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Brooks and Capehart on Trump emails to DOJ, Biden-Putin summit, Juneteenth

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's politics, including emails showing attempts by former President Donald Trump’s team to overturn the 2020 election results, efforts toward election reform in the Senate, how President Joe Biden fared during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Juneteenth.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart.

    Very good to see both of you. Two weeks in a row, we're meeting in the studio. We have got to stop meeting like this.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Don't say that, please.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, no, no, I don't mean it at all.

    But let's pick up with John Yang's reporting, David.

    We heard Ros Helderman, the reporter, say this is nothing — like nothing we have seen in American history. How shocking is this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, if the previous four years hadn't happened, it would be pretty shocking.

    But one of the things that occurs to me as we learn more about this is, our country is held together by laws. And the Trump administration certainly violated a lot of laws. It's also held together by custom of things we just do and do not do.

    And if you're working in a White House, you don't treat the Justice Department as your political wing. There's a space you open up between justice and politics. And that has been crossed several times throughout American history. But, in general, you just don't do it.

    And if you're in the Justice Department, you don't let the political people do that. And so we then — we had a group of people just want to eliminate that space after 200-odd years of tradition. And a few people, including Barr, said, no, the space is important.

    And it wasn't like a clear line. But it's just, no, we're defending this space because we believe Justice should not be a wing of the political party.

    And so they did manage to defend the space. But there's nothing automatic that it will happen next time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, how outraged should the American people be.

    There was a lot that happened, as David said, during the Trump four years. But what did this represent?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, the American people should be wildly outraged.

    To David's point, we have never seen anything like this in American history. And as I was talking about this earlier, I was shocked, but not shocked, not shocked because of the four years of Donald Trump, because he would always say the quiet part out loud, for instance, the subpoenas that we have we learned about last week for Chairman Adam Schiff.

    He — Trump was out there on the campaign trail saying, he's a leaker, he should be investigated, but I wouldn't do that. And now we find out that, actually, the Justice Department did do that.

    But I'm not shocked. Well, I am shocked by just how close we came to losing everything, to losing our democracy, that it was just a few people, a handful of people who took their oath to the Constitution seriously enough to say no, to pump the brakes on people who were willing to go along with the president of the United States.

    And if it could happen once, that's the fear that I have, is that, if a more competent Donald Trump version comes into power, how much damage, more damage, could that person do?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, the people who prevented this from happening are people who were working in the Trump administration.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And this was a tension. We knew about this throughout the whole administration. You had Trump appointees who were relatively normal and knew how the game was supposed to be played, and then those who didn't and didn't respect the rules.

    And so there was constant battle in department after department between people who just sort of, like, wanted government to be semi-normal and those who really did not. And that was fought out in the trenches in every agency every day.

    I think my long-term worry is that, once norms get eroded, they tend not to come back. And so it used to be you didn't — if you left Congress, you didn't go immediately become a lobbyist. But once that became normal, then everybody did it. It used to be, you didn't — if you were a senator, you didn't abuse the filibuster, because you didn't want everybody to hate you. And once it became normal, everybody did it.

    And so now, if we start abusing the federal agencies as if they're political PACs, then I'm not saying every administration will be like Trump. I don't think that will hopefully never happen again, but the norms will be eroded. And just in what seems the way we do government will get worse and worse and worse, unless somebody decides we're going to go exactly the opposite way, and we're going to reestablish the norms that we had 50 years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is actually a good segue, Jonathan, to another thing I want to talk about, and that is the moves around voting election reform.

    This week, Senator Joe Manchin, a lot of focus on him. We know the Democrats are trying to enact at the federal level election reform to counter restrictions that have been enacted in what, 20-some states, are in the process of being enacted.

    Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, trying to find some middle ground, came out with a proposal this week, which was embraced immediately by Stacey Abrams, the prominent voting rights advocate. And then you had Mitch McConnell, just as immediately, saying no Republican is going to support that.

    Where does voting rights stand right now?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, voting rights is on the precipice right now.

    Look, we always knew where the calendar was — where voting rights is on the calendar because of Majority Leader Schumer. He said, at the end of June, voting rights would come up for a vote. The timing of all this is what I find curious.

    Senator Manchin puts out his proposal. Stacey Abrams goes on television and says, I could work with this. She's asked directly, what about voter I.D.? You have been on record as not being in favor of voter I.D. She say, I think I'm fine with voter I.D. This is fine. This is a great starting point.

    That set a lot of Democrats and a lot of voting rights activists, their hair on fire. But before they could even react to what she said and to what — Manchin's proposal…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    … Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell comes out and not only slams what Manchin put out, but slams Stacey Abrams by name.

    And what did McConnell do by doing that? He allowed — circled the wagons. He allowed Democrats to circle the wagons around Stacey Abrams, but also around Manchin's proposal. Now folks are actively debating and talking about the merits of Manchin's proposal.

    And I actually think that Manchin might be crazy like a fox, because what he's done by saying, I want bipartisanship, I want bipartisanship, and McConnell coming out immediately and saying no, what kind of bipartisan deal can you get when the leader, the minority leader, is already saying no?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does it look like to you is going on?

  • David Brooks:

    There a couple themes running through the Biden administration. And one of it is, can bipartisanship work? Can Joe Biden, a reasonable man, work in a city that's unreasonable?

    And so we're going to test this out. And I think the Manchin proposal is quite a good proposal, frankly. I thought H.R.1 is overly broad. Manchin takes a lot of the stuff from H.R.1, gives the Republicans voter I.D. and other things like that.

    I was impressed. But, for bipartisanship to work, you have to have people like Stacey Abrams, who say, hey, this isn't my bill, but maybe we can work with this.

    But you also have to have somebody on the Republican side who can say that. And whether that person exists on the Republican side, we will now find out. But Manchin really believes, like it's a religious faith, in bipartisanship. But he has to show that it can actually deliver. And that's what the next month on this issue and on infrastructure, a whole bunch of other issues.

    It's all about that kind of bipartisanship work in 21st century America?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A head-turning week on that.

    So much to talk about. I do want to raise, Jonathan, the president's trip to Europe, and particularly the meeting with Vladimir Putin. How did President Biden do?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I thought the president did well.

    His mantra going into that meeting in particular was, we want a — quote — "stable, predictable" relationship with Russia, and after — and with Vladimir Putin.

    And after the four previous years, where the president of the United States basically parroted the talking points of the Russian president, to the point of believing the Russian president over his own intelligence agencies about what happened in the 2016 election, for President Biden to sit down with Vladimir Putin, it was — I think it was akin to Putin being called into the principal's office and having a very stern talking to by the president of the United States, especially after coming to that meeting after the G7 in England, the NATO meetings in Brussels, where the president was back to normal, talking about the Western alliance, talking about democracy, and then sitting across from Putin.

    And sitting across from Putin on his terms. He made Putin get to Geneva and to the venue first. He said no joint press conference because, as we all remember that horrific presser in Helsinki in July of 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And so I think the president — I think President Biden did well. And I think he — we will see if he accomplished what he set out to do in that meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, we're hearing conservative voices say he wasn't tough enough with the Russian leader. What do you see?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I'm not sure you can be tough with Vladimir.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I would not try to out-tough Vladimir Putin. Like, that would probably be a mistake.

    Yes, I don't know if he was called into the principal's office. Like, Putin is the superintendent of some alien school system somewhere over there.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And so I think this is what I was saying, can a reasonable man work in an unreasonable world?

    So, like, Putin is the epitome of an unreasonable leader. He's not an honest leader. He doesn't play by the rules. They will do human rights violations. They will do cybersecurity attacks. And everything he says at a summit is going to be a lie. And so how do you deal with that?

    And I think what Biden said, well, let's at least get the ground rules of a relationship, and maybe we will be able to say, OK, we really will not tolerate cyberattacks on this and this, and this, and get some gray rules set in there, so he gets some constraints on what is bound to be a dysfunctional relationship.

    I don't think he gave away anything. I mean, giving Putin a global audience is not a big gift. He has a global audience. But at least trying to establish some set of modus operandi, don't cross this line, if he could do, that would be useful.

    We will see if anything was accomplished with that. I'm sort of a little dubious, I guess.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do we think this in any way helps or affects President Biden's ability to get anything done here now, after this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    The meeting…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Coming out of the meeting with Putin?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I mean, I…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Spillover effect?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I don't know about — with the meeting with Putin.

    Maybe in the meetings with the allies, with NATO and G7, and showing to the American people that the world — the world is back with us, after four years of the world looking at America like we had lost our minds.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, last thing I want to ask both of you about is this new federal holiday, Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in this country in 1865, when word reached Texas.

    What's the significance of that — of this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we do celebrate seder, the Passover story, the exodus story, the rise from slavery. And it's the central story of the Jewish people.

    And the exodus story is really the central story of America, that we try to defeat oppression. This is a great example of Americans of all colors defeating oppression. And the fact that we should celebrate it seems to be a no-brainer for me.

    And if you're a 12-year-old girl — I'm going to see some of your girls come into town tomorrow — and you're a 12-year-old Black girl, and you see your country, a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery, that's got to make you feel a little more included in this country. And it's got to be part of the complexifying of the American story, which is what we're trying to do these days, is tell an accurate American story.

    So, to me, it's an unalloyed good. We get a better story. We get to have happy days. We can have a barbecue, whatever you want to do. So, it's a complete win for me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see the meaning of it?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I see — yes, it is a marker of the end of slavery, but what it really is, is a celebration of freedom.

    People were told, the enslaved were told, you are free, and the joy and jubilation surrounding that. And the fact that we're talking about it now, that we have a federal holiday, I hope that the nonsense about teaching an accurate version of our history doesn't get in the way of allowing us to see those moments when the ideals that are the foundation of the idea of America, when they became true for fellow citizens.

    And so it's wonderful that we have this holiday. I look forward to actually having a day off to celebrate it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whether it's a barbecue or a picnic or something else.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are certainly celebrating here at the "NewsHour."

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

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