Brooks and Capehart on voting rights, Build Back Better agenda, VA Gov. race

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including voting rights, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the fate of President Biden's domestic agenda seems to be reaching a critical point, as negotiations with leaders in his own party continue, at stake, some of the president's top social and spending priorities.

    And 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.

    Welcome to you both. Good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Good to see you too.

  • David Brooks:

    Good to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before we jump into that, I do want to ask you about voting rights, because there was some news in the Senate this week and also some news from the president last night.

    Now, on Wednesday, we should note Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights bill for the third time. On Thursday, the very next day, President Biden spoke at the 10th anniversary of the dedication of Dr. Martin Luther King's memorial. And he said this.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Today, the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorneys, general, secretaries of state, state legislators.

    And they're following my predecessor, the last president, into a deep, deep black hole and abyss.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, an abyss. It's being framed as an existential threat. So what's the president prepared to do about it?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    OK, so, first, let's be clear about something. The president's remarks yesterday were not new. He has been — he has been sounding the alarm for at — this is probably at least the third time he has talked about voting rights in this way, in an — yes, an existential threat, almost apocalyptic.

    But the problem is, that's all the president can do. All of the power resides in the Senate. And it resides in Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema and those other senators who are hiding behind them who don't want to reform the filibuster. I mean, that is the only way this is going to happen. The third failure of the voting rights bill is a bill that Senator Manchin put together, tried as hard as he could to get 10 Republicans to vote for it, and no Republicans voted for it.

    And let's also be clear about another thing. This wasn't a vote on the bill. This was a vote to allow the bill to be debated. The world's most deliberative body won't debate a bill on anything, but won't debate a bill on voting rights.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, David, Senator Manchin was behind this new bill, right? It had been pared down so he could back it, so Republicans would back it. He went to try to get their support, and they didn't support it.

    But President Biden has also indicated, we should say, last night, the strongest support he's ever shown, that he might be willing to reform the filibuster to move this ahead. He might be willing to do that. But is Senator Manchin?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I can't read Senator Manchin's mind, but he's been pretty firm on protecting the filibuster in all cases. I would be pretty surprised if he wanted to bend the filibuster, even given what he's done on the voting rights stuff.

    I think what the Republicans are doing in states like Georgia is terrible, because it sends a terrible signal rhetorically about where we stand as a country, given the history of this country and voting discrimination.

    But I don't think we should get over the top about this. There are two big myths about voting rights and voting laws. The first myth is that, when you change the voting laws, you depress turnout. This has been studied a — well, a lot.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And the overwhelming evidence is that you can do what Georgia did and make it harder to vote. Voters vote. They find a way to vote. And so it just is not true that changing the law will depress turnout, by and large.

    Second, the second myth, which is believed by both Republicans and Democrats, which is, if you increase turnout, that's somehow good for Democrats. People have studied it. There's a book out called "The Turnout Myth" by Daron Shaw and John Petrocik.

    And they look at centuries of data on higher turnout election, lower turnout election. It doesn't help Democrats. Republicans are convinced somehow it does. Democrats are convinced somehow it does. It has no partisan effect.

    And so we have got these mythologies about how turnout actually works. And they cause people to do, in the case of Republicans in the statehouses, pretty terrible things.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    OK, I need to jump in.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Please do.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Because this isn't just a turnout issue here, what's happening in Georgia, what's happening in Texas.

    They're making it harder to vote. If you do jump that hurdle to be able to vote, they might not count your vote. It might get discarded. If your vote does somehow get counted — and this is the most important thing — the law in Georgia, and I also believe it's also in Texas, that, if they don't like the result of the election, they can change the result of the election.

    And that is what makes what's happening in the states right now super, well, terrible and why the president is speaking in the way he's speaking. It's not just suppressing the vote. It's not just trying to squash turnout. It's about changing free and fair elections, because Republicans — because that's who's doing this — Republicans are afraid that they can't win any other way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is there any way this moves forward with Democrats unless they change the filibuster rules?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I don't see how.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let me ask you about this, then, because the president did give this town hall last night, David, to CNN. He spoke very plainly about a number of things.

    He was asked about the filibuster. He said ending it would have to wait until after his spending bill passes, right? And we should note that Speaker Pelosi said earlier today that 90 percent of that bill is now agreed to and written.

    I just want to bring people up to speed on what we know about it, on the Build Back Better proposal. The overall price tag is now under $2 trillion. Paid family leave is down to four weeks, instead of 12. Free community college has been removed. And the latest news we now have is that Senator Sinema has been opposing the income and corporate tax rate increases.

    So, David, we know this because the president spoke very plainly about it.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And I wondered, as you watched him, what did you make of just how he's kind of laying it all out there? This is what we — this is where we conceded.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I was stunned, actually, that he was so open about it, because they're still in the middle of negotiations. And, presumably, every source on the Hill says a lot can change.

    But he went ahead and said what's in, what's out, maybe as a way to prepare people who are going to be disappointed. What happened in this bill when they first drafted it is, everybody got everything. It was Christmas, and it was Christmas in rich people's homes. Like, everybody got everything. And now they have to make some choices.

    And so they have made some choices. Some choices, I think, are quite unfortunate. They have put at risk the size of the child tax credit, which I think is the single best thing in the whole bill, which really does reduce childhood poverty to a great degree.

    Some choices they could wander into could be very good choices. They have lost the core of the climate change. But senators like Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, is talking about a carbon tax. And that would solve a lot of things at once. It would help reduce carbon emissions, but also raise revenue to pay for this stuff.

    And so I still think a lot of it under negotiation. And what I'm looking for is, is there a theme to what they leave in and what they take out? Do they have an overall theory of the case?

    In my view, we have spent the last 40 years funneling money to rich people with college degrees. We should have a big spending bill that funnels money to people without college degrees who are in the working class. And that would be my theme, decide what comes and goes.

    Right now, I'm not quite sure I see it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, for anyone who wasn't watching last night, I just want to play a quick clip of the way that President Biden talked about some of those concessions when it comes to paid family leave and community college. Take a listen.

  • Anderson Cooper, CNN:

    How much time off would parents actually get under your proposal? Because at one point, you talked about 12 weeks.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Yes, it is down to four weeks. And the reason it's down to four weeks, I can't get 12 weeks.

    But here's the deal. So far, Mr. Manchin and one other person has indicated they will not support free community college.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, he can't get it done. He says, I just can't do it.

    But he mentions that one other person that we assume is Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. He says one other person. Yes, it must be Senator Sinema.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

    What should we understand about her opposition right now?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, I don't know.

    I mean, and if you ask anyone on the Hill, they don't know what she wants and what she doesn't want. And, right now, it seems like we're in the 11th hour. And the fact that the president was so specific and in the weeds about what he's doing and what he wants and what is in the bill tells you just how engaged the president and the White House have been all this time.

    But I think the sense of urgency that the president has and that the Democrats on the Hill have is that he's going to Europe for the climate conference, and he wants to have something in hand, but also in — lurking in the background is the Virginia governor's race on November 2.

    Governor — Terry McAuliffe has been saying for weeks now, pass the dang bill. Get it done. He wants the infrastructure bill done, but he wants something done, so he can go to folks and say, look, this is done. Democrats, the Democrats, writ large, know how to govern and they can get things done.

    So I think those are the two deadlines that are really driving this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You are making my segues for me here, because I want to ask you both about the Virginia governor's race there.

    Schools. Schools have now become one of the main messaging points, particularly for the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, in all of this. There's — he's framing it all as a fight over government's role in the classrooms and parents' rights, parents' rights to be involved in the classroom, really more about how race and racism are taught more than anything else.

    So, David, I want to ask you, who is he talking to in all of this?

  • David Brooks:

    A lot of parents.

    And Terry McAuliffe made a very foolish statement in his debate, where he said parents should not be in charge of their kids' educations, which is going to set every parent's teeth on edge.

    I think there's a huge issue. I think this is a very bad issue for the Democrats. A lot of things, people don't vote on. But if people feel their kids are being indoctrinated with this or that, then they're going to get really angry, and they're getting really angry.

    And there's the angry people who are going to the school board meetings, but then there's normal anger of more stable people. And they will rebel. And what's — the underlying cause of what's happening here is that people in the median education school, they have gone a little further and not — significantly left in the last few years. The median parent has not done significantly further left.

    So there's a cultural gap in the values and the way we talk about history, the way we talk about sexual education and gender issues. A gap has opened up between the people tend to be teachers and the people who tend to be parents. And that gap is now creating this conflict over whose values are going to be in the classroom.

    And so it's become a culture war. And I do think parents are extremely sensitive about this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, what do you make of this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, Glenn Youngkin and Republicans are filling that gap that you're talking about with fear.

    What Glenn Youngkin is doing is talking about Critical Race Theory. And let's be clear about something. Critical Race Theory is not taught in elementary schools, middle schools, or high schools anywhere in the United States. If it's taught at all, it is taught in law schools, so way far away from any parents' care.

    Yet, yes, Terry McAuliffe walked right into it by saying what he said at that debate and handed Youngkin an issue. But the fact that we're having this conversation about Critical Race Theory, it's become a catch-all for all of the — all of the history that needs to be taught that makes white parents uncomfortable.

    And you put your finger on it. This is a conversation about race. And Youngkin is using race and fear as a way of trying to garner votes, pull out Trump voters, pull out squishy Republican voters who might not want to vote for him. But they view this as an issue, you know, something that makes them angry, you're trying to indoctrinate my children, as opposed to trying to teach your children the true history of this country.

    That's what all of this is about. And there are people who are afraid of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I have 30 seconds.

    This is clearly resonating. We saw those pictures. That was a school board meeting. Those were parents on the floor under the sheriff's knee there. Are we going to see more of this through 2022?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think this is going to be a gigantic issue nationwide. And I have a lot more to say about it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's reconvene soon and continue that discussion then.

    Gentlemen, I can't thank you enough. Always good to see you.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Amna.

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