Capehart and Abernathy on the domestic impact of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine

Jonathan Capehart and Gary Abernathy, both columnists for The Washington Post, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the financial squeeze Americans are feeling amid sanctions on Russia and whether new laws in Florida on race and sexual orientation are part of a roadmap for the GOP in the midterm elections.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the United States and European allies work in tandem to put the economic squeeze on Russia, many Americans are also feeling the squeeze on their wallets, as gas prices hit record highs. And, in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature are enacting a slew of new laws that could be a road map for the GOP this midterm election year.

    To help explain another busy week, we turn to the analysis of Capehart and Abernathy. That is Jonathan Capehart and Gary Abernathy, both columnists for The Washington Post. David Brooks is away.

    And hello to both of you on this Friday night.

    We are going to start again, Jonathan, with Ukraine. That terrible war grinds on, more and more casualties. The United States has been pushing back, President Biden today announcing more moves against Russia, including revoking favored trade status that Russia had.

    Is this seen as something that's a big deal?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It is an extremely big deal, Judy.

    This is — what we have seen over the last 16 days, since President Putin invaded Ukraine, is a Western alliance taking actions unlike any we have seen before, and doing so in a united fashion, today stripping most favored trading status from maybe not the most economically powerful nation on the planet, but certainly a nation that has nukes, with whom the United States and the West has tried to carry on a peaceful relationship.

    This is all part of an effort, a valiant effort, to strangle Russia, to hold Putin accountable for what he's doing in Ukraine, to try to bring him to heel and to at least, at a minimum, get to the negotiating table, take the off-ramp that the West would love to talk to him about, so that hostilities can cease.

    But what we have seen over the last 16 days is that Putin doesn't seem to be terribly interested. But it is important and it is vital in this battle between democracy and autocracy that the democracies of the world unite to try to put an end to this, or at least try to convince Putin to put an end to this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gary Abernathy, how big a step do you see this? We're watching these terrible, just sickening pictures every day of what's going on, and we watch economic sanctions.

  • Gary Abernathy:


    Well, the economic sanctions are important. It's good to be unified about them. It's really the most that anyone has a stomach, frankly, for doing right now in response to this outside of Ukraine.

    And, in Ukraine, those people are amazing, the leadership and the citizens. And that's what's tough, is fighting a war.

    I always push back a little bit when I read about tough sanctions or harsh sanctions when they're in response to actual war. Putin is rolling through Ukraine, killing and maiming. And that's tough when you're the victim of that. What we're doing with sanctions is important, but it's important to remember that it's still a tepid response in response to actual war.

    You know, Judy, I think that it's so tough to think about the fact that here's Ukraine that wants to be in NATO, but that can't be in NATO. And let's be honest. Part of the reason we don't allow them into NATO is because then that would trigger our responsibility to come in and actually fight this war. And we're not ready to do that.

    The other thing this all brings home is the importance of fossil fuels, is, in the America, in the U.S., we're conflicted on the subject because of climate change and so on. But yet here we come to learn we have had this — it's a wakeup call that gas and oil, particularly, are such important factors that, if the U.S. pulls back on that, Russia becomes more important as time goes on in the future because of supplying the world, the world needs supplied with energy.

    And if we pull back in our ability to supply it, someone else fills that void.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about that, Jonathan.

    As we know, President Biden this week announced the U.S. will no longer buy Russian oil. The U.S. only buys a small percentage, but some would argue a significant step. But we're also watching, at the same time, the price of gasoline go up even higher than it was. President Biden today again said this is — these gas prices are going up because of Vladimir Putin.

    Republicans, in turn, are saying, no, prices have been going up because of President Biden. What do the American people believe about who's responsible?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, the American people are always going to blame the president of the United States when gas prices go up, when prices go up.

    So it makes sense that Republicans would pounce on President Biden and try to make him the reason, to put the blame on him for what's happening. President Biden is trying to put the blame on President Putin. I can't remember the turn of phrase that he used. It's the Putin gas hike or pump hike or something like that.

    But, look, last week, Judy, when we were talking about this, I believe there was a "PBS NewsHour" poll that showed that the American people were willing and were happy at that moment to pay higher gas prices if it meant that that was their part to play in holding Putin accountable or at least trying to hold Putin accountable for the war he is waging on Ukraine.

    And I think that that is the right position to be in. I mean, we are sitting here in the comforts of our own home. We don't have bombs raining down on us. We don't have an invading army rolling through our streets or trying to take over our country. And I think what people were saying in that poll — and I think that still holds — is that, you know what? Higher gas prices is a small sacrifice to make compared to what the brave Ukrainians are going through.

    Where the rubber meets the road in terms of this belief is when we hit Memorial Day weekend, when we hit the official start of summer, and when, with masks coming off and the coronavirus, the — Omicron is receding in the background, and people get back to their everyday pre-pandemic, normal lives. When they start really getting hit with the high gas prices, will they still feel the same way about the sacrifice that they say they're willing to take now?

    Will they still feel the same way around Memorial Day? Don't know.

    But, Judy, I will just say personally, I am more than happy to pay higher gas prices, to pay more at the stores if it means that — one, if it's because to have the actions taken by the United States and by its allies to hold Putin accountable. If that is the part I can play in this, I am more than happy to play that part.

    And I think a lot of Americans feel the same way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Gary Abernathy? And I'm reminded the president called it Putin's price hike.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Putin's price hike. That's what we're all supposed to be chanting, is Putin's price hike, Putin's price hike.

    I agree with Jonathan. And I think most Americans are — and I agree — I am too — are willing to pay a higher price to punish Russia and to hopefully choke off his economic lifeline. And we'd all love for sanctions to actually work and for him to turn around and say, well, I'm — but I don't.

    I don't think that Putin failed to anticipate this level of sanction. I think that we — he knew anything short of boots on the ground from NATO, he anticipated and he's ready to continue going forward with his conquest of Ukraine, sadly.

    But I think the American people understand that this is — the gas prices are going to be, in part, a response to what we're trying to do to Russia. But they also realize gas prices were skyrocketing before this. I think, last November, they became higher than at any point since 2014.

    And so the American people will say, well, part of this is the Russian response that we're doing, and part of this is inflationary that was already happening in the first place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Only a little bit of time left, but I do want to ask you both about what's been going on in Florida, Jonathan, and that is Governor Ron DeSantis has been pushing for this.

    Republican-controlled legislature has now given him a raft of very — of conservative measures from what they call the don't say gay act, the Stop WOKE Act, having to do with talking about race in school, 15-week abortion bill.

    It's a conservative template, and I guess the question is, does this look like the Republican playbook for the future nationally?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, yes, because it's playing out nationally as we speak, Judy.

    When Governor Reynolds of Iowa gave the response to President Biden's State of the Union address, she said, among others things, Republican governors and legislators are showing what conservative leadership looks like.

    And, quite honestly, it looks hideous. It is horrendous. The don't say gay bill is going to hurt LGBTQ kids and their families, the Stop WOKE Act, all to protect from discomfort and anguish white kids from learning about the true history of our country, when no one worries about the Black kids in those classrooms who are learning a false or woefully inadequate history of this country.

    And what makes what's happening in Florida look like child's play is what they're doing in — what they're doing — I'm here in Austin — what they did in Texas, where the governor got gender-affirming care considered child abuse and is now investigating parents who are trying to provide gender-affirming care for their trans kids.

    And, in Idaho, Judy, they're going one extra step, and now making — following the Texas anti-abortion template, making it a felony for parents to provide — try to find gender-confirming care for their trans children outside Idaho.

    And, in Missouri, this is not LGBTQ, but this is about abortion, again, using the Texas template to say that you can't get an abortion after a certain amount of time, but then making it a felony for someone to try to get those services that they can't get in Missouri, making it a felony if they go outside — out of state to do so.

    This is the template that Governor DeSantis is following, that Republican governors are following. And it's one that really — they talk a lot about freedom and choice and things like that for their constituents, but, quite honestly, if their constituents aren't white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, it seems like they have no room for anyone like that in their states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just about 45 seconds left, Gary.

    Is this the Republican plan, message for this election year?

  • Gary Abernathy:

    It's certainly a part of it.

    These bills are absolutely political in nature. Half the bills that get passed are political in nature, designed to appeal to one group or the other. This definitely is that.

    And it's probably — kindergarten through third graders are probably not having discussions in their classroom or being talked to about gender identity or that type of thing anyway.

    But, on the other hand, I think the critics have to be a little careful not to push back too hard to make it seem like they think that kindergarten through third graders should be discussing these issues, when most people think they should be discussing what I call the four R's, reading, writing, arithmetic, and recess.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is a huge subject, as we know, and I know that we're going to be coming back to it.

    For now, we want to thank both of you, Gary Abernathy, Jonathan Capehart. Thank you.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

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