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Brooks and Capehart on Trump’s Senate trial and Biden’s pandemic response

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump and the Biden administration's response to the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And at the end of another busy week in Washington, from the Senate's second impeachment trial of Donald Trump to the Biden administration's COVID response, we turn now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    So good to see both of you this Friday, as always.

    Let's start by talking about the thing that's consumed so much of our week, David, and that is the impeachment trial.

    It looks as if it's almost over. We have heard from the prosecution, the House. We have heard managers. We have heard from the defense. I guess the question period is finished now.

    What do you make of it?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, last week on the program, I was sort of pooh-poohing it. My head was very much in the COVID relief bill. And I was like, let's get this impeachment out of the way as fast as we can so we can work on what we need to be worked on.

    And I think I was wrong about that. I was struck by how moved I was, how freshly angered, how much I learned, how much it really grabbed the nation's attention.

    If all the impeachment did was bring us that Patty Murray interview, it would have been worth it. There were so many moments, especially that interview, where the reality that they and the reality of what our country is facing and faced very closely was brought to life.

    And any occasion to really lay out the threats, the internal threats to this country is a good thing. So, I was gripped, and I think the country was gripped.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, what did you make of the last four days?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, unlike David, I long said that this Senate impeachment trial had to happen, it needed to happen, if only to send a signal that you cannot incite an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and not face any kind of consequences.

    The very first day, when they were arguing over whether the trial itself was constitutional, and the House impeachment managers played that, I believe, it was 11-minute or a 13-minute video that took us back to that day, to January 6, I remember watching it live on January 6, and being angry and being hurt and being sad about what was happening to my country.

    Watching it again, I started to cry, because I was — like David, I was taken back to that day. And to see it all put together over 13 minutes, some of the video being footage I'd never seen before, and, really, the one piece was seeing — we had all seen the video of the police officer screaming in agony as he was being crushed in the doorway. What made me cry was seeing what was happening that made him scream.

    And I think that — I agree with David. The nation needed to see this. I think the nation needs to see Donald Trump convicted, but, at a bare minimum, from this day, this week forward, Donald Trump's name can never be written about or said without anyone thinking about the horror that happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you think the managers, the House managers, made the link, that, in — that they proved their case that the president incited this riot?

  • David Brooks:

    I think they did.

    I'm — I think they erred in being prosecutorial. And they did cherry-pick in their video. I think the Republican defense was reasonably effective in showing how they picked parts of the Trump January 6 speech in which he seemed to send people to Capitol, but not the parts where he said do it peacefully.

    But I think the thing they really proved, first, they gripped us, as Jonathan I have been talking about. But it wasn't about January 6. In my view, if it was only a speech on January 6, it would have — would not have been incitement.

    But, as they said very compellingly and very persuasively, it was months, it was months, and, in some ways, it was years. And so it was the month of the stop the steal campaign that riled people up, that brought people to Washington, that sent people off in a direction that was clearly violent.

    And so I do think they compellingly made the case. Will Republicans vote their way, enough of them? No, probably not. It would not shock me, though. I would say there's a 10 percent chance that Mitch McConnell votes to convicted. It would not completely shock me if we had some unsuspect — some unexpected conviction votes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, what did you — do you think the managers made their case?

    And then let's talk about the defense. They just — essentially just rejected the entire case.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, I think the House impeachment managers, they made their case. They used all the time — well, not of all the time, but six or so hours, to methodically spell out, make the case, argue the case intricately, videos, tweets, what have you. We all — we all watched it.

    What I found disappointing is that Donald Trump's defense didn't even bother to go literally toe to toe with the House impeachment managers, to spend the time it would take to argue an effective case. I wouldn't agree with their case, but at least I would expect them to spend as much time as possible to argue the case, to rebut the Democrats, and to do so in a serious way.

    You cannot do that in the two-and-a-half-hours that they used to argue in defense of Donald Trump. That's all they used. They had 16 hours, and only use a fraction of it. I mean, I — earlier, when I was talking to Alex, our producer, about this, I said Donald Trump was not well-served.

    And you know where I stand on what I think should happen to him, but I don't think he was well-served. He could have — his team could have done a better job with the really flimsy defense that they had.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you think the defense took the managers' case seriously?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you go to the trial with the evidence you got. So, I don't know if they had 16 hours of material.

    First, in their defense, they think that this is — we shouldn't be having this because you can only throw out a president who's already sitting. So, if that's going to be the core of their case, which, really, it is, then what's the point of arguing the rest of the case?

    But I don't think they have much. I mean, they — the video, they — I thought they did an above average job of correcting the cherry-picking, as I say. I don't think what more could have been said. And so I have trouble blaming them. There's just not a lot of evidence on their side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, I mean, because it did come across as if they just dismissed it, and it was — that it wasn't — that it was as if the defense didn't even want to acknowledge that the managers' case was a case.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, and I hear you on that point, because, yes, maybe that was it. They didn't take it seriously.

    But the one thing that I — that did come through loud and clear to me, and that is perhaps maybe they didn't take the case seriously because their client doesn't take the case seriously. Some of the language that was used by the attorneys took me back to some presidential rallies.

    We heard the — we heard the phrase witch-hunt within the first two to five minutes, a constitutional cancel culture, a lot of buzzwords and things that you could hear coming out of Donald Trump's mouth.

    And so I started paying attention to the president — to Donald Trump's lawyers, in the way that I used to pay attention to his officials and other people who were close to him, because they — when those officials were in the Briefing Room or at press conferences, they were never really talking to us, the American people. They were never really talking to the journalists in the room.

    They were talking to a then president of the United States, who was watching television, watching them, critiquing them, and who was prepared to rip into them if they did not say words and phrases that he wanted to hear come across the television.

    And that's what we saw today over two-and-a-half-hours, at least, in the defense team'S trying to rebut the case of the House impeachment managers. And the same thing that was — the same thing was happening during the Q&A period as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what is Donald Trump's hold on the party, his supporters coming out of this trial? Do you think it changes as a result?

  • David Brooks:

    In my view, the party going into this episode was 50/50; 50 was — they were primarily just Republicans and 50 was primarily Trumpers.

    As the weeks have gone by in this whole episode, especially after January 6, Republican Party I.D. is plummeting. People are leaving, are de-registering from the party. The party approval rating has dropped to about 38 percent, which is now, I think, about 12 points lower than where the Democrats are.

    And so it's clearly having an effect. And you saw Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, came out today — or with a Politico interview, very strongly criticizing Donald Trump, and saying he will not be part of the 2024 picture.

    And she is no dummy. And I think she sees that he will not be the figure that he was. He's not going to go away clearly. But the part of the party that's a Trump part is going to be a shrinking part of the party. The question is, does it have veto power over everybody else?

    And that may remain the case, but it's clearly a shrinking part of the party, and the party itself is shrinking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to the extent that's going on, Jonathan, how much does that help, or does it help Joe Biden, who's trying to get his administration under way, trying to get his arms around this vaccine distribution crisis and everything else?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think, unfortunately, the Nikki Haley wing of the Republican Party doesn't seem to be sitting anywhere on Capitol Hill in any kind of numbers that would make it possible for those senators who are sitting as the jury to follow her lead.

    I think it's important to see what Senator Mitch McConnell does, as David mentioned earlier.

    But I do think, when it comes to President Biden, what's been interesting this week is seeing that, while, at one end of Pennsylvania — or one side of Pennsylvania — of the Capitol, in the Senate, they're doing the trial, but, over in the House, the committees are doing the work of marking up President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and getting it ready to — for debate and for passage and to head over to the Senate.

    That's why they were working on the reconciliation process, to get that in place. I think President Biden has been about work. He is doing the work. He's been very good about not coming anywhere close to commenting at all substantively about what's happening with the Senate impeachment trial.

    I think it is the right thing to do, because, in the end, the American people want to know, what are you doing to make sure that the eviction moratorium doesn't expire and that unemployment insurance doesn't expire?

    And if he were to be out there commenting politically about what's happening in the Senate impeachment trial, and ignoring the serious crisis that is facing the American people, he would — he would face hell from the voters, and he would deserve it. But that's not what's happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, a little less than a minute, but how do you think Joe Biden is doing so far with regard to vaccines and everything else he's working on?

  • David Brooks:

    He's doing well, though I would say the people I speak to who seem to know what they're talking about are a little more nervous these days about getting enough vaccines in the arms in time.

    I think the distribution problems are really haunting a lot of people. I think they have — there's — the supply is lower. They're worried about the variations, obviously.

    But the thing I think that has them most worried is the public's unwillingness to take the vaccine. In some surveys, 25 percent or 33 percent of Americans say they will never take the vaccine. And that obviously doesn't get us to herd immunity.

    So, I think the administration is doing what it can, but there just needs to be a much bigger public information campaign about the safety of the vaccine, and especially to teachers. We can go back to schools tomorrow and be safe with the right precautions, but teachers are understandably worried.

    And their unions and their leaders and, frankly, the administration is not informing them of what we know scientifically to be true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of worry about that.

    You're right. The vaccine is — we have it, but we don't have enough of it, and we don't have it in enough arms, and, as you say, a lot of people still not willing to take it.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, both of you, stay safe. Thank you very much.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy. You too.

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