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Shields and Brooks on Immigration, Financial Reform Efforts

April 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks sort through the top political news stories of the week, including the contentious new immigration law in Arizona and movement in Congress on the financial reform bill.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, good to see you both.

Let’s start with immigration. The governor of Arizona today signed into law what is — they are saying is the toughest anti-immigration law in the country.

This is just a few hours after President Obama, Mark, called it misguided. He called it irresponsible. What do you make of the law? How serious a divide is this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the reason we have a president and a Congress is to write immigration law and to set immigration law.

And I think, to some degree, it’s a reflection of the failure of the Congress to address what is a major problem. That said, the bitterness and the vindictiveness of the law in Arizona is remarkable. Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles, who is the — probably one of the leading voices on immigration, says we hold up two signs at the border. One is, help wanted, and the second is, no trespassing.

And that is it. I mean, that’s the mixed message. And sort of the presumption in this law is that these people come to the United States to rob, to plunder, to commit all sorts of acts to get on social programs.

They come for essentially the reasons that people have come for hundreds of years, and that is for a better — a better life. And this really is — it deputizes, makes responsible police to turn in anybody, and to face litigation if they don’t, that they suspect.

And I think the chiefs of police opposed it for a very good reason, and that is, Judy, that it freezes, inhibits anybody who is an undocumented immigrant here from reporting a crime, whether he or she is a victim of a crime. So, I think the law itself just has incredible defects. And — but it’s a reality.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Already a big divide. Does this bring everything to a boil, what’s happened here?

DAVID BROOKS: You know, I don’t think so. I personally think the law is an invitation to abuse.

You have got a law that has disparate enforcement depending on skin color, an extremely explosive issue. And you put the level of discretion at the cop on the street in the worst circumstances. And, so, it’s an invitation for abuse.

As for whether this creates a big national debate, well, we’ve had a debate. I think the salience of the immigration issue has actually dropped as immigration levels have dropped with the recession. And, then, if people are sitting around waiting for a remedy in Washington, I think they are going to have a long wait.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think the administration, the White House is going to…

DAVID BROOKS: You know, there is a lot of talk in the Senate and promises have been made and vows have been made. But, you know, when we got sort of close to immigration a couple of years ago, first, you had Cabinet secretaries devoting themselves almost full-time to it up on Capitol Hill getting ready to get a bill.

And then you had people like Ted Kennedy and John McCain and others working for months and months and months to hammer out a bill. And, so, there’s just a lot of work that has to be done. And, as far as I know, that — there has been some work done by Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham and others. But — but I don’t think there has been that level of work. And then the political climate really couldn’t be worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see the White House taking this up?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the White House made a pledge, the president did, during his campaign that he would do it in the first year of his presidency. We’re well into the second year.

And I think David is right. The agreement is that, if anything happens, the Senate has to act first. The House is not going to act. The House has repeatedly acted first on the president’s program, and waited, in many cases in vein, for the Senate to act.

I don’t think — and Harry Reid, the Senate leader, who represents Nevada, who is embattled, running for reelection, has a large Latino population there — and, very practically speaking, Judy, Democrats need to energize the Latino constituency, which voted 2-1 for Barack Obama and which now expresses next to — very little interest in the election of 2010.

So, do they bring it up and say, look, the Republicans sabotaged it, because are you going to invite immediately ugly amendments, English-only amendments, and that on the Senate floor? I don’t think the prospects are bright.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we will move to another subject where there is already a lot of disagreement, financial regulatory reform.

President Obama, David, went into the belly of the beast. He went to Wall Street yesterday. How is this — how does that play, and how is this different, do you think, from the administration’s perspective, from the way they had to — from the way they handled health care reform?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, health care reform, I think the two parties had fundamentally different philosophies of how to reform the health care system.

And there was almost no point of contact. And, so, they had — you had a very polarized debate. This is different. In part, nobody understands financial regulation, so that makes it easier. They don’t — didn’t understand health care either, but they thought they did, so that made it a little easier.

But, on the regulation of the financial industry, I think there’s general agreement that what happened on Wall Street had become a casino. There is somewhat agreement that we need to regulation derivatives, so they look like other instruments. And so there’s some — there’s some commonality or at least some common confusion about what to do.

Now, there are differences of practicality. There’s Republican skepticism about the degree to regulation. There’s other skepticism about whether you want to institutionalize, really, a ransom fund, a bailout fund.

And, so, there’s levels of skepticism. There’s level of difference. But it’s not the polarized philosophical difference you had with health care. And, as a result, I think it is much more likely they will actually come out with something next week.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree that it’s more likely, Judy.

In Wall Street, and the actions and the malfeasance that brought the nation to its knees and much of the world to its knees, its activities, and robbed people of their future, of their savings, of their — their livelihoods in many instances, you have finally found an institution or a political entity that serves the purpose of making used car dealers look ethical…

MARK SHIELDS: … and making the Congress look popular by comparison.

And, so, they are not going to let this go. I mean, Republicans don’t want to be seen as the defenders of the status quo. You could make the case in health care, and it was made that this — bringing the government between you and your doctor. Nobody seems to be concerned about bringing the government between you and your hedge fund manager.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think — I don’t think that’s…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we all have a hedge fund manager.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Well, David has two.

DAVID BROOKS: Smith and Barney.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But so — but you still, David, have Republicans out there very upset about this, saying what the Democrats are really doing is, they’re bailing out the banks.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, and, you know, to be fair, I think there is some legitimacy to that. They do agree on some things, but there are other things — first, it’s politically — they have done some polls — it’s politically popular to say they are bailing out the banks. Nobody likes the bailouts. Nobody likes bailouts of Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs.

But it is true, if you have a fund that is going to be used, a $50 billion fund or whatever it would be, if you have that fund that would be used to bail out the banks, that does create a moral hazard. And a lot of experts say, if you have the fund, it will be used. It’s like having a ransom fund. If you have a big ransom fund sitting there, somebody is going to kidnap your people.

And, so, that is a legitimate problem. The other problem is just the level of regulation. The bill doesn’t necessitate there will be a vastly over-regulated intrusion into Wall Street, but it certainly opens up the avenue. And, so, it hands a lot of potential power to federal regulators. And I think that always makes Republican nervous.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think the bailout worked for the Republicans. They have backed off of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As an argument.

MARK SHIELDS: No, they didn’t. And I think the reminding of people in the political world that Frank Luntz, the word doctor, the very creative Republican pollster, had come up with this as the argument to use — the $50 billion fund is really a liquidation fund.

I mean, it’s not a — it’s not to restore and revivify a failed institution. It’s to put it out of its misery, but to do it in — that the stockholders will, in fact, suffer from it. So, I think it is different. And I think the Republicans understand that. And I think they — this will pass with big votes.

DAVID BROOKS: If I could just quickly…


DAVID BROOKS: … we may have — the $50 billion fund may be a myth, but, if we have another crisis, we will bail them out. We will spend $800 billion, if we have to, again. There’s something fictional about this whole thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No matter — no matter what the…

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, yes. Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I don’t think the will is there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. You are on record disagreeing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Speaking of anger — of arguments and anger, I want to ask you both quickly about this Pew poll out this week showing rising distrust in government, anger at government.

And, as I ask you about it, I want to actually use a graphic. There’s an organization called Patchwork Nation that the NewsHour is collaborating with. And they have done this — they look at the country congressional district by district. They do demographic breakdowns.

One of the things they looked at was the Tea Party and where it has a lot of members. And the darker — those little dark green areas you see are where there are more Tea Party members.

But whether — you know, whether it’s Tea Party or not, Mark, what do you make of this sense of anger? I mean, is it — what’s it coming from? Where is it going? Is it bound to influence the election?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, we came off 25 rather remarkable years of low inflation and relatively low unemployment. You know, it was really prosperity.

And I think there was a sense for a whole generation of people that that was the norm. And there is an anger and a disappointment, I think, at what has happened, at large institutions, at the federal government, at the administration. It is real. It is palpable.

As far as the Tea Party folks are concerned, there’s a great concentration of them in boomtowns, and that is, places that had grown exponentially, and then had suffered…

JUDY WOODRUFF: New growth.

MARK SHIELDS: New growth — and then had suffered disproportionately.

I mean, Arizona, for example, is second in the country in foreclosures. Nevada is first in the country in foreclosures. And you look at the…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You can understand…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. There’s a sense of anger.

DAVID BROOKS: There are also enterprisers. There’s individualists, often self-made, small business people. And so they don’t believe in government help. They believe much more in individualistic initiative.

I have to say, the Tea Party movement is fascinating and worth talking about. But the poll, the Pew poll you mentioned, and many of the other polls show the real action is in the center of the electorate.

The big thing that has happened over the last couple months or year is that the independents have moved to the Republican Party in large number. So, the Democratic Party advantage, which was 11 points, is gone. The Democratic favorability rating is down 20 percent — 22 percent. So, the big movement is in the center.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re going to leave it there.

And we’re glad to have the two of you in the center with us.

DAVID BROOKS: One of the two of us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Was there a song?

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