PBS NewsHour


Brooks and Capehart on Democratic infighting, debt ceiling

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the divide among Democrats over the $3.5 trillion spending bill, the looming debt ceiling deadline, and the Biden administration’s response to the Haitian migrant issue on the southern border.

AIRED: September 24, 2021 | 0:14:18

JUDY WOODRUFF: As President Biden's legislative agenda stalls in Congress, he has run into yet

another issue, or, we should say, continues to run into the issue of turmoil on the Southern border.

For a look at this busy week and what it all means,

we're joined by Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and

Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

Hello to both of you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Very good to see you...


JUDY WOODRUFF: ... on this Friday.

And there is so much to talk about.

So, David, it does look like there's real trouble for President Biden's

domestic agenda. And it's not the Republicans this time, at least on the part that he's run into,

headwinds this week. It's his own Democratic colleagues. What is behind this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it's just an intellectual difference.

The -- and what strikes me is how so many people are drawing red lines.

The progressives are saying, we want $3.5 trillion. We're not going under.

Manchin and others say $1.5 trillion, we're not going over.

And so that's a gigantic gap. They can't even agree on when to vote on what.

And so I think what they need to do is look at, what is the key insight of each side?

The progressives are right that we need something big. We're a nation in decline.

We're a nation -- because of disunity. Lots of people have been left behind by this economy.

And they're right to do something big to try to jolt us back to unity.

The moderates, in my view, are right that we're not going to have a European-style welfare state.

We're just not that kind of country. We're an individualistic country.

We like to tie benefits to work and have a work obligation.

We're never going to give away as much money in taxes as the Europeans do. The Norwegians give

away about 46 percent of their GDP to taxes. If this passed, it would get us up to 19.

We're just not that kind of country. So, if you take the scope of the progressives and the values

of the moderates, I think you can get a deal, but they're pretty far away from it right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they both may have a point, Jonathan,

but the president's -- the future of his of his term in office could be in the balance here.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, sure, it could be in the balance, but we don't know.

And I look at this as being the storm before the calm. David's right. A lot

of red lines are being drawn. And they seem to be being drawn

since Wednesday, since they all went to the White House and had their respective meetings

with the president. And then they come out and then they state their positions again.

But I have been paying close attention to the language that they're using. They're

being very firm about what they're for and what they're not for. But

they're not attacking each other, the way they were during the summer.

And so I wonder if this is the usual Washington theatrics of just doing all of this performance,

and then, at some point, when we're -- when we

least expect it, breaking news announcement, here's the deal.

Now, this is a different Washington. Who knows if that moment is going to come? I pray that it does,

one, because what they're arguing over is very important for the American people.

Two, if they don't come to some sort of deal, the president's agenda

goes from being stalled to dead. And then, three,

it means finally that Washington is completely broken if they can't come to some agreement here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it's a different - - and then, meantime, there's another

massive headache the president has. And I don't know whether it's another

Washington performance, but it's over the debt limit, David.

And this one is between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Republicans are saying no way.


And when the shoe was on the other foot, they wanted the Republicans, when they were controlling

things, to take it. It's -- what's changed is that, 10 years ago, people really used to

care about debts and deficits. It was ranked as a major issue by a lot of Americans. Now,

for whatever reason, some maybe dubious reasons, nobody cares, maybe just low interest rates.

So now there's much greater tolerance among both Republicans and Democrats

to run up the debt. And so voting to raise the limit is not as politically costly as

it used to be. I wish they would just get away with -- do away with the whole thing.

We have committed to spend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The debt limit, yes. Yes.


We have committed to spend the money. The debt limit just says, yes, we're going to

borrow the money to spend the money we already committed to. So they should

raise it to a gazillion dollars. And then we never approach the limit, hopefully.


DAVID BROOKS: And then they should move forward. It's a bit of ballet that we don't need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gazillion? What do you think?


JONATHAN CAPEHART: Sure. Gazillion is a great numerator.

But this is sort of a wonky thing, but it's super important for the American people to understand

that raising the debt ceiling is not giving Washington a blank check.

It is allowing Washington to pay for the things that they have already bought.

If the government does not raise the debt ceiling, the Bipartisan Policy Center this

morning put out their charts, and they have turned me into a huge debt ceiling nerd.

Started back in 2011, when Jay Powell,

who was with Bipartisan Policy Center then, put this together. He is now the Fed chairman.

I just want the American people to understand this. If the debt ceiling is not raised

and the government can't borrow any money, it has to use the cash it has on hand. And I have

this chart here. I don't know if the camera can get it, but I will just talk it through, that,

on October 15, which they think might be the first day that we reach that X-date, the government

will bring in $27 billion in revenues, but will have $43 billion in expenses.

And that's just on that first day. All that debt that -- all those things that aren't

paid carries over to the next day. I can't -- we don't -- I don't even have enough time to tell you

the avalanche of harm that would come to the American people,

to the federal government and to the global economy if that debt ceiling isn't raised.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And not to mention that,

government shutdown and all the all the consequences of that, David.


And both the topics we have talked about so far that, the

consequences of failure are cataclysmic. And so I presume,

in a normal, functioning democracy, that we don't walk over those cliffs, but who knows?

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm just taking a deep breath here.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Another, of course, major issue the president had to deal with this week, again,

Jonathan, was the Southern border.

In addition to what's already been happening there,

and the Haitian migrants were starting to gather, in the past week, these images

of Border Patrol using reins or other -- whatever, belts to go after the migrants.

President Biden has come in from enormous criticism from fellow Democrats

over this. And here's how he commented this morning on what happened.

JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Of course I take responsibility. I'm President.

But it was horrible what -- to see, as you saw -- to see people treated like they did,

horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It's outrageous.

I promise you, those people will pay.

They will be -- an investigation under way now, and there will be consequences.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, today, we reported there are no Haitian migrants at that

particular place. We don't know whether more will be coming.

But, Jonathan, how

is the president handling this? And how much of a of a political hit is it for him?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: I will take the political hit first. It's a huge hit.

And it's a huge hit. One, with immigration, the president was already on squishy ground with the

American people. But those images that came out of the men on horseback and Black people running,

it was just -- is a little too close to home for a lot of us.

And for a president who campaigned on a more humane immigration policy, for a president who,

on election night, said to African Americans, you brought me here and I will not forget it,

that's why you had a lot of Democrats, particularly African American Democrats,

saying to the president, what is going on here? You must -- you must do something about this.

And then, on top of it, what made it even more inhumane is that the president or the

administration deported Haitians who had not lived in Haiti for more than 10 years to a country that

is still dealing with an earthquake that happened and a presidential assassination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How can -- immigration, every president

counting back as far as we can count, this has been a tough issue. Where do you see this going?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, we had our last successful immigration bill,

comprehensive one, under Ronald Reagan. That was a long time ago. And, so,

he's inherited a gigantic mess that nobody has had the solution for. I think Biden did make it worse.

And part of the problem was, they promised, on day one, they would reverse all the Trump rules.

Reversing the Trump rules was a good idea. But doing it all at once, on day one, people in the

transition, in the White House were warning about that. They were saying, we will be overwhelmed.

It'll be a big open door signal. And we don't have the facilities to handle what's about to hit us.

And that turned out to be true. And I think what bothers me,

aside from what Jonathan was just expressing, was,

it seems to be arbitrary, like who gets sent where. It seems like it's just like, who knows

who's being decided? There's no methodology. There's no procedure for a lot of people.

And so we're just overwhelmed right now. And it's disturbing that we're overwhelmed after

basically 40 years of this mess.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's hard to see how

this is an issue that gets resolved any time in the near term.

So, the last thing we want to bring up is, it was September 21, 2001, just a week-and-a-half after

the 9/11 attacks, and here was the beginning of the "NewsHour" that night with Jim Lehrer.

JIM LEHRER, Co-Founder and Former Anchor, "PBS NewsHour":

And that brings us to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields,

joined tonight by his new regular partner, David Brooks of The Weekly Standard.

Welcome, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Formally, welcome. You have been here many, many times before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that man has not changed one iota since September...


DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I wanted to point out I was 12 at that time.


DAVID BROOKS: So, I'm -- I don't know how old I am now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, you joined -- I mean, you had been on the "NewsHour,"

but you joined this program at a very sobering, difficult moment for this country.

It was, what, 10 days after 9/11. And you have been through a lot of

ups and downs with the country ever since.

But just talk a little bit about what it's meant to you to be

here at this table every Friday night.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I will tell you what it's been like.

Like, it's the end of the week. And, often, I'm tired. Sometimes, I'm under the weather.

Sometimes, I'm stressed. I come in here a little low. I walk out of here an hour later super

charged up and super happy, because I get to work with the people I have worked with, and not only

the people on set, but Leah (ph) in the makeup room. Charlie's back there, our lighting guy.


DAVID BROOKS: And so it's just -- you feel uplifted when you walk out.

And then, when you think about 20 years, I think about the time and about '04, '05.

Mark and I were on with Jim. And we showed a Marine funeral just before our segment.

And Jim started crying. And Mark and I gave like 10 minute answers, so Jim could compose itself.

And so that -- that was just like -- that's something we're going through together.

I think about sitting with Mark and Jim when Barack Obama gave his 2004

speech, that first big speech, which was watching a star appear,

but it was also about a version of America that he was describing.

I think about the day Gwen died. And I go through all the e-mails that she sent me over the years,

and some were just about our friendship. But a lot were tough. Like, Gwen demanded excellence.


DAVID BROOKS: And if you didn't show up, Gwen was like, show up.


DAVID BROOKS: And then with you, I mean, you're the hardest-working woman in show business. Like,

I -- you have not had a day where you don't completely show up for this thing.

And so you get a sense of people who respect their job and mostly

respect the audience. And out of that derives a kind of patriotism.

And other networks talk a lot about patriotism, but I think we -- we try to serve a certain kind

of America. And we try to exemplify that service in a way we do things, in the culture around here.

And it's just been an honor to be part of that for 20 years.

And my next 60 years will be just as good.


I mean, the "NewsHour" has been just incredibly fortunate and honored to have you

with us and, of course, Mark for all those years. And then Jonathan joined us almost a year ago.

And, Jonathan, you get to sit next to David on Friday nights.

It's not exactly like every other television show.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: No, it's not like every other television show.

And I knew that this was an important job to get,

succeeding Mark Shields, the e-mails that came in from people saying: Oh, my God,

Mark Shields is gone. I'm so upset. I'm so sad. We miss him. But I'm glad you're there.

It was then that I realized how important this job is, how important it is, what we do.

But what makes this so much fun and why it's so wonderful to celebrate David is, we have been

doing this in other venues for a few years now. And I always look forward to being with David,

because you're to the right of me. I'm to the left of you, completely different backgrounds.

And yet, when I sit with David

and talk with David, I feel like I have learned something. I'm smarter.

The way David speaks about all the issues, it's inviting.

And that's what makes Brooks and Capehart,

Shields and Brooks and all the other iterations of this so wonderful. We come to the table to bring

news, educate the audience on the inside, but then to do it in a way that invites the audience in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There's clearly some magic that happens here.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we are grateful to both of you, to Jonathan Capehart and to David Brooks.

Congratulations on 20 years.

Twenty years more, 40 years more coming up.




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