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David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart on Trump’s school pressure, Biden’s economic plan

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how the surging coronavirus is affecting President Trump’s public support, the significance of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s economic policy recommendations.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for their take on this week in politics, we turn to Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart. Mark Shields is away..

    So, hello to both of you.

    Let's start with the coronavirus, David.

    As we just heard in Amna's conversation with the head nurse there in Houston, these cases are surging. Hospitals — some hospitals are having difficulty. We are seeing cities set new records across the South and the West.

    But President Trump says things are going well, that he expects things to get better in just a couple of weeks. He's now insisting the schools open in the fall.

    What do you make of the president's approach?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, this is a — just a tough disease.

    Why is it rising in California and Florida, with totally different lockdown rules? It's rising in countries that seem to have been doing well. I think epidemiologists are now humbled by what a complicated and tough disease this is.

    It's just not a help that Donald Trump is detached from all that, detached from the reality of the disease, detached from Anthony Fauci. He hasn't spoken to really the best person in America to talk about this. He hasn't spoken to that guy for two months, it turns out.

    And so he's living in a different world, which would be bad enough, but he's polarized the country, successfully polarized the country. A few weeks ago, I was on the program, maybe a couple months ago, talking about all the bipartisanship there was. There was a lot of — back in March and April, people were reacting, not as Republicans and Democrats, but as one.

    You got these 77 percent majorities. That's really not the case as much anymore. We have the president and FOX and the polarization industry has successfully turned this into a left-right thing, which is just crazy. It's a disease.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, I mean, it is the case the president is now criticizing Dr. Fauci. And he's insisting the schools open. He's threatening to withhold federal money from the schools.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, which, when you have a global pandemic that is spiking all over the country in most of the states, and then you have the president of the United States, who, as David was saying, is not following his own guidelines for helping to keep the pandemic in check, the idea that we are talking about opening schools and forcing schools to open, when there's no national strategy, no vaccine, and 50 different ways of going about trying to tamp down the pandemic, strikes me — and I'm not a parent.

    And I understand that parents are concerned about their children's education. But sending children to schools in the middle of a pandemic with no national strategy, I think, is worrisome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, it — I mean, there are arguments to be made. Surely, children need to be in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics made that case this week.

    But you combine that with what you mentioned a minute ago, the president now criticizing the man who's arguably the most trusted person in the country when it comes to this disease, to COVID, Dr. Fauci, what — I mean, is there a strategy there that you see that in some way is going to benefit the president?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I don't think it's going to benefit.

    If you look at his polling, back in the — when this started, at least the lockdown started in March, he at one point reached a spot where he — 55 percent of Americans approved of his COVID handling. Now it's down to 33 percent. And those numbers have really plummeted in the last two weeks or so, as reality has dawned on Americans that we're losing to this virus.

    And America is not fooled by what's going on. Donald Trump — and they know Donald Trump is out of touch. Opening the schools strikes me as a classic problem that should, A, be settled into some sort of subtle way by people who know what they're talking about.

    And maybe, in some places, you can open the schools, and maybe you can't. Politics is about competing goods. And competing goods are getting kids educated, getting parents some relief, and keeping them safe.

    And so it should be possible in local areas, in New York, maybe, where the disease is not so good — or is not so high, to strike some sort of workable way to do this.

    But having an all-or-nothing and forcing schools to do stuff strikes me as insane.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, what we're both — what you're both getting at, I mean, this idea of rejecting the CDC guidance on schools, of — again, of criticism of Dr. Fauci, rejecting science, is the president taking a risk by doing that?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, absolutely.

    The president going up against Dr. Fauci is a — that's a fool's errand. Dr. Fauci is a world-renowned, world-respected scientist. He has been in that job for multiple decades. He knows what he's talking about.

    And if the president were cognizant and capable of ceding authority to someone, he would allow Dr. Fauci to go out there, tell the American people on a daily basis, here's where we are with the pandemic, here's what we need to do, here's what you can do to protect yourself, your neighbors and your families, and, if we do this together, we can overcome this. It's going to take some sacrifice, but it's worth it in the short term for the long-term benefits.

    We don't have that. What we have is a president, as David said, is living in his own — in his own reality when it comes to the pandemic, trying to wish it away, happy-talk it away.

    But as we see with the rising cases of coronavirus and the rising death rates in a whole lot of states around the country, the American people on the ground in those states are bumping up against the reality, a reality that the president of the United States refuses to see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Separately, David, the president got bad news and good news, I guess you could say, in split decisions by the Supreme Court this week, cases wherein there was an effort to gain access to the president's personal financial records, the court ruling the president has no absolute immunity from prosecution, as his lawyers had argued.

    Does the president — does the office of the presidency come away changed? And what about the effect on this president himself by these rulings?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there won't be much effect on President Trump, because he will litigate this at lower courts, and we will not see tax records before the election.

    The — I think it's important to establish that the president does have to reveal tax records. And whether that's done that the Supreme Court or through legislation which is being talked about, that's a good precedent.

    It does strike me that, for a conservative court, this has been a pretty bad month for the president. John Roberts again and again has said, this is — it's not a — this is an administration that doesn't do things correctly. And he slapped them down repeatedly for not doing things correctly on abortion, on a whole series of rulings, religious liberty.

    Conservatives have no reason to be happy with the last month of the court. It's striking to me that this is the case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you make of it, Jonathan? I mean, it was John Roberts who wrote these decisions, and it was — it was the two justices President Trump appointed, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who voted against the president on this case involving the Manhattan DA.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, what this tells me is that those justices sided with the rule of law and sided with the Constitution.

    The president, when he talks about — about the Supreme Court, and particularly his two appointees to the court, he talks about them as if he owns them, that, because he put them on the court, that they will side with him no matter what the case is. As long as he's for it, they're going to be for it.

    And what we saw with all of these decisions — I'm glad that David brought that up — the president's been smacked around by the Supreme Court in their rulings.

    And what — especially with the cases, the rulings that were handed down yesterday, the court is saying, our fealty is not to the president. Our fealty is to the Constitution. And the Constitution says that the laws apply to every man, and that man also includes the president of the United States.

    And so, for a president who thinks that the world revolves around him, that people work for him, literally work for him, the ruling says, no, we don't work for you. We are here. We have taken an oath to the Constitution, not to you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to bring both of you back to the other fellow who's running for president this November, Joe Biden.

    This week, David, he — and I guess they were calling it a task force. The Biden camp and Bernie Sanders were looking at ways they could put together an agenda that would be acceptable to the folks who support Bernie Sanders.

    What do you make of this? It's a look at some of the things that Joe Biden says he wants to do if he's elected president. I mean, is — is this the kind of progressive agenda that's going to appeal to those fervent Bernie Sanders supporters?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I would say this.

    The Sanders-Biden reconciliation has been made easier by the fact that we're in a depression or a severe economic recession. And so there's a lot of room for government action.

    And I would say, Biden has made some concessions to the left, I guess, you want to call it that. But he hasn't done anything that would scare away voters, like Medicare for all or anything like that.

    What's really striking to me is — in his economic announcements this week, is that he's talking like Donald Trump. He's got a populist rhetoric of America first. And it's a different version of America first, but this is not Bill Clinton, or, frankly, Barack Obama's Democratic Party anymore, which was a free trade party and a more open party.

    This is, we have to secure our own supply chain. We have to move away from China. We have to close in and serve America first.

    And so this is — looks like Dick Gephardt, if people remembered Dick Gephardt. This was the Democratic Party he tried to lead us toward decades ago. And economic populism is here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I remember him well.

    And, Jonathan Capehart, in rolling this out yesterday, Joe Biden is talking about buy American first, support American workers. President Trump reacted and said: He's plagiarized. He's taking my ideas away from me. He's copying me.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Which is rather interesting, because I didn't think that the — that President Trump was a progressive, that President Trump was someone who was looking at getting his ideas from the — from the left.

    The idea that President Trump and Bernie Sanders have something in common is actually kind of kind of laughable.

    But what's interesting — what's interesting here is — and I agree with David that, sure, both Vice President Biden and President Trump have — both have an America first agenda, but they're coming at it from different ways.

    And I think that President Trump comes at his America first agenda from a very dark place, from a place where it's America turning its back, not only on the world, but, in a lot of ways, on its ideals, whereas I think President — Vice President Biden and, in his plan, what he is trying to say is, we are in a mess. We are in a global pandemic. Our economy has imploded.

    The pandemic has shown that there are issues with our supply chain that also have an impact on how health care is delivered, which you could also make an argument is a national security issue.

    But the overall thing that I take away from what Vice President Biden put out yesterday and that he will be putting out over the days and weeks ahead is, he has an agenda for where he wants to lead the country. He is giving a rationale to voters for why they should vote for him and have him lead the country for the next — over the next four years.

    When President Trump was asked that same question in an interview a few days ago, he could not give a forward-looking answer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's a reminder there is an election under way. It's easy to forget sometimes, because there's a whole lot else going on. But it's a reminder.

    And we want to thank both of you, David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart. We appreciate it.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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