Shields and Brooks
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
TERENCE SMITH: Gentlemen, welcome. David Brooks, the Bush administration complains that the Democratic-controlled Senate will not act on its judicial nominees and says there are– there is a 10 percent vacancy in the federal bench. Do they have a beef?
DAVID BROOKS: They do as much as the Democrats did. Both parties are now raising placards saying you didn’t give our guys when Clinton was president or Bush was president, you didn’t give our guys a hearing. George Bush nominated eleven people to the circuit court a year ago and eight are hearing-less.
But you have to be a fine connoisseur of atrociousness to discern which party is worse, because they both are equally bad at suppressing the other guy’s nominees, not giving them any chance. And I have to believe deep down they don’t want hearings, both parties don’t want hearings because this is the way social policy is fought now.
Remember the big issues here are abortion, affirmative action, gun control. Neither party really wants to have big public fights about that. The Bush administration — their compassionate conservatism has been to downplay abortion, downplay affirmative action, not be aggressive on that. In the Democratic case, they don’t really want to fight about it either, because they don’t want to have to defend abortion in the ninth month; they don’t want to have to defend abortion without parental consent. So both parties are happy to crush the other’s nominees by not even giving hearings. And they don’t want a fight right now.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark, is that it? Is it ideology, or is it partisanship?
MARK SHIELDS: I have never heard such cynicism in my life and insightful cynicism at that.
TERENCE SMITH: You’re shocked.
MARK SHIELDS: I’m shocked. It is an ideal political fight because what you do if you are a Democrat, you stand up there and say we are saving the republic and especially our wonderful people who support our side from these terrible right-wing judges who, once in power, would try and execute, legislate their own social agenda. And the Republicans say we are fighting for strict constructionists and against these secular know-nothing Democrats. And so the core constituencies on both parties are catered to, excited, are pleased; it’s a great fund-raiser and I think David makes an awful lot of sense.
One little point though, and that is that President Bush’s decision to forgo the American Bar Association test and recommendation of attorneys gave the Democrats an opening to delay the process because the ABA’s endorsement process, usually they would come up and they would say this person is highly qualified, they would be hard pressed then to, shilly-shally on the hearing.
John Roberts is a perfect example, deputy solicitor of the United States under the first President Bush, nominated for the court of appeals here in Washington. If he had an ABA selection, it would probably be highly, highly qualified. But because the President forewent that– forgo or forewent — because he skipped that process, they’re without that credential to make the case stronger, and the Democrats are saying, look, what you did in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Southern circuit, the last six years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, not a single judge approved, three nominees never got hearings. It’s gotcha politics.
TERENCE SMITH: Sounds like gotcha politics.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, and if I could switch from cynicism to goo goo idealism, when you look at the nominees, Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owens, Michael McConnell, they’re really outstanding human beings. When you get to be nominated to circuit court, you are a pretty impressive person.
MARK SHIELDS: Except Priscilla Owens, whom the president’s own counsel accused if absolutely – just two years ago before we got this status of outrageous judicial activism–.
DAVID BROOKS: We could have the hearings right here.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark, there was a lot of talk in Washington this week about fast track and talking about the Kentucky Derby, they were talking about a trade bill or an understanding between the Senate leadership and the White House on the trade bill. What is in it and how important is it?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s important. It is very important to the president and I think how important it is to the president — the president wanted that fast track argument. What it does, Terry, is it gives the president the right to negotiate a treaty with any other foreign entity and then present –
TERENCE SMITH: On trade issues.
MARK SHIELDS: On trade issues — up or down for the Senate and House’s acceptance or rejection — no amendments. So it is a power that every President from Jerry Ford forward had until President Bill Clinton when it expired in 1994 and those good old Republicans deprived him of keeping that. George W. Bush does want it. I mean he ran as a free-trader in spite of his steel decisions, his lumber decisions once in office. So it was important to him.
How important you could see in the concessions he was willing to make to the Democrats in the Senate. And they were considerable. I mean, 75 percent of the insurance workers idled by foreign competition will be paid now under this. It is a tripling of the federal involvement and the federal payments to these displaced workers.
And I think what it says more than anything else is that George W. Bush wants this desperately. He’s really willing to just about do anything. And he could have some real restlessness and restiveness on the conservative side. It only passed the House by one vote and it was a much more modest and much less generous bill then.
TERENCE SMITH: What are the prospects, David?
DAVID BROOKS: The prospects are tough actually for the reasons Mark said. The president really wants to restore the U.S. role as the free-trader nation of the world, which has been hurt by the steel tariffs and has been hurt by the farm bill. He gave a lot. I thought there was actually — this is the way politics is supposed to work. Both sides came with their thing — with their ideas. The president came in at the end of the day and they crafted a compromise — and after the brinksmanship — and it really worked.
I believe the people in the administration believe that they will lose some Republicans who are not happy with the expanded treatment that is being given to displaced workers. They’ll say why should a guy who loses his job for domestic competition have to pay taxes to subsidize somebody who loses it for foreign competition — that’s not fair. On the other hand I think they’re going to pick up a lot of Democrats who want to vote for free trade but can’t because of pressures within their party.
MARK SHIELDS: One thing that’s interesting, Terry, is how the pressures have changed. I mean we think of the American labor movement, we think of it as a blue-collar worker male with bulging biceps and an autoworker, a steel worker, a machinist; that’s no longer the case. The American labor union is a domestic group. It’s teachers, it’s service employee unions, it’s food and retail workers. It’s government employees, and Teamsters, the great industrial unions have shrunk to an amazing size and they don’t have the clout they once had.
TERENCE SMITH: But they’re still concerned about jobs.
MARK SHIELDS: They’re still concerned about jobs, but it isn’t the top priority. They don’t have the clout in the Democratic Party that they once had — that the autoworkers did is a premier industrial union.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Briefly now, the House passed a defense bill that — a tidy $383 billion, the biggest increase in nearly 40 years, but it includes a weapons system, David, the Crusader, that is very controversial; that the Defense Department says it doesn’t want and the White House says it doesn’t want. Why is it in there?
DAVID BROOKS: It’s in there because it’s in Oklahoma and there are powerful congressmen from Oklahoma and because the Army wants it. Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t want it. This was a weapons system in the president’s defense budget. Now the president is saying he will veto the bill if the weapons system that was in his budget is still in the bill. And what happened is Donald Rumsfeld.
When there is Donald Rumsfeld is in the room, there is no process. Donald Rumsfeld makes a call and he wants it obeyed. So we were in the Senate mark-up, which is the very end of the process, and all of a sudden Rumsfeld says no Crusader weapon system. Well, the Army went ballistic, as it’s good at. The members of Congress go ballistic from Oklahoma. And so you have them calling Donald Rumsfeld an oriental despot for intervening at the last minute, and then you have this real fight. And if I had to lay bets, it’s 50-50.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. In the short time left, your bet?
MARK SHIELDS: This one — Rumsfeld might be an unguided missile, to pick up on David’s line, and that is this, Terry: You never, as a rule in politics, you never put your principal, whether it’s the Speaker of the House or the Senate leader or the President of the United States, in a situation publicly high profile, controversial, unless you’re sure that your principal, your guy is going to win or your gal is going to win. That’s not the case right now. And I think that that could be a real problem.
Democrats, ever since 9/11, have been told they’ve got no daylight between themselves and George Bush. Clench with him and stay close with him on national defense. That’s why you see no debate on $383 billion. Democrats are totally for it, war against terrorism, committed to national defense as anybody.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Well, we are committed to getting out of here. Thank you both.