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Shields and Brooks on cabinet picks and conflicts of interest

November 25, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
In the past week, President-elect Donald Trump has announced several White House appointments and policy ideas. Judy Woodruff speaks with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks about Trump's choice to oversee the Department of Education, his interview with the New York Times, possible conflicts of interest and the top contenders for secretary of state.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And we welcome both of you on this day after Thanksgiving.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David is in Philadelphia.

Let’s talk about — we’re getting — beginning to get a sense, Mark, of Donald Trump’s administration, a little sense. He has named two more people today to the White House. What are we learning from this? What are we — what do you now understand about him that we didn’t understand before?

MARK SHIELDS: Not much.

I mean, I would say that there’s been the small Donald, the petty, vindictive Donald, who can be rather mean-spirited, as he was on display at The New York Times editorial board meeting, where he gratuitously took out after Kelly Ayotte, the former Republican — senior Republican senator in New Hampshire, who had — after the “Access Hollywood” tape had refused to support Donald Trump and said she couldn’t get a job.

And then we see the little bit larger Donald in hiring Nikki Haley, who had, in fact, backed both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and in the national address, in response — the official Republican response to the president’s State of the Union, had warned the party against following the siren call of those — it was a direct allusion to Donald Trump at the time.

So he was larger in spirit in choosing her. And she certainly is a person who has demonstrated leadership and character under stress at the time of the massacre, the racial massacre at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and leading in lowering the Confederate Battle Flag over the state — on the state capitol grounds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David?

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me. I didn’t mean to interrupt.

MARK SHIELDS: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you learning about Donald Trump from these appointments or announcements?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess it’s — yes, of some comfort, I guess.

Sometimes, the campaign seemed to be, as Mark said, vindictive, but sort of a depraved three-ring circus. The transition period has not been that. He’s nominated people like DeVos or Haley who are competent people, who are more or less professional, experienced people.

They may not be, on substantive ground, all of our cup of tea. They are very consistent with the way he campaigned, a nationalist campaign on education policy, a campaign that is enthusiastic about school choice.

But they are more or less the sort of professional version of Trump’s ideology. And I do think there is just this animating spirit here to create a sort of nationalist, populist conservatism that will in some ways stretch the Republican Party and in some ways offend a lot of conservatives.

But I think there is an animating vision here to try to create a movement that will last post-Trump, a populist movement that may even try to span some of the dividing lines that have existed so far through large economic policies, through infrastructure policies, through a tough anti-terror policy that nonetheless keeps American troops out of war.

There’s an animating vision here, and it’s being executed, at least in the appointments so far, in some intellectually coherent way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a movement in the making maybe?

MARK SHIELDS: A movement in the making — I guess I don’t share David’s enthusiasm about Betsy DeVos.

I mean, 90 percent of American schoolchildren are in public schools, Judy. And the emphasis on private schools and charter schools and parochial schools is not unimportant. I don’t mean that, but we’re at 90 percent. We’re heading to 91 percent will be in public schools.

I’m not sure Betsy DeVos has ever spent a day in a public school. And I don’t — I’m pretty sure Donald Trump hasn’t. So, I do look upon the secretary of education’s primary responsibility as the quality of education that — and improving the education that every child in American public schools receives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, David? What about Betsy…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. First of all, charter schools are public schools. They’re paid for publicly and they’re part of the public system. They just have a more independent structure.

And so I guess I would say, we need a reform movement. We have seen, I think, in the charter school movement started out, whatever it was, 10 or 15 years ago — it’s increasingly gotten better. Charter schools are figuring out how to do this. The charter schools that are most effective are scaling the most quickly, and so there’s got to be a continued move for reform.

At the same time, the teachers unions are pushing at that reform, has had some political successes. And so I think charter schools, choice, and frankly school standards need a champion. And DeVos has been a good pretty champion.

Now, I don’t — she’s not without fault. You have got to have two things in education reform. You have got to have some flexibility, so people can figure out what to do. But you also have to have accountable, basically what the Common Core standards were, some sort of set of national standards, so we can measure.

It’s hard for parents just to measure schools. DeVos has been really good at the flexibility. She’s not been enthusiastic about the accountability. So, she’s a complete — an incomplete operator.

But I do think — I have met her a few times. She’s a normal person, a sophisticated person, in some ways a self-effacing person. And she has been at least a champion of reform, if maybe too much emphasizing choice, not enough, in my view, emphasizing charters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to come…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I mean, I just — I applaud David’s interest in, enthusiasm for charter schools. It’s a very mixed record, and particularly in Detroit, where that’s — the emphasis has been. It’s less than mixed. It’s really discouraging.

And in the final analysis, American public education — American education will be determined by the quality of American public education, and that’s public schools that are available. The charter school is a possibility, an alternative in certain circumstances, but not in most, and not in most places, and not — most parents don’t have either the time, the inclination or the aptitude to sit and go through sifting what school and what is available and what the options are.

They are dependent upon the quality of their neighborhood and local schools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, I want to…

DAVID BROOKS: If I could just make…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: … one more point on that quickly.

MARK SHIELDS: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: Just, as I have traveled around from school to school, whether it’s project-based learning or an outward bound curriculum, it’s very hard to tell the difference between charters and public anymore. There’s no fine line.

They’re often adopting very similar programs, maybe with a different administrative structure. But what I’m saying is, you’re seeing reform throughout the movement, in the so-called charters, in the so-called publics, if we’re going to call them that. And that reform dynamism has to be kept going.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, I also want to bring up with both of you the questions I think that came up day after day this last week about Donald Trump’s business connections, his business — deep business interests and how that’s going to work as president of the United States.

It came up in John Yang’s conversation just now with Jack Quinn, the former White House counsel. How do you see that developing? Do you see it as a problem? Do you see it as something that Trump is going to be able to handle? What do you see?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I would invite viewers to go back and read a book by a guy named George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, who had a concept called honest graft, where his own public — private interest corresponded to public interest.

That’s what Trumps seems to be advocating, merging the two. It’s just bad news. And I hope the new presumed White House counsel will just say, this is not going to work. You have got to have a bright line between these two things. We’re no longer living in Tammany Hall America. And it will just lead to scandal after scandal that will end up hurting your own administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David is absolutely right, Judy.

I think it’s very serious. I mean, when the — you have got 70 days between the election and taking office, an enormous responsibility. And when you spend that time actually meeting with Indian business investors for a Trump apartment complex in Mumbai, when you meet with Nigel Farage and raise the question of eliminating the wind farm because it would hurt the view at Donald Trump’s golf course in Scotland and urges a change in policy, I mean, this is the man who doesn’t understand the difference between public policy, public trust and private interest.

When you see Ivanka Trump hawking the $10,000 bracelet that she wore on the “60 Minutes” broadcast from her jewelry — presidential trust is something, Judy, that’s perishable and it’s precious. And once a president loses it, it’s not a question of whether it’s conflict of interests laws or there aren’t conflict of interests laws.

The president has to have the trust, earn the trust, maintain the trust of people in order to lead. And there’s nothing that will lose it quicker than a sense that he’s in it for a quick buck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, do you want to add anything on that? Because I do want to move on to what is apparently — what seems to be a split inside Trump world over who is going to be secretary of state.

We saw Kellyanne Conway, who has been sort of the face of the Trump transition, tweeting openly just yesterday that they’re picking up a lot of criticism about the fact that he’s considering Mitt Romney.

What does this tell us about folks inside Trump world who may be dismayed at where Donald Trump is headed?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m looking forward to the live tweets of the Oval Office meetings in the Trump administration.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: There’s certainly a lot of chaos and openness that they’re saying so far.

I think Trump is sort of — from what we can see from his comments, sort of attracted to the idea of a Romney. He looks the part, as Trump — looks are very important to Donald Trump.

And so — but I do think there is some sign of respectability. Personally, I think Mitt Romney would be a great secretary of state. He knows a lot. He’s a very professional — a consummate professional.

Frankly, if I were Donald Trump, I would be a little suspicious. It’s very easy to imagine he’s got his America first crew in the National Security Council. Mitt Romney’s a more internationalist. It’s easy to see him setting up a foreign policy establishment over there in the State Department that would be a rival to the White House, and maybe that’s a good thing.

But, if I were Donald Trump, it’s not necessarily what I would want in my foreign policy apparatus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think of the split?

MARK SHIELDS: Now that David has sunk Mitt Romney’s chances…

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: … separate entity over at the State Department.

To me, it’s fascinating. It’s a choice. Trump loves loyalty. He prizes loyalty, who was with him. Rudy was with him. Rudy, you will recall, was the moderate Republican mayor of New York who was for immigration rights, for gun control, for abortion rights, for gay rights.

He abandoned those positions to endorse Donald Trump after a disastrous run for president and gave a speech at the convention that sounded like a New York cab driver stuck in traffic at 4:30 in the afternoon.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: It was a rant.

He went on, Judy, to say, if you will recall, eight years before — eight years prior to Barack Obama coming in, there were no attacks on the United States, and they all began when Obama and Clinton took office, conveniently forgetting completely the tragedy, the national tragedy of 9/11.

So, there are questions and doubts about Rudy Giuliani and his competence for the job. But there’s no question that Newt Gingrich is out for him. Kellyanne Conway is apparently advocating and championing for him. So, this is — this is a split.

I agree with David that Mitt Romney does fit the bill. He looks like a secretary of state. He looks like the chancellor of the exchequer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of people said he would look like a president.

MARK SHIELDS: He looks like a president. I mean, he really does. He’s central casting. You want a leader, Western leader, English-speaking? Mitt Romney.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, just a quick minute-and-a-half on the Democrats. We are going to reserve just a moment for them.

David, we’re seeing Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic leader in the Senate, saying, we, the Democrats, need to look at ways possibly to work with Donald Trump. And then, on the other hand, we’re seeing Congressman Keith Ellison, who is up for running for head of the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee say, Mark, say, no, we’re not going to be working with him, and I don’t want to hear about it.

David, are the Democrats making the right kind of noises right now? Or do we just wait and see what happens?

DAVID BROOKS: I think Schumer is right to keep the possibility open that Trump is movable on some issues, which is clearly what Obama believes, and that they can work with him on some issues, like infrastructure or something like that.

So, I think, if they could have a good six months where they work together, there will be plenty of time for fighting later on.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: David is right. And I think the worst thing the Democrats could do is to follow the playbook that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans adopted in 2009 against Barack Obama. And that’s just total, all-out obstructionism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To say on day one or day two…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, that’s right, the most important thing is to defeat him for reelection.

I think that America has had enough of it. It doesn’t work. And it’s not the best of the Democratic tradition.

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

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