Brooks and Capehart on voting rights legislation and partisanship

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Democrats' push for voting rights legislation, partisanship and President Biden’s handling of key issues within his party.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week, Democrats renewed their push for voting rights legislation, the Supreme Court ruled on vaccine mandates, and new data showed inflation at its highest rate in nearly 40 years.

    For a deeper look at all this, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Very good to see both of you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you for joining us on this Friday night.

    Let's start with voting rights.

    David, it hasn't been a good week for the Democrats, despite the fact that President Biden went to Atlanta, made, I think it's fair to say, his strongest remarks yet on why voting rights matter.

    What was your take on what he had to say?

  • David Brooks:

    I thought 80 percent of it was fine, a very good speech is.

    There were some rhetorical flourishes at the end that went over the top and they were too partisan. If we're going to have a clean election and a fair election and a properly certified election, we're going to need Democrats and Republican officials across the country to do their job.

    And, in 2020, most Republicans did their job. And to make this a partisan issue and to have, to me, supercharged rhetoric about, are you on the side of Abraham Lincoln or are you on the side of Jefferson Davis, that offended a lot of Republicans, made them extremely angry, and I think it makes it harder for the Republican officials who are going to do a good job to be in their party.

    My friend and colleague Tom Friedman wrote a column advocating for a Biden-Liz Cheney ticket in 2024. And I don't think he meant that literally. But what he pointed to the fact was, in Israel, they — there was a broad coalition that said, we cannot have Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister again.

    And so they formed a broad coalition to make that happen. If we're going to prevent Donald Trump from being president again, we need a broad coalition. And I thought this speech was unhelpful, especially coming from a man who said he's going to unify the country.

    So, most of the speech was good, but those rhetorical flourishes, partisan, I think, detract.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, too much partisanship in what the president had to say?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I don't think so, Judy. In fact, what David calls rhetorical flourishes and over the top, I thought was probably the most powerful part of the president's speech.

    Remember, President Biden, to my mind, is never more clear, passionate, focused and determined than when he is talking about what he calls the soul of America, started with his campaign talking about Charlottesville, talking in his run against Donald Trump about who we are as a people.

    And I think a lot of people make a mistake in terms of focusing in on the politics of this speech, and not understanding that it's as much political as it is moral for this president.

    And we can focus in on what happened in the 2020 election, but the fire that's coming from the president, the fire that is coming from millions of Americans has to do with what Republicans in particular have been doing in states since the 2020 election.

    For a lot of people, what is happening at the state and local level in terms of not just voter suppression, but voter subversion, is what is animating this entire debate.

    And so for people to be upset because the president drew a very stark and clear line in the sand that you are either with, as he said, Dr. King, in terms of opening up the promise of America to everyone, or George Wallace, who was about holding on to power for power's sake, and holding it in the hands of an elite few, particularly a white male elite few, this is where we are right now.

    And the last thing I will say on this is, after four years of a president who took a blowtorch to the American presidency, to the Constitution, to our values, to the peaceful transfer of power, to decency in general, for people to be upset with President Biden for fighting for American values and for American democracy, it's a little hard for me to take them seriously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, David?

    Because what we have seen Republicans doing in a number of states is cutting back on early voting, the number of days, cutting back on things like mail-in — the ability to do mail-in voting. What about that?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, I'm not here to defend that. And I certainly have not been defending it lo these many months.

    But I do think rhetoric like comparing Republicans to Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis is not helpful. It's not 1861 anymore. I even think the trope that he has that, well, the Georgia law is Jim Crow 2 is also not helpful.

    The Georgia law was a big step backward. And I would condemn it in the strongest terms. And I agree with Jonathan about 80 percent. But the Georgia law, it's compared — I have read an article — an analysis recently comparing it to the New York law. And there are some parts where Georgia makes it easier, some where New York makes it easier.

    And the — it's true that Georgia is going backwards and New York is going forward. So I don't want to justify that. But the overheated rhetoric, I think, has the effect of making this just a Republican-vs.-Democratic issue. And it should not be a Republican-vs.-Democratic issue.

    It should be a Republican and Democrats on one side and the cult of Trump on the other side. And making that clear, I think, is the right thing — the right way to approach this.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I mean, all I can say is, we can polite ourselves to oblivion. And, at some point, it is imperative that the president state clearly what's at stake here.

    And when it comes to Georgia, let's keep in mind, Georgia didn't institute its new laws, propose them and pass them into law until after Georgia voters voted for President Biden to make him the next president of the United States and after they elected two Democrats from that state.

    So, this is what we're talking about here. And what — 19 — what is it, the stat I'm looking for? Nineteen states have passed 34 restrictive laws in 2021 alone. So, that is what's animating this entire discussion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I want to ask you about…


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead, David. Go ahead.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, maybe I will get to what we're going to.

    But we have an ethical responsibility here to make sure we actually effectively repulse what's being — happening. And (AUDIO GAP) is now in a position where nothing's probably going to happen in Washington, because they couldn't get Sinema and Manchin to sign off on the filibuster changes.

    So it's likely that we will have no voting rights bills this year. And so we have to figure out ways to actually pass things. And I think alienating the center is probably not the way to go.

    Now, in retrospect, as I look at the Biden presidency, and especially the terrible events, in my view, of not having these voting rights bills, it seems clear to me the whole Biden presidency, and, on Inauguration Day, they should have sat down with Manchin and Sinema and said, where can we go from here, and what can we do together?

    That is to say, they should have started at the center and gone outward. Instead, they started at the left and went centrist. And I — that's looking like an unfortunate strategy both on voting rights and on Build Back Better.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, that brings up what Sinema had to say, Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Jonathan, in her speech on the Senate floor this week, where they need — they need her, they need Senator Manchin to go along with any change in the Senate rules, in the filibuster.

    But she essentially argued that it's more important to work on partisanship than it is to do something about voting rights.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    And her speech could have been delivered from fantasyland, this idea that the Republicans who sit there now have any interest in working with Democrats on this issue in particular.

    In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized unanimously in the Senate. Republican President George W. Bush had a South Lawn signing ceremony with Reverend Al Sharpton sitting in the front row. That was when voting rights was bipartisan. All the Republicans in the Senate voted for it. As the president pointed out in his speech in Atlanta, 16 of those senators still serve.

    And yet 16 of those senators won't even vote to allow those two voting rights bills to even be debated. They don't have to vote for them, but why shouldn't they debate them? Why shouldn't the American people at least get to hear what's in those bills, what's wrong with those bills, where could there be areas of compromise?

    And when it comes to Senator Manchin, at least he worked with Republicans. They had three bites at the apple on the Freedom to Vote Act. And Senator Manchin gave Republicans, after talking to them, many of the things that they wanted, including voter I.D. And yet no Republican voted to allow that bill to even be debated.

    So, for Senator Sinema to say, look, we have to work with Republicans, and I will only do this if there's bipartisanship, well, where's it going to come from, because it's not it's happening now?

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I mean, her argument is not an implausible argument. And it's not really about these two particular pieces of legislation.

    Her argument is that if the — if we change the filibuster rules, and the majority party basically gets to control the Senate, and never has to work with the minority party, that would be bad for the country and bad for the Senate, because you basically have sort of one-party rule.

    And that's not an implausible argument. Whether she's right to not pursue a carve-out for voting rights, I think that's a mistake. I wish they — she would do a carve-out just for voting rights to get this issue off the table.

    But her defense of the filibuster is the traditional defense of the filibuster. And, in my view, having covered this issue for a long time, in my view, almost every effort to reduce the filibuster over the course, whether on judges or anything else, has had long-term negative effects.

    So I wish we had had a carve-out, but then kept the filibuster. But now we're seemingly getting nothing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, do you want to — do you want to…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, real quickly.

    All anyone right now is asking for is a carve-out for voting rights. And for Senator Sinema to go to the floor and say, no, I'm not for a carve-out for voting rights because of what it might do to the Senate as a body flies in the face of what she did earlier this month in terms of voting for a carve-out to raise the debt ceiling, which is something that needed to be done and absolutely had to be done.

    So, why aren't voting rights considered to be something that absolutely has to be done, and it absolutely needs — there absolutely needs to be a carve-out in the filibuster to make it happen? That's my problem with Senator Sinema.

  • David Brooks:

    Jonathan and I are in violent agreement on this subject.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that what you call it?

    All right, well, we have only got about 30 seconds left. So, there's no time to ask you about the Supreme Court decision the vaccine mandate and inflation.

    But I promise you we're going to come back to that next Friday.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have got a whole week to think about it.

    Thank you both, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks. We appreciate it. Have a good weekend.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You too.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Judy.

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