Brooks and Tumulty on Putin’s war in Ukraine and the state of Republican politics

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Biden's rebuke of Russia and Putin at the U.N. and the state of Republican politics.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden rebuked Russia and Vladimir Putin in notable remarks at the United Nations General Assembly this week, all while investigations around former President Donald Trump picked up steam.

    To help us break down all this news and more, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Tumulty. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Karen Tumulty, columnist for The Washington Post. Jonathan Capehart is away.

    Hello to both of you. Welcome to Karen and to David.

    So, I want to start with Ukraine and what we have seen this week, major setbacks on the battlefield for Russia.

    Vladimir Putin, David, is responding by calling up hundreds of thousands of young and not-so-young reservists. He is orchestrating this sham election, so that they can annex parts of Ukraine right now in the east. He is not backing down. He's doubling down, in fact.

    Is there more — what more can the West, can the United States do at this point?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, he is suffering all these setbacks on the ground and even a little at home.

    And what he's done, he's like a wounded tiger who has reacted by saying, time's running out. Time to attack. And so he's escalating. And so what the U.S. government is trying to do is to try to help the Ukrainians push them out of Ukraine, but slowly so you don't trigger a nuclear war. And that's just a very fine line to walk through.

    And I think the government, the U.S. government, is doing what it has been doing, and has plans to do a little more, which is to supply the Ukrainians with the weapons they need to win the war in Ukraine, not supply the weapons they might use to attack Moscow, but to keep giving them what they're doing, which is, they have given them awesome amounts of intelligence, so the Ukrainians really see the battlefield better.

    And they have the anti-aircraft material. They have anti-tank material. They have missile material. And so they're better trained, more morale. And they're just going to keep on plodding along. But it's that pacing that's so key, is to not get Putin where it feels like he's totally in a panic and he escalates in a way that could involve attacking us country, attacking a NATO country, and a whole variety of ways he could escalate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much, Karen, of what you read is that it all depends on Vladimir Putin, and what he decides and whether he wants to end this.

    I mean, is that how — is that how we should see it, you think?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think so.

    And we also to look beyond that, because it's important to remember China is watching here as well. And so they will be looking at Western resolve in the face of a nuclear threat, and as they try and decide what they're doing with Taiwan.

    But I do think the main thing the West has to do is stand firm, continues supplying aid. Europe — it's incumbent on Europe to come up with alternative supplies of fuel to get them through the winter, as Russia — as Russia cuts back, because that is where Vladimir Putin also has leverage. He has economic leverage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    No, I think the Europeans, A, he's — they have done a pretty good job of stockpiling — building up their stockpiles. They have done a pretty good job of passing serious measures so it won't hit people as hard as it might otherwise. And I think Putin has done everything possible to make it easier for NATO to stay together.

    And so, even the speech this week, the mass graves, giving the Europeans months warning that he was going to cut off fuel before winter said in, he's hardened resolve around the world and kept what was going to be a tricky job of keeping the allies together, he's made a little easier.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    And it also is looking like his biggest problem may be domestically, as thousands of people are going to the street in protest, risking arrest. In fact, 1,300 have been arrested.

    People are fleeing for the border to — men who are in threat, the 300,000 being drafted. He's got some big problems at home too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you do get the sense — I mean, we mentioned President Biden's speech at the U.N. General Assembly. You have other countries that are — that are contributing to the war effort in Ukraine.

    But you also get the effort that there's just a limit to how much push this can — how much difference all this can make.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    The hope is that, at some point, the — the weather in Ukraine makes it harder to do a mass offensive the later you get into the fall, because it gets muddy. And so there's going to be some time here. And so the hope is that, at some point, Putin says, hey, let's do a cost-benefit analysis, I need to do some negotiation.

    And then the hope is that the Ukrainian say, we're — we have done fantastic, but actually pushing Russian troops out of the Donbass and the eastern regions is actually kind of hard, and maybe we should go to the negotiating table.

    And so that would be one out where they would just negotiate a solution. I think — and I don't blame the Ukrainians. They're the heroes here. But their passions are high. They're filled with indignation. They're at least talking in a very maximalist way: We want Crimea back. We want reparations.

    And so maybe the Ukrainians will just — it's their war. And maybe they will just keep pushing, pushing maybe a little faster than some of the allies would like or supporters would like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's turn to politics in this country.

    As we saw in the report before this, Karen, midterms are getting closer. And, today, the Republican — the House Republicans and the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, made a speech, went out of his way to sort of outline what he sees as the Republican — what the Republican agenda would be if they take the majority in the fall.

    But let — we want to show just a quick clip of some of what he said and some of how President Biden responded. Here it is.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):

    We want an economy that is strong. That means you can fill up your tank. You can buy the groceries. You have enough money left over to go to Disneyland and save for a future, that the paychecks grow, they no longer shrink.

    We have a plan for a nation that's safe, that means your community will be protected, your law enforcement will be respected, your criminals will be prosecuted.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, went to Pennsylvania and unveiled what he calls a Commitment to America.

    Now, that is a thin series of policy goals with little or no detail. Here's a few of the things we didn't hear. We didn't hear him mention the right to choose. We didn't hear him mention Medicare. We didn't hear him mention Social Security.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Karen, what's going on here?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, normally, a midterm election is a referendum on the president.

    But this one's different, because people are looking at what the Republican agenda itself could be, in part because of the abortion decision, in part because Donald Trump is in the news constantly. And so, yes, the House Republicans are looking for something to talk about that are not those two things.

    But this package that was unveiled today, and it was meant to be sort of an echo of the 1994 Contract With America, was not specific at all. It was basically a bunch of talking points. And I think that, among other things, reflects how fractured the Republicans in the House are.

    I mean, getting a majority of them to agree on anything is not only difficult in the campaign, but it is going to be difficult for Kevin McCarthy or whoever the speaker is, if in fact the Republicans get power, get the majority again in this midterm election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How fractured are they? And how detailed do they have to be?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, in 2020, they had no platform at all. So I take this as a step forward.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    They did. Their platform was, anything Donald Trump wants.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    So, the party's in this interesting transition from being — it used to be sort of a business party, and it's becoming a working-class party. And so it's becoming a party that's much more hostile to corporations, much more welcoming of the entitlement state, the welfare state, Social Security, Medicare, and all that sort of thing, much more willing to use government to help working-class folks.

    But it takes a while for a party to migrate. I think they are migrating, but a lot of people like Kevin McCarthy are part of the old party. And there are some very fine people, Paul Ryan, the former speaker, he was part of the old party. And so, within the House, you have got people part of that business party, and then you have got the working-class party, and they don't see eye to eye on a lot, because this is a party really changing its colors in rapid form.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Karen, I mean, you look at this, and you think this is what we're going to watch for the next seven or eight weeks, until the election.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think this is what we're going to watch.

    But, again, the — one of the problems for the Republicans is, again, Donald Trump keeps creeping back into the news.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of Donald Trump, this was, David, a tough week for him. There was not only a court ruling against his side in the — what to do with those papers that the FBI seized at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

    There's also this New York state attorney general, who is coming down with a — accusing him and his family and his business of fraud. And yet, as we just watched in Lisa — Lisa Desjardins at that rally, he's drawing big crowds.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, the civil suit in New York amused me.

    I learned from Eugene Robinson, your colleague, that he claimed that his apartment in New York was 30,000 square feet, when it's only 11,000 square feet. So that's like classic Donald Trump.

    It's not the most politically important of the investigations, because it'll take years to run through the courts. And even if he lost everything, and then had to pay $250 million, his organization could afford it.

    The Georgia case is more serious, and then the Mar-a-Lago case are more serious. And the judicial decision in the Mar-a-Lago case seems plain common sense. And it was two out of the three judges who made it were Trump appointees, which says, if we're going to investigate the documents, then the investigators have to see the documents. That doesn't seem like a very complicated legal thing.

    And so it means the investigation of those documents will speed up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how — Karen how does this bad news affect Donald Trump's prospects and his ability to sway the results in November?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, we know what the play…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or does it?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, we know what the playbook is, because we have seen Donald Trump in legal trouble so many other — so many times.

    It's delay, deflect, bluster, play the victim, and counterattack. But what's different, what does feel different now is this accumulation of legal problems, not only being accused of a quarter-billion dollars worth of fraud in New York, and having the Fulton County Georgia DA trying to figure out what kind of pressure he was putting on local officials to swing the election, but you have got the January 7 (sic) committee.

    You have got the Justice Department looking into Trump's actions before that, and the fact that he had class FBI documents in his personal possession at Mar-a-Lago. It's just so many things going on at once.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All at once, David, and yet he's drawing big crowds, to repeat myself.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, his believers still believe. And, according to Lisa's reporting, everyone she talked to said they still think that election was stolen.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And they think these investigations are politically motivated, which is not 100 percent wrong, by the way. But there might be some — and not people would show up at a Trump rally. But I ran into a guy, a conversation in the last week or so, big Trump supporter, really likes Donald Trump, but is supporting Ron DeSantis for the nomination, not because he has anything against Trump.

  • He just says:

    We should nominate the guy with that baggage. It's just going to be easier to get him to win.

    And so, if there are enough Republicans who make that calculation, then some non-Trump person would have a chance. I still wouldn't bet on it. But there must be a significant number of people who were — and I thought, before the Mar-a-Lago search, you saw real evidence of Republicans drifting away from Trump. Now they have drifted back. Will they drift away again? Time will tell.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the other big question out there, Karen, is, how much influence will he have on these races where he's endorsed a candidate, if his own — if the luster is coming off some of Donald Trump himself?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    He's certainly — within a Republican primary, his word is almost everything.

    But, as a result, there are a lot of very weak Republican candidates running, particularly for the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're going to leave it there.

    Karen Tumulty, welcome to the table tonight, David Brooks. Thank you both.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Appreciate it.

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