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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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Brooks and Dionne on ground troop debate, Hillary’s chances of running

Fri, Sep 19, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, Congress gave its support to arming moderate Syrian rebels, but there seemed to be a divide between the military and the White House over the need for ground troops to take on the Islamic State group.

We analyze that and more with Brooks and Dionne. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Mark Shields is away.

Welcome to you both.

E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: Good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the Islamic State group, the president got the support, David, that he wanted from the House and the Senate to arm Syrian rebels.

The polls, though, are showing the public is saying they don’t think this strategy is going to work, even though they agree with the specifics. And then, as we just said, the generals are saying, hey, we are going to need ground troops, despite what the president said.

How does all this limit him?  How much does it complicate what the U.S. is trying to do?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, the first thing is, I was impressed by how big the majorities were. It seems like, when you look at politics, that parties, especially the Republican Party, has shifted radically on domestic policy, the Tea Party direction, which tends to be less interventionist abroad.

But the Republican Party especially was solidly behind the president for the most part. The Democratic Party was too. And so there were people on either end that were against it, but there’s still sort of a — at least in this foreign policy, on this issue, preventing a caliphate from existing in Iraq and Syria, pretty solid majorities.

What’s happening now, we’re in — we’re entering the mission creep phase. It’s pretty clear that the idea of just using air warfare is not going to get ISIS out of the cities. And the generals are beginning to think that through, and you will probably need some special forces on the ground, not a big invasion or anything like that.

It’s also clear we have a pretty unilateral effort. It’s much multilateral than George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq a decade ago or whatever. And so what we have is a big gap between what we have so far committed and what we will be required to get to accomplish the mission. And the coming debate is over how much we increase that commitment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, E.J., the strategy is only a couple weeks’ old and already it’s — is it falling apart?

E.J. DIONNE: Well, it hasn’t been tested yet.

I mean, I think that the vote was striking. If you like bipartisanship, you will love this vote, because not only was support bipartisan, but the opposition was bipartisan. When you have Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren on the same side, on the no side, you’re talking about…

JUDY WOODRUFF: For different reasons.

E.J. DIONNE: For — well, different, but — that’s true.

Ron Paul — Rand Paul, rather, was — is sort of uneasy about the intervention. And I think that you had an interesting moment with the generals, where they were arguing, we need more troops. And the president really went out of his way to assert kind of civilian control, and to say, you know, they can say what they want, but I am committed not to putting American ground troops in, combat troops in.

And so I think the test here — I don’t think the limits on the president are I political. I don’t think the limits on the president are even from his own military. The limits are, will this strategy work?  And I think Americans basically don’t want to commit ground troops, and yet these polls suggest they worry that anything we touch in Iraq will not work the way we intended. And there’s some reason for them to feel that way.


But there are sort of two strategies here from the president. The first is, we will degrade ISIS. The second is that we will not commit ground troops. Well, those two things may not be true. And so which one is he going to choose?  Is he really going to leave office with the Islamic State as powerful as it is now, holding as much ground as it is now?

I suspect he’s going to begin to give ground. It’s not a big invasion if it’s special operations forces. I suspect he’s going to involve — Dwight Eisenhower used to say, planning is everything, but plans are nothing, which means you go in with a strategy, but you have got to adjust.

And I suspect there is going to be a lot of adjustment in ways that we can’t foresee right now.

E.J. DIONNE: But I think a lot depends on, how quickly do we expect to get this done?  And all of the testimony, including from the military, is that this is a very long-term operation.

And the hope is that not only can you get the Iraqi military back into a position where they can fight again, but they’re going to try to build, to create these Sunni national guard units. Now, that will take time. And it’s a lot to hang on new national guard units.

But I think there’s not a lot of pressure to get this done tomorrow morning, which is why I think he can hold his ground for a while on the ground — on the combat troops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it wise to rule out ground troops, though, before this even begins, though?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think so. I think you have a strategy and then you have the means to get there. Whether you have ground troops or not is the means.

The strategy is to degrade ISIS, so you should leave all your means on the table. That doesn’t mean you want to do it, and that doesn’t mean the American people support it or I particularly would want to do it. But sending special operations forces to locate terrorists and things like that, that may be necessary. It seems to me, if you are committed, as the president said he was, to mission, then you should have maximum flexibility about how to get there.

E.J. DIONNE: It’s a statement to our allies, and particularly in the Middle East, saying, we can’t do all this ourselves. We have no intention of doing what we did the last time, so you have got to step up, too. So I think there could be something strategic about it as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Change of subject to somebody who saw herself having some hiccups and problems a few years ago when she tried to run for president over her Iraq position.

But, David, Hillary Clinton, she was in Iowa this weekend. She was telling a big crowd at the Harkin — Tom Harkin final steak fry that, yes, she’s thinking about running for president again.

Do we learn something from this?  Do we learn that it’s — she’s farther down the road?  Do we learn anything about whether people want her to run?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, people do want her to run. She’s the odds-on favorite.

What we haven’t learned is what the message is. And that’s the big thing I’m really curious about. What she’s been saying so far is a message of economic security. It’s basically a standard Democratic message. It’s not particularly new, but it may be effective.

But if I’m looking at Hillary Clinton, I do think there’s going to be opposition on the left in the university towns, in the more progressive side. There’s clearly a desire for something on the left. And there’s the problem of age and the fact that she seems to be from the 1990s.

And so, to me, the impulse is to be conservative and coast to the nomination, but the imperative is to be new and say, I’m not the — we’re not just going back to the Clinton years. I have got a new theme. I have got a new agenda. I have got a new argument.

And so far — it’s not fair to expect her to have done it so far, but I do think the desire to take risks is how — one of the ways to look at the Clinton campaign. Is it really a risk-taking, new thing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

E.J. DIONNE: Well, first, the fact that she’s back in Iowa is a pretty sure indication that she’s running, because, after running third in those caucuses, she had never wanted to go back there. She noted that it’s been — she hasn’t been there since 2008.

And I think she is trying to find for this — for 2016 very similar ground to what Bill Clinton found in 1992. But it doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same ground. Clinton, the — Bill Clinton was very good at, on the one hand, being the new Democrat, having new ideas, but he still in many ways was an old-fashioned Democrat who talked about inequality, taxing the rich more, and he managed to put that together.

Doing that in 2016 probably requires Hillary Clinton to be a little tougher on the left side. She has got to be tougher on inequality, which she was, and she spoke very strongly about that. She’s talking a lot about women, and particularly working-class women, and what they’re going through.

E.J. DIONNE: And I think that is — she is trying to create the same thing, but all these years later, it has got to be a slightly different thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is it — is she saying enough at this point, David?  Is this sort of teasing with a comment every few weeks or so, is that where she ought to be at this point in September 2014?


Wait until the midterm, and then you can get serious. I think it would be premature, immature, overmature.


E.J. DIONNE: Immature, she won’t get accused of.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Right. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we were following her. We had a camera crew, and so we followed her in Iowa this weekend.

But, E.J., we were there also to cover the Senate race, a very close race between Congressman Braley, the Democrat, Joni Ernst, the Republican state senator. A lot — a few things have happened on the Senate landscape this week. There’s that. There’s — that race has gotten a little bit tighter just in the last few days.

In Kansas, the race that we thought Congressman — or Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican incumbent, had it in a walk. The ballot is changed. The Democrat’s out — he’s running against the incumbent. A judge ruled something today. But how do you see the Senate landscape?  What does it feel like right now?

E.J. DIONNE: Well, this may prove I’m a self-hating pundit, but I love the fact the pundits can’t figure this out.


E.J. DIONNE: You have all of these very complicated mathematical models that say 51-49 the Republicans will take over. That’s a very sophisticated way of saying, who knows?

And I think that what you have got in this election overall are Republicans hoping and believing that President — President Obama’s unpopularity is enough to carry them through. And the president is down. But the Republicans aren’t really offering very much, and a lot of these Democrats are saying, wait a minute, what would you cut?  What kinds of — do you have anything for working people who are — who have really been hammered by this economy?

And so I think you have got an electorate that hasn’t figured out what this campaign is about, because I don’t think the politicians have figured what it’s about. I think Kansas is a state that I think is going to be perhaps the most interesting state in the country, because you not only have an independent running against a Republican, and so you have a chance of a Republican losing for the first time in the New Deal, but — since the New Deal — but you also have this amazing governor’s race, where Governor Sam Brownback, who has done all this tax-cutting — the budget is a mess, and people are worried about cuts in education.

The Democrats could win that. Joe Scarborough made — former congressman, made a great point, that, in 1978, Prop 13 made the tax-cutting — made tax-cutting the central Republican issue. This might be the first election where a Republican governor loses an election because he cut taxes too much. It’s an amazing thing going on in Kansas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see things still unsettled in mid-September?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we know where they are now. We don’t know where they will be in six weeks.

But I do think this pundit has it — does have it figured out.


DAVID BROOKS: That we see a national tide. There’s clearly a national tide.

You look at the New York Times/CBS poll that came out this week, huge to the Republicans. They’re just doing very, very well in the generic ballot. Obama is down, huge national tide. And so if it becomes a national election, which the Republicans are trying to make it, they’re going to do really well.

Militating against that, you see in individual states some shifts in the Democratic direction. North Carolina, in particular, you’re seeing a shift there on the Democratic part, the situation in Kansas, a few other places. To me, the bottom line right now is — and the Democrats are trying to make it local races, a bunch of local races.

I think the history is that when you have one party trying to do national, one party trying to do local, usually, the one that is trying to do national tends to do a little bit better. And so I do still think the Republicans are likely to take it over, but, you know, that could all shift, obviously.

E.J. DIONNE: I think this is premature punditry at this point.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m only saying where it is today.


JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s nothing wrong with that.

But you think things are still…

E.J. DIONNE: I think things are still unsettled.

And, in fact, one of the striking things in the punditry is that people were saying this is heading the Republicans’ way. And you have seen pulling back. Iowa is a case where the race has probably moved a little Democratic. There are a bunch of states where that has happened.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, Georgia, too.


DAVID BROOKS: And the only point I would make is that there are just so many states the Republicans can pick up. There are so — the Democrats are defending on so many fronts, that the Republicans don’t have to win them all.

E.J. DIONNE: They start with three, and so they need three more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you are terrific. And we’re glad you’re here.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, thank you.

E.J. DIONNE: Take care.

The post Brooks and Dionne on ground troop debate, Hillary’s chances of running appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on Obama as reluctant warrior, sacrificing immigration reform before midterms

Fri, Sep 12, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: A major presidential address to the nation and calls for congressional backing to take on the Islamic State. It was another full week of news.

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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, we led the program tonight with Bill Clinton. He is supporting, he said, President Obama’s plan to degrade and destroy ISIS.

Mark, he said it won’t be easy or quick, but he thinks it will be successful. But I guess my question to you is, two days after the president rolled it out, you said it needs a healthy debate. Is it getting that kind of debate right now?

MARK SHIELDS: No, it isn’t.

If John Kennedy were writing a postscript of profiles in courage, he wouldn’t get any material on Capitol Hill, with few inconspicuous consumptions — exceptions. Tim Kaine , Democratic senator from Virginia, and several others arguing that the Congress should accept this responsibility.

The irony is, the Republican House members are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to sue the president for excessive abuse of power, and here’s the one power that is defined, delineated by the Constitution that resides with the Congress to declare war. And they have abdicated that responsibility, or appear to be, want to get through the election.

Leaders now see their responsibility as to avoid difficult votes for their members, whether it’s the leadership, makes no — Mitch McConnell being the exception. He’s calling on the Republicans in the Senate for a vote. But Harry Reid doesn’t want one, and I don’t think see that John Boehner does either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you come down on that?


No, I think in the House and the Senate, we’re probably not going to get a big debate. We will have a debate about the appropriations, about some of the backdoor funding mechanisms. It strikes me what’s interesting is it seems to me the Democrats are a little more divided on this. It’s a more troublesome issue for the Democrats than it is for the Republicans.

The Republicans are more united. Rand Paul has come out more or less in favor of this. So the — what had been a more isolationist fringe, or however you want to say it, has — that part of the Republican Party has merged and looks more like a conventional Republican Party, the national security party.

The Democrats are the divided ones. And Steny Hoyer, the Democratic leading congressional official, wants to push it beyond the election. But we are having a big national debate about it. People are talking about it on the streets. And what struck me is how hard it is to talk about it, because I think most people think you have no choice but to somehow — you can’t allow a genocidal caliphate in the Middle East.

But how you do it is what has everybody scratching their heads. What kind of coalition are we going to have?  What happens if the Iraqi army is not successful on the ground?  What happens if the Free Syrian Army, the moderate Syrian opposition, is not super successful?

So, very quickly, I have just noticed the tenor of the debate has shifted from ends for the most part to means. And people are sort of up in the air, because it’s not quite clear exactly how that is going to work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, the president has asked Congress to support the training of Syrian rebels, assuming they identify these moderate Syrian rebels.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

They have got to be — somebody has got to find out who the moderates are.

DAVID BROOKS: They have got to be for Sam Nunn.  They have got to be…

MARK SHIELDS: Is there a test here, I mean, the Lincoln Chafee series?

Yes. No, Judy, the Western — United States — the United States military, western military, has shown its ability, its capacity to come in and dominate the battlefield. But the idea of establishing order, security and peaceful government in its wake after that has eluded us.

And there’s no way in the world — the question of coalition, who are these people?  Where are they?  Who are the troops who are going to be there to guarantee stability, order and some sense of justice in the areas?

You can’t do that with airstrikes. I mean, airstrikes are wonderful. They’re antiseptic. They’re at a distance. The possibility of your own casualties is finite. But they don’t occupy. You can’t occupy a nation or bring order and stability by airstrikes. So who are people on the ground?  Who is the coalition?  Where are the troops coming from?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying he’s the reluctant warrior, so can the reluctant warrior lead in a situation where we don’t know what the endgame…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so.

I strikes me a Syrian moderate is anybody against beheading in Syria. That makes you a moderate. But I do think he is a reluctant warrior. He doesn’t want to be there. But that has some advantages. It has the advantage he’s not going to be carried away by his own righteousness.

He’s not going to want to dominate the ground. He — it is going to make him skeptical of everything that generals bring him because he’s not gung-ho. And it’s going to mean he is going to be realistic about our goals.

And turning Syria into a great country is not one of our goals. It’s — and turning Iraq into a viable country is sort of one of our goals. He’s more interested in keeping Iraq stable than whatever happens in Syria. The main goal is degrading these guys, truly one of the most evil manifestation of human life on earth.

And so simply — our goal is destructive. Our goal is not positive. It’s not make the Middle East a better place. Our goal is make sure the Middle East doesn’t get any worse. And so I do think, with that limited goal, with some buy-in from the Sunni tribes who have done it before, they have defeated this kind of army before. It should be possible to degrade this group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Turn to something very different, politics. We talked to Bill Clinton about it. He’s going to Iowa this weekend, Mark, with former Secretary Hillary Clinton, who a lot of people think is going to run for president in 2016.

She has not been back there since she ran for president in 2008. Is this something you’re going to be watching?  Is it a big deal?  What does it say?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a major deal, her first time back, obviously, in Iowa.

Two things, Judy. Part of it, following the earlier discussion, Iowa Democrats are among the most dovish Democrats in the country. The Iowa caucuses were created in 1968. The architect of them was a fellow named Alan Barren (ph), a very political — political genius, an anti-war Democrat, so that anti-war Democrats could express their opposition to Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy.

So Hillary Clinton, who is now sort of priding herself on Barack Obama coming over to her position and arming the Syrians and her toughness, that will be an interesting fit. More interesting to me is how she handles Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton — think about this. We have had one balanced budget in 45 years, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, several balanced budgets, leaving a surplus. We had the lowest unemployment in the history of the United States among African-Americans and Latinos. We had the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years under Bill Clinton.

There were 22 million jobs created in Bill Clinton’s eight years, which is more than were created in the 20 years of Ronald Reagan’s eight and the Bushes’ 12. It’s an amazing record. So there’s a temptation on her part to run a nostalgia back-to-the-future campaign, I think, because things were better.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying that’s a good idea, or…

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think you can. I think you can run — American presidential campaigns are about the future.

And I don’t think you can run a nostalgic campaign. But she wants to remind people of just how good things were when Bill Clinton was there, even though he was there — it will be 16 years later.


I’m struck by the same things Mark is, first that she has emerged, and even more so since she left the secretary of state job, as possibly the most hawkish Democrat, certainly hawkish presidential possibility. And she’s going to be starting in a state that is notoriously unwelcome for that.

And so how does she play that?  How forward-leaning is she in talking about that?  And, of course, it’s worth remembering she lost there. And if you remember the tears she shed, the way her voice quivered, it happened after Iowa. She was in New Hampshire at the time, but it’s a moment of — it was a scene of maximum vulnerability for her. And one expects of the Clinton mind it will be a scene of maximum effort this time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that raises — broaden it out. I asked President Clinton about the Senate races. And he finally — at first, he said he didn’t know, and then he said, no, I think the Democrats — Mark, he said, I think the Democrats have a slightly better than 50/50 chance of holding onto the Senate.

MARK SHIELDS: He went on to specifically analyze the Mike Ross against Asa Hutchinson…

JUDY WOODRUFF: He went from one race after another.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, the problem, Judy, the Democrats are not in an encouraging environment right now.

Of the seven key races, six of them, the Democrats, for control of the Senate, are being run in red states that Mitt Romney carried by more than 14 points. You have got a president who’s at the lowest job rating in his presidency right now at 40 percent.

And you have people feeling the country is headed the wrong direction by a 2-1 margin, worse than it was in 1994, when the Democrats got swept, or 2006, when George Bush was routed. So it’s that.


And add to that the interest, enthusiasm factor is higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats. You know, it’s not an encouraging picture. So the Democrats, the Mark Pryors, the Mark Udalls, the Mark Begiches are all trying to make a one-on-one race against the candidate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marks. It’s a good name.

MARK SHIELDS: They don’t want to mention Barack Obama.

And the Republicans all want to say, my candidate — my opposition, my opponent went to Washington and voted 95 percent of the time with Barack Obama and forgot the people here in Centerville.

DAVID BROOKS: I had forgotten about all the Marks. It’s a “Marksist” party.




DAVID BROOKS: But it’s funny how the barometric pressure, at least here among those of us who watch the polls, is a couple of months ago, it was all — it looks like a great Republican year.

Then the tide shifted. It seems the polls were shifting on the Democratic side, Democrats doing pretty well in Georgia and North Carolina hanging in there. I would say in the last two weeks, if you look at the polls, especially as they have gone to a tighter screen where they only look at the likely voters, it has shifted a little more toward the Republican side again.

The Democrats are still doing well in Georgia and some other places, but the momentum feels, at least at the moment, among those who pay super close attention to this, it feels back again a little more on the Republican side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Clinton is sure saying — President Clinton is saying he’s going to be out there campaigning through the fall. He’s getting more invitations than President Obama is to campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: He is. He is. He is the most popular political figure in the country. It’s just remarkable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One last thing I want to ask you both about, the announcement by the White House. They did confirm that the president is not going to announce any sort of executive action on immigration until after this election.

Is this good for the president, good for the Democrats, David, or not?

DAVID BROOKS: In the short term, yes.

So it’s a short-term/long-term thing. In the short term, it means a lot of Democrats running in red states will have a little easier time. They won’t have to confront that issue. Over the long term, I understood the Democratic strategists who said, well, let’s sacrifice the short term. Let’s really lock in some loyalty among Latino groups. And that will just benefit us so much more in the long term.

So, they have taken a hit among Latino groups among poll standing. president Obama’s poll standing among Hispanics is down. There’s certainly a lot of anger from the groups who thought they were promised this. And so they have made that long-term sacrifice for a short-term play.

MARK SHIELDS: I think some Democrats view this long term.

1994, Judy, when the Democrats were routed and the Republicans won the Congress for the first time in 40 years, they won the House, after that, the postscript, the narrative was the Democrats had lost because of their vote for gun control. And gun control became toxic at that point. I think Democrats are concerned that, in 2014, if they did lose and immigration was front and center, that it would kill prospects for immigration in the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to — we will watching, because you’re right. The pro-immigrant groups are really angry right now at the president.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we’re not angry at either one of you. Come back next week.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.


The post Shields and Brooks on Obama as reluctant warrior, sacrificing immigration reform before midterms appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Shields and Brooks on Islamic State as ‘cancer,’ Crist’s campaign

Fri, Aug 29, 2014


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

So the phrase from yesterday’s press conference that everybody left on was that we have no strategy. But since we’re the “NewsHour,” we will go a little deeper than that.

So, is there a time right now in this country in the appetite for a national conversation, a congressional debate about whether or not to use force and what sort of force?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if there’s an appetite. There’s a need. There’s an urgency.

And I want to start off by giving the props or the shout-out to three members of the House, which is usually an institution that gets much scorn and abuse from those of us in the press.

Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat of California, Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican of North Carolina and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the three of them wrote a letter to John Boehner, urging the speaker, upon return to the House on September 8, that they take up the question of Iraq and Syria, and the authorization of added force, or whatever it is, and to define the mission, to debate and to determine just exactly what the United States’ policy is and to vote on it.

This makes them unpopular with their colleagues. As Bob Dole said once, members of Congress love — we members of Congress love to make tough speeches. We don’t like to cast tough votes.

And this will be a tough vote, especially on the eve of election. Most people don’t want to do it. It is necessary. We didn’t do it 12 years ago. We had a hurried, rushed election, a debate when Democrats were terrified of being accused of being soft on terrorism, and they were cowed. And we had misinformation and misdirection, and tragedy result.

And I just think that it’s absolutely imperative and — and urgent.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I agree.

I’m a big fan of presidential action. I think, legally, the president has the right to take action in this case. Nonetheless, for the effectiveness of the action, for the good of the country, I do think we need a big national debate about it.

And I think you could probably get a bipartisan support for something. To me, the crucial issue is how we frame this. Do we see these as a distinct war in Syria, something distinct in Lebanon, something distinct in Syria, something distinct in Iran?

And, to me, it’s — what we need in this debate is an appreciation — a step-back and appreciation of the problem. And this is not what the administration has given us so far. Hisham Melhem earlier in the program had a very good analogy of the Spanish Civil War, that you had a global — people coming in on two different sides.

And that’s scary because the Spanish Civil War really was the precursor to World War II. Other people, Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, have called it a Thirty Years’ War, this big religious feud. The Thirty Years’ War was a horrifically destructive war in Europe in the 17th century.

And so to figure out what it is we’re dealing with, why al-Qaida, and ISIS, what’s the — what’s the relationship between the two, what’s the relationship to other jihadi organizations, and how do we get involved in what will be a long-running, probably medium-level conflict for a long time to come?  We haven’t really had that post-Iraq debate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, let’s shift gears now to the Ukraine.

Each day, President Vladimir Putin is able to increase the rhetoric. Whether these are video game or actual satellite images of 1,000 Russian troops crossing the border into Ukraine, whether it’s called an invasion or an incursion, how does the West, how does Ukraine deal with this, but how — what is the American role, if there is one?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, American role is an obligation.

I mean, in 1994, for — for Ukraine to surrender its considerable nuclear arsenal at that time, there was a guarantee given by the United States and Western democracies and European nations of support and defense and security.

And I don’t think there is any question that that obligation is on the table right now. I mean, the plausible deniability that Putin could sort of hide behind has just been totally exposed, totally sabotaged, totally revealed for the fraud that it is. This, quite frankly, is an attempt on his part, whether it’s an alley or an avenue, down to Crimea and his concern about the water port and openness there.

But I think the obligation is there. And I think the world is watching. And NATO next week will bring it to a front.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this NATO’s responsibility more than ours?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s everybody’s.

This is — both the Middle East and what is happening in Ukraine are symptoms of the vacuum, a vacuum in the post — or in the 21st century order, and it’s partly an American — a vacuum of American power. It’s certainly a vacuum of European cohesion, power. It’s certainly an inability of the major countries of the world, including China, to get together and actually impose an order that will be good for everybody.

And so, when you have no order, then the wolves get more aggressive. And Putin has gotten more aggressive. And I think the administration, I think a whole lot of people in the administration have been very aggressive verbally, rhetorically. They understand the source of the problem.

I think the president has not been aggressive enough. This is an invasion. When you take over a part of the country to get — so you can have a land route to Crimea, that’s an invasion. It’s not a continuation of what they have been doing. It’s not low-level harassment. It’s a major invasion on European soil.

And so you just can’t allow that to happen. And, so, to me, the first step has to be, if the Russians are pouring sophisticated material into the — their proxies, then the West has to pour some more sophisticated material into our proxies, essentially. And that’s been an issue that has been debated over and over again. But I think raising costs for Putin, showing some commitment to the Ukraine, both financial and militarily, has to be at least the first step.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, we have had definition of invasion. Let’s — let me just pivot back towards Syria for a second.

If the U.S. makes attacks inside Syria, a sovereign nation, is that not a declaration of war?

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I think it meets certainly one definition of a declaration of war.

That’s why I think the debate — I mean, the debate that we didn’t have 12 years ago was — for example, if we’re going to do this — David is talking about 30 years or 20 years or whatever it is, a long twilight struggle, call it what you will — I mean, this is going to — it’s a country fights a war. An army doesn’t fight a war.

And if this country isn’t willing to fight a war, then we should never send an army. That is really — it’s not just something that we’re rooting or supporting the troops and standing up at a ball game.

This — we would be the first Americans since the Civil War not to accept the responsibility of paying for a war. In every war since the Civil War, Americans have increased their taxes. we need a debate on sacrifice being — the quality of sacrifice in war, as well as what the objective is. How do we know what our mission is?  How will we know when we have achieved it?

I just — I think it’s a — this debate is so urgent and so necessary to understand and to agree upon what we’re undertaking.

DAVID BROOKS: I do agree with that.

And the president has to — is playing a role. I thought the important statement he made was not the one that got all the attention, that, “I have no strategy.”  He keeps calling ISIS a cancer. And I think that’s the right metaphor. That suggests it’s going to spread, and it will spread unless you stop it, which if you diagnose this as a cancer, which I think is the right diagnosis, then you have got to do something about it.

And the paradox of the Obama presidency will be, it will be a much more militarized presidency in its final two years than any of us could have imagined. But the alternative is a Middle East that is much worse when he leaves office than when he took off — over, a Europe that is in much worse shape than when he leaves office than took over, a global world order that is in much worse shape.

And so figuring that out — and it’s not going to look like the wars of World War II. It’s not going to look like Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s going to be sort of a low-level war fought on all sorts of fronts, militarily, financial, otherwise. Figuring that out is still in the future for us all.

And so that’s why I do think we ought to link all these things and think as broadly as possible and have this debate Mark…

MARK SHIELDS: To his credit, the president doesn’t have about him that sort of counterfeit, synthetic macho that Americans leaders oftentimes affect at a time of national emergency.

He doesn’t have a swagger about him. And I think that is to his credit. At the same time, a president’s job, especially at a complex time like this, a confusing, confounding fast-changing world, is to be the explainer in chief. And he was anything but that yesterday. And that’s a responsibility that he has to fulfill.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s because he’s being dragged in against his will. He doesn’t want to be here. I don’t blame him. Nobody wants to be here.

But even within his own administration, within his own party, there are lot of foreign policy experts who take a more aggressive stand. His posture on foreign affairs has always been to dig in his heels and get dragged often against his will. And he’s going to dragged against his will to be much more assertive around the world in the final two years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, let’s talk about a domestic policy issue that he might not want to be there for. This is immigration.

Now, should — does the president have the authority and should he go it alone right now, given where his support is, given the midterms coming up?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, let’s do — let’s take the high road and go directly to the midterms.


MARK SHIELDS: The Senate is in balance. And for the president to act unilaterally at this point through executive action on immigration would be, in I think the judgment of most Democrats, a disservice to service in tough races, people like Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and states that do not have either a large Hispanic population or where this issue is not front burner.

It would — Mark Udall, where the Latino vote has been crucial to the president in carrying it twice and to Mark Udall’s own election in ’08, and Michael Bennet’s as well, is the exception. But I think that the more the Democrats raise this issue and this possibility, it brings out the worst in the Republicans. This is a race that is really about defining and putting a face on your opposition.

And to the degree that Senator Ted Cruz on this issue or Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, become the voice and the face of the Republican Party, it probably helps — it undoubtedly helps the Democrats, because it’s — they are not seen as rational leaders, people who have voted to close down the government. And I think the Democrats can play — Barack Obama does not scare people, but the prospect of closing down the government does scare people.


This is a debate within the White House apparently, that some people think it will hurt Democrats in red states if the president sort of takes away the threat of deportation. Some people think, no, it may — the Republicans will overreact, and it will help us nationally.

I happen to think the people who think the red state issue, that think this will be bad in the midterms probably have the more persuasive case. But you could easily make the case it will really hurt us in the short-term, if we’re a Democrat, but it will help us in the long-term, because it will further solidify Latino votes for us if the Democrats — if the Republicans go really bananas over this deportation issue.

But it interesting. It’s all being fought out on politics grounds. On matters of substance, I agree with the policy. I do not think the White House has the right, the constitutional right to impose a major legislative change on its own. I do not think this is a legitimate act for the White House to do, as much as I think, on policy grounds, it’s a good act.

MARK SHIELDS: There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, some of whom stayed — overstayed a visa, some of whom were brought here as children, had nothing to do about it. But we are not going to — so it is somewhat of a manufactured issue.

We’re not going to export, deport, round up 11 million people. So, I mean, this is really — it is a political issue. And it’s being…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, you can’t really — you can’t — it’s effectively changing the law if you say, OK, this is officially not going to happen. And that’s — Congress has to be involved.

I just hate the idea of president doing this all by himself, any president.


And, finally, in Florida, interesting governor’s race. As the Morning Line e-mail noted this — today, that it would be — if Charlie Crist was able to win, it would be the first time in Florida that a governor has been able to switch parties and succeed twice. Could he be successful here?

MARK SHIELDS: He could be.

The irony of this — I mean, Charlie Crist was elected as a Republican, as you know, and ran as an independent for the Senate, and was trounced by Marco Rubio, and now is running, won the Democratic primary, very convincing.

This is a state where, ironically, President Obama, who is not sought by most Democratic candidates to come in on their behalf, except to raise money this year, could be of help. I mean, when he carried the state, the turn — the composition of the electorate was 67 percent white, the turnout among Latinos, African-Americans and Asians.

And it was three-quarters white when Rick Scott was elected in 2010. So, the president, if he can generate enthusiasm on those constituencies, could be a help to Charlie Crist.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I’m just…

HARI SREENIVASAN: In five seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m just a little more skeptical. It’s hard to — it’s too left for the Democrats — too left for the Republicans, too right for the Democrats.


DAVID BROOKS: Stuck in the middle.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thanks so much.

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Marcus and Gerson on lessons from Ferguson, Islamic State threat

Fri, Aug 22, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Marcus and Gerson. That’s Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson. Both Mark Shields and David Brooks are away.

And we welcome you both.

MICHAEL GERSON: Good to be here.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So this has been a tough week for news, both in this country and overseas.

But let’s start, Michael, with Ferguson, Missouri, the aftermath of the shooting of this young teenage — teenage black young man. It’s only — we’re not even two weeks since it happened. Are there already lessons that come to us from this?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, we’re two weeks out, but we still actually don’t know some of the basic facts. And we need to take that seriously.

It’s hard to interpret events when you don’t know all the facts. And so put that aside. But there are some context issues that surround this that we do need to take seriously. One of them is really, this was a police force that was in over its head, five different agencies trying to cooperate, not cooperating very well.

We have got serious questions about the militarization of policing. That a serious set of issues. I think it also makes the point that that trust between a community and a police department, which is so essential, can’t be summoned in an emergency if it hasn’t been built up over years.

And that contrast between the composition of the community and the composition of the police force added to the tensions when the strains came. And that’s something you have to deal with over a long time. I have got one more thing. It also points out that there are some communities that really have been isolated from American prosperity, some communities like African-American males that feel disconnected from the promise of the country.

Right now, we deal with a lot of that through criminal justice, but we need other ways to deal with that and do outreach to communities in America, rather than just through police action.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in a way, they’re right before our eyes, but we don’t see them.


And I would just take two additional — I agree with everything Michael said. I take two additional lessons here. And they’re really lessons in what not to do in situations like that.

Number one, you have got to — you make an important point. We still don’t have really basic facts about what happened. This — one of the reasons for the ferocious, angry response of the community was the lack of information, the failure to get out really basic information, what happened, how many shots were fired, why was his body allowed to stay there for so long, get out some information quickly to tamp down some of the anger, even if the anger is justified.

And number two, which is related, it’s a lot harder to contain a wildfire once it erupts. If you have people speaking to the community in a way that can calm them down early on, it’s a lot easier to contain that anger than when it starts to mushroom and spread.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Should people in the community, should people nationally, Michael, expect justice to be done in this situation? What should the expectation be, and especially now that you have got the federal government? You had the attorney general, Eric Holder, there a day this week.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, they should expect justice to be done.

The problem in these cases is that justice is not always done quickly. Sometimes, it takes a long time. The primary actors in this as far as justice are concerned are an elected local prosecutor and a grand jury that’s begun to receive information. That’s where the criminal case is taking place.

The Justice Department — I think Eric Holder played a good role in coming in and being reassuring in the community that the federal government was focused, in sending FBI agents. There were dozens on the ground to try to make sure that the information, the witnesses were all surveyed. All that was good.

He can’t be seen, though, in my view, as trying to elbow out the local authorities. There may be a civil rights case here eventually, but the primary action right now is really the local.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the justice question?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, in terms of the Justice Department question, the Justice Department really traditionally has come in when local processes have failed.

We don’t want local processes to fail. The case that people will most remember is, after the Rodney King beating, a state jury acquitted the officers. Then the Justice Department, many years later, after the rioting that ensued, came in.

That was an example of the state system failing. We would all be much better off if the state system worked here.

MICHAEL GERSON: And that took five years, five years to work itself through the system.

RUTH MARCUS: Many — yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But that was only after there was failure at the local…

RUTH MARCUS: But the question of whether justice is done will really depend on what facts are brought forward.

It is hard to imagine a situation in which an unarmed young man is shot justifiably by an officer six or more times. However, we don’t know exactly what happened there. And there are cases where officers are in reasonable fear for their safety. There have been allegations that he was charged at.

Justice may be bringing the case. Justice may potentially be not bringing a case. And that’s where you really have questions about the trust of this community in its prosecution. We need to know more facts.

But it’s obviously — thank goodness this week was a quieter week, but it’s obviously still a very volatile situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The community has quieted down, but you’re right, so many questions still out there.

But let’s turn overseas to, I guess, the story that dismayed everybody this week, and, Michael, the terrible, horrible murder of the American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State group, a man standing there with a black costume, uniform on, British accent.

What more do we now know about this group, ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, based on this?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think we feel it more directly because of the images, but we knew it, for months, that ISIL has been murdering people broadly wherever they gain control, and sometimes even reportedly putting their heads on pikes.

And this is the most brutal and evil type of group that you could imagine. And the British accent here, by the way, points to a reality. There are hundreds of Western recruits to ISIL that have gone to Syria and perhaps to Iraq in this. And there are people that have Western passports.

Because of our visa system, they can get back in the United States. And American intelligence is very, very concerned about this prospect.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right. I mean, Ruth, everyone knew this was a serious threat, but now it’s even more serious? I mean, how many more levels of serious is it?

RUTH MARCUS: It’s not a more serious threat, but in a sad, horrific way, perhaps it’s a threat that we as a country and as an administration, as the Obama administration, will now be taking more seriously, be empowered to take more seriously, because this group is not going away.

It is only getting bigger, getting stronger, getting fiercer. There is this strange competition among terrorists to show who’s got the most street cred — I’m actually stealing a line of Mike’s — to show their bona fides in terms of terrorism, which incentivizes them, in fact, to be thinking about and plotting to send people to — look at all the attention that they have gotten with this beheading.

Imagine how much attention they would get with a terrorist incident in Europe or, God forbid, in the United States. And we need to bring some good out of this horrible, savage act, which is to take it seriously and respond with appropriate seriousness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the administration is talking tougher, the president certainly talking tougher. But what does that mean? Are we hearing that the administration, that the president, that they now know how far they want to take the fight?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, no. They have made serious tactical shifts. We have had over 90 air attacks since the beginning of this campaign. They’re defending Irbil. They’re defending Baghdad.

But we don’t know if they have made a strategic shift. The strategic shift would be that we’re going to end the ISIS safe haven, which is now as large as New England across two countries, and we’re going to build a regional coalition over many years in order to end this safe haven. We really haven’t heard that.

The administration — high-level administration people talked about containing the threat. They talk about defeating the threat. They talk about destroying the threat. These are all different things. They’re not the same thing. There could be a serious internal argument being — happening right now in the administration about what the strategy should be.

RUTH MARCUS: But you do see the shift from talking — the president just a few months ago was talking about this group as a kind of J.V. team. No one’s talking about them as a J.V. team anymore.

The president just this week talked about extricating the cancer, as if you can just pluck it out. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. But I thought the most interesting commentary this week came from General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was very clear that if you want to get rid of this group, it is going to require being in Syria, a place that the president has not wanted to be.

But you could see with both General Dempsey’s comments and the comments of the policy-makers and the political appointees about the dangers that this group poses that they’re getting ready, I think, to prepare the American public and the American Congress for the need to do way more than what we have been doing previously.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying — are you saying that the president himself has shifted on this as a result of this one terrible murder of this journalist?

RUTH MARCUS: No, I think that the shift from J.V. to, oh, my goodness, we’re in the big leagues now, happened before this murder.

It happened as the…


RUTH MARCUS: … State just metastasized, to continue with that metaphor, and they were able to have such victories on the ground that it was clear this was going to be a big problem, and then came this horrible act.


Well, I think we right now — we will see where the policy goes, but right now, there’s a serious gap between the scale of the diagnosis of the problem, which Chuck Hagel, for example, called a problem like one we have never seen, where Eric Holder says it’s the most frightening he’s seen as attorney general, the terrorist threat, and the scale of the response, which right now is not equal to that threat, but seems to be moving in that direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you still have an American public that is war-weary, by all accounts. And so how do you bring them along if you’re going to do something more? Or do you? Or do you?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I want to say this in a way that reflects the horror that the Foley family has had inflicted on them, but, in an odd way, having this quasi-public beheading actually helps move the American people, because we’re not going to tolerate that. And it really does underscore the seriousness of the threat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see the public moving?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the president, for example, didn’t act in Syria because he said the public would oppose this.

We have now had a bombing campaign in Iraq against a very serious threat, and the public has not risen up in public opinion against this. In fact, the political class, Republicans and Democrats have been very supportive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we — it’s been a terrible week. And let’s hope there aren’t many more like this.

Ruth Marcus, Michael Gerson, we thank you.

RUTH MARCUS: Thank you.


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Brooks and Marcus on police power in Ferguson, political change in Iraq

Fri, Aug 15, 2014


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HARI SREENIVASAN: This week saw dramatic developments at home and abroad, with tensions rising in Missouri, in Iraq, and among politicians.

To wrap it all up, the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

So, let’s first talk about Ferguson, the thing that everybody in the country is talking about.

Dan Balz in “The Washington Post” this morning led with a story that was kind of interesting, that there’s almost this — a conversation that is happening between libertarians and liberals, agreeing on this particular issue. Rand Paul took out a column in “TIME” magazine yesterday about it.


Well, first on this last point about Ferguson, Megan McArdle had an interesting piece in Bloomberg View pointing out the demographics of Ferguson have shifted radically. It was a couple decades ago three-quarters white. Then it became nearly three-quarters black.

And sometimes the hiring practices, it’s, you hire your friend, you hire your brother in the cops. And so they just didn’t keep up with this amazing population inversion that happened there.

As for the larger political thing, it’s almost unanimous. You look across left, right and center, people think it’s overreacting what happened in the nights subsequently. And that’s, a libertarian suspicion of really forceful and violent government. Liberals tend to I guess be suspicious of police power, especially against minority communities.

But for conservatives and especially traditional conservatives, there’s a community thing going on here. The traditional conservatives, led by a thinker named James Q. Wilson, many years ago, was to believe in community policing, getting cops out of cop cars and actually interacting with the locals.

And so that’s the traditional conservative position, that you don’t want to erect walls. You certainly don’t want to militarize things. You want to have an organic relationship between the community and the police force, and that clearly was ruptured here.


RUTH MARCUS: Well — I’m sorry.

But it’s really been fascinating, and I thought really one of the most interesting pieces this week was Rand Paul’s piece on TIME.com, where if you had not looked at the byline, you might have thought it was written by the Reverend Al Sharpton, because he was so anti-police.

And you think back. We have been talking a lot about Missouri Governor Jay Nixon this week. But you think back to Richard Nixon and the tough-on-crime strain of the Republican Party, which stood in such good stead for so long. In fact, it was copied by Democrats like Bill Clinton who tried to show themselves to be tough on crime.

And so I think that to the extent there is this blurring of kind of liberal-libertarian lines, it’s a piece of a very interesting strain within the party. And I think you are a little bit underselling it, David, because there is this tough-on-crime aspect to your party.

And so for this, this Rand Paul — it’s…



RUTH MARCUS: I’m sorry. I’ll take that back.

RUTH MARCUS: You know, when we’re done, we can hug it out.


HARI SREENIVASAN: We will get to that in a minute. All right.

RUTH MARCUS: But in any event, Rand Paul’s views on things like marijuana legalization, on same-sex marriage, on other issues that might attract, bring — not to David’s party, but to the Republican Party, to attract some younger voters, I think is a very interesting thing that my colleague Dan Balz did point out in The Washington Post this morning.

DAVID BROOKS: I would just say, Mr. Republican, I have my mace and my shield and my armored vehicle afterwards.


DAVID BROOKS: You look at Rudy Giuliani, and part of what they initiated there was, A, community policing, B, the broken windows stuff, which meant you do the small stuff, and that way, you prevent the big things later on.

And I do think that has been Republican police policy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, was that an effective policy? Did broken windows actually…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think, certainly, if you remember — go back to early Giuliani, they were getting rid of the squeegee guys. Remember, there were guys who would come out and want to squeegee your window and then demand money.


DAVID BROOKS: It was turnstile hoppers. And it was taking care of the small stuff as a way of preventing the big crimes. And I think that was completely vindicated. But it’s a model, in any case, for any sort of police force like the one we have just seen in Ferguson, which is the big, heavy, militaristic approach, as we have seen, is completely contradictory to sort of calm civil order and law and order.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So, we know that certain authorities might have overstepped their bounds and been heavy-handed, but what about the state government, what about the federal government? What was their role? How would you grade them?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, the state government, in the form of Governor Nixon, very poorly.

He has been talked about a little bit as a potential national political figure. I think not. I think, if you want to nominate a national political figure as of this week, it would be Captain Johnson from the state police, who really came in and did exactly what you want a politician/public figure to do, which is to be a voice of calm and reason.

Governor Nixon was just late to the game. His state looked like it was a battlefield in Iraq or some terrible war zone someplace. He should have been in there getting the — getting these terrible SWAT team-type forces off the street, bring some calm earlier.

He sounded whiny, I thought, at the press conference today. I thought the president played a good role, a positive role in terms of not attacking the police, but expressing the horror that everybody feels about an unarmed young man being shot for no apparent reason that we have heard of yet, without going too far in prejudging the thing.

And — but I do think there is one interesting thing is wrapped up in something that David said about the federal government role. There’s a really important role here that we’re going to see going forward in terms of the Justice Department investigating this as a potential civil rights violation.

But the thing that is so fascinating is that, even though we have Justice Department investigating issues of police brutality, we also have the Justice Department and the federal government supplying these military-type, military-grade, actual military weapons as part of — it started in the war on drugs, but now it has turned into part of the war on terror.

I was reading today about the police department in Keene, New Hampshire, that had some sort of armored vehicle to protect against the threat of terrorism at the pumpkin festival.


RUTH MARCUS: And I was at the — I happened to be at the Keene pumpkin festival this year. It was lovely, but didn’t feel a great threat of terrorism.

I think, if one good thing comes out of this week, it’s going to be to dial back this militarization of police forces that would do much better off worrying about broken windows.

DAVID BROOKS: I hope there is somebody in my paper investigating why the militarization happened. Were there contracts involved, somebody was getting — making a lot of money selling this equipment to police forces?

HARI SREENIVASAN: We spoke to that guy yesterday on the program.



And was it just people wanting to be all hyped with new toys?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, boys with toys are a dangerous thing, I’m sorry to say.



DAVID BROOKS: My party, my gender. It’s getting ugly.

RUTH MARCUS: It is ugly, but then there’s the hugs.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Do you think that — do you think that President Obama is in a difficult position because he carries the burden of being the first African-American president on, he’s criticized if he overreacts, he’s criticized if he doesn’t react enough?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m with Ruth on the way he has handled this.

I think he has a good record in general — with a couple exceptions of — not grandstanding, of saying what he needs to say, but not making it a theater about himself. And I do think — and I can think of — there have been several times where he had a little restraint about that. And I think he showed the proper restraint this time.


Let’s shift gears to Iraq. There are several layers of this conversation, first, the political situation, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to have defused some things by deciding to leave.



And then there was also the humanitarian crisis that caught so much of our attention, the Yazidis on the mountain. Was the administration’s position enough when it came to the path that we have taken and perhaps will take in that matter?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it expends on what the meaning of enough is.

This was what passed for a good week in Iraq, especially for the administration, but that’s not saying very much. So the president and the military did the right thing with this humanitarian intervention. It seems to have been a less dire situation than was thought, didn’t require even more intensive intervention.

And so that’s a good thing and that’s the kind of thing that the United States should do when it can. Getting rid of Maliki was necessary, belated. We never should have supported him. The administration should never have supported him going in there in the first place.

The next guy, we just have to hope will be a little bit more open and inclusive, because, otherwise, the country will not be able to stay together. That being said, so this is a good week in Iraq. A good week in Iraq is not a good week, because there is still the fundamental problem that the president, the administration and the country faces, which is that we have seen the spread of this Islamic State, with fighters that are not just wanting to establish a caliphate.

They are threatening, at least according to the attorney general, to send dangerous terrorists to Europe and to the United States, exactly the kind of thing that we were trying to prevent after 9/11. What the administration’s plan is for that, that’s a lot harder to figure out than some pinpoint airstrikes to drop humanitarian supplies on a mountain.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I thought they were going to send in Hillary Clinton and the Rough Riders up to take the hill. She’s eager.

I do think what happened this week is that a greater U.S. role in Iraq became more likely. And, first, what we did militarily, the drops and the bombings had an effect, a positive effect. They worked. Second, we have a government — and this was always Obama’s precondition for U.S. support and involvement — we now have a government that at least in theory will be — has the potential to be a unitary government.

And that was his precondition for doing more stuff to turn back the caliphate, which we just simply have to do. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be sending 500,000 troops. But I do think the president is going to be dragged where he doesn’t want to be, which is just to be more and more involved in Iraq, because the idea of having a transnational caliphate there is a cancer. It will just spread. And I think there’s sort of global agreement on that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And both of you have made references to Hillary Clinton and the interview that she gave to “The Atlantic” last week.

And you saw kind of a divergence in foreign policy ideas between her and the president, while she went out of her way to make sure that she wasn’t disrespect to the president, but that was the reason for them to have to hug it out.

RUTH MARCUS: First of all, I thought it was a terrific interview by our friend and colleague Jeffrey Goldberg.

I do think — and how shocking is this — that some of the differences between and the degree to which she was supposedly dissing the president has been slightly exaggerated. Now, the political reporter in me wants to say, duh. Hillary Clinton is a big girl. She is an experienced politician. She should have known that that was going to happen and be careful accordingly.

I was very — it’s — two things are clear. She’s got a lot of respect for the president’s foreign policy. She talked about how not doing stupid stuff is not a foreign policy, but she also was very clear to say, if you read the entirety of the interview, that she knows that that’s not the entirety of his foreign policy.

It’s also simultaneously clear — and this goes back to the Iraq conversation that we were just having — that she is a more leaner-in, has a more muscular view of what America’s role in the world needs to be.

And I think the question that is going to need to be asked going forward isn’t just what we should have done with the status of forces agreement in Iraq or what we should have done with arming the Syrian rebels, but what we’re going to do now and what the next president imagines we are going to do now with this ISIS state.


I thought it was a substantive agreement — a substantive disagreement. And so I don’t think it was just she has some — tremendous respect. I do think the Clinton policy is, she is a more Truman, John F. Kennedy style of Democrat. And the Clinton people around Washington have certainly in private been very critical of the Obama foreign policy over the last two or three years, very critical.

And so she is not only more of a leaner-in. She has a much more aggressive faith in American — use of American force. President Obama has much less faith, sometimes does it, but really has to be dragged kicking and screaming.

So, the calibration seemed to me substantively different. And it came out honestly in that interview. And we saw it in 2008. We saw it when they were in the Senate. They’re just different and they think differently about it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, thanks so much.

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Shields and Brooks on Iraq reluctance, Nixon’s legacy

Fri, Aug 08, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Congress left Washington this week and international hot spots boiled over. And we get the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, today, it is all about Iraq.

Mark, did the president have a choice but to go back in militarily?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think he did, Judy.

Obviously, he had the choice whether that is a humanitarian act. It’s not a question of national security and defense. But the irony is that seven years ago this very week, a long-shot presidential candidate emerged to take on the royal family of the Democratic Party on the strength of one issue, because his opponents, Senators Dodd, Biden, Edwards, and Clinton, had all voted to support the U.S. war in Iraq.

And in a fiercely anti-war Democratic Party, Barack Obama stood alone. His race and his eloquence were exceptional, but that wasn’t the determining factor. And getting out of the Iraq war has been his defining mission. And today it remains an irony. And we’re reminded of Colin Powell, who reluctantly, in going into that war, said it’s the Pottery Barn rule, you break it you own it. And I think there is a certain sense of that right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you could hear the reluctance in his voice last night.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The president wants to do two things. He wants to stay out of Iraq for probably and also certainly for political reasons.

He also wants to defeat ISIS and he wants to do both. And the problem is, if you try to do both, you are going to do both mediocrely. And that’s basically what has happened. I just don’t think you can do both. ISIS is a pretty impressive organization and they have taken over.

And for us to say we’re going to leave it to the Iraqis to take care of ISIS strikes me as probably not an option that’s going to be on the table. In the first place, getting the Iraqi government is an iffy proposition. Expecting the Iraqis to be able to beat ISIS on their own is so far unprecedented historically.

And, third, there’s a timing issue. Even if they do get a government, even if they are resolved to beat ISIS, it is going to be weeks and months. And ISIS is a pretty strong organization. They can do a lot of damage in the next weeks and months. And so I think this split-the-different policy the president has adopted of trying to be in and out at the same time is probably not going to be tenable. And I suspect he’s going to have to go in a little further.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I just would remind our listeners that, at the height of the Cold War and the height of his own popularity, Ronald Reagan could not persuade the American people to support a military effort against the armed insurgents in Nicaragua literally at our doorstep to undermine the Sandinistas.

Bill Clinton’s popularity was dropping when he went into the Balkans. The American people’s enthusiasm, support for an expanded United States war of men and women, not boots on the ground, which is the euphemism, but sending men and women into combat there, which is what would be required, is nonexistent. It just — it isn’t there.

DAVID BROOKS: What’s nonexistent is people calling for us to send American men and women into Iraq. That’s nonexistent. Nobody is calling for that.

But ISIS has become a threat, not only to the region, but to the United States. There are lots of Westerners in ISIS who declare — who want to launch terror attacks in Western Europe and the United States. ISIS is really a barbaric organization, as barbaric an organization as it’s possible to imagine on the face of the earth.

They are a threat obviously to Syria, to Jordan. The Saudis are beginning to wake up. Even the Turks, who have somewhat manipulated them, are going to beginning to wake up to the threat they pose. If you can’t build an international coalition to oppose ISIS, who can you build an international coalition for? And that seems to me what is necessary.

MARK SHIELDS: The idea of doing this without American military, we are the point of the spear. We literally are.

And the idea of doing that, of getting somehow this grand coalition and other countries to send their troops in, it’s quite obvious that the Iraqi military, which we spent years and great treasure building, and great effort, is not a functioning military unit.

And it doesn’t have a chain of command. It doesn’t have discipline. It is not an effective fighting force. The Kurds are. And that, quite frankly, is probably one of the major factors in the United States’ action today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They have needed help.

Well, I would just point out, presidents don’t look at polls, we know, on foreign policy. But there are polls this week giving the president historically low ratings on his handling of foreign policy. Striking to me that most of the people feel that the president is not — that the U.S. is not involved enough.

So, you know, what are we to make of this? And then some people are arguing the U.S. should do more, but more of them are saying we’re not doing enough, the president is not involved enough.

So, what do we take away from that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I would say the general trends from the polls, it seems to me, is that people think we’re not controlling events, we’re being controlled by them.

And I think that’s the result of it’s a lot easier to do small stuff in the beginning than to do big stuff later on. And so when Syria was falling apart, many experts warned of two things, first, that the creation of a Syrian anarchic state would be a breeding ground for terror, and, third, that groups like ISIS would take hold.

And there was a debate a year or two ago about whether to put — help the moderate rebels in Syria. We decided not to. Now belatedly, we have done a little of that, but we did it very belatedly. And, as a result of that, we have this anarchic state. ISIS was able to grow. And then now they’re spreading across the region.

I think small acts of assertiveness in the beginning or constantly are better than having to do something big way after the problem is already gigantic.

MARK SHIELDS: We did big things in Iraq. We did really big things in Iraq. And we removed the head of their government. We changed their entire structure. That wasn’t a small thing.

And the jury is not out on Iraq. The American people believe we made a serious mistakes there. And the idea — we did go in partly in Libya. And that has not turned out to be such an enormous success.

I don’t in any way underestimate the serious charge of ISIS. I think, quite frankly, by what the president has done today, it probably raises the stakes that the United States will become part of their target and increases our vulnerability.

But I really don’t see — as far as foreign policy, your original question, Judy, according to Andy Kohut, our former colleague, our great colleague, former Pew head, you have got 3 percent of the American people saying that foreign policy is the matter of concern to them.

Yes, it’s hurt the president’s ratings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Three percent?

MARK SHIELDS: Three percent.

It’s hurt the president’s rating — as a priority of their concerns. It’s hurt the president’s ratings, no question about it, but it is not a matter of great urgency to them.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s why you can never run a foreign policy on the polls.

The polls would have been against Hitler in 1933. That was clearly the wrong thing to do against doing anything against Hitler in the 1930s. The American people are not — that’s not their daily life, what is going on around the world. That’s why you need foreign policy leaders who will get out in front, look abroad.

I would say two things. First, you know, I agree with you about Iraq now. But we can’t have all our decisions today be based on what should have been done in 2003. And we do actually have this completely monstrous organization, which is going from strength to strength to strength.

It seems to me it’s simply not an option to let them continue. So we have to somehow absorb the lessons of 2003 and 2006 and the Iraq war and still somehow have an effective presence to prevent this sort of barbarism. And so accepting the case you make against the Iraq war to me doesn’t foreclose doing anything about ISIS, and learning and then moving on seems to me what we have to learn to do now.

MARK SHIELDS: OK. If we can agree on what we have learned, I think that’s important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to turn you quickly to the primaries. They’re almost over.

Interesting poll — again, polls, we usually don’t talk about polls — but showing women, Mark, by a — support — a majority of women want Democrats to be in majority in the Congress. Majority of men want Republicans.

What does that say? Does it affect the way the candidates are going to continue to fight for these Senate and House seats for the rest of this year?

MARK SHIELDS: That very same poll you referred — this is The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, I believe, Judy — revealed that the pain, the open wound that was the great recession is still very much with us.

And I think it’s fair to say that women experienced that more and are — not all women are mothers, but all mothers are women. They’re at the center of the family. And 40 percent of Americans live in households where somebody has lost his job in the last five years.

One out of five Americans lives in a household where somebody, either younger or parent, has moved in because of economic or health reasons. Who bears that burden? Women bear that burden disproportionately to men. And women are — that sense of security, of nurturing, empathy, call it what one will, is very much in play right now and called upon by the reality.

When we talk about 40 percent of Americans having lost their job, household, that’s 126 million people who live in a household where somebody has lost a job, and people have taken jobs at lower wages. So I really think that contributes to the Democrats’ advantage, because increasing minimum wage, equal pay and those issues.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I guess I see it more of a paradox.

If you actually look at who was decimated in this recession, women took enormous hits. But men really got decimated. Remember, there was a phrase. They called it the “mancession” because it was white working-class men who just got decimated. And those jobs are just not coming back.

And so I think they have suffered more of the economic pain, but, nonetheless, have more of a mentality I can do it myself and I don’t need community. I don’t want help. I can do it myself, whereas women have — clearly, as the polls show, want more economic security provided by government.

And if I were on the left, I would say the men are suffering from false consciousness that they can’t probably do it themselves and they should be looking to community. But I’m not on the left, so I will say something else, which is that the feelings of economic insecurity are just more socially acceptable to say maybe. Maybe it’s just harder to say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For women than it is for men.

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t want to make this overgeneralization, but the polls suggest something like that is going on, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question, less than a minute.

Mark, this — today is the 40th anniversary of the day Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. Could something like that happen again? Could we have a president who violated the Constitution and did the kind of that happened…

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. That’s what the Republican House case is about, right, that the president has broken the law.

But Richard Nixon, Judy, was a remarkable, dominant figure, five times ran for national office. Four times, he won. Only — Franklin Roosevelt was the other one. Just a dominant figure and a central figure.

And thank God, when he did leave, there were no tanks in the streets of Washington. We did it peaceably and we did it peacefully, because of political leadership of men like Barry Goldwater.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Some of his policies remind me that bad people can do good things. He did some good things while in office, until the Watergate thing.

MARK SHIELDS: He did a lot of good…

DAVID BROOKS: But I certainly think it could happen again.

And, you know, every president has tiptoed around the Constitution, expanded executive power. I think conservatives make a good case these days that, if the president gives this temporary status to immigrants on his own without a law, that really is trampling the Constitution in some significant way.

And I’m not saying President Obama is doing anything remotely like Watergate, but all presidents have a temptation to want to extend beyond Congress. And so it could. If something like this, where we have a worse man in office than we have now, it could happen.


David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on finding a GOP ‘anti-Cruz,’ Middle East alliances

Fri, Aug 01, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, House Republicans were racing to pass something on the border crisis after a day of confusion and chaos on Capitol Hill Thursday.

For a taste of what went on today around the Capitol, here’s some of what we heard from both sides.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn.: We were able to come to a point of 218 yes-votes on what arguably is the most monumental vote that we will take in this entire term. And it’s dealing with the issue that the American people care about more than any other. And that is stopping the invasion of illegal foreign nationals into our country. And we got to yes.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ, D-Ill.: It is almost as though they despise and hate all of our children, because even the children that came before them that have pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States all of their lives, love this country, and the president has afforded them an opportunity to become legal, they want to put them in an illegal situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It caps off what’s been a roller-coaster week in American politics.

And here to analyze it all, Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, high tempers on the Capitol — at the Capitol yesterday, today.

David, what are we to make of all this?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s sort of happening on two levels. There’s the political meta level and then there’s the substance level.

The meta level is, this is — nothing is going to pass, nothing is going to happen. This is all negotiating about a bill that has zero chance of actually becoming law. So this is a bunch of positioning. It’s Ted Cruz and some House members positioning against the leadership.

It’s a lot of Republicans saying, at least we passed something, so positioning for the voters. So, it’s all about positioning. As for the substance, I frankly don’t understand the Republican position at all. You have got a refugee crisis. You have got these kids coming here.

There’s a need for some sort of balanced approach. Yes, you have got to secure the border. Yes, there have to be some hearings. Yes, there has to be a sped-up process for that. There probably needs to be some more money for that. Some sort of balanced approach seems eminently sensible.

Securing the border, deporting some of them, yes, who can sent back fairly, but then having some hearings to figure out who’s who. And it seems to me the Republicans have basically their policy — at least the political emphasis that’s come out is deport, deport, deport, wall, wall, wall.

It seems to me to make little sense in the short-term and is extremely damaging for Republicans in the long term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you make sense of this?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, first of all, these — these kids — and they are kids overwhelmingly — are fleeing chaos, and exploitation and violence, and somehow that’s been lost in the debate here in Washington.

I mean, they view it as somehow this marauding group of invaders, 9, 10-, 12-, 14-year-old kids who are thousands of miles from home and know nobody and don’t speak the language. And the response seems to be from the majority party in the House of Representatives, let’s get tough on the kids.

If a law passed in 2008 signed by President Bush provided them with legal counsel, forget that. Let’s just ignore that and go forward. It just — I sense in them, in the Republicans right now in the House, a political imperative. And that is, they recall 2010, four years ago, in the month of August, which was when that election really changed with the town meetings in their home districts.

And none of them wants to go back, apparently, or very few of them want to risk having somebody stand up at a town meeting and accuse them of amnesty, that you are going to let illegals in, undocumented in. And undocumented is too euphemistic.

So I just think they have labored mightily. David is — I agree with David. They have labored mightily and produced this counterfeit mouse that’s going nowhere. It’s stillborn, and it is not even symbolically impressive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why is it so hard? If they feel so strongly about this, why aren’t they able to come together and get something passed?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there’s a couple of reasons.

First, there are a lot of people in this country, legitimately, who think that there is no control of the border, and this issue illustrates the chaos on the border. So, that’s fair. Second — and I think the Republicans do have a point that the original bill, the 2008 law that was passed under Bush, that seems to have had some role in sort of drawing people up here, that probably does need to change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the one that made it easier for children coming in.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And it didn’t directly apply, but it seems to have sent a false signal to some people that, if they send their kids here, they will be let in.

So that’s all fair enough. But this is about Palin-ization of parts of the GOP. This is not about passing legislation, not about, well, we’re in a party. We should pay attention to our leaders. We should craft some compromise. We should compromise with the other side. This is about making a statement that will sound good on FOX.

And so they want to make a statement that will sound good on TV or will sound good at a town meeting, but it’s not actually about governing. And there are a lot of — and my question is, OK, Ted Cruz, senator, it should be said, met with a bunch of House members, which doesn’t happen that often, and sort of helped organize this.

So, which senator is going to stand up and be the anti-Cruz? Who is going to stand up for Republican values, but I believe in governing? And so far, that person has not emerged.

MARK SHIELDS: In a very cynical way, Judy, Democrats are sort of sitting back. They’re playing a very bad field in this election.

The president’s job rating is in the low 40s, and the 30s in some of the states in the key Senate battleground races.


MARK SHIELDS: In addition to that, the country right direction/wrong track number, people think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

And the intensity is with Republican voters in most polls over Democratic voters. And the Republicans are kicking this away. They have taken an issue which really was the administration’s responsibility, the border — it’s any administration’s responsibility — and all of a sudden they have clouded it up, and they’re playing defense, trying to explain it.

And why Steve King, who is the most ardent, even xenophobic, anti-comprehensive immigration Republican in the House, he’s chortling that this — this is a bill picked from my menu.

And that’s exactly where they don’t want to be in the long term.

DAVID BROOKS: So, you can just see, that’s why we need an anti-Cruz, because when all the guts and all the courage are on one side, then the policy flows to where the courage and the energy is. And there’s been very little courage on the other side.

I just — I think I might disagree, or at least to say it’s too soon to tell whether this will affect this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, that’s what I wanted to ask.

DAVID BROOKS: The Gallup organization does these which party are you leaning toward, and usually Democrats are always ahead, because they are just more of a — but they have lower turnout, so the Democrats have to have a huge leaning-toward advantage to do well in a fall term.

Right now, they’re leaning-toward advantage, more — only 2 percent more people say I’m leaning to become a Democrat than leaning to be a Republican. That’s a very small margin historically. It’s the similar sort of margin that existed in 1994, 2002, 2010, which were all good Republican years.

So if look at the polling, I still think it’s going to be a good Republican year, unless this has an effect in the next weeks or months ahead.



I don’t think — I think it does lean to the Republicans, not to the degree that 2010 did. 2010 was really — you could see a cataclysm in the works. But in a strange way, some Democrats are looking — especially presidential, those concerned with the 2016 race — and are almost saying,, given the performance of the House Republicans in the last couple of weeks or even this session, and the trouble they have been for John Boehner and the revolts they have led and all the rest of it, it might be the most helpful thing in the world, not for public policy, but for the Democrats’ political advantage, if the Republicans control both the House and the Senate in — after the 2014 election, and they then have to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s pretty cynical.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s cynical, but will the governing — they have no governing philosophy.

Fifty-two times, the House Republicans have voted against the Affordable Care Act, to repeal Obamacare. To this day, as we sit here, there is no Republican health care plan. This is five years after…

DAVID BROOKS: They dispute that. They think there is. There’s a Dave Camp plan there. They say they have an agenda. Dave Camp has an agenda. Paul Ryan had his poverty agenda. Mike Lee has an agenda.

I do think there’s a broader agenda. If I were a Democrat, I would rather prefer to win than to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But I keep coming — I want to come back to David’s point that there — where’s the anti-Cruz, anti-Ted Cruz?

There clearly is a big school of thought in the Republican Party that this is the wrong way to go, but where are those folks? Where are they?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s, if anything, the majority — and I’m not even talking about moderates. There are really very conservative members that really dislike Cruz, because they do think, we have the govern, we have — we just believe in the institution. He has not emerged.


MARK SHIELDS: But an anti-Cruz — Ted Cruz did something that’s really unprecedented. That is a senator meeting with a couple of dozen House members to lead basically a revolt, a legislative revolt, against the leadership. I mean, this was the first test of the Boehner-McCarthy-Scalise leadership.

This was going to be their — the new team after Eric Cantor’s defeat and resignation. And, you know, they have got egg all over their face. And for what purpose? What did it achieve?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, but you’re right. This was the first chance for them to show what they can do.

Tough subject, but I do want to turn us for the last few minutes to the Middle East. Do you see — we talked to Margaret about it. Especially since this latest cease-fire hasn’t worked out, do you see any way through, any light, any — anything positive to bring this to a place of resolution?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I hope. I hope there is. I hope — we have seen the price that people are paying in lives, and just what it has done.

It strikes me that Israel, in the parlance, has won the war — won the battle and lost the war or is in danger of losing the war. And I think if you look at the poll of the developed countries, the United States stands alone in its unflinching support of Israel. Israel has a sense of a negative influence in the world among Great Britain, among Australia, South Korea, Japan, you name it.

And the United States has been stalwart. And for the first time, you have seen in this experience support drop. And it’s dropped, interestingly, among younger voters, voters under the age of 30…

JUDY WOODRUFF: I saw that.

MARK SHIELDS: … people who don’t go to church.

It’s basically the emerging Democratic majority, Latinos, African-Americans. And so I think — I think, in that sense, it’s important that there be a peace achieved, or reached, an accord reached, and war stopped.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, do you see any — any — rupture is too strong a word, but any division or lasting separation between the U.S. and Israel coming out of this?


No, I don’t think so. And, in many ways, there’s been more unity in the Middle East itself, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria. Even these countries that are more or less on Israel’s side, you have noticed how quiet they have been, because they all think the solution is to weaken Hamas.


DAVID BROOKS: And I do think that is essentially the solution within Israel.

Amos Oz, about as left-wing a person as you can get, the famous novelist, he said in a German interview this week, what would you do if an assassin puts a child on his lap and starts shooting at your nursery school?

When Amos Oz starts sounding like Bibi Netanyahu, the Israelis are united that they do need to weaken Hamas. The surrounding neighborhood generally supports that. So I think we’re in for a longer war, longer bloodshed. But the goal of weakening Hamas does seem to me a goal of some value.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in the meantime, just the steady pictures of casualties are gut-wrenching.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, the children.

Nobody — it’s the children at the border and it’s the children in Gaza. I mean, that — children have no — absolutely no influence, no voice on who’s at war and who isn’t. But the one thing I would say about Israel is, it’s been a long time since Israel has sought the moral imprimatur of Syria and Saudi Arabia. Those are not exactly ethical…

DAVID BROOKS: Right. I’m just talking about the alliances, unification within large parts of the world, not Qatar and Turkey, but against Hamas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Well, it’s tough, tough all the way around.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we just want to tell all of you watching, for the latest on what Congress is doing with immigration tonight, you can check the Rundown on our Web site.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The post Shields and Brooks on Bergdahl criticism, Mississippi primary politics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • Published: 2002
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