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Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast by Jim Lehrer

Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast

by Jim Lehrer

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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 Obama’s handling of the border crisis, Mideast violence

Fri, Jul 25, 2014


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

So, as we wrote about in the “Morning Line” e-mail this morning, when you talk about immigration, there’s policy and there’s politics. So, let’s tackle the policy first.

There was a — maybe a photo-op here today at the White House, where the president was lined up with three other presidents. He made the point of saying that we are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It seemed like he wanted to sort of thread the needle a bit. Is this the right balance? Can he strike that?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he did strike it, but I think it’s politically for naught. Nothing is going to happen, in my judgment, even as we — the drive to adjourn for the August recess.

They’re too far apart. I think the Democrats are not going to support a change in the 2008 law, which does provide different coverage and different treatment of the children and others from Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras.

And the Republicans only want to vote for $1 billion. And I don’t think — let’s be very blunt about it. There are the votes — and everybody knows this — in the House of Representatives to pass the Senate comprehensive immigration bill, which passed the Senate a year-and-a-half ago.

And — but they wouldn’t do it with Republican votes. The speaker doesn’t want to do it with just Democratic votes and not a majority of Republican votes. So I think the chances of anything being done on this are very remote.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, why doesn’t it happen?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first — first on the president, I thought he did thread the needle, but he leaned a little further on the side of these children have to be sent home than I expected.

He said, we will do it humanely, within institutions. But he more or less said that, which I think is the proper response, unfortunately, in order to stem the tide. I totally agree with Mark on the politics of it. Everybody wants to be seen to do something.

And so I think the House will pass something, and — but that doesn’t mean they will all agree to do the same thing. And I agree with Mark that they’re too far apart. The politics — and the Eric Cantor hurt things. And so I just — I guess I just think that the country is — well, the political leadership is terrified of the activists on this one.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But what about the political reality of trying to lure the Hispanic vote, trying to win favor going into an election a year-and-a-half from now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, this is a problem.

I mean, this has been an issue, immigration, very bluntly, that’s been a great political advantage for the Democrats. And the president’s handling of the border is — gets a 54 percent disapproval rating from Latinos, which — who are the key.

Republicans cannot win the president without Latinos. Democrats can’t win without Latinos. I mean, Republicans have to change their ways, at least to get competitive, rather lose better than 3-1 Latino vote, the fastest-growing demographic in the country.

And I just don’t think that any Democrats are going to vote right at this point to change the 2008 — maybe a handful — to change the 2008 law to make it tougher on kids from — that appears to be in some way tougher on Latinos in particular who are trying to get in the country.

DAVID BROOKS: I must say, I’m a little mystified by that, because it would more or less equalize kids from different countries.


DAVID BROOKS: And it seems to me more or less fair. It seems to me the law was miswritten in a way that was not anticipated. It seems to me that equalizing, and depending on what — so it doesn’t depend on what country you happen to come from in Latin America, seems to me a fair option.

But the fact is, Republicans, they are doomed. But you’re a Republican from Mississippi, say. You know, nationally, we have got to get square on immigration, or else people from minority communities will not even listen to us, no matter what else we say.

But if you’re afraid of what happened to Eric Cantor happening to you, well, the national party can go hang itself. You’re going to look after yourself. And that’s the essential problem.

MARK SHIELDS: The only country in the world that has a higher murder rate than Honduras right now is Syria. That’s how tough it is. I think that to some degree contributed to the special treatment in that 2008…

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, there was a story last night about possibly increasing the amount of refugee applications in Honduras.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Is it appropriate to broaden the definition of refugee compared to who does seek asylum today? Is basically living in fear of a street gang and the murder that very legitimately could happen in Honduras the same as, say, someone in Somalia trying to seek asylum?

DAVID BROOKS: You’re operating under the assumption that people have trust in the institutions of government.

And I think that would be a good idea. And I think we could handle a more intelligent refugee policy. But if you look at some of the people who are voting against this or opposing this, they simply do not have faith that any law that is passed will be enforced. And they believe that once you broaden the refugee assignment, that will be a loophole to open the borders wide.

And so this is partly a legacy of just the generalized distrust of immigration. It’s probably, frankly, a legacy of the immigration bill that passed under Ronald Reagan, which is a good bill, but without the border enforcement that undermined trust in all future immigration bills.

MARK SHIELDS: Alan Simpson and Ron Mazzoli. That’s right, Simpson-Mazzoli. And it was a good bill, but — and it did help.

I think there is a certain dangerous precedent going into other countries. And we’re going to decide — you going to have a rotating group that go from — I mean, a lot of countries where people are facing both terror and the gangs and worse and precarious futures.

You know, I just don’t — I don’t know if there’s going to be a pre-clearance group that’s going to down and interview people and make those judgments.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, shifting gears to Israel, Palestine, we just heard from National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

First off, any reaction to how the administration has been handling it this week?

DAVID BROOKS: I think their posture has been a pretty good one. They have been pretty tough on Hamas, which is the right posture. They have been pretty honest about things. They’re doing what they can.

You can’t force a peace on the parties when the parties don’t want it. Right now, Israel sees a chance to severely weaken Hamas. They do it with a tacit endorsement of some of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood countries, the regime in Egypt, the regime in Saudi Arabia.

And so they’re — just in terms of the region, they’re in a reasonably good moment. If they’re going to try to weaken Hamas and get rid of the tunnels, this is probably a moment to do it. So they see some advantage.

Hamas clearly sees an advantage. They were marginalized. They’re now centralized. They’re very interested in forcing the Egyptian government to allow some of the transport and the communications of the commerce across that border, which the Egyptian regime, which hates the Muslim Brotherhood, hasn’t wanted to do.

But if they can become a movement across the region, then they could force Egypt to open up those borders. So both parties see some advantages here. And so I suspect this thing is going to go on for a little a while.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m more hopeful.

I think each party to this combat right now has a different stake. For Hamas, David’s right. All politics is local. In a bizarre way, what has happened has strengthened Hamas. Hamas was unpopular. It wasn’t seen as able or competent. But what has happened is that, as they have stood up to the invading and occupying army that’s inflicting injury and destruction upon the country, and seem to inflict some damage upon Israel in return, they’re winning the support locally.

For Israel, the opposite. All politics is global. And just as the Vietnam War, in my judgment, the United States’ war in Vietnam was fought and lost on television in the living rooms of America, I think that Israel has really had a very bad week in social media.

I think the images of the hospitals, of the schools, of the children, of the lack of electricity and water and sewage, I just think that’s taken a toll on Israel internationally.

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I disagree on both ends there.

I agree that Hamas has had a short run. And when you’re in a conflict, the people fighting, and the people that are most militant are going to get a surge. And they have certainly gotten a surge in the Palestinian public. The polls clearly show that.

But there’s been a clear pattern in the Middle East that, over the long term, Palestinians do not believe that this war fighting, that a regime that doesn’t even acknowledge that Israel has the right to exist, they generally do not believe that’s the way they’re going to get out of the mess they’re in.

And they have over months of peace drifted away from that policy, which is what Hamas has — which is what Hamas has been pursuing. And so I think over the long term, people will look around and say, are we really going to bomb our way to peace? And they’re not going to want that over the long term.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about his idea that the power of social media affecting perception? Has the political perception about this conflict shifted at all with the onslaught of images that we have all seen, whether it’s from one side or the other?


Well, clearly, if you — if you measure things by body counts, then Israel has killed more, and so they look more vicious. And the people who are inclined to think poorly of Israel are hopping on that. I guess I’m more inclined to think positively of Israel. And I would say the moral calculus is not particularly even, that Hamas — and there’s been tons of media reporting on this — has put the site of the origin of the tunnels under hospitals in a dense residential area.

The missiles are being shot from dense residential areas. They’re inviting civilian casualties by what is clearly an immoral way of waging war, and that they’re — if you take into account, the moral calculus is uneven.

Is that the calculus that is accepted in the European press? No, of course not. And so Israel has faced this barrage of criticism, not from the American administration and not from some of the surprising people in the region, as I mentioned, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others.

But, at some point, you can’t govern by popularity. If you have got people mis — bombing you, if you have got all these missiles which cost a million dollars each to build, you have simply got to take care of those tunnels.

MARK SHIELDS: I just — I really feel that the desire for the end of the suffering and the pain is transcendent and I think it’s on the rise in the country.

I think there’s — I give Secretary Kerry great credit and Ambassador — former Ambassador Martin Indyk, who was on our show recently, for making the effort. I just — I don’t think you can accept the status quo or the status quo ante that is there.

We have to get a solution. And it has to be a two-state solution. And it has to be basically encouraged, if not imposed, I think, from without.

DAVID BROOKS: Just one quick thing.

I just don’t think the two-state solution is germane to this situation. It is certainly germane to the West Bank, where Fatah is nominally in control. But Hamas does not believe in the two-state solution. So, a two-state solution will not quiet Hamas. It will not quiet the missiles in Hamas.

There is no occupation of Gaza. There are no settlements in Gaza. To me, this is about the fundamentals, the state of Israel’s right to exist and the rivalries between the Muslim Brotherhood and other parties in the region.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I think we’re almost out of time, but, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much.

The post Shields and Brooks on Obama’s handling of the border crisis, Mideast violence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on Israel’s incursion, challenging Russia

Fri, Jul 18, 2014


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

Gentleman, no shortage of terrible news this week.

And, Mark, let’s start where we left off with Margaret, the Middle East. What does Israel’s ground invasion into Gaza, what does that do, do you think, to hopes for any kind of peaceful resolution here?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the risk of a slippery slope, of it just enlarging, the military operation and military engagement, because it not simply increases the possibility, as Margaret mentioned, of civilian casualties, which have already — I think, as we went on, are approaching 300 dead civilians, three-quarters — 300 Palestinians, three-quarters of whom are civilians and one-quarter of whom are children.

And that’s a problem, but, at the same time, retaliation upon Israeli troops, whether it’s shooting and firing them, trapping them or capturing them. So I think there is a problem of the potential escalation here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does this mean, David, the idea of any sort of resolution is just so far off in the distance, you can’t even imagine it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, yes.

We’re in sort of a parallel universe where it’s sort of a military operation we have not seen before. So Hamas has had no success in inflicting any damage on the Israelis, in part because of the Iron Dome missile defense system and in part just because their rockets are not that great.

But they — when the cease-fire proposal went out there, they greeted that with a barrage of missiles nonetheless, not because they hoped to inflict any damage on the Israelis, but they hoped the Israelis would inflict damage on them and kill Palestinian civilians, which is one of the reasons they have decided to tell their civilians not to flee the areas that are afflicted.

So, it’s a rare moment in military history where a party rejects a cease-fire in order to get more of their own people killed. But that’s part of the strategy, which is a global strategy, a propaganda strategy of eliciting this European response.

I think the U.S. has done a good job, John Kerry’s done a good job of rejecting this strategy of using human shields. Bill Clinton has said things. But this is the strategy they’re trying to enact, and it’s just this perverse military strategy of getting your own people killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s not a strategy they’re being open and…


And David — I’m not disputing David’s reporting or analysis on it, but, you know, every war has its picture. And when you get four kids between the age of 9 and 11 kicking a soccer ball on a beach outside the hotel where Western journalists stay, and several of the Western journalists had been playing with them shortly, killed by an Israeli air attack, then those aren’t human shields.

That’s collateral damage, to be euphemistic. That’s a human tragedy. And there’s no way you could identify them as potential terrorists or problems. And so I think that the concern expressed at a humanitarian level, as well as a diplomatic level in Margaret’s conversation, that Israel could risk, as they did in 2008-2009, when they were 1,400 Palestinians killed and 13 Israelis died — nobody wants anybody to die on either side.

But that really did cost support.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, the Israeli problem obviously is they can’t sit there while missiles are raining down on the country.

MARK SHIELDS: Who said they weren’t?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they are raining down on them.

MARK SHIELDS: No. But — yes.

DAVID BROOKS: They’re not hitting Tel Aviv. They’re not hitting Haifa and places like that because of the iron Dome.


DAVID BROOKS: But the Hamas situation is a little different this time than the previous situations, in part because the Palestinian population at least until this moment was much more negative. The Pew Research in Gaza suggested a 63 percent disapproval, much less popular among the Palestinian population, the Hamas government.

And Hamas has been greeted with much more skepticism around the Arab world than before. And so they’re in a much, much weaker position, much less effective governing agency than they were in some of the past wars. And that’s both part of the chaos and also part of the instigation, why they want to whip this up.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree that Hamas has been a failure at governing and leading.

But there’s no more quicker way to overlook the shortcomings of any government than to have your civilian population under military attack. I mean, that is a unifying factor, even behind bad leadership, as Hamas has demonstrated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, before we turn to Ukraine, David or Mark, any clarity about what the U.S. could be doing here to help the situation?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, my view, we’re doing the right thing, which is Obama and Samantha Power focusing on Putin.

It’s Putin’s strategy is incitement and sort of messianic fantasy nationalism which both rhetorically has whipped up this messianic nationalist fervor, and then physically armed these people, that’s the ultimate cause, the only thing we can address.

I don’t know if we can get the Europeans to do more sanctions against Putin, but I think the administration is focusing correctly on Putin and his strategy of fantastic incitement.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there is any question that Putin is the heavy in this whole tragedy. And his failed attempts to try to shift blame to the Ukrainians for the airspace, that the tragedy, catastrophe occurred over Ukrainian territory, you could see what he was doing was to incite further ethnic turmoil and to just destabilize the Ukrainian government.

That was his attempt. I don’t think he intended this international disaster.


I just don’t think that’s — I don’t think that was on it. And, I mean, it’s come home to roost with him. I think David’s point is a good one about what the administration is doing. As far as further sanctions, Judy, you have got the French, who have sold ships. You have got the Germans, who get oil. You have got the English, or the British, who welcome the dollars of those Russian capitalists, if we’re going to be euphemistic about it.

And so are they willing to inconvenience themselves, and especially when one-third of all the…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Europeans.

MARK SHIELDS: … the European oil or natural gas comes from Russia, and one half of it goes through Ukraine?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, when the president said — he said this incident in Ukraine will, he said, be a wakeup call for Europe and the world that the conflict in Ukraine is not going to be contained, what does that mean?  I mean, what consequences are we talking about?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t think you have to be a super historian to look at times in the past when people have whipped up fervor and then lost control. They have lost control of it.

I agree with Mark that it’s hard to imagine Putin wanted this to happen. But he did set up this momentum of messianism. And it’s sort of spinning out of control. And if the Europeans see that, then they really have to say, even Putin can’t control this. So what do we do?

And so that does raise — I would think it would raise alarms in Paris, Berlin, London, and everywhere else.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, I agree.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of the U.S. having a role, is the U.S. a bystander?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think — I thought the president today was quite measured in what he had to say. He didn’t — ahead of the evidence or ahead of the facts.

And I think it was probably to some degree a result of what happened after Benghazi, that he just — and he let Samantha Power at the U.N. make the strong and principled statement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Her statement was tougher than his.

MARK SHIELDS: It was. It was. But it was quite principled. And it put the challenge directly to Russia, that they are challenging them not to in any way inhibit, impede the official international investigation of what happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whereas the president was more measured.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And I think they have got to be hoping, as we just heard, that maybe Putin will be like, whoa, this is a problem. And maybe he himself will scale back.

He has in the past, to be fair to him, has scaled back some — when the Ukrainian war got super hot a couple months ago, he pulled back a little. So he’s capable of some regulation, and maybe we will see some of that. It’s certainly worth opening the door to that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Mark and David, stay here, because we’re going to ask you another question in just a few moments.

We will be right back to you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Israel’s incursion, challenging Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on suing the president, LeBron’s hometown bounce

Fri, Jul 11, 2014


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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 back, gentlemen. We missed you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the Highway Trust Fund, one of many disagreements between Republicans and Democrats right now.

And I guess the biggest one, though, David, is the speaker, John Boehner, saying he’s going to sue the president of the United States because the president’s overstepped his line as president.

Is there merit in this suit? Is it a good idea? What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: There’s some merit, but I, of course, have sympathy for both sides.

So, basically, you normally pass a big piece of legislation like the ACA, the health care bill, and then you go back and fix it and the Congress and everybody cooperates to fix it. But because we’re so dysfunctional, we can’t do that.

And so the president is left saying, well, we have got to really change the law to drop some things in the employer mandate to make it work, or at least delay it. And so he goes ahead and does that, for probably some defensible reasons, some political reasons, but it is a pretty bold step for the president to do it just off the top of his head.

It does really delay and probably wipe out a pretty significant part of the law. So when Boehner says I’m suing because the president just can’t change the law without congressional approval, technically, he’s right. The president should not be allowed to do some of that stuff.

But it does grow out of the general dysfunction, where you don’t have two parties working together to make an already passed law function.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what the president is doing? Is he changing the law?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he is, did change the Affordable Care Act.

Just one point on the highway fund that Quinn reported on. This is the perfect proof of what’s happened in Washington. This was always a consensus. The highway — highway — national highway system grew out of Dwight Eisenhower as a young Army captain in 1919 leaving the first convoy across the United States.

It took him six 62 days. And when he became president, he said, I’m going to build this system, and a marvelous system, the biggest public works project in the history of the world. And it’s always been a consensus and agreement.

And to not be able to on this one — on the — on executive power, Judy, Democrats were very sensitive to it when George Bush pushed the envelope and assumed more executive power. And then Democrats seem to be less noisy and cantankerous when their own president does it.

Republicans who were mute when George Bush was expanding the definition of executive power by power grabs now are sensitive constitutionalists. This is going nowhere. What it is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The lawsuit.

MARK SHIELDS: The lawsuit. It’s a base sweetener for the election of 2014.

It’s John Boehner being able to say — and I’m not arguing on the merits — but being able to say, look, we’re going after him. We’re bringing it to court. And, all of a sudden, John Boehner looks semi-moderate because John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, former Governor Palin, is leading an impeachment charge, supported by such esteemed groups as Sean Hannity and The Drudge Report.

So, the lawsuit, if anything, looks quite civil and grown-up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that what this is? It’s the speaker throwing a bone or a — whether it’s a bone that’s going to develop or not?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the impeachment is obviously cloud cuckoo land.

But there’s a natural tussle between the legislature and the White House, and presidents, especially when everything is dysfunctional, want to expand their power. The president has been quite unshy about that. And the legislature’s job is to push back.

And so you’re going to — it’s a gray area. The president is charged with executing the laws. Congress passed it. The president’s got it make it work, whatever party. And so how much do you allow him to change the law to make it function?

And so that’s sort of a gray area. I think the president and on some occasions has gone quite aggressively to changing laws to make them work. But how do you draw that line? We will see.

I agree with Mark, though. The lawsuit is not going anywhere. But I do think it’s a substantive matter that’s built into our Constitution.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s like the NSA, I mean.

The National Security Agency, if the Republicans were in power, Democrats would have been up in arms and leading protests against this overreaching police state. But because it’s a Democratic administration, they have been less critical.

DAVID BROOKS: The Senate filibuster rules. There’s one eternal truth in Washington. On matters of process, every single elected official is a complete hypocrite.

On matters of method and process, it depends on whether they’re majority, in the minority. They flip their position 180 degrees without blinking an eye. And it’s sort of baffling, but thank God they didn’t write the Constitution. We actually had some people who cared about process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it work though for Boehner to do this? You said it’s to appease or to stir up the base. Does it help?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it probably does help.

I have had four requests for contributions already to support the lawsuit. And I hope there will be more to come.

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t know you were on the Boehner donor list.


MARK SHIELDS: I have always been very active on the Boehner donor — recipient list, not necessarily — it’s a one-way correspondence, but I love to read them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Let’s talk about the story that has been I think the headline every single day this week, and that’s been the immigration story, these children coming across the border, very poignant, heart-stirring stories about kids coming from Central America, coming from poverty, coming from crime.

But, David, you have now got the president going to Texas, asking for $4.5 billion, $4.7 billion. Is — and all sides, both sides, Republicans pointing a finger at the president, the president pointing a finger. Who’s responsible? What should be done?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The responsibility goes both ways, though the original law, which was sort of a trafficking law, a good law, was passed under President Bush.

The lack of enforcement, the lack of sending the kids back mostly happened under President Obama. You have got this explosion of the kids. This is a really tough one, I think. Whether the president goes to the border or not the border, it’s just sort of the normal circus we go through.

But, to me, it’s a tough one. You got these kids here. They’re just flooding, lots of them, lots, tens of thousands now. They’re being dragged apart by these jackals who take them across the border, kids alone on the border. It’s sort of loss of control. How do you get that to stop?

Well, it seems to me the way you get it to stop is to do something which I admit is cruel, which is to take some percentage of the kids that you can be confident that they’re going back to some decent place and deport them.

I do think, until we deport them, that this flood will just continue to magnify and magnify. Treat the kids from Central America the way that we treat the kids from Mexico and Canada. And that’s cruel to send kids back, but, to me, it’s the only way to prevent the larger cruelty of this gigantic flow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that the right solution?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure it is the right — but I will say this. David certainly is not suggesting you do that without changing the law.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. That’s what I meant. That’s what I meant.

MARK SHIELDS: Because the law — yes, the law is very, very clear on it, that each child is entitled to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is, again, the 2008 law…

MARK SHIELDS: The 2008, and passed without dissent in either the House or the Senate, and voice vote in both in President Bush — and for very good reason, to stop trafficking of young minors and sex traffic for money.

I mean, it was a very noble purpose, and it was a — there was more than a consensus. It was unanimous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was a much smaller number of kids.

MARK SHIELDS: And it was a much smaller number.

And this is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. There’s nobody that has a child, a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a brother, sister could look at these 8-, 10-year-old kids and say a 1,300-mile trip, and — we have to provide them safety. We have to provide them health. We have to provide them shelter.

And — but the reality is that, is it going to just continue? And what I would draw the historical metaphor to is — politically — and I think it’s dangerous for Democrats and for everybody really — is the Mariel boatlift in 1980, in April of 1980, when Fidel Castro said, OK, folks, you want to leave Cuba, go ahead; 125,000 did; 8,300 of them ended up in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

And there was a fellow running for reelection of governor that year in Arkansas. And his opponent put a thing on and said — commercial saying, our state is less safe because the governor has let these Cuban prisoners in. And Bill Clinton, it was the last race he lost.

There is a sense of — out of control, that we don’t control our own borders. I mean, as open and as compassionate as we must be and want to be and will be to these children, there is a sense that we sent — 370,000 people deported last year, but that there is a porousness about our border.

DAVID BROOKS: And if you want to pass immigration reform, which I do, you have got to secure the border. But you’re just not going to get the votes any other way. And this is — what’s happened has been a devastating blow, I think, to whatever chances there were for immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do? You think it hurts the…

DAVID BROOKS: Because people want to feel that somehow the authority of government is basically functioning.


DAVID BROOKS: And that’s really hard to see when you look at what — the images we have seen.

MARK SHIELDS: But it’s one more problem for, quite frankly — and I say this as a liberal. It’s one more problem for Democrats, I mean, because it erodes further the confidence of government to act effectively and to execute the law and to control the borders of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you say that’s a problem for Democrats? Why isn’t that a problem…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, because Democrats are the party of government.

I mean, the president can rail against Washington and all the rest of it, and I’m happy to be out of Washington. The Democrats believe that government is an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress. Republicans don’t. Republicans are the anti-government party. And for that reason, it doesn’t erode confidence in them the same way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you think there’s a way to find out — that enough of these children can be sent back and have a secure place to go?

DAVID BROOKS: That’s why governing is hard. This is why it’s boring through hard boards, because how do you investigate where these kids — they can’t tell you.

It’s just this problem from hell. How do you find out who can go back safely, who you can’t? How do you set up a process for that? And yet somehow we just can’t continue the way we’re going, because the horror that the kids are going through to try to get here is horrible enough.



DAVID BROOKS: And so it’s typical governance. And that’s why it’s so easy to be a pundit. You’re faced with cruelty on either side of this issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very, very different last topic I want to bring up, but it — the news broke today. The city of Cleveland the hometown boy, Mark, is going home, LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat that he joined four years ago. And he said he’s going to rejoin — or come back to Cleveland, join the Cavaliers.

Now, is this bigger news than the Republicans announcing that Cleveland is going to be the convention site in…

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a bookend. It’s a bookend. It’s bigger news.

It’s goodbye, Sun Belt, hello, Rust Belt. It’s a great lift for Cleveland. Say goodbye to — Miami is in my rearview mirror. I’m coming home to Cleveland, a city that’s had a lot of belts, a lot of bruises, a lot of setbacks.

And LeBron James, the fact that the Republicans have chosen it as their 2016 is terrific for Cleveland. It’s the home of Paul Newman, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum, Drew Carey, LeBron James. What more could any city ask for?


DAVID BROOKS: A few jobs. A few jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: National, getting mentioned.

DAVID BROOKS: They have great downtown theaters there. And the Republicans will be nominating LeBron. So, it’s a twofer. He will be the — with Sarah Palin. He will pick Sarah Palin.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s also — I should say it’s a good thing for the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, this guy Dan Gilbert, who has not only done good things for Cleveland, but has really been a champion in helping Detroit get back on its feet.

And so it’s a good — we’re morally obligated to root for the economically challenged cities.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And when we follow our sports teams. And so it’s good for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, from standpoint, among many others.

We’re so glad to have the two of you back. David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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Marcus and Gerson on agreement and division at the Supreme Court, immigration protests

Fri, Jul 04, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This holiday week has been pretty quiet here in Washington, but there’s still plenty to talk about with Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson. They’re filling in for Mark Shields and David Brooks, who are away for the holiday.

And we welcome you both on this Fourth of July.

RUTH MARCUS: Happy Fourth.


JUDY WOODRUFF: To you, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s start by talking about the Supreme Court, this case that I was discussing a few minutes ago with Marcia Coyle, wherein the court, Ruth, the justices handed down an opinion yesterday, with a strong dissent, from Justice Sotomayor about a religious college in Illinois taking exception to how they are supposed to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

What is the — how big of a deal is this?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it shows the continuing turmoil that we are going to have in this area of law, where — and in part because of the result of the Hobby Lobby decision, the decision that was handed down earlier in the week, because when the court says that corporations and others have religious freedom rights to oppose participating in these contraceptive rules, and when — and they do — and when places like Wheaton College, which clearly has the right to decline to participate in these rules, balk at even signing forms to do it, you are just going to inevitably have this continuing court involvement.

And how interesting it was that it was the three women justices who were speaking up in dissent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is something I was asking Marcia about.

But, Michael, I just learned that this — you are an alumnus of this…

MICHAEL GERSON: I am, of Wheaton College, proud alumnus of Wheaton.

It’s a very religious place, very sincere views on this question. I think the — what the court seemed to be saying was, we are going to eventually decide how this HHS compromise that the administration has pursued is applied to nonprofit — religious nonprofit institutions.

And we are going to give relief to places like Wheaton while we decide this, because it is temporary as these cases come up in court. Now we have decided Hobby Lobby, which is a for-profit, but we’re going to be looking at nonprofit religious institutions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think a lot — the question a lot of people have is, how large are the repercussions from decisions like these? Will it end up, as Marcia — Marcia said there are a number of other cases coming down the pipeline that could result in the court moving even farther.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think, in the Hobby Lobby case, the court did something important, but fairly narrow.

It says that RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, applies to a certain category, a for-profit category. Under RFRA, if you have a substantial burden on your religious beliefs, then the court has to pursue the least obtrusive means to achieve its ends. And that I think is what we are seeing here.

Now, that law, RFRA, law was approved 97-3 in the Senate and by voice vote in the House and signed by Bill Clinton. I think if the Congress wanted to overturn RFRA, it would be very politically unpopular.


But you do have to acknowledge that, when that law was passed 97-3 — and, by the way, in reaction to a previous Supreme Court case — no one really anticipated that we were going to have for-profit corporations arguing that they had religious rights, whether that’s right or not.

In terms of the broader impact…


RUTH MARCUS: … I think we don’t know yet.

The court in the majority was very careful to say, look, this isn’t going to apply in cases of racial discrimination. It won’t apply in cases of vaccination because there are other issues at stake there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is what the majority said.

RUTH MARCUS: This is what the majority said.

The dissenters described it as very broad. We will state. I expect it will be largely confined to this particularly contested area of contraceptive rights and abortion rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we certainly are seeing a divided court. And we were talking earlier about — this month about how the court came together in a number of ways, but they have also been significantly divided on…

RUTH MARCUS: Together was while fun while it lasted.


RUTH MARCUS: But I think result — reports of the court’s unanimity have been greatly exaggerated.

And it is totally true, as you were discussing, that there have been a remarkably large number of unanimous opinions this year, two-thirds, compared to less than half over the last five years. But I think that masks continuing divisions on the court.

We saw it this week in the Hobby Lobby. We saw it in affirmative action. There are other — we saw it in the campaign finance cases. There are other hot-button issues that the court didn’t take up this year that are coming down the pike. Same-sex marriage, gun rights, they have been ducking.

And some of these unanimous cases really were faux-nanimous. They just masked deep divisions. Even though there were nine votes for a result, there were very strong divisions about what the right result was to get there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have strong thoughts about that, about whether it is an unusual amount of division?


I — we have the odd phenomenon of vicious concurrences.

RUTH MARCUS: Vicious concurrences, yes.

RUTH MARCUS: But we should see more of them…

MICHAEL GERSON: Exactly, which is a little bit of a — there is a false agreement here, but they agree, unless they disagree.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Let’s talk about — I very much want to ask you about immigration. We have got several things going on at once.

One, Michael, of course, is this extraordinary influx of children, some of them very young children coming across the border, the Southern border of the United States. And they’re coming from Central America through Mexico, you have protests that — we reported earlier another protest today in Southern California at one of these processing centers.

What is the right answer here? Both sides seem angry and upset about this.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think President Obama realizes there is a serious challenge here.

He has talked about $2 billion — additional dollars for border enforcement. He has talked about maybe even changing the rules to make it clear that people can’t stay under these circumstances.

I will put it this way, though. I think there’s a lot of justified concern about chaos at our borders and concern that’s — a lot of Middle Americans have about the effects of immigration on wages and other issues.

But blame the system. Blame the coyotes, the people who bring the people in. Blame the administration, if you want. But don’t blame the children who are here because of problems in — abroad.

That is the disturbing element here that I think is the trap for Republicans. As they do criticisms on immigration policy, many of which are valid, they have to do it in a way that is not unwelcoming to a group of people that I think are, you know, a key group of voters.

RUTH MARCUS: And terrible victims in this tragedy of these children at the border, as you were saying.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet these protesters are saying, we don’t want any — we already have enough immigrants in this country who are here illegally.



RUTH MARCUS: It is a big mess.

The best hope for the administration, which is something of a faint hope, is to try to get the message out in Central America, do not come, it will not work.

But there is so much desperation that the next best hope is to get the resources and the authorities to process these cases very quickly. But the fact of the matter is, under law, these children are entitled to hearings about whether they have legitimate claims for asylum. And some of them are going to have legitimate claims for asylum. As long as there is so much desperation and violence in Central America, they are going to come, and we are going to have this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But as you were pointing out to us, they are entitled to a hearing, but having to deal with so many at one time.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there is going to be a debate in the Congress if the administration wants to change that process.

And some of the president’s allies on the immigration issue are not going to be happy if that process is changed. So he could have some problems on his left as this moves forward. And it would be a tremendous paradox, after all of the debate on broad immigration reform, if the only immigration reform that was passed by the Congress in this session were border enforcement.

I don’t think the president could be happy about that. It would put a lot of pressure on him to do executive orders that relate to immigration, because of what he has had to do on the border.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and immigration is one of the places. He was expressing frustration this week, not only after the speaker of the House, John Boehner, Ruth, said, we are going sue you over your use of executive orders. The president at one point this week one audience, so sue me.

But he seems to be expressing more frustration about his inability to get things done. Meanwhile, Ruth, good jobs numbers this week. But none of that is really translating for the president. Is this a particularly difficult moment for the presidency, or how do you see it?

RUTH MARCUS: I think it is particularly difficult moment for the presidency.

And it is not surprising that it is a difficult moment. I think almost all second-term presidents, particularly second-term presidents with oppositional Congresses, end up in this situation. Some of them turn to foreign policy, because that is an area where they have broad discretion and can exercise themselves.

This is not a great area for this president right now, because his foreign policy problems may be more intractable than his domestic policy problems. So, the other thing they do — we saw this with President Clinton — is start to use the pen and executive orders and to try to express their muscularity and their presidential authority that way, but not surprising that he is so frustrated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see his ability to get anything done right now, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it is very limited.

This argument between Congress and the president at the boundaries of the separation of powers goes on again and again. And it will be adjudicated. But you can come across if you take this approach as weak, if you are saying, I can’t get things done, I am going to act in these ways, which are essentially limited.

He’s proved on minimum wage and other things the options are very limited. I would also add, as a speechwriter, you have to be careful about your catchphrases, OK? When Ronald Reagan said, go ahead, make my day, it was Clint Eastwood that he was parroting.

When you say, so sue me, it is like the annoying guy that takes your parking space and taunts you afterwards.


MICHAEL GERSON: This is not a particularly strong, muscular message when it comes to the presidency.

The president is not looking a lot like Lyndon Johnson right now, getting things done. He looks like he is complaining that he can’t get things done. And I think that that is a tough message for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, we are just months away from another exciting mid — set of midterm elections.

Ruth, does all this have bearing on that, or are 1,000 more things going to happen between now and the…

RUTH MARCUS: Well, we know 1,000 more things are going to happen between now and then. We just don’t know what they are.

All of this has bearing. It has bearing in the macro sense, right, whether people are feeling annoyed by the president because he is the guy who stole your parking space, or kind of revved up by him. And probably — how you reacted to that probably depends on where you started.

But there are also abilities within these executive orders, for example, to rev up particular parts of the base. Most important will — we already saw from the president, for example, with the executive order on federal contractors being prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

RUTH MARCUS: The really big one will be how far the president chooses to go on immigration.

And here — I thought you made a really good point earlier, Michael — he is going to have a tension not just with the Republicans, who are going to accuse him of overreacting and overreaching on the right, but he’s probably going to have immigration groups on the left complaining that he didn’t go far enough.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty seconds.

Thought on how all of this affects the fall elections?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the immigration debate, unfortunately, is just another admission that we can only do things through crisis in America.

RUTH MARCUS: Maybe not even then.


Well, stepping back and looking at the whole issue, doing comprehensive reform, it just hit a brick wall. And Republicans had a lot to do with that, because of their own divided base on this issue. But it is just a commentary on our system. We go from crisis to crisis, instead of stepping back and making choices. And maybe that is the most patriotic thing we can do in this context, is step back a little bit, look at the big problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are glad to step back and to step forward with the two of you.

Happy Fourth of July. We thank you for being here, Michael Gerson, Ruth Marcus.

RUTH MARCUS: Thank you. Thanks.



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Shields and Ponnuru on House GOP vs. Obama, missing IRS emails

Fri, Jun 27, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Ponnuru. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of “The National Review.” David Brooks is off.

Gentlemen, welcome.

And let’s start by about talking about last Tuesday’s primaries.

Mark, a good day for establishment Republican, not so much for the Tea Party. How do you explain what happened?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, certainly, Oklahoma was very good for — I think I can say not good for the Tea Party, where T.W. Shannon, the speaker of the House, African-American, Indian-American, kind of just gravitated towards Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee.

And James Lankford, the very conservative congressman, two-term, won in a walk, without a runoff. And so in that sense, I would say it was a good day for the establishment. The big one was Mississippi. And Thad Cochran upset history, tradition, everything else, being an incumbent who was forced into a runoff.

Turnout increased by 61,000 votes over the first primary. And he won, quite frankly, by turning out Reagan Democrats, Native Americans, but, most interestingly and impressively of all, African-Americans, who one could say provided the margin of victory. And it was a victory there for the establishment. Particularly, credit goes to Haley Barbour, the former governor, his nephew, Henry Barbour.

Haley made the stakes known to voters, that this was going to be a case of electing somebody that, if they elected Chris McDaniel, who would won on the slogan he could do less for Mississippi.


MARK SHIELDS: And that would have been a first in American politics. And Cochran had been very, very successful in delivering goods to the state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ramesh, what do you make of what happened in Mississippi?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think Mississippi is the great exception to the overall story of these primaries, which is not just the establishment beating the Tea Party. It’s the establishment and Tea Party actually converging.

If you look what happened in Oklahoma, for example, Jim Lankford was the congressman who was considered the establishment guy, although when he first ran for Congress in 2010, he was the Tea Party guy.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

RAMESH PONNURU: And he got the votes of most very conservative Oklahoma Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But compared to this other man who was running against him.

RAMESH PONNURU: Right. That’s right.

But the interesting thing here is, it’s not a question of Tea Party voters getting outvoted. Most Tea Party voters backed Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, backed the winning candidate in North Carolina. In Nebraska, a lot of these differences have — were transcended by Ben Sasse.

Mississippi’s the great exception, where you had a bruising slugfest, and it was a very tight race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And they spent a lot of money.

RAMESH PONNURU: They spent a lot of money and they said all kinds of things about each other.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as Mark said, you had this crossover. There’s good evidence that a lot of Democrats voted for Thad Cochran, the incumbent Republican, and a number of African-Americans.

RAMESH PONNURU: I think there’s no question. If it had been a closed primary, just Republicans, Cochran would have lost.

MARK SHIELDS: And if it had been a closed election in 1980, Ronald Reagan would have lost.

I mean, the ability to reach out — and that is an argument political scientists have had — should it just be a pure primary election, and just restrict it the party members? I would say that this was a civil war at the 19th hole of a country club. I mean, you had millions of dollars being spent by the pro-business Chamber of Commerce against the anti-tax Club for Growth.

And conservative groups put more money in against Thad Cochran in Mississippi, Tea Party groups, Tea Party-affiliated groups, than was spent in his behalf.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it was the first time we have seen — at least that I have seen something like that. Maybe it’s happened before, where you had had African-American voters crossing over and voting in a Republican primary.

MARK SHIELDS: I have never seen it before. And to me, it only augurs good things for Mississippi. I mean, it really does.


MARK SHIELDS: And Travis Childers, the Democrat who after this primary, Thad Cochran — he’s the Democratic nominee — he’s in a great position to challenge Thad Cochran to debate every week of this campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you just mentioned civil war. Let’s talk about another kind of war, and that is, Ramesh, this escalating, I don’t know what else to call it, war between congressional Republicans and the president.

They’re saying he is abusing his position as president. He is arrogating powers to himself that he doesn’t have. The speaker of the House is suing, is about to sue the president. The president himself yesterday, what did he say, he talked about this as a phony scandal.

How do you explain what’s going on here?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, the lawsuit or the threatened lawsuit is about whether the president’s faithfully executing the laws as the Constitution says he’s supposed to.

And a lot of congressional Republicans have been fuming at sort of an increasing volume over the last several months about how the administration has in their view rewritten the law on health care, rewritten the law on immigration and other matters.

The problem with the administration’s framing of this, this is just a partisan endeavor, you look at these Supreme Court decisions against the administration, saying the administration is overreaching, obviously, that is something that the Democratic appointees, the liberal justices, the Obama appointees are all agreeing Obama has overstepped.


MARK SHIELDS: The Supreme Court has given a cautionary note, no question, on — certainly on recess appointments and on EPA regulations.

But I think, Judy, what struck me this week with the House suit, this is a week in which it was announced the worst possible economic news for the country and certainly politically for the Democrats. The economy shrank by 2.9 percent the first quarter. And what is the Republicans’ response? Is there an economic package? Do they want to talk about the economy?

No, we’re going to talk about an absolutely bogus suit that they’re going to bring against the president, which we know is going nowhere. And it just looks like John Boehner was feeling the pressure from the hard right of his own caucus: We have got to do something. We have tried the impeachment thing before some 16 years ago. That didn’t work in the second term of a president, so let’s do this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bogus suit, is that what it is, Ramesh?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I wouldn’t be so sure that the courts are going to view it the same way.

Who knows how it’s going to proceed. But I would say, if you look at the reasoning of the decisions that the Supreme Court has been making about the administration, where they think the administration has been grabbing power from the other branches, I think you would have to had some worry if you’re one of their lawyers.

MARK SHIELDS: They have got to develop a single argument against Barack Obama. He’s weak. He’s lily-livered. He’s absolutely docile in foreign policy. And yet he’s this tyrant, this despot, this power-hungry grabber domestically.

I mean, you have got it one way or the other. He’s either one or the other. And I would just point out, President Reagan had 182 more executive orders than — when he was president, than Barack Obama has ever issued.

George W. Bush issued 110 more executive orders. And Reagan had eight times as many recess appointments. And I never heard this criticism made before.

RAMESH PONNURU: If the debate is about the sheer number of executive orders, that’s absolutely right.

But I think that the debate is broader than that.


RAMESH PONNURU: And I don’t think you have anything comparable in the previous administrations to President Obama saying, I can’t implement the DREAM Act unilaterally. That would go beyond my powers. A few months later, I’m going to implement the DREAM Act unilaterally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, another — we can — we could talk about that, but I want to ask about another aspect of war going on between the Congress and the president, Mark, and that is the IRS.

The commissioner of the IRS, John Koskinen, has been called before Congress now a number of times just in the last few days. There’s questions about missing e-mails, hard drive computers by top ranking IRS officials that were destroyed, a lot of questions about what happened. How do you read this and where is it headed?

MARK SHIELDS: Full disclosure, John Koskinen has been someone I have known and respected for 35 years. And he’s taken on nothing but thankless assignments as a public servant, somebody who has done very well and could retire, play golf and play with his grandchildren.

Instead, he’s come back to answer this call, just as he did on Y2K, just as he did on the closing of the government in 1995. He’s just — deputy mayor of the District of Columbia, taken over Freddie Mac. He’s taken nothing but tough assignments.

And this one is probably the most thankless of all. IRS is unpopular. It’s unpopular across the board. They demand your records, and the idea that their records are missing is a storyline that is very difficult to defend.

But I see absolutely no connection. I have watched the hearings carefully. And I will say that I just think this is a case of a committee run amuck. I think Darrell Issa is truly out of control.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Or committees. It several.

MARK SHIELDS: The committees. Yes, but the vying between Ways and Means and Government Reform, I just think it’s a question of public service. I really do.

And they’re going to get to the answer. They’re going to get to the bottom of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ramesh, how do you see this?

RAMESH PONNURU: I think that there’s no way to tell this story that reflects well on the IRS or how it has been run.

I think if you have a $1.8 billion information technology budget, as the IRS does each year, you ought to have better record-keeping practices than it has. So, we have got, at the very least, a story of pretty amazing incompetence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think — at this point, Republicans are asking for more e-mails, more information to see whether the White House influenced this. I mean, is this going to continue?

RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that there is a great deal of skepticism that we know the full story.

I do think the Republicans are making a mistake if they talk about it as though they already know the conclusion and they already know that it’s going to lead to the White House, but I think absolutely it’s important to keep asking these questions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I want to ask both of you about is someone who really was a giant when he served testify United States Senate. That’s Howard Baker, the Senate majority leader. He died this week, Mark, at the age of 88, and a remarkable legacy.

MARK SHIELDS: A remarkable legacy.

Judy, before Twitter and texting and all-news cable, there were about three dozen people who — mostly males — who used cover national politics. And late at night over drinks on the campaign trail, when people let their hair down, this leftist press corps almost overwhelmingly — not overwhelmingly — certainly a majority would say, if they could pick a president, it would be Howard Baker.

He was a man of intellectual honesty, a man of incredible demeanor. He had no enemies list. He liked politics. He was very good at it, and he had a core. And I just — I think he would have made a terrific president. He was just a remarkable public servant. He saved Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As White House chief of staff after he left the Senate.

MARK SHIELDS: White House chief of staff after he resigned — after he retired from the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ramesh, he made a name for himself during the Watergate hearings back in the 1970s, but then went on to serve for so many years after that.

RAMESH PONNURU: That’s right.

And he did come into the Reagan White House at a time the White House was very beleaguered and helped have a successful end to that administration. But the Watergate hearings, what is so refreshing about it, looking back, is that here it’s — it’s normal. We’re totally used to the opposition party going after a president based on a scandal.

But here you had somebody from the president’s party holding him accountable. And that’s something you don’t see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He was a remarkable man.

Ramesh Ponnuru…

MARK SHIELDS: He was a 5’7” giant.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you say?

MARK SHIELDS: A 5’7” giant. He truly was a giant. You called him a giant.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you both very much, Mark Shields, Ramesh Ponnuru.

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Shields and Brooks on U.S. intervention in Iraq, presidential poll numbers

Fri, Jun 20, 2014


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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, gentlemen.

So the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Mark, what is both what — the fact that they held this, they heard from these potential candidates in 2016, what is — what should we think about the place of religious conservatives in the Republican Party today?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s somewhat diminished, and not certainly represented by the turnout, because candidates show up wanting, if not to be the first choice, to be, as John Weaver, the Republican strategist, said, second or third choice, for example.

Chris Christie is not going to be the first choice of religious conservatives, but he wants to be on good terms with them in case he does run and is in the — in the finals.

I would say this, Judy. The economic conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, certainly represented by the Tea Party and its energy, has eclipsed them. And, plus, America has changed. And just think about it; 10 years ago, George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection was based in large part, as a strategic force, by putting on the ballot same-sex marriage initiatives, all of which were defeated overwhelmingly, and helped him carry the state of Ohio, the crucial state of Ohio against John Kerry.

That has changed in America. And so part of that — the religious Faith and Freedom group is kind of looking for its issue and its traction, as well as its agenda.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Eclipsed by the Tea Party?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think only a little, clearly, on some of the budget issues — the social issues have not been as prominent — and clearly in the Washington debate we have had over the last three or four years.

Nonetheless, first of all, out in the country and especially among the electorate and primary voters, I think religious conservatives are as powerful or nearly as powerful as they always have been. Rick Santorum did fantastically well last time, winning double-digit states on the backs of these voters. And if you can double-digit states being Rick Santorum, a guy who got crushed in Pennsylvania, if you’re a more plausible candidate, you can do really well.

The donors of the party often say, oh, we should get off the abortion issue. Whatever you think of substance, politically, that would be insane for the Republican Party. They need to be a pro-life party. And then finally I do think there are issues that are still salient that they are the champions of.

The first is family formation, which they talk about very well and very comfortably, and second is religious liberty issues, especially abroad. There’s a lot of talk about it in the conference this year, other religious issues abroad, the Christian in Sudan who is possibly going to be executed, but then religious liberties at home, some of the groups that are going to be called hate groups because of their religious beliefs.

So I think that religious liberty issue is a sleeper issue which will power and repower this movement.


MARK SHIELDS: I would just say Rick Santorum’s message was essentially — I agree with you he’s a cultural conservative, always has been, staunch, but he was a blue-collar candidate.

He’s called his party to task for being the party of the 1 percent. And he said he wants to represent the Americans who get up every morning and punch a time clock, who pack a lunch. And the Republican Party certainly, as it met, it convention, in 2012 didn’t speak to those people; they spoke only the entrepreneurs and people founding their own business.

DAVID BROOKS: I was going to say, the religious conservatives, it’s true, have moved. They have moved, as Mark just described, in a more blue-collar direction.

They have also moved to the right in other issues. There used to be a strong evangelical immigration reform constituency.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: That has diminished. A strong evangelical environmental constituency, that has diminished. So they moved down-market, if you want to put it that way, and also rightward on certain issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But does that say the candidate — the Republican candidates in 2016 not only can’t ignore these Detroit this group of conservatives, that they have to continue to cater to them, to talk about the issues that they care about?

MARK SHIELDS: To appeal to them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To appeal to them.


JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a better term. Thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, they’re important. They provide energy, they provide passion, they provide foot soldiers, they provide votes.

And I would just say the evangelical conservatives on the environment and on immigration are still out there and are still active and still energized. They just aren’t as active — as welcome in the Republican coalition right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the — one of the — we just heard from the House — newly elected, David, House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy. Have you seen enough of him to get any impression yet about how the House is going to change, how’s Congress going to change?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, I have dined with him a few times.

Listen, kids, it pays to be nice. He’s just a good guy. And I don’t think he represents anything particularly ideological one way or the other. He’s not a particularly ideological guy. His expertise is in knowing congressional districts. He’s a political guy, a campaign guy.

And as whip, he had moderate success in a very difficult job. But the thing about McCarthy is, he’s unpretentious, he’s outgoing, he’s just friendly. He just likes people. And so that plays well in politics, especially in the leadership race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s going to change? Is anything going to change?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s what politicians used to be, instead of these ideological lightning rods.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They all used to be nice?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, well, they used to — well, they used to be engaging and try and figure out ways to build bridges to other people.

And David has described Kevin McCarthy very well. Kevin McCarthy makes John Boehner’s life a lot easier. Eric Cantor, there was always a sense lurking over his shoulder. The ambition was there. And he certainly — his fingerprints were all over the sabotaging of the great bargain with President Obama on the budget, his being Eric Cantor’s.

Kevin McCarthy is not that. He’s very good. He recruited the candidates who won in 2010. He’s very good at his business. And bringing California, Bakersfield, perspective to it, he’s already on record as saying he believes there has to be a path for legal status for undocumented workers.

So, there is a — that’s daylight. He may have to reassure those on the right that he isn’t some sort of a one-worlder, but that is Kevin McCarthy and that’s what California…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You sure you don’t like just him because his Irish heritage?


MARK SHIELDS: Kevin and his daughters are, what, Reagan and Meghan.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he does…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But nothing — but neither one of you sees things changing in terms of the House, the Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: Just, as Mark said, a more unified leadership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The way the House operates.

DAVID BROOKS: A friendlier and more unified leadership. John Boehner’s life will be better.


DAVID BROOKS: It will be happier. He will be happier.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what does that mean for the president, who — let’s talk about the poll numbers that came out. NBC/Wall Street Journal shows — and we have got some of these to share with our audience — overall, the president’s approval rating, 41 percent on foreign policy; 37 percent of those polled, David, said they approve of the way the president is handling foreign policy.

From the middle of Iraq, it’s come off of Syria. What can the president do? Is he just in a box for the rest of his presidency on this?

DAVID BROOKS: He might be.

There are sort of two tracks that second termers have. There’s the Clinton track, where they go up at the end, and then there’s the George W. track, where they go down at the end. And he’s sort of trailing the George W. track, maybe not quite as deep.

I guess two things. At some point, it’s hard for him just because people are interested in other things. Just fatigue. And a lot of people have a sense — you just hear from people — and I don’t think this is true in the White House — but you hear from people around Washington, but certainly around the country, oh, that guy just wants to get out. He’s just done.

And I don’t think they feel that, but there’s a sense they’re not doing much. They seem fatigued. And so there’s a perception out there that Obama is not, you know, charging into the office every morning and wants to take charge of the country.

And I do think the reason the polls are sliding is a sense of a lack of energy in the White House, that we’re proposing big things, that we have big visions. And if I were him, I would say let’s try some big things. Let’s counteract this image.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, but I understand you to say you don’t think that’s what the White House is thinking, that they just…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you ask them, if you say, are you guys just exhausted and are you guys just checked out, they deny it fervently.

MARK SHIELDS: Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who did the poll that we just showed, along with Republican Bill McInturff, made the point that the president seems to be the captor of events, rather than — we like to think of our presidents as dominating events.

Obviously, not everybody can dominate all events, but he’s been reacting to Ukraine, to Syria, to…


MARK SHIELDS: … to Iraq, to the VA, Veterans Administration, just seems constantly on the defensive.

And I think, Judy, the most devastating number was thinking about the rest of Barack Obama’s term as president, do you think he can lead the country and get the job done?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And let’s show that poll. We have got that here.


Do you no longer feel that’s he’s able to lead the country and get the job done?


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, this is a president, remember, since Dwight Eisenhower, only one American has won 51 percent, more than 51 percent of the vote in successive elections.

That’s Barack Obama. And here he is with 54 percent of the American…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a year-and-a-half later.

MARK SHIELDS: Year-and-a-half later saying it’s — nothing is over, but we just don’t think you’re up to it. That’s devastating, and it’s devastating for Democrats going into — the poll is not good for Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right, and we have the numbers to show there. If you think the president’s doing poorly, look at this. He’s 41, the Democrats overall 38, the Republican Party 29 and the Tea Party 22.

But this sense, Mark — David, the point that Mark just made about this sense that the president is reacting, does a president do? Historically, what do presidents do in that…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they sometimes shake things up and fire people.

That sometimes does happen. And it creates a sense of a new beginning. And then the second thing they do is they have a burst of energy on some initiative. And I think a foreign policy vision, the president’s vision on foreign policy has been what we won’t do, and I think that’s had a slow corrosive effect on people’s sense of his energy.

On domestic policy, they have decided to be content with signing statements and things they can do administratively, rather than legislation. I might — I have thought — and they have thought about this, putting down some big proposals, knowing they probably won’t get passed, but make life a little easier for your successor, and so some big inequality proposals, just to throw them out there and get the debate started.

I do not think that would be a dumb idea. At least that would be some big movements, some big things coming out of the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Iraq — Mark, you’re right. That’s something they have had to react to. The president did announce two days ago 300 — or yesterday, I guess — military advisers going to Iraq. I mean, that’s an active step, isn’t it?

MARK SHIELDS: Not really.

I mean, Judy, for those of us of a certain age, that has echoes of Saigon and American advisers, 300 advisers. You know, American — we just sent 275 Marines to protect the American Embassy, which is larger — in Baghdad — which is larger than the Vatican City, larger — it’s the most expensive embassy, 10 times larger than any other American Embassy — there to defend it; 300 are there.

We know why they’re there, to provide the intelligence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But does that suggest he would need to send the Air Force to bomb Iraq in order to get a higher approval rating?

MARK SHIELDS: I assume, from everything I know and have learned, that those American special forces are being sent in primarily to provide the information, the intelligence, the reconnaissance, so that if drone attacks are called in, they know precisely, and there won’t be collateral damage and civilian casualties all over the place.

But, Judy, what is the objective, what is the exit strategy? How will we know when we have succeeded? What is the mission? Are we back in where we were 40 years ago?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying the president hasn’t provided…

MARK SHIELDS: There’s no — and there’s no sense of national commitment to it. There’s no sense of collective national will to it. There’s popular reflection in the Congress to it.

I don’t know what we’re trying to achieve there and how we will know we have achieved it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do agree with Mark on that he last point.

The president said, we’re sending in 300, there will be no combat operations. That’s defining the mission by the means, by the process, but What exactly is the mission supposed to do? I think you could very clear say what it’s supposed to do. We will not allow an ISIL state in Sunni land.

And, two, we will get an international coalition to make sure there’s a united — at least some cross-sectarian government in Baghdad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

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Shields and Brooks on the mounting crisis in Iraq, Cantor’s defeat

Fri, Jun 13, 2014


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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, gentlemen.

So, our lead story tonight, you heard, David, our expert guests talking about the problem, the huge problems in Iraq. How much of — first of all, we know it’s a crisis. How much of a problem is it for the United States?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s a gigantic problem.

The idea — and this has been talked about by experts the last couple of years in particular — that it just becomes one big war, that the borders get erased, that the Sunni-Shiite splits — people are watching this — the Sunni-Shiite splits transcend borders and spread all over the region.

And so people have been watching the Syrian civil war. They have been watching what happening in Iraq on TV. And they’re getting — their sectarian anger is growing. And then you throw in some bad players who could manipulate it one way or the other, and it could slide over.

Then you have regional powers. You got Turkey. You got the Saudis, the Iranians. Everyone’s getting involved. And I just — what I read, what I hear from the people who really are experts, it’s World War I. It’s really a very perilous, extremely perilous situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, how does one know what the right thing to do for the United States is?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think anybody knows.

I was fascinated by — to listen to the discussion. But because nobody is sure what to do today or tomorrow, most of the debate has been about what you did wrong yesterday. Did it begin in 2003, when the United States invaded and occupied and dismantled the entire Iraqi military, the entire Iraqi government, the entire Iraqi, really, public sector?

And there’s that. But then the other bookend becomes, well, no, we did give them a chance, we built them up, we trained them, we supplied them, but leaving in 2011, was that the problem?

And I don’t think, Judy — it’s sort of the default position becomes, let’s bring in airpower. And you don’t just bring in airpower. You have got — we saw that in Afghanistan this week, where five Americans were killed in friendly-fire by a B-1.

You have to have the surveillance, the reconnaissance, the information, the analytics on the ground to exactly where — especially with a shifting battlefield.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the president has said no boots on the ground, no troops on the ground, and yet you would need — you’re saying you would need…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you need either Marines or special forces. You need people there to say this is — these are the coordinates. This is exactly what we do want to — and we don’t — the last thing in the world you want to do is have civilian casualties and deaths and collateral damage.

And so it’s a Hobson’s choice of the worst kind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, you have the man who ran against Barack Obama, President Obama, in 2008, John McCain, saying the whole national security team needs to be thrown out. The president needs to fire them all and bring a whole different group in.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What does the president do? How do you make a decision like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t know about throwing them all out, but McCain’s, I think, record has been reasonably good in the last four or five years.

I think he — when the thing happened in 2011, we withdrew, he pretty much warned that this would happen. He warned very early on that the Syrian civil war would spill over into Iraq, which is exactly what’s happened.

And so I do think whatever decision he made in 2003 to support the original invasion, what he predicted has come true over the last few years, and we’re in a bad situation for it.

I do think we somehow have to get involved. As the panel said, it has to be political. I think they do have to commit to a — the Iraqi constitution is a regional constitution. It’s a federal constitution which devolves a lot of power. That didn’t happen in practice. Maliki centralized everything. And that was obviously a poisonous and terrible decision.

But it was certainly the case that when U.S. forces were there, they, A, could block Maliki from being ultra-sectarian, and Ryan Crocker and people like that, and they could simply put tanks in the way, so when the Shiites wanted to do something oppressive to the Sunnis or vice versa, they could just get in the way.

Now, we’re not going to go back to that world, but the idea that we can do nothing and allow this to spill over, and allow the ISIL to really — a completely rancid organization — to take over large swathes of the Middle East, that seems to me perilous in the extreme.

So, I don’t know the practicalities of what we do with it, and how we sequence it, as Zal Khalilzad was saying, but I do think the president’s posture, which is very forward-leaning for him, I think that’s the right posture.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, are you confident the president has the right people around him to make these decisions?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, Judy.

I certainly think John Kerry and Chuck Hagel bring to him something that has been missing for most deliberations, and that is people who know combat and know the price that it involves, who aren’t armchair commandos and talk about it.

I mean, John McCain, David can argue about his consistency. In 2003, John McCain had an enormous responsibility. And he was an uncritical cheerleader of that war.

I mean, he could have — he could have — and let’s be very blunt about it. Democrats were cowed. An awful lot of Democrats were terrified at that time of being accused of being soft on terrorism, and they went along. So the Congress really abdicated in 2003. And that law is still on the books. The vote was actually in 2002. The invasion was in 2003. That law is still on the books. The president has that authority still.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn the corner to the big explosion in this country this week, David, which was Eric Cantor, House majority leader, top Republican in the House, lost. No one saw this coming. Why not? Lost nomination.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it teaches us a few things. First, you can’t buy elections.

Eric Cantor outspent him by zillions to one, I think almost outspent him on steak houses alone compared to Brat’s entire combat. And so money — the limits on money were — once again, for the eighth million time, illustrated that you can’t buy elections.

I think the core story — there are two things, the core story of what caused the defeat and then the implications people are going to draw.

The core story that I think caused the defeat was people wanting some respect, feeling that Cantor had gotten out of touch with the district, too high and mighty, and the fact that he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on steak houses maybe suggests they were right. And so I think he just lost touch with the district.

The implication that will be drawn is a much more ideological one, which was the Republicans cannot touch immigration, the Republicans could not compromise, and it is simply a fact that — the group The Third Way did a study where they asked Republican voters to analyze their own members of Congress. And Republicans voters think their members of Congress, Republicans, are much more centrist than they are.

Democrats line up pretty — the voters line up pretty well with their members of Congress. Republican voters do not think that. And so they’re of a mind to fire a certain number and Eric Cantor was one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what does that say? Mark, what does all this say about the Republican Party?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you put the question best. You said nobody predicted it. Nobody did, all the pundit class.

And ever since, the pundit class — as soon as the polls closed, the pundit class, all card-carrying members, two of them sitting here, but, with rare exceptions, had a total explanation as to why it happened, why Eric Cantor lost, and why Brat won, Dave Brat won.

And, Judy, it just strikes me that Mr. Churchill said it best. The winners get to write history. And Dave Brat said what his campaign was about. And he said that the principal difference between himself and Eric Cantor was immigration. He said that was what defined him.

And the reality is that he won, Eric Cantor lost. I think David’s statement — he spent a million dollars, Eric Cantor did, advertising Dave Brat’s name, which Dave Brat didn’t have.

MARK SHIELDS: But I think there’s one factor that comes out of this, and having been up on the Hill yesterday, and that is, every member is terrified.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In both parties?

MARK SHIELDS: In both parties, but particularly because they know — immigration is dead. Let’s be very honest about it.

Some people have tried to put a spin on it. There is no Republican who is going to raise this issue and say, we have to cooperate, we have to somehow accommodate the other side. We can work it out. That — if anything, Eric Cantor was accused of being squishy on that subject.

There is — the spines are absolutely terrified on the Republican side right now. And they just — they don’t know.


And it should be pointed out. We have been sitting here — at least I have been sitting here the last several weeks saying the establishment is winning this, the Tea Party is weaker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Exactly. We were all saying the Tea Party was losing.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And — but, nonetheless, if you take all those victories on one side and this one here, if you take in total the message, Tea Party.

MARK SHIELDS: No question.

DAVID BROOKS: And so, to me, it’s really a horrible outcome for the Republican Party.


DAVID BROOKS: And I think there is overwhelming data on this, that if the Tea Party — if the Republican Party doesn’t get right on immigration, it’s a threshold issue. They really do not do well in a national election for a long, long time.

And every day, there’s more evidence that comes out, more survey data and everything. And so I think this makes it extremely unlikely the Republicans does get right or some sort of immigration reform.

MARK SHIELDS: Could I say, I agree with David?

2016 should be a Republican year. You have got a president who is in a third term — second year of his second term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean by historical…

MARK SHIELDS: By historical — there’s no Democratic third term. His numbers are a lot closer to George Bush’s than they were to Ronald Reagan’s or Bill Clinton’s.

And so it should be a Republican year. And yet the Republicans just gave the Democrats an enormous advantage for 2016. If they are…

JUDY WOODRUFF: With just one congressional primary win?

MARK SHIELDS: If immigration is going to be off the — no, Jeb Bush is no longer a hot property for 2016, because he is the pro-immigration candidate.

And, all of a sudden, if that becomes the third rail of Republican politics, that you can’t raise that in the 2016 primaries, then you’re going to be an older, whiter, more narrow, limited, minority party, and the Democrats just got unearned grace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But how do you know this is going to last, I mean, that this nervousness about immigration — is this something that has legs, that is going to stick?

DAVID BROOKS: My instinct is that it will.

Now, it’s complicated. Rand Paul, he is sort of welcoming to immigration. Christie, a lot of the leading candidates are much more pro a comprehensive — some of comprehensive reform than the vote we just had.

Nonetheless, this vote underlines what will be evident in town halls as people are running, which is a lot of fervor on this vote side, on the anti-immigration side or anti-reform side. And it’s going to be hard for any candidate, especially a whole bunch of them, to resist that.

MARK SHIELDS: And the message is, we come in the night, we travel night, we don’t have a big media buy, and we come upon you, and we don’t need millions of dollars.


MARK SHIELDS: The Tea Party, and we will beat you. And we just beat Eric Cantor, and the only time the House majority leader has ever lost a primary. And this was unthinkable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it matter whether they elect one of their own to be a leader, to hold the leadership position in the House of Representatives?

MARK SHIELDS: I think they’re a party — I think the Tea Party, all due respect, is a party of opposition. It identifies grievances. It’s not much of an advocate. I don’t know what…

DAVID BROOKS: It’s very interesting.

I read — because I’m me, I read Dave Brat’s book, political theory.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Economic — oh, oh.

DAVID BROOKS: And it’s a very bold, very good book, by the way. He’s very smart, very — really good book.

But it’s very intellectual. It’s very oppositional, very bold, and that’s the style we have here. If I could just make one point wrapping up, Hillary Clinton, she’s had a very mixed weak, because the Tea Party, if she’s the nominee, makes it much more likely the Democrats will win.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: But if she’s sort of there and Iraq is exploding, that’s really bad for her. So it’s interesting to see the world from her vantage point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re postponing Hillary Clinton until next week. We were going to talk about it tonight. Too much else.

Before we go, happy Father’s Day to both of you, David and Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you very much.


MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

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Shields and Brooks on Bergdahl criticism, Mississippi primary politics

Fri, Jun 06, 2014

shields and brooks

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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.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the story, I guess, that dominated the news this weeks, Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war released from the Taliban, five days after the president announced this, lots of criticism from both sides, especially Republicans.

Yesterday, the president found himself still answering questions, still defending his decision.

Here’s just part of what the president said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. Right? That’s par for the course.

But I will repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.

I write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting a war. I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, today the Taliban is disputing part of what the president said. They said Bowe Bergdahl was eating fruit, he was playing soccer.

Was this the right thing to do?

MARK SHIELDS: It was the right thing to do, Judy.

It was inexpertly and politically — politically ineptly done. And I think an expectation, sort of the announcement in the Rose Garden, and all that attended it, was just short of tone-deafness on the part of the White House and the president in particular. But the act itself is the right thing to do.

I mean, the principle he stated is a core principle of American values, and that is we do not leave Americans behind. And we can find out in plenty of time whether in fact the charges against Bergdahl made by some people are true or not true or whatever else, but we won’t do it on the basis of some sort of kangaroo court by conservative commentators and a rush to judgment to hang the guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And some of the critics, David, are saying, well, because he left his post, apparently deserted, this is different.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I’m with Mark on this one.

I think it’s not the health of the individual we should care about. It’s the national fabric, the national community. We are one national community. We’re a polarized country, we’re a segmented country, but at the end of the day, we do have to preserve the idea that we have some solidarity.

So, when there’s times of crisis, we do react as one. So, when we fight, we do fight as one. And to do that, you do have to have a sense it’s all for one and one for all, and you have to protect that fabric. So it’s not only about him. It’s about the fabric.

And whether he deserted, whether he said bad things about America, He certainly said bad and embarrassing and shameful things about the country and about the Army, but it’s not desert — get citizenship by merit. You get it by birth, by being a member of our community.

And whether he deserved it or not is really beside the point. The soldiers who fight for us are not doing it because we deserve it. They’re doing it because we’re Americans. And so I do think whether he deserved it or not is really not the issue. The issue is that he’s American.

If he did something against the law, we will bring him back, we will try him, but that is far from being proven. Right now, he’s just an American soldier.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, how do you explain the — just this huge criticism, including from some people who were calling for the president to get Bergdahl back?


You know, I think that it has to be at some point a political explanation to an awful lot of it, Judy, especially those who were calling for every effort to be made to bring him back.

In a strange way, this has become, in my judgment, a metaphor for the war itself, that it’s a war that’s unresolved, unlike the one that we’re celebrating this day and where there’s a victory and a resolution and good triumphs and everybody comes home. This is a war that is — and it’s remarkable to me that, while we have grown somewhat accepting of the fact of the terrible toll that this has taken on America’s troops, that they come home and the mental and physical wounds that they carry with them, we acknowledge PTSD.

And I would just say, there he is in Afghanistan. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until I know. I have an idea. I don’t know what happened there. And the idea somehow this was an act of disloyalty to the country or wrong, make no mistake about it. Democrats on the Hill were outraged. They felt that they…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they weren’t consulted?

MARK SHIELDS: They weren’t informed.

And Congress, as an institution, loves to have that. They don’t want the responsibility of declaring war. They haven’t done that since December 8, 1941, but they want sort of that acknowledgment of authority. But the White House has been inept — inept in its dealings with Congress.

And there is anger among Democrats that have taken it — been on the defensive on the Affordable Care Act, on the Veterans Administration, on the air pollution.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say two things I agree with and one thing I disagree with.


DAVID BROOKS: Two things I agree with, give him the benefit of the doubt. People in combat, they’re under enormous stress. Give him the benefit of the doubt.

Second, the political tone-deafness of the White House really is mind-boggling, actually, not to see how people would react when you’re releasing five Guantanamo — really bad guys from Guantanamo.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean not to have anticipated this.

DAVID BROOKS: Not to have anticipated this, to have had the Rose Garden ceremony, as if it was just going to be the Oprah show and everybody was going to applaud.

That strikes me as very weird. And I don’t really have an explanation. The other area I disagree — and though we agree on the overall — and it’s a principle that we leave no one behind, but it’s not a blind principle. We do have to be aware of the consequences.

If we traded people that would then go off and kill 10,000 Americans for one soldier, then you really have to do think. So, we have got to be consequentialist a little. And so you would have to look at the specific people we’re releasing in this case.

There are five really bad guys. They have been out of circulation 12 years. It’s not clear that — how much damage they will do. They might do some damage, but I would say less damage than tearing up the national fabric by essentially saying to a member, a citizen of our country, we’re cutting you off.

The Israelis trade — as has often been said this week, they will trade 1,100 people for one, 1,100 people for three. And they will do that because they all know Israeli parents are flesh of one flesh. They all have some sympathy with each another and support and preserve that sympathy in a country like ours that’s deeply polarized.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does this endure, Mark? Do we wait and see what Bergdahl says when…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, we don’t know.

The poor guy — I mean, poor guy — I say poor guy. He spent five years, Judy. He spent five years essentially in isolation, away from anybody he ever knew, anything he was ever familiar with. And he’s in Germany at the hospital. They say he’s having trouble with English.

When he comes back, I mean, I’m sure there will be — there will be hearings. There will be — but he will have his chance. And I trust American justice a lot more than I trust Taliban justice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, I’m hearing what Mark is saying about the contrast with D-Day. We’re looking, we’re seeing the shores of Normandy, France, and a very different kind of war and a very different kind of legacy for this country than anything we have ever experienced in Afghanistan.


The one parallel I would draw is the president has made a lot of news this week and the last couple weeks by saying this phrase, which I will euphemize, as we don’t do stupid stuff.

And that’s — he said, this is the Obama doctrine. And it’s an Obama doctrine based very on his own feeling errs when it overreaches, when it tries to do too much. Well, the D-Day, though it looked smart in retrospect, Operation Overlord did not necessarily look smart beforehand.

The D.F. invasion a couple years before had been a disaster. The weather could have turned bad. It could have been a really horrible event. And Dwight Eisenhower was prepared for that.

And so the idea that all of our problems are caused by overreach, by overexertion, is just a half-truth. The World War II generation was a war and a post-war period where we — America was plenty aggressive, took plenty of chances, and some of them paid off and some of them didn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what Eisenhower did, you’re saying, was clearly reaching.

MARK SHIELDS: On D-Day, it was reaching? It was. It was an incredible — it was an incredible act.

And I think what — it’s not simply the war. The war was remarkable, Judy, in that there was an equality of sacrifice. It was universal. We absolutely all were engaged, whether it was the rationing of meat or gasoline or cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

One-third of all the vegetables and fruit in the United States were raised in victory gardens, 20 million victory gardens. The four president sons, all four served in combat in World War II. It’s back to Lyndon Johnson and Chuck Robb, his son-in-law, before we have even seen anybody in the president’s family in battle.

So that — that was part of it. The other thing was, we usually acknowledge individual acts of great bravery, the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star. This was thousands upon thousands of American — all an act of just incredible collective and individual courage, I mean, going and landing on that Normandy beach, 80 miles of open water, the armaments, Pointe du Hoc, all of it.

It was remarkable. And the unity of the country at the time is something that we can just treasure and just covet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s something we want to remember.

So, let me bring up elections, politics, primaries. David, Mississippi and Iowa voted this week, and in Mississippi, particularly interesting. You now have a runoff, a seven-term Republican, stalwart Republican, Thad Cochran, now facing a challenger, Chris McDaniel, Tea Party. How worried should Thad Cochran be?

DAVID BROOKS: I think significantly worried.

What is interesting is the changing logic of the appropriators, which used to be that if you brought a lot of bacon home to the state, you were doing pretty well. We have seen that erode. But he’s the classic example because he brought so much post-Katrina to the state, that it really — he was giving a lot to Mississippians.

But a lot of people have decided, we understand the money coming here is good, but Washington is so messed up, we still got to vote these people out of office. A lot of people are saying that. The thing that’s interesting to me about this runoff is who has the passion.

We assume the Tea Party, the opponent has the passion. We assume they’re more impassioned and more motivated to vote than the regulars. But I’m not sure that’s true this year. And it will be very interesting. If Cochran survives, it will be a sign that among the establishment there are some passionate voters as well, at least as passionate as on the Tea Party side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

MARK SHIELDS: Thad Cochran seeking his seventh term. He’s had six terms.

He’s won nine consecutive elections in Mississippi, without ever once appealing to racial feelings at all. He’s been above it. He’s been an exemplary public servant.

And I agree with David that the remarkable thing about him — Michael Barone put it very well, the congressional scholar. He said, he represents a vanishing breed of the Southern Republican. He’s personally decent. He doesn’t demonize the other side. He works across the aisle. He does pride himself on bringing home — he’s conservative, but not rigidly so, and he’s agreeable to everybody.

I mean, it’s really a courtly Southern type, which is no longer in vogue. And I really do think that he’s in trouble. There’s no question about it. He didn’t get the majority that they had hoped for.

But Mississippi Governor, former Governor William Winter, who was an excellent player on both racial reconciliation and education in the state, told Jonathan Martin of The New York Times this would be the worst stereotype confirmed of Mississippi if McDaniel and the Tea Party win this one.

This is a — and I think there’s a lot to it. And I will say this, Judy. It’s a warning for the rest of the country. We are seeing the future in Mississippi politics; $5 million goes into McDaniel’s behalf from outside independent groups. His campaign raises one-fourth of that, 1.4.

So, these are campaigns being run. And $3 million went into Cochran’s.

JUDY WOODRUFF: By outside groups.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, just outside groups are running these campaigns. They’re funding them and they’re driving them.

And that’s — thank you Supreme Court of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have to stop here, unless you have two seconds…

DAVID BROOKS: No, nothing that wise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Save it for next — we’re just glad you two are insiders.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks.

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Shields and Brooks on turning around the VA, defining Obama foreign policy

Fri, May 30, 2014


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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, gentlemen.

So let’s pick up with the discussion Jeff was just having.

David, the resignation of Eric Shinseki, what would you add? Why did this have to happen?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I hate these bloodlettings. It’s never obvious to me why one person is the problem.

I’m sort of a believer in experience. And it’s at least possible that somebody who’s been around there for five years knows the organization and may be in a better position than some outsider.

But it should be said that a government bureaucracy is not Microsoft. You can’t fire people. The incentive structure is not for change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean you can’t fire people?

DAVID BROOKS: You can’t do what a corporate turnaround artist can do. You just have a lot — if you’re in the military or if you’re a corporate turnaround artist, you have a lot of freedom to do fundamental restructuring, to get rid of people, to drop whole organizations, to sell off part of your company. You have a lot of flexibility.

If you’re running a federal agency, I can’t think of a turnaround. I just can’t think — I’m trying to think one, the Department of Education, Energy. I’m trying to think of one that’s fundamentally been turned around, just because the leverage is not there.

And that’s sort of the problem here is sometimes we bring in businesspeople, we bring in generals to run organizations — to run agencies. And Cabinet secretaries have potentially very limited control over the agencies they nominally head.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see going on here?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, Judy, this is a year divisible by two. That means it’s an election year. That’s why Eric Shinseki’s head had to roll.

And I just want to say a word about him. There is nobody in this town recently or today who had the integrity, had the respect and affection those whom — who worked with him. He was a man of unimpeachable — and is a man of unimpeachable integrity, a man who jeopardized his own career, put his on career, basically ended it by testifying honestly in the rush to war in 2003, when Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Under President Bush.

MARK SHIELDS: … telling us it was going to be a cakewalk. He said, no, it isn’t going to be. It’s going to require several hundred thousand troops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if all that’s the case, why did he have to step down?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he had to step down because this is — it’s a tragic situation there at the Veterans Affairs and veterans care.

This is not Benghazi or this is not the IRS, which are essentially hyped-up, direct-mail conspiracy theorist scandals. This is — this is genuine. These are people who have served the country, who have paid dearly in many cases. And the medical care, it is being postponed. It’s not — it’s the access to it, and it hasn’t been there.

And he was misled by those whom he put in positions or had in positions of authority, whether David is right, he inherited them. But he believed them, as he had believed the people with whom he served in the military.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, it sounds like you’re saying just the fact Eric Shinseki is gone doesn’t mean the problems can be fixed.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there seems to be universal agreement on that sense, on that proposition.

I have been struck about how much conversation there is about the whole system, just in articles. I’m not qualified to judge any of these, but should it run more like Medicare, where people are more in the private system, are given federal money to go pursue their health care in the private system?

Should the Pentagon and the VA have totally different systems which are sort of overlapping the same population at different stages in their careers? And do — should non-war wounds be treated by the VA? There’s a whole series of proposals floating out there.

And it strikes me that what we had fundamentally — and I think this seems to be well-established — a fundamental problem with supply and demand. The demand for these services, especially primary care services, were phenomenally high.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For millions and millions of veterans.


And the doctors were not there. And the doctors that were there were not getting paid enough, so the private sector was much more attractive for those doctors. And this is all at a time, it should be pointed out, since 2001, the VA budget has tripled. And so a lot of money — by current Washington standards, a lot of money has been going to the VA, and somehow it has not gone to solve this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, is the promise of the VA bigger than anything or anybody can deliver?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, the question of privatization — and I’m not qualified either to discuss — I will say veterans have opposed it.

Veterans have been by the actual measurement satisfied and more satisfied than have been Americans in — with private hospital treatment. They have been more satisfied. The problem has been one of access, basically. You’re not going to find a lot of suburban hospitals handling traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are certain — and David’s point is a good one about aging veterans with arthritis, or hearing problems, or whatever else, whether in fact they could certainly — that treatment could be available, you know, through another system, making — make it available to those who need it the most.

And veterans like to be with people who have gone through what they have gone through. And that is totally understandable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But does this go back and raise, David, fundamental questions about the role of government and whether government ought to be trying to take on something as massive as this as taking care of every single person who’s ever served in the military for the duration of their lives?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it goes on to how you organize a very complex system, with rising populations and changing populations. And this is sort of the fundamental debate about Obamacare as well, is how much market mechanism should you have?

And, to me, it’s not a clear answer, to be honest. I would lean toward the market mechanism. But, nonetheless, Mark is right. The VA system is not poorly thought of. It has some real strengths. And, yet, nonetheless, when you have this supply and demand problem between the providers and the demand from the patients, that’s something the market does reasonably well.

Prices go up for the scarce doctors and you get more of them. And so that’s a problem to solve. But you’re right. Mark’s right. There are problems that a private system would also have. So it’s a complicated calculus.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I think we have seen it. That’s one of the reasons. Whether you applaud or disparage Obamacare, it’s addressing a real — it’s an attempt to address a real problem.

And that is, we do ration medical care in this country. We do it on the basis of dollars and health. If you’re poor and have a medical condition, you didn’t get medical care before. So, and I think that’s what we’re talking about here.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, just on the cooking of the books.


DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I — yes, nothing excuses that, of course.

Nonetheless, the people in charge of these systems were put in this — given these terrible incentives, where they were not given the right number of doctors, and yet they were evaluated completely, and so they were put in this impossible position.


MARK SHIELDS: The earlier discussion with Jeffrey about bringing in somebody else, I mean, Eric Shinseki did two tours in Vietnam.

He was wounded, two Purple Hearts, which is two tours I think more than the four people who ran for president and vice president had among them in 2012.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s talk about something else on the — very much on the president’s plate this week, David, and that was the president’s foreign policy speech, billed, first one in a long time, West Point. He spoke to the graduates.

What did you make of the speech? Did we learn something new about how the president sees the U.S. — America’s role in the world?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think we learned his attitude.

Some of it is quite strong. They say the president’s an isolationist, retrenching, some of the critics. That’s clearly not true. The administration is out there building alliances on Iran and Syria. And so that’s clear.

I do think the president has two attitudes which came through in the speech. The first is that we have a lot more to fear from overreach than under-reach. They’re learning from Vietnam and Iraq we tend to mess up when we go too far. And that’s the lesson of Iraq and Iran.

I would say the lesson of the 1920s and 1930s is that we also — there’s also a problem of under-reach. And I think the president underestimates that. And I would say, for the past seven years of American foreign policy, we understood we had a responsibility to keep a global world order.

And that involved a very assertive U.S. position and sometimes the military efforts. During the Clinton and George H.W. Bush years, we had endeavors about every 17 months to try to keep the international order. President Obama clearly doesn’t want to lean forward in the way his predecessors did.

And so I think — among the many strengths of that speech, I think that leaning back creates a vacuum that people like Putin, people like the Chinese at their worst moments will fill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A danger of under-reach, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see that.

First of all, any time — the president was criticized for this speech by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times editorial pages. The last time that those three organizations agreed on American foreign policy was when they endorsed the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2002.

So, I think that ought to tell you immediately right at the outset they’re wrong.


MARK SHIELDS: And I think the president proved more than anything else in that speech, which was — my principal criticism of it, it was passionless — is that…


MARK SHIELDS: Yes. It was passionless.

There was no sense of a lift of a driving dream or anything of the sort to it. But I thought it was rational, as he is. I thought it was thoughtful. And I thought it was reasonable. He was elected to end wars, not to start them. And it reminded me so much of Mario Cuomo’s great line about, you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose.

And this was in prose. It really was. And I think David’s point is absolutely valid about, it is one of limitations, but it’s one of coalition-building. It’s one of multilateralism. It’s a George H.W. foreign policy, rather than a George W. Bush foreign policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you’re saying? Is that what the mistake is, too many coalitions, not enough aggressive…

DAVID BROOKS: No, we need — first, I would to — Mark’s completely fallacious logic on why the editorial pages are all wrong. That made no sense.

MARK SHIELDS: Because the last time they agreed — the last time they agreed was to go to war in Iraq. If the three of them…

DAVID BROOKS: They agree spring is beautiful, and they’re right about that.

MARK SHIELDS: No, they never agree.


DAVID BROOKS: I forget. George H.W. Bush — where were we?

George H.W. Bush, we had a seizure of a big country seizing a small country under George H.W. Bush, Iraq seizing Ukraine — Kuwait. And we did something. Now, we had another case of Russia seizing Crimea. Now, nobody thinks we should put troops on the ground, but, nonetheless, some assertive way to control Putin’s ambitions, I think, is called for, something more assertive.

And the one thing I endorse and a couple of people have proposed, that the president goes to Kiev, in the way to JFK went to Berlin, just to make a statement. You don’t have to put boots on the ground. You’re making a statement, we stand with these people.

And that’s the kind of assertive use of U.S. power, U.S. prestige and most importantly U.S. values that I would like to see the president do a little more of.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So go there and say, the U.S. is with…



MARK SHIELDS: No, I — that’s an interesting idea.

And I do think, Judy, not to alienate both George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama simultaneously, George H.W. Bush, in 1991, when he put that coalition together, put a coalition of 32 nations together. People who had not spoken to each joined arms in — for a specific purpose, to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, which he invaded and occupied.

He got it ratified by a Democratic Congress and ratified by the United Nations. It was a remarkable — and paid for by the Gulf states and Germany and Japan. It was a remarkable act of diplomacy. And I think Barack Obama favors diplomacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in Europe, you have a reluctant group of…

DAVID BROOKS: Right. That’s true. And the question is, could we lean on them a little more? That’s an open question. I don’t really fault the administration too much for that.

I would like to go back to Mark’s limitation point, because I do think the president is very aware, both in domestic and foreign policy, of the limitations on American power, and I think a little overly aware. And I go back to the 2008 campaign, which really was a big-thinking hope and change campaign, and that campaign doesn’t really reflect the president we have seen recently.

And so I think he underestimates the power he does have sometimes, or at least in an ambiguous position, he plays cautious. And you salute prudence, you salute cautious. This controversial statement he made that we should hit just singles and doubles, I sometimes — I totally see the merit in that.

That’s what most of the government is. You just — singles and doubles, that’s fine. But, occasionally, there has to be a bigger vision, a bigger home run vision for the people of Kiev or the people around China, the people of Iran, the Middle East, Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very brief.

MARK SHIELDS: Singles and doubles are fine. I would rather have that than somebody swinging for the fences and striking out.

And the fact we have this overload at the VA hospitals is a testimony to 17 military encounters under both Presidents Bush and President Clinton.

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

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Shields and Gerson on conservative candidates, Shinseki under fire

Fri, ,
23 2014 May, 22:32:24


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

So, let’s start talking first, on the politics side, elections, May 20, big day. Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon had elections. So your biggest takeaway from this?

MARK SHIELDS: We who cover politics are frustrated sportswriters. We love to say an easy question is a softball or an unfair charge is a cheap shot.

And to use tennis jargon, a game that I have never played, you could say that Republicans this year have committed no unforced errors. They have not — they have put themselves in a position to compete, if not to win, in the competitive Senate races. They haven’t nominated people that they’re going to have to run away from who are seen as losers in May. That is seen an accomplishment to them.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. No, I agree with that.

I think that the Republican establishment is not a myth or a paper tiger. I think Mitch McConnell is evidence of that. There’s something impressive about his utterly bland ruthlessness when it comes to these races.


MICHAEL GERSON: And I think it’s true that Republicans have determined they want the Senate, they’re not going to make stupid mistakes.

And that, by the way, given recent elections, is a huge accomplishment for them. That’s not a — so I think they found, in the shutdown, that Tea Party groups, the leaders of the Tea Party groups are not appeasable. They’re not going to be brought into the coalition. They have to be fought. And we have seen a counter-reaction, the Chamber and others, to these groups, and they have been largely defeated.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, should the Democrats be concerned that Republicans are taking the necessary steps to win back the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. They should be.

They don’t have the gimmes that they had in Indiana, where Joe Donnelly could win as a Democrat, Claire McCaskill could win reelection in Missouri, Harry Reid in Nevada. The Democrats have five seats in the past two elections that the Republicans just gave up essentially by nominating unelectable candidates as Tea Party people.

What the Tea Party had going for it, more than anything else, was surprise in the past. And that element was gone because the incumbents this year were ready. Michael mentioned Mitch McConnell.

If you want to get an idea of what this year is going to be about, I mean, there was no lift of a driving dream, no inspiring vision, not even policy initiative in his victory statement. It was just he thanked his family, made the obligatory nod to his opponent, and then immediately launched a diatribe against his opponent, who was brought to you by Barack Obama and Harry Reid. She’s obviously a puppet and a creation.

And I think that is probably going to be the tenor of the year.

MICHAEL GERSON: I do actually think that Democrats have some good candidates in Kentucky and Georgia.

But the problem here is that the battleground of control of the Senate is in Republicans states this time.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s red states.

MICHAEL GERSON: And the Republicans only need a few.

And it’s in the sixth year of the Democratic president that is down in the polls. So there’s a swift current here that I think makes it very hard for even fairly good candidates to get traction in this election for Democrats.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I would not write them off anyway.

Georgia, though, is interesting, Hari, in the sense that the Republicans had five candidates. The true believers, sort of hard-liners, Tea Party finished fourth and fifth. And the two who won could be called country club Republicans or let’s mete for cocktails at 7:00. So they’re in a runoff, and that will be brutal.

MICHAEL GERSON: I think it’s even a little more because Republicans have opened up some routes like Oregon, I think, which is interesting, where they have a very strong candidate now in that race, in a traditionally blue state.

But the eastern part of the state is more like an inland Western state in many ways. And I think that Republicans are expanding the fields in these primaries, not just defending.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do we see this roll out to Arkansas or Alaska, where they are going to be some competitive…


There’s no question that the Republicans are eying, first of all, South Dakota, which had been held by Tim Johnson, who is retiring, and the president lost by 20-plus votes, and states that president — Mitt Romney carried by 14 points, Montana, where Max Baucus has left. And then in addition to that, you have got West Virginia, where the president lost by 27 points.

And, you know, those are sort of the immediate ones the Republicans have their eyes on. And then you have got to battle Democratic incumbents. But I would say every one of the Democratic incumbents is in a position to win. There’s nobody you’re writing off at this point, whether it’s Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Mark Pryor leads in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Mark Begich in Alaska.

They’re proven candidates, and I think they are going to be competitive races.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So is this idea of the Tea Party vs. the establishment a narrative that the media likes, or can we say that they have already had an impact in moving the party in a more conservative direction?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there’s a clear difference here.

The Republican Party is more monolithically conservative than it has been in the past, there’s no question. But most Republicans are in a Reaganite kind of category. The Tea Party is making a fundamental critique of — Tea Party leaders of all of modern government. They would regard Reagan as a RINO.

So I think there is a clear difference in tone and style. And that’s why there is a serious fight here. But Republicans face a huge challenge in this. They can defeat the Tea Party and try to get their base out in a midterm election, which sometimes wins with a message as complex as Obamacare bad.

But that will not win the 2016 election and will — in fact, could lose the Senate in 2016, which is the flip side of the demographic advantage that Republicans have right now. So they’re going to have to make a shift. They can win in 2014 with a certain message, but they’re going to have to re-brand the party to win in 2016. Can they make that shift?

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, looking forward, June 3, Mississippi, a race that just got a lot more interesting in the last couple of days. We have got Thad Cochran, a little bit more of the establishment individual, and Chris Daniel — or Chris McDaniel.

And it was — I just want to hear your opinions on this, but I think four people have been arrested because supporters of McDaniel went into the nursing home of Thad Cochran’s wife, who I think is in dementia, and posted a video of her on — this just seems like a new low.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, and all the story — the story is still assembling.

And the person who did it was with somebody who did it on his own. And the question is how deeply the McDaniel campaign either was aware of it, didn’t stop it or was even complicit in it?

I don’t understand — and Mrs. Cochran, sadly, is in dementia. She’s been in — she is in hospice care. She has been there 13 years. What possible advantage — you just ask what sort of perverted thinking leads to let’s get a video of this disabled woman, invade her privacy, and put it on the — what sort of a polemic politically can you use?

Anybody who did it ought to be disqualified from voting. They have demonstrated incapacity, quite frankly. And if McDaniel’s campaign is involved with it any way, even remotely, they are going to pay for it dearly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: McDaniel was doing well in the last few weeks.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes, exactly. And Cochran is weak in many ways as a candidate. This is the last best hope of the Tea Party.

But I think that McDaniel is in serious trouble here. It was reported today that McDaniel, as a radio talk show host, had occasionally co-hosted the show with one of the people that was arrested, one of the four people that was arrested.

This is not a distant relationship. There’s no evidence that the campaign was involved yet, but you are going to have an investigation, criminal investigation that’s going to have e-mails. They’re going to review e-mails and have subpoenas and other things.

I can’t imagine right now that Mississippi Republicans would want to send a candidate into a general election that’s in the middle of this controversy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s talk — shift gears a little bit to the sort of VA scandal that keeps kind of rolling out in the last few weeks.

Support for Eric Shinseki seems to be slipping from both Democrats and Republicans. Was the president too slow in doing something about this, as Bob Dole said to the USA Today?

MARK SHIELDS: The president and Eric Shinseki suffer from two — the same political disability. That is, neither one is able to emote upon demand.

Eric Shinseki is somebody who doesn’t beat the table with his shoe and doesn’t beat his chest and doesn’t — he’s a remarkable American with a record of service to this country basically unmatched. And the fact that he hasn’t been angry has aroused the ire of Jon Stewart and some other observers.

Is the president slow? Yes, it shouldn’t have been there for three weeks. And then the response itself seemed to be almost an emergency response. But I think it’s classic the president. He is going to wait for the report to come in, which will be in. They have expanded the investigation to 26 hospitals now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But the president has said in multiple years over and over again, I will fix this problem.

MARK SHIELDS: And this problem — and I would argue that the VA has had a much larger mandate under this administration and this secretary.

They have expanded it to all the victims of Agent Orange from Vietnam. They have expanded it to PTSD, beyond — the presumption now is, if you’re in combat, we have a belief, we believe you have a problem. You don’t have to come in and prove it anymore.

And obviously it expanded the number of people being covered.


MARK SHIELDS: And I’m not in any way minimizing. If 40 people died, then heads should roll and people should be held accountable, make no mistake about it.

But I think the record of achievement and his record in particular will stand the test of time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But you have said in your column this week that this is the scandal that is going to stick with the Obama presidency. So, is this a leadership crisis? Is this a management crisis? Is this a systemic problem at the VA? Is there somebody else that could clean this up if it wasn’t Eric Shinseki?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think it’s a very good question. How much of this is leadership? And there’s a temptation to have scapegoats in this kind of matter. You could be giving too many responsibilities to a public institution.

The system itself could be poorly designed. This one hasn’t been reformed, fundamentally reformed, in a long time. But I think you have identified the problem for Obama is, this is a — there have been many problems over decades in this system, but he came to office identifying this as a problem, putting presidential credibility on the line, saying, I’m going to fix this.

And then he appears, like at the press conference that he had, and positions himself as an outraged bystander. That is more of a self-indictment than it is a defense in a case like this.

You’re the president. You have had five-and-a-half years to make a decision like this. I think that’s his real risk. You can’t just say, I’m angry. They put him out there in this press conference to say, I’m angry.

But you have to have anger plus action in order to be credible on these issues, and it hasn’t happened yet. It may.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but the report is coming in the middle of next week. And we will see. We will see what the president does.


MARK SHIELDS: But I think this is his strength, as well as his shortcoming.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thanks so much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on Brown v. Board legacy, tea party outlook

Fri, May 16, 2014


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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, gentlemen.

So we just heard Gwen’s discussion. It is 60 years after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

And we know, Mark, that, yes, there has been — there have been dramatic changes in the aftermath of that, but we also know — and we have got a graphic to show this — that much of the — some of the country, maybe even much of the country is still segregated.

Here, you see — this is a chart showing the difference between 1968, 2011, big drop in the percentage of African-American students attending majority black/Latino schools in the South, where segregation was most prevalent. You know, here, it’s a drop, from 78 to 34 percent. But we see drops in the Midwest and the West.

But, Mark, is it surprising that in the Northeast, the percentage of African-American students has risen?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if it’s surprising, Judy.

I think that Sheryll Cashin — first of all, remember this on that decision. It was 9-0. If you want to see a great politician at work, that was Earl Warren. Thank God you had a governor, someone who had actually been through the process. He assembled that 9-0 coalition, which gave it its moral and political momentum behind that decision.

But, Judy, I think Sheryll Cashin put it very well in her discussion with Gwen and the other panelists. And that is that it’s a question of place, not race. We’re talking about income inequality. We’re talking about property inequality. And that’s essentially what leads to school patterns and school populations.

DAVID BROOKS: I suspect they would have been surprised if we had gone back and asked, what do you expect over the next 50 years, I suspect they would have thought there would be a little more progress than we have experienced.

And I think that’s because there was a supposition, from my reading of the history books, is that once you took away some of the legal barriers, that some of the social barriers would fall more quickly than they have.

And this is measurable not only in the school segregation, but even in social interaction. When you measure how many people are having real interactions with people of different races, it’s surprisingly — we have made surprisingly little progress, especially — maybe in the first few years after Brown or the Civil Rights Act, but in the last couple of decades, it’s been surprisingly slow.

And that’s in part because birds of a feather do flock together. People do tend to residentially segregate, in part because of some of the discrimination, but in part I think because of a loss of emphasis on integration that there was especially in the ’70s and ’80s, a little less emphasis on integration, a little more on multiculturalism and things like that.

And you just have got to keep pushing and pushing. Maybe among people under 20, we’re going to begin to see a shift in that, but progress has been surprisingly slow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pushing how? What kind of pushing?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we’re in new regime, a non-affirmative action regime based on race, I think. We’re entering that regime.

But you still have to push based on other things, based on — companies, universities, schools, I do think, have to pay attention to this, and not only getting people in, but once in, ensuring those social interactions are there and there’s not segregation in the cafeterias.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but segregation is encouraged by colleges. It clearly is, and not simply by race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Student housing.

MARK SHIELDS: By student housing, and cultural housing and all the rest of it.

I do want to point out, Judy, that of all the gender, racial subgroups in the country, the highest per capita, those enrolled in college is black women. Black women enrolled in colleges and universities at a higher level than white women or Asian men, Asian women, white men. Black men are enrolled at a hiring level per capita than white men.

We have quadrupled the number of black college graduates in just less than a generation. So there is good news, and I just think occasionally we have to pause and reflect on the good news.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the gender aspect.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, and on the racial aspect as well.


Well, complete change of subject, and that is presidential politics 2016, David. We saw both President Clinton — former President Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton come out swinging this week after Karl Rove, who, of course, was former President George W. Bush’s top political strategist, suggested that Secretary Clinton might have had brain damage from a fall she took while she was still in government.

DAVID BROOKS: He didn’t use that phrase, but he said that she was in the hospital, and we should get to the bottom of all this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is this the kind of exchange we’re going to see? In fact, President Clinton said to Gwen in an interview, he said, we can just expect this from Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, a couple of things going on.

First, I hope Rove was just speaking off the cuff, because it was pretty stupid, what he said, and inaccurate, and it was stupid. The response was interesting, because there has been, among the professional people who — like us who watch this thing for a living, there have been some whispers from people who pretend to know what they’re talking about that maybe she won’t run.

And I guess that’s still kind of true. But the way the Clintons came out swinging makes it look like they’re going to run. And so that was interesting. And then if you are going to have a race in a Democratic primary, picking a fight with Karl Rove is a pretty good thing to do and the Koch brothers. That all works pretty well.

So I think we learned they may be a little more forward-leaning about this whole deal than anybody who thought they weren’t. And I do think, I still think that I’m less bullish on her chances to get the nomination. I think it’s likely she will get the nomination if she runs, but I’m a little less bullish than a lot of other people around here, because I do think the party has moved to the left, the de Blasio mayor’s race in New York, even the Baraka race in Newark, where the more leftward candidate probably won.

I do think the party has shifted a little away from her, and so I think there’s some shot that she — it’s not going to be a cakewalk for her.

MARK SHIELDS: Thirty days in the hospital. Wrong. Three days in the hospital.

And that she was wearing glasses that were only given to people who had traumatic brain injury — that was Karl Rove. Now, you may not have seen the stethoscope and you may not have seen his bedside manner before, Dr. Rove, making house calls like this.


MARK SHIELDS: I — it’s a little bit called like putting heroin in the bloodstream. You put it — you let out a libel or a rumor and then you just kind of let it go. Oh, where did it come from? And then somebody hears it a couple of months later, sunk into the sewer.

It’s symptomatic of the Texas candidate. There was a congressman in Texas — he may very well have been a Karl Rove client — who had a very difficult opponent and he said, I’m going to accuse my opponent of being romantically and sexually involved with a barnyard animal.

And his campaign manager said, you can’t do that, Congressman. We have no evidence, no proof. No, I know we don’t have any evidence to prove it. I just want to see him deny it.

And that’s what this is. This is that kind of a charge. It was stupid and I think it did help the Clintons. But it does tell you something about the high level we can expect in 2016 in the campaign.

DAVID BROOKS: The one thing, though, it will not be an issue if she runs.

Running is arduous.


DAVID BROOKS: And if you can run, your health is fine, and so, if she’s running and she can do it the way every candidate has to do it, her health will not be an issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about David’s other point that maybe Hillary Clinton, assuming she does decide to run, may not have that easy path to the nomination?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t inevitability is a winning campaign strategy. And that’s basically right now what the strategy is.

Everybody’s for Hillary. Why? Because everybody’s for Hillary, and because she’s leading in all the polls. I think there is a restlessness and a restiveness in the Democratic Party against the Obama administration, although unspoken in large part, about the fact that all of the people who brought this country to its knees in the Wall Street crisis continue to go to dinner parties and fly off in private jets and get welcomed at the White House, and they pay fines.

We have basically monetized financial crime. You just pay a check. Nobody goes to jail. And I think there’s an anger. And Elizabeth Warren is probably the catalyst for that, the most logical point for it. Somebody will pick that up.

Mrs. Clinton may very well try to move in that direction, although, coming as a senator from New York, it would be a departure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have an interview with Senator Warren on the NewsHour Monday night.

MARK SHIELDS: I wanted to promote that.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You were putting in a plug.

So, just in a few minutes left, the Tea Party, David, they won one of these Senate primaries in this midterm election season, but they don’t seem to be as strong as in the past. Whatever you want to call it, the mainstream, the establishment of the Republican Party seems to be doing better. What’s going on?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think in somewhat — especially in this case in Nebraska this week, the lines were very muddy between who was establishment and who was Tea Party.

The Tea Party candidate who won, Sasse, he’s a Yale Ph.D. And the other, Tom Cotton, has a Harvard Law degree.


DAVID BROOKS: Mike Needham, who runs the Heritage Fund — Heritage Action, he’s from new — so these are not classic outsiders, I would say.

But I do think the party has become more nervous of losing seats. The voters — it’s mostly — it’s less over ideology and more over approach. It’s can you come into Washington and do politics, do governance, as opposed to being sort of a FOX News commentator when you get here?

And so I do think the side of the party that says, you know, let’s pass legislation, and they’re plenty conservative, but they tend to have the momentum right now. And I think the government shutdown that Ted Cruz led was a major turning point, which is not to say that his campaign won’t be formidable when he runs for president.

MARK SHIELDS: Ted Cruz and Mike Lee were staunch supporters of Ben Sasse out in Nebraska winner, the winner. And their message was, we need reinforcement to fight the entrenched leadership here in Washington.

Sasse, to his credit, kind of — had a foot in each camp.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is in Nebraska, the winner.

MARK SHIELDS: In Nebraska. And he did it quite adroitly.

I think the Tea Party had its most important victory, and we can see it every day, and that was in Kentucky. Mitch McConnell went hat in hand and asked Rand Paul for his endorsement, and so to avoid any trouble. And Rand Paul, who is now a national figure and a major leader of his party, endorsed Mitch McConnell, and probably thereby secured the fact that McConnell would be renominated.

But that’s how important the Tea Party is, that Mitch McConnell, who opposed him in 2010, when he ran, is now his supplicant, in his debt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Neither one of you two is a supplicant. We’re going to have lots more occasion to talk about the Tea Party and the establishment.

We thank you both.

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Shields and Brooks on primary points for GOP, politics of climate policy

Fri, May 09, 2014


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

Let’s start talking first about the politics of the week. We had some primaries. We have got Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, 36 for 36 when it comes to the incumbents retaining their control.

So I want to ask you first, is this a sign of things to come, especially in these Republican races? Have the Republicans learned something from the previous elections, where they were displaced by more conservative or Tea Party candidates?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so.

You have the dynamic of the establishment vs. the Tea Party type, not strictly Tea Party. There are sort of rogue elements. I guess that would be Sarah Palin’s word. But Palin will go in and campaign for somebody. Rand Paul will campaign, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, generally against the establishment candidate.

And all those candidates lost this time. And so I think a couple of things have happened. The establishment has moved right to defang some of the criticism. Secondly, they’re better organized. And, third — and I just like to emphasize that a lot of the coverage has been, well, the money is flowing, the establishment has changed. Look at the voters. The voters make the decision.

The voters are not idiots. And they don’t want to elect people who are not electable. And I think the voters have also decided, you know, we actually do have problems. We people who believe in governance. And that’s really the crucial difference here. It’s not more conservative, less conservative. It’s do we want to use government to govern or do we want to use it as a platform for a radio and TV show?

And that to me is often the difference between the two kinds of candidates?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark, what about the impact of that?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s an awesome, cosmic conclusion off of three families, but I stand in awe, I stand in awe. I really do.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s part of a pattern, though. It’s part of a pattern and it’s been going on all year. And it’s also what I want to believe.


MARK SHIELDS: It’s what you want to believe about the voters are reflective, introspective, and they didn’t scratch their mosquito bites, which voters often do in primaries, send a message. It’s a Western Union experience.

I think that David’s point is very valid, that the Republican Party — Dick Lugar lost. Why did Dick Lugar lose in Indiana? Dick Lugar was clubbed over the head, that he had collaborated and worked with Barack Obama on nuclear nonproliferation.

Why did Bob Bennett lose in Utah, a certified card-carrying conservative? Because he had consorted with Ron Wyden to come up with a more modest health care bill. And across the board, that was the case.

So David is right. The establishment Republicans kind of preempted the insurgent move. That’s a pattern in American politics, that the populist movement, the progressive movement was preempted by the Democrats. It’s something. The Southern Dixiecrat movement was preempted by or co-opted by the Republican Party in this country.

And that’s what they have done. They have moved to tamp down the differences between themselves and the Tea Party. I think the most important race in 2014, so far, was the congressional race in North Carolina, where Walter Jones, a 20-year incumbent, 100 percent conservative, 100 percent record with the NRA, National Rifle Association, National Right to Life Committee, voted against Obamacare, both the bailouts, everything else, was opposed.

Two groups went in, Joe Ricketts, billionaire, founder of Ameritrade, and his political action committee, and the Emergency Committee for Israel. They spent $1.2 million in a congressional district where that can buy you eight months of television. And outspent 5-1, Walter Jones won.

But I’m telling you, this is the future. Walter Jones, to his everlasting credit, voted for the war in Iraq, had a crisis of conscience, and has written a personal note of condolence to 14,000 people who have lost their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he’s become the most anti-war Republican in the House. That’s what they clubbed him over the head on.

But that’s the future. They will be put $10 million, $12 million, $15 million into congressional districts. And I’m not simply saying it’s from the right. It will be the left or whatever. That’s how important money has become in 2014.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there are two things here. First, Mark is right. Everybody is going to look at the race and think I don’t want to get $1.2 million spent against me by these guys, so it will have an effect.

But he also won. He got outspent 5-1 and he won. Now, in part, he has deep roots in the district.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: If you hadn’t been there 20 years, you’re not going to have those kind of roots.

But it is a lesson. And people in Congress, especially in the House, are terrified, but they don’t need to be, that you can get outspent. The money is not determinative. And they just have to be braver, because there is case after case of people getting badly outspent and still going on to win if they have done their job.

MARK SHIELDS: But, David, just point, not disagreement with David, but the natural inclination of saying I’m going to spend a million dollars against you, Hari, is, what do I have to do to make this go away? In other words, what vote do you want me to — in other words, do you want me to stop emphasizing this? And that’s a natural human inclination.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A chilling effect.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, a chilling effect. Exactly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this week, in Congress, it seems that the Republicans are pivoting back to the B-word, Benghazi. It seems that they’re actually not talking about the Affordable Care Act nearly as much. We were talking about we will probably the eighth inquiry in this.

Is there merit to this and will it galvanize the base?

DAVID BROOKS: There’s some merit to it.

The administration did spin. And they’re not the first administration to spin, but on occasion they have had their foreign policy been overly influenced by messaging priorities. They’re not the first administration to do that, but they’re sometimes guilty. David Ignatius wrote a very good column that subject this week.

Is it the subject the Republicans should be emphasizing? Well, of foreign policy subjects, I think it probably would rank 47th. There are just much bigger subjects. Why are they doing it? I have a theory.

It is the voters don’t want to be interventionists abroad. The Republican natural tack is to attack the Democrats for not being strong and interventionist enough. Benghazi allows them to attack the Democrats for being either incompetent or weak, without the Republicans themselves having to commit to anything interventionist abroad. And so it’s a cheap way to score points without actually being for a foreign policy.

MARK SHIELDS: Has the White House been transparent? Absolutely not.

In this — two sentences in a four-page memo to Susan Rice, in which they said, just emphasize the Internet video was the primary cause of the outburst, that, I think, was the road or the mile, the bridge too far for John Boehner.

John Boehner didn’t want these hearings, and he had 190 Republicans sign on that they did, and he held them off because it’s going to be a disaster. It will be a disaster. It won’t be good for the country.

Running congressional hearings, the short list of successful congressional hearings have been run by exceptional legislators, people of great preparation, a thorough knowledge, a great staff of long time and of deep intelligence, John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Tom Davis, they did on baseball, Carl Levin, Sam Ervin.

And the failures, where people just go out and grab a headline, get on cable news that night — and, you know, all they want to do is get Hillary Clinton up there. And each of them wants their tete-a-tete with Hillary Clinton. And I think she will knock their socks off.

But I just think it’s not good for the country. It does sweeten the base for the Republican Party. The Tea Party is very energized on this. FOX News lives and dies with it. And so I think that’s basically why the hearings are being held.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, while we just talked about establishment gaining points at the polls, is this a sign that perhaps the Tea Party still has dominance when it comes to setting the agenda?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the people who got the 190 votes, that’s lot more than the…

DAVID BROOKS: … 43 Tea Partiers.

It’s a lot of Republicans. And a lot of Republicans were offended that some e-mails came out which seemed to suggest some of the political spin. And then there’s just the momentum behind an investigation. You begin to believe.

But I would go after the administration on Ukraine. I would go after them on Syria. There are big subjects to go after them on. But there is always a temptation, since Watergate, a very dysfunction in our politics to try to win ideological battles through scandal means. And it’s always bad for the country, I think.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the things that we notice from the left is that the administration is pushing back on their climate agenda.

And the National Climate Assessment came out this week. I see a lot of responses to it, today President Obama making comments about solar energy, standing in front of a Wal-Mart, which didn’t do too well with a lot of his union-supporting base, but is that gaining any traction?

MARK SHIELDS: It certainly is intellectually.

I mean, I think the evidence is overwhelming, I will be frank about it, that climate change is real and that it’s human — the human cause and contribution to it is significant, and that the prospects are just absolutely daunting and terrifying.

But I don’t think, politically — and I will be very cynical — we have big Senate races in West Virginia and Kentucky, the two or the three biggest coal-producing states, and Louisiana, a major energy state, and Mary Landrieu’s chair of the committee.

I think the president will do what he can on executive orders, and that way. But I don’t see it becoming a political issue that leads to legislation and statute.

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree, for those reasons.

And if you ask voters what they care about, it’s a very low-ranking issue. So if we want a solution, you almost think we have to wait for some technological advance, some scientific advance, some innovation. The political process is not even close to getting at this one.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there even the possibility that, away from just the climate conversation, just the fact of the optics of him standing in front of a Wal-Mart while the administration has been for a living wage?  And there’s quite a few people who feel like Wal-Mart is not paying that. Is this the right place…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s a good question. And they have gotten criticism.

But Wal-Mart, you can’t just say there’s good and there’s bad guys. Wal-Mart has not certainly been an admirable employer when such a large percent of its work force is on Medicaid. But at the same time, they have been in the front in solar and on energy. And I think the president is trying to build support where he can build support, and not just going to his natural base and warming them up, no pun intended.


DAVID BROOKS: America shops at Wal-Mart. This is not Anne Klein. So it’s a no-brainer. This is where America shops. If you reach some people, go to L.L. Bean. That’s fine. But America shops at Wal-Mart.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, this is — this would be the Doubleheader taking over the broadcast program, where we used to do this thing online, where we talked about the sport of politics and politics of sport, because most folks don’t know how such rabid sports fans you are.

This week, it actually crossed over out of the arena of sports. This was the most valuable player of the National Basketball Association, Kevin Durant. This is a guy who averages 29.6 points per game, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Again, people gets get these awards every year, you never really hear about it.

But we want to play a clip of the speech, especially because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. Let’s take a look.

KEVIN DURANT, NBA MVP: You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Obviously, we’re seeing pictures there of his mom.

LeBron James, which is sort of a household name, he’s won four I think of the last five or so. Just to give you an idea of how massive the switch was in the votes, I think this guy got 119 votes to be the MVP, and LeBron James got six.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It really — but just the speech kind of seems to have crossed over. A lot more people than folks who pay attention to basketball paid attention to this.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a tribute. It’s such a testimonial, and it’s so real.

What do we seek? We seek the authentic. We prize the real, the human, the humane, the unpretentious, the genuine. He was all of these things. And very few people knew about it. And it was just — it’s an absolutely touching exchange. And the NBA ought to buy time and show that instead of the next tattooed jerk who is threatening a referee.

I mean, I just think it’s marvelous and Mother’s Day is the perfect time for it.

DAVID BROOKS: People should go online and watch the whole thing. I defy them to get through it without crying.


DAVID BROOKS: He used the word unconditional at one point in there.

And it’s especially noteworthy because of the way sports have taken off among young people and the way parents put the pressure and all the travel teams. What he talked about wasn’t only his mom, but his brothers, his friends, on how they were with him win or lose, whether he was doing well or not.

There was no withdrawal of affection if he wasn’t doing well. There was no extra cheering if he had a fantastic game. It was just unconditional support, I’m with you, I’m with you, I’m with you. And the love that he showed is a renunciation, a rebuttal of some of the pressures that are taking over youth sports and really is a model for all parents to see to remind them what the real priorities are.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You guys both are great sports. And thank you for being here. And Happy Mother’s Day to you all and your families as well.

DAVID BROOKS: And maybe our mothers.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Maybe your mothers.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.


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Shields and Brooks on the flagging labor force, foreign policy fights

Fri, May 02, 2014


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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, let’s go back to the lead story tonight, Mark, and that’s the jobs report — good news, 288,000 jobs created in April. The unemployment rate is down. What does that add up to, and does it make a difference politically somehow?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, it’s the 50th straight month of job creation, which is good news. There are 409,000 more jobs in the country than there were when this recession began. It took us the longest time to even return to that, some seven years, Judy.

And it’s good news. There were 36,000 more jobs added than were first reported in February and March. So, in that sense, it’s good news. But there are underlying, continuing problems. I mean, 35 percent of the unemployed people have been out of work for more than six months.

You have got the long — this is the highest percentage of long-term unemployed people in the history of recorded — record-keeping in this country. I mean, the last 75 years, it only reached 26 percent once, in the 1980s.

So this is a real problem. You had — the other dark figure is they had 800,000 people dropping out of the job market. And that has to be a concern. So, hold the champagne, but it is encouraging news.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, half-full, half-empty?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Politically, it will take a couple of months like this and you can begin to feel some sense of confidence. And it would certainly help Democrats.

The right track — the right track/wrong track number would begin to move if they had a couple — we haven’t had a couple months like this. We have had a few blips like this one, but maybe we’re building some momentum, especially since this one was so broad-based.

Just as a policy matter, though, one of the things — Mark talks about the terrible drop in the labor force participation rate. I would love to see research into the psychological effects. I know it’s been out there. There’s a guy named Peck who did an “Atlantic Monthly” piece about a year.

And what happens psychologically to people who are so far out? Paul’s piece had a little of this. You have got a gap in your resume, so that’s an obvious thing. But then there are psychological effects, loss of self-confidence, loss of skills, loss of just getting up in the morning, just feelings of, what am I doing here, isolation.

So you have these devastating effects. How do we counteract those effects and what are the policy proposals to counteract those effects for what is now a pretty significant part of the population?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and Paul focused in — Solman — in his report, Mark, on inner-city and young people. But what the two of you are saying is that it’s pervasive throughout the economy.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, it is, and that sense of isolation from being out of work for a long time.

Unfortunately, one of the first questions Americans ask each other when they meet is, what do you do? And when you don’t do something, it puts you immediately I think on the defensive and it does erode yourself self-confidence.

DAVID BROOKS: One other issue that feeds into this, in South Dakota, drugs, meth, prescription drugs. The people have nothing to do. The drugs are just growing, almost rampant out there, all around the country, and so, it all feeds into problems that are not just urban, but are just spread throughout the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, for any Democrats who are out there or for the White House hoping for some…

JUDY WOODRUFF: … news away from this, the midterm elections?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s good, Judy, in the sense that if you get two or three months like this in a row — there are essentially three factors that determine, in my judgment, what happens in a midterm election.

And it’s the president’s job rating, which in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll this week was up from where it had been, not — he’s still at 44 percent approval, underwater. But David mentioned whether the country is headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track.


MARK SHIELDS: And it’s 27 percent right direction, 63 percent wrong track. Those are depressing numbers for an incumbent party.

And I really think that if you get two, three, four months in a row of good economic news, that could raise, start to change that number.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I ask because we’re just — next Tuesday launches officially the primary season. We start to see primaries in a number of states across the country.

And right now, David, the conventional wisdom is Republicans hold on to the House and they have a decent shot at taking over the Senate.

DAVID BROOKS: A 50/50 shot at the Senate.

And for the primaries, the story is how many of the people we will respectfully call crackpots are going to get nominated.


DAVID BROOKS: You have the sort of establishment Republicans and — I will be a little more respectful — some of the more Tea Party candidates, some of the political newcomers who are challenging them.

And of course the story for the last couple of cycles has been that the establishment candidates have tended to lose. And you have some candidates who are unelectable win. And so how are those, the newcomers doing this time? And I think the general trend is they’re not doing as well, in part because the established candidates have moved right, defanged some of that.


DAVID BROOKS: Second, because some of — they are getting much better at exposing some of the political weaknesses of the neophytes.

They’re taking them very seriously. They’re attacking them for attending cockfighting fights or for being involved in scandals. And political newcomers make mistakes. And so there has been a lot more pressure on them.

So it’s generally looking like it’s going to be a better year for some of the Republican establishment candidates.


Democrats always hope that they will nominate the unelectable, the Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, the Richard Murdoch in Indiana, and to say nothing of the late, lamented Todd Akin in Missouri. Those were seats that — Sharron Angle in Nevada — those were seats that the Republicans should have won, could have won and would have won but for the flawed Republican nominees that made themselves the issue.

And that is the hope of the Democrats. The problem for the Democrats is they’re defending seats in states that President Obama didn’t carry. And so it’s not enough just to reenergize the Obama coalition. You have got to reenergize the Obama coalition in those states, plus add to it, while holding on to those loyal the president, which makes the political job a little more difficult.

The one saving grace, Judy, is the Republican brand is the worst it’s ever been. I mean, it’s really — in other words, people feel less fondly and positively towards the Republicans than at any time.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s sort of a mystery, that one, though, because the Republican brand is really terrible.


DAVID BROOKS: On the other hand, who do you want to control Congress, it’s at least even.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s even.

DAVID BROOKS: Maybe the Republicans have an advantage. So, we hate them, but we may want them.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the other things the Democrats are worried about, you have to believe right now, is the administration, the president’s standing on foreign policy.

David, the president comes back from his trip to Asia greeted by yet another poll showing a lot of disapproval of his handling of the economy overall and other issues, but foreign policy, and criticism from everywhere. We were going to show the cover of the latest issue of “The Economist” magazine. “What Would America Fight For?”

The questions are coming from the right. They’re also coming from the left. Is this kind of criticism deserved on the part…

DAVID BROOKS: I think halfway.

I do think there’s a fraying of the international order. We have an order that the nation are basically sacred. National borders, you don’t invade them. We have an order that there’s free trade, free movement of people. There are sort of procedures that you organize international affairs about. And we have sort of taken that for granted in the post-war world and post-Cold War world.

And I do think it’s fragmenting. And when it’s fragmenting, some of the wolves out there are grabbing. And so Putin is grabbing Ukraine, grabbing Crimea. The Chinese are much more aggressive in the maritime waters. Iran is much more hegemonic in the Middle East.

And so you’re beginning to see the rise of regional powers. And we have not seen that. And the rise of regional powers would just be a disaster for us long-term. And so reestablishing and reasserting that international order is the job of the United States.

And has been Obama derelict about that? I would say, in some ways, he’s been non-effective. He let the red lines cross in Syria. He hasn’t imposed serious sanctions on Putin. But it’s a much broader problem. The Republicans have definitely not helped by refusing to ratify any treaty, including some of the IMF stuff. They have let the fabric go.

And then the American public wants to withdraw, wants to pull inside. So, the U.S. is playing a less assertive role. And that fabric of procedures is fraying. And that’s really bad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the president himself, Mark, held a news conference overseas in the last few days and talked about the criticism and said, what do they want me to do? You know, we have been in these wars and are they saying, we should do more? And they say no. Well, what should we do?


You saw the president’s traditional and classic cool pierced. He was upset, I think, and I think with some legitimacy, Judy. The fact is that we’re operating in a reality of the last decade of this country, in the sense that the majority of Americans believing that we were deceived and misled into war in Iraq, that whatever one calls our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, they will not be seen as successes.

And they are not viewed that way, and, at the same time, an American people who were essentially spared any involvement in that war, any of those wars, who have just really sort of soured on American involvement in the world.

I give the president credit, quite frankly, because he’s dealing in — not only in this situation, but the sanctions that David talks about are being opposed openly by many American companies right now, I mean, caterpillar and at others. Boeing is terrified — they have got 100 plane contracts — that Airbus could move in into Russia and take that, if, in fact, you didn’t have a coalition with all the European countries moving at the same time.

And I think that’s the only way sanctions are going to make a difference. I would say David’s portrayal of the world is a little dark. I think Putin is the real outlaw. I mean, there’s no question the Chinese on the islands and the Middle East is sui generis.

But as far as the rest of the world order, the 195 nations, Putin is sort of, I think, the real outlier.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, I guess I disagree with that.

I think some of the failure of the Japan trade deal, that’s part of a fraying. Some of the restrictions on the movement of people — we have sort of got a problem though of a death by 1,000 cuts, that there’s no individual case where we should get really exercised. Like, we’re not going to commit troops to Ukraine. We’re not going to do anything crazy about Iran.

We’re probably not going to declare any sort of moral war on China. So it’s all these discrete problems, none of which individually merits this gigantic response, but collectively they can really do some damage. And so that’s sort of the problem we’re in.

I agree with Mark about the hangover from Iraq and Afghanistan. But I think Obama is going to do this, give some speeches where he says, OK, that’s not my foreign policy, but I am going to have an assertive foreign policy.

MARK SHIELDS: And I would say, if there’s been a failure of the president, who is just a great public speaker, it’s been to spell out what America’s mission is and what our interests are.

But I really do think, Judy, that the reality is there is not the will to go to war in this country right now. And those people who talk about it are doing so recklessly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you both.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on Georgia gun rights, Southern Senate races

Fri, Apr 25, 2014


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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, gentlemen.

So, let’s start with the Supreme Court, David, this week upholding the right of Michigan citizens to say you can’t use race as a criteria in figuring out and deciding what students are admitted to the universities and colleges in that state.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you make of that decision? And does it have a larger effect on the access of minorities to getting a higher education?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, first, what was striking about the decision was the personal nature of the fight between Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts. It was unusual the way they sort of tallied with each other in somewhat personal terms.

I am biased in favor of courts when they rule in deference to democratic procedures. And that’s more or less what happened. And my view is that when courts, whether you agree with the decision or not, whether it’s Roe v. Wade or this or some of the other cases, they tend to polarize an issue into a black-and-white solution, when democratic processes have the advantage of more flexibility and get some moderate solutions.

So, I’m glad — I’m guess I’m glad they deferred to the democratic majority. Now, as for the — how it’s going to affect colleges, I do think we are already in an evolution. I think colleges are already moving away from race-based and toward more class-based systems.

And the second thing they’re doing in particular is they’re recruiting more. And you can recruit. There are lots of places in African-American areas and Latino areas where there are a lot of very smart kids who just don’t apply. They don’t know, they don’t know the process, it doesn’t occur to them. They apply to some other schools.

And so a school, say, the University of Michigan, can really — and I’m sure they are — much more heavily recruit. I know all the schools I’m affiliated with much more heavily recruiting to get the right kind of diversity you need through a different means. So I do think it’s possible to make up for diversity without some crude formula.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that the race-based affirmative action, the clock has run, I think, in terms of popular support and obviously in terms of court support.

I do believe that Richard Kahlenberg, the Century Fund scholar who has argued that it ought based, affirmative action, on class, rather than race, or ethnicity or national origin, I think he is absolutely right.

And I think this decision really raises his argument, which is if you really want diversity — the president made the case that his daughters, who are educationally advantaged, economically advantaged, certainly don’t — didn’t — would never need race as a consideration in their admissions to a school, and that the economic polarization in the country, the increasing gap between the well-off, and as college has become more expensive, I think the urgency of providing diversity economically, which will, of course, also include both racial and ethnic diversity as well, because they’re disproportionately disadvantaged.

But I think, to me, is the mission for those who seek a pluralistic society.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think, David, this sends a signal to minorities, minority kids and their parents that it’s just — it’s harder and might as well not even apply to some of these schools that are tougher to get into?

DAVID BROOKS: No, it depends on the posture of the schools.

I don’t think people are going to make a decision on whether I should apply to the University of Michigan or Princeton or Michigan State or Southwest Illinois on the basis of what the Supreme Court says. It’s whether the school itself goes out and makes the effort.

And so if the schools are heavily recruiting, then that’s a positive signal. Now, the difficulty is, it’s one thing to talk about Princeton and Stanford doing class-based, because they can afford anything. There are a lot — most — 95 percent of the schools in this country cannot afford to do that.

And so the formula — I think the formula in the future is heavily recruiting in poorer areas and more international kids to pay for them. The international kids pay full freight. And so you can work it out, but it becomes tougher for schools that don’t have the amazing resources.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one political point, Judy. That is, by a 2-1 margin, voters favor giving advantage, affirmative action for economically deprived, I mean, the child of the single mom who is working two jobs.

And by a 2-1 margin, they oppose affirmative action based upon race, ethnicity or national origin. So I think, at some point, popular support does become crucial in this argument. And I think, to me, that’s the case to be made for those who favor a pluralistic and giving disadvantaged children an opportunity at higher education is economic-based.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Guns. The governor of Georgia this week signed one of the most expansive gun rights laws in the country.

Among other places, you can now take a gun in Georgia into a bar, an airport, a church, a school under certain circumstances. David — a church, we say, when the congregation allows it.

At the same time, the NRA is meeting, kind of celebrating how well it’s done in getting a lot of gun rights laws loosened around the country. What does all this say about the success of the gun rights organizations and, frankly, the inability of the gun control folks to work their will even in the aftermath of Newtown?

DAVID BROOKS: First, one of the oddities of the NRA position is they want to have a more national system of conceal-carry, which is a total violation of any conservative principle of federalism. It’s an amazing act that…


DAVID BROOKS: It’s a reminder that whenever we talk about federalism and process, it’s all opportunistic. Nobody actually has principled beliefs about these things.

It’s not only the NRA. They have a base. It’s very useful to have a base of support that’s spread everywhere and that’s decentralized and passionate, because they come at politicians at every district. And my view is, if you look at the polling, a majority of Americans support tighter gun laws.

But, if you look at the passion, a majority of passionate people on the NRA side. And then they’re just dispersed. A lot of people who are most passionate about controlling guns are in a few metro areas. And it’s just a huge advantage to be dispersed around the country where you can hit pressure points at a lot of points. NRA takes full advantage of that.

MARK SHIELDS: CBS/New York Times poll, Judy, do you favor a federal background check on all gun owners, 85-12 in favor of it. Among gun owners, it’s 84-14 in favor of it, among Republicans, 84-13.

So, it does — it comes down to intensity and it comes down to political experience. Colorado passed, after two terrible tragedies at Aurora and Columbine, the theater and the high school, they passed a gun background check and a limit of 15 rounds to a magazine, 15 rounds to a magazine. That’s what passed. And they had two Democratic senators, including the state Senate president, who was a former police chief, recalled — first time in the history of Colorado they have been recalled from office.

Another senator facing recall resigned, so that the Democratic Party could fill her position. So, I mean, this sends a ripple effect. David’s point about intensity is the key. I mean, last week, we saw the pipeline decision. There is a majority — not anywhere approaching these numbers — in favor of building the pipeline, but those who are most opposed to the pipeline do so with greater intensity and with bigger checkbooks and with greater political activism and urgency.


One other point on how NRA has changed Washington. It used to be there were a lot of groups that would compromise. They would say, OK, that’s reasonable. We will accept that, but we won’t go this far. The NRA position is never — has been always no compromise. You want to take away our bazookas? No way. I’m exaggerated a little bit.

And that model has worked. And, as a result, a lot of other interest groups have now adopted that model. We won’t give you an inch on anything, even no matter how reasonable it may be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Following the NRA’s success — success.

DAVID BROOKS: Success under this model.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I don’t know how much guns may or may not be an issue in these races, but there was a poll this week in four Senate races in the South, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, that showed the Democrat who was perceived to be in trouble in these races not in as bad shape as people had thought.

David, is there something — are Democrats — is this a blip, I guess is the question, or might Democrats be in a stronger position when it comes to these Senate races this November?

DAVID BROOKS: I think two things are true. There are a number of Republicans I have had recently tell me, I wonder if we peaked too soon, that the intensity in health care, some of the other stuff, they were stronger a few months ago than it is. There’s been some movement on the health care law, and so maybe that.

I still think the fundamental structure of this midterm election is very positive toward Republicans, the president’s unapproval rating. And when people start focusing, I think it is going to be a tough year for Democrats. But you have got some good candidates in some of those states. I think Georgia is one of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right, and actually not in this poll. But there are…

DAVID BROOKS: OK, well, but there are some good Democratic candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michelle Nunn.

DAVID BROOKS: And — but I guess I’m — I would want to see a bunch more polls, even though it was the sainted New York Times poll, which I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which I left out. Thank you.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I dissent.

I think that it may very well have — start to run its course on this argument on health care. I mean, you can’t say it’s a total failure when you have got millions signing up in the numbers they have. The reality that the preexisting condition and kids staying on to the age of 26 and no caps, a family not going into bankruptcy because of an illness, that’s become a reality.

And the Republicans have nothing. They really — and so I think the argument, repair, fix, correct, rather than repeal, really is starting to get some traction. I’m not saying it’s a majority position, but it’s taken Democrats out of a defensive crouch, and I think in those states, and I would add that they are — I mean, Mark Pryor, his dad, David, was a successful governor, congressman, senator. He himself has run successfully in a state that has become increasingly Republican.

Mary Landrieu’s dad was a liberal, known, well-known national mayor of…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Louisiana, right.

MARK SHIELDS: … of Louisiana — of New Orleans. Her brother’s mayor now. She has won in tough times. Kay Hagan — these are pretty good candidates.

These are pretty good candidates. And I agree that the overall climate is still favorable to the Republicans in 2014. But I just think the Democrats have kind of gotten themselves up off the canvas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, one of the things you’re hearing is that these Democrats are running very tough ads against their Republican challengers, and it’s paying off, at least early in this cycle.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And I would pay particular attention to that North Carolina race, that second race.


DAVID BROOKS: If you want to know which way the Senate goes, sort of that North Carolina race would be the one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is Kay Hagan.

MARK SHIELDS: And they’re following, you will notice, the pattern created by Harry Reid in Nevada, where they advertised in the Republican primary against the leading candidate, hoping to draw the equivalent of Christine O’Donnell or Todd Akin in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we — nothing but good examples set here.


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

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Shields and Brooks on Keystone politics, Nevada land dispute

Fri, Apr 18, 2014

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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, gentlemen.

So, the State Department, the Obama administration announcing, I guess surprising everybody today, Mark, with this announcement that they’re delaying the decision on what to do about extending the Keystone oil pipeline. The reaction is all over the place. The Canadians are upset. We said, House Speaker John Boehner said it’s shameful. The environmental groups are happy.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and I think the last point is the key.

The people who care most passionately and intensely about the pipeline are those who are opposed to it, not unlike gun control, except an entirely different cast of people and voters. But the environmental groups are. And they are cheered. And they are an important constituency for the Democrats heading into what looks to be a stormy 2014 election.

And I don’t think the White House or the State Department, for that matter, wants to alienate that group at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you think it’s purely political, largely political?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m sure there are — I’m sure there are thoughtful, serious considerations here that I’m totally unaware of, but just looking at first blush, that would be my take.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you read this, the Keystone…

DAVID BROOKS: Pretty much the same.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s been about six years since they have been entertaining this. And everybody in the White House that I have spoken over that time, you can tell what they believe, which is I think is that they want to approve this thing eventually, but they don’t want to do it at a politically inopportune time.

And politically inopportune times keep coming. The only thing I would say is, if you look at it nationally, about 65 percent of Americans support the thing and about 22 percent oppose it. It’s those 22 percent who happen to be in the Democratic base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s — we could talk about this for a long time, but I do want to ask you about the story that we just heard Hari reporting a few minutes ago, Mark, and that is Nevada standoff between a cattle rancher and the federal government.

He has refused to pay his grazing fees over the last several decades. They’re saying he owes something like $1 million. There have been people armed, standing there saying that these — that these federal agents shouldn’t be there. Does this say something about what’s going on out West?

MARK SHIELDS: It does. This is where the Sagebrush revolution, rebellion started, Judy, a generation ago, more than a generation ago now.

But, I mean, you know, to — looking at the equities of the situation, this man, Mr. Bundy, is a freeloader. Other ranchers pay grazing fees, which are not onerous, so that their cattle can graze there. The responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management is to make sure that that land is available for the next generations for multi uses, not simply grazing, but for others as well and for the preservation.

So I don’t understand it. I mean, I give the folks at FOX News great credit. They have — this has been an orchestrated and produced operation there, but they have tapped into something that there are some peoples — people who are just totally outraged at anything the federal government does. They happen to own — the federal government, the United States owns 87 percent of Nevada, and has since — essentially for quite a while.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, is this something — I mean, does this man have a legitimate grievance against the federal government?

DAVID BROOKS: Not the way he’s doing it.

I mean, he’s self-discrediting, the way he’s doing it. You know, you go out West and you hear grievous against the BLM constantly. There’s — and I think there’s probably a lot of frustration with working with the BLM. But it comes in waves. And I would not say we’re at a high wave.

Certainly, in the Clinton years, you heard of real frustration. And that’s the Sagebrush — part of the Sagebrush revolution was at its peak, but now I think you hear low-level gripings. So I wouldn’t say this represents a mass movement of any sort. It does seem to me more like — more like pseudo-militia activity than a genuine rebellion among people who are otherwise politically un-ideological.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, no sense that this is going to spread to other parts of the West?

DAVID BROOKS: I certainly have not heard that in my visits out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about what’s — what was the lead of our program tonight, Mark, and that’s — and that’s Ukraine, this surprise deal reached yesterday in Geneva between the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union, trying to defuse what’s been going on there.

Today, the reporting is all about these protesters in the eastern part of the country saying, we’re not going anywhere.

Where is this headed?

MARK SHIELDS: I honestly don’t know, Judy. I will say that it appears that Mr. Putin’s plan and the Russians’ plan is to partition Ukraine. And this certainly — they call it federalization, but it is a partition of — an eventual partition of sorts.

Whether it’s to destabilize or delegitimize the elections of May 25, we don’t know. But Putin made a statement. He said, the Russian Federation Council — Russia’s Federation Council has provided the president with the right to deploy armed forces in Ukraine.

Anybody who talks about himself in the third person makes me nervous. He’s referring to himself.


MARK SHIELDS: He says, I really hope that I am not forced to use this right.

I think that, you know, the situation has grown more serious and worse in the past week. And the lack of sense of celebration on the part of the president or Secretary Kerry in announcing the agreement, their expectations seem to be minimal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, worse, despite this deal yesterday?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I agree with Mark on that one.

Obama’s reaction was really remarkable. They have this pseudo-breakthrough, and the president really — was really quite realistic about it, that it’s really — probably not going to amount to much.

And I do think that’s right. What happens in Geneva may be about the timing of how fast Putin acts. What happens in Donetsk and the other places where some of the more militia groups are taking over buildings and stuff, that’s a sideshow.

The main show is in Vladimir Putin’s brain. It’s sort of striking how it’s just one person who really matters here. And the brain, as it’s revealed it to us, even in speeches this week, is pretty aggressive, pretty assertive, growing increasingly more assertive.

And it seems to me, in our response, we really need a psychiatrist more than a foreign policy apparatus. We need to understand what is going to upset him, what is going to disrupt him. And I’m afraid the way that we have done the sanctions has not been well-tailored to sort of a psychological campaign against Vladimir Putin.

We have sort of ratcheted them up slowly, partially hindered by the Europeans. But that’s the sort of thing, beginning slowly as we have, that is going to arouse his contempt, not his respect and certainly not his fear. It might have been smarter if we could have done it with the Europeans to have all the sanctions we did unleash right away just to send a little sharp shock at him.

The next debate is going to be what to do with the Ukrainian army, whether we want to help, how we want to help them, non-lethal, lethal aid. But somehow getting inside his head, which is the main arena here, seems to me the crucial task.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, you — go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, just — just one point.

I guess where I disagree with David is on the sanctions. You have to bring the Russians along — the — I’m sorry — the Europeans along to — in spite of the fact that we might have to get stronger ones. We are dealing here — and I give the president credit that he has not done the macho swagger — swagger or the sort to make this a matter of his manhood or he’s got to earn his varsity letter.

I think that has been strong, and to his credit. We are dealing with the third largest defense budget in the world in the Russians. Only the United States and China have larger defense budgets. I mean, they have got 270,000 troops, 50,000 of which are at the border of Ukraine. Ukraine has an army of 77,000, Judy.

It’s not a first-class, first-rank. I mean, we’re dealing with — to the point, if it comes to military confrontation, of realities here. And I think what may be a cautionary note for the Russians is that they have seen us in Iraq, for example, where invasion is a lot easier than occupation.

And I think, you know, perhaps that will hold things back. But I agree with David that the sanctions have to be accelerated and intensified. And that’s going to require the cooperation and some suffering on the part of the Europeans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s interesting you point that out about Russian defenses, because there’s been a lot of focus on how relatively weak the Russian economy is compared to other countries.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re pointing out — David, his point is that it’s the military establishment in Russia we should be worried about.


And we’re not going to send any troops. American troops are not going to Ukraine. But really we’re trying to deal with a dictator’s head or an autocrat’s head. How do you get him to think twice?

And I think the way you do it is sort of not through kind gestures, where he says, well, they’re being — they’re not being too provocative, I can relax, they’re not scaring me. I don’t think that’s the way he thinks. I do think he thinks in much more brutal terms.

Now, the debate going on within the White House — or at least was a couple of weeks ago — is do — if we send — if we’re aggressive in sending aid to the Ukrainian army, does that send a shock to Putin, or does it give him a pretext to invade?

And I think the administration decided — maybe correctly — that it’s more likely to give him a pretext to be more aggressive. Nonetheless, I do think he’s not a guy who’s going to respond to our own self-restraint. He’s going to respond to a unified sort of assertiveness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All kinds of things I want to ask the two of you about in a few minutes left.

I want to ask you about — Mark, about the Pulitzer Prize this week. Among others, it went to The Guardian newspaper, to The Washington Post for the reporting they did on the national security leaks from Edward Snowden.

I guess my question is, what was your reaction? Did you see honoring the newspaper the same as honoring the man who delivered the leaks…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … who’s been seen as both a traitor and hero?


I mean, the Pulitzer award goes to the dominant, most important news story and coverage and reporting. And I think it’s hard to argue that this wasn’t the most important news story. And the reporting that was done on it was quite professional. The fact that along with it comes Edward Snowden is — is in no way, in my judgment, recognition of him as a heroic figure.

He was central to it. He was indispensable to it. But we saw the part he played yesterday in Mr. Putin’s press conference in Russia, where…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s why I…

MARK SHIELDS: And he certainly — he certainly didn’t rise to heroic status, I wouldn’t say, in that capacity.


DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, I find him repellent. If somebody talked about internal conversations at the NewsHour, or at The New York Times and then broadcast them, I would find that person repellent, and doubly so when it’s national security secrets, after he’s sworn an oath to do so. So I’m no fan of him.

As for the press coverage and whether it deserves recognition, I guess I have sort of complicated views. I’m a little made nervous by the fact that they really did benefit by what I think of as a repellent, unpatriotic act.

On the other hand — and let’s be honest about what we do in the media — a lot of our leaks and a lot of our best stories come from people who are betraying a confidence, come from somebody who’s violating an oath, violating some secrecy, violating an understanding of what goes on.

And so we live in a business that — where we try to expose the truth, but, sometimes, as Janet Malcolm said years ago, we do it by relying on betrayal. We do it by some violated confidence. We do it sometimes by being not totally honest with the people we’re dealing with, by not being dishonest, but not — but by sort of seducing information out of people.

And so this is a morally complicated business we’re in, like most businesses. And I don’t have a total problem with what The Washington Post did, but I don’t have total comfort with it either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were saying yes.


No, I understand. I think David’s — David’s point is well made and well taken. And I don’t know how you make — he is central to the story.



And what he’s done, he has not made himself accountable for it. He did break the law, break the oath that he took, and has not accepted the consequences and refuses to do so. But I think it’s impossible to deny that it started — and the president acknowledged this — a much-needed, long-overdue conversation.

I think we’re finally going to see as a consequence of these stories some element and some urgency in judicial review and congressional review of what’s been going on. And we found out that the NSA apparently was collecting a lot of information, simply because it could collect a lot of information.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s true that sometimes good people produce bad outcomes, and sometimes bad outcomes — bad people produce good outcomes. We’re sort of in that world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that leaves me only to say that, in your case, two good people do two good outcomes every Friday.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both. Thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on Keystone politics, Nevada land dispute appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • Published: 2002
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