordinary events overseas, but the bipartisan commission looking into the January 6 assault on the Capitol made a big step, right?

    They made a sweeping request for all kinds of expansive records from seven different agencies, including — and I will quote from this — communications within and among the White House and executive branch agencies leading up to and on that day.

    What does this tell us, all these many months later after the assault, about where they're going?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It says this is a serious investigation, that they are looking around every corner, under every stone to find out how it was possible that American democracy was brought to the brink, how close it came to being completely destroyed, how close we came to having a coup.

    And we need to know, how involved was the former president? How involved was the House minority leader? How involved was the congressman from Ohio? Yes, get the records. Yes, get all the puzzle pieces. And, yes, put those puzzle pieces together, so we can see what the story is, so that we can know how to prevent this, or at least try to prevent what happened on January 6 from happening again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, the big lie, as we call it now, that the election was stolen that precipitated that assault in January is still very much in play.

    If you take a look at the map, there are currently five states that nearly 10 months right now after the election, they still have ongoing or trying to begin audits of the election results there. That's Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia.

    What does that tell you about the potential impact of whatever this commission ends up doing?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, on the — these investigations, it's now — the way you prove you're a Republican cool kid is say the Georgia vote was fake.

    You don't need — you don't need any facts or anything. You just say that. It's like wearing a Prada bag for Republicans. It's like, you're cool.

    I don't know if that's — Prada is still cool.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Prada bags are cool? I'm just checking.

  • David Brooks:

    Are Prada bags cool? Maybe.


  • David Brooks:

    I'm still in 1992.


  • David Brooks:

    But — so, that's just like now the entryway into serious Republicanism.

    As for the investigation, I'm a little dubious, though. I mean, I'm glad they're looking for all these — the communications between Hope Hicks and Donald Trump. I'm a little dubious, A, because the Trump administration leaked so bad, I imagine we would already know.


  • David Brooks:

    Or, B, they always say the quiet part out loud. So, they would have said it in public.

    But I was speaking to a military — a very senior military guy recently. And he said, when he looked at how all the different people came in at different entrances at the same time on January 6, he said, to me, that seemed coordinated.

    And I would love to know if that's true. And so this investigation seems serious enough that, if it's true, maybe we will find that out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before I let you go, Jonathan, I had to ask you about voting rights. I know you have been paying close attention to this.

    And there was some movement on Capitol Hill. The House did pass that voting rights bill. Compare that and its chances in the Senate, which we probably can say are slim, to what you're seeing at the state level, where there are still a number of efforts to restrict voting rights.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    So, at the state level, particularly in Texas, they're moving full steam ahead in trying to restrict the rights of voters in Texas. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, terrific. It passed in the House. It's fine. Nancy Pelosi has a very slim majority, but she was able to get it through.

    But now it sits — it goes to the Senate, where its fate is the same as the For the People Act. Unless the Senate decides to reform the filibuster rules for voting rights legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act isn't going anywhere, the For the People Act isn't going anywhere.

    And if we're talking about saving our democracy, it — I think it is imperative, absolutely imperative, that Democrats figure out a way to get those two pieces of legislation passed, because, if they don't, then more states are going to restrict the right to vote, and then the democracy as we know it and the participation of every American who wants to participate, who wants to vote will be suppressed, and we won't have a real American democracy anymore.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a story we probably need to pay much more attention to than we do. And I thank you for raising that today.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, so good to see you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You too, Amna. Thanks.

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