PBS NewsHour


Brooks and Capehart on abortion rights, government funding

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the omicron variant, U.S. government funding, and a major abortion case before the Supreme Court.

AIRED: December 03, 2021 | 0:12:27

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the Omicron variant, a near government shutdown,

and a major abortion case before the Supreme Court, it has been a busy week in Washington.

To examine it all, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.

That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart.

Hello to both of you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Haven't you both together in a long time. It's good to have you here.

Let's start with the Supreme Court, Jonathan, that long awaited Mississippi

abortion case, intense oral argument. It was - - once you started listening, it was hard to

turn away. A lot of people are saying they think they know what's going to happen based open that.

What did you make of it?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: You don't know what's going to happen based on the -- based on

those arguments. We have been down this road before with the Affordable Care Act,

when people listened to the or arguments and they thought for sure Obamacare was going

to be the declared unconstitutional, and the decision came out months later, not the case.

But I do think that the concern, after listening to those oral arguments about

the constant, what's going to happen to Roe v. Wade, whether Roe v. Wade will be overturned,

is real and it's serious, primarily because, when Donald Trump was president, running for president,

he said he would appoint justices to the court who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

That was during the campaign. He got three appointments to the bench. There is now a

6-3 conservative majority. And that is why, after listening to those oral arguments,

I'm concerned and a lot of people are concerned that a constitutional right

is -- could be on the verge of being overturned.

And I think that's why Justice Sotomayor's question is the defining one for me,

where she asks: "Will this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception

that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?"

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of people are quoting that "survive the stench" line.


Well, I think Roe is in danger at some point. Once the thought is expressed as clearly as it

was expressed, I think, eventually, they're going to get around to it.

And I have, frankly, been someone who has always supported the overturning of Roe,

not because I'm necessarily pro-life, but because I think the court should not

decide it. I think the legislatures, and it should be decided by the democratic process.

And I have always believed -- I used to believe, I should say,

that, if it went back to legislators, the legislators would settle where the

American people have settled. The majority of American people do not want to ban abortion.

They want to restrict it in some way. And different states would restrict it.

And I have always assumed that we would wind up where Europe is,

with tighter laws than we have, but not a ban.

I am no longer so sanguine that our political system can handle a massive debate over

an incredibly hard, incredibly complicated question. And I say that with the awareness that

majorities don't seem to rule anymore. Polarized minorities rule in our politics very often.

And so we may wind up, if Roe is overturned

this year, next year with just vicious cultural, moral, political battles

at a time when our democracy is extremely fragile. And that has got to be worrying.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see the ramifications, Jonathan? We don't know what's going to happen.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But if it goes in the direction it seems to be headed,

even if it's something short of completely overturning Roe?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes, the political ramifications are huge,

and I think part of the reasons that David was talking about.

I mean, for Democrats, I'm sure -- if we want to get baldly political,

for Democrats it could be a way of galvanizing the base at a time when the midterm elections are

coming. Democratic voter turnout traditionally is lower during midterm elections. And they

could possibly be on the verge of losing the majority in the House. For Republicans,

this could be a galvanizing thing for them in 2022 and 2024.

But, in addition to all the things that David said,

the question then becomes, it's also a very personal decision. When we're talking about

a woman's reproductive health, it isn't just whether -- does she have access to abortion?

No, this is one of the most personal things

that she might have to endure, or will have to endure. And I look at the possibility of

the overturning of that precedent, and I look at other precedents out there that

could also -- with a 6-3 conservative majority, that could also be in danger.

I'm thinking about Obergefell. I could be looking at a possibility where my

marriage could be nullified by the Supreme Court.

So... JUDY WOODRUFF: Upholding same-sex marriage.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes, upholding same-sex marriage.

So, what happens with the Mississippi case -- in the Mississippi case, but also

we haven't even talked about Texas. And we're still waiting to hear what

the court has to say about that, which actually has even more implications for,

I think, things like same-sex marriage and other precedents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, your point about whether the country can withstand that kind of a -- can

the court withstand the perception that decisions are made based along party lines?

I know Justice Breyer and others have said, oh, no, that's not what's going on here.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, of course, those on the pro-life think the court

got into this in 1973 with Roe and they politicized it,

and they invented a right. That would be the pro-life argument.

And since then, our court and our judicial nomination system has become hyper-divided,

hyperpolarized, because -- basically because of that issue.

Can the credibility of the court -- Justice Breyer and Justice Barrett said,

we're not political creatures.


DAVID BROOKS: And, from their day-to-day perspective, that may appear to be true,

because there are a lot of decisions that we don't talk about. They're not

the big major decisions that are 7-2, 8-1, 9-0.

But I have to say, when I reflect back on the big decisions

that really make the headlines and really shift American history, from Bush v. Gore on to what's

about to come, I'm stunned by how incredibly easy to predict the votes based on their partisanship.

And so, on the big issues, I think the court has become quite predictable and quite partisan,

like the rest of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of partisanship, Jonathan, the Congress this week -- I guess

the Democrats just barely got out of town, at least for the weekend,

without having the government shut down. They were able to reach agreement over government spending.

But what -- the Democrats still have some - - and the president still have some big

agenda items before them this month. What does it look like is going to happen?


We have got -- so we avoided a government shutdown, actually,

a day early, if you really think about it. But we now have a debt ceiling deadline,

December 15, according to the Treasury secretary. The National Defense Reauthorization,

that's supposed to be at the end of the year, Build Back Better, Senate Majority Leader Chuck

Schumer says, oh, we're going to get it done by the end of the year or Christmas.

OK. Sure, if you say so.

But -- and that's just, that's the stuff on the table. You have got Republicans who,

on all of these things, are -- basically, they're not there. They're not a governing partner.

The problem comes when you have got Democrats talking to Democrats,

and especially with Build Back Better. So I said chaos,

I have no idea how this is going -- how this is going to turn out. But if it does turn out,

it's just going to be messy, and it will bleed into next year, into 2022.

And that's a problem for Democrats, because -- well, for the country, because,

once we -- once 2022 is on the calendar, everything is going to grind to a halt,

because nobody's going to want to get anything done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it look like to you?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, and I saw a quote, an unnamed quote from a Hill staffer,

saying the odds of getting Build Back Better this year were like 20 or 25 percent.

So that -- because you got to have CBO scoring. You got to figure out what Joe Manchin wants.

And so that's -- it would be very bad for Democrats. Joe Biden was elected to be competent,

to show it would be calm, we'd have a master - - the hand on the tiller, blah, blah, blah.

And the longer Democrats go on, then the worse that claim looks.

But I would say one thing in defense of the Democrats. A, it's basically a

50/50 Congress. That's hard. B, if you look back at American history, the Great Society

took years to pass. The New Deal took years to pass. Our system was not built for speed.

What worries me most -- and this is about the government shutdown -- like,

they're now capable of doing nursery school level

legislative activities. And you feel like they're just barely doing that.

I had a dentist once who was in my mouth and said:

"I'm on the edge of my skill level here." And she is in my mouth. And I'm like, "What?"


DAVID BROOKS: So, I feel like the skill level on Capitol Hill

is not where it should be, because they don't have experience of successful legislation.

That -- Teddy Kennedy did it. Back in those days, they really know how to do this stuff. And so

that's the big worry to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That's an image Jonathan and I

are going to keep in our -- we're going to keep that in our minds.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But members of Congress you know may remember the nursery school level.


JUDY WOODRUFF: The president, Jonathan, has one other thing on his plate right now.

And that, of course, is the is the variant, the new variant now. On top of Delta,

we have Omicron. It's everywhere in the world. It's in multiple states.

He's done a few things, travel ban. We're going to have increased testing.

How does it look? How does his management of this

look? How much is riding on his management of this?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, a lot is riding on his management of this,

but I do think he is striking the right tone.

When we were talking about this last week, it was like, oh, my God,

what is this thing? It's super contagious. I even mispronounced it because it was so new.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of us did.


But the president comes out and he says,

don't panic. Get vaccinated. Get your booster. Wear your mask,

basically saying to the American people, look, we have the tools to be protected against this.

And I also think that the American people, after a year-and-a-half

of doing this, no one wants to go into a shutdown, not the president,

not -- and certainly not the American people. So we know how to protect ourselves.

So I think, if the president and the administration, as much as it can, project calm,

but also clarity in what we need to do to protect ourselves from Omicron, he will be OK.

But, yes, everything is riding on this, because if we do get to a situation where

he has to come to the American people and say, we have got to lock down again,

even if it's for a good reason, I don't know how that's going to go over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was something the NIH director, Francis Collins,

who I talked to today, said it's something they don't want to do.


And Francis said, we're not powerless. I think that's the big story here. We're

not where we were a year ago. And, to me, the best thing the administration has done

is buy millions of doses of this Pfizer and Merck treatment regimes. So, you get a positive test,

you get five days, and you take 30 pills. I think that's the Pfizer one.

And it has like an 85 percent of reducing -- chance of reducing your hospitalization and death.

So that suggests we're going to enter a phase where we're not going to kill COVID

the way we wish, but we're going to learn to live with it, the way we live with the flu.

And I think we're sort of at that point. And we're going to -- we're -- if you're fully vaccinated

and you're under 50, your odds are quite good. It's still the folks who need the continued care.

And so I think we're just going to be in a country with a lot of COVID

around for a long time. But we have tools now to make it a lot safer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We do have the tools.

And, again, Director Collins saying, if we - - as you said, he said, we just need to

keep doing what we do -- doing what we know how to do, which is the testing and pills.

All right, we're going to leave it there. Jonathan Capehart,

David Brooks, so good to have you back again.

Thank you. JONATHAN CAPEHART: Great to see you, Judy.



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