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Brooks and Tumulty on a COVID relief bill in limbo

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including a stalemate between Congress and the president over COVID relief, the latest pardons from President Donald Trump and what they learned this week about how the Biden administration is preparing for office.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And now to the analysis of Brooks and Tumulty. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post.

    Welcome to you both. And thanks for being here with us on this Christmas Day.

    David, I want to start with you, because, finally, finally, we have a COVID relief funding bill. Republicans and Democrats managed to find a way to come together and compromise.

    And the time is — couldn't be more dire. Millions of Americans' benefits will expire tomorrow. At the last minute, of course, the president steps in and says the direct payments are not big enough.

    What do you make of how the president chose to intervene in the process at this time?

  • David Brooks:

    First, I want to say Karen and I did not coordinate our poinsettias. That was just a coincidence.


  • David Brooks:

    You know, to me, this is — you know, what Trump did was Trump, at the end of the day.

    I think the expectation is that his attempt to sort of throw a monkey wrench was just more noise, and that he will sign this, at the end of the day. There are certainly a lot of Republican senators telling him to sign it, because it's so necessary.

    To me, the big story out of this was that we had a group of people in the — not only in the center, but all over Congress, who wanted to do a deal. And there's a thing called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is bicameral. They're senators and House members, Democrats, Republicans.

    And they set out the framework to the deal. And I was on a call with about 15 or 20 of them about a week ago, and they were charged up, because they were charged up because, for the first time in a long time, something got done. And they want to carry that over into the Biden administration.

    So, to me, we can look at the mess. We can look at how it took us a ridiculous amount of time. It's probably too small. But at least something was accomplished, and it was accomplished by people who wanted to craft a compromise.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Karen, I want to talk about the Biden administration, the incoming administration, in a moment.

    But when you look at the president's message, how he chose to interject himself into the conversation, it's worth pointing out these negotiations have been going on for months. The White House has been involved in those talks.

    What did you make of how he chose to step in with this message?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, it's astonishing.

    He's absolutely correct that these direct payments are inadequate, given the size of the need. But it's — it would have been nice if he would have spoken up while his own administration was negotiating this package.

    And so David's right. As of tomorrow, we have something like 14 million Americans losing unemployment benefits. The government could shut down on Monday. On New Year's Eve, more than 10 million Americans are in danger of being vulnerable to eviction, when the moratorium expires.

    And the president spent today not trying to work on a new framework for all of this. He spent the day on the golf course, complaining that he wasn't getting enough Republican support in his efforts to overturn the election, and retweeting complaints that his wife is not on enough magazine covers.

    So, it really is sort of hard to take seriously his complaints that there's a problem with this bill.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, the president did make good on another promise to veto the massive military spending bill. And he's triggered possible override votes in the Congress early next week.

    It would be the first veto override of his presidency. Do you think that the Republicans who first voted for that spending bill will still vote for it now, will stand up in opposition to the president?

  • David Brooks:

    I think so.

    There's just so much in there that needs to pass, in support of military pay, defense against Russian cyber-incursions. I think there's a lot of bipartisan support for this.

    This was Trump partly wanting to honor our Confederate heroes. This was partly Trump just wanting to throw a monkey wrench at things. I think he's decided that his gambit for survival in a Biden era, and maybe running for president again, is that he's the guy who shook up the system.

    So, in the last few days, maybe in the last four years, maybe out of pique that Republicans are not sticking with him, but maybe to underline the sense that he's the guy who shook up the system, he's throwing a lot of vetoes around.

    I think this one will be overridden, and the worst will be avoided. But it's him — it's the end of four years of narcissism, and he's ending on a high note.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen, what about the point David made earlier about the fact that we don't see a lot of big moments in bipartisan legislation these days? This COVID relief deal was a sign that this can be done.

    It is a crisis. It's not a regular legislative process, by any stretch. But what does that mean for the incoming Biden administration? Does it look like lawmakers are going to be more willing to work across the aisle and get things done?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, this is certainly — was the entire premise of Joe Biden's campaign for president.

    This was the premise on which he ran, that it is still possible to have bipartisan compromise in Congress, and doing it the old-fashioned way of working from the center out.

    A number of us were on a call with the president-elect on Wednesday, and he was — he was holding this up as a real kind of example of the kinds of things that it is still possible to achieve.

    Now, a lot of people, including a lot of people in his own party, think that is naive, but this — he says: I know how to do this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, I believe you were on that call as well.

    What was your takeaway, this message that president-elect Biden can be the one to get people to cross the aisle and continue to work together? Are they still holding onto that confidence and optimism?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I was really struck by Biden's confidence on that call.

    He said: Look, I beat all these primary contenders. I won the presidency by seven million votes. I have been doing this a long time. I know how to get this done.

    And so he has tremendous faith in himself. He's trying to coordinate between the center of his party and the left of his party. But he's pretty confident that where he is, in the center-left, is exactly where the country is.

    And I would say, the six or seven of us who were on the call, some of our colleagues were not quite as optimistic that things would get done as president-elect Biden was.

    I lean a little on the Biden direction, maybe more than a little on the Biden direction. I do think there are a lot of senators who are tired of not getting to vote on their bills, because all they did under Mitch McConnell was do judicial confirmations. I think there are a lot of House members who are just tired that all the power in Congress is concentrated in either the speaker's office or in the Senate in the majority leader's office.

    They want to get things done. And these people realize, this is a closely divided Congress. They can stop stuff. And so I do think they want to do their jobs. They don't come to Washington just to do nothing, which is sort of what they have been doing.

    And so I'm sort of optimistic. And, as Biden says, he has good relationships with a lot of people, including Mitch McConnell.

    Karen, to…


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sorry, Karen. Go ahead.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, the other thing that's important here is that the need and the urgency at this moment is so great.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a point we cannot make enough.

    I do want to ask you about another point David made, which was that Biden really does occupy this center-left space. He's getting a lot of pressure already from the left wing of the party to take big action early on things like climate change and immigration, and to do so through executive action.

    Now, this administration has triggered a lot of conversation around the limits of presidential power. Do you think that Biden is likely to use some of those presidential powers early to make those big changes early in his administration?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I asked him exactly that question.

    And he said, there will be a number of executive orders that he does on day one, rejoining the Paris climate accord, giving some help to the dreamers, undoing some of the loosening of environmental regulations that happened on President Trump's watch.

    But he also said that he is not going to have a heavy footprint with executive power. He is not, for instance, going to go out there and forgive $50,000 in student debt, like some people would like to see.

    He said: I am not a fan of the imperial presidency.

    And the other thing he realizes and acknowledged is that if he — if he pushes too hard with his executive power, he is going to inflame Capitol Hill, and he is going to make it that much harder to get anything done in this sort of bipartisan model that he is holding up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, I have to ask each of you, in the few moments we have left, as we're speaking on this Christmas Day, this holiday is different and difficult in so many ways.

    And so I'd love to hear from each of you.

    David, we will start with you.

    How are you spending this holiday and looking back at 2020?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I'm here with my wife. So, it's just the two of us.

    And I think what surprises me most — I mean, one should mention first the deaths and the sadness and the trauma.

    I miss big Christmas parties. I never thought I would say that, because they can be kind of a chore. But we're sort of testosterone-deprived. And the little thrill you get walking into a crowded room with family and friends is something I will miss.

    So, it's the quietude. I have taken Thoreau too far. I want to get off Walden Pond.


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Karen, what about you?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I agree.

    So many people are suffering so much. So, I don't want to sound like I'm wallowing in self-pity here. But I do look forward to spending another Christmas with my sons and with my daughter-in-law. We all opened our president today on Zoom. It was just my husband and me here.

    But I — boy, I want to be here next Christmas to do it up big.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, I want to end on one last analytical note here.

    In the two minutes we have left, dare I ask each of you to make a prediction about what we will see in the final weeks of the Trump presidency?

    Karen, what do you think?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think it's a pretty safe prediction. It's going to be chaotic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Chaotic, that is the word Karen's leaving us with.

    David, what about you? What will we see in these final weeks?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, narcissistic.

    And then one final point Biden did make to us, he said, it's not a black box, what's going on in the administration, but there's a lot of shadows. The incoming team just doesn't know what's out there.

    And he said, one of the reasons he picked experienced people, it's because it takes experienced people to sort of know where everything is buried, because the Trump administration is not helping. It's melting down from the top, from the bottom in all particulars.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There will be a lot of news, for sure, in the weeks ahead and the months ahead.

    And I'm so grateful to both of you for joining us on this day to walk through it all and break it all down.

    Karen Tumulty and David Brooks, thank you again for being with us.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Merry Christmas.

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