Capehart and Abernathy on Virginia elections, Build Back Better plan, Colin Powell

Washington Post columnists Jonathan Capehart and Gary Abernathy join Judy Woodruff to discuss Tuesday’s surprising election results, the fate of the infrastructure and Build Back Better bill, and reflect on the life and legacy of Colin Powell.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats and Republicans across the country are examining Tuesday night's surprising election results, with an eye toward crafting their strategies for next year's crucial midterm election races.

    Meanwhile, dignitaries in Washington today gathered to remember the life and legacy of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

    Here to add perspective on all this and more are Capehart and Abernathy. That's Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post, and Gary Abernathy, an Ohio-based writer and contributing columnist for The Washington Post. David Brooks is away.

    It's very good to see both of you.

    And, Gary, you're here from Ohio, and we're glad to see you.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what a week, as the three of us were just saying.

    Jonathan Capehart, you have now had three whole days to think about what happened, what the voters said on Tuesday, and what do you think it was?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    So, I split it between Virginia and New Jersey.

    With Virginia, governor-elect Glenn Youngkin showed that it's possible to embrace Trump voters with — but, at the same time, keep Donald Trump out of your — physically out of your state. He showed, as I mentioned last week, the role of playing on racial fear to drive people out to the polls, particularly when it comes to so-called Critical Race Theory.

    In New Jersey, the near political death experience of Governor Phil Murphy, Democrat, to my mind shows the larger, bigger national — the problem that the national Democratic Party has. Governor Murphy is popular in New Jersey. He was running on the president's agenda, basically, and the fact that he squeaked it out says that folks in New Jersey are tired, seemingly, of the dysfunction of Democrats arguing with each other over bills, not being able to show they can get anything done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We saw more of that today.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, and still going on today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And so the party has to figure out how to reach those voters that Glenn Youngkin reached, be able to talk to them, but also show the country that they're competent, that they are worthy of being entrusted with governing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gary Abernathy, what messages do you think the voters were delivering?

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Well, a lot of Democrats are saying that the message was: We need to do more. We haven't done this. We were punished for not passing these bills we promised we were going to pass.

    I think it's the opposite. I think voters were saying: We don't like what you're doing.

    Now, there are two different things here, and the Democrats try to tie them together, the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill, two different things. The infrastructure bill has tremendous bipartisan support. They should pass that. They should pass that tonight and show they're doing something, not just politically, but the country needs this infrastructure bill.

    But people thought — we have to remember, the 2020 election was a referendum on Donald Trump. It was not about issues. It was not about what Biden was promising to do. It was, we either want Trump, more of him, or we're going to kick him out. They voted to kick him out. The majority did.

    But they thought they were getting a safe alternative with Joe Biden. And he turned out to be a guy who's been much more aggressively liberal with the Bernie Sanders wing than people were voting for.

    One key thing from the exit polls on — the Edison exit polls that I think The Washington Post used and other networks…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    … said that Trump is still unpopular in Virginia. Seven out of 10 voters thought that Youngkin's policies and ideas were much like Trump's. Didn't hurt him a bit. He won.

    People are OK with Trump's policies. They just didn't like Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what about what the Democrats are offering?

    I hear you, the two of you, saying different things about whether Americans want what the Democrats are debating and still haven't been able to pass yet, Jonathan.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I think that's the problem. They still haven't been able to pass it.

    If you tease out every little thing out of both the infrastructure bill, which we know has bipartisan support, but even what's in the Build Back Better Act, last I checked — there are so many things in it — but if you tease out the individual pieces, they have popular support.

    It's just that, if you're going to go for it, and you have got the House and you have got the Senate and you have the White House, to the larger American public who doesn't follow the stuff the way we do, they sit back and think, why can't you get anything done if you have all three of these branches?

    And that is why this is such a problem for Democrats and the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What I hear you saying, Gary, is, even if they pass this other piece of legislation, that that may not help the Democrats.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    I think it hurts them.

    I think that it's — again, I'm going to say — and Jonathan and I are disagreeing on this, but the message Tuesday was: We don't like the direction you're going.

    The Democrats, really, if they stopped to evaluate what happened Tuesday, they would be better off sitting and letting Joe Manchin lead the discussion, while Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez kind of sit to the side a little bit and listen, because I think Manchin, to his credit, kind of has a pulse on where America is at now.

    And, no, the Democrat Party doesn't have to become the Republican Party, but Joe Manchin is a pretty centrist Democrat who's trying to wave the red flag and ring the warning bells, and no one's listening to him yet.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    OK.

    The Democratic Party, in the Build Back Better plan, for instance, would love for there to be paid family leave. And I guess conservatives look at paid family leave as paying people to stay home, instead of looking at the domino effect of what it means in order for a family to not risk their job in order to stay home for whatever — for whatever reason, grieving the loss of a parent, a new child coming into the family.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    There are economic benefits that the American people want, the Earned Income Tax Credit for children, any number of things.

    It's not — I don't think it's that the American people don't want these things and that these aren't a grab bag of things to just give away. They have a benefit for the long-term health and security, economic well-being of this country.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    I think Americans do want a lot of those things, and they do poll as popular item by item.

    But Americans love ice cream. If you did a poll, you would find out almost 100 percent of Americans love ice cream. It doesn't mean they approve of spending trillions of dollars to give everyone free ice cream. Not everybody can have things that we all agree, gee, that would be nice.

    But, at some point in time, there comes a point where we have to say, we don't have any money. I mean, we're — I don't care if we're talking $6 trillion, $3 trillion, $1 trillion. It doesn't exist. So I think the American people know that too.

    Yes, we'd like to have all these things, but our great-grandchildren pay for it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other piece of analysis that's been out there, and it came from James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist on this program Wednesday night, Jonathan, essentially said this woke business has gone too far, the focus on injustice in our society.

    Does he have a point or not?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    He has a point up to a point.

    I understand where James Carville is coming from. I have heard the quote in full and in context, I get where he's coming from.

    But what he's done is, he's basically said to the base of the Democratic Party: Who cares what you think?

    He calls it wokeness. Is it — it's not wokeness to want to be treated fairly by the police. It's not wokeness to want law enforcement to not view you instantly as a criminal, instantly as a bad guy. It's not wokeness to demand that our nation's history be taught and reflected accurately. That's not wokeness.

    That's — at a minimum, it's asking for dignity and respect. And so for someone, a Democratic strategist like James Carville, to say those things basically to the base of the Democratic Party is really unfortunate, because I think we can talk about these issues of injustice and talk about how to move the country forward together. These don't have to be two separate conversations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is a larger debate that's been out there, Gary.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    And I actually agree with a lot of what Jonathan just said. I think that we can talk about the role of slavery, the role of racism in this country. And we should do more of that. I agree with that.

    But there doesn't have to be — I think what happens is with the wokeness, what a lot of us think of as the wokeness, the cancel culture, is that we have to create villains. We have to demonize. To lift up one set of people means we have to demonize another set of people.

    And that's what turns a lot of people off to having the conversation.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    No, I mean, I understand where the sentiment comes from about demonizing people.

    But — the people I talked to and the people who I'm associated with and related to, we're not about demonizing anybody. We're about — could you recognize for a hot minute what we go through? Can you recognize that there was a clip of a Youngkin supporter saying, well, if young people just treat police with respect when they're stopped, everything will be OK?

    No, that is not true. That is not true. And so for — until someone like her is able to see that perspective, we're always going to have this problem.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Like that young person.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Yes.

    We tend to — on all things, whether we're talking about Critical Race Theory, which is not a thing being taught in Virginia schools, but it's a thing. I mean, it's a theory that a lot of people would like to have taught.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    In — well, it…

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Go ahead.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It's taught in law school.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Yes. But there have been — I mean, there have been pushes to get it more into curriculums.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, that's a larger conversation that we don't have time for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a larger conversation.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    But there are — it's like one extreme and the other — or the other.

    We need to talk, to recognize more about what? As I said, slavery and race and racism have played a role throughout history in the building of this country, and do that honestly. And white people shouldn't be afraid to say, you know what, we really haven't done that well, and we need to do a better job of that recognize it, but without making us feel like the villains for doing it.

    And I think there is a lot of that. There's a lot of emphasis on white people need to feel a certain amount of guilt over this. And we need to get past that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want you to make a comment, and then I want to bring up something else.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Sure. Yes.

    I'm not — I'm not asking for guilt. But I do think white people have to get over the — feeling villainized just even when the word race is used in a sentence. That's all.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    And you may be right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a conversation we should continue to have next Friday.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But speaking of all this, someone who I think represents what black Americans have meant to this country was memorialized today. And that was, of course, Colin Powell.

    There was a service for him. He was remembered as someone who is an example for generations to come, someone who worked across party lines.

    In just a few words, Jonathan, what is his legacy? What should we take away from this man?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    He was a statesman. He was a warrior statesman. He was the best of this country.

    He — when he was thinking about running for president in 19 — in the '96 election, you know what? I was a young editorial writer at The New York Daily News. I was a big fan of President Clinton. But the idea that a black man would run for president and had a chance to win left me a little conflicted, because he was a walking role model of who we should be as Americans, but also a walking role model for me, a young black man, seeing a black man like him walking through the corridors of power as if he was just walking in the park.

    We need more — we need more people like Colin Powell, regardless of party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Admired by so many. Just 30 seconds.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Yes, I can't improve on that, but — other than to say, to me, Colin Powell always represented a very classy person, just conducted himself with class.

    Even when he was upset about something, even when he was angry about something, even in his criticisms of people, it was done with style and class, which is why I think he was so widely admired across the divide.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we remember him fondly today.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gary Abernathy, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Gary Abernathy:

    Thanks, Judy.

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