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Brooks and Capehart on masks, the Middle East and House GOP shake up

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including what the Isreali-Palestinian conflict and the CDC's new mask guidance means for President Joe Biden, as well as the Republican shakeup in the House of Representatives.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been a week marked by critical moments, tensions turning toward full-out war in the Middle East, a new milestone when it comes to wearing masks in the fight against COVID-19, and a contentious shakeup in the Republican Party.

    Thankfully, we have Brooks and Capehart to help make sense of it all.

    That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    It's so good to see both of you on this Friday night.

    And, David and Jonathan, there is a lot to talk about.

    Let's start with the with the new mask guidelines, Jonathan, from the CDC. This comes after I guess we have seen a 30 percent or more drop in new cases in the last couple of weeks. Most people reacting positively, some people saying it's confusing, maybe too soon.

    Is this the kind of thing that has a political effect on the president, on him?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, it does, Judy.

    And great to see you, too.

    Look, the president made coronavirus and his response to the pandemic his number-one priority, so much so that the American Rescue Plan, where he talked a lot about, I want bipartisanship, but in the end got it done with just Democratic votes, that's how urgent getting a handle on the pandemic was for the president.

    And so getting people — getting people back to a semblance of normalcy, and part of that is making it possible for people to get rid of the mass. And the only way you could do that is if you got people vaccinated, which is why the president made vaccinations such a big deal.

    And now vaccinations of children 12 years and up, that is all about getting kids back in school in time for the fall. And so the fact that people can now no longer wear masks, especially if they are vaccinated and outside and everything, is going to inure to the president's benefit, because, if we were talking about a downside of all of this, if this were a negative story, the blame would be on the president.

    So he should be able to bask in the good news of all of this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, clearly, the main effect we are focusing on is the health effect.

    But one naturally is going to be asking, what does this mean for the president and for what he's trying to do overall?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, he will get credit for doing a pretty good job of getting the vaccine into people's arms. That was an effectively managed operation.

    But, second, there's just going to be a zeitgeist change. I think we're underestimating how different it's going to feel when we're back to normal.

    I'm promising myself I will appreciate everything.


  • David Brooks:

    All the things I didn't used to like, I'm going to love. Like going to a crowded bar and not being able to get the bartender's attention, that will feel fantastic.


  • David Brooks:

    And so I think there's just going to be a sweeping sense that this is great.

    And the economy, by all regards, should be great. And when you get a zeitgeist shift, you get an economy shift, the president benefits. And so there will just, I think, be a rosy glow around the second half of this year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David, we know you spend a lot of your time in crowded bars.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's just — it's just where we imagine you every night.


  • David Brooks:

    You would be surprised.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maybe we would. Maybe we would.

    But let's talk about the Republicans, a lot, I guess, to examine this week, Jonathan. As expected, the House Republicans did vote to evict Liz Cheney from her leadership role. They replaced her with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who is a loyal supporter of President Trump.

    Do we now know what the Republican Party stands for?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judy, we do not.

    We do not know what the Republican Party stands for. And I'm comfortable saying that, because — excuse me — the Republican Party that I learned about growing up, the party of smaller government, law and order, reverence for the Constitution, low taxes or no taxes, that party is gone.

    And so I don't know what Elise Stefanik, Congresswoman Stefanik, is going to do as conference chair. I don't know what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's goals are, other than retaking the majority. I don't know what their policy proposals are. I don't know what their substance is.

    And, quite frankly, I wonder if those leaders and the Republican Party itself, the ones who are in league with former President Trump, whether they know, substantively, what they stand for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, you can clarify this for us.


  • David Brooks:

    Yes, sure.

    You know, when I started covering this world and was really in the world of conservative ideas, if you were a young Republican Hill staffer, you wore a certain sort of neck tie. And it might be an Adam Smith necktie, it may be a Madison neck tie, a Burke necktie, a Tocqueville necktie, but you had your intellectual heroes on your necktie, if you were a man.

    And that was the self-conception the Republican Party had at that point, that it was an ideological movement, a conservative ideological movement.

    That Reagan paradigm sort of faded away. It became no longer — obsolete. And you would think it would have been replaced by another paradigm. But it hasn't. It's been replaced by a party that is simply not ideological particularly anymore.

    And Trump made it work by making the Republican Party a bit of an identity party, a bit of a culture party, a bit of a masculine party. And so it's organized around a set of ideas that are no longer a political philosophy.

    I don't know if it can do that. But so — under Trump, and even now, it's doing it adequately, I would say.

    One of the — new data from the 2020 election keeps coming out, and the thing that really struck me, part of it, was that every nonwhite group went in the Republican direction. And Latinos, it was an amazing 16 percent. Somewhere, there's a party there. But somebody still has to define it, either with an ideology, a new one, or with some set of ideas. Right now, it's got a man and a lifestyle, but no ideas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I don't know, Jonathan, if you want to comment on that.

    But there is also the statement from Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, saying, no, the Republican Party doesn't doubt that Joe Biden won the election legitimately. And yet that's the thesis of what President Trump is basically talking about every day.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And that is the case in point.

    Here is the House minority leader, who is in league with a former president who says that the election was stolen, that he is no longer president because of — quote, unquote — "fraud." That didn't happen. And yet he comes out of a meeting with the legitimately elected president of the United States, President Biden, comes out to the microphones and says, yes, he's legitimately elected.

    I don't know what Congressman — what Leader McCarthy stands for. I don't know what he is about, except for snatching the speaker's gavel from Speaker Pelosi. And that right there is a case in point of sort of proving what David said earlier. They're not — what is the ideology, except for power? That is all I know that they stand for right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, that comes back to your point, but this just sort of out-and-out contradiction between what McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, is saying and what President Trump is saying, even though they're very much in alignment.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, Kevin McCarthy lives on this planet.

    And the pickle is this, that, if they critique Trump, they get the Cheney treatment that they're out. On the other hand, if you look at the latest Gallup poll, Trump's approval rating dropped 10 percent over the last little while, so he's down to 39.

    We learned, in the course of the whole Cheney thing, that the Republican Party officials were hiding from their members poll data showing how much Trump was dragging them down in certain battleground districts.

    So, they are chained to a person who is fading and is dropping in popularity, and — but they can't criticize him. So, that's called being in a pickle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing I want to ask the two of you about is this terrible escalating conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

    Jonathan, the civilian casualties are climbing. We know the United States is working with other countries to try to broker some kind of cease-fire. But you have Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, saying Israel has a right to self-defense, and Bernie Sanders putting out a column today saying, the administration needs to be more of an honest broker and not an apologist for Israel.

    Where do you see — how do you see the political pressures on President Biden right now when it comes to this situation between Israel and the Palestinians?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Will, you see it there with Senator Sanders' comments.

    And then there are also folks on the House side — I'm thinking of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley — who are pressing the president from the left in terms of the American response.

    But, look, the American people and certainly, at one point, the world look to the American president to be sort of omnipresent and to be the honest broker when it comes to the conflict in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians.

    But the American president and even all of these other countries getting involved in trying to broker a deal — I'm thinking of Egypt here — they're only going to be as successful as the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I'm talking about the leadership here, not the people who are being bombed on both sides, but the leadership here.

    The broker — the talks to try to broker a deal are only going to be as successful as those leaders want them to be. And in the end, peace — there must be peace, there must be a cessation of all of this, but then get back on the road to trying to get to a two-state solution.

    In the end, that is the solution that all parties should be working towards.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see the U.S. role in this, David?

  • David Brooks:

    I think we should wait and see. I don't think we have much of a role, frankly.

    I have covered a lot of these regulated conflicts in the Middle East. Hamas decides it wants to improve its position with the Palestinians in the West Bank, so it does something. The Israelis do something else, often an overreaction.

    And, in this case, Hamas sent missiles toward Jerusalem, which was an escalation. The Israelis overreacted, I think, by going into Gaza. And, usually, they can regulate it enough, so they realize, OK, we made our point, let's both stand down.

    And that has happened repeatedly. Two things here. The — there's more power in the streets and in social media. And so it's not clear the leaders can stand down, if they want to stand down, if there's going to be an intifada in the streets. And so then it's out of control.

    And then we're not in one of these temporary staged confrontations. We're in a new intifada. And, at that point, the U.S. really has to begin thinking about getting involved and finding some — some way to quiet things down, without this perpetual escalation we have seen over the last few days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what are the risks, Jonathan?

    I mean, we have got less than a minute, but what are the risks if the president makes a move that doesn't sit well with his political constituencies?

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    Well, the risk is failure. The risk is a loss of stature among his base. That is the risk. And I have to agree with David. The administration should just — don't jump into something just because you feel you need to jump into something.

    I think a wait-and-see attitude, I think, is the phrase that David used, is the right way to go, and clearly something that they're doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, in a few seconds?

  • David Brooks:

    It used to be easy to be a Democratic politician when Israel came to mind, sort of: Well, we stand with Israel.

    That's no longer an easy position for a Democrat. Israel's standing in the Democratic Party has become way more controversial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not a quiet end to this week, but we are so grateful to the two of you.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, we thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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