David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart on the congressional response to Russian aggression

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the congressional response to Russian aggression and gun violence in the United States.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you. So good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Hi, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we start again, Jonathan, with a sobering story that we have been following all week, and that's Ukraine.

    Late today, President Biden saying that he's now convinced that the Russians are going in, that they will further invade. He says the allies are united, there will be a devastating response.

    We also see here in Washington, in the United States, the two political parties seem to be united behind the Biden administration on this, except there was some split, a small split, this week over sanctions.

    But my question to you, Jonathan, is how much of a — how unified do you think the two parties truly are when it comes to supporting the administration on Ukraine and Russia?

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    Judy, of all the issues we have been talking about since I have been a part of this for the last year, this is probably the one issue where there doesn't seem to be any daylight between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to talking about what consequences Vladimir Putin and Russia should suffer if, or, as the president says, when he rolls over the border into Ukraine and attacks Ukrainian sovereignty.

    Yes, there was a kerfuffle over a sanctions bill, but it wasn't one side saying, let's hit them with sanctions and the other side saying, no, no, no, let's not. It was, hey, we just have two competing bills on what to do.

    There's no daylight between Democrats and Republicans on this, just as there doesn't seem to be any daylight between the United States and the Western alliance about what to do and how to respond and with what to respond if or when Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, how do you see — is this real unity on this?

  • David Brooks:

    I think so.

    Last summer, Vladimir Putin wrote an article on why — claiming that Russia and Ukraine were the same country. It was basically an argument for Russia invading Ukraine. It's amazing how dictators, they don't — they're not subtle. They tell us what they're going to do. And now, apparently, they're going to do it.

    And so, if you read that article, you could see why we are where we are. It's his belief that he has the right to conquer an independent nation, and, in doing so, hope to throw the United States out of Europe, and, in doing so, hope to create a kind of dangerous world that he thrives in.

    So, the issues couldn't have been bigger. And they're not issues that particularly divide Americans or members of the Western alliance. And so I do think there's going to be a lot of unity. There will be some people who worry on the left that this is part of American imperialism to get involved in Europe.

    There are some people on the right who like Vladimir Putin. They see him as a manly, socially conservative, authoritarian kind of guy who they kind of like. So, I'm sure, on either end, there will be some.

    But, among the mainstream of both parties, I think, right now, there's strong unity. The Biden administration has done an excellent job of rallying the Western alliance. It's been a demonstration of why the world needs America to be a leader of the free world.

    Whether that will last as the costs ratchet up for all of us in the West, we will see. But, right now, it looks quite unified to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, how much does it matter that the United States presents a united front at a time like this, a moment like this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I mean, the Western alliance, as we're talking about, was — the United States helped to create it. The United States and that Western alliance have kept peace on the continent for more than 70 years.

    So it's vitally important that the United States be the leader in this, also because, Judy, as we all know, we just came from four years of an administration that cast doubt on U.S. leadership in NATO, cast doubt on the need for NATO, a president who spent more time trying to curry favor with and establish a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin, and giving a stiff-arm to America's longstanding allies in the West.

    So the fact that the United States is back, as President Biden said, I think it was at his first G7, I think the world is very happy that the traditional role of the United States is being adhered to by President Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, unity at a moment like this matters?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think so.

    Vladimir Putin — Fiona Hill argued that Putin believes that America is where Russia was in 1990s, that is to say, weak, retreating, poor leadership. And let's face it. All of us who been covering this country have doubts about where the country is.

    But we're not dead yet, I guess I would say. We are — still have the only military that's really able to project power around the world. We still have a tradition of leading the Western alliance. Emmanuel Macron thought Europe should go it alone. But I think we have seen over the last week that's not possible. We have to work together. And that's what's happening.

    And just in reference to something Jonathan said, I shudder to think what would happen if Donald Trump was in office right now, you know, whether this would — how would we be reacting to Vladimir Putin? Donald Trump was never one to really go toe to toe with Vladimir Putin.

    I think he genuinely admires the man. And if he were in office right now, we'd be looking at a very difficult and very troubling situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will let that one settle in for just a moment.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I do want to ask both of you about a different subject, and that is guns.

    Jonathan, this week, we saw a settlement between Remington, which is a major gun manufacturer, and the families of the Sandy Hook victims of 2012, that terrible massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut, $73 million. This is over a period of time we have seen almost no federal action in the direction of gun control.

    And just this week, we saw the Justice Department file a suit against the state of Missouri over its relatively new law loosening gun control, essentially moving in the direction of gun rights. What do you make of all this at this moment, at this time, and the politics of it?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, Judy, what I'm struck by is the — is how victims of gun violence and people who really want some limits on access to guns, particularly guns that are considered weapons of war, how they're no longer cowering in the face of a very well-funded gun rights lobby, that they are now looking for ways to hold gun manufacturers accountable, the Newtown families figuring out a way to get around the inability to sue gun manufacturers directly and getting this settlement.

    I'm in California right now, having done an interview with California Governor Gavin Newsom, who today announced a series of gun control — or measures going after gun manufacturers, including one penned by Governor Newsom himself, to use the Texas anti-abortion law that the Supreme Court let go through while the case is pending, use that ability to give the opportunity for people to go after gun manufacturers in the way that Texas is allowing everyday people to go after people who provide abortion services.

    What it says to me is that these folks, folks who want to do something about gun violence, aren't going to take it anymore.

    And if I could just read one thing to you from what Governor Newsom said, he literally said — quote — "I can't take it anymore. I'm sick and tired of saying thoughts and prayers. We have had enough. And we're going hard against these guys."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you see real movement here in one direction or another when it comes to guns?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I am not sure I see that much movement.

    I was surprised the Sandy Hook families were able to succeed. The gun manufacturers have a law protecting them from liability. But they were able, as Jonathan said, to find a way in.

    And the way in was to emphasize marketing, that Remington used some marketing slogans that seemed to endorse the idea that this — these guns were for offensive purposes, not for self-defense. I assume no gun manufacturer will ever use an ad like that again, and they will talk about self-defense. And so they may have closed off that one legal way to make themselves vulnerable.

    I see — I guess I still see deadlock. I mean, the Missouri rule is an absurdity. The Missouri rule essentially says Missourians don't have to obey by federal law when it comes to Second Amendment.

    Now, I'm not a big legal scholar, but I do know the Constitution explicitly, explicitly says that federal law takes precedence, has supremacy over state law. That — this is not constitutional — advanced constitutional law. And so every legal expert expects the Missouri thing to go down.

    And what's happening in state legislatures on issue after issue is that people are passing laws they don't expect to be actually enacted. It's just a political statement. And so they're fundamentally unserious laws. That's why I'm sure that will get struck down.

    The blunt fact is that we have 250 million guns in this country. I don't know how — I don't see any political prospect of really reducing that number. And even in the last two years, the number of gun purchases has at times hit record levels.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You know, Judy, if I could add one more thing…

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Jonathan Capehart:

    … what had Governor Newsom really incensed is that, to David's point about gun manufacturers in — Sandy Hook families going the marketing route, the governor was incensed that there is a new gun that's being targeted to kids, for purchase by kids, not the AR-15, but it's being called the JR-15.

    And they're touting it as being lighter. And also on it is sort of an etching of a skull with a pacifier. They're marketing an assault weapon, or, as the governor called it, a weapon of war to children.

    And this is also one of the things that Governor Newsom is trying to go after.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's so many — it seems like, every time we turn around, there's a new kind of gun that is being marketed.

    Only a couple of minutes left, but I do want to — Jonathan, you're in California, but I will start with David on this.

    Some glimmerings around the country in local races, David, that voters who had voted Democratic are having real problems with Democratic — three Democratic candidates right now, three members of the San Francisco school board kicked out of office. We have seen it in Virginia and a few other places. It's voters upset about COVID, about education issues and more.

    But how worried, I guess, is my question — and I'm asking you to do this in just a minute or so — should Democrats be right now about some of these — these, frankly, surprising moves around the country?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it should be a five-alarm fire.

    San Francisco, they defeated those people by like 72 to 79 percent. The two big issues are schools — San Francisco wanted to dismantle the magnet school — and crime. Crime is being talked about in my neighborhood. And defund the police put the Democrats in a terrible spot on this issue, as they did on this education issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, I mean, here in the District of Columbia, again, a very Democratic city, the mayor's popularity or favorability rating down over her handling of crime.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. And she's going to have to convince Washingtonians that she has — that she's got it under control.

    But, look, Democrats are always fretting about whether or not they are in good standing. It's good that David says it's a five-alarm fire, because maybe that will focus people in terms of focusing in on what needs to happen, as opposed to what those three San Francisco school board members were trying to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will come back to this one when we have some more time to talk.

    Thank you both, Jonathan Capehart, joining us tonight from California, David Brooks.

    Thank you.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


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