Capehart and Gerson on the Jan. 6 hearings, gun legislation, the importance of Juneteenth

Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart and Washington Post opinion columnist Michael Gerson join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including new revelations after the third public hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and a framework for gun regulations is beginning to splinter as senators try to turn broad agreements into law.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As new revelations are reverberating across the political landscape after the third public hearing on the January 6 Capitol attack, meanwhile, a framework for new gun regulations is beginning to splinter, as senators try to turn their broad agreement into a detailed plan.

    That brings us to the analysis of Capehart and Gerson. That is Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post, and his colleague at The Post opinion columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Welcome to you both. Nice to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Hi, Amna.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Great to see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So let's start with those talks in the Senate.

    A bipartisan group of senators, we know, have been close. They say they have a framework when it comes to gun violence prevention. Those are led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, of course, John Cornyn of Texas.

    But, just yesterday, just yesterday, John Cornyn walked out of those talks saying this as he walked out. He said: "It's fish or cut bait. I don't know what they," meaning Democrats, "have in mind. But I'm through talking."

    So, Jonathan, could the talks fall apart once again?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes. Yes, they can.

    How many weeks have I sat here on Friday saying I'm happy they're talking, it's great that they're talking, but I will believe it when I see it, when we get — when we go from talks to press conference to passage of the bill to signing?

    The fact that Senator Cornyn has walked away from the table is the least surprising thing. The announcement of the framework on Sunday was really hopeful. And, in fact, there were a lot of things on there that Democrats thought, wow, we didn't think that they — we could get this as part of the framework.

    But the fact that Senator Cornyn is saying he's done talking and it's time to fish or cut bait, well, what's the issue? I mean, does he have a problem with the boyfriend loophole, which is what a lot of the reporting is? Well, what's your proposal?

    We have to keep in mind that it's not like Democrats haven't compromised. If Democrats put forth all the stuff they wanted, an assault weapons ban would be in it. So many other things would be in the framework. But Democrats have made it clear, we need to do something. The fact that Senator Cornyn is walking away from the table, quite sadly, more of the same.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Michael, this — Jonathan's right. The reporting is that it's this boyfriend — closing the boyfriend loophole, keeping guns away from abusive partners, that's the sticking point for Republicans and John Cornyn.

    There's a lot of stuff in here. There's funding for school safety and mental health, background checks for states to pass and bolster red flag laws. So what does Cornyn walking away do?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I agree with Jonathan. This is an incremental bill. That's the way it was designed.

    And, in fact, what's in there, my fear is that it would not do enough to kind of address these issues, and then you would still have some difficult problems.

    But it does matter that Mitch McConnell has at least provisionally endorsed an approach like this. And that gives kind of permission to a group of senators, I think, who are in more purple states, and some of them running for reelection, that they may want to have something to say about, a problem, a huge moral problem.

    We need to remember the context here, which is just the murder of children.

  • Amna Nawaz:


  • Michael Gerson:

    And I think that Cornyn looks bad, because he's ignoring essentially the moral imperatives of our moment.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But Cornyn also got booed, we should say.

    Today, he was speaking at a Republican convention in Texas. He brought this up, that this deal is in the works, and he got booed. What does that tell you?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, this was a pretty hardcore audience, I assume, of Texas Republicans.

    But it's — there is some risk in any deal. My concern, though, is that we were — we were moving towards a deal on criminal justice reform, for example, and it fell apart. And I'm afraid that may happen in this case, although I think there are some — not yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    All right, I want to move on to the January 6 Committee hearings, of course, because it was another big week with two more hearings, public hearings, on the books. They now have three hearings behind them, three more, we believe, to go.

    Each of you actually shared with us moments that stood out to you. And there was a lot of information in those hearings. I want to play for you those moments and get you to react.

    Jonathan, you remembered this moment from former federal appellate Judge Michael Luttig. He'd been advising Vice President Mike Pence that Pence couldn't do what Trump wanted him to do, which was throw out the election results.

    Here's just part of what Luttig said.

    J. Michael Luttig, Former Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge: I would have laid my body across the road before I would have let the vice president overturn the 2020 election on the basis of that historical precedent.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Judge Michael Luttig. I apologized. I mispronounced his name.

    Why did that moment stand out to you?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Judge Luttig is a giant. He is a giant among conservative lawyers.

    His reputation is sort of — I'm trying to think of the liberal equivalent. You don't get more senior and more revered than that. The fact that he said he would have thrown himself in the — in Vice President Pence's way to stop him from doing that was pretty incredible.

    But the other thing he says that we did not show was that he had a warning, that Donald Trump and the folks who follow him present a quote, clear and present danger to our American democracy. This is no liberal Democrat who's talking. This is no just rank-and-file Democrat talking.

    This is a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool conservative jurist who is saying — ringing the alarm about this scheme that Eastman had come up with that they were trying to get Vice President Pence to go along with, and who is also saying, they're not done. This scheme is not done.

    January 6 — and he didn't say this part, but I'm saying this part. January 6 was a rehearsal for what we could see in 2024.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael, I found it interesting. Most of the folks who testified, most of the people we heard from more Republicans.

    And you recalled this one moment that stood out to you where we heard from chief counsel to the vice president Greg Jacob. We learned a lot about what Mike Pence was doing on January 6, how he was down in a secure location continuing to work, even as rioters outside were chanting, "Hang Mike Pence."

    Here's a moment in which Greg Jacob was talking about what happened then.

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA):

    Does it surprise you to see how close the mob was to the evacuation route that you took? Forty feet is a distance from me to you, roughly.

    Greg Jacob, Former Counsel to Vice President Mike Pence: I could hear the din of the rioters in the building while we moved. But I don't think I was aware that they were as close as that.

  • Rep. Pete Aguilar:

    Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president's life was in danger.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Why did that moment stick with you?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Because it's something we shouldn't get used to.

    I mean, we had a moment with a mob intent on harm, fed and pushed by the sitting president of the United States against his most loyal lieutenant, and it was a near-run thing. This could have been the murder of the vice president. I mean, how would that — how would American politics have responded to such a thing?

    And one thing that came out in the hearing is that, during this, as it was happening, President Trump was tweeting pressure tweets attacking the vice president for lacking courage, as this was happening. And that indicates to me a reckless regard for not just his political future, but his life.

    This is a president — I think we learned again, but it's the most dramatic example. This is not just a corrupt politician. This is an evil man, an amoral man. And that, I think, is important as we come around to the next election, where he's the Republican front-runner. That is a dire situation for the republic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan, there was another moment that stood out to me, when we heard from communications between Trump's lawyer John Eastman sending messages — he's the one who's recommending sort of a plan for how to do this, to overturn the election results.

    And the committee basically shared that he e-mailed, saying: I have decided I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.

    What was your reaction when you heard that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I mean, my mouth was agape.

    You only ask for a pardon if you know or feel that you have done something wrong. I would never ask for a pardon, right? Why?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You can say that…


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    What have I done?

    But Eastman knew. He knew. The committee showed that he knew from the beginning that what he was proposing was — this is public television. I almost went there — was not right, was not right.

    And so he pushed it, pushed it, pushed it. And then, after January 6, he sees what happened and then says: I want to have — give me a pardon?


  • Amna Nawaz:

    We still have — we still have three more hearings to go, I should say. And there's already been so much evidence laid out by the committee.

    But, Michael, do you see — do you see a world in which they end the hearings, they wrap all this up, and there's no action from the Department of Justice? Is that a possibility?

  • Michael Gerson:

    It's a definite possibility, although the Department of Justice made some noise this week, essentially, saying, we'd like those transcripts, the ones that you have of these witnesses, because there is a parallel investigation going on with the committee and the Justice Department, and they have started stepping on another's feet a little bit.

    But that does show that the DOJ is looking closely at what's happening in these hearings, which I regard as a good sign. There's going to be tremendous pressure on Garland to do this. But I think it's going to be a very tough choice for them, because it would set a precedent of pursuing criminal charges against former presidents that we have never really had before.

    We will see.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you also think Mike Pence should testify? We haven't heard from him.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I would have loved to have heard him about all this.

  • Amna Nawaz:


  • Michael Gerson:

    And — but he has tried to get as far away from his actions, his own actions, as he possibly could, because he still sees a path to the presidency that doesn't exist.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will see. Three more hearings, as I say, to go.

    Before we let you go, Jonathan, I do want to get your thoughts on this, because ahead this weekend, Sunday is Juneteenth.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    It is just the second time in our country's history we are marking this day as a federal holiday.

    And I just wanted to ask, as the country notes this day, as we mark it together, how are you reflecting on what it means this year?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I'm reflecting on the fact that there are school districts and states that would make it difficult to even teach what Juneteenth is about, simply because some parents offended that the word slavery is used, that people were enslaved and worked for free and were tortured and all sorts of other things in the creation and the building of this country.

    We just saw in Buffalo African-Americans targeted by someone who was a believer in the Great Replacement conspiracy. Juneteenth gives us an opportunity to talk about this nation's foundational wound that we still refuse to talk about, that we still refuse to confront.

    And so we're in a moment in this country where Juneteenth, if a lot of these folks get their way, very well just might be a marker on the calendar with no explanation about what it means and why it's important that we commemorate that holiday.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's hope we don't waste that opportunity.

    Thank you for that.

    Jonathan Capehart. Michael Gerson, thank you so much for being here. Good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Amna.

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