"Capehart and Abernathy on COVID deaths, pandemic funding and Jan. 6 subpoenas" PBS NewsHour 5/13/2022
SUMMARY: Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart and Washington Post columnist Gary Abernathy join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the U.S. marks a million deaths from COVID-19, Congress reached an impasse on pandemic funding, and the Jan. 6 committee issued subpoenas for five Republican lawmakers.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): As the United States marks one million deaths from the pandemic, President Biden has asked Congress to approve new money to fight future coronavirus variants. That spending has been stalled for weeks.
Meanwhile, Congress' January 6 Committee issued subpoenas to five Republican lawmakers.
And that brings us to the analysis of Capehart and Abernathy. That is Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post, and Gary Abernathy, a Washington Post columnist. David Brooks is away tonight.
Hello to both of you on this Friday night.
Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post): Judy.
Gary Abernathy (Washington Post): Hi, Judy.
Judy Woodruff: Very good to see you.
The subject is grim, you won't be surprised to know.
But I want — I do want to start, Jonathan, by asking you about where we are on COVID. Here we are at a million deaths. We are all incredibly sobered by that. We're hearing from the experts that there could be another, what, 100 million infections — or — I'm sorry — yes, 100 million infections coming.
And the administration is saying, we need between $10 million and $20 million — billion dollars — to deal with COVID. Are there good arguments against that?
Jonathan Capehart: No. No.
Can we just pause for a moment and understand we have lost one million Americans? I don't know what the particular folks on Capitol Hill, what other evidence they need to see for why that funding needs to be — needs to be passed. Think about just how much pain and death and agony the American people have suffered, not just the one million people who died, but their families and loved ones and colleagues.
There's going to be another variant. For the United States not to be — to do everything possible to be prepared for that moment, to do everything possible to forestall another 100 million infections, that's — that would be dereliction of duty.
In March 2020, we had no vaccines. We didn't know what this was. Everything was shut down just to try to stop this virus, this thing from spreading around. We know so much more two years later. We have got vaccines. We have got boosters.
Why on earth would we not do everything possible to ensure that we don't go back to those to those horrible days two years ago?
Judy Woodruff: Gary, what is the argument? Republicans are resisting this funding. What are the good arguments not to give it?
Gary Abernathy: Well, it's hard to come up with good arguments not to offer a lifesaving vaccine.
But when you talk about what happened two years ago and how it happened, you have got to remember, we took a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting this thing nationwide. And I know communities that got a tremendous influx of COVID money and couldn't find out — couldn't figure out how to spend it all.
I mean, it was kind of a, let's just throw a lot of money out there. And this is not a Republican or Democrat criticism. Donald Trump was a part of this. Donald Trump was approving these things too. Republicans and Democrats did this.
And now some people are kind of starting to say, well, wait a minute, where's our priority list? Where's this on President Biden's list of priorities? Is it — is it above Ukraine? Is it above helping more — with more money for Ukraine? Is it more important than the Build Back Better program? Is it more important than forgiving student loans?
Maybe. To me, I think providing these vaccines is. But, at some point, we get to a point where this money doesn't exist. We don't have this money to spend really. And so I think people are asking — are asking the President, hey, come up with priorities. And I think he does have a plan that says, OK, now we're going to prioritize people.
We're going to provide vaccines maybe to just the most at-risk people, people 60 and over, people with immune issues.
Judy Woodruff: What about the argument, Jonathan, that some of this money was spent, and it's not clear where it went, or it went in other directions?
Jonathan Capehart: Sure. Sure.
But that's not an argument to do nothing. You do better the next time. But the idea that, because some money went somewhere it shouldn't — it shouldn't have gone, that we shouldn't prepare and protect against a future variant, I think, is ridiculous.
Also, this idea of more money for Ukraine, I wrote down politics, because folks are playing politics with money for Ukraine. And it's clear why that money is needed. Again, it's for Ukraine, but it's really for the fight for democracy. So the same firefight — some of the same folks who are who are complaining about the COVID money are some of the same people who are complaining or stalling funding for Ukraine.
This — when — to bring it back to COVID funding, the administration and basically Washington [DC] cannot not do anything, cannot not prepare for what's to come.
Judy Woodruff: Gary, how much of this is politics, and how much of it is based on a real, legitimate argument?
Gary Abernathy: In Washington, there's politics?
Judy Woodruff: Hello.
Judy Woodruff: I know. I know. What kind of a question…
Gary Abernathy: Yes, right. All of it.
But even on Ukraine, the Associated Press a couple of weeks ago — and PBS highlighted it, I think — talked about there comes — there's coming a point where, how much can we — how much can we give? I mean, everybody wants to help Ukraine. It's the most worthy cause, but we're depleting our own resources.
There's real questions now about our ability to defend ourselves against a North Korea or an Iran if something were to happen, because there's only a limited supply of these things. So, people are starting to now take a look and say, look, we'd love to do it all, but we have to start prioritizing and figuring out, because, really, this is money that just doesn't exist.
Judy Woodruff: And, of course, Ukraine, we don't know how long that's going to go.
Gary Abernathy: Right.
Judy Woodruff: I mean, the predictions are, it could be months, even years, is what we were hearing this week.
The January 6 Committee, they have issued more subpoenas, Jonathan, this time to five House Republicans. One of them is the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. He's indicated he's not particularly excited about going.
Judy Woodruff: But what does this lead to, I mean, these high-profile — well, asking for their own membership to come and testify?
Jonathan Capehart: So, let's keep something in mind here. When someone is subpoenaed, that's an extraordinary step. And when that person is a sitting member of Congress in an investigation into an attack on the Capitol, an attack on American democracy, that is a serious step.
But it's not the first step. The first step was asking House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and some of the others to come in voluntarily and do their duty as a member of Congress, but also as a patriot, to come in and talk about what they know, and to help fill in the gaps, to help that committee and the American people, by extension, to understand what happened on that day as a means of trying to prevent it from happening again.
They refused. And so the fact that they're being subpoenaed, yes, it's an extraordinary step. I think it 100 percent should have been done. It needs to be done. The attack on the Capitol was an attack on the American people, an attack on our democracy. And we need answers.
Judy Woodruff: How do you look on these subpoenas?
Gary Abernathy: Yes, I agree 100 percent that we need answers, that what happened on January 6 was one of the most horrible things in our nation's history.
And I think we have already had a lot of answers. I think answers are coming in many ways, including through law enforcement with the people who are charged. One thing that I know a lot of people are worried about is conflating the peaceful rally that day with the riot.
In other words, there's a lot of talk about, well, who did — did you know, did you help plan this rally? Did you help? And planning the rally was perfectly fine, OK? It's the 100 — a few hundred that broke off and actually invaded the Capitol that are being prosecuted.
But I think the committee does risk some partisan suspicions if it doesn't — it depends on what it finds. I think that people have already made up their mind about whether this committee is going to uncover anything, without a bombshell revelation.
If this committee comes up with and says, you know what, here's a bombshell revelation about what was really behind this and what the intent was, and it kind of rocks the whole world, both sides of the aisle, that's going to be one thing.
But, short of that, I think people have kind of already settled on their talking points and what they're going to come out with at the end of the day, when this thing eventually wraps up.
Judy Woodruff: Well, you do have committee members saying there is eye-popping, big information to come from what they have discovered.
Jonathan Capehart: And I hope it's eye-popping.
But I also hope that the information, even if it's stuff that we already know, even if it's stuff that we have read about, that we have listened to with some of these — these audio — the audio recordings that we have listened to, that we not become numb to the seriousness of the information that we're getting, and that it is important that an investigative body with subpoena power and the ability to write a report, to put on hearings for the American people to see, to bring in witnesses, to show them what people were doing, what people were saying, how this thing got planned.
And, yes, we need to know how the rally got organized, and then how all — how some of these people went to the Capitol and ransacked the Capitol and tried to attack our democracy. I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that, even if we have read some of this stuff on the front page of The Washington Post, or we have watched news reports here at "PBS NewsHour," that it's not important.
Judy Woodruff: The fact that it's almost a year and — a year-and-a-half later.
Jonathan Capehart: Yes.
Gary Abernathy: Well, here's what we do know.
The rally happened. And what we know is bad enough. Donald Trump stood up at a rally and said, if you don't fight for your country, you're not going to have a country, and basically pointed them to the Capitol, where his own vice President was overseeing the count of electoral votes in a constitutional process to certify this election for Joe Biden.
I mean, that's bad enough. How much more do we need to — how much more bad things do we need to come out to say — for enough people to say, Trump's responsible for what happened?
Jonathan Capehart: It would be helpful if House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would tell the American people what he told the President in those moments.
It would be helpful if Jim Jordan, who wants to become the next — I think Judiciary Committee chair in the House, what he said to the President when he talked to him probably multiple times that day. That's important for us to know.
This is not a partisan issue. This should be a patriotism issue. Our country was under attack. And it could happen again, which is why that commission, that select committee is in place to do this report.
Judy Woodruff: And his point is that there's maybe culpability on the part of some of these members.
Gary Abernathy: Yes.
And, again, there's a fine line. And, again, you're talking about your fellow members of Congress. There's a fine line between saying things to try to — we know a lot of those conversations that were happening, through what's been leaked, were to try to get Trump to take action to calm things down, to put an end to this thing.
And who knows what they said to try to appeal to him and his ego to make that happen. But would it be interesting? Yes. I just think that a lot of it's being found out in other ways. And the committee just needs to be careful when it comes to subpoenaing members of Congress.
Republicans are going to control Congress, very likely, very likely, after November. And what goes around comes around. And you just got to be careful how you treat your fellow members of Congress.
Jonathan Capehart: They have already said that, if they come into power in the House, that there are going to be investigations galore.
Gary Abernathy: Yes.
Jonathan Capehart: The White House is already preparing for that moment.
Gary Abernathy: And that's not — we need to back off from those vendettas.
Jonathan Capehart: Gary.
Judy Woodruff: On this Friday night, all right, we thank you both.
Gary Abernathy: Yes.
Judy Woodruff: Jonathan Capehart, Gary Abernathy, thank you very much, both of you.
Jonathan Capehart: Thanks, Judy. Thank you.