TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on Health Care, Immigration Fallout and an ‘End Zone Dance’

June 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news with Jeffrey Brown, including the fallout over the president's new immigration policy and the implications of upcoming Supreme Court decisions.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome back.

If it’s Friday, you’re here, right?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Eric Holder, congressional committee voted to recommend a contempt citation against the attorney general. John Boehner says he’s going to bring it to the full House next week, although he hasn’t specified a date, right?

What is going on, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: What is going on is a really dubious policy that opened up a lot of questions called Fast and Furious, which basically ran guns out there with the expectation, full expectation that they would be bought by straw purchases, and then end up in the custody of gangs’ members, and that they could then be traced and used in prosecutions for more serious crimes than just buying guns.

It went awry. An agent from the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive Bureau was killed in a shoot-out. And the question is — the Republicans in the House want a fuller explanation. The Department of Justice has been not forthcoming. The Department of Justice has been very much on the defensive.

They had John Edwards case, which they lost. The Roger Clemens case, they lost. The Ted Stevens, they lost. They haven’t prosecuted anybody in Wall Street, who brought the nation to its knees. So, there is a certain lack of kind of support and enthusiasm for them.

But at the same time, it smacks of election-year politics. Darrell Issa, the chairman of that committee, has been dying for an issue. He think he has finally got one. And I think he has one.

JEFFREY BROWN: Hyper-partisan politics? What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, it’s supposed to be.

That is what we are designed for. That is why we have an opposition to scrutinize. And they do it for political gain. But that is the way the system was built, that people with partisan incentives go after the opposition, go after the party in power. So they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

I’m in general a defender of executive privilege. I think it is important for an administration to be able to have conversations about policy that will be private, so they can have a normal deliberative process.

In this case, whether legally the administration is on solid ground in invoking it, that is a gray area. Politically, I think it’s stupid.

JEFFREY BROWN: This was the president acting this week with the executive privilege.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, saying we’re not going to release these further documents.

And I think politically it’s stupid, because it is one thing if you are invoking executive privilege over some national security issue. This is a policy everybody admits was profoundly stupid. Why are you not saying, okay, this was a stupid policy, let’s get it out there and let’s figure out how it came about?

JEFFREY BROWN: But the contempt charge itself, do you think politics, but okay?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, you know, that’s politics.

I guess I have some qualms about it because it escalates what is — it’s traditional. Every president gets it some more, some less, these wars with Congress over turf. This escalates it a little more and it makes it seem a little stupider.

JEFFREY BROWN: It smacks of partisan politics, but you don’t like that?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I love partisan politics. You know, that’s what I don’t like about independents. They want to take the partisanship out of politics.

But, no, I think there is one other political angle here and it shouldn’t be ignored. And that is, since the founding of our country, we have been about expanding the franchise. Only white property-owning males could vote. And then it was expanded to include freed slaves. And, later, it was women and men without property, and finally to African-Americans and to 18-year-olds.

And there’s been — make no mistake about it. In the last two years, there’s been a real effort by Republicans organized in states to restrict the franchise, to make it more difficult to vote. And Eric Holder has been, quite frankly, the stalwart opposing those laws and challenging them. And I think that fuels the political fires even more.

JEFFREY BROWN: Really? You’re suggesting that they are going after him for larger reasons.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that’s part of the fever of partisanship.

And I think the White House figures that nobody can lose a fight with the House Republicans, because in every poll they are lower, and I think this may be wrong on this one.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think about that, going after him for larger issues?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The government was running guns. This was profoundly stupid policy.

MARK SHIELDS: No, no, I agree with that.

DAVID BROOKS: You can imagine, oh, we will be clever, we will stick them in there, then we will know who it is.

But it is like anybody with a half a distance from the internal process says, wait, we’re running guns, let’s not do this. And so I think that is sufficient enough. The causes for the partisanship against the administration, Darrell Issa, they are manifold. I’m not sure that — I don’t believe that plays. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: And the politics of this for both sides?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it is a winner for the Republicans.

It’s funny. It hasn’t really registered with the country yet, what the government has done. When — if it gets out, wait, they were sending guns to Mexico, I think it’s such a thing that will startle people. I think it’s a clear winner for the Republicans.

And what the Obama administration wants to do with this executive privilege, get it lost in the court system, push it past the election, and then hopefully it will go away.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the fallout this week from the president’s announcement last week that he would allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the country and to get work permits. Both the president and Mitt Romney spoke this week, actually yesterday and today, right, to a leading Latino group of officials.


JEFFREY BROWN: We have a clip from each of them. Let’s look at that.

MITT ROMNEY (R): Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive order.

The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure. As president, I won’t settle for stopgap measures. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to build a long-term solution.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The question we should consider is this: Was providing these young people with the opportunity for a temporary measure of relief the right thing to do?


BARACK OBAMA: I think it was. It’s long past time that we gave them a sense of hope.

Now, your speaker from yesterday has a different view. In his speech, he said that when he makes a promise to you, he’ll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act. And we should take him at his word.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, last week, Mark, you said that the president had really put it to Romney, sort of forced his hand in this. How has Romney responded. What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, one of the few times I will stick by my prediction.


MARK SHIELDS: Here we are a week later, and he still. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark the calendar.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Circle it, please.


MARK SHIELDS: Those at home, please note that I was right once.

I done think there is any question that he has ducked, he’s bobbed, he’s weaved, and he still hasn’t answered it here a week later. It started on “Face the Nation” last Sunday with Bob Schieffer, and every venue he’s been in where he has been asked, he either has refused to answer or not answered it, as he did yesterday.

He’s going to put in term — in place a long-term solution. Will you extend it, because it’s only good for two years? You know, if you are an undocumented immigrant here in this country, brought here before the age of 16, finished high school, thinking about joining the service, or going to college, and under the age of 30 and haven’t broken any laws, you still can only stay here for two years. It has to be renewed.

So you are going to go out and lay that before the authorities with the understanding or the fear that this fellow is going to win in November and come in and repeal the whole thing? And he just can’t choose between constituencies. He doesn’t want to be — he doesn’t want to be blamed by the right of his own Republican Party that nominated him for going soft on illegal immigration. And he still at the same time doesn’t want to totally alienate Latino voters.

JEFFREY BROWN: How is it with you a week later?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree that Romney is in a horrible position, for the exact reason Mark said. He knows where he’s been. He knows where his heart probably is. And he can’t get there.

And if he’s going to try to get in a bidding war for Latino vote, he’s not to going to get it. On the other hand, though, to rain on Mark’s end zone dance over there. . .


JEFFREY BROWN: You knew that was coming, didn’t you?


DAVID BROOKS: . . . it is not clear to me that this is a useful political winner for the president.


DAVID BROOKS: In part, you look at the polling — see, the most extreme piece of legislation on immigration is this Arizona thing — 58 percent of Americans support that thing, including half the Latino voters.

So the general public on immigration, if it is going to play in the election, is not a clear, oh, let’s be more generous or let’s be more comprehensive. And so it’s not, to me, is clear it’s a winner.

And then the final thing — and this is not going to be a political issue — I liked what the president did. I liked giving these people a chance.

JEFFREY BROWN: The policy.

DAVID BROOKS: The policy.

I hated the way he did it. And I don’t know if that is going to play. But there were laws.

DAVID BROOKS: We passed laws. He said there were laws. And with a stroke of a pen to ignore the laws is just — you can’t — it’s very bad idea to have a good policy imposed by bad means. And that is what he did, and very cynically, too.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with David emphatically.

First of all, the polling — and I think you will see it, continue to see it this week, you have seen it in most recent polls — support what the president has done, that this is a fair and reasonable policy for people who came here, were brought here without their participation and have lived by American laws. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: So it has political strength.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it has more — the president has the popular political position.

But more important than that, this is not a question of polling. It is a question of character for Mitt Romney. What Barack Obama couldn’t stand right now is a straight up-or-down referendum vote on, do you think he’s been a good steward of the economy? No. So it’s — probably not.

But if it’s a contrast with somebody who will stand up and say, this is where I stand, and when Romney is back and forth and vacillating, and this just plays into that narrative of Romney. And I think it’s a real problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what does Romney do? Does he just try to hope it goes away, change the subject, what?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if it were up to me, he would do the comprehensive thing.

And his strongest point this week has been, listen, the president promised you immigration reform. Where has he been for the last three years? He hasn’t really raised the issue. It has been a low priority.

And that is his strongest case. If he came back with something Bush-like, George W. Bush’s comprehensive plan, or what Marco Rubio has been working on, which has sort of been messed up by all this, sort of a bipartisan thing. . .


DAVID BROOKS: . . . then he could take care of securing the border and do something bigger than the DREAM Act.

And that would be — that would be the way to get on top of all this. But, as Mark says, he would have to annoy some talk radio hosts to do that. And I’m not sure he’s willing to do that.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And he would have to repeal and rescind what he has been saying throughout 2008 and 2012.

And I would point out it was Senate Republicans who did sabotage and stopped the DREAM Act. That is who it was. The administration and Democrats did support the DREAM Act. And it was the Senate Republicans that stopped it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, just in our last minute or so here, we don’t often look ahead, but we are all looking ahead, aren’t we? We have been waiting for the Supreme Court. Next week is the final week of the court, so it’s clear that some very important cases are going to come.

One is the immigration case out of Arizona you mentioned earlier. Of course, the big one is health care. How important do you think this will be politically?

DAVID BROOKS: To me, the interesting thing is, say they strike down the mandate and leave other parts, or say they strike down the whole thing.

That — the next legislative year has already got huge tax issues, huge spending issues. Taking essentially the funding mechanism out of the health care bill would throw another gigantic issue on to the legislative agenda next year. It would make — we call it Taxmageddon when all these things come.

It would take that times 10 and create this incredible legislative new juncture, which would have either a great effect on the American political system or more likely a — really, car crash.

MARK SHIELDS: The Affordable Care Act is not popular.

They have never been able to persuade the majority of the country to support it. But provisions of it are. I mean, obviously, including children until the age of 26 under the parents’ coverage, the preexisting condition, that people without — with a disability can be — insurers have to cover, these are important and popular positions.

And if it is struck down, the Republicans don’t have an answer as to what they’re going to do for that. And there’s no way of providing coverage without a universal individual mandate. And I think the ball then goes to the Republicans. They’re on the defensive. They have got to come up with something. And it energizes Democrats, who would be upset with its overturn.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, deal, we will meet back here next Friday and talk more about it.


DAVID BROOKS: All right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.