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Brooks and Capehart on Republican ideals, Biden’s joint address and agenda

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Cindy McCain’s Republican ideals, President Joe Biden’s joint address to Congress, and his first 100 days in office.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    Hello to both of you on this Friday.

    And I have to start by asking you each just for a thought on what Cindy McCain had to say.

    Jonathan Capehart, she says she's a lifelong Republican, but clearly some distance there with President Trump.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    And I'm glad she made the point that, yes, she did vote for President Biden, she endorsed him in the presidential campaign, but that she's staying within the party. She's not giving up her party to the folks who have taken it over, and most definitely not giving up her party to President Trump.

    And the through line through everything she said was, what's good for the country? How can we talk about these issues civilly? We can disagree with each other, but not disagree with each other so much so that we don't see each other as human beings.

    That is the brand of the Republican Party that I wish would come back. If that brand of the Republican Party were to come back, imagine how much could get done in Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, how tough is it to have that position as a Republican right now?

  • David Brooks:

    There's a dwindling herd, dwindling.


  • David Brooks:

    But, no, they're out there.

    But I wanted to talk about one thing she said early about the lack of self-confidence. The most exciting political campaign, maybe along with Barack Obama's '08 campaign, that I have ever covered was the John McCain 2000 campaign.

    And we were really embedded in the campaign. And I recall Cindy McCain at those events, at the meet-and-greets. You could see the dread, the lack of self-confidence, the lack of comfort with being in public.

    And she wouldn't remember me, but we would occasionally talk just to pass the time, so there wouldn't be a public performance. And then that McCain campaign took off in New Hampshire. And it was really down to South Carolina, where Bush and McCain were going at each other.

    And I remember she was on stage with McCain when the first allegations about their daughter came out. And you can see the look of shock and horror on her face. And it was — I think it was partly out of that umbrage, but then, as years went by, and then when he ran for president again, you saw a Cindy McCain who was strong, extremely comfortable in the campaign.

    And I — when I saw her — covered her later in the years, I was really struck by the dramatic progress she had made in just being a political and public person and, as she said, deciding she wasn't going to be ruled by fear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so striking to hear her say that the pain caused for her daughter Bridget is still there, she thinks, that so hard to hear.

    Jonathan, the big political event of the week, President Biden's speech to the joint session of Congress, 26, 27 million Americans watched it. Now that it's been a few days, what is — what stays with you from that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    What stays with me, Judy, is what I told you Wednesday night, the idea that we have a president of the United States who speaks to the country, doesn't go on about grievance, doesn't go on about personal grievance, doesn't sprinkle his speech with white nationalism, isn't all me, me, me, me, me.

    What we saw on Wednesday night was a president of the United States who was focused outward, many times in his speech, because of you, meaning — because of you, meaning the American people, because of all of you, the folks in the room. It was about working together, solving the country's problems, or at least trying to.

    And that, for me is the enduring image. And, also, you got the sense that, even with the sparse crowd in that room that could hold 1,600, but there were only 200, and socially distanced, at least for me, watching on television, there was still that energy there. There was still this optimism coming from President Biden, who, after, at that point, 99 — 98, 99 days, had accomplished a lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, two days later, what is your takeaway?

  • David Brooks:

    I think, first, the Democratic Party does well when it's a working-class party, and it does poorly when it's the party of affluent people in coastal cities. And Biden really focuses it on the working class. And it's really a working-class agenda. I think that's just very positive.

    Second, there's just an implied diagnosis of where the country is. There's an — the implied diagnosis is that there's serious structural problems in the country, inequalities, social fragmentation, social distrust, and that the country needs a once-in-a-generation investment if it's going to reenergize itself and if it's going to keep up with an autocratic threat from now a global rival.

    And so where you feel about the Biden agenda, whether you have reservations about pieces of it, will depend on whether you buy that basic diagnosis of where we are. And I have to say, you look at the depths of despair, the rising inequality, the zoom China now, I have to say that's a pretty compelling diagnosis of, I think, where the country is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, is President Biden reading the country correctly?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think he is.

    I mean, David is right. We are facing problems in this country that, if we don't get moving on solving them, not only are we going to get left behind at home, but China is just going to run away with everything.

    And the president made a point of talking about, that this — there's a choice here, democracy vs. autocracy. Democracy has to show that it works, that it can get things done. But this is also a competition between the United States and China.

    If we do not do something about broadband, our electrical grid, making sure that people who want to work can actually go out and work and don't have to worry about childcare or family leave, that, if we're not able to do those things, we're going to lose the future to China.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, I mean, picking up on that David, I mean, it is an ambitious set of plans President Biden is talking about, what is it, $4 trillion between just the two latest, if you add that to the couple of trillion in the American Rescue Plan.

    But he is talking about some major issues. I raised some of them with Cindy McCain, childcare assistance, family — paid family leave, direct subsidies to family — lower-income families.

    In fact, you have written about this today. And the question is, is this something the federal government needs to be doing?

  • David Brooks:

    I think so.

    Pretty much every other advanced democracy does it. And we have seen the strain on parenting, the strain on American families. We have been in a period of family decay for a long time, in part caused by the pressures of the market, in part caused by a culture of individualism and a culture that puts work over family, and in part just lack of money.

    There's just so much economic stress that leads to family problems. And so I think spending money is called for. People want to have a secure family, where they can raise their kids without having to move, without the financial stress.

    There are a lot of pieces to the Biden plan. I think some of them are fantastic. The child tax credit, that gives you a lot of money that you can — if you want to spend it on day care, you can do that. If you feel like you want to stay home, you can cut back to part-time and stay home. And so that gives parents ultimate control.

    I think the family leave is very important, because it shows that we're a culture that puts family over work. Other parts, I'm less comfortable with. I'm for Head Start, but you can pour a lot of money into Head Start without a lot of results. It's a program that needs to be reformed.

    As for the childcare, I would love to see that money that goes to the childcare piece put into the child tax credit, so the parents who want childcare can choose it. I don't think the administration should be in the business of trying to move people into jobs and get parents working.

    And Jonathan and I were told by a White House official this week that our — part of our purpose is to get people into — parents into jobs. And that, to me, is up to parents, and governments should be totally neutral on what kind of family people want to form.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, where are you coming down on that?


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I hear you, David, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on this.

    I don't think the Biden administration or President Biden is trying to tell the American people what kinds of families they should have. I think these plans and proposals are meeting American families where they are. A lot of families might want to — folks and families want to work, but they can't because they can't afford childcare.

    Folks want to go out and keep their jobs, but they can't because there's an ailing parent, or a spouse has given birth or adopted a child. And those kinds of pressures on the American family, when we hear people talk about the reasons why they don't work or take the third or fourth job, it has to do with, to David's point, lack of money, but, also, it has to do with childcare, not being able to take time off to care for a dying parent, all sorts of — all sorts of things that have been plaguing the American worker.

    President Biden is now saying, OK, I'm focused on, how do we get American workers back into the work force because they want to work?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, you're welcome to comment on that.

    And I want to ask both of you about, 100 days in, is this a president who seems to be heading to some kind of success, or not?

  • David Brooks:

    First, quickly, on the childcare thing, getting parents out in the work force is good for the economy. It's better for the economy than not. That's for sure.

    But what's better for kids? If you look at the money that's been spent around the world, the money spent on child — direct payments to parents produces better educational gains than any other kind of spending. So, I think we should do that.

    I'm also worried that it's going to look like a bunch of upper-middle-class people who like dual-income-earning families is imposing a set of values on working-class people, on both, who don't.

    Quickly on the 100 days, a lot of people compare it to the New Deal. To me, it's comparable to the American System. And for those of you with long memories, the American System was a 19th century set of policies mostly sponsored by the led by Henry Clay.

    And it was a set of investments in infrastructure, in education, IN human capital, built on the idea that America needed to invest to reenergize its greatness. And that — the Whigs really used a lot of the language that Joe Biden uses today. And it's sort of Hamiltonian, nationalist language.

    And I'm cheered, because I think the Whig Party did a lot of good for this country. And that's why I have some faith in what Biden is doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think the first 100 days of the Biden presidency have been a success.

    I think maybe the next 50 to 100 days could be a success. But whether the rest of the term is a success really depends on the Republicans and how much they want to actually work with President Biden to actually solve problems.

    There's too much of a competition mind-set here in Washington that, to do something, to allow President Biden to actually sign legislative legislation into law is a victory for him and a loss for us, meaning Republicans, as opposed to a victory for the country.

    And the other thing is, what will determine whether President Biden is a success is whether Republicans decide to come to the table with real ideas, actual ideas that they can debate and discuss with the president and compromise with the president to actually get something done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Zero sum game, or something where the two sides can sit down and talk to each other. A lot to think about on this Friday night.

    We thank you both, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks. Thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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