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Brooks and Capehart on the historic COVID relief law and a year of life in the pandemic

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Biden's primetime address to the nation, the historic $1.9 trillion COVID relief law, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's future, and living the last year amid the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much going on in the world of politics.

    We now turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night. There is a lot to talk about.

    But let's begin, David, with President Biden's first prime-time address from the White House last night talking about COVID. What did you make of the message, what he had to say, the tone he set?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. He said: I need you.

    Haven't heard that from a White House from — for a few years. There was a ton of empathy, an awareness of the grim toll, the 527,000 people who have died of this

    But I liked the way he spun it positively. I think we're — at this moment, the government has had a fault of being able too negative. They don't want people to let up. So they're still imposing warnings: Don't do this. Don't do this.

    But I think people want something look forward to. And we can hang through this if we're given some hope that really good times are ahead. And so that July 4, you can picnic with your family thing, I think we need to do a little more of that to give people a sense of lift, because this is a weirdly hard moment in the pandemic. We are exhausted at doing the same thing every day for a year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, how did you — how did you read what — hear what President Biden said?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    The thing that jumped out at me, the same as David, actually, when the president leaned forward into the camera and said: I need you.

    The other thing that was very prominent in that speech for me, aside from the words, was the fact that, yes, we have an empathetic president, one who overflows with it. And after four years of a president who didn't have any empathy, four years of a president who made every utterance, speech, campaign rally, briefing in the White House Press Briefing Room about himself, to have a president stand before the nation and say we, instead of I, to give that — say that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, was something that I noticed on my Twitter feed when I sent out a message saying, thank God we have a president who was overflowing with empathy.

    The number of responses from people who were saying that they were crying in that moment, listening to this president, who's not only giving them hope, but really giving words to the pain and frustration that millions of Americans have felt for the last year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When you look at the substance of what is in this legislation, this massive piece of legislation, David, the Republicans are saying it's the worst thing they have ever seen, Mitch McConnell saying terrible — the worst law he has ever seen pass the Congress, while Democrats are saying this is going to make a huge difference in the lives of Americans.

    Who's going to turn out to be right?

  • David Brooks:

    I don't know. You take a bet.

    The Republicans are right about one thing. When you throw nearly $2 trillion onto a hot economy of borrowed money, you certainly run the risk of inflation. And that's very hard to defeat, where you really have to shut down the economy, the way we did in 1981-'82, to solve that problem.

    You certainly run the risk of having a big debt problem. And so I completely understand the concerns.

    I think I would bet the way Biden bet it on this case, because, for the last 20 years, it's become increasingly clear the economy is not working for people the way it used to. It's not working for young adults. It's not working for people in — throughout the country.

    And one way to fix that is to create a white hot labor market by pumping money in the economy. Another way to fix it is with a child tax credit to make parenting affordable. Another way is with insurance — health insurance expandencies (sic).

    So, when I look at this bill, I look at it as a big, epochal shift. The policy is finally catching up with the specific problems we have right now. It's an equivalent transformation, to me, of when Ronald Reagan came into office, and, in 1981, addressed the stagflation of the 1970s.

    Now we have different policies, different gigantic policies, but at least, it seems to me, in response to a real problem of the moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, do you see any risk or risk of any size, magnitude, in what the Democrats are doing, party-line vote? No Republicans voted for it.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    No Republicans voted for the bill, Judy.

    But when you look at the public opinion polling about the American Rescue Plan, 60 percent of Republicans favored it. And so I think what we're going to see going forward is a growing disconnect, a growing chasm between Republicans who are elected to come here to Washington to legislate and the people who sent them here.

    And I'm not sure how the Republican Party is going to deal with that, because all we have seen from Republicans on the hill is Dr. Seuss and everything that they are against. I defy anyone to tell me what Republicans are actually for, with the exception of Senator Mitt Romney, Senator Tom Cotton on minimum wage and the child tax credit.

    But that's just two Republicans. More needs to come out of the Republican Party for them to be a credible policy challenger to Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, if the two parties weren't going to come together on this, do you — what do you think the prospects are for anything coming down the pike anytime soon?

  • David Brooks:

    I think — I think there is some prospect.

    The Democrats really want to go big on this, and they got everything they want. I think they got more than most progressives thought they were going to get. They did a neat trick of pleasing the progressives without scaring away the moderates. That was not automatic. And so they wanted to open big, and they have opened huge.

    But then there's the possibility of infrastructure. This is the perennial thing about which there should be bipartisan agreement. Everyone mouths that we agree on this, more or less. Minimum wage, there should be a way to get a deal on the minimum wage. Some Republicans have come up to $11.

    So, it's possible. The question to me is, Democrats, do they really want to? They hold the power here. Do they really want to? Or do they regard the current Republican Party as so legitimate, it's not worth compromising? And I think that sentiment is really the guiding force within the Democratic Party right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, what do you think the chances are they work together on something?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    They will work together on something. Maybe it's infrastructure, but I'm keeping my eye, Judy, on what they can do that doesn't involve reconciliation.

    They might be able to do it one more time with some aspects of an immigrant — I'm sorry — not immigration — infrastructure package. But I do think what we're going to see on a bunch of other priorities, immigration, voting reform, other things, where the bills are going to come to the floor in the Senate, and there won't be 60 votes to end the filibuster, but there will be more than 50 votes that will send a signal to the American people that this could pass were it not for the filibuster.

    And I think that will — that will engender grassroots pressure on Democrats to do away with it, but also put pressure on the Republicans to explain to the American people, wait, if a majority of you are for this, why can't it pass?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Different subject, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

    David, there are now seven women who've come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct. And now we have both New York state U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, calling on him, and most of the congressional delegation, Democrats, calling on him to step down.

    Can he survive this?

  • David Brooks:

    I don't possibly say how he can.

    The only — this is reminiscent of when Barry Goldwater and a group of Republicans went to the White House and told Richard Nixon he had to leave. This is really the — all relevant Democrats, with the exception of the White House, telling him he has to leave.

    We are — there are now a lot of women who have who have made these accusations. My newspaper had a story today interviewing dozens of people in the — women in the administration who described a toxic atmosphere, some of them. Not all of them did. Some of them described a toxic atmosphere, where they were more or less compelled to wear high heels and dress in a certain way.

    It's clearly not acceptable in a 21st century workplace. And so I just don't see how he can last in office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, we — as we reported earlier, Governor Cuomo today said these people calling for him to step down are part of cancel culture, that they don't know the facts.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, I mean, he will say whatever he needs to say to defend himself.

    But when you have both sitting United States senators, more than half the legislative — legislators in Albany calling for your resignation, that is sending a signal.

    The one person I am watching, Judy, is Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who is a rising star within the Democratic Party. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries was a House impeachment manager, very, very close to Governor Cuomo. If he loses Hakeem Jeffries, then you know he's gone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will watch that.

    And in the little bit of time we have left, this is the week — for both of you — we have spent a year now in this pandemic. It started in March, March the 10th, March the 11th of 2020. Our lives have been turned upside down.

    David, I want to ask each one of you what it's meant. I mean, how have you — do you think you have changed? What's different for you after this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, historians will note that the Asian countries succeeded and the Western countries failed. And if this is an Asian century, then they will note this as a turning point.

    The second thing, we have just lost faith in each other a lot. I think we're a less united country. We could be united about this. And then, personally, 530,000 families have lost a family member. The rest of us have endured stress and anxiety. The number of people I know who are on anxiety pills now is very high, contemplating suicide, depression, stress.

    Personally, I can't tell you how much I have forgotten. I spend much of my day a wandering around wondering where I left this thing. And stress and boredom and loneliness affects the mind. And I feel my mind has been drained out of this.

    I'm ready to get out there and sit in a studio with you and Mark — and — and Jonathan.


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    That's a great — that's a great slip.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we're ready to get back in the studio, when it's safe to do that, for sure.

    Jonathan, what about you? What — how do you feel things have changed? What's different now?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I agree with David on everything that he said in terms of the nation and the world and the impact that it's had on all of us.

    It didn't help that we had a very stressful presidential administration and election that added to that anxiety. I think, for me personally, what's been interesting is, I'm an introvert at heart. I love being at home. Staying home was not a hardship for me.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    We don't believe that, but go ahead.


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    But it's true.

    But here's the thing. I'm sort of — I feel like I'm in between generations, old enough to be from that generation that you wake up, you go into the office Monday through Friday, you must go into the office to do work.

    But I'm also young enough to now, as a result of the pandemic, understand, you know what, actually, you can work from home, it's OK, you're not cheating in any way. So, that's one sort of glimmer of hope that I have taken from the pandemic.

    But I do think that what it has done to us as a people, as Americans, as a country, pitting us against each other over whether you're wearing a mask or not, governors, whether they're Republican or Democrat, deciding whether they're going to open up their states, public health being politicized, that's the thing that's most distressing to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we each have stories to tell about this year. And it's amidst so much suffering that we have seen.

    But we thank both of you. And we hope you have a good weekend, both of you, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy. Same to you.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Judy.

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