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Shields and Brooks on the Fluster Over Filibusters, Bids to Be Comeback Kids

July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week's news with Judy Woodruff, including the decision by House Republicans to reject the Senate immigration bill, Senate Leader Harry Reid's call to change filibuster rules and new political bids by Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome back, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s start by talking about immigration.

The Senate passed its bill, what, two weeks ago, Mark. I think 14 Republicans voted for it. But now that it’s in the House, the Republicans are balking? What is going on?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s a different institution, Judy.

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I mean, the senators, Republicans who backed it recognized that not only is it the right thing to do, in their judgment, as public policy to take 11 million people out of the shadows, and by some process, 13 years, paying fines, background checks, to eventually become citizens, but also, Judy, that it’s in the interest of the Republican Party if they’re going to be competitive in this changing of electorate.

And, quite bluntly, House Republicans don’t have that same perspective. I mean, they — many of them are purists and absolutists against anything that in any way suggests what they call amnesty. But they don’t have the same breadth of perspective on their party having lost five of the last six presidential elections’ popular vote that they’re not going to be competitive in a changing electorate with only white votes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is it? Is that the explanation for why the House view is so different?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they come from white districts. There are very few with a significant Latino population in their district, significant minority population.

They also have a different attitude about big legislation. I think it’s crazy, personally. What’s going happen in the House is, they are going to break up the bill into parts they like, which is the border fence. And they’re probably ignore the parts they don’t like, which is the path to citizenship.

But they’re heading in a direction that is non-passable. They’re heading towards the status quo, because they’re going to propose something that Senate will not accept and certainly the White House will not accept.

And the Democrats have already said that. And so they’re looking for something purist. But what we are going to end up with is a bill that — or that — probably with nothing.

And that will mean lower economic growth, because this bill improves economic growth. It will mean a lot more illegal immigration. This bill, the Senate bill, would cut illegal immigration by 33 to 50 percent.

And then it looks like we are going to gets zero percent reduction. And political ruin. And they have got a theory of politics. Their theory is that Republicans don’t actually need to win Latino votes. They need to get out the white working-class votes they haven’t gotten. And if they pass immigration, that will hurt them with the people they need.

I think that theory is completely wrong. In the 21st century, we’re heading toward a multiethnic America, and if both parties don’t embrace that, they will just be in the ash heap of history.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think — is that the direction it’s headed in, that …

JUDY WOODRUFF: … changing minds?

MARK SHIELDS: No, it is, Judy.

And I think that it comes down to how you view a political party. A political party, if you and I agree on much more than we disagree on, and we share certain objectives, then we form a coalition where we say, OK, we’re going to be a party.

Or is a political party, instead of being a coalition, does it become a social group? You have to believe these 15 things, and if you don’t believe all 15 of them, you’re not going to be part of it?

And, quite frankly, that’s the way the House Republicans — if you wanted to pass the bill, if you wanted to pass it right now, what you would do if you are John Boehner…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the bill that came out of the Senate?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, or comparable — comparable legislation that — that really is a large bill, because a large bill accommodates other people. That is what it does. That’s why it becomes a large bill.

I mean, it isn’t — it isn’t some conspiracy somewhere. To get David’s support or your support, we put in certain positions, we emphasize certain things that we can all agree upon.

What I would do is, I would change the filing date for the 2014 election to the 1st of August of 2013, because they’re all — David’s right — the average Republican district is 75 percent white. The average Democratic district is 51 percent white.

So, if I’m sitting in a Republican district, I’m scared of a primary. I’m scared of somebody coming at me who is going to be more absolutist than I am and beating me.

Once you get by the primary, they are going to win their seat anyway. So, why — if you could get that behind them somehow, that is what I would do.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

And I would say, in support of that, a lot of them in private talk a very pro-immigration game.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But then they invent reasons to oppose the bill. And some of them are sincere. I don’t mean to say that.

But they are all — they are nominally pro-immigration. We have got to have more immigration, we have got to have more high school — high-skilled immigration. But then they look for reasons. And some of the reasons seem to me completely unpersuasive. So one of the points they make about the Senate bill is it has exemptions and waivers.

And they say, well, President Obama opted not to enforce the employer mandate part of Obamacare. He just takes legislation he doesn’t like and reverses it. So if we hand him a bill, he will just reverse it in ways we can’t foresee.

And that strikes me as not a good reason, because any piece of legislation could be inverted by the White House.

MARK SHIELDS: One other thing, Judy, and that is some of the intellectual leaders of the Republican Party, or conservative movement, have come out against it, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Kristol, David’s only colleague at The Weekly Standard, now, somebody who was kind of a colleague of mine on the NewsHour and who I like.

But, I mean, there’s no amnesty, and amnesty has become the buzzword. And, at some point you wonder, this is the one legislative — significant major legislative achievement that Barack Obama can win in the second term domestically, it appears, right now. And it’s almost a point of denying him that kind of a victory.

 

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I don’t know if there is any connection, but one thing the House Republicans did do yesterday, David, is they voted to pass a farm subsidy bill. But they stripped out of it hundreds of millions of dollars in food stamp funding. So where is that headed? I mean, not a single Democrat voted for that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The House Republicans are making it difficult for me to be a big cheerleader this week.

This started with a decent impulse, that we have this sort of weird system, where we have a political alliance. We put the food stamp program with the agricultural subsidies, and so you get people on both sides voting for it, and that would guarantee passage year after year.

All these people come to Washington and say, we’re going to change things. We are going to cut the ag subsidies. We’re wondering why food stamps is exploding as a program. Maybe we need to cut that back. And so they say, let’s change things. And that is sort of a decent impulse.

But at the end of the day, what do we have? They’re not really cutting ag subsidies. They’re just catering to their old interests, just as before, but they’re tripping stripping out the food stamp program. So they’re giving money to corporate farmers. They’re taking, at least delaying money to poor people who need food.

So it’s a political disaster. And it’s also a substantive disaster, because they haven’t really changed the ag subsidies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And they also argue, the Republicans argue, Mark, that some of the money for food stamps is wasted.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, unlike the subsidies.

Judy, this bill failed less than three weeks ago; 62 Republicans voted against it, all right? Only 12 Republicans voted against it when it passed on Thursday. What was the difference? The difference was — the only difference, they eliminated food stamps.

Now, if you are looking for a mean-spirited party, if you want to face the charge that you really don’t care about people, half of the people on food stamps are children, are people under the age of 18.

You are talking about people with disabilities? You’re really talking about feeding people. This is a Judeo-Christian country. We hear that speech after speech.

If feeding the hungry is not an element in that, then the Republican part has just turned its back. And who do they help? I mean, David’s right. It’s the agricultural subsidies; 75 percent of the bargain — of the supports go to 10 percent of the farmers, the biggest 10 percent.

They don’t turn their back on the fact that they are getting federal water or federal power, that we’re spending money for irrigation. And, you know, somehow, that is — but the people who are getting the food are …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there Republicans who are defending food stamps?

DAVID BROOKS: There are some, but not so many.

And I was going to do a column, because the Republican critics are correct that the number of people on food stamps has exploded. And so I was going to do a column, this is wasteful, it’s probably going up the income streams to people who don’t really need the food stamps. And so, this was going to be a great column, would get my readers really mad at me, I would love it, it would be fun.

But then I did some research and found out who was actually getting the food stamps. And the people who deserve to get it are getting. That was the basic conclusion I came to. So I think it has expanded. That’s true. But that’s because the structure of poverty has expanded in the country.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so to me it seems like a legitimate use of money.

And if you want to replace it with an EITC, or Earned Income Tax Credit, or another thing, that would be legitimate. But it’s — right now, it seems like a reasonably good program.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we’re talking about wonderful things happening in Congress, let’s move over to the Senate, where the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Mark, said that he wants to change the rules so that Republicans no longer have an easy time blocking the president’s nominees.

And I just want to quickly show our audience a little bit of what Reid and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, had to say about this yesterday.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL,R-Ky.: Well, This is really a sad, sad day for the United States Senate. And if we don’t pull back from the brink here, my friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever, the leader of the Senate who fundamentally changed the body.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: All we want is for the president of the United States, whoever that might be, Democrat or Republican, to be able to have the team he wanted as contemplated in that document called the Constitution of the United States. That’s not asking too much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is, Mark, Harry Reid potentially the worst Senate leader ever for trying to change the rules?

MARK SHIELDS: No, he isn’t.

But, eight years, ago positions were reversed. The Republicans had a re-elected Republican president and they were making the case. And Democrats, including the current incumbent president of the United States, Barack Obama, was making the counterargument.

But the — this has become just the default position now of the minority party, that we’re threatening a filibuster on everything. I mean, the filibuster…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying both sides do it equally.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, they did. They did. You can take the words that were used by McConnell eight years ago and those are the words used by Harry Reid.

But Harry Reid has raised the question. We’re not talking about judges, because that was the big fight with George W. Bush, was judges. Judges have lifetime appointments.

They sit far beyond any president. We’re talking about executive appointments, people who serve with the president.

And what they have used — they have used it, quite frankly, for is to just disable an agency or a law. I mean, for example, the Federal Election Commission is now — is neutered because they won’t confirm people. The National Labor Relations Board, whether workers can organize, that has been disabled as well.

So I think it’s a — there is enough hypocrisy to go around. But I think it is a legitimate fight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because the people aren’t there to run the agency, to carry out the law.

MARK SHIELDS: They aren’t there. That’s right. In other words — and especially the Consumer Protection Agency, where Dick — Richard Cordray is still waiting for confirmation.

DAVID BROOKS: This is like an old political philosophy principle that if there is not internal self-control, then there’s going to be external self-control.

And what they used to have in the Senate was the power of the filibuster, one person really to block a lot. But the members had a code of etiquette. They weren’t going to abuse it.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And now the code has gone away, so they just use it all the time. And so then the people in the majority say, oh, we’re just going get rid of the filibuster because they can’t control themselves.

So, I understand the impulse to get rid of the filibuster. Nonetheless, the Senate is not the House, because it’s not a purely majoritarian institution.

It’s about projecting minority rights. That is why there is more bipartisanship in the Senate than there is in the House. That is why being in the minority matters in the Senate, where it doesn’t matter in the House.

And I’m so for protecting the privileges and traditions of the Senate. I think what Harry Reid is doing is wrong for that reason.

MARK SHIELDS: What would you do to change, to improve it, though?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think you have to go back to the etiquette and say it’s in both of our interests, when we’re in power, when we have got a president in power, to only use the filibuster when — in extraordinary circumstances, not every damn day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very fast.

In New York City, two politicians who had a fall from grace, Anthony Weiner, former congressman, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, trying to make a comeback, Weiner for mayor, Spitzer to be comptroller.

Very quickly, what are we to think of this? Do they — do they have a right to do this, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but my rule is start at the bottom.

So, I am little more pro-Spitzer. If you are going to have a fall from grace, start at the bottom and work your way back up. Show you care about the service, rather than just rebuilding your reputation.

MARK SHIELDS: Don’t confuse the two.

Both of them are — were ambitious, young, nervy, loved cameras, loved attention. Anthony Weiner was a show horse. Anthony Weiner was a talk show creation. Eliot Spitzer was the only political figure in the United States who dared to take on Wall Street.

And very rarely do you see a politician take on the deepest pocket, most powerful moneyed interests. And he did it, from Goldman Sachs on. And what he did to his family was terrible and disgraceful. What he did to the office was.

But he is a different public servant. And he really deserved to be the sheriff of Wall Street.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you two are the sheriff of the NewsHour — sheriffs, co-sheriffs.

(LAUGHTER)

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