Brooks and Capehart on U.S. military aid for Ukraine, GOP opposition to COVID funding

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 announcement of a new round of military assistance for Ukraine and Republican opposition to his administration's request for billions in emergency COVID spending.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    How the United States should respond to two major global crises was a topic of major debate again this week. President Biden announced a new round of military assistance for Ukraine, while the administration's request that Congress approve billions in emergency COVID spending has met opposition.

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

    It is very good to see both of you within reaching distance.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're so glad to have you here, even if the subject is — that we start out with, again, David, is grim and difficult.

    And that's, of course, Ukraine. The Russian military grinds on. We heard Jane Ferguson say they're not making ground advance, but they're still killing civilians.

    This week, you had Zelenskyy's speech to Congress. You had President Biden announcing more military aid. Today, he talked to the Chinese president. Is any of this making a difference?

  • David Brooks:

    I think so. It's just tragically slow.

    I don't — even the footage we saw today from Kyiv, it does not look like the Ukrainian people are going to be backing down. And bombing, aerial bombardments of civilian populations, when there's strong leadership, just doesn't work. That's London in the Blitz.

    And what we're doing is, we're — what Zelenskyy asked for. He asked for the no-fly zone, and that was never going to happen. He asked to do more. And the U.S. government and governments around the world are doing more, and so another $800 million in aid. I think we do more in terms of especially anti-aircraft missiles.

    Right now, people using these shoulder-launched things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    But you can do long-range stuff and get a no-fly zone, in effect.

    And so ramping that up is one thing that can do more. And I think the central message is, trust what we're doing. We're putting on severe pressure. We have to do more. The shots of Moscow suggest we really have to do a lot more about making sure Western goods are not on shelves in Moscow. We have to do a lot more economic sanctions on good-to-good transfers.

    But trust what we're doing. We're putting on a lot of pressure. Putin is in a very bad position. He's still — I was told today that there was some hope that there would be a negotiated settlement in the next few days. But people who have spoken to Putin over the last 48 hours suggest that's not going to happen anytime soon.

    And so we just have to trust our strategy, that it just tightens and tightens things around him. And we don't know how it's going to end. All we can do is press.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is that pressing — do you see anything changing in coming days or weeks?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, all we do — all we can do is press, but also pray, because one of the things we keep hearing about Vladimir Putin is, folks are questioning his sanity.

    Folks are questioning whether, if we push him into a corner, will he lash out in ways that are unpredictable? There is all the talk about the use of chemical or biological weapons. Would he actually do that in the way that was done in Syria? And that would force the United States, NATO, the Western alliance, the allies around the world to do something I don't think they're really quite mentally prepared for.

    And that is to go toe to toe with a nuclear power that has unleashed hell on a neighbor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, David, we hear — we hear pretty uniform opposition or criticism, I should say, of President Biden from Republicans.

    I interviewed Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, this week, who said Biden is not doing enough, he's doing it too late. Is there some legitimacy in that chorus of criticism?

  • David Brooks:

    I'm — they're going to criticize, because that's what we do here.

    But I'm glad the criticism is over the pace of what we're doing and not over whether we should be doing it. And so, to me, that — there's an underlying unity, and in American public opinion. Very few Americans want troops on the ground. Some do, but we want to increase the pressure.

    And so, if there's going to be criticism, maybe for more. I think Biden is moving in the more direction. And if we're going to have an argument over how fast we move in the more direction, that, to me, is a pretty useful argument to have. And so I don't think the criticism is a major problem for what we're doing.

    What Jonathan said, we have to psychologically read, how much is this too much? How — are we doing anything that's really risky in escalation? I still think we're a long way from that. But we have to face the fact, it's in Putin's interests at some level to try to engage NATO directly and to spread this.

    And he's bogged down now. But if he can turn it into a bigger thing, that might turn out to be in his interests. So we have to be alive to that possibility. But I think we still have to be really hard on him, and not shrink back because of fear of what he might do. He's going to do what he wants to do anyway.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it your sense, Jonathan, that the U.S. is prepared, that NATO is prepared if Putin does go off in a direction that we don't — we're — don't want him to go?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I want to believe that NATO and the United States are prepared for that situation.

    One of the things that I — one of the criticisms against the president that I think was valid was that he kept communicating what the United States would not do, communicating what he would not do, and instead has gone mute on those things, won't talk about those things, would only talk about the things — he's only now talking about the things that he's doing.

    And that is exactly what he should be doing.

    But I just want to push back a little bit on this. You said underlying unity. Sure, there's some underlying unity. But I — it's a little aggravating that certain Republicans, particularly in the Senate, especially if they're thinking of running for president, are — they're playing games at a time when the president of the United States and the Western alliance are going are — trying to contain — trying to contain Putin.

    And you can't argue that the president has taken too long, he's not doing enough, when you just voted against the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill that had millions of dollars of aid for Ukraine in that bill.

    So, this sort of domestic play that Republicans are bringing to foreign policy, I think, is regrettable. And I hope, going forward, especially if we get to that situation where the United States and in the world is grappling with a chemical or biological attack on Ukraine, that folks think better about what they're saying about the president and the United States, of what they're both trying to get accomplished.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

    I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy.

    So, I rarely praise Ted Cruz, but Ted Cruz, for the last few years, has been pretty much right on Ukraine and Russia.

    And he's been very aggressive. A lot of Republican senators have been very aggressive: We need to do this to prevent a war.

    So I find, in general, Republicans have not followed Trump in any soft-on-Putin direction. Quite the reverse.

    The one thing that I think we need to think about — I read a good piece — that this may be — what Korea was for the Cold War, this may be for the next contest against the authoritarian regimes. Mao goes into Korea, with Russian support. And, at the time, people don't realize what's happening. It's only, over the years, they realize, oh, Korea is part of a larger Cold War conflict.

    And so this could be seen as part of a larger contest, which Biden talks about, between democracies and autocracies. And if that's the case, we need to be using this moment — and I think we are using this moment — to really build a very practical — rebuild a practical set of alliances with Japan and the West to prepare for a long contest, and to see this context in the — this war in the context of that larger rivalry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're, in a way, suggesting it's harder to do that when you have got the parties, as you put it, playing games.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right, constantly criticizing the party and the president who's not in your party simply because he's a Democrat.

    And I just also want to point out that, despite your nice words about Senator Cruz, he was one of those senators who voted against the omnibus bill, which had aid to Ukraine in it. So, just…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. We played games during the Cold War.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Setting the record straight.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of this omnibus bill, David, there was money originally in there for COVID funding for prevention, for treatment, $22 billion, down from an earlier number.

    It ended up being taken out, mostly because of Republican opposition, but also some liberal Democrats had problems with it. Now the administration is scrambling, trying to get this passed. I talked to Tony Fauci yesterday, who said: We need this money.

    Who's making the right argument here?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I'm going to disappoint Jonathan and be on both sides.

    The Democrats are right. We need the money. We need to spend the money on the medicines, on the coverage, all the stuff that is in there.

    But I think we need to get back to a normal situation, where we pay for what we spend. If we just spend money without raising taxes, A, we fuel inflation, not a big — in this case, because it's not a big bill. But we fuel inflation. And, B, we run up our debt at a time when interest rates are rising.

    So we need to get back to normal life, where, if we're going to spend money, we're going to pay for the spending. And it should not be hard to raise $22 billion in taxes. We're a gigantic country. That's like what we spent, I don't know, every 10 minutes.

    And so I think the Republicans are right to make that point that we need to pay for this money. But the Democrats are right that we need the money.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you say raise taxes? Is that what you just said?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I just want to make sure I heard you correct…

  • David Brooks:

    … raising taxes on Jonathan.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, David. What — it is interesting that Republicans always, when it comes to domestic programs, we have to pay for what we spend.

    And yet we're talking about the same group of Republicans who are lashing out at the president of the United States because he won't do as much as they think he should do in support of Ukraine. That's not free. That's not a rounding error. We're talking billions, maybe even trillions of dollars.

    And so there are Americans who look at what's happening with Ukraine, and they're all for it. We should support them. We should do whatever it takes to defend — help the Ukrainians defend their country.

    But then they look at, wait, wait, we can't get COVID funding? We can't get these other things because people are now worried about the checkbook?

    I'm with David. We — on the other part. That you had a report earlier about the strain of coronavirus cases going up in Europe and in Asia.

    We know, in a couple of weeks, it's going to be here, and we're not going to have any money to protect the American people?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the inconsistency that he's pointing out, though, David, among Republicans in…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I'm trying to point to the right policy. And Jonathan is saying, well, they're a bunch of hypocrites.

    Well, yes, that's true. But I'm still trying to put to the right policy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I guess this is what happens when I bring the two of you back together in person, right? But we're so glad…

  • David Brooks:

    We have more fun.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We do have more fun.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It's much more fun.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both very much.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you.

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