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President Offers Climate Change Plan; Immigration Debate Swirls

June 1, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, the president’s global warming announcement yesterday, does it deserve praise or derision?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Praise. I think there’s been an evolution in the White House, not lavish, over-the-top praise, but I thought it was a step forward.

There’s been an evolution in the White House. And you’ve seen it over the past couple of years. You’d see one official, one government official, somebody in the Department of Energy. There’s been a lot of internal movements as new studies on global warming.

They’ve begun to take the issue more seriously, and so there’s been this evolution of taking the issue more seriously, being more proactive about it with CAFE standards. Have they gotten to the point where they are imposing pain in order to address the global warming problem? No.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see evolution, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I do. And I found more significant and more revealing than the president’s own change of position, which was genuine…

JIM LEHRER: You thought it was a change of position?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I sure did, yes.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, I think it’s possible. I mean, not from his campaign of 2000, where, if anything, he was — you know, then he reneged, once in office, much to the consternation of Christine Todd Whitman, his first EPA director, on the question of carbon.

But what I found fascinating — and it’s sort of a Rorschach test of our own political attitude and psyche at this point — was the reaction to it. Historically, when somebody changes a position — for example, the civil rights movement, and they became pro-civil rights, there was a welcoming, open arms. “That’s terrific.” It changed on the anti-Vietnam War. When somebody changed, they said, “Well, what took you so long?” And there was almost a dismissiveness and exclusionary.

And I just — I’m surprised nobody in the environmental movement that I could find reached out and said, “Thank you. Good to have you aboard, Mr. President.” I mean, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, said, “We now have common ground.”

And it strikes me, once you establish that there is a problem, and we agree there’s a problem, that something has to be done about it, all we’re arguing about is means. And I think that’s important.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark on this?

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree with that. It seems to me — as Mark says, if somebody moves in your direction, pull him in. Instead, they were slapped around. They were slapped around by all the environmental groups, and they were slapped around by the Democrats. And I think that was done because we’re just in a much more partisan environment.

And then the second fact is, is that nobody’s willing to pay any economic cost for global warming. I mean, the best thing that we could have to head off global warming is higher gas prices so there will be more of an incentive to investigate new technologies. So we’ve got higher gas prices right now.

What do the Democrats do? They have plans to lower gas prices, because as soon as you get an economic bite, they walk away from global warming. They say, “We’re going to save you money on gas.” Economics trumps environmentalism with Democrats and with Republicans, and that remains true, which is why it still pays to be pessimistic about tackling this issue.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say this. I think the argument is more than a Democrat-versus-Republican point. I think what it is regulation versus non-regulation.

And I do think that there is a resistance. The president has a natural impulse against any regulation. And we’re going to do this in a voluntary way or whatever. I think he’s opening himself up now, that he really is inviting standards, you know, and probably tough standards, and gasoline mileage, CAFE standards.

The thing that bothers me is the skeptic sense that he’s doing this for political purposes. Now, just say he’s insincere, OK? Just say he’s doing it because the G-8 meeting is next week, and he watched to take some pressure off on the environmental thing.

Where’s the political — there’s a great political downside that, if it’s exposed as a fraud, and they say, “Jeez, whatever you said about Bush, at least you believed him. Now you don’t believe him.” So that’s why I think it is authentic.

President Bush and immigration

David Brooks
New York Times
There's also one fact about the Bush administration which underlies a lot of things that have happened. He is, as one staffer told me, liberated by unpopularity, that he is so low, "What the heck? Do whatever."

DAVID BROOKS: There's also one fact about the Bush administration which underlies a lot of things that have happened. He is, as one staffer told me, liberated by unpopularity, that he is so low, "What the heck? Do whatever." And so, in a weird way, he's sort of taking the gloves off, "Ah, what the heck."

JIM LEHRER: And staying right on that subject, Mark...

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, sir.

JIM LEHRER: ... the immigration thing. I mean, he came out really strong knocking his own people, I mean, the conservative Republicans. And now he's caught, you know, much heat because of what he said about them. I mean, it's -- same thing?

MARK SHIELDS: It was not a politically shrewd move; it never is.

JIM LEHRER: You mean when the president jumped on the conservatives?

MARK SHIELDS: When you attack the motives of your most loyal constituents, I mean, you know, talking about pandering to fears and stuff like that.

JIM LEHRER: Which is what he said about the opponents, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: You say you can disagree with it, and I think you're uninformed, or let me give you my position. But at the same time, Jim, I do think that this is something that George Bush is sincere on. I mean, I guess I'm on a sincerity kick for George Bush, but...

JIM LEHRER: That's two in a row, by the way.

MARK SHIELDS: I know. This could really -- would you handle my e-mails for me, please? No, but, I mean, this is an issue that he's been long and strong on. And it's the difference between Texas and California; it's the difference between George Bush and Pete Wilson.

Pete Wilson used the anti-immigration thing to get re-elected in California in '94. George Bush actually got a majority of Latino voters running for re-election in Texas. I mean, for a Republican, that's a pretty significant accomplishment.

And he understands that the anti-immigration position that the Republicans took in 2006 saw their share of the vote go from 44 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2006. So there's a practical aspect to his position, as well.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read what's going on here?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there's -- you can't believe the rage among conservatives right now at President Bush. It's just extraordinary.

JIM LEHRER: What are they accusing him of?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, what they're saying -- and this is in Laura Ingraham, the radio talk show host, Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal -- what they're saying is, "We've been battered. You've been battering us for six years with big spending, with Medicare, with incompetence, with this and that. We've been hanging with you, even though you've been battering us, and now we're sick of it. This is the last straw. We're walking."

And so you're getting a lot of people saying, like Noonan and Laura Ingraham, saying, "That's it. Mr. President, you're on your own. You've got two more years. You're on your own." Now, whether they stick to that, I don't know, but that is now a common sentiment of people basically just cutting off the White House from the ranks.

JIM LEHRER: Is it a powerful enough movement to make a difference, when it comes to finally having to vote on this compromise and enacting it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I continue to believe -- I think Mark said this a couple of weeks ago -- that a vocal minority beats a silent majority. And I think that's the way this will work out. The anger on the right, tearing apart this bill, sometimes very intelligently -- it's kind of a mess -- that will eventually triumph.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it's going to be tougher, Jim, if they talked about getting 60 or 70 Republican votes in the House. I don't see how you find them today. But...

JIM LEHRER: You mean a vote for the compromise?

MARK SHIELDS: A vote for the compromise, if it does survive the Senate. But I have to say, it gives me a great perverse delight to hear conservatives talking about, "We're victims. We're victims. We've been treated badly by our leaders."

I mean, I'm sorry, Peggy. I'm sorry Laura, you poor, conservative folks who've been so mistreated by George W. Bush. Those Western men, they're just mean, that's all.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, actually liberals have -- it's all about status. People want respect. If you don't respect them, they will bite you.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but that was always the charge against liberals. It was, "Oh, it's the politics of victimhood, that's what it is." Now they're the victims.

McCain's immigration compromise

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
You talk about someone who's testing his base or alienating their constituency, McCain just pushes it. He's going to make a major speech in Miami on the subject, just in case anybody has missed his position.

JIM LEHRER: All right, all right, now, let's move onto another part of this. How bad is this hurting John McCain? Because McCain is sponsoring the compromise; he's catching it, too.

MARK SHIELDS: You've got to love McCain. I mean, one thing, talk about the fire into the frying pan, back and forth. He just won't leave. He's either on Iraq or he's on immigration. I mean, I don't know. And then he'll probably say, "I'm for campaign finance reform again, too."

You talk about someone who's testing his base or alienating their constituency, McCain just pushes it. He's going to make a major speech in Miami on the subject, just in case anybody has missed his position. But, no, he's -- and so is Lindsey Graham, his principal lieutenant and staunchest supporter in the Senate.

DAVID BROOKS: But on his side, the really anti-immigration people were never for McCain.

MARK SHIELDS: No.

DAVID BROOKS: And there is a majority of Republican voters out there who -- they're angry about illegal immigration. But they want to know basically, are these people helping the country or are they detracting from the country? And if can have a system that will help them help the country, they'll be for that system. I mean, there is a majority, very silent, for this legislation.

Fred Thompson's possible run

David Brooks
New York Times
Some people go into politics because they want to fight wars or they want a strong America. Some go in because they want to fight poverty. Thompson goes in because he's very suspicious of centralized power in Washington.

JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, here comes possibly, probably, Fred Thompson into this race, this Republican presidential nomination race. Does that hurt McCain, as well? Or what's your reading on that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it primarily hurts Mitt Romney, because Fred Thompson will be the orthodox conservative candidate, the post Romney is going to fill against the mavericks of McCain and Giuliani.

The thing to understand about Thompson is, some people go into politics because they want to fight wars or they want a strong America. Some go in because they want to fight poverty. Thompson goes in because he's very suspicious of centralized power in Washington.

So he is running as the federalist, as the guy who's going to decentralize power away from Washington to the states. That's a back-to-basics movement for American conservativism, and that's the core of who he is.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any reading on Thompson?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I do. Substantively, he's totally out of the sync. I mean, the conservative movement is in trouble for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that the problems besetting the country, climate change, global warming, globalization, national health insurance, all require a robust, effective, energetic, inventive federal government's presence, not a reduced federal government's presence. That's one.

But what Fred Thompson brings to it, which is remarkable, he is the smiling conservative. He's the non-menacing conservative. Fred Thompson is as friendly to me, because he's confident and comfortable with himself, as he is to any conservative reporter. I mean, he's just -- there's a quality about him which will make him a very natural candidate and a very appealing candidate. And that should not be overlooked.

Health care and Supreme Court

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
It basically says to employers, unscrupulous employers who want to discriminate against women, is, if you can keep everybody in the dark about everybody's pay and promotion practices for the first 180 days there, they can never sue you.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned health care. This also got some big play this week, primarily on the Democratic side, always on the Democratic side, but most particularly because Barack Obama. Is that going to be a big issue for Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: It is a big issue, Jim. The profound change in this country in 14 years since Hillary Clinton is so dramatic. We now have the Business Roundtable joining hands with the Service Employees International Union, the fastest-growing union in the country, Andy Stern, and the American Association of Retired Persons, basically calling for mandatory, a universal health care.

Once again, Washington is behind the states, just as in Iraq, behind the people. Massachusetts Mitt Romney has kind of walked away from it, but Arnold Schwarzenegger in California moving to universal care. I don't think there's any question that that's the direction.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: Of course, it will be tough to pass, because if we learned one thing from immigration, from Social Security, it's tough for Washington to pass complicated legislation. So the country is clearly moving, and the Obama plan is interesting. I know some people on the left think it's too moderate. And I think, in a way, it tells us something about who Obama is. But 2009 is going to be health care year.

JIM LEHRER: And 2009 is going to be health care year. But is it going to -- it's not going to be -- neither of you is suggesting that a federal program for health care is going to come out of this?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, oh, I definitely do.

JIM LEHRER: You think so?

MARK SHIELDS: I really -- I think there has to be a federal solution. And, Jim, I tell you where it's going to come from. It's going to come from American corporations, Paul Solman's piece on globalization. They've got to figure out a way that that cost of health care is amortized over the rest of the population.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, the Supreme Court's decision this week, David, on pay discrimination, big deal?

DAVID BROOKS: I think a moderately big deal. It showed the two sides of the court. The majority thought that, if you discriminate, you should have only 18 months. And the question is, when does the discrimination start? And they said, "We've got to apply a precedent. The law says 18 months. We're for 18 months." The minority said, "That's bad policy," but the majority said, "We're not in the policy business."

MARK SHIELDS: Just a factual point, the law said 180 days.

DAVID BROOKS: I'm sorry.

MARK SHIELDS: And so what it basically says to employers, unscrupulous employers who want to discriminate against women, is, if you can keep everybody in the dark about everybody's pay and promotion practices for the first 180 days there, they can never sue you, no matter how little you're paying them for the same work they're doing. To me it just showed, you know, what the limits are of conservative ideology.

DAVID BROOKS: No, the Supreme Court is not in the policy business. They might agree with you on the policy, but that's the Supreme Court of the USA.

MARK SHIELDS: Four of the justices and the original trial court believe that was the law.

JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, both of you have demonstrated clearly your sincerity here tonight. Thank you both very much.