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Brooks and Capehart on the Republican Party’s identity crisis

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including tensions in the Republican Party, Democrats and bipartisanship, President Biden's economic relief plan and former President Trump's impeachment trial.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    Very good to see both of you this Friday night.

    Let's start by talking about the Republican Party.

    Jonathan, the Republicans in the House of Representatives this week voted — just in the last day voted not to take away committee assignments from Marjorie Taylor Greene, conspiracy theorist, someone who has made deeply disturbing statements. They left to it the full House, meaning Democrats took the vote.

    She said, Greene said today that it didn't really bother her, that committees didn't matter, and, besides, it's Donald Trump's party anyway. Is she right?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, she's right in that it's Donald Trump's party, but she's wrong about the fact that it doesn't matter.

    It does matter. And if she doesn't think committee assignments or being assigned to a committee matters, then she shouldn't be in government. She should resign her seat if she doesn't believe that sitting on a committee, doing the work of being an elected representative and representing your constituents in Congress, if that doesn't matter, then perhaps she should go back to Georgia.

    But this is indeed Donald Trump's party, and we saw it with the votes that were taken within the Republican Caucus. Marjorie Taylor Greene was able to hold onto her committee seat because the vote was a public vote within the caucus. Liz Cheney was able to hold on to her leadership post within the Republican Caucus because that vote was a secret ballot.

    And we talked all last week or all this week about how her hold on her leadership post was tenuous because the base was so angry, the caucus was so angry. And yet, by secret ballot, she won reelection to that leadership post within the caucus overwhelmingly.

    So, this might be Donald Trump's Republican Party, but, behind closed doors, within the Republican Caucus, at least as it's playing out in the House, there are some tensions there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, I mean, what Congresswoman Greene actually said was that it's a waste of time. She views committees as a waste of time.

    But my question to you is, I mean, what does this say about the Republican Party in Congress?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I have decided to look on the bright side.

    I think this was the week we saw more anti-Trump activity in the Republican Party than any week in the last five years. We had Mitch McConnell calling Marjorie Taylor Greene's ideas cancerous. Liz Cheney won by 2-1. That was not automatic. And it shows there's a lot of people who — in the House Republican Caucus who are not with the Trumpsters.

    They're a little intimidated by them, but, in private, that's not where their views are. We had Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse with a very forthright assault on the GOP of one of the counties in Nebraska who wants to censure him. And so people are beginning to stand up in ways that haven't happened.

    And I think, partly January 6, partly looking at the things that Greene believes, they see, as McConnell said, that these are just disastrous cancers for the party. And so it's not all the way there, but we're beginning to see much more of an assault than we saw before.

    And then, just finally, we had 10 Republican senators break from a bit of their party and put out a COVID relief proposal. So, I'm seeing progress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's pursue that.

    I mean, Jonathan, I interviewed former Missouri Senator John Danforth this week, who said that his party, who — he says he's still a Republican — has become, he said, a grotesque caricature of what it once was, that it's no longer conservative, it's populist at the extremes.

    Do you see — where do you see this going, is the question.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I do agree with David that there are green shoots to use a phrase from a previous presidency, green shoots of progress, and maybe even green shoots of a new beginning.

    But the Republican Party right now is going through — I think, is going to be a multicycle refreshing, that the these green shoots that we are seeing, will that mean that Republicans become more emboldened and stand up for themselves and, going into the midterm elections, the non-Trump Republicans get elected, maybe even Republicans take over the House, but not with Trump Republicans? I don't know.

    But what I do know is this. The Republican Party is not — is not going to cure itself of what former Senator Danforth talked about until it has concerted leadership within the caucus to push the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and the other folks within that caucus, because she is not the only one, push them aside and get about the business of governing.

    I focus on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who should have used the Marjorie Taylor Greene moment as a leadership moment to do what a leader is supposed to do and stand up for the values of the party and the caucus, and to push aside those who run afoul of that.

    I don't know what Leader McCarthy stands for. I don't know what the Republican Party stands for. And if his calculations this week are about retaking the House in 2022, my question is, what is your program? What are you for?

    Because unless you can tell the American people, and particularly folks in the districts around the country, unless you can tell people what the Republican Party will do and what Leader McCarthy would do as speaker proactively, positively, then why should the American people look at the Republican Party as a viable alternative to the Democratic Party?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of what the Republicans can do, David, you mentioned the Republican role, I think, in COVID relief.

    What role do you see them playing? As the president is saying, we need to go big, Republicans and even some Democrats raising questions.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I — Joe Biden ran on bipartisanship and unity.

    He had a chance when the 10 Republicans put forth their $618 billion proposal to say, OK, let's try for a week. I'm not going to give you more than a week, but I will give you a week, and we will see if we can get you over a trillion. The Republicans have already voted for roughly $4 trillion dollars in aid. I think they could have gotten a fifth.

    But the problem is, aside from Joe Biden, I don't think there's any taste for bipartisanship in the Democratic Party, sometimes with justified reason. They have just lived through the horror of the Trump presidency. They just lived through January 6. They just don't have much respect or trust for the Republican Party.

    And so they don't want to do bipartisanship. I think those 10 Republicans really do. I think there are another 10 or 15 in the Senate who would prefer it. They're not going to go as big as Biden wants to go, but I think they would like it.

    But you can't tell people to trust people they don't trust. Trust takes time. And the trust is not there for bipartisanship in this Congress. I think Biden really wants to do it. It — the evidence of this week is, we're just not going to see that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, what do you see as the outlook for bipartisanship?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, it depends on your definition of bipartisanship.

    If bipartisanship, you mean sitting with people from the other — from the other side of the aisle, talking through the issues, talking through policies and programs, and then, as president of the United States, you decide that what you have heard does not meet the policy proposals that you have in mind and the mandate you feel you have from the American people, well, then, if you go a different route, that doesn't mean that you haven't been bipartisan.

    It just means that you have a different governing philosophy. I do think President Biden has lived up to his promise to be bipartisanship. He didn't have to meet with those 10 senators, and yet he did.

    I do think that David was absolutely right in his — in what he said and in his terrific column today in The New York Times. I don't think that Democrats don't want to do bipartisanship. I do think that Democrats do suffer from a lack of trust, because they have been Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy with the football.

    When President Obama was in the White House, President Obama tried desperately to negotiate in good faith with Republicans, only to have them say no, be recalcitrant. And having learned that lesson, President Biden, having been part of the Obama/Biden White House, does not want to be in that position, nor should he, especially when you have millions of Americans who are not only suffering through a pandemic, but also through the resultant economic crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, lingering effects? If the Democrats end up doing this with Democratic votes, what's the fallout? What does that mean for the future?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, people do really like bipartisanship.

    Our own Amy Walter had a good column this week saying that, when you try to pass something with — on a partisan basis, what happens is that piece of legislation tends to be unpopular, because independents would rather you do it on a bipartisan basis.

    So, I think, in the long term, Democrats probably made it slightly more likely the Republicans will do very well in the midterm, if they ram this through on a partisan basis.

    Having said that, I think the size of our social problems are so large that $1.9 trillion basically given to the least fortunate among us is about the right size. And so I wish they had done it with bipartisanship. I wish the Republicans had come up to like $1.2 trillion.

    But I'm thinking about the country, I'm thinking about a country that is suffering from inequality, from decay, from declining prospects, from a rural-urban income gap. And $1.9 trillion, can go a long way to setting us on a different social path, a more equal social path.

    And so, despite my reservations about the way they're doing it, I still think it needs to be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just a little over a minute left.

    I want to get from both of you your expectations for next week's impeachment trial, the second one, Jonathan, for President Trump. What do you think will happen?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think we will hear wrenching testimony, in that the House managers, the House impeachment managers, will present a case that will bring the American people and the witnesses/jurors back to that day on January 6.

    I expect the moment to be probably one of the most impactful, emotional moments in recent American history.

    But I also expect this trial to be short. I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking about the end of this trial a week from today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what do you expect?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, that sounds about right.

    I'm mostly struck by how Donald Trump has sort of vanished. Obviously, he's off Twitter, but he's not taking any measures to be anywhere. And so it's just going to be a one-sided affair, which will end in an acquittal. And then we will get back to business.

    I will be very curious to see if the nation tunes in or whether they're really ready to move on from the Trump era.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to be covering it, and we are going to be asking the two of you about it one week from tonight at exactly this time.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thanks.

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