Gerson and Capehart on Afghanistan exit, jobs report, Texas abortion ban

Washington Post columnists Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Texas' restrictive new abortion law, the latest jobs report and how the president is facing the Afghanistan exit blowback.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Americans continue to grapple with what it means to be out of Afghanistan, women's reproductive rights are being thrown into question after this week's Supreme Court ruling. And the latest unemployment report shows that — the toll COVID is still taking on the U.S. economy.

    To try to put it all into some perspective, we turn to the analysis of Capehart and Gerson. That's Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson, both columnists for The Washington Post. David Brooks is away.

    And it's very good to see both of you…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Good to see you too Judy.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … on this Friday.

    We just heard, Jonathan, from the chaplain at Dover. And we are reminded of what sacrifice there's been. It pulls at our hearts.

    President Biden, in explaining the reason for leaving Afghanistan, said he didn't want to see any more bloodshed from young American men and women. And as much as the American people seem to agree with that, they are saying they don't like what happened here at the end.

    There was a new follow we did with — the "NewsHour" did with NPR and Marist showing, what, 32 percent approval, 61, almost 2-1, disapproval. What do you make of this? What does it say about the country? How long-lasting is this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I will take that last question first. How long-lasting will this disapproval be?

    And I don't think it will be long-lasting at all. I think it's possible — and it is possible — to disapprove of the way the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, while still supporting getting the troops out.

    In the Washington — there's a Washington Post poll that is out that actually lays this out quite perfectly; 77 percent of those surveyed support withdrawal from Afghanistan. But when asked, do you approve of the way the withdrawal has — the president has handled the withdraw, only 26 percent said they approve. They support withdrawal, but they don't approve the president's handling of it, and 52 percent disapprove of the handling of it, but they support the withdrawal.

    So that's why I say the president — this is a momentary blip for the president.

    And one more thing, and I have mentioned this before, and the president mentioned in his speech this week, and I don't think people should forget this. Only 1 percent of the American people serves in the military, or in active service members are in the Reserves, in a country of 330-something million people.

    And so to hear the chaplain talk about that solemn duty, it's not just the fact that he is helping loved ones grieve, but this is a special group of people who have given their lives to the country, 1 percent. We talk about the 1 percent in terms of wealth, but this is the truly heroic 1 percent of the country that is willing to put their lives on the line for this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And given the sacrifice they have made, Michael, and given what — again, what we're saying to the American people, and this what on the surface looks to be contradictory, supporting pulling out, but not liking the way it was done, what does that say about all of this?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, it's a complex viewpoint. I mean, the public is perfectly capable of holding those two ideas at the same time.

    I agree with Jonathan about the long-term effect of Afghanistan itself. This is a policy people agree with. And that is, I think, ultimately going to redound to the president's benefit. He will campaign, if he runs for reelection, as the ender of forever wars. He will do that. I think that's absolutely true.

    The problem is, if this becomes a data point in an impression of incompetence, because, right now, the American people view that retreat from Afghanistan as not competent very strongly. I don't think it's Afghanistan that would be the problem. I think it's a set of data points that would hurt him in the long run.

    And so you're saying wait and see. We don't — we just don't know.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, we have no idea.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me turn you to something else that the president — no shortage of headaches right now, the economy.

    Jonathan, these new jobs numbers. We heard William, speaking with your Washington Post colleague Catherine Rampell earlier on the program about this. This is something where every American feels — you were saying 1 percent served in the military. People are watching this. And we looked at — again, we asked people in our in our new poll, what do you make of President Biden's handling of the economy?

    Back in April, 38 percent approve. Now — I'm sorry, disapprove. Now it's 48 percent disapprove. This is — how worried should the president be?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, he should be very worried, because presidencies rise or fall on the economy and the way the American people feel about the economy.

    And complicating matters — and this is why this is happening — is the pandemic. We all thought that we were in the clear in the spring. Masks were coming off. Vaccines were being put into arms. And then the Delta variant and just knocked us for a loop.

    And I think the fact that the predictions were there were going to be 700,000 jobs created, and, instead, it's 230,000-something, that the economy right now is spooked and very concerned about what this Delta variant is going to do to the jobs market.

    And so, yes, those numbers, of all the things we're talking about, that is what I think worries the White House. The polling on Afghanistan, we know they they're not terribly worried about that. But this is something they're worried about.

  • Michael Gerson:

    The challenge is, it's not an economic problem that we're dealing with. It's a scientific problem, the Delta variant.

    And in this case, it's because of breakthrough infections. A lot of people who have been vaccinated have real questions about what they should do in public and under what circumstances. And we're also beginning to see this among children, schoolchildren, which I think is creating a lot of chaotic interactions at the school board level about what should happen here.

    So all that creates uncertainty. And that's I think, what undermines economic growth in this case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    People talk about the president gets the credit or the blame, whatever happens to the economy. In this case, how much control does he really have over COVID and where it goes, where it goes from here?

    There's some control, we know, with the vaccines, but…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Not much. Well, not much control.

    The president doesn't have any control over the economy, whether we want to admit it or not. And we're seeing with the pandemic there's not much control there either.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another issue from this week, and that's the Texas new restrictive abortion law, Michael.

    The Supreme Court issued the so-called shadow docket opinion, came out at midnight one night. We only saw just a touch of what the majority in this 5-4 opinion thought. But the dissent was pretty vigorous. The people who are abortion rights activists are saying this is a serious blow to women's reproductive rights.

    Others are saying we will see. How worried should those — should abortion rights activist be? And how much cheering should there be on the part of those who are anti-abortion?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I think Americans need to understand that Roe v. Wade was not overturned in this case. This was a very narrow situation in which a Texas law was passed.

    It was written in such a way so that the Supreme Court would not have standing to deal with it. It was a trick law. It was intended to essentially trick the justices, so that they would not intervene in an emergency way with a law that's clearly unconstitutional.

    So I don't think that — if you look at Justice Roberts' dissent, he's not happy about that. People are playing games with him. And that, I think, is not going to necessarily help their cause in the long run.

    The real issue that we have is probably the Mississippi case that comes next year that will be a real test about the whether Roe and Casey stand or not. This Texas law is a disturbing sideshow, particularly in the way that it has citizens enforce it against one another through civil lawsuits.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Michael Gerson:

    You could do that with guns if you wanted do in California. It turns people against one another.

    I really think that the whole exercise that the attorney general of Texas has engaged in has alienated a lot of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, I mean, we really are talking about two sets of issues here. I mean, we're talking about, as Michael just said, playing games with the Supreme Court in the way the law was written, but also the question of women's reproductive rights.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. They're playing games with women's health. They're playing games with health care.

    And I understand what you're saying, Michael, about this doesn't overturn Roe vs. Wade, technically, on paper, I guess. But when you don't stop Texas from implementing this law, thereby making it possible for South Dakota, which is making noises about copying, Florida making noises about copying, pretty soon, we're going to have a bunch of other Republican-controlled states copying Texas and having it go through, until which time the Supreme Court decides to take a stand, I guess, on the Mississippi case, or when someone bring suit against Texas or — to do something to upend the Texas law.

    That is why there is so much fear in the country about what this means for Roe, because they didn't stop Texas. And the idea of pitting neighbors against each other, colleagues snitching on each other because someone is desperately trying to — potentially desperately trying to safeguard their health and may — perhaps the health of their unborn child, this is just — it's beyond "Handmaid's Tale."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does it give one side or another, Michael, more political heft at this point to make its argument?

  • Michael Gerson:

    I think people don't quite understand that the Republican Party, the social conservatives in the party, abortion is not the central issue right now for a lot of them.

    It's critical race theory and immigration and a lot of other hot button cultural issues. So I don't — I'm not sure that it rallies Republicans in a certain way. I think it does rally Democrats. I think there's a broad concern over the fate of Roe.

    I think it's going to bring people out in the 2022 midterm elections. And that's the — I think they're going to benefit more from this argument going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see the political…

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I agree with Michael.

    This is — as horrendous as it is, this is something that will fire up an already fired-up and restive and angry Democratic Party and Democratic Party base. The question, though, is, in a midterm election, is that enough fire to go from being angry at what's happening to going into the voting booth?

    Because Democrats and Republicans vote in fewer numbers than in presidential elections, but, in the midterms, Democrats vote even less.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in any case, a lot of this is in the courts.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But — and we will see.

    Supreme Court, that's another subject for another Friday.

    Thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan Capehart, Michael Gerson. We appreciate it.

Listen to this Segment