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Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast

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Catch the most recent appearances by NewsHour political analysts syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s first trip, press bashing in Montana

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, May 26, 2017

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HARI SREENIVASAN: But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

All right, let’s start this week on the foreign front. The president met potentates, presidents, prime ministers and a pope. There were magical orbs.


HARI SREENIVASAN: There were tweet-sized messages stuck into a Wailing Wall. How did he do?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: B-plus. No.


MARK SHIELDS: Well, I’m not going to grade him. I grade him on the curve.

I would say the visual highlight was with the pope when he said, you know, the pope is a very humble man, much like me, which he had tweeted earlier, and that’s why I like him so much.

But just sort of they’re polar opposites, of the two, one a champion of immigrants and refugees and almost disdainful of opulence and excessive wealth, and the other sort of the embodiment of it.

But I thought, quite frankly, the first part of the trip, he laid down the policy, and the policy is that we will stand on the side of Sunni autocrats against terrorism, and no questions asked.

And here, in addition, is a major weapons, a huge weapons sale that — and we’re not going to ask how you use it or where you use it, and if people are killed in Yemen, and they’re — made in the USA is on the weapon that kills them, and it’s done indiscriminately, that’s their business and not ours, because the operating and organizing principle of foreign policy is opposition to terrorism under Donald Trump.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I thought Melania had a very good week. I thought a lot of good moments for her. There was a lot of good judgments, actually.

He, by the standards of some of the competence of the previous week, I would say you would have to say the trip was, by competence standards, a success. He did what he wanted to do in Saudi Arabia, at NATO, at various other places.

I do think, as Mark suggested, the chief oddity of the entire trip is that we seem to be mean to our friends and kind to our foes. And so, Saudi Arabia — Fareed Zakaria had a very good column on this — we’re supposed to be against terrorism, and Trump loves to talk about Iranians — Iran’s influence on terrorism, but the main source of terror funding for both the ideas and sometimes the organizations is Saudi Arabia. It’s not Iran.

And so — but, somehow, we’re super nice to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, we’re super mean to Germany and France and some of our NATO allies. And so there’s just been a perversion of American foreign policy, which is sort of based on the idea that character doesn’t matter, and you can — whether the leaders from Russia or the Philippines or Saudi Arabia, that people of bad character are people we can ally with.

And, somehow, I think there is a consistency between the government here and some of the governments the Trump administration likes around the world.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There was a bit of that we just saw …

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I’m sorry?

HARI SREENIVASAN: There was a bit of that we just saw in the conversation that Judy had.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

I would just say that the NATO part of the visit, I found particularly disturbing, because there was nothing about the principles and values. There was nothing about values and what we share and what animates us and what we respect and revere, whether it’s individual rights or democracy.

That just seemed to be unimportant. And all the criticism that the president had was stored up, as David pointed out, for these folks for somehow being welfare cheats or something.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And that’s pure demagoguery.

He spoke as if we — they owe us money because they haven’t been paying their dues, which is not true.


DAVID BROOKS: That’s not the way that the — the problem is that they sort of pledged to gradually get to 2 percent of GDP in defense spending.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And some of the countries have, and a lot of the countries have not. And that’s a legitimate issue.

But he portrayed it as if we’re bailing them out, and they owe us money, and they haven’t paid their bills, which is just actually untrue.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s shift gears to the budget.

What do you make of the priorities that were set forth in this? It’s a political document, but it kind of lets you know what you think is important.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

We don’t pass a budget, but I think it’s fair to say it was mean—spirited and dishonest were the two words that come quickest to mind, again, coming back to the visit with the pope, who has sort of made himself the pope of the poor, unlike a number of his predecessors, who seemed to enjoy the opulence of Vatican City.

And Donald Trump, at that very meeting, his budget, which he is distanced from, he’s not even in town as it’s released, is, I think fair to say, an orthodox Republican document in the worst sense, in that it is tax cuts for the most advantaged among us, and saving the character of those Americans who are struggling, who depend upon school lunches, who depend upon supplemental food, who depend upon Medicaid — there are more people in the United States on Medicaid than there are on Medicare.

And half of the people on Medicaid get — work every day. And we’re talking about elderly poor. And, I mean, all of this is being cut, for what purpose? To provide an enormous tax cut for those who are best-off.

HARI SREENIVASAN: David, doesn’t some of this go right at the base of supporters that Donald Trump have, the poor working class that came to him? And it seems, as Mark is pointing out, that some of the programs that are being cut are going to affect them first.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, you look at the food stamps program, and that has radically expanded over the last 10 years.

And so the question is, has it expanded maybe for some of the reasons Social Security disability expanded, just because it’s become sort of welfare through the backdoor? Is it illegitimate?

Well, if you look into the food stamp program, the reason it’s expanded is because a lot of people are now near poor and because of economic changes. It’s not because of some illegitimate explosion of the welfare state. It’s because of the underlying structure of society has disadvantaged a lot of people, and they need some help.

And so it’s — as Donald Trump’s own secretary of agriculture said, it’s a successful program, and yet it’s getting savagely cut. And I think that’s — and that, as you say, goes right at the Trump voters, because the lower-middle-class voters in rural areas are getting a lot of those benefits.

To me, the most egregious, two egregious things about the budget is, as Mark said, it hurts the poor and helps the rich, but it also hurts the young and helps the old, and that whether it’s food stamps or a lot the other programs, if you believe in human capital, that we’re investing in the future with a lot these programs, then that’s the good kind of spending, even if you’re kind of conservative.

And, to me, we should cut some of the money that goes to affluent elderly people and give more money to young, struggling people. But Donald Trump does the reverse.

And the second thing is just the almost in-your-face dishonesty of it. Some of it is — just it’s assuming there will be 3 percent growth, which is not going to happen, given our demographics. But Larry Summers pointed out that this made the most elementary budget calculating error of any administration in 40 years.

They took the same revenue source, and they counted it twice, in order to cover. And that’s just — everybody had the to catch that error, but they were just going to do it anyway, and they didn’t care what anybody said.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary.

I mean, what about the president coming back and saying, hey, you know what, I made these promises, I said I wasn’t going to touch aid to the elderly?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he said he wouldn’t cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. That was the promise he made in one of his campaign tweets, that I’m the only candidate. He made that point.

And he has not. He has not touched Social Security. He’s cutting SSI, Social Security — the Supplemental Social Security, for people who are disabled and elderly, but he’s not cutting Social Security payments to the elderly. He’s not means-testing it in any way, and nor is he touching Medicare.

But Medicaid, having promised not to, he is. He is, in fact. It’s almost — cutting Medicaid, proposed to cut it in half, the spending. Federal spending would be cut in half. And the food stamps will be cut by one-quarter.

And I don’t know how you justify this when, in the same week, Hari, the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican selected chief economist, but very respected nonpartisan, says 23 million people are going to lose the health coverage insurance that they already have under the Republican-passed plan.

I will say this unequivocally. Tonight, three weeks after the House passed that health care bill, there is not a single member of the House who regrets having voted against it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about members of the Senate? What do they do going forward?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, they’re going to have trouble.

First, it was kind of surprising they went through all the change of rewriting the thing, and they basically got the same CBO number as they got last time. And I can’t believe — I couldn’t believe they got so many House people to vote for this thing, because it’s going to be a killer issue for a lot of people.

In the Senate, they’re doing everything in secret right now.


DAVID BROOKS: And so we don’t exactly know what’s happening. They’re talking with each other. But we do know they’re divided almost down the middle on some of the Medicaid cuts, on some oft other issues, on some of the preexisting conditions. And passage in the Senate, you wouldn’t want to bet on that, not by a long shot.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And whatever gets through the Senate, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t get passed in the House.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. It wouldn’t get passed.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I think that, in order to make it acceptable — the pledge to repeal Obamacare was great as a political rallying cry. It’s terrible policy. And it’s not — it won’t pass.

DAVID BROOKS: But they could — if they could get — they could have another way to give people health insurance through health savings accounts and tax credits and things like that, if they guaranteed the same level of coverage that Obama is doing.

And I think that would be a completely legitimate approach. Maybe introduce some more competition into the system. That is not what they’re doing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, lastly, in the last two minutes we have here, a new member of the House of — Republicans — during a special election in Montana, Greg Gianforte beats his opponents, but body-slams a reporter on the way to getting there.

What does this say about — you know, and the thing that I heard this morning on NPR is, one of the reporters was talking to some of his supporters, saying, you know what, that guy had it coming.

I mean, the extent of hostility toward the press and how it’s manifesting itself in different ways in the past couple of months.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there is any question. I think it was legitimized in part by President Trump’s campaign, which included this and sort of rhetorical excesses and singling out members of the press.

But Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, who was the pollster for the Contract With America, Newt Gingrich, said, if you check the party affiliation of someone who commits assault before deciding how you feel about it, you’re what’s wrong with America.

And that’s really what it’s become. I think the seminal moment in contemporary American politics was when President Obama was addressing the joint session of Congress on health care, and Joe Wilson of South Carolina stood up and said, “You lie,” unprecedented in its rudeness and boorishness, and he raised a million dollars in the next week in funds.

And I think that polarization was rewarded.


I would say two things are true. The climate of ugliness is no doubt ratcheting up and giving some permission to this. In this case, I’m willing to give the guy a break. He did apologize. And he could have just lost his temper. We will see what his career is like.

But I’m willing to — if a leader is at least willing to apologize, that’s frankly a step up from what we have seen on the presidential level.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, New York Times columnist David Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Hari.

The post Shields and Brooks on Trump’s first trip, press bashing in Montana appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on the barrage of Trump revelations

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, May 19, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now back to the swirl of news surrounding the White House, the FBI’s Russia probe, and more, with the analysis of Shields and brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen. So much to talk about. What a week. I don’t even know where to begin.

I will mention that CNN has just been reporting in the last few minutes that they have from several sources that White House lawyers are beginning to at least research the mechanism of impeachment. They don’t have reason to believe, the story says, that anything like that is going to happen soon, but they are looking into it.

But, David, this week, again, there is so much to talk about, but let’s talk about the appointment of a special counsel, Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, in the midst of this, all this speculation about the Russia connection. What does this do to the cloud hanging over the White House?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s interesting that after a year spent campaigning against the insiders, the swamp, the Beltway establishment, that when you get a big crisis, everyone wants somebody with some experience and some credibility.

And so this appointment has been greeted I think by Republicans in Congress, by Democrats, by most of the country as a sign of, OK, fine we’re going to get some straight answers.

And it strikes me as absolutely necessary. I mean, today’s story from my newspaper that he told the Russians that he got rid of Comey to relieve pressure, we used to have a better class of criminal, where if you obstructed justice, you tried to hide it.

And he’s going around bragging on national TV and then bragging to our adversaries that he is obstructing justice. So, whether or not he’s obstructed justice, he certainly seems to be acting like he did. And that certainly justifies a special counsel.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you make of the special counsel pick?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a lifesaver for Republicans. I really do.

I think — and it’s a call for congressional inquiries. We went through the Iran-Contra hearings. And Ollie North, who was one of the central figures, he was convicted of three felonies. And, in fact, that was overturned because of immunity had been given to witnesses and that that testimony had compromised his own defense, Ollie North’s own defense.

So, ever since then, there has been an apprehension, a leeriness about in any way affecting or shaping a criminal investigation, national security investigation, the kind that Robert Mueller, very respected former FBI director, 13 years, is about to launch.

So I think there will be — we won’t see Paul Manafort, we won’t see Roger Stone, we won’t see Carter Page in the public, I doubt very much. I think the hearings will go forward, but not…

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: In the Senate and the House, but not with the same kind of intensity, perhaps, just passion that we have had.

And, for Republicans, it takes it off the front page, and it guarantees that there’s going to be an investigation. But there’s no timetable.

And let’s be very frank. I mean, Bob Mueller is a consensus all-American choice here. He really is. I think it’s hard to criticize him.

DAVID BROOKS: I disagree with one thing.


DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think it’s going to go off the front page.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, not if we continue to have the president telling the Russians something that, 16 hours earlier, his people had told the American people they did it because of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Comey…

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the Comey firing.

MARK SHIELDS: With the Comey firing, and then, 16 hours later, he privately tells the Russians where there’s no American press around.

DAVID BROOKS: I think what’s — a couple of things happened this week.

One is the special counsel, coupled with the Russian thing. There’s an investigation of a person of interest. But to me, the most interesting thing is that the White House staff and the people under Donald Trump, at least some portion of them, some large portion of them, seem to have turned against Donald Trump.

I have not talked to our reporters who broke this story, but if I read it correctly, some senior administration official with top-secret clearance read the readout to a reporter. That’s breaking the law.

And that is doing it in a way because you think you need to be Deep Throat, you need to undermine this guy, you need to tell — get the truth out about this guy.

And in the Nixon administration, there were a couple Deep Throats. There was a guy off in the FBI who was willing to leak. But in this administration, they seem to be in every closet and behind every desk. I’m exaggerating a little. But there are squads of Deep Throats.

And so that means this story’s not only a legal investigation. It is a dissolution of an administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, talking about — not only talking about what the president had to say about Comey, but also sharing the fact that the president shared intelligence with the Russians.

MARK SHIELDS: Shared intelligence with the Russians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is a remarkable story, in and of itself.

MARK SHIELDS: I could not agree with you more, Judy.

And what looked like a generous offer by Vladimir Putin, that I will make available to you the minutes of the meeting, turns out really to be a veiled threat, because the revelation of the minutes of that meeting are devastating. They’re devastating to the administration.

Picking up on what David said, I don’t think there is any question that this is a body blow to this administration. I won’t say it’s dead man walking, but you cannot pass a legislative program on Capitol Hill, especially when it’s controversial, with a president who has absolutely no attention span, no clout, no credibility.

And his is diminished, to the point where there is just nothing believable that’s coming out of this White House.

DAVID BROOKS: Substantively, that’s sort of what’s happened.

We have had administrations that have had big scandals before, but the Nixon administration, by the time their scandal hit, they had a very qualified White House staff and all these agencies. Same with Clinton. Same with Reagan.

With this administration, they have imploded before they have had time to staff up. And, therefore, they do not have people in the jobs to do the normal work of administration. And at this point, who’s going to want to go into those jobs? No one is going to want to go into those jobs.

So, whatever happens to the investigation, we are looking at an administration that will be poorly staffed or un-staffed trying to run the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, you mentioned, how do you get anything done?

Although I will say, I heard Paul Ryan talk — give a talk last night. And he said, this is all what he called white noise. He said, we’re going to focus on the business of the country. We’re going to work on getting health care done and we’re going to do tax reform done later this year.

MARK SHIELDS: And tax reform bill is? OK. And, oh, I guess it’s with the infrastructure bill.

And we are approaching Memorial Day, Judy. And if there isn’t a health care bill out of the Senate, that’s on life support, perhaps even beyond. So, then you’re a Republican and you’re running. And Paul Ryan, and he’s a lovely man, but you are running in 2018.

And now it’s going to be nothing a referendum on Donald Trump. You won’t even have a legislative program to be able to go back and talk about.

I cannot overstate how unbelievable, literally, this administration has become. I mean, it was said that George Washington was the president who could never tell a lie, and Richard Nixon was the president who could never tell the truth. Donald Trump is truly the president who can’t tell the difference.

I mean, he changes his story, as he did last week on the Russian meeting and on the firing of Jim Comey, depending upon whom he’s talking to, whether it’s NBC or whether it’s his own staff.

And picking up on David’s point about the staff, Judy, the morale is just absolutely at low ebb. You are now facing legal fees. I remember Maggie Williams, who was Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, facing over $300,000 in legal fees.

Everybody is lawyering up. You’re sitting in a meeting now. Is David talking to somebody else? It’s just distrust. It’s an awful situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, to add a little fuel to the fire, I’m being told right now by our executive producer, Sara Just, that there is a report that the Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia, are announcing that Jim Comey, the fired FBI director, has agreed to testify in open session.

I think I’m hearing that correctly. I don’t have who it’s coming from. I gather it’s coming from the Senate.

So that will be something everybody will be listening to.

DAVID BROOKS: That will be — well, we just heard Ben Wittes earlier in the program with his interpretation of what Comey thinks. To hear it directly from Comey would be a cinematic Cecil B. DeMille moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Wittes comments about how he — about how Comey felt about the president pulling him over, pulling into a hug.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and the contemporaneous notes that he obviously kept from those experiences and interactions with the president.

And remember this, Judy. Jim Comey, as FBI director, there are whole subject areas he couldn’t discuss before the Intelligence Committee. Now Donald Trump has opened up. Donald Trump has made it possible. He is no longer the FBI director.

And all he’s doing is responding to charges, unsubstantiated, according to Jim Comey, that Donald Trump has made about him. So, this is a — if in fact the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings are open and Jim Comey is there, it will be a ratings bonanza.

DAVID BROOKS: Could it be a coincidence that Donald Trump, we learned, called him a nutjob a few hours ago, and now this comes out?


JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, this is just — as we said, the president has just taken off on this big nine-day first trip overseas. He’s going to the Middle East. He’s meeting with the leaders of so many European countries.

Does life go on in some way, respects in this country, in this city, while all this is happening?

DAVID BROOKS: In my contacts with the Trump people, compartmentalization is high. And guys are good at it. I don’t know. Maybe — but they would like to pretend this is not happening.

But, as Mark said, they can’t, in their heart of hearts, be sanguine about it, because they’re — a lot of them are leaking. A lot of them don’t know who’s going to write the memoir against each another. A lot of them are going to be under investigation. Some of them, there’s a target of interest in the White House right now, according to The Washington Post, in the Russia inquiry.

And so they can’t ignore all that. But they are trying to pretend that all is normal. And I think that’s the pretense that they are trying to pull off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, you have been in this city for a long time, almost as long as I have.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, Judy.


MARK SHIELDS: But I do — I remember Hamilton, yes.


JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this city deal with a situation and how does the country deal with a situation like this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, we have never had one like this.

There is — first of all, there’s no reservoir of shared experiences with this president. We have shared values. They have been through — there is no accomplishment you can point to and say, well, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. So that’s missing.

But, as far as the White House staff — and I have great sympathy for people who work in the White House. They work long hours. They miss birthday parties. They miss children’s recitals.

And what you get really is a sense that, I’m involved in something larger. There’s a sense of a psychic income. But now you have got a boss who has absolutely no loyalty, who is disparaging his staff, who is abusing his staff, according to reports in major papers.

So, this is just — this, again, saps all morale and leads to, I don’t care if I go to the meeting. In fact, I would rather not be in the meeting, instead of, please let me in the meeting.

So, I don’t see how it continues. I really don’t. Everybody who has been associated with this man has been diminished, has had his own reputation, whether it’s Rosenstein or General McMaster. Whoever it is, they are a smaller person for their association and identification with Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quickly, David, we started this conversation talking about how the appointment of Bob Mueller, Robert Mueller, as the special counsel has somewhat calmed the waters.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but I don’t think too much.

I think this is — now there’s a reality TV show. And the people — everybody in this town, they just want — they’re going to want to write the book, going to want to leak the memo, going to want to get their own self-preservation out there. And so the reality TV show involves a public unwinding, not a private investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

The post Shields and Brooks on the barrage of Trump revelations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Ponnuru on James Comey firing fallout

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, May 12, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now back to the dominant story of the week, the FBI director’s firing and the fallout from it, with the analysis of Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru. David Brooks is away.

And welcome, gentlemen. Welcome to both of you.

So, Mark, any question that the president was within his authority to fire James Comey?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: No. It was within his authority, Judy.

But this wasn’t amateur hour. This was an incomprehensibly incompetent, inept amateur week, beginning and ending with the president. Other people came out with eggs of all sorts on their faces. Everybody associated with them is diminished, sullied, stained in some way.

But this was Donald Trump’s total miscalculation. The man who made a national reputation by saying “You’re fired” didn’t have the decency to call the FBI director in person, and publicly humiliated him and embarrassed him by severing him, announcing it on cable television as he was speaking to FBI colleagues in Los Angeles.

And he has thus insured that this will be, with this Russian investigation, is now a permanent part of our political landscape. It will affect and influence and be an outline of the 2018 election, and perhaps even beyond.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Total miscalculation, Ramesh?

RAMESH PONNURU, National Review: The administration combined two of its hallmarks, reacting to these events with disorganized dishonesty.

They began by saying that the firing was a response to the FBI director’s handling of the Clinton e-mail story and the analysis of that handling by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. But, by the end of the week, President Trump himself was saying it really wasn’t about those things. He had made his decision before the memo, and the decision was really motivated by the fact that Comey wasn’t shutting down the Russia investigation, the investigation into the administration and the campaign’s ties to Russia, and thus exploded everything that people had been saying in the administration’s defense earlier in the week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, Mark, they have given several different explanations over the course of a few days. What do you believe was behind this?

MARK SHIELDS: Donald Trump.

Judy, think about this. Robert Mueller was the predecessor at the FBI before James Comey. He was there from 2001 to 2013 under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. I don’t know how often they had dinner or how often they met privately.

But can you imagine Robert Mueller being asked by George W. Bush or Barack Obama, not once, not twice, but three times, am I the subject of a criminal investigation by your department, by your agency? It’s unthinkable.

And this is — obviously, he wants this to go away. He, the president, wants this whole investigation to go away. And he has guaranteed — he has guaranteed the following. James Comey was enormously popular among the FBI workers. He was somebody who was thoughtful and supportive of his employees and colleagues.

And they liked him. And he was would take one for a team. He was willing to take criticism for the FBI, and in spite of the decision he made on Hillary Clinton and the handling of that, which a lot of people disagreed it.

He’s guaranteed, Donald Trump has, that everybody associated with the FBI is going to make one more call, follow up on one more lead, and work one hour harder every day on the pursuit of this case. It’s not going to go away. He has guaranteed that it’s going to be more pursued even more arduously, intently, passionately, and professionally by the bureau.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as a fallout, Ramesh?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that this may be the beginning of an effort by the administration to push a lot of congressional Republicans somewhere they don’t want to go.

The prevailing line from Republicans, even those who are well-disposed towards President Trump, has been, of course the FBI and of course the congressional Intelligence Committee investigations need to continue.

What is coming out of Trump world right now is, no, these investigations are an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. It’s a taxpayer-funded charade. If you believe that, these things need to end.

Is that something that congressional Republicans are really going to accept? That’s not something that I think they’re going to want to try to sell to the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see Congress moving on this?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Congress is under tremendous pressure now. The committees have to perform, because any foot-dragging on this at this point, at any point, the administration, the White House will be seen as somehow hiding something, that there is something here to hide.

I mean, the president boasting that, three times, you exculpated me in the letter that says I’m firing you, I think it puts pressure there. I think it guarantees that any appropriations by an investigating agency will be fast-lined and will be available. Nobody wants to be seen on that other side.

Judy, there are 241 Republican House seats right now. In 2018, they’re all on the ballot; 175 of those members of the 241 have never run for reelection with a Republican president in the White House. They’re used to being on the offensive in midterm elections, running against — or for repeal Obamacare, or against the administration.

They’re going to have to decide, and a lot of them. They’re looking right now at losing three dozen House seats, by historical standards. They have to decide right now, are they going to establish daylight and independence from this toxic administration?

This administration this week was so absolutely misleading, dishonest in its handling of this, that the White House right now at this point doesn’t even believe its own leaks. It is that bad. It’s really reached that point.

So, if you are a Republican, you cannot be seen on the side of trying to slow this down, cover it up, hide things.

RAMESH PONNURU: You do have to wonder whether the Senate is capable of confirming anybody to the FBI director position.

If that person doesn’t have a demonstrated record of independence and integrity, I think it’s going to be very hard for them to get the requisite votes.


MARK SHIELDS: You think Rudy Giuliani is a good choice at this point?


RAMESH PONNURU: There is a narrow Senate margin. And I think you are going to be not looking for political figures.

MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely.

RAMESH PONNURU: I think you’re going to be looking for people like Judge Silberman, people like Michael Chertoff, people who are respected across the aisle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ramesh, what about Mark’s larger point here that this is really a turning point for this administration, a turning point in terms of how Congress sees the administration?

We don’t know yet about the public. We haven’t seen any public opinion polls yet, significant ones. But what about the Congress?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, look, I do think that this story right now is a topic of consuming interest in Washington, D.C. I don’t know that it is in the country at large.

But I do think this is running the risk of isolating this president politically. There’s a reason why congressional Republicans have not felt it was in their interest to just say, these investigations are all legitimate.

There’s a reason why the administration’s first instinct was to come up with a pretext for dismissing Comey and not tie it to the Russia investigation. And so I think it’s going to be really hard for them to sustain this, particularly when you consider that President Trump remains somebody who, for this early in his presidency, is pretty unpopular.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because now it’s out in the open that the rationale was the Russia investigation?

RAMESH PONNURU: That’s right, and because Trump seems inclined to want to push this argument further, and he seems to want his surrogates to be making this argument.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, have we learned something new about the president in all of this? Is this the coming together of everything that we already believed? I mean, how do you see this moment?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you see that the president thinks and acts in very short time frames.

Judy, if you wanted to get rid of the FBI director, there is an established way of doing these things. You get a mutual friend to go to him and say, the president wants your resignation, and we will do it on your terms, and we will exchange letters, and there will be a Rose Garden ceremony, and we will introduce your successor, and you will leave with a great tribute and great — and it’s not Donald Trump.

Either he’s scared, or anxious or whatever, but he had to do it in a hurry. And he did it in his way. He did it to the point where he’s totally discredited, if not disabled, his own press secretary. And he’s totally discredited or partially discredited Mike Pence, his vice president, who his reputation is based on his earnestness and his decency, not on his great imagination or great vision, but he’s a solid guy. He is a guy you can trust.

He got caught in a total lie, pretending that Rod Rosenstein, two weeks on the job as deputy attorney general, somehow barreled into the White House and said, take this, Mr. President, you have got to do it.

Now think about Rod Rosenstein. What does he do? He is a man who has earned a reputation, a deserved reputation, bipartisan respect as being a straight shooter. He’s been used as a pawn in this thing. He was advanced as the reason, when he knew he wasn’t the reason. And now he’s got to prove his independence, if he’s going to be in charge of this investigation.

So, he’s not going to be — no pressure can be applied to him. If it appears to be, again, it’s going to be redound to the detriment of the White House and the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I have seen some analysis this week, Ramesh, that people are watching moderate Republicans, especially in the Senate, to see how they react.

What is their calculus? What do they look for as they decide how to respond to this and what to do?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that they are going to be nervous.

They’re not going to want to go out on a limb and defend the administration, particularly when the line for the administration keeps changing. And you go out on the limb, the administration might saw that limb out right from behind you.

The political pressures on them are going to be intense. They’re going to want to look for ways to get out from those political pressures. And it could be that the end result of this is that it has strengthened the case for a special prosecutor, an independent commission or a select committee of Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark said — I want to ask you about — I think, Mark, you said, what, three — you think three dozen Republican …

MARK SHIELDS: House seats that right now …


JUDY WOODRUFF: … are in jeopardy.

MARK SHIELDS: Historically, presidents under 50 — this president is going to be under 40 percent favorable.

Just Ramesh’s point is, I think, a very good one that bears — it bears reflection on, that the idea, Judy, that The Wall Street Journal editorial page leads its endorsement of firing Comey by quoting, the president had reacted to the deputy attorney general’s initiative in doing it.

So, they’re supporting Donald Trump, and they have got egg all over there. They have got a poultry farm on their face.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, let’s be honest about it.

And to be — have him say, have — how about being accused of being a showboat by Donald Trump? Now, that is tantamount to being called ugly by a frog. I mean, Donald Trump has never been a shrinking violet before. I didn’t know grandstanding was a mortal sin in his lexicon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you look for in the days to come to see where this goes, Ramesh?

RAMESH PONNURU: I think I would start looking for the congressional Republican reactions.

I don’t think that a lot of people today have been very vocal in response to President Trump’s tweeting about tapes of …


JUDY WOODRUFF: And, by the way, we don’t know whether there is a recording system in the White House.


But I think — but the question is, do they just try to ride this out, or do they start criticizing the president?


MARK SHIELDS: I think, Judy, I think that it’s going to be every man and woman for him or her self, and they’re going to realize that their fate, fortune and future is not going to be well-served being tied to this president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a week that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Mark Shields, Ramesh Ponnuru, thank you.

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Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill fallout, Trump’s order on religion

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, May 05, 2017

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

Let’s start with this little party that was on the Rose Garden yesterday. The beer cases were brought in. There was a celebratory atmosphere. President Trump rightfully brought the House Republicans there after they pushed their health care repeal and replace bill through the House.

How did they manage to do this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, the event itself, the only thing more — or as unseemly as the self-congratulatory bus trip to the White House — it was like after you had won an office softball game and you break out the beer — were the Democrats on the House floor taunting bye, bye, bye to Republicans.

This is trivializing a moral issue. And this — to me, that’s what health care is, whether in fact it is a right of a citizen in this country to health care. And I think it’s a serious question, whether we share our benefits and share our burdens, or whether in fact we’re all in this alone.

And what the House passed yesterday was something that just had to be done. I mean, otherwise, you’re staring into the abyss of total political failure. Republicans had gone through four elections where the one unanimous position they had all taken as a party was the repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Sixty-two times, they courageously and boldly voted to do, knowing it didn’t count, knowing it wasn’t going to go anywhere. The 63rd time was tougher, because what they passed yesterday has serious implications for them politically and certainly for the people of the country.

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: It’s a great moral issue. But this passed because Paul Ryan got granular. He identified who he needed and what they wanted and essentially gave it to them.

So, moderates get the high-risk fund. The Freedom Caucus gets the waivers. He just put on the table what he needed to get across the finish line.

Now, that doesn’t make it a good bill or even a coherent bill. But I think the trust here is that Ryan will hand this off to McConnell, McConnell has some rational process that the House can no longer produce, because of its own internal dynamics, and that they might get an improved product at the end.

The other thing that’s worth noting that is really fascinating is the almost absence of presidential leadership in producing this victory. He was really not very engaged or involved.

Paul Ryan is learning to live without the normal role of the president in the legislative process. But it is unique, his absence.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happens by the time it gets to the Senate?

Nancy Pelosi has already said, listen, this is the vote that’s going to be tattooed on you come reelection time. But more important, the Senate’s going to change it in some way shape or form, if they move forward at all.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, they are.

Just one quick point to Michael’s point. And that is the $8 billion fig leaf — and it was a fig leaf — that they’re going to cover people with a preexisting condition, which was the price to get Billy Long and Fred Upton, represents less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the cost of Medicaid. It’s not going to last beyond a couple of months.

It was just something that they could go back and sell to their own constituencies and for their own purposes. It’s meaningless.

But what’s going to happen in the Senate? I will say this. We have just seen the high watermark for this legislation. Every Republican in the House who voted for it will have to answer for it. And this is a stand-alone piece of it, whatever happens in the Senate. And nobody really knows.

There are 11 Republican governors, don’t forget — and this is where this starts to count — who expanded, accepted the Medicaid expansion, and who have covered people in their state, and from John Kasich, to Rick Snyder in Michigan, to Gary Herbert in Utah, to Brian Sandoval in Nevada, across the country.

And so it’s a different dynamic in the Senate. They have got states represented by senators like Rob Portman, a traditional conservative, who is going to fight for the preservation of Medicaid expansion.

MICHAEL GERSON: The Senate is acting pretty much from scratch. They’re not going to the House bill and building on it. They’re taking away.

Lamar Alexander has been charged to produce their own approach. There’s a small group of senators that is kind of diverse, at least within the caucus, that is working on this. And Senator McConnell has promised them some time for deliberation, unlike the way the House passed this.

So, the probably — is exactly what you’re talking about. Senator Collins has already announced she will not support a bill that doesn’t include Planned Parenthood funding, OK? The bill will not include Planned Parenthood funding.

That means that Republicans need 51 votes. They have got a margin of one in producing this piece of legislation. There’s no margin of error for them here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s talk about another Rose Garden event that happened yesterday, really kind of talking about religion in politics, and the Trump administration bringing that to the fore.

He signed an executive order easing an IRS rule limiting political activity by houses of worship. This was also on day that President Trump proclaimed a national day of prayer and had a statement saying — quote — “All human beings have the right to practice their faith in private and in the public square.”

The public square portion, does that raise any concerns?

MARK SHIELDS: It doesn’t to me, and it apparently didn’t to the American Civil Liberties Union either.

I happen to believe that this was a strict political payoff, in symbolic terms, that evangelical white Christians had been his most supporters; 81 percent of them voted for him.

And I, for one, will break with liberal ranks and make the case that America’s original sin existed until organized religion, namely, the American Methodists, the Anglican evangelicals, and Quakers led the fight to abolish slavery. There wouldn’t have been a civil rights bill, legislation in this country without the active involvement of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, particularly black Protestant leadership, so — as well as peace movement.

So, I’m not as concerned about the involvement in the public square. Donald Trump’s religiosity has always been rather elusive to me.



Is this a backdoor option or a possibility where this could be sort of Citizens United 2.0? Let’s just today build the church of Mark and Michael, totally tax-exempt organizations, raise as much money as you want, donate to whatever political party you would like?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I don’t know if it even accomplishes that.

I mean, the Johnson amendment, you know, I have never seen anywhere, encountered someone complaining about rigorous enforcement of the Johnson amendment. I have been around this a long time. It’s a nonexistent issue. It’s a solution in search of a problem. And it is a sop. It is an empty symbol.

The problem here that we’re seeing more recently is not that religion is hurting the public square too much. It’s that politics is undermining and invading the credibility of religion itself.

People who support Donald Trump, many of them were people who said that Bill Clinton’s character mattered more than anything else. And now they’re embracing Trump. And people are looking at this and saying that this is a joke. This is hypocrisy.

And so I think the risk here is actually to religion.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To that point, I mean …

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point.

On your point, yes, I am deeply concerned, and have been, and especially now that we have got a smokescreen of charitable religious institutions being formed basically for political ends, and for partisan political purpose.

And what it amounts to in public policy terms is, I’m making a donation, a tax-deducted donation, for a political purpose to support my political cause or your political cause, which I think is absolutely wrong, and it’s a corruption.

MICHAEL GERSON: I just haven’t seen much evidence of it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t know …

MARK SHIELDS: We have certainly seen — we have seen phony, bogus charitable foundations created for that purpose.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t socially if this happens already, but do you end up picking your church a little bit more because you know how that church is going to vote?

I’m going to reveal my Hindu roots here, but I thought Jesus was an independent, not a Democrat or a Republican.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that’s true.

Whenever a pastor makes a political statement, they’re at risk of alienating a portion of their congregation on issues that have nothing to do with religion, or at least their judgment is not particularly sanctified on these issues.

I mean, I would rather go to the average bartender for political advice than the average priest or minister.


MICHAEL GERSON: So, you know, I think that they don’t have an expertise in many of these issues. And that’s up to laymen in the church and that, from the pulpit, there needs to be fairness.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes, all right, Michael Gerson, Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point you make.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, thank you.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Thank you very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Hari.


The post Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill fallout, Trump’s order on religion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s 100-day performance

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Apr 28, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, we’re just one day away, David, from the 100-day mark of the new administration. What are we thinking right now?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: A hundred days is a stupid marker — 99 days, much better.


DAVID BROOKS: No, it’s not a success.

But I think what’s striking, he has had the obvious failures, the health care and all the rest. And I think what’s striking and makes me remain curious about the next four years is the change. I mean, it’s just rapid change. We have never seen a president change this much from being a populist to being a corporatist, from being the Bannon dark knight to shifting to putting pretty straight, at least people who are — putting a process around him.

And so I would say there’s been some improvements. He’s never going to be a deep thinker. He’s never going to have an overall strategy, but the level of flexibility is to me actually one of the more striking and maybe hopeful that he can learn from failure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some improvement, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Judy, there’s an old formula in Washington. When someone changes and moves in your direction, politically or philosophically, that person has grown. And when he moves in the other direction, of course, he’s Benedict Arnold. He’s a Judas Iscariot. He’s a traitor.

Donald Trump has one loyal constituency. And to listen to David — and I think his point is right — he has changed. He’s turned his back on that constituency.

Three out of four Americans approve of one thing Donald Trump has done. And that is forcing companies to keep jobs in the United States. That was the populist theme. That was something that no other president has won the White House on. And he, under the pressure of the 100-day deadline, which he kept disdaining and then genuflecting before and feverishly pursuing, Donald Trump came up with a one-page tax plan that turned his back totally on the people who elected him.

And his secretary of the treasury could not even tell you what a family making $70,000 a year with four — two children, whether they would pay more or less in taxes.

But he could tell you one thing, that Donald Trump’s Cabinet would pay and Donald Trump in that plan would may measurably less. It was a plan designed for the deserving rich.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying they did put out a plan, a one-page plan.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it doesn’t tell us much more, David, about what they really will do.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, two things.

First, which way is he moving? He’s not moving toward people like me. I’m not part of the corporate elite.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I know that.

DAVID BROOKS: I am flattered by the reference.


DAVID BROOKS: He’s now moving from a version of populism to a version of corporatism.

And if there was a good version of populism, where he would really help the people who voted for him, that would be great. That wasn’t something he was going to be capable of doing. He had an ethnic populism can which as most an ugly version of populism.

And, second, by the way, there’s no constituency for populism of the good sort in the United States Congress. So, that was never going to happen. So he has moved toward something which does help his friends in big business. There’s no question about that.

I happen to think that’s a less dangerous mode of change. It’s more conventional anyway than being a populist. If he tried to being an American Le Pen, an American Putin, that was the truly dangerous thing. And that part, he’s rejected.

So, I think at least we have avoided a really ugly version of the White House, at least right now. The second thing about the tax plan, he’s never going to be deep. He’s never going to be substantive. He wants things, the tax plan right away. The Treasury Department has no time to actually put anything together.

So, they gave him a page which they think will please him, which is right. It wasn’t a tax plan. It was just 100 words off the top of their head. And that’s why I thing he will little mark with this tax plan. That thing is sure to fail, at least in its present form.

And so he just floats across the surface without really causing any change, just a lot of ruffling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whatever it is, Mark, I mean, David’s point is that it’s better than what it sounded like it was going to be during the campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t know.

He did — he turned his back on the people who elected him. What Donald Trump did that no Republican had done since Ronald Reagan was to break through among blue-collar white voters, working-class voters in this country, who Democrats had kind of assumed were part of their constituency, had taken for granted, and who had paid the price of globalization, whose own fortunes had suffered, the shrinking of the middle class, established once again this week by Pew in its research in this country.

And Donald Trump said, I recognize you, I’m with you.

And whatever else has happened, I mean, the virtue of Donald Trump as a candidate was, he says what he means. And it turns out, he didn’t mean what he said.

And, Judy, you cannot talk about Donald Trump without talking about the Republicans. And the tax thing is one thing, because that’s just a piece of paper. But the health care thing is failure, a total philosophical, political and courageous failure of a political party, as well as the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they talked about it for so long.

MARK SHIELDS: They won four elections. They won four elections in a row for the Congress on it, Judy.

And let’s just get one thing straight, one thing straight. The Democrats passed a bill in 2010. And they had 179 witnesses appear before Congress. They had 78 separate hearings in Congress. They have had 230 amendments they considered. They passed — they accepted 121 of them.

It was a two-year ordeal. And these people have invested nothing. They can’t even come up with a repeal bill. It is just — now all they’re trying to pass in the House is what — the legislative equivalent of a dead fish. They just want to get it out of them across to the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that on the president, David, or is that on the Republicans in the Congress?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s on both. The president came in with no plan, with no strategy, with no people. So, he is just a guy with words and tweets.

It’s a bit on the Congress, but it’s also just a bit on the party. There is no plan that could pass with all the Republican votes, because every time you get the Freedom Caucus, you lose the moderates. That’s just the iron rule.

And so if you wanted to do the kind of government I think Mark and I would probably find some favor with, he would have come in, Trump would have said, I’m going to help my people. And I’m going to do first a big infrastructure spending bill, then maybe a payroll tax cut, and then moving things, some education things, just everything at that group.

But to get something like that passed would have required breaking down the polarization of our politics, and getting some Democrats and some Republicans. And that would have been great. But it would have required such legislative skill and experience that was completely beyond the capacities of this White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about just the style of this president, Mark, the fact that he made just an offhand statement this week, tweeted, we’re going to do away with NAFTA, I’m going to terminate it?

And then, within 24 hours, he was saying, well, I heard from the presidents of Mexico and Canada — the prime minister of Canada — and I’m going to negotiate it.

And then we have been talking tonight about North Korea, the tough language, the tough rhetoric back and forth about whether we’re going to be tough.

Has this proven effective? How do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: Picky, picky, picky. You just want to find fault.

No, of course it hasn’t, Judy. It’s been a failure. I mean, he had no honeymoon. This was a shorter honeymoon than Liza Minnelli’s. This thing was over in 24 hours. And he ended it.

He now — think about this, how inept this president has been. His popular act a was proportional, in most people’s judgment, response to the outrage and international offense of the Syrian government, poison gas on its own people, all right?

And a plurality of Americans, in spite of the economic news you presented earlier this evening, see the economy getting better. And with those things going for him, his own favorable rating fell in the polls.

I mean, so, no, I mean, there’s total — there’s dissatisfaction with him. He’s going to be Typhoid Mary politically heading into 2018 on this chaos.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you’re saying that he’s learned something, that he’s grown in office.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are we talking about the same …

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, his 100 days are not a success. This is not FDR we’re talking about here. It’s a failure.

But I’m looking for opportunities for growth. It’s like when you have a student who gets an F, you go, oh, you got a D-minus. That’s so much better.


DAVID BROOKS: So, I’m looking on the bright side.

And if you go from dangerous to fickle, I think that’s a good move.


DAVID BROOKS: And so — and then the final thing I will say, I’m really struck by Bob Costa.

Our colleague from Washington Week did a great — with Ashley Parker, a great piece on his television watching habits. And he had this interview with AP where he talked about how hard it was to rip himself away from the habit of watching every single TV show about himself.

And so you see a guy sort of transparently and naively struggling certainly with maybe narcissism, but certainly the TV obsession. And the lack of attention span is what causes all this fickleness.

Whoever saw him last gets the policy for the day. And will that settle down, or will we just sort of get a weather vane for the next four years? I don’t know.

But I do think that the first 30 days was unsustainable. He was crashing every hour. And that’s calmed down a little.

MARK SHIELDS: I stand in awe of David’s optimism. I do. I really do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fickle better than dangerous.

MARK SHIELDS: And, no, I appreciate it.

But, Judy, two things have occurred under Donald Trump, and Donald Trump deserves credit for. For the first time since it passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is now more popular than it’s ever been before, a majority of Americans. It’s more popular than Donald Trump, if you want to do it just on a comparative.

And the other thing is that Americans who had been on a Tea Party tear for smaller government now government, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, to do more. They want it more — to do more in their lives and to be more active.

So, this just goes completely antithetical to the Republican ideology of a smaller, leaner, cheaper government withdrawing. And so, no, I think there’s great change in the air. I don’t know where it comes down, but it’s hard for me to see that there’s any hand on the rudder of the ship of state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But his supporters — and we keep saying this in the polls, and the reporters who are going around the country talking to people who voted for Donald Trump, David.

They still like what he’s doing.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, they do. People are solid. People are mostly driven by partisanship. The prism through which they see reality is their partisan identity.

And so that will take some time to shake off. I do think it can be shaken off. It seems very, very likely to me this tax reform is not going to go anywhere, at least anything like its current form.

And so how does he react to that? At what point does the economy take a dip and maybe people say, hey, what exactly are you doing for me now?

But I do think that will be a while. Partisan identity right now is so strong that if you ask people how is the economy doing, it doesn’t matter how the economy is doing. It happens — it’s whether their guy is in power is how they see it. So, that loyalty will stay there for a little while.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing, Judy.

And before Democrats start popping the champagne, 67 percent of Americans feel Democrats, the Democratic Party, is out of touch with what’s going on in their lives, more than — a lot more than they feel that about Donald Trump.

So, if anything, yes, 96 to 98 percent of the people who voted for him are with him and would do so again. But, I mean, the Democrats have to be a lot more than just, we’re not Trump. That is not the answer to their problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s not yet the makings of a comeback.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we hope both of you come back.

Thank you.



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Shields and Gerson on Georgia election pressure, Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News fall

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Apr 21, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

Welcome to you, gentlemen.

There was a special congressional election this week, Mark Shields, in Georgia, the Sixth District.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Really?



JUDY WOODRUFF: My question is, the Democrats fell just short. Lessons learned, wider implications, what did you see?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I saw all of them.


MARK SHIELDS: The Democrat, a 30-year-old rookie with experience in public life of being a congressional aide on Capitol Hill, managed to raise over $8 million from activists around the country who are committed and his own support, and managed to get, Judy, more votes than the first five Republicans in a district that Mitt Romney won by 20 points that has been electing nothing but Republicans to Congress, including Dr. Tom Price, the secretary of HHS, by — and Newt Gingrich by substantial margins.

But he didn’t get the magic 50 percent, which in the jungle primary of Georgia, where everybody’s in it, is the magic number. But I would say it was impressive. After Kansas, what it means…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where they had another special election.

MARK SHIELDS: Had a special election, where the Democrat didn’t win, but, again, in a district that Donald Trump had won by 23 points, he won — he lost only by seven.

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Even more impressive, actually.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, that’s right.


MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats, they have cut the margin. And, right now, I would say the wind is at the Democrats’ back.

What does that mean? What is the significance? The significance is this. If the Democrats do win, surprising. It would be quite surprising if they could win in Montana, quite frankly, because it’s an 11-point Republican advantage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s another election coming up soon.

MARK SHIELDS: For Ryan Zinke’s seat.

If it does, Judy, it means they’re going to get better candidates. That’s what happens when you win special elections. You start to get — recruit better candidates for the next general election, more attractive, more appealing, more competent candidates. And the other side starts to see retirements.

Candidates in tough races decide to spend more time with their family, rather than doing a contested…


JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see in these tea leaves?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s not unusual for this to happen.

Most presidents in their first midterms don’t do very well. But this is happening early. This is happening 90 days into a new presidency. I mean, this is supposed to be a high point of presidential influence. And what we’re seeing in both these data points is a very serious problem for Republicans.

They’re hurting in places they shouldn’t be hurting. And I think that has great significance. You know, who knows how it trends in the future, but, right now, I think Republicans are seeing alarm bells ringing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And knowing that, if the Democrats can mount strong candidates in these districts, they’re in trouble. Now, that’s — can they do that in 2018, or not?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the prospect of winning has encouraged people to run.

I would just point out, in defense of the Sixth District, that, while Mitt Romney carried college-educated whites by 14 percent over Barack Obama in 2012, Donald Trump only carried them by four points over Hillary Clinton. And this is a district where college-educated voters are remarkably — the percentage of them is remarkably high, one of the 10 highest in the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, you mentioned Republicans may be feeling a little nervous, the White House feeling a little nervous.

Some Republicans feeling comfortable enough to start criticizing this president. You had two Republican senators in this past week. Joni Ernst — these are sort of gentle criticisms — the senator from Iowa, came out and said the president needs to spend less time at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the weekends, more time at the White House.

And you had Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma and a few other Republicans saying the president needs to release his tax returns.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this just the kind of typical intraparty split, or what?

MICHAEL GERSON: No, I think it means something.

Every Republican candidate has to make a Trump calibration to determine what percentage they support the president and what they don’t, depending on their districts.

Right now, there is a huge difference between a president at 60 percent and a president in the low 40s. People feel like they don’t need to explain things for him that are difficult to explain.

You watch some members, like Tom Cotton, a senator who I really like, a sharp guy, trying to defend why the president won’t release his tax returns, and looks foolish in the process.


MICHAEL GERSON: So, some of the cost, the intimidation factor has been reduced because of the president’s standing. And some people are just not going to put up with explaining the unexplainable.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree with Michael.

Senator Lankford of Oklahoma, this is the reddest of red states, Oklahoma. And he’s a true-blue conservative, no pun intended, he, Senator James Lankford. And he was asked about the tax returns. And his answer was, he promised he would, and, therefore, he should. I mean, it was that straightforward.

That — it’s unassailable logic that’s absolutely true. And he had — he promised a number of times that he would do so. Then he said the promise was — he, the president, said the promise was negated because he won the election.

The president today, in an Associated Press interview, said he was going to have a big, huge, wonderful tax cut bill next week. And anybody on either side of the aisle will have a tough time answering the question, if this is the proposal, what will it mean for — what will President Trump’s tax cut mean for billionaire citizen Trump’s personal taxes?

And I think that is …


JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a question.


MICHAEL GERSON: He’s materially undermining his ability to get that legislation through the Congress because of his refusal to receive this material.

They are not going to pass, including many Republicans, a law without knowing how it benefits the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as far as we know, there is no intention, is that right, on the part of the White House to — or the president to release it.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, it’s a — I used to be a political hack. Maybe I still am.


MARK SHIELDS: But it’s a pretty safe — you have all the Cabinet officers had to provide their income information for confirmation. Wilbur Ross is a billionaire. All you have to do is run the numbers. What would the proposed tax cut mean for Wilbur Ross? What would it mean for Steve Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury?


MARK SHIELDS: What would it mean for any of the …


JUDY WOODRUFF: But you don’t have that information on the president.

MARK SHIELDS: For him. But it is going to put — it will increase pressure on him. It will make — it will put Republicans very much on the defensive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other things.

One is, Michael, some wrinkles this week when it comes to foreign policy, defense policy, the story about the carrier group that the president said was on its way to North Korea. It turned out it was heading in the other direction. The Pentagon came back and said, well, there was a miscommunication.

And the other is, frankly, different signals coming from the Cabinet officers, from — even from the secretary of state, on Turkey and from the White House. Are these just sort of incidental things that happen, or what? How do we read all of this?

MICHAEL GERSON: No, some of it is real incompetence in the aircraft carrier circumstance, but that might not have been the White House. But it was genuine incompetence.

I look at something like the president saying that Korea was once part of China.


MICHAEL GERSON: That is not just mispronouncing a name. That is offending a country that is our ally in the midst of a crisis. This is serious.

But there are also some tensions. There is tension here between the president’s word, ethno-nationalist, retreat from the world, and his personnel, people that he’s chosen, like McMaster and like Mattis. These are internationalists. They’re not consistent with his public voice.

So, you have those divisions within the administration. He has picked a variety of people that don’t seem to share his foreign policy vision. And that creates questions on — natural questions on the part of both friends and enemies: Who speaks for the administration, under what circumstance?

MARK SHIELDS: Thanks to the public partnership, private-public partnership, they keep track of a very interesting number.

And that is the number of Senate-confirmable important positions there are in every administration. There is 554 that the Senate has to confirm that every president appoints. As of this moment, 473 have not been appointed.


MARK SHIELDS: I think — so, I think, Judy, what you have in part is just they’re thin, their — the level of competence, the level of trust. There is that lack of cohesiveness.

But — and Donald Trump has kind of boasted that he’s keeping people off balance. Every president, when he gets in trouble domestically or gets stalled domestically or just fails in his domestic agenda, loves to go on foreign policy, where he has a far freer rein.

And he’s not the first one to do this. But to sustain and forge and maintain a coalition, it’s based on trust. It’s based not on unpredictability or mercurial behavior. It’s based on a sense of dependability.

And we talk about the USS Carl Vinson steaming toward the Indian Ocean, when they — the Koreans were told, our allies, and the Japanese were told it was headed toward the Korean Peninsula.

And, Judy, that sends tremors, quite frankly, through our allies. And so they have more serious problems than just having egg on their face.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And they have been mocking the U.S. in China, and certainly in North Korea.


JUDY WOODRUFF: The last thing I want to ask both of you about comes out of news from FOX News Channel, Michael, that Bill O’Reilly, who was their, I guess, highest-rated news star, has left, been forced out after these allegations by a number of women about sexual harassment, and, I guess, secret, until now, payouts, payments to these women, $25 million severance, we’re told.

What does this mean in the world of media? Certainly, in the world of conservative media, it’s a big teal.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s an epic change in conservative media.

This has been the most important Republican influence, I think, bar none, over the last 15 years. FOX News has played that role for many activist Republicans. And now the brains of the operation, Ailes, and the face of the operation, O’Reilly, are gone. That’s a massive change.

It’s also an indication just — maybe one way to put it is, sometimes, conservatives need liberals. And liberals have been talking about workplace equality for a long time. And they were absolutely right.

This is a case where FOX tolerated the intolerable, and did so time after time. That’s a systemic problem. And I think they need to face that very directly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just over 30, 40 seconds.


Judy, I think it’s always been about power more than about sex, sexual harassment. It’s men in position of power who have had women who have been vulnerable, who have needed promotions, who have needed jobs, who have needed just sustenance.

And it’s all — and I think what we see in this, quite frankly, societally, is a revolt and a revolution. And what we saw, cable TV is about two things. It’s about eyeballs, the number of people who watch it, and it’s about dollar signs.

His eyeballs, the number of people who watched Bill O’Reilly, was still up there, but the dollar signs were hurting. Corporate sponsors were withdrawing. And it was because women, and men, too, but women led it, and they led a boycott and they led a threat.

And that, I think, can change our society for the better.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you both.


The post Shields and Gerson on Georgia election pressure, Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News fall appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on GOP home-district hostility, Trump policy reversals

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Apr 14, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to politics, starting with the backlash some GOP lawmakers are facing in their home districts this week.

WOMAN: Answer it!

MAN: Answer it!

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s the second major congressional recess of the year, and Republicans are again facing tense encounters with their constituents.

Take last night’s raucous town hall in Mesa, Arizona.

AUDIENCE: Shame on you! Shame on you!

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Senator Jeff Flake was booed lustily during an exchange on health care.

WOMAN: Mr. Flake, why is it that, in Germany, we have had a universal health care system since …


WOMAN: Wait a minute.

Since 1871?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-Ariz.: Well, thank you for that. I just — I don’t happen to agree. I think the free market system …


JUDY WOODRUFF: And in South Carolina on Monday.

REP. JOE WILSON, R-S.C.: Obamacare is denying services, delaying services.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Joe Wilson heard it from voters who parroted the charge he once hurled at President Obama.

AUDIENCE: You lie! You lie! You lie!

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wednesday night, Colorado constituents demanded that Representative Mike Coffman break with President Trump.

WOMAN: I would like to know when you are going to stop voting with the president who has a 35 percent approval rating, and start fighting for Coloradans?


REP. MIKE COFFMAN, R-Colo.: When I disagree with the president, I will speak out with the president. But I’m not going to do it every other day. It’s when it’s something significant.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Attendees at that event had to show an I.D., and limit signs to notebook size.

Other Republicans have opted against holding mass voter events at all. Instead, some are conducting tele-town halls over the phone and social media.

A big question is, will the anger translate beyond town halls? This week in Kansas, in a rock-solid Republican district, the GOP only narrowly won a special election for the House seat vacated by Mike Pompeo, who’s now director of the CIA. There’s another closely watched special House election next Tuesday in Georgia to replace Tom Price, the new secretary of health and human services.

And with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Welcome, gentlemen.

So, David, what do you make of all this hostility at some of the town halls?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I think there are two issues here.

One is the hostility of the town hall. I’m not sure what to make of that. I think it means that progressives are as enraged as the Tea Party people were of several years ago.

The larger issue is the shift in the polls in that Kansas race and some of the other races and the shift that we see in the polls generally. And that’s less — that’s not only the fact progressives are more energized, but it’s also the drifting away of Republicans from the Trump administration.

And it’s not happening on a state level, so this is Trump-related. And so, if I were a House member with — maybe if I had won my last seat, and I am Republican, by 10 or 15 points, I think I would be more nervous than ever before in my career.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you attribute all this to?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, Judy, the Joe Wilson segment was particularly appropriate, South Carolina.

It was September 2009 where Joe Wilson, I think, changed American politics. He was a member of the House of Representatives then, as he is now. President Barack Obama was addressing the Congress on Medicare, joint session, and the president said illegal undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be covered under the health care plan.

And Joe Wilson broke all customs, traditions and stood up and said, “You lie, you lie,” and he was reprimanded officially by the House of Representatives. He had to apologize. He apologized personally. He raised $1.5 million the next week.

And that’s when it — learned that there wasn’t a consequence to such behavior. And it sort of, I think, really raised to a different level the polarization and the personalization of our politics, that anything goes as long as you raise money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was kind of a turning point.

MARK SHIELDS: I really feel that way.

So, I agree with David. I think there is energy, there’s no question, and passion, just as there was then against President Obama in 2009, 2010. There isn’t any trace of any racial component to the opposition to President Trump, but there is passion.

And I think that’s what you see. What I would be worried about, Democrats should be, that this looks orchestrated, that it looks planned, that the Democratic National Committee sent out a message saying, get in Jeff Flake’s grill, so that it’s not just a question of spontaneity, of people expressing their own opposition or criticism about policies, but, instead, sort of organizing.

If it starts to ring of an organized effort, I think it hurts. As far as the special House elections, they’re always aberrational, but if the Democrats are going to win the House in 2018, they have to win districts like the one in Georgia, which…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The one that is up next Tuesday.

MARK SHIELDS: … Mitt Romney won by 20 points and Donald Trump only won by two.

It’s twice as college-educated a population, electorate as the reset of the state. And this is the kind of place they have to break through.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What determines, David, whether Democrats stay energized or not?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we have learned that hatred is the organizing — the great organizing principle in politics.

And, of course, they have done so poorly in the midterms because their output, their turnout tends to be low in those races. You know, to me, it’s very hazardous to linearly project out. We have seen in the last week the Trump administration shift in a radical way.

And so something really bad could happen, something really good could happen, but the odds that the future a year from now will look like the present, those strike me as infinitesimally low.

We’re in a position there is just wide variance on what could happen. And so I’m not sure it makes much sense to think, what is 2018 going to look like, because there are probably — as many days as there are between now and then, that’s how many changes of directions we’re probably going to see.

MARK SHIELDS: One quick measure of prospects is the ability to translate that enthusiasm into contributions.

And the Democratic candidate in Georgia, Jon Ossoff, who is really untried, untested, I mean, a young man, 30 years old, with a very thin resume, has raised over $8.5 million.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of it from out of state.

MARK SHIELDS: Most of it overwhelmingly from out of state.

When the Democrats did last capture the House from the Republicans in 2006, one of the reasons they did is that the Democrats, under Rahm Emanuel’s leadership, now the mayor of Chicago, devoted incredible effort to recruiting candidates who fit with the districts in which they ran.

That’s when they ran Blue Dog Democrats, conservative to moderate Democrats in conservative to moderate areas. Since then, they have kind of turned over the nominating process to national liberal groups and whomever they support.

And I think that’s been a mistake and I think they have paid for it at the polls.

DAVID BROOKS: If I could make one quick comment about the town halls, I probably wouldn’t go to them.

Like, I love political discussion. But having people shout at each other, even if you agree, it’s just — I think it’s bad in general. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s just not a conversation. It’s just umbrage and it’s a little bit theatrical.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they used to be very quiet, didn’t they? This is a big change.

But, David, you mentioned a minute ago something that I do want to ask you both about. And that is what appears to be a change in position by the president on a number of things, around trade, around NAFTA, that he’s going to declare China a currency manipulator on day one, that he’s going to get health care passed.

And that’s a different issue, that you have to have Congress go along.

DAVID BROOKS: Janet Yellen at the …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Janet Yellen, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s going on here? Are these genuine changes of opinion? What — how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Certainly struck by it.

There are a lot of data points all of a sudden. And most people, if they — especially if you’re an academic or an writer, if you spend many months arguing that China’s a manipulator, a currency manipulator, you don’t just then turn on a dime.

But Donald Trump is different. He’s a marketing guy. He’s a business guy, whatever is working for him at the moment. And it seems, from this many data points, he’s making the conclusion that the populism and the Bannon-ism is not working, and he’s going to go to something else.

Now, what exactly that else thing is, we don’t really know. It could be sort of a corporatism. It could be, let me trust my business guys, let’s go to the CEOs, and let’s — those guys, I can trust.

There seems to be some instinctual sense that he’s shifting teams of who he wants to be his key advisers. And with Trump, because he knows so little, it’s not him personal initiating policy. The crucial question is, who is he listening to?

And there’s a clear shift, at least in one week, that there has been a radical shift in his advisee team.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it is a remarkable number of issues that the president appears, Mark, to be taking the opposite stand from what he said during the campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: No, you’re right, Judy.

Even during the campaign, when he said things that were inconsistent or occasionally contradictory, the defense, the rebuttal of this on the part of his supporters was, hey, he may not always be — but he says what he means, and he means what he says, and the guy just doesn’t say it all of the time with polish, but he says it with conviction.

Well, his convictions turned out to have the shelf life of a used kleenex. They just disappear. So, you know, now he’s moved toward orthodoxy, sort of a Republican orthodoxy, business — pro-business orthodoxy, international responsibility, America is the — if not the policeman of the world, then certainly a projector of force and influence in maintaining security around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, just in the last week, the bomb that was dropped in Afghanistan, the strike in Syria, right.

MARK SHIELDS: The bomb in Afghanistan.

But in both Afghanistan and Syria, there wasn’t any consequence of — real likely consequence of any national retaliation to the United States. They were enormous acts. I mean, they got the world’s attention.

North Korea is different. And tough talk in North Korea is not going to stop Kim Jong-un from — I don’t think, from a nuclear test. And I think the consequences in North Korea and our dealing with North Korea really are enormously consequential and very, very serious, and should be of concern to everybody involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, the president, it seems to me, has been pretty loose with the tweets. He’s been saying, if China doesn’t help us get North Korea in line, we will go it alone, we will do it ourselves.


One is always unnerved. The North Korea situation is unnerving. But I have to say, I think the president has had a good week on the subject. The shift in China, the harsher tone from China toward North Korea, the, in effect, drawing a red line against North Korea and also against us, that’s a win.

That’s a very significant development, that China is clearly upset, clearly concerned about what’s going on, and they’re willing to step into North Korea and say, don’t cross that line. And so that is a significant shift.

And one has to give some credit to Donald Trump. And two things have happened. One is the Syria thing happened, and the sense that the U.S. is sort of active again in the world, which it hasn’t been for many years.

And, second — and I made this point last week, and Mark didn’t respond favorably to it — which is, there is some advantages and disadvantages to having an unpredictable guy as president.


DAVID BROOKS: Disadvantages if you’re an ally, but some advantages toward the enemy, because they don’t know what’s happening.

And I do think the more assertive U.S. has had some role in this and progress on the North Korea thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A week later, where are you?

MARK SHIELDS: A week later, I accept David’s apology.



I mean, Judy, I mean, unpredictability is not the defining — shouldn’t be the defining characteristic of a presidency. I mean, the ability to take new information and to change direction, you know, yes, and change policy, is there any indication that there is any thought been given to this policy?

I mean, the great consolation that people in Washington take, whether they should or they shouldn’t, is James Mattis, General McMaster, you know, that these are people of seriousness, Rex Tillerson, people of stability and consequence. They don’t have anything comparable at the home — on the domestic side.

And, you know, that’s it. I just don’t think you can have somebody do it on whim and by tweet. And I really — David’s far more sanguine about North Korea and China right now than I am.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I’m not saying sanguine. I’m saying progress.

But I do think this emphasizes a point, is that we could be moving toward an administration where Trump is less dominant and less influenced by Bannon, who I think was a very bad influence, and you get a team of advisers who are building a structure around him, and the McMasters and Gary Cohns and maybe the Jared Kushners.

And so we could be going into something that looks a little more like Cabinet government than we have seen in a while, where Gary Cohn does what he wants on economic policy, Jeff Sessions continues to do what he wants in a more populist on immigration policy, and we’re looking to the second tier to actually making more decisions, and maybe the top guy is just out doing his tweets.

MARK SHIELDS: Gary Cohn better be careful. He better not be on a “Saturday Night Live” skit featured as the dominant figure in the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Referring back to Steve Bannon.

MARK SHIELDS: He better not be on the cover of TIME magazine.

That, in itself, I think — I mean, Donald Trump, whatever else he is, we know, is sensitive to, aware and keenly interested in publicity and who gets attention. And I have to think that Steve Bannon’s star wasn’t elevated or helped by the kind of attention he got in the press.

JUDY WOODRUFF: “Saturday Night Live” is — an unforgettable image of him as the — death, not just the Grim Reaper, but death.

MARK SHIELDS: Right. That’s right, and the dominant figure with his puppet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s Syria attack, Senate’s fierce partisanship

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Apr 07, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us from New York.

And welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, let’s start out by talking about the attack launched against Syria.

Was this — what do you make of it?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, the previous discussion is well worth listening to again and again. Each of them was — made, I thought, incredibly perceptive points.

The thing that amazes me is the president’s transformation is kind of, what moves this president? This president, who had his United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, as recently as last week say that this was no longer a priority, removing — we’re living with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to have the secretary of state say it’s up to the people of Syria.

Is that the five million refugees to vote absentee, to vote to remove him from office? But — and he’s unmoved, Judy — he’s been unmoved by the unforgettable image of Omran Daqneesh, the little 5-year-old boy who was covered with dust and blood and debris after an Aleppo bombing by the Russians that killed his 10-year-old brother.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Years of killing.

MARK SHIELDS: And unmoved by the 3-year-old Alan Kurdi on the beach drowned as a refugee. But he obviously was moved by this, or appeared to be. It seemed to be an epiphany of sorts.

But I think Colonel Bacevich asked the penetrating question. And that is, what’s next? Is this just an impulse? Is this just a reaction, an altogether legitimate reaction? But is it part of a strategy?

Because military action, absent strategy, we have seen it, we have paid for it, the world has paid for it, and human beings have paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your take on the Syria strike, David?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: The question what’s next strikes me as a secondary question.

The primary question is, what are we going to do about chemical warfare? A hundred years ago, right now, World War I was going on, and there people were being gassed in the trenches. And the fact that the world community has basically tried to eliminate chemical weapons since that time strikes me as a great achievement.

And to go back on that would be a great step backward for civilization. And Barack Obama, unfortunately, didn’t do anything when chemical weapons were used. So, I think it was incumbent upon the U.S. to do something when chemical weapons were used.

Does this signal some grand change of strategy in the Middle East? I sort of doubt it. But at least we set this precedent on this particular issue.

Now, question, I think it was probably totally impulsive of President Trump to do this. He’s an impulsive person. And we’re stuck the downsides of his impulsivity. But there are upsides to having an impulsive president, because nobody in the world, especially in places like North Korea, quite knows what’s going to happen. And so, frankly, there are some advantages to that.

MARK SHIELDS: I could not disagree more.

We had an impulsive president in George W. Bush. The last time the Congress of the United States, 15 years ago, recognized and accepted its constitutional responsibility, its sole authority to take the United States into war, their capacity to declare war, the power to declare war and send Americans, they did it on the eve of the election of 2002, when it was to their political advantage, and not once since, despite the best efforts of Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Tim Kaine of Virginia to step up to that responsibility.

We can’t — I’m sorry. We don’t celebrate impulse. And that he keeps other people off-balance is not a strategy. It’s not a rational process.


DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s not my preferred strategy. I would rather have a strategy, obviously. But I am just pointing out there is some upside to having somebody who’s a little unpredictable.

To me, one of the questions is, does this lead to a more normal Trump administration, a more normal Republican foreign policy administration, where you have the U.S. saying, yes, we’re going to guarantee some sort of world order?

Donald Trump so far has been so far away from that, any step in that direction would be welcome. And we see in the White House over the last week is the rise of General Mattis, the rise of National Security Adviser McMaster, maybe the rise, a little influence of Rex Tillerson, and possibly the banishment of Steve Bannon.

And if that’s happening, then we are heading toward a more normal Republican administration. I think it’s too early to say that’s happening. I still think we have a president who is not strategically minded, doesn’t have a long attention span, and does react.

But, in this particular case — and I suspect it was a one-off case that, as Andy Bacevich said, we will have forgotten in a week, but I think it was the right one-off thing to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Mark? There have been changes in the White House, including Steve Bannon coming off the National Security Council.

And we’re reading that Bannon’s cache may be dropping, as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Gary Cohn, who runs the Economic Council, that their stock rises.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Judy, just one point that David made I agree completely with him. The military, the defense — General Mattis certainly has — you can see his influence.

And let’s be very blunt about it. The only people in this Cabinet who know what they’re doing, who have any experience are the military people. They’re the ones that understand. And it’s understandable that General Mattis rejected and resisted and fought against the policy of Barack Obama, President Obama. He did push for more military.

So, he is filling this void. And I think that that is a — that’s a plus for the country. As far as what’s going on in the White House, I can’t believe this disarray in the White House or these tensions, because the president told us it had been the most successful 13 weeks of any president in U.S. history.

And it seems a funny way to celebrate that. But it’s a pretty good rule of thumb, Judy. Steve Bannon is the only person that has had a worse week than Bill O’Reilly. And it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that, when you start talking personnel changes in any administration, whether it’s Jimmy Carter in 1979 firing Joe Califano, or Jerry Ford cashiering Nelson Rockefeller in 1975, George H.W. Bush getting rid of John Sununu as chief of staff, it’s a pretty good indication you’re in political trouble.

All three lost. I would point that out. And I think that’s going on right now. I don’t know — Steve Bannon made an incredibly dumb move. And that is, you don’t put the boss in the position of trying to — being forced to choose between your daughter, your favorite child’s spouse, Jared Kushner, and him.

And it looks like that’s what Bannon has done, and he’s coming up short.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, David? What’s going on?


Well, from what we can tell, there are two things going on. One, they have had a series of failures. And I hope they recognize them as failures, the health care failures, the budget failures, a series of other things.

And, second, the poisonous atmosphere within the administration. If you talk to people who are working with the administration from outside or those within, they all describe a scorpions-in-the-bottle-type atmosphere.

And that’s something the president has engineered himself by deciding who’s going to be with him one second, who’s not going to be with him one second, who he favors one second, who he disfavors another second.

And so he has set an atmosphere primarily concerned to tear his staff apart. And he’s hired people who are apt at that. And so the atmosphere is extremely unhappy. And so those — both those things are happening, which, in a normal administration, would recommend a change.

It is still — it should be said, still in the realm of rumor. But the acidity of life in the White House, that seems to be pretty well-established.



MARK SHIELDS: Acidity. Acidity is good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As David said.


Every White House, Judy, is ultimately and inevitably a mirror reflection of the person at the top. I mean, the self-righteousness of Jimmy Carter’s, the insular — the paranoia of Richard Nixon’s, the detachment of Barack Obama’s, it all reflects the person at the top.

The chaos and the civil war in the leper colony going on now reflects Donald Trump’s style and preferred modus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m sure none of these presidents take what you said personally.



JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, we do have now a new Supreme Court justice to fill the Antonin Scalia slot.

But, in the meantime, what we have seen is the Republican leadership in the Senate change the rules in order to get Neil Gorsuch over the line.

There is some — there is a lot of talk right now about, what does that mean for the future? We already have a very polarized country, House of Representatives. The feeling was, the Senate maybe wasn’t quite so polarized.

What does this mean going forward, that they now are going to make it so much easier for — it appears, for nominees from the far left or the far right to be confirmed?


Well, it’s the 967th nail in the coffin of bipartisanship.


DAVID BROOKS: And so it’s the end of a long process.

It may be the end. Maybe things will get even worse. Now, Democrats took a big step in lower judges. We can go back to the Bork hearings. We can go back to a million different hearings. But the Senate has become gradually to look more like the House.

And so I think it’s a sad day. It’s a pretty inevitable day. I think, if the Democrats had won this election, they would have done exactly the same thing if they were in the similar circumstance. The precedent was set.

And I think the sad part going forward is, it used to be, if you were president, you had some incentive to try to nominate a judge who could maybe get 60 votes, who could appeal to some people in the other party.

Now you have zero incentive as long as you can control the Senate. And so we will see more — even more partisan judges than we do now.

The only thing I would say to mitigate, which I think is a decline and a degradation and a sadness, is that I have a feeling that something is about to happen with the Trump administration. Either it will shift, or something bad will happen, a scandal or something, and that we’re in sort of a pre-apocalypse phase, or maybe that’s putting it strongly.

But history is about to change, because I don’t think the status quo can maintain. And so if we have something, an administration that really suffers some grievous blow, then the Washington culture will have an opportunity to change for the better.

But, as of now, it’s a long, slow slide.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do I hear you forecasting an apocalypse of some sort?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, that word came out. I should have stuck with acidity. That was a better word.


DAVID BROOKS: But I do think Washington — it doesn’t feel like this administration can maintain the current state.

Something is going to happen, and then we will be in a different world, with the possibility of bipartisanship. And some senators, like Senator Collins and Coons and others, are still hungering for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see coming out of the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: John McCain is fond of quoting Chairman Mao. And David brings that to mind, which is, it’s always darkest just before everything goes black.


MARK SHIELDS: And that is what strikes me.

I join him, I join David in commending Susan Collins of Maine, the Republican, and Chris Coons of Delaware, the Democrat, for trying to keep alive a sense of comity and — I-T-Y — and rapprochement and bipartisanship.

They’re sponsoring a resolution that 61, or at least a letter that 61 senators have signed that they will not have the nuclear option on just legislative — domestic legislation, and that that would keep at least some hope alive that there would be a chance of moving across the aisle, working across the aisle.

I think one of the saddest moments for me of the year 2016, Judy, was when John McCain, who had been the apostle of bipartisanship, announced before the election that he wouldn’t vote for any Supreme Court nominee whom Hillary Clinton — President Hillary Clinton nominated. And that’s contagious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Slings and arrows coming from both sides.

We wish you both a wonderful weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields and David Brooks, thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Trump’s Syria attack, Senate’s fierce partisanship appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s conservative confrontation, Senate’s Gorsuch showdown

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Mar 31, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, great report from William Brangham from Michigan.

David, a lot of these voters, they still like Donald Trump. It’s been a rough two months, but they’re looking past that.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, he’s got still 80 percent approval rating among Republicans. And that’s the bind that a lot of Republicans in the House and the Senate face, which is that, if they cross Donald Trump, that they face some immediate heat back at home.

I’m not sure he can go out and defeat them in two years, as he’s threatened to do. But he’s a popular guy still in Republican circles, but 35 percent, 40 percent approval nationally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of that?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think it was a terrific piece by William.

But I think, Judy, we have to understand, having missed that story last November myself, that Donald Trump…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Most of us did.

MARK SHIELDS: Donald Trump felt the pain of these people. That’s what he communicated to them. He acknowledged their existence. He acknowledged what they had been through, and that, while the great — big numbers in the country were great, the stock market, the unemployment, that these were people who felt themselves and experienced being left behind.

And he said, I would stand up for you.

And I think they are still giving him very much the benefit of the doubt.

DAVID BROOKS: Imagine how popular he would be if he actually had some policies to help those people.

MARK SHIELDS: Right, as opposed to a health care policy which would have taken 24 million people off health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, we heard one of the women who voted for him in Michigan say she just thought this Russia story, all the tentacles of it, she said it doesn’t really add up to anything for her.

And, yet, this week, it just didn’t seem to stop. You have got two sides of the Congress, both houses of Congress, going after it, the FBI. Now we learn more about what was going on inside the White House.

How damaging is this? How much of a problem is it for the president?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t know.

We have a tendency to get a little overhyped to some of the Trump scandals. We go to outrage level 11 at every moment. And I think the Russia — the case is still out how serious it is, whether there’s actual ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, which I think is the core of it, where Paul Manafort came from, whether there was any money laundering, and things like that.

There is a lot we don’t know. And I’m trying to not prejudge it. What we do know is, there’s high levels of incompetence. And we have a president who tweeted this wiretapping tweet which was completely wrong. That’s incompetence.

We have this young man in the National Security Agency whose his boss tried to get rid of, Trump was preserved by Steve Bannon, who was involved in giving information to Nunes, Chairman Nunes. We have Nunes himself, who is behaving incompetently.

Forget he’s too close to the Trump campaign. There is a way to conduct an investigation. And it’s not to cancel hearings willy-nilly. It’s not to go brief the guy you’re supposed to be investigating. It’s not to create a civil war within your own committee.

And so we have just levels and levels and levels of just incompetence, of people who do not know how to play this game. And when that happens, you never know what’s going to happen next. And so I don’t know if it’s a scandal in the class of Watergate scandal, but it’s not inspiring to see what we have been seeing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, whether it’s incompetence or something more than that, how much is it hurting the president?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s hurting the president, Judy.

Everything in politics is a poll. If you want the ultimate poll, forget Gallup, forget NBC, Wall Street Journal or anything else. On Monday, April 3, the baseball season begins in Washington, D.C.

And Donald Trump, former baseball player, proudly proclaiming his athletic ability, will not be there. Why will he not be there? Because he would be booed. He would be booed loudly, he would be booed long.

And it would be would be seen all over the world, and it would be seen time and time again. So, that’s what it’s done. That’s what it’s doing.

That’s what his presidency — David’s right. This is a White House that prizes loyalty above ability, imagination, experience, judgment. And so, what do they do to the one loyal supporter, acolyte, apologist they have in the entire Congress and part of the Intelligence Committees, Devin Nunes, inspector Nunes of California?

They bring him down to the White House under the cover of darkness on a secret mission, show him these documents that he discovers. And then he goes and reveals them to the president of the United States, even though these documents are shown to him by people who work in the White House for the president of the United States, including one of his former employees.

They take his loyalty, turn him into an absolute butt of jokes. He’s defenseless. He’s unflinchingly loyal. And he’s incompetent.

So, what they set out to do was to slow down the investigation, which suggests there is something there. And what they have done is highlight, spotlight and given a new energy and new urgency to it. The testimony of FBI agent Clint Watts before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was compelling.

It was compelling about the efforts and the sabotaging by Russia of the American democratic process. Anybody, Democrat, Republican, should listen to that and say, this is serious stuff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is — so, whether there is more there on Russia or not, David, this is one that’s going to go on.

And I think one of you mentioned health care. When we talked last week, we had just learned that the Republicans had pulled the bill, David, in the House of Representatives. But, this week, you have the president criticizing the conservative Freedom Caucus members, naming them, calling them out, singling them out by name, going after them and the Democrats.

Is this a tactic, a strategy that’s likely to cause them to bring back the attempt to repeal Obamacare successfully and get that done?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first of all, I highly think it’s unlikely they are going to bring it back.

The core problem, which was that the Freedom Caucus and the moderates wanted a completely opposite bill, that problem is still there. It’s a structural problem. The Republican Party does not have a consensus position on health care.

The decision to send these tweets and to threaten people like Mark Sanford and other members of the Freedom Caucus was amateur hour, another kindergarten mistake.

First of all, he’s not going to do it. He’s not going to run people against somebody in two years. Second, if he did, it would be highly unlikely to be successful. Even Franklin Roosevelt, at the head of his popularity, he once tried to run against a local person and lost all the way across the board, because people like their — they like their local member.

And then, meanwhile, the Freedom Caucus guys are loving this today. They are the little guy standing up to — the little guy representing their district. And then their manhood has been called into question. So, they can’t back down now. So, I found it completely counterproductive.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, an old friend of ours, Les Francis from California, said today, since the collapse and the failure of the Republicans to — that promised for four consecutive elections to repeal and replace Obamacare as their first act, and total abject failure, that the Republicans look more like the Donner Party than they do like the national governing party.

For those who don’t remember the 19th century, the Donner Party were settlers who got caught in the Sierra Madres at winter and ended up practicing cannibalism to survive.

And this is really — it’s been a circular firing squad ever since. Donald Trump is attacking the Freedom Caucus. Paul Ryan is attacking the Freedom Caucus and suggesting that the worst thing that could happen was for the president to work with Democrats to solve a national problem.

We have never had a speaker of the House in the history of the country say that before. To work for — to solve a national problem, we won’t work in a bipartisan way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: About the opposition.

MARK SHIELDS: Ryan has been crippled by this.


MARK SHIELDS: He has had editorial upon editorial.

His approval rating has fallen from 35 percent to 21 percent. And he’s getting battered on all sides. I mean, Paul Ryan — I know David has great respect and admiration for him — but he is like a — philosophically, he’s like a hammer.

And for the hammer, every problem is a nail. And for Paul Ryan, his solution is invariably cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans. And he’s tried to sell this tax — this health care bill as a tax cut of a trillion dollars time and again in interviews. And it knocked 24 million people off of health care.

And Donald Trump, who had been the tribune of these people, stood by, uncuriously, uninterested, and watched it happen. And now he’s blaming Paul Ryan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want to come to his defense, briefly?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, no, I want to blame Trump more.


DAVID BROOKS: No, I think the — well, Paul Ryan, I respect a lot of his policies, but I do think he’s a bit locked in the 1980s intellectually.

But the problem, the core problem here is still with Donald Trump. He doesn’t have a theory of what Trumpism is. And he doesn’t have a strategy for converting his populist campaign into some sort of legislative agenda.

You could pick a right-wing agenda and get people all on the right and push through a pretty Republican agenda. Or you could pick a populist center-left, and not worry about the Freedom Caucus.

But he’s managed to offend the right, the center and the left. And so how many people — how do you get to 50 percent of that? And you don’t. And so he — I assume that, if he — he will sometimes figure out and say, OK, I have got to be this kind of president or that kind of president.

But, right now, he’s no kind of president. There’s no — it’s not center-right. It’s not center-left. It’s not far-right. It’s just chaos.

And so, somehow, he’s got to figure out, OK, I have an actual strategy. He doesn’t have one right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as he’s criticizing the Democrats on health care, Mark, he’s counting on at least some Democrats to support his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Two of them have come forward this week and said — but there are others who you would think the White House would be counting on who are saying they’re not going to vote for him.

What does that nomination look like right now?

MARK SHIELDS: What it looks like now is that — I think Clarence Thomas is the only sitting judge who was confirmed by fewer than 60 votes. He got 52.

And Neil Gorsuch will not reach the 60 level. And this will be, I think, a dramatic moment, when the — they’re going to impose, the Republican majority will impose the nuclear deterrent, the nuclear solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The so-called nuclear rule change.

MARK SHIELDS: A majority — a majority to confirm a Supreme Court justice. The question is, do they do it on this one, on Gorsuch, or on the next one?

But, no, I think that Democrats — Donald Trump has done one thing. He may not have energized Republicans, but he has certainly energized Democrats and the Democratic base. And there’s a sense of outrage, a continuing outrage over the fact that a mild-mannered, widely admired person of high character and principle, Merrick Garland, the same things they say about Neil Gorsuch, his supporters never even got a moment of a hearing, never had the decency to — many, meet to with him.

So there is a sense of vengeance and anger over that still brewing.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s pure vengeance. It’s an eye for an eye. It’s two wrongs make — trying to make a right.

But two wrongs do not make a right. Neil Gorsuch, it doesn’t look like he will get 60. But that has nothing to do with Neil Gorsuch, who is completely qualified and almost a model nominee.

And the fact the Democrats are doing this, maybe they can say, OK, well, Republicans did it to us. What’s fair is fair. But it’s wrong in both cases.

And the Democratic arguments against Gorsuch are pathetic. Their substance of which — the core argument is that he’s the sort of judge a Republican candidate nominates for justice. Well, of course. He’s — a Republican won the White House, so that’s what you’re going to get.

But there is no question about his character, about the mainstream nature of his jurisprudence, about his intelligence, about his qualifications. There’s no question about any of that.

And so to blow up the nuclear option over Gorsuch seems to be pointless partisanship, which will have longstanding damage to the country. We have the 60 votes, so it forces people to think about being bipartisan.


DAVID BROOKS: Once we get rid of that, you never have to worry about it again, if you’re in the majority.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It makes it a more partisan …

MARK SHIELDS: You do admit that he has not been forthcoming in — on the question of dark money, I mean, he has been totally …

DAVID BROOKS: We will get to that next week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to get to that next week.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, OK, but I’m just not going to let it pass like that, Judy.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re allowed to say that.

And so are you.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

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Shields and Brooks on Obamacare repeal failure, Gorsuch grilling

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Mar 24, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, I’m sorry there is no news to talk about today, but let’s see what we can find.

Mark, seriously, the move today in the Congress and by the president to pull this health care bill, what is there to say? The Republicans wanted — they said for months that this is what was going to happen.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: The first thing, Judy, is, I think, a general statement. The Republican Party is an opposition party. It’s a protest party.

We have a protest president. We have a protest party. It’s not a governing party. It showed itself unable to accept the responsibility and the accountability of governing.

This bill wasn’t a bad bill. This bill was just an abomination. There was no public case that could be made for the bill. There was no public argument that could be made for the bill, because nobody knew what was in it. There was no public campaign for the bill, because no organizations — every organization that cares — that was involved in medical care, whether it was the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, they were all against the bill.

It was a terrible bill. There was nothing organized. The only organizing principle is, it was against Barack Obama. And Paul Ryan, a very earnest policy wonk, showed himself to be an inept political leader. He couldn’t even lean on the safest seats in his own party’s caucus.

Those are ones you say, these are people who are really not threatened for reelection. I need you. You have to vote.

He couldn’t even do that. And Donald Trump showed he has no understanding of the legislative process. He dealt in adjectives. It was wonderful, fantastic, glorious. He had no idea what was in it. The art of the deal just collapsed, and this is a man who gave away the store to the Freedom Caucus, and got nothing in return, didn’t even get their votes.

I mean, on no count was this anything but a disaster politically, and public policy, and just for the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain it, David?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, all those things contributed, Trump’s bad negotiation, lack of experience, the factionalism.

And people talk about divisions within the party, blah, blah, blah, but the core problem was philosophical and intellectual. The problem was with the substance of the bill. We live in a country that has widening inequality, where there’s a lot of people very — being very insecure.

And the Republicans could have taken some of their approaches, like the tax credits, like the health savings accounts and a lot of things, and to deal with the country as it is, as, say, take those mechanisms, market mechanisms, to reduce costs, but to give people basic security and shore up the coverage that they have now.

But, instead of doing that, they gave a bill that was, like, out of “1984,” which devastated the poor, $880 billion cut out of Medicaid, while enriching the rich, increasing the after-tax incomes of people making more than a million dollars by 14 percent.

So, this was like every stereotype of the Republican Party. And so it just didn’t fit the country. And the core problem for the Republicans is they can’t figure out what they want to govern.

Even if they were the best and most efficient legislators in the history of the world, if you don’t know what you want to do, and you don’t know how you’re going to address this country’s problems, you’re going to wind up with bills which are superficial, intellectually incoherent and unpopular.

And the last Quinnipiac poll had this at 17 percent. And so it was a failure of understanding, what we do we want to do? That’s what killed this bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what does that mean, Mark, for what the Republicans say they want to do next? The president and Speaker Ryan suggested tax reform. Major tax reform is the next on the agenda.

MARK SHIELDS: The deal that Republicans in Congress essentially made with Donald Trump, who they didn’t know and in most cases didn’t particularly trust, was, he will be the instrument of our achieving our agenda. He will be — whether it’s deregulation, whether it’s tax reform, or whatever.

I think that relationship was ruptured. Mutual trust, to the degree that it existed, was depleted today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Between the president and …

MARK SHIELDS: Between the president and his party in Congress, the party itself.

Judy, I don’t think it’s going to — it’s not going to be easy. I don’t think anything is going to be easy from this point forward. If you are a Republican, all of a sudden, the midterm elections of 2018 got a lot closer. Why do I say that?

Because when a president’s job approval rating is 50 percent or above, the president’s party loses an average of 14 House seats in the midterm election. When a president’s job rating is below 50 percent, his party loses an average of 37 House seats.

Donald Trump today is in — in the best polls, in the high 30s. It’s hard to see how his numbers are going to go far north from here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is still early.

MARK SHIELDS: It is still early. It’s 64 days and all the rest of it.

But this is not a confidence-builder. This is not a trust-builder. And Republicans, all of a sudden, are starting to get nervous about 2018. They thought 2018, if you will recall, when they thought Hillary Clinton was going to win, was going to be the arrival of the golden age.

And right now, they’re going to be on defense. There is no Hillary Clinton to run against. There is no Barack Obama to run against. It’s a referendum on Donald Trump and his party. And, right now, that is not working in their direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What can Republicans get done now?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if they stick with — I think Paul Ryan is a wonderful guy, a great politician, a good thinker.

MARK SHIELDS: Not a great politician.

DAVID BROOKS: OK, fair, fair.


DAVID BROOKS: OK. But people like him. People on the Hill like him.

The ones who were going to vote for the bill, a lot of it was just to support Paul Ryan. But, intellectually, he used to work at a place called Empower America, where Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett worked. And it had — it was the orthodoxy of the 1980s Republicanism.

And if Republicans stick with that, well, then they will go down to defeat after defeat. And to me, the big question is, how will Donald Trump react to this? There was a lot of enmity, frankly, between him and Ryan in the last few days, bad communication, cutting deals behind each other’s backs, mostly Trump to Ryan.

And so will he say, OK, I’m not going to do this again? I’m going to run — I’m going to govern as a true populist. And maybe break up some of the orthodoxies that separate Democrats from Republicans. Maybe I won’t try to pass bills without — through the reconciliation process, which is a technical thing, but messes up every bill you try to pass, because it’s so arcane, restrictions on what you can put in a bill. And maybe I will try to be a 65 percent — get some Democrats, get some Republicans, and violate the Republican orthodoxy.

To me, that’s the smart lesson out of this. Run or govern — try to govern the way you actually ran, which is not orthodox Republican, anybody but.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, if he does that, Mark, where does that leave Republicans, his own — his party?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I’m not sure where it does.

I don’t think he’s constitutionally capable of doing that. The time to do that, David, was after the election. I mean, the country was yearning to be united. It was divided. It was polarized. That was the time to do it. You don’t do nine rallies. You don’t do red state rallies.

On the eve of the vote, you don’t go to Louisville and have cries of “Lock her up” in the room. You don’t do that. That is playing to the narrowest base.

I agree. At the outset, on health care, he should have brought in the Democrats and the Republicans and say, look, they have to come in. But he beat up on Obamacare, said it was terrible, it was horrendous, it was awful, it had to go.

Where is the purchase there for the Democrats to say, we want to be part of it? Now he’s walking away from health care in the country. He is responsible. They are the governing party. Do Republicans understand that? If health care is in trouble in this country, it’s the Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. This is a point to be underlined that Lanhee Chen made the good point that Obamacare is not going to explode. No one — on expert thinks that. It may deteriorate over time, but it’s not going to explode. They’re not going to walk back into this.

Second, Republicans now own the health care system in this country. And so it’s not like people are going to blame Barack Obama. He’s never going to be on the ballot again.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: When things go bad, they’re going to blame the Republicans.

So, that’s why I think — I agree. I don’t think he’s going to pivot in some major way. But this is not brain science. Who elected him? Working-class voters, people making just above the Medicaid minimum. This bill hammered them.

Who elected him? People 50 to 64. This bill hammered those people. Why not take people who voted for you and reward them? That’s not — that’s like the normal thing to do. And he’s not doing it. And if he repeats the error in tax reform, same outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, this wasn’t the only bad news for President Trump this week, Mark.

You had the FBI director come out and confirm publicly in a hearing before the Congress that they are investigating, the FBI is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, says they don’t have evidence yet of coordination, collusion, but an investigation is under way.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, the week began with the president being basically regarded and described by the intelligence chiefs of the country as dishonest, OK, I mean, that the charge was with baseless, a charge of felony he made against his predecessor, to the point where The Wall Street Journal, the organ of American conservatism, said he is on the verge of becoming — his relationship with honesty is so loose, he’s become a fake president, not a fake news president.

So, this is devastating. To say that an FBI investigation has been going on since July, since July, it’s hard to say that it’s going to come to nothing. And so this is serious stuff, and it’s hurtful.

It puts — when you doubt the president’s competence and his honesty in the same week, I mean, these are blows. Regardless of how loyal and dedicated and enthusiastic is his base, this is an erosion of public support and public trust.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does it affect what he’s able to do?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I was trying to think of a president who had a worse week. I mean, as Mark said, like, to have your major legislative initiative die, and your first major one, and then get a scandal into your integrity in one week, that’s a rarity in American history, let alone this early in a term.

I’m not sure we’re ever going to find some smoking gun that’s going to link the Trump campaign to Vladimir Putin. I mean, there is, to me — the big mystery is the almost magnetic pull between the Trump crowd and Russia. Like, what is the basis of that? Is it because he had so many investors?

And, as I have said before — and we seem to be getting a little closer to this answer — where did Paul Manafort come from? How did he become chairman of the Trump campaign in the middle of all this, a guy who had ties to mobsters from Russia?

These are not normal things. What was the chain of events that led to that? But whether we have will actually conversations or proof or actual evidence, we — I — we have oversold this story at times. I’m not saying it’s not significant, but we have leapt to the — connecting all the dots, when the dots really aren’t there right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, one other thing I want to ask you about, in any other week, this would have been the first thing we talked about.

But, Mark, that is the nominee to the Supreme Court by the president, Neil Gorsuch, had several days of hearings, didn’t answer all the questions the Democrats wanted him to.

Where does he stand? What do his prospects look like?

MARK SHIELDS: Didn’t even answer the questions that Sam Alito and John Roberts did when they were up there.

I will say one thing that the Trump campaign did very well. They did vetting. They vetted the judges. They knew whom they had. And if they had done as well in the Cabinet, it would be different.

He was the ideal nominee. And I think in spite of his becoming non-forthcoming and said there’s no Democrat judges, Republican judges, I think he had a very good week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You think he’s safe for confirmation?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he — unless there is something out there.

But Chuck Schumer is not a guy who goes on a quixotic journey all by himself. He said he is going to lead a filibuster. But I don’t see the votes being there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I think the Democrats are making a big mistake. The guy is clearly qualified. He is clearly within the realm of what any Republican would nominate. And we’re lucky to have a guy of that quality.

I thought he behaved outstandingly. Democrats should pick their fights. They will have plenty of fights in the Trump era. But to blow up the filibuster rules over this is undignified and an insult to the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, thank you both, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Obamacare repeal failure, Gorsuch grilling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on GOP health care bill pushback, Trump’s dramatic budget

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Mar 17, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentleman.

So, let’s pick up with the conversation, David, that Jeffrey Brown was just having with the head of the American Medical Association.

President Trump is saying again today the health care overhaul is moving along very well, it’s going to move through the House.

What do you see as the prospects?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: It has no critics.

No. I’m first all amazed that they did it first. Of all the issues to tackle, health care is probably the hardest one. And so every four or eight years, some president decides, you know, let’s do health care first. And it hurts them every single time.

Whether the prospects of this bill are good, I tend to doubt. It has very few fans in the Senate. And it has two wings of opposition which are in contradiction, what we call the coverage caucus, who want a little more expensive bill that will cover more people, and the Freedom Caucus wants a less expensive bill to cover less.

You can’t — they have to win both of these groups. And how do you do this, when they are mutually contradictory? And so the Senate is very daunting. So, therefore, you’re asking the House members to vote for something that will take away coverage that already exists for a bill that probably doesn’t have great prospects in the long run.

I personally bet they get through the House, just because it’s so hard to go against the sitting president in his first major thing. But I wouldn’t want to bet on the eventual passage of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what we hear is the main argument they are using now in the House as it gets closer to the vote is the political vote, you can’t go against your president.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes.

It’s an argument that used, used in 1993 for the Democrats and Bill Clinton on his major budget and tax increase, which, by the way, per what David was talking about, included a BTU tax that House members voted on. It passed the House in a very difficult vote and died in the Senate.

Several moderate to conservative Democrats walked away from it. And it left those House members with a vote that they really couldn’t — it became politically mortal — fatal in several instances. I think the same thing is true here, and for good reasons, Judy.

I mean, the Republicans — part of David’s answer — they pledged in 2010, they pledged in 2012, they pledged in 2016. That was the one pledge they had: repeal Obamacare. It was an applause line.

So, it really did take on almost a moral imperative, or at least a political imperative. But, Judy, this is going to radically overhaul the Affordable Care Act. It going to radically overhaul Medicaid. You heard Dr. Gurman in his interview with Jeff.

The reality is, providers are not going to provide coverage. They’re not going to take on as patients people under Medicaid, because they are not going to have the money to pay for it. They are talking — one figure that jumps out, beyond all the questions of deductibles and everything else, 24 million Americans. That’s what the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

And Republicans just kind of recoiled. That is the number that has hung around — are going to lose coverage. Lose coverage. That just is — that is truly unforgivable. It’s morally indefensible. And I think, in this case, it will be politically indefensible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But we’re talking — you’re talking, Mark, about the bill as it sits in the House. In the Senate, we may — we’re almost certain to see changes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but which direction?

First, on the 24 million, it’s a neat trick to do that, because simply repealing Obamacare would have only taken coverage from 23 million. So, somehow, the replacement subtracts a million, which is an interesting trick.

The Republican Party just hasn’t figured out where it sits on this issue. I think you could have a very good free market system, sort of modeled on Switzerland, where there are a lot of individual markets, people actually pay for their health care, and there’s some cost and demand — supply and demand pressures to get costs down.

But you would have to spend more to get it — make it universal. You business have to make it universal using a free market system. But the Republican Party hasn’t gotten there, because they don’t want to make it universal, because it probably would be extensive.

And so some of them want to go sort of in that direction, but a lot, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, they want to go in the other direction. And they just don’t think it’s the government’s job to be in the field of distribution, redistribution.

And this ACA was very redistributionist. The Republican Party hasn’t figured it out. And what is interesting to me is that Donald Trump hasn’t figured it out. He campaigned partially as a populist. And if I was a populist, I would be handing things to my people.

And what this bill does is, it takes things from the Trump voters. The middle-aged people, 50 to 64, get hammered in this bill, the people just above the Medicaid threshold. The working class, they get hammered.

And so what is the one piece of the bill that has been there from the beginning to end in all the versions, is the tax cut for people making over $250,000. And so it’s a weirdly anti-Trumpian bill that he has sort of gone along with because, I guess, the House Republicans led the way.

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I can’t argue with any point that David made.

I would just say, it’s inconceivable to me. Donald Trump changed the face of the Republican Party, whatever anyone thinks of this election. He carried 403 counties that had voted for Barack Obama.

The counties he carried, Judy, were considerably more white than the country is, and they were considerably less educated. They were struggling working class. And he has turned his back, not simply on the health care, this bill does, but on the budget.

It takes from the have-nots. It takes from the have-nots and the have-lesses, and gives to the have-mores. It is absolutely a Robin-Hood-in-reverse budget.

And I just don’t understand it. It really, to use David’s word, hammers the very people who voted for him, especially in rural areas in America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what about the budget proposal?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, just some things are mystifying.

Why they eliminated the Appalachian regional development, the thing that — why they severely cut the Great Lakes regions, Michigan, Wisconsin, why they had to put those specific cuts in the budget, let alone — fine, Republicans are going to try to get rid of CPB, our beloved CPB, Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

But why they put those things, it’s mystifying. And it seems to go in direct contradiction to everything he stood for in the course of the campaign.

And there’s a theory going around in political science which has some resonance for me today, which is that you have moments where you get a political party knows what they believe and they are all on board. Then there’s periods of disruption, where they are internally divided.

And the argument is, Jimmy Carter was an example was this. The Democrats had shifted away from some old-style liberalism. They hadn’t got to Bill Clinton’s style. And they were internally divided, and that Donald Trump is like Jimmy Carter.

He comes at a time when the Republican Party does not know what it wants, and that he himself is internally divided. And you get these weird contradictions of campaigning one way, and then governing in a very opposite way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And both of you are saying the same thing, then, Mark, about the budget.

MARK SHIELDS: I hope not. Well, I hope not.


MARK SHIELDS: There’s no point in watching.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At least on this point.


MARK SHIELDS: No, but, Judy, just to add to that, David Rogers, a peerless congressional reporter, wrote in Politico, these — they are turning their backs on Republican-endorsed programs.

It was President Jerry Ford who pitched community development grants. It was Bob Dole who pushed and was the champion of food aid overseas. They’re going to cut that. It was Ronald Reagan who found the money for heating assistance for poor people. It’s just — it’s amazing.

And it’s the same budget that Paul Ryan passed in 2013. But then he was negotiating with a Democratic president, because he wanted to get cuts in entitlement growth towards his dream of taming the budget deficits.

But now he’s got Republican president, and they’re passing the same budget with the same cuts. And I just — I don’t know where the pickup is.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I’m — was looking for the political philosophy that might be inherent in a budget.

And some of them are just weird, even for Republicans, as Mark said, $6 million — $6 billion off the National Institutes of Health. That is an investment in scientific advance and economic growth. And why would you do that? That doesn’t even seem particularly Republican.

But, basically, what you’re doing, they are investing in everything that is hard power. They’re investing in the military, in homeland security, everything that is about threat and fear.

And they are disinvesting in everything that has to do with compassion, with care, thinking, innovation. And it’s almost like emotionally consistent. It’s just hardness and toughness and fear. And everything else just has to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, even some Republicans are saying, well, this is just the first shot from the White House, and we will have our own crack at it.

In the few minutes that we have left, Mark, let’s talk about the president continuing to double down on his contention that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. He’s said it. He said it again today. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, has come up with evidence, they say, or at least cited news stories. And, of course, the British government pressed back on, pushed back on one of that — one of the claims that Sean Spicer made yesterday.

What does this say that this is something the president won’t let go of, in the face of almost universal lack of evidence?

MARK SHIELDS: It is universal. When you let — when lose Devin Nunes, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican.

MARK SHIELDS: Republican, who has been Donald Trump’s apologist, I mean, explained that Donald Trump was actually a political neophyte, and you could take things literally, this is a man who ran as, you might disagree with him, Judy, but you know what he says. He stands — he says what he believes and he believes what he says, and he tells it like it is.

And now we’re down to literally and figuratively. Literally and figuratively, I don’t care about quotation marks. He said this about the president of the United States. He accused the president of the United States. He said it was a fact that the president of the United States had done this. It was wrong.

It was unfounded. It was unfair. It was unjust. It was as unjust as it was when he charged that is principal opponent Ted Cruz’s father had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, when he charged that the first African-American president wasn’t an American, was African, Barack Obama.

But now he’s president. Now he’s president. This isn’t a matter of his macho or his vanity or his toughness. This is a question, when a president of the United States says anything, it reassures allies, it confounds the world, or it reassures the world, or it alarms people.

And I said last week, I do not believe, when the crisis comes, that there’s going to be credibility for this man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain it?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, there’s some fear.

One of the things that struck me this week is, Donald Trump is the most talked-about American in the history of our country. Wherever you go around the world, people are talking about Donald Trump. And every — people who go abroad, that’s all — anywhere you go in the world, people want to talk about that.

And he does it in part through this, through saying things that make him criticized and — but he is the center.

And the second thing he demonstrates through this — and, again, I’m just trying to illustrate why — A, why he got elected president, and why these things don’t seem to kill him. So, he’s first center of attention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Figuratively speaking.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, right. Right, exactly.

And the second is that force. He shows force. I was listening to a lot of talk radio today. And there is a lot of support for Donald Trump is that that guy is tough enough to stand against everybody and be forceful. And he never withdraws, he never backs down. It’s just force, force, force.

If you remember when Jeff Sessions recused himself from that investigation on the Russia thing, Trump reportedly blew his top, because it was a withdrawal. And it was a perfectly legitimate step back, but it was a partial withdrawal. And Trump is always forward, forward, forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And no sign of any change on that one.

All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both. Have a great weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

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Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill conflict, Trump’s wiretap tweet

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Mar 10, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

And welcome to both of you.

So, a lot going on this week, Mark and Michael.

Let’s start, Mark, though, with we got a really good sense or a better sense this week of what it is that Republicans in the House and the White House want to do in terms of replacing the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

What do we make of this? Is this something that has the elements of a piece of legislation that can survive?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I don’t think so, Judy.

And I guess the one point I would disagree with you is, agreement between the White House and the Republicans in Congress. To listen to Speaker Paul Ryan, this is the last stage out of Dodge. This is the best and only chance the Republicans are going to have to repeal, fulfill that pledge that they have made now for seven years to repeal Obamacare and come up with their own plan, whereas the White House, in the words of the president, is, I’m for it, but we can deal, we can negotiate.

So I’m not sure that they’re on the same page or have basically the same commitment to this legislation. That’s why I just — I think it’s in precarious position right now.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though it’s moved through these two committees? And we just spoke to the chairman of the Budget Committee. And she says she expects it to go flying through.

MARK SHIELDS: She does. But the question was, how many hundred thousand Tennesseans will lose health care?

The estimates, Judy, quite frankly, range from 10 million to 15 million now. All the promises of transparency the Republicans made about going to have open hearings, open votes, they will not vote, that Budget Committee headed by Congresswoman Black, until — they will not release the Congressional Budget Office scoring to tell you how many people are going to lose it and what it’s going to cost until that happens.

It’s all being sort of railroaded through the Republican House. But I don’t see it surviving.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it on the substance, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Well, on the substance, there is a set of conservative reform ideas that have been developing, but this isn’t it.

This is a jerry-rigged system to try to achieve some of the goals of Obamacare by slightly modifying this, by changing that. And the result is incoherent. It has alienated the left because of the number of people that will be off the system. It’s alienated the right because there are some people that wanted a true repeal. This isn’t that type of approach.

So, I think it’s — right now, you know, it has the virtue or the drawback of pleasing no one, actually, in this system on left to right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why did it come to this? Why after all the talk throughout the campaign? Before anything else, you knew that this president was going to be — he said, we’re going to deal with Obamacare, we’re going to get rid of it.

Why has it come to this, then?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that President Trump said it when he acted shocked that health care is complex. You remember him saying that?

This is difficult. I mean, Obamacare has many faults and many problems, but it has succeed in creating a set of expectations about preexisting conditions and coverage that Republicans now have to respond to.

And their response, I think, is kind of a makeshift response right now. But I think Obamacare, in that way, has triumphed. It has created a set of expectations Republicans have to meet. And it’s very difficult to do, to structure a system to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you still have Republicans, Mark, who are arguing the whole thing needs to be completely thrown out. The Freedom Caucus group came out this week and said throw the whole thing out and start from scratch.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, in fairness, the Freedom Caucus, that’s how they won a majority in 2010, on the pledge to do that, to repeal completely Obamacare.

And I agree with Michael. I would say this. Two other things I would add, Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia, who is in a difficult, now red-leaning state now, made an observation, I think, that is so fundamentally true.

He said people, American voters, may not remember who gave you something, but they will remember who took it away.


MARK SHIELDS: And I think this is the problem the Republicans are facing.

The second point is, Judy, what’s holding this together right now is that it’s not really a health care plan. And it’s not really a repeal. What it is, is a tax cut. The top nine-tenths of 1 percent of Americans will receive $267 billion in tax cuts over the next 10 years.

And, quite bluntly put, when this is scored, when the numbers come out from the Congressional Budget Office, all you have to do is go to the testimony at the hearings of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross and Gary Cohn and all of the wealthy and exactly what this tax cut will mean for them individually, as single moms with two kids lose their Medicaid coverage under it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it sounds like, Michael, the White House is prepared to dismiss the CBO numbers, or at least to discount them.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this is actually a difference in strategy.

There has been a conflict between the House leadership and the administration on whether to attack CBO or not as an authority in this. This is a tendency of this administration, to attack institutions, to undermine the credibility of institutions that are independent sources of truth and analysis.

I think that would be a terrible mistake in this case. CBO is a fairly respected approach, not perfect. But I think going after it would indicate a kind of disturbing tendency to try to undermine other institutions in our system, for their own benefit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where do we see this headed, Mark, politically?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s going to founder. I really do.

We’re already getting the signals from the Republicans in the Senate, both for the reasons that Michael cited on the loss of coverage. A state like Alaska is going to take an enormous hit. But even from Tom Cotton, the conservative, young conservative rising star from Arkansas, saying, slow down, it couldn’t pass the Senate

So, I think there are problems. I think you don’t get Mitch McConnell, the sense that he’s waiting for it and just impatient to get it over there to pass it, because I don’t think he thinks he can.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as the prospects?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think it had a very rocky start and it’s going to get rockier, particularly because of the CBO estimates that Mark is exactly right, could show upwards of 12 million people losing coverage.

And that will dominate discussion of this bill in the next stage, and as it gets very unfavorable to the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think the administration will be able to, again, discount, dismiss and say, well, you know, they were wrong before? We heard that from the White House press secretary.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, they could try to conduct a campaign, go to the districts of members, pressure them, call out their Internet legions.

They could try to press on this. But, if it happens that way, it will only happen through pressure, and not through enthusiasm. That’s not what we’re — we’re not seeing much enthusiasm.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s turn to the other big story of the week. And it’s Russia in all its different forms.

Mark, you had the president tweeting last Saturday morning that President Obama was behind a wiretap as, evidently part of the Russia investigation. You have stories. We know that, just yesterday, the FBI director met with Republican leaders on the Hill to brief them on the latest. We don’t know what was said.

And there’s a story in The New York Times today that the FBI doesn’t see a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, and yet all these bits and pieces keep coming. Do we have any more clarity on Russia and the Trump campaign and transition today than we did a month ago?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see it, Judy.

I mean, I think there’s circumstantial evidence of contacts or relationships certainly with those within the Trump world throughout the campaign we have. But there isn’t a gun, let alone a smoking gun.

But we do have — as a consequence of what the president did last Saturday, we have got pressure for greater, more intense and more public hearings and investigations.

And I will just say on this the tweet last Saturday was so grave. I mean, this is the 45th president of the United States accusing the 44th president of the United States of criminal activity, and with no basis, no evidence, no context, no witnesses, nothing.

And, 30 minutes later, he tweets again about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He has just jeopardized the relationship between the president who preceded him.

Every president needs other presidents. They need the relationship. But he’s just done something so grave and inflicted such a major wound on the body politic. It won’t heal.

MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are billows of smoke here. I mean, I think…

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are lots of ties that are being discovered between the Trump inner circle and Russia.

And, in fact, the attorney general had to recuse himself because of unreported contact. And we have learned that Flynn, the former national security adviser, was doing work on behalf of individuals associated with the Turkish government.

So, you’re creating the impression of a foreign policy bought and sold by dictators. This is quite serious. This is an unfolding, ongoing ethics disaster at the highest levels, I think we’re seeing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again — Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing I want to point out, Judy.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood at the brink, Soviets and America, over the Cuban missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy sent Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state, to see General Charles de Gaulle to tell him exactly, brief him personally, as the president’s emissary, on what was going on.

At the end of that talk, he said to General de Gaulle, I have been authorized by the president to show you the photographic evidence we have, and for your eyes only. And General de Gaulle said, no, no, no, that’s not necessary. All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

There comes a time in every administration when you need the president to be credible, the president to have the trust and confidence of leaders around the world in a time of crisis.

And I can see no reason that anybody would ever say this about Donald Trump: All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how does this administration get beyond this? Are we looking now at something that is just going to go on for months and months, if not years?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think we’re seeing that self-investigation through the attorney general is not going to be useful in this case.

Someone is going to have to have a real inquiry here. You could do a select committee. You could do a special prosecutor. You do some other voice of authority here. The FBI doesn’t have a huge amount of credibility, particularly given what Comey did in the election, which may have helped Trump more than the Russians did.

I think the administration, whenever you hear the phrase “Sean Spicer says,” it makes the statement more incredible, not more credible.

And I think that we have a Congress that’s quite politicized on this set of issues. We’re going to need some type of independent voice to determine what’s happening in this case.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on that note, we shake our heads.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.


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Shields and Brooks on Russia investigation questions, Trump’s joint address

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Mar 03, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: From a joint address to Congress to the recusal of the attorney general, it’s been a big week.

To help make sense of it all, the analysis of Shields And brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, I thought we were going to be talking tonight, first of all, about the president’s address.

But, David, Russia, Russia, Russia, it just doesn’t go away. We now have the attorney general of the United States having to recuse himself from any investigation into what happened with the Trump campaign.

What do you make of all this?

DAVID BROOKS: This is like Napoleon and the Russian winter.

It’s just coming in droves for the past few months, just Russian issues. Now, I would draw a distinction between Sessions and a lot of the other stuff. So far, we don’t know if Sessions had any substantive contacts on the campaign stuff or anything that might be really incriminating.

And it’s worth remembering he was asked specifically did he talk to Russians about campaign stuff. And so there are a lot of pointless meetings in Washington. And he could have just had pointless meeting to see the ambassador. If he had something nefarious, would they really have done it in the Senate office?

So, I’m not sure the Sessions stuff will rise to scandal level. I think he was right to recuse himself.

On the other hand, on the general Trump world, there is contact after contact with the Russians, and some of them which are fishy. And the two questions that I’m wondering about — and I’m not sure we will ever know the answer — the first is the obvious one. Did they have contact with Russians on their campaign meddling?

But the second and the more troubling one is, who’s been investing in Donald Trump’s companies for all these years? Does he owe somebody something? Should we know about that? And why didn’t he release his taxes? Is Russia at the heart of that as well?

And so until we get to an answer of — and this is why taxes get released, so you can know if somebody is really in debt to some other foreign power. And we don’t know the answer to that because of his secrecy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, those are questions that we’re unlikely to get the answers to any time soon.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, under the status quo, I think that is true. And I think the questions David asks are salient and important.

As far as Senator Sessions is concerned, Judy, it follows the pattern that these come out after there’s a press report. It happened with General Flynn. And unlike General Flynn, where there really is strong, more than suspicion, that he discussed policy and actions with the Russian ambassador, I don’t think anybody who knows Jeff Sessions thinks that’s the case.

But there is one question that just demands an answer. And that is, he testifies before Al Franken. Yes, it’s a rambling question. But then Pat Leahy, the senior senator, pro tem of the Senate, writes it out in longhand, any contacts from campaign post-election?

Now, you leave that hearing, you give that answer, you go back to your office, staff people are with you, your scheduler is with you, your press person is with you. Why not just come out and say, hey, look, this was — I did have these meetings with the ambassador?

And the question, why? Why does it have to come out this way? And it does. It does fit a pattern. There’s no two ways about it. And I think it’s a disturbing pattern. It’s a distressing pattern.

And whether it’s Roger Stone or Carter Page or — I mean, these are not attractive, appealing people, whether it’s Paul Manafort and his Russian contacts.

It’s not a question simply of dealing with Russia. It’s a question that we have now 17 intelligence agencies in the United States of America unanimously agreeing that Russia meddled in this — and tried to discredit our democratic process.

So, I mean, you know, that’s whom they were dealing with. It wasn’t a question of just making a quick buck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, all sorts of questions come out of this. Is it enough for the attorney general to recuse himself? Do we need to think about something bigger?

There is a lot of conversation now about whether there should be an outside, independent investigation. I mean, what needs to happen right now?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the recusal is right. The calls for resignation strike me as completely over the top.

I think we need to know, why Russia? There are 200-odd countries in the world. Why has so much of this administration focused on Russia? Now, is it because Donald Trump is very sensitive to the charge that he was handed the election by Russia and he is sort of Russia-focused?

But the Russian obsession predates that, which is why I think, after he declared bankruptcy, a lot of Americans actually wanted to invest in Donald Trump. So who was doing all the investing? He has got all these luxury properties around the world. Who was buying?

And, so to me, it’s, why the Russia focus? Is it some ideological thing he has for Russia? Is it some man crush on Vladimir Putin? I don’t know. But, somehow, that’s the part that needs to be investigated.

I don’t — I’m not — I’m generally not for special prosecutors and things, because they tend to run out of control. But getting to the core of that issue, I don’t know how you do it, but that is how you — I think we need to do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s the only way you could get to some of this.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Judy, first of all, I think David raises the questions that do demand an answer, and how are we going to get that answer?

The recusal, he had no choice but to recuse himself. The red Republican wall was breaking. When Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, calls for his recusal, when Jason Chaffetz, one of the last defenders of Donald Trump, having said, after the “Hollywood Access” tape that he couldn’t face his 14-year-old daughter and then still support Donald Trump, then two weeks later endorsed again Donald Trump for president, he said he had to recuse — Jeff Sessions had to.

And so did Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio. So, I think this was what he had to do.

And the problem with the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee is that the White House felt comfortable enough to call them and ask them to be their character witness with the press, Richard Burr, the senator from North Carolina, and Devin Nunes, the congressman from California.

So, the question is, the only time you move to an independent, if you had an ideal Baker-Hamilton, 9/11-type group, is, quite honestly, when there is a lack of faith and a lack of faith and confidence in the existing process.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, this is why institutions matter so much.

In Watergate, you had — sure, it was partisan, but you still could go to a congressional hearing and there would be some sense there would a Howard Baker, who would be an honest broker, or Hamilton, Lee Hamilton.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

DAVID BROOKS: Or you had people like that.

And maybe there are people like that floating around in Washington who you could appoint, like a 9/11 Commission. But the official institutions of Congress, not a lot of credibility there right now, and not a lot of expectation they would act in any way, other than as partisan bodies.

And so this is what we see when we get the breakdown of institutions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile …

MARK SHIELDS: Angus King — Angus King from Maine and John McCain from Arizona.

JUDY WOODRUFF: An independent and a Republican.

MARK SHIELDS: An independent. Both established independents and respected, you’re going to go that direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But I was just going to say, the way the president is responding today is by tweeting pictures of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer meeting with the Russian ambassador a few years ago.

Let’s talk about the speech Tuesday night. It feels longer ago than that, Mark. Do we know now more about what Donald Trump’s, President Trump’s priorities are after that speech?

MARK SHIELDS: Not really.

I mean, we have absolutely — we know general objectives, but we have no idea how we’re going to get from here to there. And he got an enormous amount of praise, and which basically lasted until the stories about Russia and Attorney General Sessions came out.

But there is a low bar, Judy. This is somebody who has called other politicians, other Republicans, dopey, hypocrite, stupid, lying, weak, loser, choker.

I mean, and so he comes in, and he doesn’t do this, and, all of a sudden, my goodness gracious, you know, it is. It’s the Gettysburg Address. It’s the — FDR’s Four Freedom speech. What he did was, he was controlled for an hour. There was no invective. There was no vitriol, or very little.

But, as far as specifics, we know health care is going to be bigger, and better, and cheaper, and more access. And now you can’t even get ahold of the plan. It’s like the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. They keep it in a locked room.

Maybe David has seen it, but I don’t know anybody else who has.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s in my dry cleaner.




DAVID BROOKS: I thought the speech was Shakespearian, Lincolnesque.


DAVID BROOKS: I would say I think we do have a — I got a better sense of him — or I got a lesser sense of him, because, usually, it’s all about him. And it’s about the clown behavior or the things Mark is talking about.


DAVID BROOKS: But, here, you have got a little idea of the project.

And, frankly, I got a little sense of why the guy got elected, because we were all having debates about big government vs. small government, our normal debates. And Republicans were standing for certain sort of things, eliminate the national debt, be global policemen, restore the right to life.

He ignores all that. He’s just not doing any of that stuff. He’s saying, you, Americans, you feel endangered, and I’m going to protect you.

And so the line I had was that he’s privatized compassion and nationalized intimidation. And what I meant by that — probably too proud of that line.


DAVID BROOKS: What I meant by that …

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re allowed to repeat your good lines on the program any time.


DAVID BROOKS: What I meant, that all the compassionate parts of government, giving people a hand up or a safety net, he wants to cut all that. And that’s just not part of the emotional repertoire.

But being tough on our enemies, whether foreign or domestic, that, he’s doing in magnitudes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if that is what he is doing, if we know a little more, Mark…

MARK SHIELDS: Privatize profit and socialize loss.


MARK SHIELDS: That was the Republican economic mandate for a long time.

DAVID BROOKS: Updating it.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is he in any better shape, Mark, in terms of getting his programs through? I realize we don’t know a lot of detail right now. But is…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, they have made a calculation, a political calculation. It’s hard to argue with it.

It’s a Republican Congress. He’s playing very much to his base. He’s not expanding his base. He’s not reaching across the divide, except by not insulting. But he is catering to and holding and speaking to and speaking for his base, those who supported him.

So, he’s 85 or 87 to nine among Republicans. As long as he’s there, OK, as long as his numbers are that high, Republicans are going to fall in line. They’re going to support him, or they’re going to at least think two or three times before breaking with him.

But, Judy, there is no sense of how he’s going to pay for any of this. And there’s no sense of the specifics. We have no more specific idea on what he wants to do on tax cuts and tax reform than we had before the speech.


If they can find the health care plan under the magic sofa cushion in the Capitol, wherever it’s hiding, they’re going to find a lot of opposition on the right. And this is actually going to be a trope of the Trump administration.

If they ever actually come up with an agenda, there is going to be a lot of people on his right who are Republicans who are going to be very unhappy with the levels of spending or even the levels of tax cuts — or tax credits in the health care plan.

So, I think, on substantive matters on a lot of these issues, they’re going to have a big issue, big problem. And, secondly, a lot of these programs, like the health care, it shifts risk down to the individuals.


DAVID BROOKS: And I happen to think it could create good markets and reduce costs. But you’re definitely shifting risk.

And a lot of Americans are like, I have got enough risk in life. No thank you.

And I think that is going to come back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re eight going to be looking at the sofa on the Hill or at David’s dry cleaner.

MARK SHIELDS: David’s dry cleaner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

The post Shields and Brooks on Russia investigation questions, Trump’s joint address appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on tea party lessons for Democrats, remaking GOP in Trump’s image

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Feb 24, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, from that, let’s turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, Mark, let’s just talk about this right now.

What do you see this energy or this emotion and anger, what does it mean coming at these Republican town halls?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, a shout-out for Congressman Lance for doing it, and for a thoughtful interview with Lisa, for having another town meeting, because several of his colleagues have tucked tail and run and ducked it.

And so the energy, Judy, is real. There’s no doubt about it. But I think Ross Baker put the point well, the political philosopher and teacher, when he said, it isn’t as focused. It’s quite diffuse. There are those who want to impeach Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, I hate to tell people who are concerned about it, is not going to be impeached. The American people believe in giving somebody a fair chance. He’s a new president. There have been troubles, there have been problems.

And the stock market just set 10 days in a row of new records, whether because of him or in spite of him. So that’s — but the energy is real. And the question is, can it be focused, can it be disciplined, can it be sustained?

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you answer all those questions?

DAVID BROOKS: First, I think Donald Trump is not going to be impeached this month. Let’s not close out possibilities.

I would say a couple of things. I do think that what’s happening is great and that people are active and people are just involved in the democratic process.

The Tea Party thing is only apt in some ways. The activism in the town halls, that looks superficially like it. But what the Tea Party did was, they went after the party, the Republican Party, as their vehicle. And parties is how you change history.

So, it’s fine to be an activist, but you’re not — if you’re not putting up candidates, if you’re not getting political, if you’re not in your party, then you’re probably not going to have long-term change. You will probably dissipate.

And then it’s tempting to remember that the Tea Party had a peak and then the Republican Party establishment sort of beat it back down. And so these things are won in a day.

And then the final thing the Tea Party had was, they fed into the philosophy that Donald Trump now embodies. So they had a different view of how the world should be governed. And so they had a lot of things that we didn’t appreciate going for them as time went by.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it did lead to something, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, it certainly did. It led to the Republican takeover in 2010.

And Kevin McCarthy, who is now the House majority leader, was pretty open. He went out and recruited candidates who had emerged from that movement. And the Republicans in the House have paid a price for it ever since, because they cannot pass anything comprehensive or real because of the Freedom Caucus, which is the child, the product, the progeny of the Tea Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But to both of you just quickly, you’re hearing some Republicans, you’re hearing the White House saying, well, a lot of this is orchestrated, it’s been somebody sitting there sort of pulling the strings.


JUDY WOODRUFF: How genuine is this?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s genuine.

Judy, the argument of those who are being criticized at any time, the civil rights movement forward, the anti-war movement forward, is, it’s always outside agitators doing it.

The Wall Street Journal had a pretty good piece yesterday that this is organic. It’s not organized. It’s real.

These are — are there people nationally working on it? Sure. But people who are emerging are from those districts. When Tom Cotton hears a woman stand up in Arkansas and said three members of my family would be dead but for ACA, including me, and where do you get your insurance, Senator, they’re all going to be asked that. So, it’s genuine.

DAVID BROOKS: And there’s nothing wrong with being organized.


DAVID BROOKS: Things that change history tend to be organized.

And so I do think what the Tea Party also had was Obamacare and the unpopularity of that, at least at the time. And so whether there is something that is equally unpopular and equally galvanizing that is almost self-destructive from the administration, that’s another factor that we will wait and see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will wait and see about that.

But, meantime, right now — and we talked about it a few minutes ago on the show, Mark — the Democrats are about to choose a new party chair. We were talking about the message of the party.

Do you hear a clear message coming from the Democrats? Do you think it matters whether they come together around any message right now?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. It will, Judy.

But, no, I don’t hear any clear, coherent message. I mean, when you’re a party out of power, it’s the time to be a national party chair. When the party holds the White House, all the political decisions are made in the White House. And being a party chair, you’re just an artifact.

But, being a party chair, you really have a chance to make a difference. but what the Democrats have to do is recognize and accept the fact that they’re at their lowest point since 1928 in the United States House of Representatives and their lowest point since 1925 in states.

So, they have got to start winning elections. That involves not some great idea, but it also involves recruiting candidates. And Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who has given obnoxiousness a new definition in his personal behavior, oftentimes in his dealings with the press, had a very good point.

And that is, the Democrats have to do what he did when he was chairman of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, recruit veterans, recruit football players, recruit businesspeople. And I think that’s what the job of the new party chair has to be.


I guess, to me, the fundamental thing — well, I guess I see a lot of people debating this in the wrong way. A lot of the debate is, should we go to the coasts, should we go to the center, should we go to the left, should we go to the right?

But Trump is instructive here, actually. You figure out, what is the crucial issue facing the country right now? And for Trump, it was that the global economy and the international world order were failing regular people.

And so he said, that’s the crucial issue. I’m going to take a clear stand on that issue.

And he did. And it’s very internally consistent. And he won with it.

For the Democrats, they’re trying to avoid having the Sanders-Clinton debate over and over again. But, to some degree, they’re sentenced to that debate. Clinton is much more embracing of the global economy and the international world order. Sanders and Warren are much less so.

And they have got to figure out which side the party is on, if they’re going to have a clear message. I think this is probably one you probably can’t straddle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you hear, as we heard earlier, when they say, well, opportunity for all, you’re saying it’s got to be more specific?

DAVID BROOKS: You have got to have — Franklin Roosevelt had a pretty clear line. Ronald Reagan had a pretty clear line, people who rescue parties.

And it doesn’t have to be the same line that we have had for the last 40 years, because that clearly isn’t working on any level. But you have got to have a pretty clear line on this crucial issue.

Basically, global capitalism, basically to support it, or is it to be opposed? Is international order to be supported, or is it to be opposed? Republicans have taken a very clear line. Democrats can have a different version of the line, or they can just say, no, we are the party of international peace and activism, and we’re the party that’s going to have a civilized capitalism.

MARK SHIELDS: Two points.

First of all, that’s way above the job description and job definition of a party chair. That is. That will be fought out in the primaries in 1920 — in 2020.


MARK SHIELDS: Before that, in 2018 as well.

But Franklin Roosevelt also ran on a balanced budget in 1932, and the greatest president, certainly, of the 20th century. And, you know, so the idea that you lay out a predicate right now, Donald Trump has recreated the Republican Party in his image.

We saw that at the CPAC convention, Judy. That was a total surrender of the Reagan era. Ronald Reagan is gone.


MARK SHIELDS: He is nothing but a distant memory.


MARK SHIELDS: Well, seeing that party today, I mean, he stood up and he said, you finally have a president, you finally have a president. I am the future.

And what did he get? Hosannas and huzzahs and genuflection. It was a total takeover of the conservative movement. Like, that’s what the conservative movement has become, is basically an annex of the Trump campaign.

DAVID BROOKS: I wish I could disagree.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think the two are now one, that it’s the Trump and the conservative …

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t know if it will be forever, but, for this moment, yes, for sure.

Steve Bannon went to the CPAC this week and he said that there was a very important historical turning point, getting rid of the TPP. And the Republican Party has stood for that for as long as I have been alive.

And then Trump today, he — you know, buy American, buy American, anti-free trade, and got big cheers. They’re waving Russian flags, probably partly as a joke. But, still, the party has become an ethnic nationalist party.

And I don’t think it’s just because they, oh, that we agree with Trump on some things and not on others. I do think, over the last 10 years, a lot of Republicans have decided it’s not working, what the party believed in, free trade, global capitalism, open borders.

They looked at basically the failed wars and they said, oh, this, us being the policeman of the world, that is not working.

And so something really serious has shifted in the minds of Republicans and certainly others.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But aren’t there still Republicans who say, CPAC doesn’t represent me, that I’m not part of the conservative movement, I’m a Republican, but I’m not there?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. Absolutely.

I mean, this is a group, don’t forget, that gave its presidential straw ballot to Ron Paul, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul and Rand Paul. So, they have abandoned what — their libertarian values and instincts to embrace Trump.

Judy, gone is any mention of American exceptionalism. I happen to believe that twice, three times in the 20th century, the United States saved Western democracy, both World War — both World Wars and the Cold War.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you’re hearing about America first.

MARK SHIELDS: But America’s exceptionalism, American leadership, the American model, the American values are not — they’re something that end at the border. They’re something that are just for us. And American responsibility is — there is no mention of it.


We had the clip earlier in the program of Trump saying: I’m not president of the globe. I’m president of the United States.

Reagan would have never said that. Eisenhower would have never said that, because he would have said, yes, I’m president of the United States, but it’s in our interests to be securing a world order.

MARK SHIELDS: A citizen of the world.

DAVID BROOKS: And that is — the two are so intricately linked. But Trump sees an opposition between the two. It’s a very different mind-set.

The other thing that has changed — and this is more detailed to CPAC than the general Republican Party — is they have always been an outsider, Ann Coulter, sort of protest style, a little ruder than most Republicans. And this goes back all the way to Reagan.

Lee Atwater, Reagan’s strategist, had no patience for CPAC, because he thought they were sort of wild and immature, basically. And so that’s always been a strain. So, it’s interesting how identity politics and Ann Coulter-style tactics have now blossomed. But they were always there in CPAC.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK, just about a minute, a minute-and-a-half left.

I want to quickly ask you. We are careful about how we talk about President Trump and the news media, because we think you can quickly get into a situation, Mark, where you are looking at yourself and being a little too self-referential, any of us in the news media.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But what I want to ask both of you, quickly, is, is this something that the press — that’s going to begin to define the press, the president’s constant, daily saying fake news, the press is dishonest, the press makes things up?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, he’s moved from the enemy being Barack Obama, now gone, fading is Hillary Clinton, and there is no question he’s chosen the enemy.

I thought what Steve Bannon said yesterday was probably more chilling or more threatening than anything the president says, I mean, because he said, it’s a constant day. We have to defeat the press.

And President Kennedy, after the Bay of Pigs, said to Turner Catledge of The New York Times: I wish you had written more, I wish you had investigated more, because it might have saved the country of the cataclysm of the Bay of Pigs.

And, you know, that’s the job of a free press is to hold the lamp up, to investigate, to hold accountable. And denying access, as Sean Spicer did today, is the first step toward a dictatorship.


It’s both strategic, to get people’s minds off other things, and to pick an internal enemy. It’s part of his psychodynamics to always care about his press coverage intensely. He’s more interested in that than anything else.

Will it to stick? Of course, I tend to think not, the fake media. But I’m sure little Marco didn’t think it would stick. I’m sure crooked Hillary didn’t think it would stick. These labels do have a certain power to them. And so we will see how it plays out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will see.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

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Shields and Brooks on immigration ban court defeat, Democrats’ confirmation hearing opposition

Author: PBS NewsHour
Fri, Feb 10, 2017

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us tonight from Chicago.

And we welcome both of you.

So, before we talk about the immigration — the president’s immigration order, Mark, which the court, appeals court, rejected the administration argument on last night, we have a short clip of what President Trump has just said a little while ago on Air Force One as he was flying from Washington down to South Florida to Mar-a-Lago.

Reporters were asking him what he plans to do now.

Here’s that clip.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will win that battle. But we also have a lot of other options, including just filing a brand-new order.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could very well be. But I like to keep you — I would like to surprise you. We need speed for reasons of security. So, it could very well be that we do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, he says, “I like to surprise you.”

How big a setback is this for the president?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a significant setback, Judy, in large part because it was self-inflicted.

They made mistakes, including green card holders, which weakened their argument completely, and made them vulnerable to the court’s decision. And it reflected, more than anything else, a sense of chaos and a sense of incompleteness and a sense of lack of thoughtfulness in the administration on an enormously serious issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, on that last clip of Trump on the plane, his staff is briefing reporters in somewhat of a chaotic manner in just the last few minutes. People are saying, oh, they are going to just take it to the Supreme Court, they’re going to rewrite it.

And the two different briefings are contradicting each other. And that’s something The Times reporters have been talking and tweeting about publicly, which is some of the White House staff is in a high state of misery because of the general lack of — chaos.

On the larger issue of the travel ban, our friend Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post I think put it pretty well. I’m not sure it’s illegal, but it’s extremely stupid.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of judges overruling presidents on national security matters. Nonetheless, so whether it’s unconstitutional or not, I leave to others. But it certainly has sucked the wind out of two or three weeks of this administration for no good reason.

There has never been evidence that people from these countries are disproportionately likely to commit terrorist acts. We have sent chaos to the airports. We have offended the world. We have derailed the administration. We have done it in such an incompetent way, the administration has, that people with perfectly legal residence have been widely inconvenienced.

And so it’s just been a screw-up from beginning to end, and so it’s just been a running derailment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, it’s only three weeks in, and it’s already this way. And David referred to the, frankly, mixed signals coming from the White House today about whether they were going to appeal or not and how they’re going to — what they’re going to do going forward.

But I want to ask you both about what the president has been saying about the judiciary, calling judges disgraceful, the arguments before the appellate court disgraceful, saying the country has been put at risk by the decision.

How much should — what should we think about that?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a real surprise, Judy.

I mean, Judge Gorsuch, the nominee for the Supreme Court, said it was disheartening and discouraging to have judges attacked for their independence and their integrity. I don’t know if Judge Gorsuch was living in a bubble in Boulder during 2016.

This is not an aberration on the part of Donald Trump. He did it to Judge Curiel. He said Judge Curiel was a total disgrace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the judge …


MARK SHIELDS: The federal judge in the Trump University charge — case, because his parents had been born in Mexico and because I’m going to build a wall.

He manages to personalize everything. He brings chaos. He will not admit that he’s ever made a mistake, that he’s ever been wrong. That’s what this whole thing is about whether they’re going to have a new order.

A new order, a new executive order would be an admission that the first order had been flawed, imperfect, illegal, unconstitutional and rejected. So he can’t have that.

So you’re going to kind of do a double — to me, it is reflective of this administration. It’s three weeks in. People in the White House work hard, whatever administration. They get rewarded in psychic income, a sense that they are involved in something bigger than themselves, that it’s important.

And the people in the Trump White House right now are just fighting, fighting basically to stay above water.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is a sense of conflict, David, virtually every day.

But what about — is there a strategy to criticizing the judiciary, the judges, the courts over this?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think there is a strategy.

There is world view. And Donald Trump’s world view is that it’s a dangerous, miserable place, people are out to get him, and he needs to strike them first. That’s been the world view from the beginning. And it’s the world view.

To me, the big event of the week is not one thing. It’s the whole agglomeration of things. It’s the rising tide of enmity in the country, Donald Trump attacking judges, Donald Trump attacking John McCain, Senator Blumenthal, the town halls, the riots in Berkeley. You have got the incivility on the floor of the United States Senate. You have got just a rising tide, every single story.

Every time Kellyanne Conway goes on TV, there’s another fight with whoever’s interviewing her that particular day. And so what you have is this just succession and a rising tide of conflict and incivility and the breakdown in the moral norms that usually govern how we talk to each other.

Marco Rubio gave a pretty good speech on the floor of the Senate this week sort of acknowledging this fact. And so it’s not one thing. It’s every day. It’s the barrage of hostility that seems to mark our politics emanating from the White House, but not only in the White House, from his opponents as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which raises a question, Mark, in my mind. Is there any historical precedent for something like this? And what do the Democrats do? Because they are getting — a lot of Republicans are saying the Democrats are holding up President Trump’s nominees for the Cabinet.

A number of them have been confirmed, but a number are still waiting to be confirmed, that they are accusing the Democrats of creating a logjam. I mean, conflict at the White House, conflict on the Hill, who comes out on top of all this?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I mean, it’s a Cabinet that wasn’t vetted, that wasn’t prepared, that the papers weren’t prepared for.

Democrats have to make the fight. If you only make fights that you’re going to win, there would be no women’s vote in the country, there would be no civil rights laws in the country. So, they came within one vote of denying the confirmation to Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

She was unprepared. And so unprepared was she that Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the committee, the former president of the University of Tennessee, the former secretary of education, limited questioning of her to five minutes, so to deny exposure to what she didn’t know.

So, you vote — are you going to vote for her, you’re going to vote against her? Two Republicans crossed ranks, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, to join the Democrat.

Andrew Puzder, the secretary of labor, a multimillionaire, who eight weeks after he was nominated discovers that we, my wife and I, had for years somebody working on — undocumented in our home who we didn’t pay taxes for.

Zoe Baird, the nominee for attorney general, her career foundered on this. Kimba Wood withdrew nomination on a far less serious charge. And so did Linda Chavez.

Is there one standard for women and another for men? Men aren’t responsible, multiple millionaire men who deal in minimum wage jobs, who deal in undocumented immigrants working for them at reduced wages?

So, I think these are fights worth making.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what about that, David? Because some people are looking at Washington and saying, oh, it’s just more of the same, the wheels are not turning in the nation’s capital.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s patently true.

On the various nominees, I generally think the president should get his Cabinet picks, unless they’re egregiously out of the range, either ethically or intellectually out of the range of what’s acceptable.

And I have to say a lot of these nominees are not necessarily my cup of tea, but I think they’re clearly within the range. Jeff Sessions has some problematic spots on his history, but he has been a pretty normal, respectable senator, more conservative than a lot of us, but a respectable senator for a long period of time.

So, one could — I think the Democrats are right to protest, but I don’t think he’s so far out of the range of normalcy that he shouldn’t be confirmed.

Betsy DeVos is not the most informed person on education policy, but I have seen her present a few times, and she presents as a pretty respectable, intelligent person who has cared passionately about education and cares about charter schools. The teachers union may not like her, but she’s clearly within the range of Republican policy-makers.

As for multimillionaires, a lot of us hope to be a multimillionaire some day. Again, spotty records, but it seems to be not without the range. I don’t blame the Democrats for fighting. They have got a very energized base. And there is a lot to complain about a lot of these nominees. But I think, if you are actually going to turn someone down from a president’s own Cabinet, it better be a lot more egregious than the cases we have seen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s my question, Mark. Where draw the line? Where should Democrats say no?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, they have drawn the line, Judy. They have confirmed — Tillerson is confirmed. They backed Mattis. They’re not going to fight Ben Carson.

I think these — I disagree with David. I agree with his assumption and his premise that a president is entitled to a Cabinet, obviously, but it’s not a rubber stamp. And I don’t think anybody could watch the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and say that this is somebody qualified to be secretary of education.

Ninety percent of children in America go to public schools. She knows nothing about public schools and apparently cares less. And her position on guns in schools, got to — for potential grizzlies, we should have guns available in schools?

And Andrew Puzder, this is somebody who basically has just broken the law, and he’s going to be held to no standard at all, whereas women nominees have been rejected in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think even Republicans are saying Puzder may have a problem.

David, what about the point that Mark is making?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, in some cases, I agree. On the Puzder point, I do agree there has been a double standard.

On the DeVos case, I agree that the gun — her gun position is kind of weird, kind of crazy, but I do think she does know about public schools. The reason the Betsy DeVos case was the centerpiece case for the Democrats wasn’t about her weakness as a knowledgeable person on education policy.

She does care about charter schools, which are public schools. She does care about choice, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to care about. It’s because it’s the one issue where the Democratic donor base was really energized, which was the teacher unions.

People ask, quite legitimately, why DeVos and why not a lot of the others? But it’s because it has to do with the special interest groups that run a lot of Washington.

Would she be my first pick? No. Is she someone who has dedicated her life to education policy? Yes, actually, she has. I have seen her present a few times. I don’t really know her. But I have seen her present on education policy, and she’s not a stupid person.

She’s quite a smart person, capable, pretty sophisticated in subtle thought. And so to me, that puts her in the realm of policy. But we’re in a climate where, as today, she tries to visit a school, and she can’t even do that because protesters are blocking that.

And that’s what I mean about the rising tide of incivility that’s sweeping over politics.

MARK SHIELDS: That was wrong. She should have been allowed to go in a public school. It would have been a novel experience for her.


MARK SHIELDS: And this is not about the teachers unions alone. That’s a very convenient punching bag, to say that Democrats are just jumping at strings.

Yes, the teachers unions opposed her, and for good reason. They don’t think that her commitment to public education exists. So — you know, but they’re not simply responding. They have confirmed all sorts of Republican secretaries of education in the past who favored choice, including Lamar Alexander.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you want a final 20 seconds here?


DAVID BROOKS: No, I’m willing to respect Mark’s disagreement. We’re not going to be like the rest of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we have a little bit of comity in the United States tonight right here, right here on the NewsHour.

MARK SHIELDS: What is Donald Trump going to give President Putin for Valentine’s Day? I’m interested.


MARK SHIELDS: Maybe David’s got an idea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will know by next Friday, because Valentine’s Day is Tuesday, in case the two of you have forgotten.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on immigration ban court defeat, Democrats’ confirmation hearing opposition appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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