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Shields and Brooks on who will come out ahead after the shutdown ‘cease-fire’

October 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news, including outcomes of the shutdown fight for the Republican party and the president, the outlook for the online insurance exchanges, plus remembrances of former House Speaker Tom Foley.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We remember him and look back at this week now with Shields and Brooks.

That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Mark, you knew Tom Foley well. What legacy — it was a very different time in Washington.


It’s only 20 years ago, Judy, but he brought to it — to his whole public career a meticulous sense of fairness and a genuine respect for the opinions of others. Tom Foley, I heard him say time and again, you are the speaker of the House. There were only two — he was a great historian, scholar. He said, there are only two offices that are defined in the Constitution, the president of the United States and the speaker of the House.

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And he said, you’re not speaker of a party. And he wasn’t. He was always — he would — Bob Michel, who was the Republican leader, was a good friend. He would go to Bob Michel’s office for meetings, which is, in the protocol of Washington, not done. You come to the president or you come to the speaker.

And he was just a — he believed in the institution. I was thinking, in terms of substance, there were three individuals who were responsible for food stamps and the nutrition plan in this country that, according to the Census Bureau, lifted four million Americans above poverty level last year. And they were Bob Dole, Republican from Kansas, George McGovern, Democrat from South Dakota, and Tom Foley, who was the House — chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Those were the — I guess, to the critics, the unholy trinity, but they were the three people who made a difference. He was really an exceptional American and exceptional public servant.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that was a bipartisan…


MARK SHIELDS: It surely was.


David, his death comes just two days after this — the end of this — I don’t know what we want to call it, Armageddon, the week that — two, three weeks that swallowed Washington.

What are we left with after all this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we’re left with people unlike Tom Foley.

He was also an institutionalist.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: He was a lifer. He was on the staff of Scoop Jackson, the senator from Washington State, who was sort of a hawkish, centrist Democrat.

And he was someone who was committed to some — well, the institution as something that would transcend generations, and he was just the temporary steward of that. That mentality is not so much in evidence these days. And I think what we’re left with, with the pointless Armageddon, if you want to put it that way, is a Republican Party wondering, and the Democrats looking at the Republican Party and wondering.

Democrats are feeling pretty good. Republicans are not feeling good. And the question is, is the Republican Party going to change? Will what I would call the reality caucus take back control of the party? And I am more optimistic than most that the people who do believe in the basic functions of legislation, including Mitch McConnell, are finally fed up.

And they have always been fed up privately, but whether they actually have the courage of their convictions has been in doubt until now. I think they’re beginning to get that courage. And I think, outside the donor class, all those people are deciding, we need some institutions to match the Tea Party institutions. So I think you’re beginning to see some kernels of change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have the same optimism about what David is calling the reality caucus?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure, Judy.

I just think all the energy, all the passion, all the intensity is with the Tea Party and conservative army within the Republican Party. Yes, Republicans agree that the party has to change, but a solid majority of them believes they have to be more conservative. That’s the change they should do.


If you’re a Tea Party member, you know the party’s lost five of the last six popular elections, popular vote national elections. And you sit there and you say, well, we nominated John McCain in 2008. He was a bipartisan guy, he was a reformer, a maverick. He lost. We nominated Mitt Romney in 2012. He was a blue state governor, and he lost. We won once in the past four elections. That was in 2010. We won 63 seats because we stood unabashedly and unambiguously conservative. And, my goodness, that’s why.

And I just think that’s a strong — David’s right. There is a — among the leadership, the establishment of the party, the donors, you know, we have got to do something about this.

But I just think the energy and the intensity and the passion, the people who are going to stuff envelopes, make calls, go door to door, drive people to polls, I think, are with the conservatives at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think happens to those folks who — who tried so hard to defund Obamacare, defund health care law, who really wanted more out of this confrontation than they got? What happens to them?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they will have to figure it out. They — they’re putting on a brave face today, but they were so legislatively incompetent.

Competence does essentially matter. They started a fight they couldn’t win, there was no possibility of winning, and they marched the party into disaster. So, can they really be unaware of that? Certainly, the rest of the party isn’t unaware of that.

If they hadn’t done this, we would have spent the last week talking about how badly the Obamacare website is rolling out. Sarah Kliff made that earlier — that point earlier on in the program. And so this was a colossal blunder.

If I were President Obama, what I would do right now to test this proposition, I would go full-bore on immigration. If the — well, I will keep calling them the reality caucus. If they can retake control, then they will pass something like what the Senate passed, and President Obama will have a big substantive victory.

If the energy is on the Tea Party side, and they can’t pass anything, then they will have further marginalized themselves, and the president will have a great political victory. And so, to me, this is the opportunity to test the proposition whether the Republican Party can change or not. Immigration is the issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is one of the issues, Mark, he mentioned yesterday…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … besides the budget and the farm bill.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

I mean, I think, Judy, looking at the Democrats right now, you had the — two of the most authoritative observers of congressional elections, Stu Rothenberg, who has appeared on this broadcast this week with Susan Page and you, but Charlie Cook of The Cook Report moved 14 seats toward the Democrats this week, not from the Republican to Democrat, but in the Democrats’ direction.

Well, if you’re sitting there as a Democrat, you’re saying, wait a minute, I want more than this. I mean, I really want — going into 2014, David and I have questioned whether they could win the majority. I think there is an outside chance, maybe an even growing outside chance, the Democrats could. So…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean try to show them up? Is that what you’re saying?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, I mean, try to encourage — what we had, we didn’t have a peace treaty this week, I mean, a pullback. We had a cease-fire in the political wars.

And it’s only for 90 days. And I just think that probably, if anything, strengthens the other side. Don’t forget, Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran in Mississippi, Lamar Alexander, they all have primary challenges.

JUDY WOODRUFF: These are all Republican senators.

MARK SHIELDS: These are Republican senators running for reelection.

So, you know, I think that there’s a chance that, quite to the contrary, we may see the Democrats encouraging the Tea Party group to engage.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if I were a Democrat, I would have an evil impulse to spend the next two years just destroying the Republican Party.


MARK SHIELDS: Aren’t you glad you’re not a Democrat for your evil impulse?

DAVID BROOKS: I remain pure for that reason.


DAVID BROOKS: But I would just say, pick one wedge issue after another, an issue in which the Tea Party just tears apart the Republican Party, and then really they will nominate Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, and they will carry three counties in Mississippi.

MARK SHIELDS: But you heard Tom Foley in that interview with Jim Lehrer saying, how often can a speaker bring to the floor something where the majority of his party is opposed to it?

John Boehner, after all of this, standing at the precipice, about to plunge over, to send the country into default, only one-third of his entire caucus supported the resolution and the compromise crafted by the Senate. I don’t know on — I don’t think on immigration, you have got even close to one-third, do you, of the Republican Party?

DAVID BROOKS: No, not right now. It would take some change.


DAVID BROOKS: I think, though, on the budget, if we have got a couple more — not too far, we’re going to be in another budget fight — I think there’s a pretty good chance that they will have some sort of deal.

I think the Republicans are not going to make the same mistake again. They will invent some new ones. And — but I think what they will do is, they will find a deal. And the deal will look like something like this, where they have some modest entitlement reform, Medicare, some little modest things…


DAVID BROOKS: … and then what they call buy back the sequester, which is to increase domestic spending, which Democrats want to do, and then also some corporate tax loophole closing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you do think the Republicans are going to agree to revenue increases?

DAVID BROOKS: They are not going to do this again so soon. I just can’t believe that they’re going to want to have a confrontation.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re making a face.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I would be — I would be, frankly, surprised.

I don’t see that kind of willingness. I’m happy the regular order is established, that we are having a conference of the House and the Senate and the respective Budget Committees. I think that’s progress, but I’m not as — this courtship, I don’t think is going to produce this beautiful child.


DAVID BROOKS: I am reminded again of the fact that I’m the one who predicted there wouldn’t be a shutdown because Republicans wouldn’t be that stupid.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We have spared you — reminding either one of you of what you predicted.

How did Speaker Boehner come out of this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if his job to keep the Republican Party in high national poll ratings, not so well.

If his job was to stay speaker and try to minimize the damage, then I think he did pretty well, actually. He will probably, I think — we have differed over there. I think there’s no really alternative. I think he sort of did what he had to do for the Tea Party people and he showed he could fight with them.

And I think, at the end of the day, he did minimize what would have been a complete disaster of the default.

MARK SHIELDS: The party is at its lowest point. The Republican brand is discredited. I don’t — he’s seen as the leader by Republicans.

The Republican Party sees as its two national leaders right now, according to the most recent Pew poll, John Boehner and Ted Cruz. I mean, those are the two leading figures. So, if that’s the case, it’s — there’s not a very good shepherd at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Affordable health care, you touched on this a minute ago, David.

To the extent this is one of the president’s major initiatives of his administration, a lot of problems so far. What are we to make of the fact that we’re a month in, and it’s still having these problems?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they got really good people to run the Web site. They got a backup team to test the thing called the red team. And they still messed it up.

And so what does that tell us? I think it tells us that government is not a business. Government does some things very well, but businesses have long traditions and a set of incentive structures to do things like Web pages. The stock exchanges have very sophisticated exchanges, which they can do, because they just have the institutions.

I don’t think government is fantastic about this. And so I suspect at the end of the day, they may fix this, but we should be suspicious of the idea of some big national exchange. If they can’t do this, why should we think we should have national exchanges? And I think we should be suspicious they’re going to do some of the other parts of the exchange down the road.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s been glitch upon glitch upon problem upon problem. It’s been nothing but headaches.

I think, in the final analysis, Americans will be practical and that is, does it work? But the early returns are not encouraging by any means, and not confidence-building. But we will find out a year from now whether, in fact, the program has worked, whether what was promised has been delivered.

But, right now, when you have got states like Hawaii and Oregon, which are most friendly to this kind of an initiative, still unable to provide the kind of basic service and basic applications we’re looking for, it’s pretty discouraging.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if you’re President Obama, you’re hoping something gets fixed?

DAVID BROOKS: You’re really angry if you’re President Obama. You feel you should have been told about this. You should have had some rational expectations of how complicated this was going to be, and you’re beating people up to try to fix it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re not going to beat either one of the two of you up.


JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re just so glad to have you with us.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.