Brooks and Capehart on the Jan. 6 hearings and Democrats’ imperiled climate agenda

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the Jan. 6 committee concluded its first set of public hearings and President Biden announced executive action on climate change as congressional negotiations fall apart.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This has been a week punctuated by the January 6 Committee concluding its first set of public hearings, and by President Biden announcing executive actions on climate change, after congressional negotiations fell apart.

    That brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Hey, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We always come to you when things are falling apart.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But let's start with — David, with January 6.

    The hearings, there have now been eight of them. They're taking a pause until the fall. What does it add up to you — to for you so far?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, as I have confessed a few weeks in a row now, they — the committee has vastly outperformed what I expected, and Donald Trump vastly underperformed what I expected.

    So I thought he was symbolically doing his con artist, talking to the crowd. But we now know there was a lot more behind the scenes, and that there really was a lot more planning to storm the Capitol. Donald Trump was a lot more involved in encouraging, inciting, and then trying to clear the way for the people who were storming the Capitol.

    And I guess this week, in the final session — or final, for now, session — we learned that he did nothing, and the clear implication from the whole string of evidence, he did nothing because he liked what was happening.

    And so that leads you pretty close to a DOJ or some sort of indictment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is it — do you agree? Is that where we're headed, you think?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I would hope so.

    How could you sit there last night and watch the retelling of the 187 minutes and not think, how is it possible that the president of the United States did not act to save members of Congress, to save a co-equal branch of government? What's interesting to me is, we have watched eight dramatic hearings for an event that was just last year.

    We all watched it in real time. And yet, after hearing after hearing after hearing, new pieces of information filled in — filled in blanks, usually that horrified us. To see last night the synching of the radio traffic between Vice President Pence's Secret Service security detail and the other officers in the Senate with the video that we had all seen.

    But, for me, what was shocking was just how close Vice President Pence came to meeting with that crowd. We knew they were close. I didn't know they were that close.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That radio traffic among his protective detail, where they were saying, say goodbye to my family.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You had to stop and take a breath.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    These are people whose job it is to protect the life and to take a bullet for the principal. If they're afraid, that should tell you just how dangerous that situation was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I asked former Senator Doug Jones, former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock a few minutes ago if we measure success of this committee by what happens to former President Trump.

    How do you see — how do you define what constitutes success for them?

  • David Brooks:

    I think, as Senator Jones said, they have already succeeded. I think it's a — it's the most credible-seeming congressional hearing in decades for me. I think they have done quite a credible job of not overplaying their hand, with a few exceptions, and they have just risen to the occasion.

    Now, by that measure, I think they have done a successful job. They laid it out for the country in an objective way as is possible in this partisan era.

    Now, will they succeed if they think they're going to get Donald Trump off the scene? There, I'm far less clear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so, like, there was a poll by The Casper Star-Tribune. Liz Cheney's running for reelection. The polls showed her 22 points behind her Trump-supported backer.

    And why is she behind? Why do voters — 60 percent said they are less likely to vote for her because of the — she's participating in these hearings. And the most interesting part of the poll was why. It's not because they're all Trump loyalists. It's because their worlds are falling apart, and they think this is a distraction.

    Inflation is causing a dramatic and massive reduction in people's lifestyles and living standards. And it's not that they love Donald Trump necessarily, but they're saying, my life is falling apart. What are you doing? What are you doing for me?

    And so there is the big disconnect. It's one thing to have a hearing in a state of normalcy. But when the country is in a state of economic crisis, a lot of people are going to say, hey, what about me? Let's deal with me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it is the case, Jonathan, some people are riveted by these hearings, and others are just — are not paying attention at all.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right, but that doesn't mean that these hearings shouldn't happen. That doesn't mean that Congress should not investigate.

    I understand that people are worried about inflation and now lowering gas prices and other things that affect them personally, but the health of our democracy is at stake. And Congress must be able to do, has to be able to do all these things at the same time.

    These hearings are not necessarily about knocking Donald Trump off his pedestal or any sort of short-term game. I have always viewed these hearings as a play — laying down a marker for history, because, 20 years from now, we're going to be surrounded by people for whom they either never saw what happened on January 6 or they barely remember what happened.

    And, folks, we need an accounting of what happened on that day, so that people never forget how close we came to losing everything, and also why this danger isn't over, as Van Tatenhove, the former Oath Keeper guy, said in testimony, that this is not over.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which — and we could still see, as we know, David, former President Trump running for reelection again.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I try to game out, if he is indicted, what will the public reaction be? On the one hand, for the reasons Jonathan explained, it could just be, well, we need to protect our democracy and let the politics be damned. On the other hand, faith in institutions is so low, and there are so many people who think it's all a rigged game.

    I saw a poll of young people — and this is not left or right. Nearly half of young people believe it's not worth voting because your vote has no matter on how we're governed. And so that's just an incredibly high level of cynicism.

    Will it look to people like a group of people are trying to usurp an election? I genuinely don't know what the political effect of that would be.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, part of it is, I think, this — some of the cynicism is, they have seen what Donald Trump did for four years, and nothing's happened to him.

    I mean, that's one thing you hear is, like, how could he do all these things, and he's not in jail, he hasn't been arrested yet? That also plays into it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And not only that, running — running again.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Running for an election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other thing — one story that was, I think, in the news every day this week was the heat.

    The United States is baking, much of the United States, much of Europe, the rest of the world, David. And yet we see here in Washington President Biden's climate agenda fell apart. There just aren't the votes. Joe Manchin in West Virginia was a big part of that. We don't know what might have happened if he had stayed on board.

    But what's realistic now when it comes to climate change?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do we just say, gee, it's hot, and then move on to the next subject?

    I mean…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I have defended Joe Manchin. I'm going to do it a little again.

    It's — Joe Manchin is a senator from West Virginia. What are you going to do? You're not going to get more pro-climate change senator elected from the state of West Virginia. So, Joe Manchin is being West Virginia.

    I do think, if you take the long arc of this thing, early days, Clinton thought the — and most economists think the way to address climate change is to make carbon more expensive, so carbon taxes. That is a political nonstarter. People will not pay for it, and Clinton suffered for it.

    The number two, which was what Biden tried to do, is to make renewables less expensive. And that was Build Back Better. And it was a very plausible and I think a very good agenda, which is still sitting out there someday for maybe some future Senate.

    But, in the meantime, why don't we try to do things that we can do in our political climate? And Fareed Zakaria to good column on this. We could really reinvest in the new modular nukes, which are smaller, emission-free, much safer. And we could — we could extend the leases of a lot of the nuclear plants that are still there, so we rely a lot more on nuclear.

    We could convert coal plants, which are super-polluting, to natural gas power plants, which are much less polluting. Some people want to plant a trillion trees. Like, nobody's against trees. So, like, you can think of things that are — that don't immediately arouse partisan fury.

    And I still think there are things that we could do out there, as Fareed pointed out, that wouldn't get us back into the left-right thing, because nuclear — the Republicans are always good for it. A lot of environmentalists are now increasingly understanding of it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you have — Jonathan, you have this argument there are things that could be done.

    You have other people screaming the urgency of this. We have to do something yesterday.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    And if you listen to some of the scientists, we might even be too late now. But, to David's point, I take your point. There are all these things that could be — could be done to address climate, even if things might be too late.

    But the other thing I worry about is, sure, if you don't call it climate, you can maybe get some Republicans on board. But I think we have gotten — become so partisan, Washington has become so partisan that, if it's proposed by a Democratic president, the Republicans will automatically be against it.

    And so, even if it's common sense, even if it will save the planet, even if it will improve lives, they won't go for it. And until we have got President Biden in the White House, Democrat, if he can get two, three more seats in the Senate, maintain — Democrats maintain the majority in the House, maybe we could see some movement on a whole lot of things, from climate, to codifying Roe, to protecting same-sex marriage, a whole host of things, criminal justice reform.

    But that's like wishing on a pony. I don't know.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It's not going to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the urgency, I mean, you — David, you do hear on one side there's just an extreme urgency to get something done. And then, on the other hand, there's the reasonable argument, let's do what we can get done politically.

    So…

  • David Brooks:

    I'm 100 percent — one of heroines in life is Frances Perkins, who was secretary of labor. She was always for half-a-loaf, always for half-a-loaf.

    And I salute that. Like, you can scream, and you can pretend that we're going to get rid of fossil fuels in the next 15 years. But that's not going to happen. So, deal with the constraints you have. And when you're passing the ball, take the eight-yard game.

    And so I do think some of the things that are possible — like, nobody is against trees. I think Republicans would be for trees and nuclear power and things like that. So, I have low tolerance for the let — we're going to get — let's go to zero fossil fuels in the near term. The technology just isn't there to do that replacement.

    And a lot of people leaning on Joe Biden right now to declare an emergency and ban exports on American oil and gas, so we can have it here at a lower oil — that's just crazy to me, to disrupt the entire oil supply chain at this moment of the Iraq War and cut off our European allies, some of the things that are being proposed, I think — I understand the impulse behind them, but it's not the real world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ukraine war.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Ukraine war.

  • David Brooks:

    What did I say?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Iraq War.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We all have flashbacks.

  • David Brooks:

    I'm traumatized.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But — it's OK. It's OK. We each get one or more per — but just quickly, Jonathan, pressure on President Biden continues, I mean, regardless of what kind of practical solution is out there.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    Yes, the pressure is on the president. The pressure will remain on the president. But the political environment is such that he's not going to be able to get done what the activists want. He is just not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to accept it, at least for now.

    And we will leave it there.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

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