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Shields and Brooks on fallout from Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, GOP health care reform

July 14, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Donald Trump’s trip abroad, fallout over a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, and the latest version of a GOP Senate health care bill.
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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.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, Mark, welcome back.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We missed you last week.

The Donald Trump Jr. story. We have now learned that he had a meeting a year ago, Trump Tower, with a lawyer who had some connection to the Russian government. How does this change our understanding of the Russia collusion allegation?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s fair to say, Judy, that the White House lost any benefit of the doubt that it could claim on this story.

The shoes continue to drop, like it’s a Zappos warehouse or Imelda Marcos’ closet. I mean, it just — each time, they’re amending their story, they’re appending or extending their story.

And so I just think the fact that there were such denials and accusations of a Democratic plot, all of those are gone, and they stand naked and they stand exposed as shams.

I mean, they were actively engaged, at least welcoming Russian involvement in the 2016 election, in behalf of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, does this change your assessment of what may have been going on?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes.

My colleague Ross Douthat wrote that any time you give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, he always lets you down.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And that’s true. That’s true for his business clients and it’s true for those of us who thought, they couldn’t have been some stupid, to walk right into collusion with the Russian meetings.

And yet they were not only that stupid, but I think what is striking to me is the complete amorality of it, that Donald Trump Jr. gets an e-mail saying the Russian government is offering you this, and he says, “I love it.”

And it reminded me so much of some of the e-mails that came out of the Jack Abramoff scandal, that came out of the financial crisis scandal, where they’re just — they’re like frat boys who are gleefully going against the law and are going against all morality. And they’re not even overcoming any scruples to do this.

They’re just having fun with it. And then, in the days since, we have had on — Donald Jr. on Sean Hannity’s show, again, I did nothing wrong, just incapable of seeing that there might have been something wrong about colluding with a foreign power who is hostile with you.

And then Donald Trump himself saying, he’s a wonderful guy, again, not seeing anything wrong, and then even last day lying about how many people were in the meeting, a completely inconsequential lie.

And so we’re trapped in the zone just beyond any ethical scruple, where it’s all about winning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Beyond any ethical scruple, Mark, is that where we are?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump was born without the embarrassment gene or the moral reservation gene.

He just — he doesn’t — when he says that most people would take that meeting, Judy, I mean, this is not — I have been around for a while, and been to the Dallas Fair twice, and all the rest of it. People wouldn’t do that.

In 2000, Al Gore’s campaign got ahold of, was delivered George Bush’s briefing book. They turned it over to the FBI. That’s what you do when you’re honorable in politics.

This isn’t a meeting with a foreign power. This isn’t Canada or the Swiss Family Robinson. This is Russia. This is a country that has supported, propped up the worst of anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East, that has practiced — mistreated its own press, mistreated its own civil society, and economic intimidation of its neighbors, including invasion of its neighbors.

I mean, this is the one country on the face of the earth with the capacity to obliterate the United States. This is serious stuff. And to do it so casually and, as David said, without moral reservation, is — I guess it should be stunning, but, sadly, it isn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But some of the Trump team, David, in their response to this are sounding almost offended that people would even think that they were doing something wrong.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, they just don’t — they don’t get it.

My pal Mike Gerson had a good line in his column today. If you make losing a sin, you make cheating a sacrament. And that is true. If it’s all win-loss, then you do whatever you can to win and to make money and to beat the deal.

And so I do think you have entered the zone where they don’t quite see what they have done wrong. But cheating with a foreign company — country is — as Mark keeps saying, is a grave sin.

And then there’s just the scandal management of it, of letting it drip out, letting it drip out today and today and today. And then there is almost just a cluelessness like a color blindness about how the rest of the world is going to go react to this.

And this has been a leitmotif for the Trump administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is the case, Mark, that there was one version we heard over the weekend, and then, on Monday, there was a little bit more, and then Tuesday, Wednesday, then today still another.

MARK SHIELDS: Mm-hmm. No, it is, Judy.

And I don’t know what to think. I mean, drip, drip, drip, comes a downpour at some point. How about the disparaging of the United States intelligence agencies and professionals by President Trump, candidate Trump and now President Trump, whether Russia — you know, I can’t be sure Russia was involved. Yes, probably, but not for sure.

I mean, here they are, the Trump Tower with the people, their names approved on the visitors list for the meeting in the Trump Tower, and pretending they didn’t know it.

So, no, it’s — David is right. In a management sense, it’s just been incredible, Judy. Apparently, it’s hit the president or someone has gotten to the president, because his statement about his son was so sort of homogenized, he’s a quality person.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He said he’s a good boy.

MARK SHIELDS: Good boy, and praised him for his transparency, which is a little bit like, as I’m about to be indicted for tax evasion, say, well, I want to make something clear. I failed to pay my taxes.

DAVID BROOKS: It does open up a bunch of questions, like what were the — this — as the intelligence experts keep saying, this looked like a Russian feeler operation. They just wanted to see what kind of reaction they could get from Donald Jr.

And if they — how do they respond to the signal? And so what else did they do? There must have been other things they did.

The second, was it connected? Donald Trump, as others have cited, gave a speech in which he said, we’re about to have a big set of revelations about Hillary Clinton. Did that flow out of this meeting? And what was the timing of that? Who else was in this meeting? What actually was said in the meeting?

We still really — we have some testimonies, but what documents were brought to the meeting? It means there’s another several weeks of questions. And it gives Bob Mueller a new channel to walk down. It’s just expanding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The special counsel.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I would just say one thing about Mr. Mueller.

He has an advantage and a power that nobody else, that none of us in the press has. He has the power of subpoena. And he has the power of a grand jury. And he has the alternative of indictment for perjury.

So, you just can’t keep changing these stories. I mean, Jared Kushner now has amended, as John Yang pointed out at the beginning of the show, point, his number of contacts with foreign individuals and interests, 100. Three times, he’s now had to do so.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Added names.

MARK SHIELDS: And it raises the question, who leaked these e-mails on Donald Trump — I mean, on Donald Trump Jr.?

Did they — is there mistrust? There is distrust, I know, in the White House whether it was Kushner or Kushner’s people, saying that we had to get this out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meantime, one thing, David, the president is saying that he wants the Senate to get done is health care reform.

So, we now — a few days ago, we saw this newest, newer version of health care reform that Leader McConnell is saying that he really, really wants his troops to come together behind. But they still aren’t there.

What does it look like?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s interesting when you see the reaction to this latest bill.

Some people say, oh, it shifted to the right. Some people say, oh, no, it shifted to the left. In reality, it short of shifted both ways. It keeps some of the taxes on the rich, which some of the moderates want. It includes some deregulation of the insurance markets, which Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and some of the conservatives want.

So, it sort of moves in both direction. And I give Mitch McConnell credit. This is an incredibly unpopular bill. And it probably couldn’t survive a set of public hearings and scrutiny. And yet he’s got to the point where he’s kind of close to getting it. I don’t know if we will get there. I sort of would bet against it.

But, as an act of legislative craftsmanship, if your only goal is to pass something, then I would say Mitch McConnell has done about as well as you can do by pushing a lot of different buttons and bringing people at least within the ballpark, especially given how unpopular this is.

I still think it’s a bad bill because it does so much to punish Medicaid among a population that can afford it least. But just as a set of legislative craftsmanship, I would say McConnell is like turning all the knobs and getting people sort of close. I would say maybe 40 percent chance that he actually passes something this summer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think it will go over the top?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t, Judy.

But I would just point out Affordable Care Act was being fought for 18 months in the Congress. There was always a public case you could make for it. There was much criticism of it, but the public case included that women wouldn’t be charged more than men, that nobody could be denied coverage, that the preexisting condition, people would be guaranteed insurance and access to health care.

There is — and the inside part was done by Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House.

This is all inside. There is no public argument.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Behind closed doors.

MARK SHIELDS: There is no public case that can — Mitch McConnell can make. There’s no public case addressing the — you have two minutes to address the American people, why is this better? Why will this Republican plan be better for Americans? Why will it be better for those who don’t have health care? Why will it be better for the elderly, for the poor, for the quality of health care in the country?

There is no case to be made. It’s all inside baseball. Can you get Dean Heller by leaning on Governor Sandoval in Nevada?

I mean, that is what it has come down to. And, to me, that is a terrible failing. If somehow they do wrangle vote, what have they got? They have got an incredibly unpopular piece of legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is anybody, David, making a positive case for this?

DAVID BROOKS: Not really. They say the insurance markets are failing, the Obamacare markets are failing, which is somewhat true.

They want — they say we have to have a more market-driven system to shove down costs, which is somewhat true. And so I think there is a public case that could be made. I don’t think they’re particularly making it, which is why it’s so unpopular.

But if we had public scrutiny — say the insurance markets — this thing called the Cruz amendments gives the insurance companies a chance to charge less for some people if they give a fuller benefit for another.

And what that will do is, let’s put the insurance markets into two different systems.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so the people who are healthy will be paying a low fee. And then the people who are sick would be paying much more.

And so whether you agree or not with the principle, these things actually have to work. And I’m not sure that the way this is written, this will actually even just work as functioning way to run a market, as the health insurance companies have been strongly saying, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

MARK SHIELDS: We’re waiting to find out now whether it’s going to be 19 million or 24 million people who are going to …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Knocked off.

MARK SHIELDS: Knocked off health insurance.

I mean, what everyone says about the Affordable Care Act, 20 million Americans who didn’t have it then did have health care coverage.

And, Judy, let’s be very blunt; 12 million of them came through the extension of Medicaid. And this is the starvation of Medicaid, seven years, 2024, and the federal support on the extension of Medicaid disappears.

And so they can talk about money and everything else, but implicit in the Republican bill is there’s a difference in those who are on Medicaid. Somehow, they are takers. Somehow, they are freeloaders. They’re not our fellow Americans who are struggling to get by.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to have to leave it there on that note.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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