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

Shields and Brooks - NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast

by Jim Lehrer

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


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Shields and Brooks on inviting Netanyahu, GOP abortion bill revolt


Fri, Jan 23, 2015


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Following the State of the Union, President Obama took his middle-class economics platform on the road, while, in Washington, a diplomatic brouhaha erupted after House Speaker John Boehner invited Israel’s prime minister to address Congress without consulting the White House. Plus, the House of Representatives passed one abortion bill after a more drastic version was dropped because of objections from Republican women.

For all this and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, it’s so good to see you.

MARK SHIELDS: Good to see you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk. You have had 72 whole hours to reflect on this, David. What does the State of the Union look like at this point? What sticks about it? Do we focus more on the middle-class economic policy or something else?

DAVID BROOKS: All my earlier views were wrong. I should reverse them all.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I guess two things, one, the decision not to emphasize things that could pass.

And so, for the Obama presidency, eight years of it, the two years, quite productive, the last six years, zero productivity as far as legislation is concerned. And so he opted to do that. I think they could have gotten some things passed, if he had just picked the five or six things that were semi-plausible to get passed, but instead he picked other things.

And so the second element when I look back on it is, he set up a debate. And he won’t be a debate he will lead, really. It will be a debate the next president will lead and it will be the next campaign. So he really set up the next campaign. What he did was, he put an issue in the center which will be the central issue in the next campaign, which is middle-class wage growth and inequality.

And he presented a Democratic platform. And they really have — the party has really cohered around a platform. I think there is almost a consensus. There used to be splits between Larry Summers and the moderate side of the party and people more on the right — or on the left, the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank.

Now they’re pretty much all in the same spot. I would say the Larry Summers group has moved because of the size of the problem. And whether they call it inclusive economics, which is a phrase you hear in Democratic circles, which my colleague Tom Edsall wrote about, or middle-class economics, that’s where the party is.

And so he really represented where the party is on this major issue, but it will be really taken up by his successor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, is that what endures from all this?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure what endures.

What I took away from the president and the speech in the two days, couple of days since, is that this was a changed Barack Obama. He had been a glum, almost resigned figure during 2014. He didn’t seem enthusiastic or engaged. He was both. There was a feistiness, sort of — almost a skittishness or kiddishness about him, that he was not…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you say kiddishness?

MARK SHIELDS: There was sort of a — yes, kidding, in the sense of youthful and energetic and willing to spar, which had not been — which had not been present earlier.

And I thought that he took the reality of the improving economy and didn’t say it’s morning in America, but said, I have heard the rooster crow and I have seen the sunrise, and so will you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But I think what he’s addressing, Judy, is something that’s so fundamental. And I think the fact that Mitt Romney is talking about poverty in America, talking about income inequality, talk about the rich getting richer, is an indication that Barack Obama is setting the terms of the debate and the dialogue for 2016.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But not for now.

MARK SHIELDS: Not for now, but for 2016.

And I would just point this out quickly. Between 1948 and 1973, the productivity per hour, that is for goods and services produced by the average American worker, went up 96 percent. And their wages went up 91 percent. It was a golden era

In the 40 years after 1973, productivity again of the workers went up some 76 percent, and at the same time, their income went up, wages only went up 9 percent. We have a maldistribution of wealth in this country. And I think we’re approaching a debate on that subject.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

The only thing I would say is, why is he campaigning, opening a campaign that he’s not actually going to be a part of? He’s not running for president in 2016. He is president right now and he could be getting some — a few things done over the next two years, some tax reform, some other things.

And yet he’s focusing on the campaign. The critical argument would be, he’s good at campaigning, he’s not that interested in governing. That’s probably a little overstated, given the situation he faces. But it is weird that a president is really setting up a debate that he’s really not going to be part of, except for running a foundation or something like that.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think he will be part of it, and I think…

JUDY WOODRUFF: He will be part of it?

MARK SHIELDS: His numbers — as his numbers rise — and we had him at 50 percent approval in The Washington Post, which is really rather resurgent — he then becomes a more dominant and influential political player.

And it unites his own party and it also makes the opposition somewhat leery of taking him on. If, in fact, the economic news continues to be good and the president has this rebound, he will be able to engage the Congress on issues that David mentioned. He’s going to try on trade, whether in fact they do it on taxes as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying he’s not just throwing it out there and it’s just going to sit there for two years…

MARK SHIELDS: No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … for another president to pick up.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but I think we talk about legacy, which is kind of a highfalutin word, but this is — is legacy, whether — the fact that we’re confronting this, seeming to confront it, is enormously important and a profound change for this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There is also a partisanship discussion coming out of the State of the Union, David, where, at the beginning of the speech, the president mentioned a couple times, I’m not going to vote — I will veto this or I will veto that.

At the end, he made an appeal for bipartisanship. Is that something that you think the Republicans are ready to pick up?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think they — it think when they got the majority in both houses, they feel like, we have got to pass stuff, or else we look like we’re failures because we are sort of put in charge here. We have got to pass something.

And I think there was room there in taxes and patent reform and other things, which are maybe not — or cyber-security, infrastructure, a series of measures that they could have passed. They wouldn’t have been big, but they would have passed something.

And I think the president clearly didn’t picked off that list of possibles. He picked off the list where his party has an 80/20 majority and it was good populist economics. It was not going to be passed.

And so I think there was a possibility of getting something passed. And it seems to me, if you’re a lawmaker, the idea is to make laws. And he’s chosen not to do that. And the argument — I totally agree about the centrality of the argument that Mark described. I just think, for Barack Obama, he’s got a job to do.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it’s either/or. And I don’t think the State of the Union speech ended these two years. I mean, there will be legislative action. There will be…

JUDY WOODRUFF: To come.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: We have been four years without a major law being passed.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I understand that, but let’s be blunt about it, not to be partisan, but we have an opposition party.

It’s not a minority party in Congress. It’s an opposition party. It’s become parliamentary in that system, and that that’s their approach. I mean, you have five congressional districts represented by Democrats in the Congress in congressional districts Barack Obama didn’t carry. That’s how the country’s been sorted out now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of an opposition party or an opposition move, Speaker John Boehner did something kind of unusual this week, David. He invited the prime minister of Israel to come and address the Congress on Iran without first talking to the White House.

What are we to make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there’s the Republican partisan attack. So, we — they’re both playing this game.

It’s not as if Congress has been out of the foreign policy business. Nancy Pelosi went to Syria and some say gave some credence to the Assad regime when President Bush opposed it. Just last week, David Cameron, a foreign leader, was calling around members of Congress to lobby.

So people do get involved. Foreign leaders get involved. Nonetheless, inviting somebody from overseas to give a speech against the president from the well of the Congress is confrontational and I think unwise, I just think unwise, on two grounds.

First, the president — the country has to speak with a single voice. The gestures of that voice are — really reside in the White House. And there should be some deference to the executive branch on foreign policy.

Second, I just think it’s bad for Bibi Netanyahu to do this. It’s just not a good idea to pick a fight with the president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That he shouldn’t have accepted?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think he should have accepted.

I don’t know what his domestic political considerations are. Obviously, it’s just two weeks before their election. But it just — it’s not good to go to war between two allies in this confrontational way.

You are going to fight. Fine. But don’t make it so above board, so in your face. It just strikes me as bad for Israel.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it do damage, Mark, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Irresponsible and sordid.

The last time that the Congress has not acted, bipartisan way, an invitation to a speaker, was Douglas MacArthur, the attorney general who was invited by a Republican Congress to speak against President Truman, to give his farewell address, but it was critical of President Truman’s Korean policies.

This is — this is not done. What John Boehner did is a cheap political trick. And it was not a surprise to Benjamin Netanyahu. I mean, Ron Dermer, the…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: … ambassador to the United States from Israel, who had been a Republican political consultant in this country working with Frank Luntz, orchestrated this invitation.

And it’s a major plus for Mr. Netanyahu on — two weeks before his election…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean back home.

MARK SHIELDS: … to come home, to be enhanced stature, on a global stage.

And he’s invited for one purpose. And that is — which Speaker Boehner admitted in the caucus of Republicans and was leaked then by his supporters to the press, that he was there to make the serious indictment of the president’s policy, to criticize the president.

So he’s bringing this foreign leader, meddling in an Israeli election two weeks before. It’s a total irresponsibility. I don’t think — respect I have to for David, I don’t think it compares with Nancy Pelosi or any member of Congress at any time visiting another country.

I mean, bipartisan support for Israel since 1948, when Harry Truman recognized that foundling nation, has been a hallmark of United States policy. This is partisanizing it. This is making a Republican Likud case.

And I just — I just think it is — it’s beyond irresponsible. It’s beyond a cheap political trick. It’s just tawdry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there’s another issue that came up for House Republicans, for John Boehner, another headache.

And that is, he and the Republican leadership in the House was trying to pass an abortion bill on the day of the March for Life, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade here in Washington. But the moderate Republican women in the House of Representatives rose up and said, we’re not going to support this.

It had some tough language in there about a woman had to report to police if she had been raped before she could have an abortion.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, there are two issues here. The first is, why are they talking about this? The short answer is that it was the abortion rights — the abortion opponents were marching in Washington this week. And so they were playing to that constituency. And that’s fine.

But they enter a new Congress, the economy and the middle class is the core issue, and so far, they have had a — two stupid fights, this one, which is really — to have this fight about rape and abortion two weeks into your Congress, that’s just not what you want to be headlining. You want to be talking about the economy.

The good news is that the Republican Party has two wings again and that the left, or the moderates, or whatever you want to call it, the less conservative, have been — they have been like Sleeping Beauty for four years.

And so, suddenly, they have woken up and they raised their voices and they had an effect. And so I think it’s great that the party has two wings that can balance each other. And a party needs two wings. And the right is diminished. The center or whatever you want to call it is a little stronger. To me, that’s healthy for the party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Twenty seconds.

Well, we will find out if the two wings worked and they do fly. This is — the same legislation passed the Republican Congress two years ago. And now with more Republicans in the Congress, they can’t pass it. They can’t even bring it up.

I mean, to me, you only get one chance to make a first impression. You don’t get a second chance. And I would say that the speaker’s leadership and the new Republican Congress has shown itself to be politically incompetent. And, really, I think it’s foundering at this point. And this is an example of it.

I mean, this is an issue that has 60 percent support in the country, and that they could not even get it to a vote. And I think that the moderates are doing exactly what they have seen Tea Party people do, and that is to hold the leadership hostage. And they caved.

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

The post Shields and Brooks on inviting Netanyahu, GOP abortion bill revolt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.



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Shields and Brooks on same-sex right to marry, Romney run resistance


Fri, Jan 16, 2015


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, congressional Republicans met to plot next steps with their newfound power in Washington. And there were more steps taken by potential 2016 presidential candidates, as they gear up to run for the White House.

For all that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

It’s so good to see both of you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, before we talk about politics, I want to ask you about what we — what I discussed with Marcia earlier, Mark, and that is the Supreme Court announcing it is going to take up the same-sex marriage question. Thoughts?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, as Marcia pointed out, along with Affordable Care Act, which the court is also considering, these are two big ones.

But, Judy, David’s made the point here before about the velocity with which this issue has moved. On May 6, 2012, Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, said he was comfortable with same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press,” and it absolutely exploded. I mean, how could he do this? He put the president in a terrible position.

Now, that is three years ago. We just missed — Rob Portman, Republican senator from Ohio, announced that he was not going to run for president, going to run for reelection. He would have been the first Republican candidate for president to endorse same-sex marriage. This issue has moved so far, so fast, 36 states, as Marcia pointed out.

So, there’s a little bit of an anticlimactic feel to it, even though it’s of great importance constitutionally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. You would have to think about, go back 2,000, 3,000 years, the prejudice against gays and lesbians. And it’s sort of washing away.

And so you ask, how did it happen? I think, partly, it was activism. Partly, it’s people getting to know each other, partly effective media. Media rarely changes culture rapidly, but a lot of the shows that had gay and lesbian couples changed rapidly.

And then there was the selection of the issues. The two big issues that really have been at a central of this for the last 10 years have been gays in the military and marriage. So it was two institutions at the core, and I would say the conservative core, of American culture, and by saying we just want to be married, we just want to serve in the military, people were coming out and they were coming out in full human dignity, in a way that showed respect for the institutions of our country.

And once that embraced, then the country has begun to embrace them as individuals and then the institution of gay marriage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard Marcia say it’s going to be huge, it’s going to be historic when it comes out.

OK, politics. This is the week, as we said, the congressional Republicans met in their retreat.

Mark, this is a time when you have got not just Speaker Boehner, but now the brand-new Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, trying to corral these big numbers in both bodies. What do you see? Are these — do you see the Republicans coming together? Or do you see them still having to deal with some rump right-wing conservative critics who are just going to continue to give them a hard time?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Speaker Boehner had 25 members of his own caucus not support him for speaker. That’s a bit more than one out of 10, more than in recent American history that that’s happened, where a speaker has failed there.

So, even though his numbers were enlarged of Republicans in the House, his own position was somewhat shaky at the outset of this Congress. And what you have, the tensions within the party. After the 2012 election, the Republican Party went through a soul-searching, in which they came out with a rather serious document, saying the party is seen as too narrow-minded, out of touch, not mainstream, mean-spirited, unappealing to non-whites and to women and to younger voters, and we have to do it, we have to endorse immediately comprehensive immigration reform.

And you have got a party that just won a big election totally on the opposite. So, now, the first action they take is a — the House passes a bill that is, quite frankly, restrictive and punitive even to as far as DREAM Act members are concern. Those who are those were brought here as children and they have grown up and gone to school and so forth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the president’s executive action.

MARK SHIELDS: And the president’s executive action. And it can’t pass the Senate. Mitch McConnell knows he hasn’t gotten the votes.

And I just think it’s not the issue Republicans wanted right at the outset to deal with. I think Boehner felt he had to deal with it because Republicans had made it such a centerpiece of their campaign. But I don’t see it. They’re working out the difficulties and the wrinkles very much in public, and I think rather awkwardly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see they’re united or how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s governing party, so they’re — or it’s a majority party, so there are bound to be fringes. And we saw both the left and right fringe of the party protesting what was going on.

I actually agree with Mark completely. They win this big victory and what do they decide to do? Well, they decide to do Pickett’s Charge. They decide to — they decide to pick a campaign they cannot possibly win. So the House passes a bill that cannot possibly pass.

So, what’s going to happen? They are going to have to walk embarrassingly down the Hill in defeat. That’s just going to happen. And so why do you do that? And I think the reason you do it is because you have got an opposition mentality that says, let’s make a statement. We want to show the president we’re standing up to him.

And so they make a statement, instead of passing a law. But if you’re in the majority, you’re in the majority. And you have got to start thinking that way. And I think the party — I don’t blame McConnell and Boehner. I blame the rank and file. You have got to start thinking like a majority. Are you here to make statements? Well, go to FOX or do what we do.

But if you’re going to pass laws, you actually have some ability to influence that.

MARK SHIELDS: And, Judy, we have seen this movie before.

In other words, picking up on David’s point, that is that they have to come to the reality they have to fund Homeland Security by the 27th of February.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: And there’s not going to be a government shutdown. And every story we read, whether it’s out of Belgium, whether it’s out of Northern Europe, whether it’s across the globe, is about terrorist threats or plots or actual events.

And the idea that Homeland Security would be put on hold and not fully funded or more funded is absolutely incredible. So they have no bargaining chip and no bargaining power and just to suffer this sort of symbolic defeat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about another part of the Republican story, and that is the race for president.

We have seen so many names out there, David. But I think the remarkable — one of the remarkable things this week was Mitt Romney, a lot of pushback from other Republicans, including, I think, one of his campaign co-chairs, about his looking seriously at running again.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, the donors don’t seem to like him. The Republican committee people don’t want him to run again. And the field is just a lot stronger this time. I mean, he ran against people who couldn’t possibly win, so he won more or less by default.

So there are people who lose and get renominated. And — but they are people who have passionate, intense followers who believe in them, and so Adlai Stevenson, William Jennings Bryan.

MARK SHIELDS: Reagan.

DAVID BROOKS: Reagan.

And so there’s just an intensity. These people will walk through hell for a certain guy, man or a woman. And if those people exist for Mitt Romney, they’re, like, in a phone booth in Massachusetts somewhere.

He never generated that sort of intensity. People liked him. He’s a decent guy. But he never generated that intense followers. So when he announced he’s running again, people looked at it very coolly and very practically and said, you had your shot, buddy.

MARK SHIELDS: I wouldn’t be so quick to write him off.

I would say that the other example of somebody who was renominated was Richard Nixon, and didn’t have great, passionate, intense followers, but he — Mitt Romney sort of followed the Nixon formula, was, after he lost in ’60, Nixon campaigned across the country in ’64 and ’66.

Romney, after 2012, became the national Republican surrogate in 2014. He went everywhere, and he was welcome everywhere. And I think that was as long as he was being contrasted to Barack Obama. And Barack Obama was at the lowest point of his presidency, maybe some buyer’s remorse on the part of some voters.

I think that David is right that there’s more options now. We’re not talking about Herman Cain and Donald Trump. But we have also got a field that is not — doesn’t have dominant figures in it. And you’re in a competition. Jeb Bush has accelerated this system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: You have competition for fund-raisers, for talent who can work in the campaign and for the — to inspire and engage voters. I mean, whoever can do that, that’s the competition.

DAVID BROOKS: But, also, the mood is — first of all, people are really sick of this — the status quo, so they want change, they want freshness.

But then the mood toward all these other candidates who are flowing out there is kind of intrigued. So, some people are sort of intrigued by Marco Rubio or intrigued by Ted Cruz or intrigued by Chris Christie. They’re sort of like interesting figures. And you sort of want to see how it will play out.

And I think Mark and I agreed the John Kasich juggernaut is unstoppable.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: The Ohio governor who…

MARK SHIELDS: Ohio, the mother of presidents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have heard you mention him before.

DAVID BROOKS: I think John Kasich is undervalued as a candidate. Mark disagrees slightly.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Maximally.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But there are interesting figures out there. And so you don’t need to go back to somebody you have already known too well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not that there’s a — you’re saying it’s not that there’s a front-runner out there, but there are several folks who could develop into a front-runner.

MARK SHIELDS: This is a party that’s always had a front-runner.

Since — in the last 60 years, Judy, with one exception, the candidate, Republican candidate who led in the Gallup poll one year before the convention became the nominee. There’s a natural order that Republicans follow. They’re a very almost — I don’t want to say conventional, but predictable.

It’s like the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club. If you have been sergeant at arms, you have been vice — you’re going to be the nominee. And this is a party that’s ahistorical in 2016. It doesn’t have a front-runner. And I really it’s kind of fascinating to watch the Republican…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unlike the Democrats, who — they have reversed roles.

MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats have this — they have never nominated the front-runner, never nominated the front-runner. They always nominate somebody at the back of the room who excites people, whether it’s George McGovern or Barack Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you trying to tell me we’re going to have an exciting race for president this time on the Republican side?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the Republican race is fascinating.

And I do not write off Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s speech tonight before the Republican National Committee may be the most important speech of his career. I mean, he’s got to say something new and different, I think, and engaging tonight. If he just does the Barack Obama’s bad, we’re good, it’s — he’s going to fall flat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is before the Republican meeting out in San Diego.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, with the USS Midway.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, one other thing I want to ask the two of you about.

This week, the NewsHour announced and said on the air we have made a decision not to air the pictures, the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the French newsweekly, of course, the genesis of the tragic attack in Paris last week.

There’s been a lot of viewer comment about it, the majority of it negative, some of it positive.

But I’m just curious to know from the two of you, how do you think about this? I mean, our explanation is that we believe the offense that it could cause outweighs the news value. But there’s a big debate about it. So I wanted to hear from the two of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree with the viewers, whatever they say.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But, you know, I have changed my mind about this. My newspaper, The New York Times, made the exact same decision.

And I thought, no, the news value, you have got the show what — the subject of what all this fuss is all about. But as I thought about it more, when you actually look at the actual cartoons, some of them involve sodomy, some of them involve things that violate every standard of decency which we have.

And so my view is that our standards of what represents decent behavior and civic conversation are more important in this case. And if people want to see the cartoons, they can go online, they can go somewhere else.

And my basic attitude is that, when it comes to speech, is that we should almost, almost never invite somebody off campus, we should almost, almost never pass a law, but we should have certain social standards, what’s polite, what’s acceptable, what gets you respect, what doesn’t. And maintaining standards of just decency, we don’t curse on the air.

And that’s just — it’s a way of behaving respectfully, and that encourages conversation. So, I think the call is ultimately the right one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we wouldn’t permit a cartoon on our program that offended another group, a religious group, a minority group.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I think that anything that’s — I believe in the First Amendment, and the stipulation obviously. But it wasn’t that these photos or these images weren’t available. I mean, it wasn’t — they were widely available and — anybody who wanted to see them.

And I just — I really think that when it comes to ridicule and satire, I’m a strong supporter. I’m a particularly strong supporter when you’re doing it to the powerful, to the mighty rich, and those who have control over people’s lives.

And, you know, when it’s deliberately and needlessly offensive, and especially in the case here, it struck me of those who are marginalized and in many cases powerless and poor. I thought you and Gwen and the people at “NewsHour” made the right decision.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we wanted to hear what the two of you think. And I’m glad we were able to talk about it.

Mark Shields…

DAVID BROOKS: We agree with our bosses.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: … David Brooks, thank you both. And we will see you next week.

The post Shields and Brooks on same-sex right to marry, Romney run resistance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.



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Shields and Brooks on Paris terrorism and tolerance, GOP takeover in Congress


Fri, Jan 09, 2015


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The terrorist attacks in France overshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress this week.

But we cover both these developments and more as we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And welcome, gentlemen, both of you.

So we have been transfixed this week by the awful events in France. And just a few minutes ago, we reported the State Department putting out a worldwide alert to Americans traveling abroad.

David, what are we — what do we learn from all this?  What do we take away from this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the story has so many facets.

The thing about war is your enemies define — remind you who you are. And so we are reminded of our belief in pluralism and our belief in multiculturalism. But there are just a range of issues. How is Europe going to react from this?  Will they go to Le Pen?  Will they not?  How do we think about our security issues?

When I think back home, I think of how we think about tolerance. And the point I try to make that everyone was saying, I am — Je suis Charlie, or I am with Charlie Hebdo. But if Charlie Hebdo, the magazine, newspaper tried to open up on any college campus in this country, they would be shut down in 30 seconds. They would run afoul of every political correctness, every hate speech code, because they are offensive in some ways.

And so my point for this country is that if we are going to tolerate offensive talk, or if we’re going to expect, frankly Islamist radicals to tolerate offensive talk, then we have to tolerate offensive talk. And we have to invite people to speak at our campuses who are offensive some of the time. And we have to widen our latitude in that area.

And this should be a reminder that we have cracked down on that and we have strangled debate. And if you are going to stand up and say I’m with Charlie, then you should also stand up at home and say, I protect people even if they offend me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, should the Americans think about making — taking a stand on freedom of expression based on what happened?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

No, I think David’s point about the campuses and how debate and controversy and speakers are banned or disinvited and so forth is absolutely legitimate and valid.

I do think, Judy, that this story, not simply because of the brutality, but because of the targets — it was journalists. And journalists cover journalism. If it had been 12 teachers, 12 bankers, it wouldn’t have had the same worldwide or national impact.

It is attacking the basic — the basic freedom of expression. But I think the reaction — you ask what the takeaway will be. I think that it will be predictable. And that is, the terrorists will prevail, in the sense that they will change the terms of the debate. We will become less welcoming. We will become less open. We will become more…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean not just in Europe, but here in the United States?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I just think that’s the reaction.

And I think that it probably invites copycat attempts, given the level of attention that this has received, and legitimately so. And it is a fundamental question. Do we then villainize an entire people, religion, which is a terrible consequence, but a possible one, from actions like this, given who the villains and the killers were?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it inevitable, David, that there is just more suspicion now of people who are or look Muslim because of something like that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s too early to tell.

Say, France — there have been a few things rising in France, so, obviously, through European history, through French history, there has been a suspicion of the other, like in most parts of the world. And so there may be a turn to the extreme right, to the Le Pen party or whatever.

I’m not sure we should assume that will happen. There is going to be a big march President Hollande has called for this weekend. There could be a rallying. And it is certainly possible for most human beings and most people to make the distinction between regular Muslims and the radicals.

I was in Israel for the last two weeks. And I frankly went to Israel expecting that the country, over the many years I have been going there, 20 years or so, had turned a little more racist, a little more anti-Arab in general. And I guess, in the conversations I had, I was surprised that people are still completely able to make the distinction between the good, honest, respectful Arabs, respectful Muslims that are the vast majority and the small Islamists. That’s the distinction I found constantly in Israel.

And Europeans are completely capable of making that distinction, as most Americans are. So, I’m hopeful it will not turn into some blanket group label and that we will be able to make that distinction, as we did pretty much after 9/11.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you come down on that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it strengthens — an act like this strengthens the hand of those who are not welcoming, who are less inclusive, who are suspicious. I don’t think there’s any question.

If you were picking political futures right now, in France, where President Hollande has the lowest ratings in the history of the Fifth Republic, that, you know, you would say that Le Pen is — I think he’s handled it well, all the rest of it, reaching out to his predecessor, with whom he’s not at all close.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Hollande, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: It has — and to Le Pen as well.

But I just think that there’s a natural closing-down. A concern for safety, and a concern for security means that I’m willing to surrender some of those freedoms. That is what — the predictable reaction. I hope it doesn’t result in villainizing and in demonizing an entire group of people by their faith.

We wouldn’t want to do that to Christians, of whom I am one, by the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, who operated with a cross as their symbol. But I’m just — I’m fearful of this, and especially where ignorance and not — lack of knowledge and openness with each other leads to such suspicions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When there’s this alert that goes out to Americans wherever they are outside the country to be much more watchful.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

Well, I do think one of the other things it underlines is why the NSA exists, why — we have had so many stories on overreach by the NSA and then the whole Edward Snowden thing.

And yet, if — as we heard earlier on the program, we are less likely to see sustained terror organizations, but a series of lone wolves who are sort of self-motivated at least, then you just need to use some of the technology that we have to supervise and try to intercept their communications.

And if — we all understand the costs of that. We are all a little freaked out about it. And yet if that’s a way to prevent an event like this, maybe to intercept some communications from these brothers, that’s a price a lot of us would be — well, at least we would consider.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But civil libertarians, Mark, are out there saying no.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the NSA has been, in many respects, its own worst enemy. When you start following Quaker meetings and the rest of it, it just sort of raises the question of where their priorities are.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk for a minute. We want to save a few minutes to talk about Congress opened up a new session. The Republicans have taken over.

Mark, are we looking for something different in the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: We have already found it. We found it, Judy.

Senator McConnell, the new majority leader of the Senate, has already told us that the biggest growth in jobs in the past 15 years, which has occurred this year, 5 percent economic growth in the third quarter, occurred because of Americans anticipating the Republicans taking over the Senate.

And, you know, so I don’t know what more difference you could ask for, that we had 59 consecutive months. There was a long period of gestation and anticipation of the Republicans taking over that has led to this economic recovery.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tongue in cheek.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think what we saw this week is that they’re getting their sea legs.

We are going through Groundhog Day. We’re passing again what we passed before, whether it’s in Obamacare, or we’re going to limit the number of people who are covered by Obamacare that employers have to cover for those working 40 hours, rather than 30 hours. And turns out it’s going to cost $42 billion to the Treasury, which is not funded.

So, the Republicans at some point are going to have to conclude, they need a record to stand on for the next two years. They are going to have to do something. I think they will be some meeting with the president on some issues that most Democrats, rank-and-file Democrats are not totally comfortable with, such as the trade proposals that — fast track, that the president and Republicans endorse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What should we look for?

DAVID BROOKS: I have been spending in advance of the Republican Congress, drilling oil, shale oil, my Democratic friends taking Prozac.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: A lot of spending going on.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I think a couple of things to really look for — they need to pass stuff.

I don’t know if they need to pass stuff. They need to get stuff to President Obama’s desk. So, a couple things they need to think about. They can’t do it without moderate Democrats. They have got to go to Mark Warner of Virginia. They have got to go to people like that, and even if it means losing some people on the right of their own party.

And so that is just the strategy. And this is the strategy you have been waiting for from President Obama or somebody else to try to craft a governing majority. Whether Mitch McConnell wants to do that, whether he can do it, if he wants to get stuff to President Obama’s desk, he has to do it.

And so I will be curious to see if he’s creative enough to do it. He has a different sort of Senate than we’re used to seeing; 53 members of the Senate have now served in the House. That’s a record. And so they bring a different set of manners into the body. It’s an incredibly young Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Manners meaning better, or worse?

DAVID BROOKS: Worse. Worse.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: The House operates in a certain way. And it operates in the way where the majority just pummels the minority.

And so if they bring that over, then that’s not good. It’s — I don’t know if this is hopeful or not. It is an amazingly young body. Marco Rubio is now like the eighth from the bottom in age. And that guy is like 16. I think 10 members of the Senate are now born in the 1970s.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa. We’re really getting young. We’re really getting young.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m covering the baby corps here.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So I don’t know what that will mean, but it’s a different sort of body. And we will see what kind of leadership McConnell brings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Marco Rubio, there are a few people who have already — it’s only January the 9th, Mark. And we’re already — this week, we not only heard from Jeb Bush that he is seriously looking at running for president, put out a — I guess he has announced a political action committee, Right to Rise.

But just this afternoon, Mitt Romney, we reported, has told some donors, it’s OK to go out and tell people I’m thinking about running.

Are we — do you see the shape of the 2016 list of candidates?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that Jeb Bush had a superb week, I mean, by announcing early, forcing the hand of several other people, including Governor Romney, by — especially by…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think that is what happened?

MARK SHIELDS: … saying he revealed — he’s going to reveal his taxes, the taxes he’s paid for the last 10 years. That puts a lot of pressure on everybody else to do the same.

Mitt Romney is at this position. He has a chance, Judy, to rewrite the first line of his obituary. The first line of the obituary now is, Mitt Romney, who was governor of Massachusetts and Republican nominee who lost for the presidency in 2012, died in Ogden, Utah, yesterday.

He has a chance, he feels, to win, and to run and to win. He leads in the polls, so it’s awfully tempting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think so.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: You can tell what kind of a conservative somebody is by what year they want to go back to. And I don’t think they want to go back to Romney.

 

I have a feeling he wants to run. People like him. They always tell him, oh, you should run, you should run. When he actually goes to the donors, will they actually give him actual green money?  I’m skeptical.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Green money, that’s going to be the test.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: That’s truly green money.

(LAUGHTER)

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

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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Shields and Gerson on 2015’s foreign policy issues, Mario Cuomo’s legacy


Sat, Jan 03, 2015


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HARI SREENIVASAN: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

So, first, I want to start out with a poll that came out, a Gallup poll, 1,000 Americans sampled. And they say their most important issue throughout the last year has been government.

And that was interesting to me, because, you know, when you look back at this, 2004 to 2007, it was Iraq, 2008 to 2013, it was the economy, and then, 2014, the government. So these are longstanding concerns. When it was the Iraq war, obviously, that was something a lot of us were concerned about, and then the economy through the financial crisis.

But this kind of pivotal moment, this turning point that so many people are so concerned about what’s happening in government and what’s happening in Washington and whether it’s even possible to get anything through, let’s start — what happens in 2015?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it’s part of a broader crisis of legitimacy for institutions.

People are questioning whether our institutions, including government, are up to our challenges. We have got serious challenges on education. We have got serious challenges entitlement reform and other things. And we don’t seem — our institutions aren’t responding in a way they should. And I think Obamacare played into that, to be honest, where — which faltered at the beginning, and also, you know, shook confidence in institutions.

So people want their government to work. Even, you know, conservatives want, in certain areas, government to work, and there are real questions about that.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say that confidence in government has diminished, is slipping. There are reasons for it.

I don’t think it’s necessarily distinct from loss of confidence, public confidence, in corporations, in other institutions, private institutions, higher education. It’s across the board, religion, the military being the sole exception, which I think has other psychological factors involved, which is, they’re doing it and we don’t have to do it.

But I really think, when you look at what happened with the Secret Service, with Veterans Administration, the NSA, I mean, there’s a sense of government not working or not working in the interest of the people who wanted it to.

Countering that, at the end of the year, there was a surge in confidence because — whether because of government policies, in spite of government policies — Democrats would argue the former — that there’s been a surge in economy and the president’s job rating is the highest it’s been in two years. And for the first time since the recession, since the great recession some six years ago, the national economic confidence is in the positive zone.

So, you know, perhaps — every poll is a snapshot in time, Hari. Maybe that one has passed, and we’re heading into a brighter and more optimistic time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. All right.

So, let’s talk about what’s possible in the world of bipartisanship, whether that exists or not, in 2015. Let’s start with kind of foreign policy issues. What’s likely to be on the table for — both for Congress and the president?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think we’re going to see the continuing crisis of the Middle East dominate on foreign policy.

First of all, it’s real hard to predict these things, because, last year, I’m not sure I would have predicted Ebola or the Ukraine or other things. But we do now have the circumstance in which three former secretaries of defense from this president and the former secretary of state have all been publicly critical of the president’s conduct of policy in Syria and Iraq, which has metastasized across the region, produced 200,000 deaths, as — you know, nine million displaced people in the region, and now threatens Lebanon, Jordan and other places and terrorism across the world.

This is likely to be a major focus. But do we have the policies in place necessary to contain that crisis right now? And our — some of our military has questions about that. And we’re going to see that, I think, work itself out with ISIS over the next year.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, I don’t pretend to be a prophet about what’s going to happen in the world.

I, of course, did say the Ukraine and Ebola a year ago.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And I was the first person to identify ISIS out of the entire class picture.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: But I think there’s going to be — there’s going to be an ambivalence, which has been in American foreign policy and defense policy, going to be saying, we have to do more and be more overt and more involved and engaged in combating ISIS, and that is coupled with and tempered by a strong resistance to America reentering.

And that really is the quandary and the dilemma. I fear that, as the Russian economy plummets and energy prices go down and the oligarchy is threatened and Putin is diminished, that Russia will become more aggressive and more nationalistic, which is only a recipe for trouble.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, what about the sort of situation of troops on the ground?

It seems that there’s been a lot of concern about exactly whether the U.S. withdrew too soon, whether the U.S. committed too many or too few troops in states like Iraq — or countries, I should say, like Iraq or Afghanistan.

Even today, Ashraf Ghani, I think in a recent interview, said, well, that whole withdrawing by 2016, that could still be negotiable, and the president knows what I’m talking about.

But we clearly don’t know that.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the administration claimed that the Iraq war was over, but ISIS didn’t believe it was.

They claimed that the Syrian crisis could be contained. And it clearly has not been contained in the way that was originally intended. And now the claim is that we can leave Afghanistan. And I’m not sure the Taliban are going to cooperate here. So that, I think, is a very live issue.

What is necessary? We — I don’t think anyone has an appetite for troops on the ground in the same way that they have been in the last 10 years in the Middle East. The question is whether this strategy we have of striking from afar, using intelligence capabilities and drones, is sufficient to the defeat of ISIS and the rollback of ISIS. And that is very much an open question.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I would simply add to that, I — I wait and hope that we will have a debate on this subject.

I mean, the Congress, both parties, has not forced the issue. I mean, this should be national policy. What it has been in the sense is a delegation to the president. You can delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility. And the responsibility under the Constitution is with the Congress. It’s with the people. We should have a national debate exactly on what we are willing to do.

We have had ouchless, painless wars, with tax cuts, for the past 15 years, and coffin after coffin has come back, and congressman after congressman and president after president has not gone to the funerals. And Gold Star mothers are not comforted, except by letters and an occasional phone call.

And this is not a broadly shared sacrifice. It’s a violation of the great American principle of the universality of shared sacrifice. And that has been totally missing. And we do need a debate on this. And it’s been — it’s been dereliction of duty on the part of our leadership and on us, as a people, in not demanding it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

What about domestic policy? Domenico rattled off a list of things. Do you think that there’s any possible movement on, say, immigration or Keystone?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, first of all, I think that Mark is exactly right that the key over the next year is going to be whether this growth, this serious growth that we’re seeing is going to be sustained. That would create an environment that is tougher for Republicans in 2016, not impossible, but tougher. That’s the context in which many of our debates take place.

So I think that that’s certainly true. The problem is, there are a bunch of issues, tax reform, trade, that were mentioned that adults in Washington want progress on, that think our country could benefit for — from.

But we’re likely to have a debate on immigration in February with the funding of the Department of Homeland Security that was deferred this last time, and maybe a debate on the debt limit in March that could be knockdown, drag-out funding debates of the kind that we have seen in the past, where both sides are at one another’s throat.

The question is, does that overwhelm? Does it prevent progress on other issues on this agenda that — that are necessary, that most people concede are necessary? And I’m afraid that we’re going to see the kind of debates we have seen in the past and that that could really overwhelm, you know, the capacity of our system.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m a little bit more optimistic.

I don’t think there’s a national yearning for more rancor and more name-calling out of Washington. I think there’s an interest on the part of Republicans to show that they can be a governing party, something that that’s been — there is widespread doubt about.

There’s a certain, obviously, urgency on the part of President Obama to add to or create or — his record for the last two years. I would add to Domenico’s list. I would certainly include tax reform. But tax reform requires a lot more than just kind of an agreement that the corporate tax cut ought to be lower. If you’re going to raise any revenue, that’s going to require real sacrifice, again, real deal-making.

And there’s no Bill Bradley, there’s no central figure who’s made this his case. And Dave Camp did, and now he’s gone from the Congress. And so I think that infrastructure, there is a hope. I mean, when you get a water main breaking in every major city and flooding a block at least on a weekly basis, it seems, it ought to be a reminder that bridges, tunnels, roads, and water systems are part of the national competitiveness, in addition to living a decent life.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, speaking of living a decent life, Mario Cuomo, your thoughts?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that there are a class of American politician that are influential people who never became president.

That’s true of Hubert Humphrey. It’s true of Scoop Jackson. It’s true of Jack Kemp. There are a group of people that really influenced American politics without being president. He belongs in that category.

There are some orators in American history that are orators of unity or of national purpose. He was an orator of ideological definition. He told Democrats, this is what we can be, this is what we should be. He inspired his party, his ideology, in the same way that Ronald Reagan did in a speech like “A Time for Choosing” in 1964. This is what we want to be.

That, I think — you know, Bill Clinton eventually won the argument over the future of the Democratic Party with new Democratic ideas, but Mario Cuomo won the soul of the party. And people are still very nostalgic about that, I think.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a good point.

Harry — what the hell was his name, the great Jewish philosopher and funnyman? Oh, Harry Golden. Harry Golden said he always knew the first Jewish candidate for president would be an Episcopalian.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Barry Goldwater. And it was just an acknowledgement that it was necessary to Americanize and kind of take off the rough edges if you’re going to go national.

Mario Cuomo didn’t speak English until he entered the public schools of South Queens, New York. And he had mastered English. He was a first-rate intellect. Holmes said of Roosevelt that he was a first-rate temperament and a second-rate intellect, which I think was unfair, but Mario Cuomo was a first-rate intellect.

And I just — he brought to it a gravity and a seriousness. He could deal with any issue, philosophical, political, policy, in a real sense. And I — my one regret that he didn’t run for president is, it would have been a great debate. We would have been forced to confront real questions and eternal truths.

He did — Michael is right. He spoke for the soul of the Democratic Party. In the decade of the 1980s, when he emerged, the Democrats carried one state in 1984, six states in 1980, and 10 states in 1988. They were wiped out, 17 states. And he — to a disappointed, discouraged, dejected Democratic Party, he said, this is who we are, and we must be a family, we must share the burdens and share the blessings.

And he really did. He did give a great, great lift to a party that needed it and to a nation that needed it.

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

MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

 

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Shields and Gerson on cyber-attacks after Sony, Obama’s year ahead


Fri, Dec 26, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the news, unfortunately, this holiday week wasn’t exactly peace on earth.

New York City is mourning two assassinated police officers, and Sony released its controversial film “The Interview.”

For our Friday news analysis, we are joined by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

Happy holidays to both of you.

MICHAEL GERSON: Likewise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as we say, Mark, the news is kind of tough.

Let’s talk about Sony first. They went ahead and released this picture after all online, streaming, as well as in the theaters. The expectation is there are going to be more cyber-attacks like the one on Sony. What — has the U.S. handled this the right way and what’s been learned, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: You know, I think the president handled it right in his press conference, I thought, by saying it was an act of vandalism, rather than an act of terrorism, because if it’s an act of terrorism, then it does rise to the level of national security and there has to be an American governmental response.

Judy, it is really difficult to generate enormous sympathy for Sony in this. They are not an admiral corporate character, and they have hardly handled themselves that way. The fact that North Korea is the heavy in the piece, and deservedly so, I just think that we are seeing only the edges of what cyber-security involves.

The FBI director said in October there are two kinds of big companies in America, those that have been hacked by the Chinese and those that don’t know they have been hacked by the Chinese.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: By the Chinese.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and I just think that — I think North Korea is a secondary or tertiary player in this whole drama. But this is the new reality.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they still were able to pull this off.

Michael, lessons learned?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it did highlight a few things.

One of them is the role of the NSA. This is an organization that is reviled by Snowden and Rand Paul and others, but it’s our front line of defense when it comes issues like this. They are heavily involved in this case. So I think it’s — this is an important part of our national defense that we need to take seriously.

I also think that we have missed — the important emphasis this last week was in the U.N. Security Council in exposing North Korea, not in a screwball comedy, but in a major report, and then a Security Council session, where our ambassador, Samantha Power, laid out a very powerful case against North Korea, 100,000 people in gulags perhaps, systematic rape, torture.

It’s an unbelievably grim circumstance that deserves a lot more attention than it receives. And I’m afraid that the controversy on the movie may have actually distracted from the real news, which is, the world is calling attention to this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It almost got overlooked, in fact, the human rights…

MARK SHIELDS: No, it did. That’s a good point.

I would just point out, on the NSA, we know about the — the NSA has been playing offense for a long time. So we are aware that we are — we have not been missing in this action from — just check Mrs. Merkel’s phone records, if nothing else.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the North Korean Internet went down, but it was only for nine or 10 hours, and back up again.

MARK SHIELDS: And who knew…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And nobody knows…

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not a highly wired society.

MICHAEL GERSON: It had no effect on North Korea.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other story we’re covering today is the funeral of the New York City police officer who was killed and — assassinated sitting in a patrol car last weekend.

Mark, this comes as there have been protests around the country about the killing of unarmed — young unarmed black men. I guess my question is, is this a conversation that’s shifted this week because of what happened to those police officers? And how do we as a country make any progress on this issue? It feels like we’re stuck on this.

MARK SHIELDS: To answer your first question, yes, there’s no question it has changed.

There’s a sense of urgency. What had been seemingly a pattern of tragedies and the different circumstances in Staten Island, Cleveland being different from Ferguson, but a pattern that was nonetheless disturbing, this was an act of just blatant assassination and people — because they were police officers.

And I think, Judy, what it does is, it forces us to confront it. We all felt — I shouldn’t say all, but so many of us felt, after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and even more so after his reelection in 2012, that we had reached a watershed in racial relations in this country, that somehow we’d gone beyond the original sin of slavery and racism and all the rest of it, and that we were now just sort of a happy, whole society.

You know, the numbers are terribly daunting, that this recession has hit African-Americans, non-white, Hispanic — non-Hispanic, non-whites harder than anybody else. We know what we don’t need to do, and that is to ignore the issue. And we don’t need to in any way turn our back on the fact that 93 percent of African-American children go to public schools.

And, as Senator John McCain said, I think wisely, there’s no reason in the world to pay a bad congressman more than a good teacher. And I just think the last thing in the world we can do is turn our back on public education in this country and should concentrate our efforts and attention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that what we should be thinking more about, economic and education…

MICHAEL GERSON: No, I agree with that, but there is a large policing issue here.

And one of the main difficulties — we have had large shifts in the way race is viewed in America. There are generational shifts. One in 12 marriages is now an interracial marriage in America. That is going to shift opinion over time. There are some good things here.

But there are fundamental disagreements on the way our criminal justice system is viewed by whites and blacks in America. And you see, this is largely a municipal issue, not a national issue. So, a place like Saint Louis, which is my hometown, has not done it well. They have not built trust.

They have municipalities that are dependent on ticket revenue. They have a history of racial and class profiling in the way tickets are done. It’s perceived as harassment. And then, when a crisis comes, there’s no trust. There’s no resources of trust to build on.

You look at a place like Los Angeles, which had huge problems in conflict between the community and the police, but have gotten better over the last decade. They now have a police force that is very closely representative of the racial composition of Los Angeles, a lot of trust built up over time. It’s possible to make those kinds of changes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They have worked at it.

MICHAEL GERSON: They have really worked at it. They have had good leadership, including William Bratton, who is now in New York.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

MICHAEL GERSON: But it’s — it takes a lot of intentional effort to build that trust.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, I mean, is — do you see any signs that that’s happening, Mark? We have these conversations, but then you have a — the shooting, like what happened in New York.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, there are any number of topics that can be discussed at any time in America.

And this has forced us to address this issue. I mean, we can make the decision to look at it briefly and then move away, or it can be central to the 2016 debate. I mean, Michael mentioned Rand Paul in another context. He has been one of those very vocal and visible in the question of sentencing and treatment, as Jim Webb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia, had been, in the treatment of people who were convicted of a crime and winning back the right to vote and winning back their citizenship and a chance to earn a living.

So, there is a debate here. But I think the assassination of the police officers is not comparable to, but it directs the attention like the attack of the dogs of Bull Connor’s did in the civil rights. I mean, you can’t turn away from it and from those funerals and those families and say, well, this is just a simple problem, minor problem. We can now discuss whether we should cut the capital gains tax instead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Yes.

Well, I want to — I do want to raise with you all something else that we are watching as we come. We’re just days away from the end of the year. It seems like — it was only seven weeks ago, Michael, that we had the midterm elections. President Obama seemed like he was back on his heels, he couldn’t get anything done.

But then, in the course of the seven weeks, immigration reform initiative, he moved on a climate change, environmental agreement with the Chinese, and then, just in the last few days the announcement about normalizing relations with Cuba.

And then there was a poll that came out, I guess, just a day or so ago, CNN, shows the president’s approval rating, it’s actually up, only four points, but it’s gone up.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s the deal? What is the story? As we head into the seventh year of his presidency, how do you see the balance of power between him and the Congress?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think you have to start by saying that the press narrative of the president’s irrelevance was always absurd.

The United States president is never irrelevant. He has the ability to do things. George W. Bush, at the low point of his approval in his second term, did the Iraq surge, which was historically quite important.

Presidents have the power to do this and can. The real question is whether we now, in this fairly short legislative window at the beginning of the new Congress, before we get into the 2016 debate, where really all the legislative action is overwhelmed, is it possible to make some progress here?

A lot of that depends on what Republicans do, whether they decide they want to pursue a positive, incremental agenda, even if it’s vetoed by the president, that shows what their values are, or whether they want catastrophic, cataclysmic conflict over budget and immigration and other issues, you know, up-or-down votes on major issues like that.

That’s a different approach, a different strategy. And I think Republicans are going to need to be more incremental, more hopeful, more positive, more policy-oriented in this period in order to set up their candidate for 2016.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the balance?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s been a real change in balance.

I think even President Obama’s greatest admirers had a feeling during the fall that he was mailing it in, that he was almost enduring the office, rather than exhilarating in it. And every discussion, every decision seemed to be calibrated by, how is it going to affect Louisiana Senate race, or Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina?

In a strange way, he’s been liberated since there, sadly by the defeat of those four Democrats, I’m sure, to him. But he seems reenergized. I mean, the audacity of hope, hope may not be dominant, but certainly audacity is back in the litany of the things that you mentioned he’s done.

In addition to that, Judy, the Republicans find themselves in a very difficult position. It reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and the Democrats were in the majority in the Congress. And, 1986, along comes Iran-Contra. And Democrats immediately charge, Ronald Reagan knew about this completely. He cleared everything.

And Jim Wright, who was the Democratic speaker of the House, the majority leader, about to become speaker of the House that next year, said, wait a minute, you can’t have it both ways. We can’t say Reagan for six years didn’t know what time it was, what day it was, and now he’s this diabolical mastermind.

The Republicans have Obama characterized and caricatured as this feckless, sort of passive, disengaged — now he’s a despot. Now he’s in charge of everything. Now he is too strong. He’s overly muscular.

So, I mean, they have got to decide on which Obama they’re going after at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have got 10 seconds to tell me which Obama they’re going to go after.

MICHAEL GERSON: I don’t know.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL GERSON: But there are some divisions on the left too.

The Warren anti-Wall Street wing could play out as well in this part as well.

MARK SHIELDS: No question.

MICHAEL GERSON: Both sides have their own internal divisions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Glad there are no divisions here right now.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are some, which is OK, as we get to the end of the year.

Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on reconciling with Cuba, Sony censorship


Fri, Dec 19, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to talk about a full week of news, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, so much to talk about.

David, the story today, the headline story is North Korea, the administration confirming that they are behind this cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

First of all, the president said flat out today that Sony made a mistake. What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I guess I think so.

You know, it’s — like the president said, we can’t have a country where people are self-censoring, and based on some foreign attack. If this was — if they had done a movie about a civil rights figure and a bunch of racists said, we’re going to do something to your company unless you pull this movie, and they pulled the movie, it would have been clear it would have been a disgraceful thing to do.

And I think this is somewhat similar. I do have some sympathy for Sony. They’re out there all alone against a country spending apparently hundreds of millions of dollars to target them. This is a collective action problem. The companies have to stick together. The government has to say an attack on a U.S. company or any company sited in the U.S. is an attack on the country, and the government has to step in. And, frankly, journalists have to step in.

I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Step in? What do you mean?

DAVID BROOKS: When these — when the e-mails were leaked, I think reputable news organizations shouldn’t participate in publicizing them.

Now, obviously, they’re going to be out on the Web somewhere. Somebody is going to publicize what was in the e-mails. I do not think we should be involved in that business. It’s sort of — let somebody else do it. It is sort of aiding what is basically a terrorist act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David’s call for self-censoring on e-mails is high-minded. I don’t think it’s practical.

And I think this did contribute in part to Sony’s action. I mean, there’s an old Earl Long expression. Never write what you can speak, never speak what you can whisper, never whisper what you can nod, and never nod what you can wink.

And I think the e-mails were embarrassing to — not simply professionally, but personally to the people there. And I agree they’re trafficking in gossip. I think that accelerated Sony’s decision. And the question as to what happened between them and the theater owners is open, whether, in fact, Sony really did want the theater owners to say, take the pressure off us by saying you don’t want to show the film.

I mean, the president, I thought, was quite forceful. He was very measured. And he has let it know — I mean, proportionally, we don’t know what form it will take. I thought the ambassador made good points in the previous piece as to what form it can take, given the fact that there is no economic commerce between the two countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there a clear path for the — in a situation like this, David, where you have a government going after a private company?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, you know, the president said that he spends twice as much time as his predecessor as cyber-security and his successor will spend twice as much time than him.

And so this is clearly going to be a gigantic issue. And among the cyber-security people — believe me, I’m no expert — but they talk about going on offense and that you have to have deterrents. We talk so much about smart and soft power.

This is a new form of hard power. It’s a kind of warfare that is being waged on us. And you simply have to intimidate and deter. And so the U.S. has to, as it does, obviously, have a capability to deter. And that means going on offense against the people who are doing bad things whether they’re in China, North Korea, Russia or anywhere else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, some have looked at this and said, should there be limits on what movies are made about or what books are written about? If you’re going to go after a sitting leader of a country, are you opening yourself up for something like this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I assume it was discussed at some point.

I mean, David’s point, are you going to be inhibited by making a biographical piece on Martin Luther King or John Lewis because some racists say you can’t do it, or Mandela, or whatever the case, you can’t be stampeded.

There had to be some consideration given to the marketability and what the impact would be of making — on a closed society, on someone who is not simply just paranoid, but obviously a self-deity as well. So, it’s a — I guess you substitute any other country. I mean, would you do it — would you make a satire on the assassination of the prime minister of Israel, of the pope, of the queen of England?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there any limits here?

DAVID BROOKS: No, of course not. If a guy is a dictator, a ruthless dictator like this guy, you almost have a moral responsibility to write negative things about them.

And that’s the job of what we do. Now, it’s complicated because we have had so many of these cases involving Islam. Now, in another faith, then you want to show respect, obviously, because it’s a faith. But that doesn’t mean if somebody is an Islamist radical, you couldn’t — shouldn’t go after them.

And there have been cases obviously, in Europe particularly, where theater companies, where newspapers have backed down in the face of that threat. But you sort of have a moral responsibility. And being what we do it’s not that complicated, it’s not that dangerous, but we do have some responsibility to criticize people who deserve criticism.

MARK SHIELDS: Those of us a certain age do remember Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler, and, you know, the idea, and the brilliance of a piece like “The Producers,” of being able to make — enable people to laugh at somebody, which is the last thing in the world that a despot can live with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk another big story this week, and it’s Cuba opening up to this country, David, after 53, 54 years.

Was it the right thing to do for the president to do this on his own and to say, we’re going to — we have given it a shot for half-a-century, it’s time to do something else?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it was the right move.

Listen, this policy has been in place longer than I have been alive and it’s failed all that time. So, eventually, maybe you try something else. And so this is about regime change. And I think Marco Rubio, who objected so strongly, has a case.

Venezuela is now poor because of the price of oil. They can’t afford to subsidize Cuba. Maybe the Cuban regime would have fallen faster and maybe we’re giving them a lifeline by opening up some trade and giving them some economic support.

Nonetheless, I think the way to look at it is, are we strengthening Cuban society with American influence? That regime is going to fall. We want Cuba to be a decent place to live after that regime falls. It’s better to have American influence there economically, culturally, intellectually. It will be a better society, so when the regime finally does fall, the transition, which we now know is so hard, from communism will be a little easier. I think the president did the right thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: David Brooks has been more successful in his five decades than has been this policy toward Cuba.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: You can make the case, Judy, that sanctions have worked economically. And I think they have — I think they’re working right now against Russia. They certainly worked against South Africa.

They worked — I think you can make the case they brought Iran to the bargaining table. They have not worked with Cuba. They were intended, when they were installed, to put pressure through the Cuban people on the Castro regime and it would topple.

The reverse occurred. It made, if anything, the administration — the regime became stronger and more entrenched. And so — and irrespective of Senator Rubio’s arguments, which may be — have historic validity, I think we want to acknowledge what we have done is wrong, it’s made no sense.

And if we do want to hasten that change and be part of that change, be an agent of that change and to make — help make Cuba a freer and fairer and better country, then I think that we believe in our exchange, a free exchange. So I commend the president for it. I think he did the right thing.

Politically, I would just point this out. John Kerry in — Al Gore in 2000 got 29 percent of the Cuban American vote in 2004. And Florida is the epicenter of what — Cuban Americans politically in this country. Al Gore got 29 percent in 2004. Barack Obama got 35 percent in 2008. And they split the vote in 2012.

So it is more of a political opportunity than it is a political liability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, the fact the president did it on his own, he didn’t wait for Congress to get rid of the trade embargo?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fine. I have conniptions when he does something on immigration, on domestic policy. But on foreign policy, the president has a lot more leeway. And I so think it’s fine that he did it.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I mean, no, wait for the Congress, Judy? Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Let’s be — I’m serious about this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did I say something crazy?

MARK SHIELDS: We have a Republican primary coming up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, speaking of Florida politicians — you both mentioned Marco Rubio — there is another Florida politician, David, Jeb Bush, the former governor, who hasn’t had his name on a ballot I guess in 12 years.

But he is moving closer to running. He’s going to set up an exploratory committee. What do you think? What does it look like?

DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s the favorite.

I wouldn’t say he’s a huge favorite, by any means, but I think he’s a plausible candidate. He was a successful governor from a swing state, and he has a good reputation in the party. He’s pretty conservative, not so much on immigration, but compared to Republican presidents in the past, he’s pretty conservative, not as conservative as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul,.

But he is sort of where the mainstream of the party is and I believe the party is coming back from its Tea Party phase. And it’s coming back to about where Jeb Bush is. And, basically, obviously, the obvious problem is he’s — last name is Bush. He has some hedge fund and some income issues he will have to deal with, but compared to the other candidates, the Christies, maybe the Rubio, the Paul, the Cruz, he has looked pretty — he looks less flawed than the other guys.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa. That’s high praise.

MARK SHIELDS: Less flawed.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Even better than our Cuba policy.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how do you size it up?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that Jeb Bush had a good week.

If you’re in the situation right now thinking about running for president, you want to postpone that as long as you can. You want to keep your powder dry. You don’t want to go through a two-year marathon endurance contest.

So what he did was, he forced the issue. he forced the issue by his announcement of an exploratory committee. Let it be noted that no exploratory committee in the history of American politics has ever come back and said anything but, there’s a groundswell out there for you, boss. Everybody wants you to run.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But, by doing this, he did a couple of things.

First of all, he said he was going to release all his e-mails. That puts pressure on who?

JUDY WOODRUFF: From the time when he was governor.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, when he was governor.

That puts pressure on Chris Christie, the current governor of New Jersey, who has got some e-mails he’d just soon not have made public, and on Hillary Clinton, a possible opponent. She’s been reluctant to make public all her e-mails. He has also moved up the timetable for others to make the decision, smoked out people.

I do not see him as this great moderate. In fact, he was an ardently conservative governor of Florida. On two issues, on Common Core, the education standards test, which was a Republican embrace and has now been moved and abandoned by virtually every Republican and shoe leather, and immigration, are the two that really make him, I guess, the king of moderates in the current Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you don’t think it hurts — or do you think it hurts that he’s a Bush, another, the father, one son and now the other son?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it hurts.

But if he wasn’t running against a Clinton, it would really hurt. But if he’s running against a Clinton, what are we going to choose? It’s George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson. We have some old names here.

MARK SHIELDS: Franklin Roosevelt, four times president of the United States, winner of World War II, saved the country in the Depression, his namesake, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., could get elected to the House of Representatives only from New York. He couldn’t even get elected attorney general.

The idea that George Herbert Walker Bush, a thoroughly admirable and good patriotic American, would spawn two sons in the space of 20 years who become president, are we that thin on talent in this country of 315 million people  that we go back to the same family three times in less than a generation?

JUDY WOODRUFF: We may have to ponder that one over the holidays. We have got a few days to think about it.

We’re not going to see the two of you before Christmas. I want to wish both of you a wonderful holiday, a merry Christmas.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a happy new year.

MARK SHIELDS: Same to you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And thank you for 2014, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you very much.

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Shields and Brooks on the CIA interrogation report, spending bill sticking points


Fri, Dec 12, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, Congress is going down to the wire again on averting a government shutdown. New and familiar divisions emerged inside both parties. And all that happened just days after a report on the CIA’s alleged use of torture went public.

For all that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, Mark, we’re going right down to the wire once again on a spending bill. Was this inevitable, lame-duck session, after the midterm elections? Is this what we knew was going to happen?

MARK SHIELDS: Probably, Judy.

And it’s a great opportunity for people who have particular causes that they want to slip into the final legislation, that it’s — the train is pulling out of the station. You have to vote to keep the government going, keep it open. And so I think there’s a certain appeal, in addition to the procrastination, that contributes to this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sometimes, people want to avert their eyes, but here we go again.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, though I’m upbeat.

I think we have a right to be happy and joyful, holiday season. We had an actual government shutdown not too long ago. And this time, the odds are, we’re not going to have one. And so a couple things have happened. The center has held.

President Obama and John Boehner, Democrat, Republican, it seems like they’re going to win this thing. They’re not going to win it without blood and setbacks, but they are going to win it. Boehner clearly has much more control over the Republican Caucus than he did this time a year ago or six months ago.

And so that’s interesting and probably productive. On the other hand, the Democrats are beginning to behave like an opposition party, a party in opposition. And we’re beginning to see the shifts there. Now, I would say the big loser of the week is Hillary Clinton.

If you thought she was going to walk in, cakewalk to the coronation, if I’m mixing metaphors there, but that ain’t going to happen. Clearly, the Democratic Party is beginning to have an argument within itself with a more populist wing, a more establishment wing, so a little parallel to what happened to the Republicans a couple of years ago, but it’s really interesting.

And so we have seen a lot of the new formations of the next two years come into being here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David is referring, Mark, to Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, a darling of many of the liberals, who is taking issue with one of the easing of the financial regulations in the bill. There are other liberal Democrats who are unhappy about changing campaign finance.

Is this what we have to look forward to in the Democratic Party?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think I have a little different take on it from David, in the sense that I think the Democrats had a great opportunity here to define themselves as a party.

They have gone through an election where they’d never had an economic message. And here’s a bill presented with the amendment, quite openly written by Citigroup. The four biggest banks in the country handle 93 percent of derivatives. And this is written for them.

It’s to make their business easier and to provide backup if — in case things still go wrong, that Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer of this country will bail them out once more under — in the worst possible circumstances. They say, oh, it’s just — it’s making it easier logistically and so forth.

The Democrats had a chance to break that. Nancy Pelosi stood up on it, and I think — really think that the White House buckled too soon. I think they had the Republicans very much on the defensive. They didn’t want — wanted to deny paternity of this provision. It ties them very much into the negative public stereotype of the party as too close to big money.

And then on top of that, they quintupled or actually octupled the amount of money that millionaires and billionaires can give to party committees. So, you had two really good issues. And we have ended up with 70 percent, seven out of 10 House Democrats voting against, not simply the speaker, but voting against the president on this bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying it’s a good thing for the Democrats.

David, a good thing?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s a good thing. Any turmoil in the Democratic Party has got to be a good thing.

It’s very much like what happened in the Republican Party. It’s the difference between, are you trying to make a statement or are you trying to pass a law? If you are progressive and you have, as Mark says, two great issues, you can make a statement.

On the other hand, if you don’t pass this right now, and you kick it over to the next Congress, say, then it’s certainly going to be worse on a whole range of other issues for Democrats because Republicans will be in control. And so the people who supported this thing, like Barack Obama, Steny Hoyer, all these people, they are looking at what is going to happen, not only those two issues, but on a whole range of issues.

So, if you’re trying to define your party, then Mark is right. Elizabeth Warren has a good defining issue there. If you’re trying to pass a law that will be good for your people on a whole range of other issues, Barack Obama is right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Weren’t we just talking, Mark, a couple weeks ago about the president making gestures to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party on immigration reform, the executive action, net neutrality?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, no question.

But I think this was a crunch question. I don’t think there’s any question the Republicans could not — this is a practical political question, rather than just symbolic and philosophical. I think the Republicans were in a terrible position. The more heat, the more light, the more attention that had focused on these two provisions would have put them very much on the defensive, to the point — there was — Tea Party Republicans were upset because of the money.

They see this opening up the money, the millionaires and billionaires’ money, to the establishment of the Republican Party, then running against them, as they did very effectively in 2014, in primaries, so that they will nominate more establishment candidates.

So I just think a missed opportunity was here. And I think that the White House, quite frankly, was eyeball to eyeball with the Republican Congress and the White House blinked.

DAVID BROOKS: But a lot of it is what’s getting your juices flowing. And for Elizabeth Warren, this issue on the derivatives gets her juices flowing. That’s like a core issue.

And for a lot of Democrats, that is a core issue. I think, for a lot of other Democrats, it’s just not a core issue. They might agree with it nominally, but they’re just not passionately involved. And that’s why I leap ahead to the primary season. And that’s why Elizabeth Warren owes it to us to run, or somebody like owes it to us to run to make our lives interesting, of course.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re going to wait and talk about that on another — on another Friday.

The Senate Intelligence report, though, Mark, on the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques or, as others say, that’s euphemistic for torture, what do you make of the report and the reaction of the CIA, this this — a few people did it, it was legal, and they did what they had to do in a time of great stress for the country?

MARK SHIELDS: The critics have basically they didn’t talk to enough people, it wasn’t complete, it wasn’t balanced, it shouldn’t come out at this time, doesn’t — helpful.

Is it true? Yes, it’s true. Did the United States — I mean, Ronald Reagan signed the anti-torture U.N. convention as president of the United States in 1988. The Senate ratified it in 1994. Torture was declared not simply immoral, but illegal.

In 2001, we repealed it. Without any official act, it was effectively repealed. And that’s what this is about. And, on this issue, Judy, it’s very rare that this happens in American public life. There’s one figure who stands unassailable and alone as the authority. And that is John McCain.

And John McCain is the moral clarity on this torture issue and on this report. And he is the one who has said, quite bluntly, yes, we should have it, we should have had this report, and what we did done was wrong, and it’s not the United States. We are better than that as a people. He believes in American exceptionalism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you make of the report?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I will add four things.

First, the best thing about the report is, it cuts through the ocean of euphemism, the EITs, enhanced interrogation techniques, and all that. It gets to straight language. Torture — it’s obviously torture. What was done is obviously torture.

And when you cut through it, though, the technology — or the metaphor and the euphemism is designed to dull the moral sensibility. And this aroused the moral sensibility. It’s very hard to read this report and not be morally outraged. And so that does have — that had a great effect.

Second — the second issue raised, which is another issue McCain has gone to, is the effectiveness of the evidence. And I think we’re right to be agnostic about that. Brennan says he’s not sure. John Brennan says he’s not sure.

MARK SHIELDS: Unknowable.

DAVID BROOKS: Unknowable whether it helped. McCain says, from his own personal experience, that torture leads to bad intelligence. He’s probably right about that. So we’re unsure about that.

I do have some sympathy for those who say the document was too partisan. It was written by Democratic staffers. It was done in a partisan way. I’m a little bothered, as a reporter, that they didn’t interview as many people as they should have. I do — there’s some merit in that.

And then the thing they do whitewash is the role of Congress here and even the role of Democrats. At the time, the CIA claims, with some evidence, that they did brief people. And a lot of people who are now on their high horse saying how horrible that it was sat there in those rooms and didn’t say anything or even were for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is the argument really about here? What matters in all of this, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, what matters, Judy — it was not a perfect document and I don’t think anybody is pretending that it is.

What matters is, do we confront what we have done and what was done in our name and under our flag? And, you know, to quote John McCain, this isn’t about our enemies. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

And I wasn’t just being glib when I said he believes in American exceptionalism. A lot of people on the left who are very supportive of McCain’s position don’t think America is exceptional otherwise. But — and all the people who talk about America being exceptional and doing whatever we want militarily all of a sudden are very defensive and don’t even — don’t even pretend to hold us to a standard on something like torture.

This was torture. The United States of America does not, does not, does not hold somebody by chains to a floor half-naked and let him freeze to death in the name of the United States of America. We don’t do that. David’s right. It’s impossible to read it and not to be morally upset.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If that’s the case then, why aren’t we talking about punishment for the people who did this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, people are put in miserable jobs and decisions were made at a political level.

And there was — a lot of what we have learned is that decisions are made, but then don’t tell me what you’re going to do, under the aegis of the decision I just made.

And I do — I would hesitate to do it, because it was a tough time. They didn’t know anything about what al-Qaida was up to. And I do think they were motivated by the national security interest. I think it was wrong. I think the people who were involved — and we know this from the report — the people who were involved were appalled at the time, but sometimes they thought, you know, they are doing the right thing.

We kill people with drones. We’re killing people all the time with drones. Killing is probably worse than torture. Those moral calculus shouldn’t be legalized, except for in extreme cases, in my view.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just very quickly to both of you, the CIA comes out of this how?

MARK SHIELDS: The CIA comes out of it, I think, damaged and wounded.

I think that’s what John Brennan is trying to do. Judy, most of all, what it hurts is the honest, effective, dedicated professionals who get intelligence without torturing people, without degrading other human beings, who do that every day, and do it well.

DAVID BROOKS: It wasn’t just the CIA. It was the whole country. There was a lot of people, and a lot of people up the political chain, a lot of people in Congress, a lot of people in the public. And so we’re trying to rediscover our moral center.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tough questions tonight.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on who gets credit for jobs growth, protests on race and justice


Fri, Dec 05, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Protests have sprung up this week across America, as a second grand jury chose not to indict a police officer in a killing of an unarmed black man. And in Washington, President Obama announced his choice for the new leader of the Pentagon.

We turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us from New York.

Hello, gentlemen.

So we have just heard, David, the analysis on the jobs report. Do we finally have something to cheer about here?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so. We might as well take advantage of it.

We have had a lot of scuffling along. And now that seems to have stopped. And what’s impressive to me mostly is our job performance compared to Europe. If you talk to Europeans, they’re in a bit of a funk. The economy there, with the possible exception of Germany, is just in stagnation.

You have got these astronomically high youth unemployment rates. And so we’re doing pretty well. And I guess that’s partly a credit to the Obama administration. They might as well take a little victory lap out of this. They — we have come out of the recession better than our normal peers, partly to the American system, which has some disadvantages, but has some advantages, which is dynamism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, time to take a victory lap?

MARK SHIELDS: I think so.

Judy, Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman today, said that 300,000 jobs, 323,000 created, ought to be expected every month. It shouldn’t be an exception. And just a historical perspective, during the eight years of President Bush, there were 2.1 million net jobs created in the United States, and of that 2.1 million, 1.8 million were in the public sector, state, local or federal government.

That means there were 300,000 jobs in the private sector created in eight months — in eight years, rather, net. So, I mean, this is rather remarkable. And I just point out that in the — David touched on the fact that more jobs have been created in the United States in the last four years than in Europe, Japan, all the industrialized modern world combined.

So, it’s a record. And there’s just one other little item, and it’s not unimportant. And this is where David and I do disagree, I know; 70 years since World War II, 36 years with a Republican president, 34 years with a Democratic president, in those 70 years, there were 36.7 million jobs created by Republican — under Republican presidents, while Republicans were office, OK, a little over half the time.

In 34 years, there were 63.7 million created by Democrats. That’s 29 million more. Perhaps it’s an accident once or twice or what. But, I mean, at some point, the Democrats ought to be trumpeting the fact that they have been better on the economy and job creation than have been their opposition.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

DAVID BROOKS: I was afraid you were going to turn to me.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was waiting to see what you had to say about that.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

No, listen, if the president could turn up a dial and create jobs, that would be great. But presidents can’t do that. The correlation between policies and actual job creation, there’s a huge amount of lag and they just don’t have that ability. A lot of it is just the function of the cyclical labor market.

Mark mentioned President Bush’s lamentable job performance. But he created a bunch of jobs, and then they all got wiped out in the last year during his recession, because we had this grand recession. And so business cycles come and go. And what the government can do is create a landscape which can create long-term job growth, but it’s rare that an administration has the ability to turn it on and off in that kind of short-term way. So, I just don’t think it’s that germane a number.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s 15 years since we have had 10 consecutive months of over 200,000.

Those 15 years ago, there was a fellow from Arkansas who was the president of the United States. Those were eight years of rather remarkable sustained growth. There are certainly other criticisms of Bill Clinton’s leadership, but it’s hard to argue that the fact that there were more jobs created in Bill Clinton’s eight years than there were in Ronald Reagan’s eight years and the 12 years of both Bushes combined.

Six million more jobs created in those eight years, at some point, policy does kick in and is reflected in the results.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We may not resolve all this right here.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, come on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to move on.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to move on to — David, to Ash Carter, the president’s nomination to be the next secretary of defense.

We just heard some conversation about how things may or may not change. What’s your sense of that?  Do you think we are going to see different policy coming out of the Pentagon out of this administration now?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, Carter has the essential qualification for defense secretary, which is that he studied medieval history at Yale…

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: … and then got a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Oxford, so obviously an academic slouch.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: You know, I don’t think things are going to change.

I think this is a very White House-centric administration. I assume it will remain that, but there’s no question he’s a very strong choice. And I think some of us have been concerned that this administration, as it has gone on, you have had fewer sort of Larry Summers, like, big personalities, strong voices. And Carter certainly qualifies as one of those.

MARK SHIELDS: I think he brings enormous credentials. And he does bring a record of having stood up to the troops, particularly in providing armor for them and armored vehicles for them against — mine resistance in Iraq.

For that, I commend him and salute him. But he also is on record in 2006 of urging the United States to bomb the nuclear facilities of North Korea. And he obviously was one of the people arguing that we should still keep troops in Afghanistan — I mean in Iraq in 2011 — after 2011.

I do think, Judy, David is absolutely right about the White House. They’re on — notice, now, they have had three different, entirely different secretaries of defense, all with the identical criticism of micromanagement from the White House.

They’re on notice on that. But, hey, it all begins with Barack Obama. Every administration, every White House is ultimately a mirror reflection of the man at the top. This is what he is comfortable with. This is what he has encouraged, condoned. And this is the structure he’s created. If it’s going to change, it has to begin by changing with him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to — I want to bring up something — something else that of course we have been covering every night this week. And that is, for the second time, we have had a grand jury, David, decide not to indict a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man, most recently Eric Garner in New York.

I guess my question is, in this case, they listened to testimony for a couple of months. They listened to 50 witnesses. But when you look at this on top of Ferguson and some of the other cases around the country and look at these protests which are continuing night after night, how widespread is the problem with police use of deadly force against unarmed blacks in this country?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it’s obviously widespread.

I watched the protests on 14th Street here last night and then in Midtown. And what struck me and what I was curious to see was whether the protesters, who were pretty angry, were taking it out on the local cops, whether there was sort of a class conflict between the protesters and the cops, which is the sort of thing we saw in 1968.

And I have to say there wasn’t. The protesters were angry, but very well-behaved, not hostile to the cops who were guarding them or supervising the thing. And so it was actually a good sign that the protesters, it struck me, were angry, but mature and civil and just trying to make their case.

And I say that because there are two issues here. One is the racial issue, which I think in the Staten Island case is blatantly obvious. But then there’s the second issue of cop behavior. How do you restore order when — to the streets?  Do you always have to go to maximum force?

And I covered cops early in my career, and they have to armor up. They’re in a tough job in tough situations all the time, so they put an emotional armor, and they’re sometimes very cynical about the people they have to be around, just because they couldn’t survive it emotionally if they weren’t.

And yet that, I think in this case, can lead to a callousness. And so I think we need to have this racial conversation we’re having, but also an authority conversation about how police restore order and whether they’re just too macho.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How widespread, do you think, this — is this isolated incidences or is this in many, many parts of the country?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, Judy.

I would say, given the reaction from people in the minority community, not only African-American, but Latino as well, that enough feel that there is a pattern. I — it’s hard to look at the Staten Island film and not believe that this was wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is Eric Garner.

MARK SHIELDS: Eric Garner.

That this was — this was a man who was not a threat. He wasn’t physically threatening. He was not menacing. He was selling individual cigarettes to homeless people. So the crime is tax evasion.

If this is the biggest crime of tax evasion in New York City going on at any given moment, I would — I would frankly be astounded. And the idea that you’re going to use a chokehold — it seemed that the first police officer was actually talking him down. And then the officer went from behind and grabbed him with the chokehold that ultimately was fatal.

I mean, it’s hard to look at this and say that this wasn’t overreaction on the part of the police. Ferguson is conflicting testimony. You know, we heard different things. This one just does seem, quite frankly, clear-cut. And it’s hard. David’s right. The police put their lives on the line in difficult situations.

This wasn’t a life-threatening situation. There was no way that any of the — either of the police officers — any of the police officers there felt that he was personally threatened by this situation. This wasn’t a menacing figure or a violent man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you were saying we need to have a conversation about race and another conversation about authority and how authority is exerted.

You now have the Justice Department investigating on its own after these grand jury decisions. Is that a way to have these conversations?  Is that part of the way we come together on this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I think it’s — I don’t know if we will come together, but we can certainly change policy. And I — Washington has had a very corrupting influence here. Washington has armored, literally armored up. I talked about emotional armor, but this is literal armor. The federal government has given a lot of the police forces or sold this big weaponry.

And with that weaponry goes a swagger and goes a distance from the people that are being policed. And so we have hyper-militarized. I think we have, in some cases, hyper-machoized. There’s just a lot of testosterone floating around. And whether it’s Ferguson of Staten Island, there is a time when the police officer has to be secure enough to take a step back and try to defuse.

The Ferguson case is complicated, but in the Staten Island case, clearly, with petty authority comes the sin of bullying. And this guy seems to have just used that petty authority and been corrupted by it and brutalized by it, frankly. And so that has to go into the training. And it’s almost like the moral responsibility of people with small amounts of authority, but possibly life-threatening ones.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, only 15 seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, 15.

Oh, the reaction, Judy, of the two cities, I mean, a reflection to some degree of the — I think the political leadership of de Blasio in New York, who has a racially mixed child himself, who is different from the Ferguson, where the police force was overwhelmingly white, where the political leadership was white, and where — David described the demonstrations in New York, which have been quite civil and quite orderly and not illegal, and as opposed to Ferguson, where the first protest involves breaking into a liquor store.

I think the situations are far from identical, but reflective in both cases of the situations of political leadership, as well as the relationship to the police in both cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hopefully a lot of reflecting going on right now, as well as both protesting and reflecting. It’s a time, it’s certainly a time for people to think some more about this.

And, Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

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Shields and Brooks on the Ferguson ruling, Hagel resignation


Fri, Nov 28, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation.

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

We welcome you both on this day after Thanksgiving.

So, Mark, the aftermath, the reaction to the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict, we’re watching reaction all over the country. What does it say about the state of race relations in this country today?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if it says as much about the state of race relations as it certainly does about race perceptions.

There are two different Americas when it comes, for example, to the performance of the police. A majority of Americans, white Americans, strong majority, believe that the police treat everybody the same. Black Americans do not see that the case. They see that blacks — that are treated disproportionately, with greater force than are whites.

There is less confidence in the police on the part of blacks than there is whites. And, Judy, it’s borne out by the numbers in Ferguson; 86 percent — this a city that is two-thirds black. Out of the 53 officers on the police force, three of them are non-white and 86 percent of all the traffic stops were of black motorists.

So there is that sense of the widening gap. I think we were all euphoric in 2008, the election of the first African-American president, who since has been reelected with a majority, that somehow race relations in the country have been resolved and we’re over — as an open wound. But on something like police treatment of black Americans, it obviously is two different countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it mostly, David, about perception of how people are treated by law enforcement?

DAVID BROOKS: I think a little, yes, obviously, but not so much from the grand jury.

I thought the grand jury report had — it angered a lot of people, but I think introduced a note of ambiguity to more people because it really did put some facts in front of the case and I think it made us cautious. I think one of the things it did for a lot of people is made them separate the episode from the condition.

The episode was what actually happened that night between Wilson and Brown. And I think we learned that Wilson — Brown definitely went into the car, tried to seize the officer’s gun. And that makes it very hard to indict the police officer in those circumstances.

We don’t know whether Wilson was attacking — or Brown was attacking Wilson when the final shots were fired, but we know there was a pretty ambiguous confrontation there which probably made conviction impossible. So we have some facts about the episode.

The larger conditions, I think we still have a lot to say about, which is that there’s the legacy of distrust, the legacy of racism, the impact of poverty, the impact of inequality. And I think what’s happened with the larger condition is the distinct issue of civil rights has become embedded in a whole series of social problems, having to do with poverty, having to do with concentrated poverty, having to do with family structures, having to do with schools, having to do with disappearing jobs.

And it’s become a lot thornier. And so what was a very simple good vs. bad civil rights story has become a much more complicated domestic policy story, really.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is it possible — I was going to…

MARK SHIELDS: Just — I just wanted to say on David’s — David makes a good point, but I think the difference is seen in the way he presented it.

Whites look at this individual episode and the grand jury report, and I think the points he make are absolutely valid ones. But blacks, I think, have an understandable tendency to look at it as a pattern. In other words, there’s a presumption on the part of blacks that they’re not going to be treated as well or as fairly when dealing with the police.

And i think that’s a major, major gulf. And make no mistake about it, Judy. The traditional ladder of — when America gets a cold economically, black America gets pneumonia. And the traditional road up, through factory jobs, manufacturing jobs that so many African-Americans have used to climb into the middle class, then educate their children in college, is no longer available.

It’s no longer available for white working-class Americans either. The changed economy has compounded the problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have heard from some viewers.Go ahead, David. Yes, go ahead. I want you both…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it’s compounded the problem economically and led to the widening inequality.

It’s also led, I think, for whites and blacks and Hispanics as well to a widening sense of disrespect, that not only is there no opportunity, but they’re being disrespected by people with authority. And that’s especially true with African-Americans because the legacy, the historical legacy of racism in this country.

And it does make me think that, across a range of issues, but especially law enforcement issues, we have two models, the sort of dominant force model, which is what the police are used to using, and a model that gives much more emphasis on respecting people in the community, which is probably a little less aggressive sometimes, and which may be risky, but in the long run, that more respectful model may be the stronger and the healthier model for the communities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s interesting. We have been hearing some viewers this week who are saying they don’t think the news media is reflecting the whole spectrum of the position that law enforcement is in.

But, Mark, I guess my question, the next question for me is, can this country have a constructive conversation about this?

MARK SHIELDS: You know, I hope we can, Judy.

I think we’re capable of it if we — and acknowledging right up front that police officers have a tough job. When they get a 911 call or just any kind of a call, they’re going into a situation that’s laden and fraught with violence.

And I in no way, I mean, intend any dishonor or disrespect to them and to the incredibly tough job and good job that they overwhelmingly do. I hope we can. It’s something that an African-American president — the only — only two Democrats in our history have been elected and reelected with a majority of the popular vote, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

I would hope the president could help initiate and inspire such conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think it’s possible, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

And let’s start with the police. I do think it’s valid to say their view had not been represented. Like a lot of people in my business, I started as a police reporter in Chicago and spend a lot of time around police. And one of the things that has to be said about them, they spend a lot of their time in extremely unpleasant circumstance with extremely unpleasant people.

And they have to wade into that to keep us safe. And God bless them for it. It does often mean that they have a very negative and sometimes a cynical view and armor, an emotional armor they put on about the communities they go into.

And I suppose they need that for survival, but it does sometimes lead to a small authoritarianism, if you want to put it that — a little bullying sometimes in police behavior. And so, like everything else, the way the police behave, they’re human beings, and so some of it is incredibly normal and noble. And some of it is brutalizing. And they sometimes in some cases a brutalizing effect on the people they’re sort of lording over.

It’s a human story of good and bad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to running the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Mark, steps down this week. He’s the third secretary of defense in the Obama administration to be leaving the position. They are now looking for a fourth. What does this say, does Chuck Hagel’s experience say about the administration, say about him?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you know, I should acknowledge right up front I’m a sympathizer, supporter of Chuck Hagel, and have been for a long time, admired his own service both to the country politically and publicly and volunteered in the military to serve as heroically as he did in Vietnam.

But, Judy, when you’re looking for your fourth secretary of defense in less than six years, which is what this administration is doing, and the previous two, Hagel’s two predecessors, both went public with charges of micromanagement from the White House, that — Bob Gates, a reasonable man, said it drove him crazy.

When — when Leon Panetta said it’s leading to an exclusion of other voices, just a limitation, that the president is sort of surrounded by this clique of very hyper, uber loyalists, but with very few other people, that the Cabinet is excluded, I think it’s a comment on a situation that is serious to the president.

And I really…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A situation that…

MARK SHIELDS: A situation that he is in a bubble that is very, very narrowed, that they’re trying to run everything out of the White House.

And I think this is a — I think it’s a problem that they had that Gates complained of it, that Panetta complained of it. And it didn’t change under Chuck Hagel. And they can fault Chuck Hagel. The president praises him and then immediately the White House staffs starts sniping that he wasn’t up to the job, he didn’t have the substance, he wasn’t proactive, whatever the hell that means.

So, they immediately accuse the president of dissembling — their — their loyalists are suggesting the president was being disingenuous when he praised the president and — the secretary as an exemplary defense secretary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, each administration over the last 30 years probably has concentrated more and more power in the White House. For a long time, most of the other Cabinet secretary jobs have been neutered. But it used to be, you had the big three, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the surgeon general, had some independent authority.

Under this administration, I think even the big three have been severely weakened, none more seriously than Chuck Hagel. There are people who follow this who say he underperformed in certain roles, especially the outside roles.

But it’s certainly true that he wasn’t consulted in all sorts of policies concerning the Defense Department, that decisions were made in the White House both here and abroad and then he was told about them later. And he tried to be a good soldier. And so if you are going to hire somebody to be a good soldier, you can’t really fault them for not being proactive, because you’re not giving them anything to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do we look for the next secretary of defense to be somebody who very close — already in close with the White House, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, ironically, the next secretary of defense is probably Chuck Hagel.

I mean, we have had two — Jack Reed, senator from Rhode Island, rejected it 30 microseconds after he was floated. Michele Flournoy, the former deputy secretary of defense, said she wasn’t interested. So, I don’t know who is going to be and then confirmed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick thought, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. They’re having trouble, because who wants to be a weak person with only two years left?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than a minute.

To both of you, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. You have to tell me what you’re thankful for, Mark, and what you’re not thankful for.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I am thankful for — I am thankful that American graduation rates in high schools are up dramatically, that our crime rate is down, that people are covered in health care.

I’m grateful for the “NewsHour.”

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: And not grateful for?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not grateful for David’s constant interruption and carping.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No. No. There’s nothing I’m not grateful…

JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s nothing — I think that’s…

MARK SHIELDS: … I’m not grateful for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On that positive note, David, it’s your turn.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I was going to thank — be thankful for Mark Shields, who has been a great partner and friend for many years.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But I think I may retract that now.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: The thing I’m not thankful for is that we don’t have 30 minutes on the show, which I think the viewers really demand.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Not just 12 or 14.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m going to take to our executive producer. I think that’s a great idea.

MARK SHIELDS: Please.

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

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

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Brooks and Marcus on executive action precedent, prospective presidential candidates


Fri, Nov 21, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: From a failed vote in the Senate to green-light the Keystone pipeline, to the president’s call to arms on immigration, it was another week of conflict among the politically powerful.

To analyze it all, Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

And we welcome you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now that you have had a whole day to think about it, David, how is the president’s announcement on immigration sitting?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I have utterly changed my mind. It’s a great thing.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, I still think it’s terrible.

First, constitutionally, my paper did a good story on whether this was constitutional. And the White House did get 10 pretty serious legal scholars to say it was. There’s a vast number who think it wasn’t. And so I guess the legal scholars are divided.

I think the ones who think it was an unprecedented grab of executive power are probably on the right side, but that’s me. Politically, we have had four years without a single law being passed in this country, a major piece of legislation. We’re now going to have two more.

This is going to end. This is going to — this period of gridlock is going to end some day, and people will actually cooperate, they will do things, they will build coalitions, they will pass things by a majority vote by the way the Constitution designed.

But what happened last night will make that harder and push that date further on. The sort of unilateral action the president took will make passing immigration reform harder and it will make other reform harder.

The number one issue in this country is restoring the legitimacy of government. And I don’t care whether he thinks he was — whether the president thinks he was justified or not. By the way, the Republicans did — and the somebody have certainly behaved as obstructionists at times. Somebody’s going to step out of this cycle, and he just embedded the cycle another few feet deeper.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to get to the bigger picture in a minute.

But for immigration — from the standpoint of just immigration, Ruth, what do you see?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it’s hard these days to vote against gridlock in Washington. Nobody ever went broke voting on the theory that we’re going to have more gridlock.

And so I think David is right on that. On the immigration front, I think I see it slightly differently than David, which is I thought the president made two very powerful points last night. The first is the humanitarian point on the implications of just allowing this situation to fester, which both of us obviously feel is a problem.

The second is to put what he did in context of what presidents, Republican and Democrat, have done before on immigration. And so there I think you’re a little bit overstating the case of the president overstepping his executive authority.

And the final important thing that happened yesterday wasn’t what the president said, but what he did, because they didn’t just have the 10 legal scholars. And we can argue about how many legal scholars each side has. They put out a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel explaining and supporting the legality of what the president did.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I have some concerns along the lines of what David has about what I call the constitutional prudence of what he did. I have fewer doubts about the legality. My concern is what future presidents are going to — how future presidents are going to use this precedent to do other things, to ignore other laws.

But, on immigration, maybe the time just had to come to act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, should more to have the focus be on the constitutional question and legality, or should more of the focus be, OK, it’s happened, let’s deal with it politically?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, first, I think it should be on the Constitution. As I say, the number one issue — there are two issues. One is the substance of the status of the five million people who are affected. And on the substance, I’m totally with the president on that.

But the larger issue is, do people have faith in the government, does our government function, does our legislative process function? And the Constitution is not just a legal argument. It is a set of norms and practices. And it’s also — it’s a political document. And it seems to me that what the president did violated the spirit of the politics of that document, which is that we go through the legislative process.

RUTH MARCUS: But in terms of faith in government, David, I guess I just have to argue with you a little bit, though I share your concerns.

When people see government not functioning, their concern is not what the checks and balances are between the branches. Maybe it should be. Their concern is, there is a problem, there is an injustice, there is a health care portal that doesn’t work. We want to see that work. There are people flowing through the border.

It’s not — they want government to act and act effectively. Here, I think, you could make an argument that the president was acting in a way to restore some faith in the ability of government to rectify injustices.

DAVID BROOKS: No, I disagree with that.

RUTH MARCUS: All right. Well…

DAVID BROOKS: So, we don’t have a government of a dictatorship. We don’t even have a parliamentary system. So you don’t get one person saying it’s my way or the highway. Pass the bill.

RUTH MARCUS: Of course you don’t. Of course you don’t.

The question, though, is he does have this document from the Office of Legal Counsel. They serve — their job is to sort of serve presidents of both parties. They tell him, you can do this and this, you can’t go this far, you can’t help the families of the dreamers.

He stuck by that. So I kind of have a hard time completely dinging him, the way you do.

DAVID BROOKS: OK.

Well, but…

RUTH MARCUS: We’re just going to hijack this whole thing.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we want to hear you two argue this out.

Finish your point.

DAVID BROOKS: His first three years basically were the opposite position of what he has now, semi, at least semi.

RUTH MARCUS: Semi.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: At least semi.

And we will have one day. OK. We have one day where maybe five million people get helped, but we’re now going to live with another two years where on a zillion other issues nothing is going to happen.

RUTH MARCUS: Was anything going to happen on those zillion issues absent this?

DAVID BROOKS: Potentially. Potentially.

A couple things on trade policy could have happened, a couple things on patent reform, which is boring, but important, maybe tax reform. And there was a sincere attempt I think by the Republicans, not only out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of their own self-interests, to have normal budget rules, to have a budget process that worked, and a congressional process that looked normal where bills went into committee, they came out of the committee, they were voted on by the floor.

They really wanted to do that. That is probably not going to happen now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying — but you’re blaming — and you’re blaming it on the president’s decision?

DAVID BROOKS: Not only on the president.

RUTH MARCUS: And I’m going to be uncharacteristically optimistic here in this sense.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: I’m going to be pessimistic in the sense that Washington is and was and will remain for the most part gridlocked, whether or not the president did this.

But I would also argue that all of the things that — all of the forces that gave the Republicans an interest in showing that they could govern, showing that they could pass laws, showing that they could be effective prevail even in the face of this action.

It certainly doesn’t make it easier. It certainly makes it harder. But I would point there on — to things like getting trade agreements passed. There, the president disagrees with the base of his party. He can make a coalition with the Republicans. There are still reasons on that and on getting the normal budget process done to actually at least hope for some progress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And isn’t there disagreement, seriously, among Republicans over how to deal with this?

Some are them are ready to just slam the door and say, we’re not doing anything, we’re going to sue the president, we’re going to impeach the president. And others are saying, no, we recognize this has happened, and we have got — there are some things that we want to do business with…

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

And I think there’s the Michele Bachmanns of the world. I don’t know what they want to do, chop off New York and Illinois and send it off to another country or something.

But the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells are not going to let that happen. There is not going to be a government shutdown. They’re probably not even — going to fund the immigration agencies that are involved in this. So, the extreme will not happen. The Republican Party has changed a lot in the last year. It’s a much more establishment party.

The leadership is back in control. But they will have to do something. And they will have to change their posture. And their confrontation with the president over the budget issues to come will just be more hostile, because the tit for tat of hostility has increased.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, they’re suing the president over health care. This was this lawsuit that was threatened some months ago. And now that is finally under way.

RUTH MARCUS: Right.

And my attitude towards that is, fine, go ahead and sue. It’s actually — it’s not going anywhere, I’m sorry to say. There’s a lot of rules that courts have that say basically, we don’t want to get involved in refereeing your disputes between these two branches, so leave us alone.

But if that drains off some of the energy, I say, go ahead. Don’t only sue him over health care. Sue him over this, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s — OK, let’s…

DAVID BROOKS: Lawyers are always for suits.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, 2016, I just…

RUTH MARCUS: I have a good law firm to suggest also.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can’t do it on this show.

All right, we want to show everybody. There was at least one person who came out in support of the president. And that was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tweeted just an hour or two before the president’s remarks, she said: “Thanks to POTUS for taking action on immigration, in the face of inaction. Now let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform.”

All right, 2016, David, everybody expects that she’s going to run. But my question is about the Republicans. How much are they hurt, or are they, by taking this — this very anti-position on immigration right now?

DAVID BROOKS: In 2016, they are not hurt. They might be hurt in 2024 or 2030, but I don’t think they will be hurt particularly. The electorate this past election was 75 percent white. And the American whites are overwhelmingly Republican.

RUTH MARCUS: That was a midterm, you think?

DAVID BROOKS: That was a midterm, yes.

RUTH MARCUS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: No, that’s true. But — so they will be hurt, but I don’t think that will be a — the ruinous thing that it will be in the years to come. They still have the long-range problem, but I don’t think it will be crucial thing in the next — even in this presidential.

RUTH MARCUS: Boy, it can’t make it easier.

And it seems to me that the question that’s going to be asked during Republican primaries in every single debate is, will you rescind what the president did to help five million people, some of whom, children and spouses and everything will be able to vote?

And they’re all going to have to say, yes, I will rescind it. And they will compete to explain how quickly they are going to rescind it. And that is not going to be good for the Republican Party.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. We will see.

RUTH MARCUS: Meanwhile, I think there is going to be pressure on the Democratic candidates.

It’s interesting. Hillary Clinton had been under pressure from some Hispanic groups to press the president to act before the election. I think she is going to be asked, will you go further, will you go further, what more will you do?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it — let’s look at those.

You have already got some Republicans. It’s only two weeks almost since the midterms. You have already got Republicans out there talking about whether they’re going to — or people talking about whether they’re going to run, whether it’s Jeb Bush. John Kasich won by 30 points in the state of Ohio, won reelection.

Are we beginning, David, to see the shape of who may run on the Republican side? We know, on the Democratic side, Jim Webb, the former United States senator from Virginia, formed an exploratory committee.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I don’t know how much a threat you think he is to Hillary Clinton.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

Well, on the Republican side, the great and the good are hoping for Jeb Bush, very pro-immigration, by the way. And I think he would…

RUTH MARCUS: … Jeb Bush.

DAVID BROOKS: If he runs, he would be strong.

John Kasich has been undertalked about. He is — knows Washington very well, was a senior budget official, a congressman. He has been a very successful governor, very popular, won by huge margins in the swingiest of the swing states, has strong connections in among religious conservatives, is just quirky enough for a country that’s kind of angry, but just establishment enough for a country that doesn’t want a crazy person.

I think he’s actually — the more you think about John Kasich, the — the well-positioned I think he is. Webb is fascinating. He’s a Jacksonian. He’s a Scots-Irish Jacksonian. I’m not sure those people exist anymore in the Democratic Party.

But it would be fascinating for him to run. He would run from the left. And the big room for Hillary is on — he would run from the right of Hillary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: The big room is on the left. And we will see if anybody leaps into that, aside from Bernie Sanders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see any outlines out there?

RUTH MARCUS: So, I think Kasich is really interesting, I think especially if Jeb Bush decides not the run. There was — the Republican Party would do well to think really seriously about John Kasich, said pro things about immigration, even this week at the Republican Governors Association, supports Common Core, expanded Medicaid in his state.

Those are some pretty interesting positions for a Republican. Jim Webb, if I were Hillary Clinton, I would lose not a nanosecond of sleep about Jim Webb.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: I think a man who wrote an article called “Women Can’t Fight,” albeit in 1979, who supported don’t ask, don’t tell in 2006 is not going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And somebody remembers all this.

RUTH MARCUS: Somebody remembers.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Her name is Ruth Marcus.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth Marcus, David Brooks…

RUTH MARCUS: That’s because I can fight.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: You certainly can.

And David Brooks, we thank you both.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I’m a lover, not a fighter.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks.

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Shields and Brooks on the China carbon deal, Obama’s immigration action


Fri, Nov 14, 2014


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HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama strikes a climate change deal, with talk of executive action on immigration, as Congress returns to take on Keystone.

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

And, Mark, since you look like you’re climbing out of the banks of Charles River behind you in Boston, I will start with you.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: This deal the — the climate deal that was struck at the Asian summit with the president and the Chinese president, Xi, big deal?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a big deal.

Let’s first understand you don’t cobble together something of this significance on the spot or over the weekend. They have been working on it for months, and I think credit, or blame, I guess, in some quarters has to be to the president, John Kerry, the secretary of state, to John Podesta, for whom it’s been a priority at the White House.

But I think it’s significance because one of the principal arguments against moving on carbon emissions has been that the United States, to act unilaterally, that would let China off the hook. And now with the United States and China, the two biggest polluters globally, moving together, it puts pressure. It blows the cover of those other countries. It puts pressure on India and other places.

HARI SREENIVASAN: David?

DAVID BROOKS: I hope so.

Well, first, it’s a big deal just because we reached a major agreement with China. U.S.-China relations have been deteriorating, not because of anything the U.S. has done or Barack Obama has done, because of what China has done. They have gotten more aggressive on all sorts of military fronts, in the oceans.

And there was some danger that the U.S. and China could just have a much more hostile relationship. So, it’s good to see some positive agreement. It’s good to see goals. And that’s what sad.

I guess my question is, what exactly — what’s changing? China promised in 15 years to — or a little more than 15 years to set some targets, no interim targets, just some big target a chunk of time away from now. We have agreed to set targets, but what policies are actually going to change? Will there be a carbon tax? How aggressively will China move to get away from coal toward oil and natural gas or other cleaner forms?

It’s hard to know. But at least they got a deal and at least they set a vision. So, it’s more like a precedent, but it’s sort of hollow in the middle.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, because of those lack of targets, do you think that Congress will be easier on them?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the targets are there. What’s not there is the means to reach the targets.

And so it depends what the means are. And so will we get a big global climate deal? Well, clearly, it makes more likely. The big global climate deal was pretty much dead. But when you got — as Mark said, when the two largest polluters are on board, that at least creates a little life. Will Congress ratify that? No way. We’re not going to do that.

And so we’re not going to get a big global climate treaty. But at least, nation by nation, you can begin to see China actually moving toward cleaner forms of energy, which they have to do both for economic reasons, but also so they can breathe in their cities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark, do you think he’s going to get pushback in Congress for this?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be pushback in Congress. There’s no question, especially with Jim Inhofe, the new chairman of the Environmental Committee in the Senate, who is essentially an archfoe and a denier on climate change.

But I think that — two things. China is under the gun. I mean, they’re under the gun at home, as David put, on their own air. They had to close down the industrial plants 400 miles away to clean up the air just so they could have the economic — the Asian economic conference there in Beijing. That’s how bad it is.

And let’s be very blunt about it. They’re going to be competing now on alternative energy, which I think, as the president has pointed out, is good for the United States as well. If there’s a competition in that area, it can only be good for humankind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Shifting gears about energy, let’s talk about the Keystone XL pipeline. The House voted on it today. It’s likely to get to the Senate floor, at least on Tuesday. Is this purely political? I mean, it was motivated in part by the race that is happening in Louisiana with Mary Landrieu and her competitor.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, it’s purely political in the timing. There’s nothing wrong with politics. It’s interest people — interest groups trying to get their interests advanced.

And so the timing is political. I happen to think the president’s opposition is purely political. There is a big State Department series of reports, gigantic reports on the effect of the Keystone pipeline. They found, economically, it would create thousands of jobs, not huge amounts of job, but thousands of jobs. The economic damage, they found, would be none.

The greenhouse gas emissions, that oil is going to be pumped or not pumped depending on the price of crude, not depending on whether we have a pipeline. It’s either going to be pumped and sent through hundreds of thousands of train cars or be sent in a more environmentally friendly way under the ground.

And so the environmental rationale for the pipeline seems to be strong. The economic rationale is not huge, but it’s significant. And so if you follow the science, if you follow the research, the case for the pipeline is overwhelming. The president is not doing it to secure his left base, because it’s a good a fund-raising tool for a lot of people. Not for very good reasons.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: This has to be the most thoroughly researched, meticulously studied idea, this pipeline, in the history of humankind.

It’s been slow-walked to the point of a standstill. And now it’s going to come to a vote finally in the Senate because Mary Landrieu, who is in a runoff for her Senate seat and an underdog in Louisiana December 6, has pushed it and is going to demonstrate her own independence from the White House and her clout or leadership or however you want to put it.

And the senators who want to vote against it will get a chance to vote against it. And people who want to vote for it will vote for it. And I think the president will veto it. And I think that will be the end of it, other than it won’t be built, and it will not be a major issue in the 2016 campaign.

But I do think that the argument basically politically is on the side of those who want to build it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Something that will likely show up in the 2016 campaign is immigration. The president has said he plans to use an exclusive order to deal with immigration. We don’t know exactly what day that will show up. But do you think that there’s a chance for comprehensive immigration reform without an executive order, or does an executive order actually decrease those chances, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it decreases.

I support president’s the position on the policy, on the substance of it. A lot of what it does is going to keep families together. And so, on the substance of it, I think it’s fine. On the politics of it, on the effect on our country, I think it’s just a terrible, terrible idea, sort of a Ted Cruz stick in the eye of any chance we would have bipartisanship.

The Republicans were saying reasonable things after their victory:  We want to start out small. Let’s try to pass some legislation on things where we agree on.

And they weren’t major pieces of legislation, but they were pieces. It would be nice to pass a law. We haven’t passed a significant piece of legislation in this country in like four years. It would be nice to do something just to get something done.

I think this very aggressive way the president has led with a very difficult issue makes that much less likely. Second, I do think it takes immigration reform much less likely over the next five or 10 years. I think the Republicans were eventually going to have to get around to it. Just — they just know eventually they have to get around to passing this thing. That makes it much less likely.

And then, finally, I just think it’s constitutional overreach. Basically, five million people, maybe six million people are going to be affected by this. I think it just, constitutionally, for the sake of our system, when you have something that major, redefining the status of five million or six million people, I think it should go through the legislative process. I’m not a constitutional lawyer. I don’t know the effect of that.

But I just think it’s a major change in American policy, and it would be nice to go through Congress, rather than just by the signature of a pen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s always nicer to go through Congress.

I would just point out that, after the 2012 election, Republicans went through a period of deep introspection. They concluded as a party that they had to do something on this issue, that they had — were seen as anti-immigrant, not only to Latinos, but also to Asians and other minorities in this country.

And so they didn’t do anything about it. They — some Republicans joined the 68-32 majority in the Senate on June 27, 2013, to pass a really comprehensive immigration reform bill. And John Boehner, the speaker of the House, had negotiations with the president, couldn’t bring it up for a vote, couldn’t bring it up for a vote. It had the votes to pass in the House, but it wouldn’t pass with a majority of Republicans.

The House voted 54 times to repeal Obamacare, 54 times, but they couldn’t vote once on immigration. Obamacare was never going to go anywhere in the Senate, the repeal of it, that is. And this is something that could have become law.

And the president had told the speaker that — in private conversation, that he was going to act. He didn’t act before election because of, quite frankly, Democratic senators in red states were concerned about it. But he’s not the first president to do it.

Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1987 unilaterally moved to protect 200,000 Nicaraguans from returning to the Sandinista regime. So — and so did President Kennedy and President Johnson and President Clinton and President Bush.

So, you know, I think it wasn’t going to happen anyway. I agree with David. It would be nice to have harmony, but when the principal priority of your opposition is to repeal the signature legislation of your administration, Obamacare, you know, I think the hopes for that are probably pretty unrealistic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark, what about the fact that, if this comes through an executive action, that it could be rescinded by the next president?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And that’s the key point.

I mean, any time either side advocates executive action — Republicans did it under President Bush, and Democrats are certainly doing it under President Obama — it’s with the understanding that, A, you’re expanding executive power, and that — usually at the cost of the legislative power and regular order.

But you’re also risking it’s just going to be repealed. But I think, quite frankly — and I think David would agree — that it’s unlikely whoever is elected in 2016 would set about repealing that law — that act.

HARI SREENIVASAN: David, the topics that we’re all talking about in the context of the results from the midterm elections that just happened, do you see a general pattern here? Is this part of a more concerted strategy from the White House, saying, here’s the two years that we have got left, here’s what Congress looks like, here’s what we can do, and let’s just start going out and doing it?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, there are a couple ways to interpret that, and I suspect all these things are part of the thinking. One is, there’s a lot of stuff we want to do. We held back just for political relationships. As you say, let’s just get it done. We believe in this. Let’s do it.

The second, more cynical strategy is the idea that the Republicans have a strong incentive to get stuff done. Anybody who wins elections, they want to pass stuff. And if you can obstruct, it seems you can hurt them. The Republicans obstructed President Obama when he won. Now President Obama is going to obstruct the Republicans.

And that’s a tit for tat. And the problem is, we’re stuck with that. We’re stuck with World War I, essentially, with everybody obstructing the other.

The third fact factor here is money. The — my newspaper has a story on the powerful — the $300 million the immigration groups have pumped into some of the immigration reform. The Keystone pipeline is a big fund-raiser. And so every politician is thinking about, how do we keep the donor base going? And I wouldn’t say that’s the major element here, but that is certainly an element here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Mark, we have got about 30 seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s no question that the tension in immigration is between the Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House.

Mitch McConnell’s on record saying, under no circumstances will we close the — shut down the federal government, will we default on the federal debt, on the national debt. The speaker, with a — as he calls them, 16 knuckleheads in his caucus, probably more after the election, is in a position where he says, we can’t take anything off the table.

And he has got members now talking about impeachment. So, that — and there’s no question there’s been mischief created in the Republican ranks by the White House.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, “New York Times” columnist David Brooks, thank so much.

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Shields and Brooks on Republican victory, immigration confrontation


Fri, Nov 07, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The midterm elections came and went this week, as you may have noticed, and Republicans rode the wave to control Congress.

To break it all down, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, you have had three whole days to digest the results of this election.

What was the main message, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it was just the breadth of the Republican victory.

We were all focused on whether it would be seven or eight seats in the Senate. But the more impressive thing, they obviously won the Senate, they won the House, they have kept the House. But just in the states, I didn’t expect the governorships in all these Midwestern states, Bruce Rauner’s win in Illinois, the win in Maryland.

They control two-thirds of the governorships. They have never had, at least not in the last century, this many state legislators, this many legislators in all the different states. They control unprecedented levels of state legislators. They have now got a farm team across the country of rising politicians who will rise.

And so they have become, with two-thirds control of all these states, these governorships and now majority control in both houses of Congress, the governing, the dominant governing party in the country.

And what they do with it remain to be seen, but a lot of people have said, oh, the Republican is so extreme, it’s a dinosaur, and I have even said some of that, over-relying on some of the demographics. But they are the dominant party in this country right now. And how can you be out of the mainstream if you dominate that much?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What was your main takeaway 72 hours later?

MARK SHIELDS: Thrashing, trouncing.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: You used wave.

No question about it, it was a repudiation of Democratic governance. And I — like David, I was particularly struck and impressed by the Republican victories in deep blue states, in states that Barack Obama carried twice, and deep blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland in particular, but the reelection of controversial Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida.

Beyond that, there were 256 Democrats in the House of Representatives the day that Barack Obama took oath of office in 2009. There will be about 185 six years in. So the Senate goes from 60 Democrats to 45. I mean, those are numbers that are just of hemorrhage, dimensions and proportions. And it’s a real rejection of Democrats.

The president, I thought, was rather cavalier in his press conference when he said, the Republicans had a good night. The Republicans have had a good six years at the polls, with the exception of the president’s election and reelection.

I just think it’s — for Democrats, it’s a terrible, terrible, crushing defeat, and one that leaves them, I hope, engaged in serious introspection, because they went through a campaign where they had no economic message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, something else the president said was that, yes, he hears what the people who voted said, but he also notices the two-thirds who he said didn’t vote.

So, is this — David, is this a diminished result? Does it mean less because you had a lower turnout, I guess the lowest turnout in decades?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think so. First of all, you win. You get the power. You have control of the office.

Second thing is, not turning out is a vote. The president failed to mobilize, the Democrats failed to mobilize their people. And the Republicans succeeded in mobilizing their people. And that’s because there was so much disappointment and dispiritment even on the Democratic side with the Obama administration.

And so I don’t think it invalidates what happens. And even in states where the turnout was pretty good, like Colorado, Republicans did quite well. Now, if they had a presidential year, turnout, would it look different? Obviously. But an election result is an election result. That’s an excuse.

The core problem for the Democrats is that they have — they’re intellectually exhausted. They have a diagnosis of a big problem of inequality. They have — they’re on the heels of a financial crisis caused in part by Wall Street. This should be a golden left-wing moment. This should be a progressive moment in this country.

And they don’t have even the twinkle of a big agenda. And they don’t — the instrument they rely on, government, is mistrusted. And so it’s not a progressive era, but this should be a big left-wing era, if they had a set of ideas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, just an excuse that the turnout was low and you didn’t really hear — you didn’t hear from as many voters as you needed to, to understand what the American people really want?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, you only get to complain in democracy if you vote. I mean, it’s that simple.

Now, I’m not talking about efforts to suppress people or make it difficult for them to register. I’m talking about — which I think we all abhor, and I know everybody on this panel does. But I’m talking about people who just don’t disturb themselves.

But you have to give people a reason. It’s great to have the mechanics and slice and dice the electorate and to find out that this voter likes foreign movies and is a vegan and goes to church every other Sunday, but unless you have got a message for them — now, I don’t — I, quite frankly, don’t see what the Republicans — the Republicans who won don’t come with any cohesive message themselves.

All 14 of the ones who were running and the ones who won, with the exception of Shelley Moore Capito…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in the Senate.

MARK SHIELDS: In the Senate — all want to repeal, are on record wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Every one of them is against any legal status, citizenship, path to citizenship under immigration. So Domenico’s observation and report earlier that there would be nothing on immigration reform is just borne out. I mean, these are not people who came on a — running on a platform of, we’re going to cooperate with the president, we want to work closely with the White House.

Quite the opposite. And they going to take the party — I think Mitch McConnell and John Boehner right now realize that, as David has pointed out, that the Republican Party has to show some governing capability, and — but these are people who didn’t come here to establish a record of collegiality.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think I disagree a little on those big issues that Mark mentioned, obviously. I mean, I agree with Mark that, on the big issues of immigration, on whether they are going to repeal health care, there’s going to be no cooperation.

I do think those opportunities — and I think the Republicans, especially Boehner and McConnell, have done a reasonably good job in the days since the election of indicating a willingness to cooperate on at least on some things. There are some things for which there is bipartisan support, the Keystone pipeline, patent reform, trade policy, the medical devices tax.

There is maybe a half-dozen medium and small things to be done. And it seems to me that — it is possible at least to get something passed, which we haven’t had in the last four years. And that’s endangered either if the Ted Cruz of the Republican Party takes over, which wants maximum confrontation, or it’s endangered if the president pushes this immigration thing, in which he grants a lot of people effective amnesty, millions of people, if he redefines their status.

That would be regarded by Republicans as extremely confrontational and that would end any hope of compromise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: … slightly willing to compromise on a few things, at least

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why is that any more confrontational than the Republicans saying, we’re going to go after and try to kill health care reform again?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think if they lead with health care repeal, I do think that would be. And if the president leads with that immigration reform, that would be as well. But start with the small stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: They — repealing taxes is not controversial.

And gridlock and dysfunction…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The medical device…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Medical device taxes. I mean, you have got to come up with $29 million — billion dollars to make up for it.

And I think every Republican I heard this year is on record against any tax increases. So, that’s one thing. The second thing, Judy — and I think it’s awfully important to point out that Mitch McConnell now is against gridlock and dysfunction.

There were 458 times during Barack Obama’s six years in office that there had been a filibuster or the threat of a filibuster to stop the Senate from acting. During Dwight Eisenhower’s eight years, there were two. During Ronald Reagan’s, there were 75 in eight years.

This is in six years. So it’s going to be a total — it’s going to be a 180 if, in fact, this does happen. And the Senate is tough, because all it takes is one person to stop it. And you can talk about it’s not being a Ted Cruz caucus or a Mike Lee caucus. But I really think it’s going to be a problem for the Republicans. And I think that’s where the action is, is to watch that dynamic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying you don’t take Mitch McConnell at his word when he says, I’m looking for ways to cooperate? I’m first going to look for areas of agreement with the president, is what he said.

MARK SHIELDS: I think he understands it’s important for the — if the Republicans are going to be a governing party and seen as responsible and an alternative in 2016 to national leadership, they have to demonstrate, now that they’re in charge, that they can pass something besides a motion to adjourn or a Mother’s Day resolution.

And I think that he understands that. I think the trade authority is a natural one, because it divides Democrats and it unites Republicans, and with the president, who wants that trade authority. I think the — and probably the medical device taxes.

But I think, once you start to get into issues like immigration and what we do with the environment, you have got candidates who want to abolish EPA. You have got — who just got elected. You have got a senator from Iowa who wants to not raise the minimum wage, wants to abolish the minimum wage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you’re saying you still see that there is some space here to get…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Let’s not go from nursery school to graduate school. Let’s try kindergarten.

And we can get some legislative kindergarten, some small things. And some of the things can be economic. I think you can get some proposals, to maybe even early childhood, though that may be a stretch. But there are some — there may be some things, some infrastructure. There has certainly been bipartisan support for that, lowering the tax rate, something to get more people a little happier about the economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to come back though to the president, because both of you referred to not a message.

And yet, when we heard from the president, he was saying, again, you know, he said, I hear you, and he also seemed — I mean, he’s insisting, Mark, on immigration reform, which is what we’re talking about.

It’s that if he doesn’t get it, then he’s going to act. Do you think the president got a message from this election, I guess, is my question.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure.

I will say this, Judy. If you were a Republican who lost in 1982 in Ronald Reagan’s first midterm, you had the comfort and the consolation of having voted for something big, even though you lost, or the same thing if you were a first-term Democrat with Bill Clinton or even a first-term Democrat in Barack Obama. You had voted for affordable care. You had voted for stimulus. You had voted for Dodd-Frank. You had really taken some tough stands.

You lose in 2012 and you lost because of the climate of this administration has created because of Veterans Administration, because of Ebola, because of the Secret Service, because the sense that they — of ineptitude of governing, not because of tough heroic stands or votes you have cast. And so there is a certain resentment, and I’m not sure the president has gotten that message.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, politically, they obviously made a mistake by thinking demographics could carry them along the way and they didn’t actually need issues. And that was a consultants’ fantasy. And that hurt the Democrats.

On President Obama, the immigration thing is important. I support the idea of giving all these people this new status. But doing it by executive functioning — function, executive action, redefining the status of millions of people without a law, without going through the normal process, that strikes me as an extreme abuse of executive power, whether you support it on policy or not.

And that is why that particular action that he’s talking about is so confrontational, because it’s not only policy a lot of Republicans object to it. But as members of Congress, they object to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we never object to the two of you. We’re so glad you’re here.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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Shields and Brooks on the midterm mood


Fri, Oct 31, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to politics now and the final stretch of campaigning, with Election Day just four days away.

Plenty of heavy hitters were on the trail this week, from former President Bill Clinton in Kentucky, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa, Mitt Romney in Kansas, Jeb Bush in Colorado, and lots of others.

So what should we be watching heading into this final weekend?

Joining us now are Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

We can’t wait. We’re almost there.

Mark, we’re heading into the last few days.

MARK SHIELDS: What?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does your gut…

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Don’t tell me it’s over.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I — can we have another week, please?

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you’re thinking?

MARK SHIELDS: Can we stay up late tonight, Judy?  Can we stay up late?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are your sources and what does your gut does tell?

MARK SHIELDS: My gut — and when my gut speaks, I listen to it.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a — I would say Republicans have to feel better than Democrats do heading into Tuesday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate races.

MARK SHIELDS: Senate races. The governor’s races, I think, are races that stand far less on partisan grounds and more mano a mano, if I can use the sexist term, on individual records, and incumbents’ judgment.

But the Senate, it’s not only the terrain. The Republicans are playing on a home field with a big advantage politically. But it’s the mood and it’s for the Republicans and against the Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s your instinct?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. My gut is with Mark’s gut.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I have the same feeling.

All the models say the Republicans are likely to take over the Senate. A couple of things, one, ticket-splitting. There used to be a lot of people ticket-splitting. They would vote for a Democrat up here, Republican down there, vice versa. That just happens less.

One of the reasons is, the electorate is more educated. The more educated a person, the less likely their ticket splits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting.

DAVID BROOKS: College apparently teaches people to think less.

No, they’re more ideological. They give themselves ideological labels. Obama’s a drag. If you look at his numbers in a lot of these states, where he was with groups like women and Latinos, he’s come down a lot, and so it’s just a big drag. There are a lot of undecided voters out there.

And my newspaper had a story today suggesting the early voting, there are some good signs for Democrats, so it’s not a lock. But when the country’s unhappy, the president is in a sixth year, it doesn’t take — it’s not brain surgery that the out party is going to do OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you watching for here at the end, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the first two in — I’m looking at New Hampshire and North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen, Democratic incumbent in New Hampshire, and Kay Hagan, Democratic, embattled in North Carolina.

Obama carried New Hampshire twice. Jeanne Shaheen has been favored. Scott Brown, the transplant from Massachusetts, has narrowed that race. It’s a tossup. I would say if Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan win, the two Democrats in those two states, then the Republican sweep is nonexistent in 2014.

But, beyond that, Judy, I have to look at the states that the president did carry where Democrats are running, Iowa, Colorado. If the Democrats lose those, I think that’s significant and it will indicate that the Republicans are having a very good evening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you’re seeing?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I actually was hoping to give the same answer.

You know, the Republicans will do well in the red states. They’re probably going to do well in Arkansas, places like that, West Virginia, obviously, probably Louisiana, but if the victory — winning over your own people is good. It’s not a huge victory.

So they could do that and still even win the Senate, but if they can get in these purple states, then they’re really showing — they’re breaking out of their pattern, and their pattern has been, especially over the last four years, is they’re toxic. People, even some traditional Republicans, are unhappy with the Republican Party.

But has the party detoxified themselves?  Have they returned from sort of a Tea Party, which generates intensity, but scares a lot of people?  Are they now seen again as sort of a business party that maybe will get the economy going?  And if they start winning some of those purple states, the North Carolinas of the world, or even if Scott Walker wins in Wisconsin in the governor’s race there, then you begin to think, OK, they have improved their image with some of the swing voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David kind of began to answer this question a minute ago, but, Mark, I want to turn on its head.

A lot of talk about how much trouble the Democrats are in. But as both of you point out, they are fighting on territory that is pretty red. These are states, many of these states, that Mitt Romney won by double digits, some 23, 27 points in West Virginia a couple of years ago.

So you — if you turn the question on its head, you could say why aren’t Republicans running away with some of these races in the states where Democrats…

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good question.

And my only answer would be that the first time I was on Capitol Hill, an old-timer took me aside and was looking at some kind of down-at-the-heels congressman. And he said, see that guy?  And he said, he knows more about pork belly futures than anybody in his state.

And he went on and said, everybody that’s in this body, House or the Senate, has something going for them, and it’s up to you to figure out what it is, because there are at least 1,000 or maybe 5,000 people in the state of ability and ambition who would like to have that seat.

So the Democrats who are holding those seats are gifted political operatives. They have survived in hostile territory, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor. They have managed to do it. And the fact that their — that time and tradition and trends are running against them makes it even tougher for them.

But, I mean, you have got to acknowledge that these are skilled, able people who have performed satisfactorily to the voters of those states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Landrieu in particular has pulled rabbits out of the hat on numerous, a couple of occasions. Coming up, it might be too uphill.

I would say the other thing — and here’s a substantive point — the Republicans don’t have a growth agenda. The Democrats don’t have it either. But if you look at where the polling is on issue by issue, people still think the Democrats are more like them.

They do like the Republican positions on spending. They do like the Republican positions on Obamacare, but the number one issue is who can create jobs and who can create growth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And you would not say that the Republicans have come forward with some agenda to do that. I’m not sure Democrats have either. But without that positive agenda, it’s hard to get a big wave going.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of growth, we’re looking at an economy now that is — what, they put out GDP numbers the other day. It’s growing at 3.5 percent, more than it has in years. The unemployment, the rate is the lowest, Mark, it’s been in years. Wages are finally showing some life. They’re started to come up, consumer confidence up.

And yet none of this is translating into good news for the party in power.

MARK SHIELDS: No.

There’s an irony. The stock market, just take the Dow Jones average, is up 10,000 points since Barack Obama has been in the White House. And you’re right. The last six months have been the best six months of growth in the past 11 years. So it really is good news.

The problem is, Judy, that’s big picture. And people don’t feel it. The median income, family income, has been down every year since 2006. It is lower now than it was in 2000, in the year 2000. The share of wealth that goes to the top, 1 percent in the country has doubled.

And so there’s a sense that the rising tide has lifted all yachts.  But it hasn’t lifted all boats. And that’s really what it is. It’s not a knock on the overall big economy. It’s what my life is, where my own chances of success and providing for my children or my family are, if anything, more threatened than they were.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because you have all these statistics on the one hand. But, David, on the other hand, two-thirds of voters are saying they don’t like the direction the country is headed in.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

Well, first of all, there’s an economic lag here. The growth rate really has to be going in August, September, July for people to notice in an election. Historically, there’s been a period. It has to — you have to get a bunch of months where the confidence is going up.

Second, do people feel, well, I can leave my — the job which I’m kind of unhappy with and there will be other opportunities around?  They don’t feel that, not at the same wages. So, until that happens, they are going to feel bad, because they know their own personal experience.

Third, I think there’s a feeling that we’re weak abroad. I think there’s more foreign policy in this election than recent elections. And there’s a sense we’re not strong on the world. There’s a lot going on in the world that we are not controlling.

And then finally, the president — and this feeds into that — doesn’t seem to be shaping agendas. And maybe it’s impossible. Maybe it’s an unrealistic expectation to expect him to, but the Obama drag really is the core thing here. People are seeing the president, 38 approval on the economy and foreign policy. That’s the core thing, disappointment.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I think it’s more of an economic election than a national security election.

And I’m not arguing that that question of certainly lack of confidence or doubt has increased in the White House, but the basic concern is that of the economy. And I think that that’s the irony, is that these big, good numbers you have cited don’t translate into support for the president.

I mean, 10 million more people have health care than had it a year-and-a-half ago. It’s a — really, the great legacy you can make, a great statement about transformational presidency, but it’s not much of a help if you’re a Democrat running in a — any kind of hostile area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it makes you want to ask, do statistics lie?  Do they just not mean anything for people?

DAVID BROOKS: The ones I disagree with lie.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, a lot of it is everything is pros and cons, but there is an overall feel.

And maybe the country is wrong. Maybe they should be more cheered up. I could easily make that case. If you compare the way we were in the ’70s, the ’30s, the ’40s, worse problems than now, but there’s a general sense our institutions are not working. And that may be a mood, it may be a perception. I think there’s some substance to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s a — we have talked a lot in this campaign over the last few months about how negative the campaign is. Ads are just over the top, negative, mudslinging just about everywhere in the contested states.

So, my last question to both of you is, what do you see out there that’s uplifting and makes you feel better about the country, Mark, as we go into this midterm election?

MARK SHIELDS: That lieutenant governor’s race in Montana.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a long silence.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, it’s a good question, and I wish I had a good answer for it.

I’m not charged up or encouraged by what I have seen. The negative commercials which, we’re careful now, and uncoordinated between the independent groups and the candidates, where I savage you through the independents group, and then I can talk about fields and what a wonderful person I am in my own campaign contributions, that to me is a creation of the devil.

And the final cost of negative commercials is, it depresses turnout. It depresses — it says there really is nothing that you are going to do to change. It erodes confidence in our public institutions and ourselves. And I just really think that the consequences are enormous.

So I should be cheered. There was one bumper sticker I saw in Harrisburg — no, that. But go ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nothing uplifting?

MARK SHIELDS: I can’t — I can’t see — Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado, the fact that he’s not running any negative commercials, if he wins, then maybe that will be encouraged.

Politics is a very imitative and derivative business, I can tell you. And if somebody wins not running negative commercials, then that’s a positive. It really is.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Hickenlooper has gone from very positive to like neck and neck.

MARK SHIELDS: I know. That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: We will see.

I would think in general — I can’t pick you a great race, because they’re all doing the same thing. TV stations’ owners are getting really rich, but the governor’s races are better than the Senate races.

I’m struck that we are polarized in the country, but there are still so many states where you really have close governor’s races.

MARK SHIELDS: Very close.

DAVID BROOKS: Florida, even Wisconsin. Illinois even is kind of close.

And so that shows there is still some political competition, as Mark said.

MARK SHIELDS: Georgia.

DAVID BROOKS: Georgia.

These are races being fought more on policy than the national races.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s always uplifting having the two of you here on Friday night.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m sorry. I feel like I let you down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You did let me down, Mark.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I did. Thank you, Judy.

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

And a reminder, finally:  Tune in Tuesday night for our election coverage. It will include a special report at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

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Shields and Brooks on changes if the GOP takes the Senate


Fri, Oct 24, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, a record amount of money has already been spent in this midterm election, some $4 billion.

Today, in a rare message on its Web site, the Federal Election Commission acknowledged being overwhelmed by the unusually large amount of paperwork coming in from campaigns.

It’s all part of the race to the finish of this election.

And here analyze it all, Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is New Orleans tonight.

So, gentlemen, it is the most expensive campaign ever in this country, and it is coming right down to the wire.

But, David, what we’re hearing more and more about is Ebola. We’re hearing a number of Republican candidates use this, blame the Democrats, blame the president. Is this helping Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it feeds into the mood. This is sort of a mood election more than an issue election.

I guess Barack Obama is on the ballot. Obviously, opposition to Obama is strong in all of these red states. But, mostly, it’s a mood. It’s a mood of anxiety. It’s a mood of fear. It’s a mood of suspicion of elites. It’s a mood of a suspicion of the ruling establishment, the expert class.

And so Ebola plays into all of that. I’m not sure it’s really a major voting issue, but it plays into all of that. There are a lot of people who are really disenfranchised from the establishment and they don’t really trust a lot of what the experts are telling them. There are a lot of people who are a little suspicious of globalization.

And here comes a disease that comes from a mysterious, faraway place and seems to insidiously insert itself into our lives. And so there’s just a feeling of sourness and a feeling that the country is being mismanaged. I guess it underlines the mood. I’m not sure Ebola itself is the issue, but the mood is strong and I think that’s more or less driving this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see that as what’s going on?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I do. I think David makes a very good point, Judy.

But, as I listen to this and hear charges that, for example, from Republicans, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, about a cartel of Mexican drug lords and terrorists combining and somehow bringing Ebola into the country that way, I’m just reminded of the words of a great senator, Ed Muskie, whose centennial we observed this year, of Maine, who said, in the final analysis, there’s only two kinds of politics.

It’s not radical/reactionary. It’s conservative/liberal. It’s not Democrat/Republican. It’s the politics of fear and the politics of trust. And this is very much the politics of fear. And David makes a good point. It contributes to the sense of anxiety, that events are in the saddle, and I think that does hurt the party in power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Below the belt, David, then, is that what it amounts to?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, some of the charges are below the belt, the idea of the drug cartel, some of — there have been some below-the-belt charges. Some, I just disagree with.

I think it’s a respectable position to say we should not allow flights from West Africa. I don’t think it’s probably very effective, because don’t just fly here from direct to Africa. They fly around the world and then come here. So, I just don’t think it’s effective, but it’s a respectable position.

But I don’t think it’s below the belt to have a feeling that the establishment or the ruling class in this country is not particularly competent. And you wouldn’t look at the way Ebola has been handled, at least so far, and say it’s been a testimony to the competence of the establishment.

And there are a lot of people who are just — we have a great social segmentation going on. And so there are a lot of people just with no contact with the people like us they see on TV giving them expert opinion about Ebola or anything else, and they just want to wave it away and they just want to pull in and trust the people they trust and that’s local.

And when the national borders seem porous and uncontrolled, they are going to react. And I think that’s a completely legitimate reaction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a legitimate strain here, then?

MARK SHIELDS: There’s a — Ebola is a continental tragedy for Africa. It is not an imminent epidemic in this country.

Susan Page, our good friend at USA Today, made, I thought, a telling point. She said the Washington Redskins professional football team has used more quarterbacks this year, three, than have cases developed in the continental United States, the two nurses, who have not traveled from West Africa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the man…

MARK SHIELDS: And now the — and Nina Pham, who is at — Texas Christian University ought to be very proud and the nursing profession should be and her family — is, thank goodness, apparently free of the virus.

So, is there concern? Absolutely. And is there a sense that things aren’t going well, that it isn’t in control? Yes, that’s very much a part of the context and the Zeitgeist of this campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about what everybody’s watching. Of course, we’re watching everything.

But, David, the big story of course is the Senate, whether it’s going from Democrat to Republican control. It looks like both parties have headaches here at the end, though, that, for Democrats, Colorado and New Hampshire, supposed to be states that — blue states they thought they were going to be comfortable in. What about those states and what about other states you’re looking at where Democrats have a worry?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think there’s not a tsunami in favor of the Republicans, but a bit of a tide, a small tide in favor of the Republicans.

I think if you looked at the last few weeks, in most of the pollings — there are exceptions like Georgia and some other places, but most of the polling shows a bit of shift toward the Republicans, mostly because people are upset with President Obama, they are upset with the shape of the economy, they are upset with the shape of the country.

And so you are beginning to see, I think, late swingers going a bit toward the Republicans more or less unhappily. And so where I am right now, in Louisiana, Mary Landrieu has run a pretty good campaign, but it’s a state where Obama is not popular. And it’s just harder and harder for Democrats to win in red states these days.

And so I think a lot of Democrats are facing an uphill tide. The second thing I also noticed just in this general election campaign, unlike two years ago, the Republican brand has improved. The candidates are much better. There are no nut jobs running around so far. And so, they have got a — they have reestablished themselves as sort of the business management party.

And in an economy that’s stagnant, they have got a little more credibility than they did two years ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does the landscape look like?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, for one thing, the great advantage, the gender advantage that Democrats have with women voters seems to be not as pronounced and not as dependable for Democrats this time, especially in Colorado, where the last poll showed Cory Gardner, the Republican, having an edge among women.

And it struck me, Judy. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader and several others, sent the results of a Gallup poll which asked the concerns of women in the country. And you go through their concerns, and they’re pay equality, they’re discrimination in the workplace, child care, and so forth. At 2 percent is abortion rights and contraception.

And I don’t know if there’s not the concern that there was in the past about Roe v. Wade being repealed or whatever, but it doesn’t have the same resonance that it did have, even though the women’s advantage still is sustaining two Democrats who are in tough races. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire has a double-digit lead among women. And so does Kay Hagan in North Carolina, an embattled red state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is part of this, David, the Democrats are stressing the wrong issues?

DAVID BROOKS: I sort of think so.

The Republicans, it’s not exactly Plato’s Symposium over there. But they are hitting the core issue, which is President Obama. But the Democrats have had a bizarre selection of issues, it seems to me, through the last six months. Remember, for a couple of months, they were talking about the Koch brothers over and over again. The Koch brothers are going do this. The Koch brothers are going do that.

And maybe that was to gin up their donor base. But, as an issue, the Koch brothers are not an issue. Most people don’t know who the Koch brothers are. And then I think with the war on women rhetoric, I think they have just gone to the well too many times with that. And it was an effective issue in elections past.

But, as Mark said, in a lot of places, it’s just not effective anymore. And I think people — either it’s not germane, it’s not salient to people, or they have just heard it too many times and the issues get stale. And so I think, in election after election, with the exceptions that Mark mentioned, you do not see the gender gaps that the Democrats would need to pull out wins here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Mark, do you see anything Republicans need to be particularly worried about? We have talked about Georgia.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Republicans have to be worried about Georgia.

And Dante Chinni, who has been our demographer on our show, at American University, had a very, very salient point. Georgia has the highest unemployment rate in the country, Judy. And what makes this interesting is that David Perdue, a CEO who offers himself as the only fortune 500 CEO the Senate would have if he’s elected, hardly something that voters are really going to stream to the polls on.

But he, in a deposition, under oath, said — asked about outsourcing, said, yes, I have spent my entire life doing that. Well, Georgia’s lost 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years. And among working-class Georgians, I think there is a resonance there. And I think that could be an issue.

And I think you have to say that Michelle Nunn has run a very aggressive campaign. As your own piece, she’s campaigning very strongly among African-Americans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we have reported…

MARK SHIELDS: And the question is, can she get above 30 percent of the white vote?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s right, to get there. And then we will see about a runoff.

Just very, very quickly to both of you at the end here, if the Senate goes Republican, David, what difference does it make? What happens or what doesn’t happen because you have a different majority in the Senate?

DAVID BROOKS: There will be more judicial fights. There will be more budget fights. Mitch McConnell said they’re going to pick some budget fights, to not fund some things President Obama wants.

But I don’t see big changes. Remember, as this landscape this year favors Republicans, because so many red state Democrats are up, in two years, there are a ton of blue-state Republicans up. Those people are not going to want to go out on a conservative limb. So it’s going to be a lot harder for Mitch McConnell to govern as a majority leader, if he is one.

MARK SHIELDS: I think what you will see, in addition to that, is you will see a lot of hearings, that there will be a lot of senators….

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate hearings.

MARK SHIELDS: … vowing to be the Darrell Issa of the Senate. The busiest person in Washington will be the White House counsel answering subpoenas.

I think there will be a lot of that. Finally, I think we will see — I expect some sort of a Republican health plan. It’s been promised now since Hector was a pup.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Some time after the cooling of the Earth, they are going to have a health plan.

And now, if they do have control of both the House and the Senate, they have to come up with something, because they want all the goodies and all the positives of Obamacare, but none of the responsibilities and the drawbacks. So, I will be fascinated to see that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are we going to see that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Maybe. I wouldn’t — I would look for a tax reform before a health care plan.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, we will see you here next Friday. Thank you.

The post Shields and Brooks on changes if the GOP takes the Senate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.



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Shields and Gerson on Ebola as election issue, Florida’s fan fight


Fri, Oct 17, 2014


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week saw the government’s response to the threat of Ebola, more campaigning in the final stretch before Election Day, and drama in a key governor’s race over a fan.

To talk about it all, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away tonight.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Let’s talk about Ebola first.

Mark, we heard the doctor and the head of the nurses association say at the top of the program people shouldn’t be alarmed about Ebola. But is the fear getting out of control in this country?

MARK SHIELDS: The fear is real. The Washington Post/ABC poll, two out of three Americans fear that there could be an Ebola epidemic in the country. Four out of 10 are very worried or somewhat worried that someone, either themselves or someone close to them will contract the disease.

So there’s a real concern. And, as most dangers, it brings out both the best and the worst in people. And I think we’re seeing plenty of that right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Out of control?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I do think it’s understandable. It’s a scary disease. And there were some fumbles in the initial response.

JUDY WOODRUFF: By the way, I meant the fear. I don’t mean the disease.

MICHAEL GERSON: Right. But the fear, I think, it is not irrational in this case.

It is overdone, to some extent. We do not have an outbreak. We have a few incidents. The outbreak in West Africa, we do not have that. We know how to control it. The procedures have been there since the ’70s. Ebola has been controlled in various outbreaks. And we know the disease itself is not as infectious early as it is late.

So it’s a real threat to health care workers, which we have seen, not so much the general public even in those cases. But there’s one area where we don’t have enough fear. And that’s what’s happening in West Africa, where the CDC is talking about the possibility of 5,000 to 10,000 new infections a week by the end of the year.

You could be — have real threats to the economic, social and political stability of countries in West Africa, which could dramatically spread the disease. If we want panic, that’s where productive panic would be employed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you do hear officials saying that on a regular basis. We need to keep a focus on what’s going on in West Africa.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

The focus right now in this country is election. It’s two-and-a-half weeks away. And the remedy has become cancel all flights from West Africa. That has become the mantra, quite frankly, of Republican and even some Democratic candidates.

MICHAEL GERSON: Which doesn’t solve that problem.

MARK SHIELDS: It doesn’t solve any problem and probably compounds the problem.

What we do see, Judy — and there is a parallel to 9/11, when we saw 343 firefighters walk into the jaws of death and the fires of hell, simply because they were — that was their duty to save fellow human beings who were in those trapped — trapped in those buildings.

And I think Nina Pham has become almost the face of the hero of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The first nurse what was diagnosed…

MARK SHIELDS: The nurse who has contracted Ebola herself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Taking care…

MARK SHIELDS: But, I mean, they assume the risk. This is a critical care nurse. These are health care providers — terrible term, health care provider.

But these are people who actually put themselves on the line to help strangers they don’t know, their knowledge, their careers, themselves, not for money, not for power, but just for humanity. And I think it’s quite — that is the most admirable development in this whole terrible panorama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of accusations flying around.

Michael, do you see this as an issue in the November election?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it adds to a vague general air of dysfunction, which probably benefits Republicans. It makes it harder for Democrats to drive their issues. We’re not talking about inequality. We’re talking about Ebola.

But I have to say that people who directly politicize this issue may well, in my view, be demonstrating their unfitness for office, OK? This is not a symbol for other things. This is important in and of itself in a central federal role. We need to learn from mistakes. We need to give the government the ability to learn from mistakes, because they’re in that process, instead of highly politicizing what really is a very serious matter.

I know it’s hard right before an election not to inject this into campaign commercials. And it’s happened on right and left, but I think that’s a serious mistake.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but you’re saying that’s happened.

MICHAEL GERSON: It has happened.

MARK SHIELDS: It has. It has happened in a couple of tragic instances.

I do think it’s a case that it will be a factor in this election, Judy, not only for the reasons that Michael cited, but if you think about it, the Democrats have had two really good pieces of news in the last several weeks, the unemployment rate at a new low, people returning to work, and then this week, the deficit the lowest point in seven years.

But it’s totally eclipsed by Ebola and ISIS. And these are two issues, national security and foreign policy, which the Ebola crisis has taken on in many instances, where they have tried to tie it into illegal immigration, some Republicans have, where the Democrats do not score well and Republicans have an advantage.

So I think it is an issue that Republicans are going to drum from here on in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: just quickly to both of you, the president’s choice of Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Gore and Biden, our guests at the top of the program, infectious disease expert and the head of the nurses association, said they think it’s fine to pick somebody who is a government expert, rather than a public health expert.

What’s your view?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I don’t think I’m in that camp.

This is treating a problem as though it is a messaging and communications or a management problem within the White House. This is a command-and-control problem on the ground in Liberia and other places, where supplies are not getting through, our aid is not getting there.

We need someone in the David Petraeus or Colin Powell camp who has respect in the military, respect in the global health community, emergency response experience. I think that they’re viewing this role in too limited a way, and the need is greater right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Ron Klain has demonstrated credentials, no question, Vice President Gore, Vice President Biden and in between.

But, to me, it shows how many few really towering figures there are left in American public life. Michael named Colin Powell. but I don’t know. I mean, it seems that the generation has passed. But I think you need a figure of command and who commands respect outside.

Ron Klain, for all he’s done, is not well-known either in the medical world or really in the international world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we talked about the election. We — we’re two-and-a-half weeks away, Michael. What does the landscape look like in the Senate? We started out 10 or 12 races watching closely. Where does it stand?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, if you look at the RealClearPolitics summaries, Republicans are now ahead in eight of the top 11 most disputed Senate races.

That doesn’t mean they will win them all. It just means — but they also have momentum in those races, if you look at the polling compared to September. And Democrats are starting to reposition in the House and other places their funding away from aggressive races against Republicans and towards defensive races for incumbents.

That’s a bad sign. So, I think this is going in a Republican direction. The landscape, the field on which this is being played is favorable to Republicans right now for a variety of reasons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your gut telling you?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think Democrats now are hoping, quite frankly, that a couple of races they hadn’t expected to be in play will be in play, namely Kansas, which had been a safe Republican seat, South Dakota, which is a safe Republican seat, or acknowledged that there was going to be a safe Republican seat, held by a Democrat, Tim Johnson, now retiring, and in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn is showing strength for that open seat with Saxby Chambliss.

But you have got seven seats being defended by Democrats. Six of them are in states that Mitt Romney carried by 14 percent or more. And these seats were all won by Democrats six years ago, when Barack Obama was getting the highest percentage any Democratic presidential candidate had gotten in the past 50 years.

So they were elected in a good Democratic year. And this doesn’t look like a good Democratic year, so I think they’re putting the champagne back on ice right now at Democratic headquarters.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not friendly territory…

MARK SHIELDS: No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … for the Democrats.

We haven’t talked much in the last weeks about the governor’s races. But there are, what, about 10 of them, we are told, could change parties. One of them — and they’re getting a lot of attention now that we’re getting close.

One in particular, Michael, is the Florida governor’s race, which there was a debate a couple of nights ago between the incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott and his challenger, former Republican, now Democrat, Charlie Crist. And it was a debate. And it was all about a fan that Governor — former Governor Crist wanted under his lectern up on stage.

That’s become a big story.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. No, it’s…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have got a picture of the fan.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL GERSON: OK. There it is.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the fact that Governor Scott, it took him six or seven minutes to show up.

MARK SHIELDS: Seven minutes, yes.

MICHAEL GERSON: I think that Governor Scott was in the right when it came to the rules, and the organizers pointed that out, but it really doesn’t matter.

Any candidate who is complaining about the rules doesn’t really look good. You don’t want to look rattled in a debate. It’s kind of the James Bond rule. You want to look cool under fire in these things. And it didn’t really work out for him. But if this decides the Florida governor’s race, God help us.

MARK SHIELDS: Charlie Crist is not only a former Republican governor, former Wake Forest quarterback, a — looks like he always came off the pages of “Gentleman’s Quarterly,” never a hair out of place. Looks like a million bucks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Of course, I think the two of you always look…

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: “Gentleman’s Quarterly.”

MARK SHIELDS: This is a strikingly handsome man, and he stays cool and has always — he’s been very open about this through his entire career. In fact, it’s in his own memoir, he writes about it.

He stayed cool in that torrid…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Florida heat.

MARK SHIELDS: … tropical state of Florida by having a fan with him under the lectern.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not like he’s got somebody giving him answers or something.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And so Rick Scott, I thought, looked not only petty, but small, and not concerned with the people of Florida, but whether Charlie — Charlie Crist had a fan.

I thought, quite frankly, it was fantastic.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And I think something…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You didn’t say that.

MARK SHIELDS: I did say that. And I apologize for it.

It’s fan-damentally…

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fan-damentally.

MARK SHIELDS: Fan-damentally.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, I mean, is there — just quickly, in 30 seconds, is there a lesson about American politics in all of this?

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. I think Americans like people to keep the rules, but they hate when people complain about others not keeping the rules.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that’s true.

But I would also say this, that one great thing about debates is they are the one time in campaigns where things are unstructured and unpredicted.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. That’s true.

MARK SHIELDS: And I thought this revealed something about Rick Scott which wasn’t compelling or appealing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there’s — this is always unstructured and it’s always terrific.

(LAUGHTER)

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

MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

The post Shields and Gerson on Ebola as election issue, Florida’s fan fight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.



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