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Political Analysts Shields and Brooks Discuss Immigration, Hayden Hearings

May 19, 2006 at 6:15 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, Senator Sessions said flatly today that he did not believe that a compromise is possible between the House and the Senate bill that’s probably going to come out. Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think right now he is right. I think that the House is digging in. I thought the reaction to the president’s speech, which I probably did him harm by praising and to say it was the most eloquent I’ve ever heard the president, and get…

JIM LEHRER: You’ve got to quit hurting him like that.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, he got praise from all kinds of people and sources, actually, that if anything hurt his case in the House. And the House Republicans, Jim, in fairness to them, feel that they would betrayed and abandoned by the White House.

They feel that the White House in November or December, Jim Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is very up front about this, that they had agreement from the White House on this tough border security criminalization…

JIM LEHRER: First. Do that first, and separate it, and do not do the second part.

MARK SHIELDS: And we support what you’re doing, and all the rest of it.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: And now they feel, as Sensenbrenner put it, that what they were saying in December and November, they’re singing a different tune in May.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

How do you feel about this? Is this thing headed for an inevitable collision and everybody’s going to go into the ditch?

The direction of the hearings

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
I've never heard the conservatives, both elected and unelected, react in such a vocal, vehement, even venomous way toward the president. I mean, they were really -- you know, they almost took perverse delight in scolding him.

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Probably.

JIM LEHRER: Probably, OK.

DAVID BROOKS: But I think its chances are a little better than -- it's most likely they won't be able to reach agreement between the two houses, but the chances are a little better this week than before. I think because this majority held together in the Senate, against quite a big onslaught, the fact that they held together is kind of impressive.

JIM LEHRER: And it's definitely a bipartisan majority.

DAVID BROOKS: Bipartisan, centrist, moderate coalition, and I think the reason is that, when you talk about the problem of illegal immigration, people are angry and polarized. When you talk about the answers, the debate gets a little different.

What you hear in focus groups and conversations, people will give you 20 minutes of rage about how the borders are out of control. But then you start saying, practically, what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about the 11 million here? What are we going to do to get some workers we need for the farms? Then people start having a normal conversation.

And once you get in that back-and-forth, then I think, in theory, you can have a debate. But the reason I think it's still unlikely is that one of the big thing that happened, especially this week, but over the last couple of weeks, is the Republican base has turned on the president and turned on him in a big way.

And I think they went into that speech on Monday night looking for things to hate, not believing anything he said that they liked. And a lot of it is displaced anger, anger about other things that they can now express about this. So that's just created this huge rift. It will take awhile to get that healed.

JIM LEHRER: And so there is no heat coming from the base, as they say, to Washington to the House, to say, "Hey, go with the president on this." In fact, just the opposite?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely the opposite. And the people, the Republicans who are with the president, it's like walking through a hailstorm. They're hunkered down; they're miserable.

MARK SHIELDS: Let me just agree with David in great part. I think that I've never heard the conservatives, both elected and unelected, react in such a vocal, vehement, even venomous way toward the president. I mean, they were really -- you know, they almost took perverse delight in scolding him.

I mean, Sensenbrenner, for example, used this phrase, "I don't think he gets it." Now, there's a more dismissive phrase in the language than, "You don't get it."

JIM LEHRER: To say that about the president in your own party, yes, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: And the other thing is, in a strange way, nobody was more crucial to that compromise David described in the Senate, beating back the Cornyn-Kyl proposal, than Ted Kennedy. And this is the kiss of death to the House guys, who say, "Well, look, Ted Kennedy says the president has a good plan. Ted Kennedy says it's a good compromise." And, you know, if anything, that's the red flag in front of the conservatives.

The president's low poll numbers

David Brooks
The New York Times
When you're up, you feel a sense of personal psychological triumph over the miserable lefties who are down. But now you're down and they're up, so you're angry at this guy for making your side down.

JIM LEHRER: But, David, is it unfair to suggest that this lack of support for the president on immigration is related to his really, really bad polling numbers?

DAVID BROOKS: No, well, that's my theory, that they're punishing him for the sin of being unpopular.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: They really like to...

JIM LEHRER: And it didn't have that much do -- in other words, if he was 77 percent approval instead of 34...

DAVID BROOKS: They'd be with him.

JIM LEHRER: ... they'd be with him on this?

DAVID BROOKS: I would say the main cause of anger is spending, but immigration. But when you're up, you feel a sense of personal psychological triumph over the miserable lefties who are down. But now you're down and they're up, so you're angry at this guy for making your side down. And so there's a lot of it -- the sin of being unpopular, you know, people rate the president by how popular or unpopular he is, and so, if he were up, they'd be with him, or at least quiet.

JIM LEHRER: Quiet. A specific thing, this national language, making English the -- how do you read that? What's that? Is that just something so everybody can go home and say, "Hey, I did it"?

MARK SHIELDS: I think so. I mean, I think we're very heavily into symbolic areas right now in politics, Jim. I mean, they're going to bring up the gay -- the same-sex marriage constitutional amendment. It has about as much chance of being ratified as I do of being the Republican nominee for president.

JIM LEHRER: They started -- there was a hearing. The senators, they started screaming at each other.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

JIM LEHRER: The Senate Judiciary Committee...

MARK SHIELDS: Arlen Specter -- the price of Arlen Specter of being chairman is he has to report things like this, even though he can't stand it himself, but he has to, for the caucus, report out this constitutional amendment...

JIM LEHRER: ... had a hearing in a room where nobody could get to.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right, no press. No press, if you're Russ Feingold...

JIM LEHRER: ... walked out, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And just one other thing to David's, with the Republicans, and that is they loved George Bush in 2002, 2004. I mean, they were all over him like a cheap suit, you know, when he was running and he was helping them.

Now, I mean, they don't know his name. I mean, they're moving away; they're born-again mavericks; they're running against Washington.

And there's two factors. One is, there's an old story in politics about three great presidents, George Washington, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. George Washington was our president who could never tell a lie; Richard Nixon was our president who could never tell the truth; and Bill Clinton was our president who couldn't tell the difference.

Well, you know, in the CNN poll, they asked, "Who do you think is more honest or trustworthy as president, George Bush or Bill Clinton?" Forty-six percent said Bill Clinton; 41 percent said George Bush. I mean, for Republicans, that was -- whatever you said about George Bush, he was a guy that...

DAVID BROOKS: But to me, this is disproved by this week's events. Here is a president standing with his long-standing conviction in policy, pushing a proposal, which is unpopular with his own people, which is politically risky in the extreme, because he believes in it. And I don't have anything against Bill Clinton, but I don't think he would have done this.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Bill Clinton was that way on civil rights.

DAVID BROOKS: Maybe you're right. Maybe you're right.

MARK SHIELDS: This is true.

The Hayden Hearings

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
[Michael Hayden] has four stars. You get four stars up here. You can't get a fifth one. So there's no ambition involved. I mean, it isn't like he's angling for a promotion. And I don't think -- maybe some people on the Hill don't quite grasp that.

JIM LEHRER: The Mike Hayden hearing yesterday, anything change between yesterday and today that makes you think Michael Hayden is not going to be confirmed as director of the CIA?

DAVID BROOKS: No, no, I'm finally waking up from the experience. It was not the most scintillating hearings I've ever sat through, but what you saw was that he is competent and that he projected that competence.

You know, Walter Batchit (ph), a hero of mine, said the best government is a little dull. It's just the business of doing government. And here was a guy who is in the business of collecting intelligence, organizing organizations so he can collect intelligence.

And then the second thing I think you have to say is the NSA scandal is fizzling, that if the Democrats weren't going to raise NSA stuff here in any passionate, or forceful, or persuasive way, they're never going to raise it anywhere, and I think that was the other element.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what happened on that? What's your reading why the Democrats didn't come on more strongly on that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there's two factors. First of all is, the phone companies, in a carefully parsed statement -- I mean, it took them a couple of days to do. They said, "Well, we actually didn't do this." I mean, so there was sort of -- there was too many loose ends, I think...
 
JIM LEHRER: This is on the records, yes, USA Today story.

MARK SHIELDS: That's the USA Today story. I think that was central to it, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, OK.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think the other thing is Hayden himself. I mean, there's just too many people who have too much respect for him. And they went after him as far as being a military man. I mean, six of the 19 heads of the CIA have been military people, from Stansfield Turner to Jimmy Carter.

But the other factor is, he has four stars. You get four stars up here. You can't get a fifth one. So there's no ambition involved. I mean, it isn't like he's angling for a promotion. And I don't think -- maybe some people on the Hill don't quite grasp that.

JIM LEHRER: But what did you think about what he said he was going to do at the CIA? Did you have the feeling, David, that he understood what the problem was out there, what needs to be fixed? And what did you think of his -- what he said at least about how he was going to fix it?

DAVID BROOKS: He talked about making people more risk-taking and more forward-leaning and all that kind of stuff, and he did project an air of confidence. But I would say the one disturbing thing for me from the hearings was that it's all couched in this abstract language.

And you could have sat through that hearings and not quite understood that we were in a crisis about this, in national danger, except when Barbara Mikulski stood up and talked about an honest language. That was the one moment, like normal language broke into that hearing, and you begin...

JIM LEHRER: Refresh your memory of what she said.

DAVID BROOKS: She said, "You guys are klutzy." She used real words. She said, you know, this has been a -- the CIA is in collapse. And she used real words, non-jargon.

JIM LEHRER: And she went through all the names, all the -- going back to the Clinton administration, you know, the revolving door, heads of the CIA, and these guys failed, and that didn't work, and then, you know...

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And so that was the one moment like you felt like a real person was talking with reality. The rest was a little about bureaucratese.

JIM LEHRER: A lot of acronyms.

Discussing details of the hearings

David Brooks
The New York Times
[Michael Hayden] doesn't owe anything to any specific president. He's a man who's been here a long time with independent integrity, that he projected that.

MARK SHIELDS: I thought the Steve Kappas, the fact that he wants to bring him back, who left -- was one of the most popular leaders and most respected CIA officials they had at the agency, who left under Porter Goss and retired, that he's bound and determined to bring him back, to restore the morale, to start rebuilding the morale.

Morale is always low at the CIA, but I think it's historically low right now. And I think he understands that. And, you know, I thought, as well, I mean, he certainly laid down the other part of that, it was he was going to be somehow a puppet of Rumsfeld's.

JIM LEHRER: Forget that.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, boy, oh, boy, I thought he established that. And his criticism of Doug Feith and the independent intelligence operation they're running out of Rumsfeld's shop, I thought that was pretty strong.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think about -- what was your impression of what he might do if he was asked to shade the intelligence to fit -- forget the Pentagon, but the president. I mean, he's going to actually work for the president. I mean, he's going to go through John Negroponte, but he's going to work for the president.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, like Mark said, he's not a political person. He's not out to please anybody, though I do feel compelled to add that most commission reports have found there was no shading of the intelligence, but...

JIM LEHRER: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: ... clearly he's a guy that...

JIM LEHRER: No, I'm saying if somebody in the future did that.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Here's somebody you wouldn't doubt -- he doesn't owe anything to any specific president. He's a man who's been here a long time with independent integrity, that he projected that.

MARK SHIELDS: He did shoot down the total hoax that al-Qaida and Saddam were in collusion.

JIM LEHRER: He sure did.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, he really did, and that was something that the vice president returned to time and time again.

JIM LEHRER: Come back just quickly to David's earlier point. Do you agree with him that this NSA thing is just kind of going away?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, you know, unless -- I was told that the phone companies spent hours, their legal offices, how they were going to frame exactly their answer, because there isn't that total denial that they're involved, just exactly what they did do.

Unless there is, you know, some pistol with some smoke coming out of it, but as of now, I certainly don't think it is nearly as big as it looked when it first broke on the front page of the USA Today.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes. OK. David, Mark, thank you both very much.