Brooks and Marcus on the Mar-a-Lago affidavit and Biden’s student debt plan

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post editor Ruth Marcus join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week’s political news, including the newly unsealed documents that led to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, President Biden's plan to eliminate student loan debt and how this week's primaries reshaped the November midterms.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    With the new revelations relating to the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago, President Biden's decision to cancel some student debt and primary elections held earlier this week, there is a lot to discuss with Brooks and Marcus.

    That's New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. Jonathan Capehart is away.

    So glad to have both of you here. Thank you.

    Let's start with the news of that released, redacted affidavit. We have been highly anticipating this, a lot of buildup to what we might see in it.

    David, what's your takeaway? Did we learn anything meaningful?

  • David Brooks:

    I learned I wish I had a really good eraser…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    … to find out what was under that stuff.

    I don't — I don't think we learned massively. We learned that Trump wrote on some of the documents. We — I guess we got more details on how many there were. But I think my interest really is migrated toward, what did he want to do with this stuff?

    And, usually, when somebody is accused of maybe violating the Espionage Act, it's because they wanted to commit espionage. Did he want to distribute these documents? Did he want to sell them? Did he just want to have them as nice souvenirs of his old White House stay?

    And Trump world is a leaky world. And so it's entirely plausible that some enterprising reporter will talk to somebody who can give us some detail on what they were doing there and why he wanted them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ruth, you heard Mark Zaid, the attorney, earlier say what really stood out to him is some of the markings on the documents. What was your reaction?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, my reaction, fundamentally, was Donald Trump told us that he wanted to see that affidavit released in full, though, notably, his lawyers did not make that point to the judge, and for good reason.

    My takeaway was, he is really lucky he didn't get what he asked for, because if and when we finally see this full affidavit, I think it's going to set our hair on fire. And it cannot be — affidavits aren't, they're one-sided — very positive or flattering to Donald Trump.

    And the — I was struck by a number of things, the just miles and miles of the things that David wants to erase. There's a lot of facts we don't know. It's a 36-page affidavit.

    I was struck, as Mark Zaid was, by the highly sensitive nature of these documents, both human intelligence and signals intelligence. And I was particularly struck by these references, we don't quite know what to make of them yet, to the threat of obstruction.

    This wasn't in the affidavit, but it was in the supporting memo that the Justice Department filed. The government said, it has — quote — "well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in this affidavit were prematurely disclosed."

    This is an extraordinary thing for a Department of Justice to say about a former president of the United States. Something happened here. We don't know it yet. But I think maybe someday we will.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, Ruth is right. There's a lot we don't know. But there's also been a lot of talk that the raid, the search itself, the FBI going there, could have kind of added and energized the Republican base, people who say, like, this is part of our grievance, being targeted.

    Knowing what we know now about the scope of the documents, how sensitive they were, do you think it has the same impact with Republicans?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I mean, the two things are true. A, it's probably very serious, as Ruth says, and there seems to have been obstruction or something. That's the reason the Justice Department was really annoyed at Donald Trump, because they…

  • Ruth Marcus:

    More than really annoyed, yes.

  • David Brooks:

    More than really annoyed, yes.

    On the other hand, Trump's ratings among Republicans has gone up seven to 10 points. There was an interview by one of Ron DeSantis' political consultants who said, when the raid happened, we put the brakes on our campaign, because we don't see a path forward.

    And for people who don't want Donald Trump to be president again, it's torn. Like, you think, OK, well, maybe he committed a crime, he should pay for it. On the other hand, it made it more likely I think he will get the nomination. And once he gets the nomination, who knows what can happen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You agree with that, Ruth?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    I do agree with it, sadly.

    But I think I have to say, if Attorney General Merrick Garland's chief concern were the political fortunes of the Democratic Party in November, that would be a very bad thing. He, as I have written and said, is no cowboy. He did this. And I think it's become clearer every day since the search he did not do this on a lark, without supervising it, without being very clear and without very good reason, of which we know some, but not a lot, to take this extraordinary step, in part because I'm sure he understood quite how cataclysmic it would be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the same time, we saw big news today with the details of President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan come out, getting a lot of mixed reaction, we should say not strictly a partisan issue either, in terms of the criticism.

    Just to tick through what that plan does entail, for those following along, there's $10,000 of canceled debt for those making less than $125,000 a year, $20,000 canceled for Pell Grant recipients and, of course, final repayment pause continues now, it's extended to December 31.

    So, David, you just heard Senator Thune earlier in the show say, this isn't going to help as many people as we think and it's unfair and it's a political gift. Do you agree with that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, gifts are good things. I'm for political gifts.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I — if you wanted to give that $20,000 debt forgiveness to kids who had Pell Grants, then I'd be on board for that.

    The community of college graduates or even those holding student debt is very diverse. Some of it really is poor kids who are first generation. They did what we wanted them to do. Like, take a chance, invest in yourself, and then something — life happened and they didn't graduate. So they have got debt and no degree, not really much earning potential.

    And forgiving those debt totally makes sense to me. Forgiving the debt of somebody who comes from a family making $249,000 makes no sense at all to me. And this is just too big, too broad, to politically designed, not economically designed.

    And it underlines a problem with the Democratic Party, that education is the primary device — or a primary divide in this country, with college-educated people overwhelmingly leaning Democrats than high school. And so the Democrats have become really good at feeding their base. And part of their base happens to be upscale people.

    And they do it by trying to defend the state and local tax deduction. They do it with measures like this. They do with zoning regulations. And you just can't redistribute money and power upwards without paying a price from high school and middle-class folks somewhere down the line.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It is worth reminding folks, Ruth, about some of the reaction we have seen. Notably, of course, Senator Warren, who's long been fighting for more debt relief, came out defending the plan.

    At the same time, we have seen economists like Jason Furman, who was under the Obama administration, really worried about the impact. Just want to remind folks about some of what they said this week.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

    The president has done it the right way. Sure, I wanted more. And I will still fight for more. I think there's more good that we could do, but there's concentration where it is needed the most.

    Jason Furman, Former Chair, White House Council of Economic Advisers: I think this is a terrible policy for the point in time we're in as a country. It's nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gasoline being thrown on what is already an inflationary fire that we're dealing with.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ruth, were you surprised to see the number of Democrats who came out against this and criticized it, said it's a bad idea?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    No, because I am a member of The Washington Post editorial board, and The Washington Post editorial board much more agreed with Jason Furman and Senator Thune and David Brooks than with Senator Warren.

    Look, is the Biden plan better than the Warren plan? Yes. Is the Biden plan better than the Furman plan? No. It should, as David said, be much more targeted. I would do it in a way that doesn't incentivize colleges to continue to raise tuition, that doesn't allow people like David's children and my children to benefit from any loan forgiveness, in a way that really concentrates.

    And I would think more broadly about something, which is, if we have half-a-trillion, maybe even more than that, to distribute among the most vulnerable and deserving members of society, are people who are investing in college degrees, and most of them going to get a pretty good return on investment for those college degrees, really where we want to use that money?

    That would not be my choice. And I'm sorry to say that because I think that this comes from a good place. It's just badly executed and doesn't consider our constrained resources.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, I'm sure you saw the response from the White House. I would call it unusually trolley, right?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Going on Twitter, listing all the Republicans who say this is unfair who also got their PPP loans forgiven. What did you make of that?

  • David Brooks:

    Juvenile and not their best moment.

    The PPP was designed to help people preserve jobs in the moment of pandemic. Those loans were not meant to be paid back. These college loans are things people signed promising to pay them back. Sometimes, life happens and, as I say, sometimes we should help forgive that somebody who's just trying to make it into the middle class.

    But it's just not an apt comparison. And the Biden White House has been classy. And this was not that classy. And if you're going to be unclassy, be smart about it. Don't be dumb about it if you're not classy.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Good advice from David Brooks.

    Before we go, I need to get your take on some of these primary results we have seen coming in over the last several months. Now, Ruth, when you look at a lot of attention paid to some elections, like the special election in New York, for example, what are your big takeaways, though?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, my big takeaway was that I was here several weeks ago, and I want to confess error, because I was asked about the political impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade.

    And, at the time, I would like to say gas prices were much higher, so I think that — I thought that that would be the — inflation and gas prices would be the driving force for voters and that we have seen a lot of talk about abortion being a motivating factor before. We have never seen it happen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Now, we don't have full data. We will know more in November.

    But, based, in particular, on these special elections that we have seen, including the special election in New York for the 19th Congressional District there, people are going — people are angry. Voters are angry. Women voters are angry. They're registering. They're going to the polls.

    As a political matter, this is a terrible disaster. This decision is a terrible disaster, from my point of view, for the country and for women. But for Democrats in the short term, it's looking like it'd be much more of a boon than I thought it would be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, is that message, is that doing more damage to Republicans' possibilities ahead?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I don't think you were wrong. I think you — the evidence changed.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Ruth Marcus:

    A much better way to put it. Could we end on that note?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    Yes, I mean, I'm surprised too, frankly, how much it's affecting, how many voters are being registered. So this was looking like — six months ago, like a big Republican year, like Republicans, they will outperform their districts like by seven points.

    Now it's looking like Democrats are outperforming in a lot of these races, not just in Upstate New York and around the country. So you're beginning to see just in case after case where Democrats are doing way better, and maybe even thinking retaining the House.

    At the same time — well, it's helpful.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    But, at the same time, a lot of the Democrats' moderates are doing well, especially in New York, some of the New York results this week, moderates even beating AOC-backed candidates.

    And so, as the Democrats do better, they seem to be getting more moderate. And the vibe of the party is a little less AOC than it used to be a few years ago.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A few seconds we have left.

    What does it say to you that Democrats put up a former Republican to challenge Florida Governor Ron DeSantis?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. And he won. And that's another sign of the moderation.

    If you're voting for former Republicans in your Democratic primary, that's…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You're seeing the same trend?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Yes. And we will see if that works in Florida. Probably not.

  • David Brooks:

    Probably not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will see. We will see, indeed.

    David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, always good to see you. Thank you.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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