New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the filibuster debate, reconciliation and resistance within the Democratic party, the American Jobs Plan, and gun control.
To help us understand how rules matter in the U.S. Senate, some recent trends within the parties, and more, we look 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 night.
You know, we don't normally spend a lot of time talking about parliamentary rules, but we know they can make a big difference in what Congress does, David.
And there was a column written this week by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin where he said — and I'm partly quoting — there were no circumstances under which he would eliminate or weaken this rule that allows the minority party to stop legislation it doesn't want.
I'm not exactly quoting what you see here. He went on to talk about eliminating the filibuster is not something we should do. We need to be seeking bipartisan solutions. We need to do our job.
So, David, what did you make of the column? How much difference does it make?
Well, it was an interesting column, because he didn't make the normal argument for keeping the filibuster.
Well, he made it to keep bipartisanship, but a different argument as well, which was small states can't be trampled. The Constitution recognizes us as individuals, but it also recognizes states as entities, and the Senate is there to protect the states. And, as someone from a small state I think he key feels that profoundly.
It will crimp the Biden administration, but not crush it, I think. I think the chances of getting anything major passed with 60 votes, with 10 Republicans, is basically nil. So they will have to go through reconciliation.
There seems to be a ruling from the parliamentarian that they can do reconciliation more than once in a year. And they just did it with COVID-19. But the door seems to be open to doing it with the infrastructure bill, if we get to that, in the fall. And so Biden can still do big things, but probably fewer of them.
Reconciliation, of course, being shorthand for a piece of legislation that can pass with 51, a simple majority. It doesn't have to have more than that.
Jonathan, what are you thinking about the filibuster?
Well, I thought Senator Manchin's op-ed in The Washington Post was laying down a clear marker, no reforming of the filibuster, no killing the filibuster outright, and he doesn't like reconciliation at all. And, if it comes up, he won't support it.
He wants to go back to — quote, unquote — "regular order."
When I interviewed former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who was a member of Congress from Maryland between 2008 and 2017, and I asked her, is it possible to get back to regular order, and she said, when she was in the Congress for those 10 years, people then were talking about returning to regular your regular order. No one has ever seen it, it appears, in recent memory.
And so I think, when it comes to filibuster, when it comes to reconciliation, when it comes to the president's — the president's agenda, I'm looking forward to Senator Manchin showing who the 10 Republican senators are who are going to provide the 60 votes to eliminate the filibuster, so that bills can actually get to the floor — get to the floor for a vote.
And I'm with David. I don't see where those votes are going to come from.
And picking up on that, David, I mean, what does this mean for the Biden agenda? You said it hobbles it, words to that effect, but doesn't kill everything that the president wants.
Yes, well, if he can pass a $2.3 trillion infrastructure jobs bill, that's a pretty big accomplishment, since like — that's like four presidencies' worth. So that's still on the table.
But it's hard to see a lot else. The only — you can only use reconciliation rarely, and it has to be on budget items. And so the filibuster, to me, we — in Chicago, we had kids wear a T-shirt, "Sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?"
And, to me, the — I support the filibuster in theory, because I do think it does, on balance, lead to bipartisanship. You have got to work with the other side.
But you wouldn't say it's done that recently. And somebody once said, the Constitution is not a suicide note. If we can't get anything done, if politics is fundamentally broken, then we should probably widen the filibuster window.
But Democrats should be absolutely confident that Republicans will someday — in charge. And if they run the table now on a partisan basis, the Republicans will do exactly the same down the road, and they should prepare for that.
Well, we're here, Jonathan, to talk about theory, as much as anything else.
But pick up — again, pick up on what David is saying about the Biden agenda. And let's bring in the tax increase that the president is going to be asking for to pay for his infrastructure plan, assuming it passes.
And before I answer that, I'm going to pick up on what David was saying. Yes, the Constitution isn't a suicide pact, and the filibuster should be reformed to get the agenda through. But I just wonder, is the Republican Party even interested in negotiating, in compromising?
And that gets to your question, Judy, about the tax increases that President Biden has proposed to pay for the American Jobs Plan. And here is where the — I think the president and the administration has been a lot different on this than it has — than it was on the COVID relief package, where they were insistent, we're going to get this done, and they got it done with no Republican votes.
Here, the president has been very clear: I'm willing to negotiate. Let's talk about this.
And I think, when it comes to raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, we very well could see the administration and the president compromise on that as a way of getting to yes and maybe a vote on the floor of his American Jobs Plan.
David, go ahead.
Yes, I think the Democrats will get what they want on spending, and then they will compromise on tax increases, and so the plan will not be paid for. That would fit the norm.
Well, let's talk about something else the president said this week that he wants, but not in the form of legislation.
And, David, I'm going to stay with you on that. And that's measures to do something about gun violence in the country. The president talked about a number of things that — not talked about — he proposed a number of — put out there a number of executive orders. It's not the same as legislation. He's not asking Congress has to do anything at this point.
But in terms of what he is enacting, is that going to make a difference?
Maybe on the margins, but I wouldn't expect much.
He'S talking about things like ghost guns, these kits you can buy, apparently, to put together a gun in your own home which have no identification markers, and red flags, the ability — increasing the ability to find people who shouldn't — like Dylann Roof, who should not have guns, and being a little more aggressive on that.
But these are small measures. You really need legislation to do something big.
I think one thing that's significant, somebody made a good point this week that we are in the habit in the gun debate to — there's a big mass shooting, we all focus on it for a minute, and we talk about assault weapons, which are often used in these shootings.
But this person made the point that only 1 percent of gun deaths are caused during these mass shooting incidents. It's suicide, it's murder, it's stuff done with handguns a lot of the time.
And what I did see in the president's move is a focus on what is the biggest part of the problem, which is the regular, ongoing drumbeat of daily gun violence that may not make the media, but is the real problem here.
And, Jonathan, do you see what the president is doing as making a difference? We see these terrible shootings. We don't hear about most of the shootings that happen every day in this country.
But do you see what President Biden is doing as making a difference?
The key thing, I think, that the president has done by doing what he did in the Rose Garden yesterday was bringing attention, big attention, from the White House on the overall issue of gun violence and ways to do something about it.
Sure, he can nibble at the edges with executive action, but the real action comes from Congress. And so, with the president doing what he did, with all of us talking about it, and with the American people talking about it, I'm — my hunch is that the administration is hoping that there will be even more pressure on Congress to actually do something.
But, even there, I don't expect Congress to do anything. If 20 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School getting killed in December of 2012 was not enough to move Congress to do the simplest thing, which is the past the Manchin-Toomey bill on background checks, if they can't even get that done, what makes anyone think that Congress will pass any kind of legislation now almost 10 years later?
Which appears to be the president's belief, because he hasn't proposed legislation yet. But we will see.
David, the last thing I want to raise with the two of you, it caught my attention this week. The Gallup poll said more Americans are identifying, self-identifying, as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents than at any time in about a decade.
Does that say anything to you? Is it just a flash in the pandemic, the beginning of the Biden administration? What do you think?
I think it's partly revulsion at Trump and January 6, and partly early Biden administration.
We have been here before. Democrats usually have a four-point lead. Now it's up to nine, which is big.
I think two things are worth thinking about, first, this long trend, a rise in independents. Now half the country is independents, way more than are members in each of the parties. And so people are dissatisfied with the parties.
The second point is, these are two parties that are asymmetrical. The — one of the surveys a couple of weeks ago said — they asked people, is politics about policy or is it about survival? And Democrats said it's about policy. It's about winning over policies. Republicans said more it's about survival. And so they're not so much interested in policies.
What's interesting to me over the next couple years, if Biden passes his agenda, a lot of that money goes to Republicans. It goes to working-class folks. And if Republicans start getting big checks, they might like the Republican Party on Dr. Seuss, but maybe they will think, well, these checks are pretty nice, too.
And so I'm wondering if they will stay with Republicans on cultural issues, or will they respond to Biden and his policy appeal?
What do you think, Jonathan?
Well, I was captured by that 44 percent number that David mentioned in terms of independents.
And for a while now, I have been thinking that it's not so much the party affiliation that I think is driving people. I think it's policies, it's ideas. Are you for a $15 minimum wage? Are you for the government doing something to provide COVID relief? Are you in favor of gun control? Are you in favor of fill-in-the-blank issue that would make your life easier?
And whether that's being proposed by Democrats or Republicans, I think that's — I don't think people are so much hung up on the labels. I think they're hung up on the policy. And so that's what I'm looking forward to years down the road.
D's and R's, that doesn't give me any indicator as to where people are. Give me a poll on where people are on particular issues, and that will tell me where the American people are.
David — go ahead, David.
Yes. No, I think that's right.
But, so far, partisanship has its own dynamic. So, once you become a Republican, then whatever the Republican Party wants, you're there for them.
And so I think that's sort of the pull — what we have been pulled into, what they call effective polarization. You just want to hate the other team. And in the Trump era, policy was clearly secondary.
Biden is trying to make it primary. And we will see if it has a persuasive, catalytic effect.
Persuasive, catalytic effect. We're going to think about that and theory and a lot of other things.
David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both. And have a good weekend.
Thanks, Judy. Same to you.
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