PBS NewsHour


Brooks and Capehart on COVID aid, CPAC and Biden's nominees

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including passing a COVID relief bill without a minimum wage increase, the prospects for President Biden’s Cabinet nominations, and the Conservative Political Action Conference.

AIRED: February 26, 2021 | 0:12:52

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York

Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

Hello to both of you. So good to see you on this Friday night.

While President Biden is in Texas, David, he's got some problems back here at home emerging.

His COVID relief plan is moving through the House of Representatives, but, in the Senate,

no Republicans seem to be on board. And then you have the minimum wage part of it knocked out.

Where does that leave the whole thing? Why

have they had such a hard time getting Republicans on board?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, $1.9 trillion is a lot of money. The Republican -- 10 Republican

senators came in with an 800 -- a 600-some-odd billion bill, and that was just too wide a gap.

So, the Democrats decided, we need to do this fast moving, we need to do this big.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm going to interrupt you. David, I'm going to interrupt you

because we're having a little difficulty with your camera. You're not in focus.


DAVID BROOKS: I see that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to give folks a chance to figure that out.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Apology. We're going to go to Jonathan first.

So, Jonathan, you get to go first on this.

But with the president's COVID relief plan, where are we now?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, right now, the big thing is that the minimum wage piece of it,

the $15 minimum wage increase ,was stripped out of the bill by the Senate parliamentarian.

It is something, actually, that President Biden signaled

was coming when he did that interview with Norah O'Donnell on CBS a few weeks back,

where he mused that this probably isn't going to make it into the bill.

And, of course, he would think that and know that, given that he served more than three decades

in the United States Senate. He is a creature of the Senate. He knows what the rules are.

And, so with the minimum wage piece out of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package,

I think it makes it easier to get it passed out of the Senate. Remember, both Senators Joe Manchin

and Kyrsten Sinema were against, said they were against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

And so now I think it now puts the focus on all the other pieces within the COVID relief package.

That makes it easier, I think, for the Democrats to pass the bill with

Democratic votes only. That's assuming no other Republicans sign on to the bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, David, I think we have got this straightened out, sort of

almost. Yes, we can see you pretty clearly now, which is the way we like to see you.

Why do you think there have been problems getting Republicans on board with this COVID plan?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I thought all my thoughts were blurry.


DAVID BROOKS: I think they -- actually,

can I just mention -- Jonathan was talking about the minimum wage piece.

I think it has absolutely become a fascinating moment

to see if -- whether we can have compromise. So, the Democrats want 15. They're not going

to get it. They're not -- as Jonathan said, there may be 48 votes. They need 60.

And so Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton are for 10. Joe Manchin is for 11. So, can they cut a deal

and get it to 12 or 13? And would that be good enough? And, to me, that would be good enough.

I personally think 15 is fine in places like New York and California, where the wage

structure is high. But it's too high in a lot of other places. And the Congressional Budget

Office estimates that it would eliminate 1.4 million jobs. That's a lot of jobs.

So, a $12 to $13 minimum wage would make more sense in more places.

And -- but we will see if the Democrats are in the mood to come down and if Republicans are in

the mood to go up. To me, it's a crucial test of whether there even can be bipartisanship,

because this is a pretty simple issue where you can split the difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jonathan, do you think they can? Do you think they can come together on that?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: I would hope that they could come together on this.

Look, I actually think it is a good thing and for the best that the minimum wage was stripped

out of the COVID relief bill, simply because the nation needs to have the conversation about the

minimum wage, how much it should be, how -- over how much time it should it should be phased in.

With it stripped out, we can actually have this conversation

and have the compromise -- potentially have the compromise that David is talking about there.

You know, and to his point about the minimum wage being -- meaning something

different in other areas, you know, we have seen states raise the minimum wage

by popular vote. We saw that happen in Florida in 2020, where the state went for President Trump.

He won the state, but 60 percent of Floridians voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

I think it is a debate worth having in the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We shall see.

But, David, before I let you go on that, is it a problem for Joe Biden if this goes through,

the COVID relief, on a party-line vote, without Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: It's not ideal. He ran on -- yes. He ran on bipartisanship.

But this bill has 70 percent support, or nearly 70 percent support. I'm really struck

by how little Republicans are actually fighting this. They'd rather talk about

something else or Neera Tanden or something than talk about this.

And I think that's because they have lost some of the big fight or the debate on fiscal --

government spending and fiscal health. There used to be a strong -- a large number of people who

really did not like government spending programs. And Republicans could win elections on that.

After Donald Trump, that kind of conservative is much less significant. There are fewer of

them. And so Republicans have lost the overall debate on spending. And they don't seem to be

able to be even trying to defeat the COVID-19. They will it go through on reconciliation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jonathan, David raises Neera Tanden, the one

nominee of President Biden's Cabinet who does seem to be running into real problems.

What do her prospects look like

to you? She would be the director of Office of Management and Budget.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: I think she absolutely should be the director of Office -- the Office of

Management and Budget. I think the fact that her nomination is still alive says a lot about her,

but it says, I think, a lot more about President Biden and the Biden White House,

and the fact that, when they put her up for nomination, it wasn't for show.

It wasn't as you know something to do. It's because the president thought she was the best

person for the job and that the president is going to stick by her, until which time

it becomes clear, if it becomes clear, that she cannot get the votes in committee.

But, look, the only thing Republicans are talking about when it comes to Neera Tanden

are her tweets.

And after four years of President Trump and his incendiary tweets against elected officials,

and private citizens on Twitter, tweeting things and saying things about people that were just

uncalled for and unbecoming of a president, to then focus on tweets from Neera Tanden,

Republicans, who would be -- reporters would come up to them and say,

what's your reaction to this latest tweet from President Trump,

and they would feign ignorance: Oh, I have not seen it, I'm not paying attention to it.


JONATHAN CAPEHART: All of a sudden,

they're paying attention to tweets from Neera Tanden? It is not fair.

And I just have -- I chuckle at now all the tender hearts out there

and the tender feelings within the Republican Party about a strong -- about a woman

with a point of view and values and who was not afraid to defend them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm sure, David, you can explain that.

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, yes, Republicans have had a come-to-Jesus moment where incivility is

completely offensive to them all of a sudden

No, I agree with Jonathan on that. I do - - I follow -- I know Neera a bit and I

follow her Twitter presence. I thought, just as a think tank

head, she was a little loose and raucous and inappropriate, frankly.

It's certainly not enough to get rid of - - or to not nominate her as OMB director.

I think there's a subtle thing going on here. For -- since I have been covering politics,

since David Stockman's days, if people remember as Reagan's budget director,

there's been a certain sort of person who has been the budget -- OMB director,

and that person is a super wonky, dry personality, white male.

And Neera Tanden fits none of those categories.

And so I think she just doesn't -- people look at her and they don't see the normal OMB director.

And that's part of the unconscious undertone of this whole thing.

But Republicans are certainly hyped up about it. I think it's the only battle they think they can

win. I think they probably will. I think, once Joe Manchin said he was against her,

I think it's very hard for any Republican suddenly to be for her.

So I think, hopefully, they will find another spot in the administration for her. She's a very

talented version. And they will probably have to find somebody else for that job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jonathan, in the last minutes that we have, I want to ask you both about the

Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, taking place here near Washington.

The lineup of speakers, the messages coming through,

what do you make of it? And President Trump will be there Sunday.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Right. President Trump will be...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Trump.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Yes, former President Trump will be there Sunday.

The speakers, from what I have been able to see so far, are hewing to the conservative line --

conservative line, as it has been expressed during the four years of President Trump.

Clearly, the -- at least at CPAC, the far right of the Republican Party is in

the hands of Donald Trump. We're going to know and find out for sure when he speaks on Sunday.

But any thinking that, because they lost the Senate and because they lost the White House,

that the Republican Party and the and the right wing of the Republican Party is going to somehow

moderate itself and try to become a bigger tent, I mean, just disabuse yourself of that notion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what we saw today at the conference, among others, was

Ted Cruz, who -- as we mentioned earlier, senator from Texas, who

flew off to Mexico during that terrible winter storm last week, he had some comments today.

He joked about the Texas trip, and then basically

mocked the wearing of masks. Here's a little of what Ted Cruz had to say.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Now they're saying, everybody can get immunized,

we can have herd immunity everywhere, and we're going to wear masks for the next 300 years.


SEN. TED CRUZ: And, by the way, not just one mask, two, three, four. You can't have too many masks.

How much virtue do you want to signal? This is just dumb.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, how winning an argument is that?

DAVID BROOKS: What really strikes me about CPAC is

that it's not about government anymore. It's not even about politics anymore.

It's culture war issues. It's either the cancel culture they're against. They're against wokism.

And I guess they're against mask-wearing.

And this is not about a normal political party that wants to pass an agenda. The agenda,

political agenda, is off the table. And then, as far as the mask-wearing,

they have made a hero of Governor DeSantis of Florida,

maybe -- making -- maybe he will be the next Republican presidential nominee.

But when you actually look at the states and where they rank on effectiveness in preventing

COVID infections, there's almost no correlation between

the politics of the state and the infection rate of the state.

Florida's like 28th, which is pretty decent for a

state with a lot of seniors. But it's right next to California. So,

progressive and conservative states seem to be doing -- it's just kind of random.

So, to turn this into an ideological issue,

and to be anti-science about it, strikes me as kind of bizarre.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just in a few seconds, Jonathan,

we will see how far that takes Senator Cruz.


I found it interesting that he's railing against masks, when we spent all week watching him wheel

his roller bag through an airport wearing a mask with the flag of Texas on it.

I agree with David. CPAC is no longer about policies and issues. It's culture wars. And

the clip you just showed of Senator Cruz, it's as if they're all doing stand-up. There's no

real vision for the country in anything that he said in that clip you showed us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On that note, we will leave both of you. Thank you.

Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.