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Brooks and Marcus on why Trump’s appointments make sense

November 18, 2016 at 6:30 PM EST
As Donald Trump announces his choices for prominent roles in his upcoming administration, patterns are emerging. New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to analyze the newest appointments and the governing philosophy they represent, consider Trump’s potential conflicts of interest and share remembrances of beloved colleague Gwen Ifill.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

And happy Friday to both of you.

So, President-elect Trump, David, making these three big announcements today in the national security arena, after we heard who a couple of people are going to be around him in the White House. What do we make of these choices, starting with the ones today?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you thought Donald Trump was going to be swallowed up by the conventional Republican Party or by Washington, you were wrong.

He’s governing, it seems, exactly as he campaigned. And the people he selected are very much in the spirit of the campaign, sometimes explicitly referencing the policies he took on the campaign.

So, I would say, A, they are going to be very different. We’re going to have a very different administration from a normal Republican administration, let alone a Democratic administration.

Second, I have to say, they have good resumes. Pompeo, Flynn, they are — it’s not like they’re just out of the wilderness. These are people who have been around power and who probably are not going to be automatically incompetent at their jobs.

The third thing to that we say is, they have Donald Trump’s charm, which is to say they are extremely sharp-elbowed individuals, to a person. And it’s like he’s taken all the hard bosses or bad bosses in the world and so far he is bringing them all together.

And so, if they work as a team, maybe they will be a very tough team, but they could work on each other. And it could be hard to hire people under them, because these are people famous for being really hard on those around them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, what do you make of these national security picks?

RUTH MARCUS: Disturbing on General Flynn, and less disturbing on Congressman Pompeo.

I think it’s really important for us to understand Donald Trump is the president-elect, and he is really entitled to — he has got the prerogative to pick people who will implement his policies and who have his confidence.

But I think — I don’t look at it just as the national security team. I look at it as a whole, and I’m very worried that he is picking people — he talked on election night about the need to bind the wounds of division. I think he’s picking a series of people who are potentially pouring salt into the wounds of division and who are reinforcing some of his worst tendencies, rather than buttressing him and surrounding himself with people who bring to the table both personality and capabilities that he may be lacking in.

And so I would — the three that most concern me are General Flynn, Senator Sessions, and Steve Bannon at his right hand in the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who comes from Breitbart News.

RUTH MARCUS: Indeed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which raises — I saw some commentary, David, saying, well, maybe there is good cop/bad cop thing going on here in the White House, where Donald Trump picks Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party, as his chief of staff, but then he picks Bannon, Steve Bannon, to be his counselor.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I’m not yet putting Priebus in my good cop category…

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: … bad and other cops.

Bannon is the interesting case. He is, of course — I do not approve of his news organization or his judgments, but he is something out of a different — he is a pure populist, pure anti-establishment.

And so, for example, there was an article today, a rare interview that he gave, where he really talked about having a trillion-dollar infrastructure program. That would be a big shift in our national debate. And I think it might be a good idea. But it would get a lot of Democrats on board.

And I do think the silver lining for those of you who didn’t approve of Donald Trump is that there are a lot of policies in his canon that do mess with our categories. And that kind of big spending program would be one of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think?

RUTH MARCUS: I’m kind of having a hard time seeing the Steve Bannon silver lining here, even with a big infrastructure program, because his Web site and his own history has been so divisive, so hurtful to people of — minorities, people of other faiths.

I think having somebody like that in the White House — I understand, to the victor go the spoils, but bringing someone like that inside the White House who you’re going to be listening to is a bad thing.

And then we’re layering on to that I think two people who are the wrong people in the wrong jobs. You want somebody who is going to be your national security adviser who is going to be temperate, who is going to be an honest broker, who is going to be able to take in information and give you sort of, this is what everybody is saying.

That is not, from the people that I have spoken to today, what General Flynn is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No.

RUTH MARCUS: And, similarly, with Senator Sessions, I was around for his confirmation hearings as judge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No.

RUTH MARCUS: Both in those — I know. I look so young.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: But it’s true.

Both in those and in his performance as senator, taking — going to the Justice Department, sort of same idea. If he were up for secretary of defense, I might not have this issue. But we’re at a country that is facing enormous racial tensions, really difficult questions about criminal justice reform and tensions between minority communities and police, and here he is with a long history.

Wrong person, wrong job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of a worry is that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I do think it is a significant worry.

I mean, this past few weeks, past few months, past few years, maybe past few centuries, have been rife with racial tension. And this seems set to exploit that and to exacerbate that. I think that’s going to be one of the most likely and one of the ugliest features of the campaign.

I’m trying — as I said on the program last week, I’m trying to give a pause. The guy was elected. And, as I say, he’s been extremely consistent with his electoral campaign. He’s being authentic to what he ran on and what got elected.

And so I agree with Ruth. I think these people deserve to be confirmed. There’s nobody who, I don’t think, doesn’t deserve to be confirmed.

One other point, though, and this is about the Bannon point. He’s always had a teeny-tiny circle of trust. I can’t imagine that being in the Trump Cabinet will be a very important job. I do think this will be a White House-run administration with a teeny-tiny group of people surrounding him, including his family maybe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and that’s — I want to ask about that, because one thing everybody noticed is that his family is on the transition team, his children, his son-in-law, Ruth.

They were — his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, were in that meeting yesterday with the Japanese prime minister.

Is this something — I mean, what? What are we to make of this?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, again, quite disturbing.

I do not begrudge anybody relying on their family members for advice. I do. Politicians regularly rely on family members for advice. But Donald Trump is in a unique position here. First of all, he has told us that he is going to solve — and I don’t think it’s a good solution — his problems of conflict of interests in his business by turning over the management to his children.

OK, maybe that’s adequate from his point of view. But now he’s simultaneously turning over the management to his children and bringing in his children, first three of them, to the transition, and then apparently tapping his son-in-law, married to one of the people who’s going to be managing this business and dealing with the conflict that way, to bring them into the White House. That’s number one.

Number two, in this small circle, you want a president without governing experience to be surrounded by people with experience in governing. Instead, it’s insular Trump surrounded by his family.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that bother you?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, what does bother me is the intermingling of the business and the public service aspect of this. And so I do agree with that.

But I do think, if the family members choose one side or the other, I would have no problem with Ivanka serving on the White House staff, frankly. But there’s a rule against it now, in theory, serving in the Cabinet, at least, maybe not in the White House, that was passed after Bobby Kennedy.

I personally think that’s a dumb rule. If a president wants to have a family member as — an executive of a small business can have a family member. I don’t have a problem with that. I actually think Ivanka would be a good influence on the administration.

But I do think as long as the — he’s so business-minded. As long as we’re constantly asking, is he trying to make a buck off this, is he trying to promote his hotel with this, then that’s just a corruption of what we think of as public service.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

Well, I wanted to ask you both about the Democrats and where they stand right now, back on their heels.

But I really want to leave time here at the end for a few minutes to ask you both about our friend. You both knew her well, Gwen.

David, you were close friends.

Ruth, you have worked with her for so long.

Ruth, you go back to, what, early days at The Washington Post.

RUTH MARCUS: So, I can tell you the exact day, because it was my first day at The Washington Post, September 4, 1984.

I drove out to Prince George’s County, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, walked into the bureau, and there was Gwen Ifill with this luminous smile that David wrote so beautifully about. And we have been friends ever since.

I think — thinking, she went to The New York Times, so we covered the White House together. And I’m particularly remembering one Christmas Eve in Little Rock in 1992 after the Clinton election. I think Gwen’s editor had sent her a bottle of champagne, which we had to drink surreptitiously out of teacups, because I think the restaurant was dry.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: And then I have to say finally that it’s actually thanks to Gwen that I’m sitting here tonight, because Mark was going to be away one day.

And Jim said, “Hey, who can — how can we broaden the circle and bring people in?”

And Gwen said, “What about Ruth?”

And I know I’m not only person for whom she went to bat and said, why don’t we expand the field of people that we use? And, so, I will miss her, and I’m thankful to her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, she had an eye for talent. And we’re glad you’re here, too.

And, David, she was so fond of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, and, well, I wrote this column.

And the way I ended it, which I think is a point that is a true one, is that nobody reminded you of her. You never thought, oh, who’s kind of like Gwen? Who’s the next best Gwen? There is no next best Gwen.

And I think what was unique about her was this combination of intense strength with intense warmth. And, you know, one of the toughest hours of TV I ever had, but maybe the best, was on “Meet the Press.” I did a show sometimes called “Imus in the Morning.” And Tim Russert did that show and David Gregory.

And he said some racist things. And I didn’t realize he had already said some racist things about her. And she was on the show, and she just was super tough on us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. I remember that.

DAVID BROOKS: But then the intense warmth.

I have a photo on my phone of you and Gwen doing an exploding fist bump at the convention. And she’s laughing and she’s dancing in her chair, that warmth, that smile. And the two were so in tandem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, our mutual friend John Dickerson over at CBS said you could read a book by the light of her smile. And I think we all agree with that.

Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, we thank you.

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