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Shields and Brooks on immigration ban court defeat, Democrats’ confirmation hearing opposition

February 10, 2017 at 6:30 PM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the decision by a federal appeals court to deny the Trump administration’s request to reinstate an immigration ban, President Trump’s comments attacking judges and the contentious battles in the Senate over Cabinet nominees.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us tonight from Chicago.

And we welcome both of you.

So, before we talk about the immigration — the president’s immigration order, Mark, which the court, appeals court, rejected the administration argument on last night, we have a short clip of what President Trump has just said a little while ago on Air Force One as he was flying from Washington down to South Florida to Mar-a-Lago.

Reporters were asking him what he plans to do now.

Here’s that clip.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will win that battle. But we also have a lot of other options, including just filing a brand-new order.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could very well be. But I like to keep you — I would like to surprise you. We need speed for reasons of security. So, it could very well be that we do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, he says, “I like to surprise you.”

How big a setback is this for the president?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a significant setback, Judy, in large part because it was self-inflicted.

They made mistakes, including green card holders, which weakened their argument completely, and made them vulnerable to the court’s decision. And it reflected, more than anything else, a sense of chaos and a sense of incompleteness and a sense of lack of thoughtfulness in the administration on an enormously serious issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, on that last clip of Trump on the plane, his staff is briefing reporters in somewhat of a chaotic manner in just the last few minutes. People are saying, oh, they are going to just take it to the Supreme Court, they’re going to rewrite it.

And the two different briefings are contradicting each other. And that’s something The Times reporters have been talking and tweeting about publicly, which is some of the White House staff is in a high state of misery because of the general lack of — chaos.

On the larger issue of the travel ban, our friend Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post I think put it pretty well. I’m not sure it’s illegal, but it’s extremely stupid.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of judges overruling presidents on national security matters. Nonetheless, so whether it’s unconstitutional or not, I leave to others. But it certainly has sucked the wind out of two or three weeks of this administration for no good reason.

There has never been evidence that people from these countries are disproportionately likely to commit terrorist acts. We have sent chaos to the airports. We have offended the world. We have derailed the administration. We have done it in such an incompetent way, the administration has, that people with perfectly legal residence have been widely inconvenienced.

And so it’s just been a screw-up from beginning to end, and so it’s just been a running derailment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, it’s only three weeks in, and it’s already this way. And David referred to the, frankly, mixed signals coming from the White House today about whether they were going to appeal or not and how they’re going to — what they’re going to do going forward.

But I want to ask you both about what the president has been saying about the judiciary, calling judges disgraceful, the arguments before the appellate court disgraceful, saying the country has been put at risk by the decision.

How much should — what should we think about that?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a real surprise, Judy.

I mean, Judge Gorsuch, the nominee for the Supreme Court, said it was disheartening and discouraging to have judges attacked for their independence and their integrity. I don’t know if Judge Gorsuch was living in a bubble in Boulder during 2016.

This is not an aberration on the part of Donald Trump. He did it to Judge Curiel. He said Judge Curiel was a total disgrace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the judge …

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: The federal judge in the Trump University charge — case, because his parents had been born in Mexico and because I’m going to build a wall.

He manages to personalize everything. He brings chaos. He will not admit that he’s ever made a mistake, that he’s ever been wrong. That’s what this whole thing is about whether they’re going to have a new order.

A new order, a new executive order would be an admission that the first order had been flawed, imperfect, illegal, unconstitutional and rejected. So he can’t have that.

So you’re going to kind of do a double — to me, it is reflective of this administration. It’s three weeks in. People in the White House work hard, whatever administration. They get rewarded in psychic income, a sense that they are involved in something bigger than themselves, that it’s important.

And the people in the Trump White House right now are just fighting, fighting basically to stay above water.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is a sense of conflict, David, virtually every day.

But what about — is there a strategy to criticizing the judiciary, the judges, the courts over this?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think there is a strategy.

There is world view. And Donald Trump’s world view is that it’s a dangerous, miserable place, people are out to get him, and he needs to strike them first. That’s been the world view from the beginning. And it’s the world view.

To me, the big event of the week is not one thing. It’s the whole agglomeration of things. It’s the rising tide of enmity in the country, Donald Trump attacking judges, Donald Trump attacking John McCain, Senator Blumenthal, the town halls, the riots in Berkeley. You have got the incivility on the floor of the United States Senate. You have got just a rising tide, every single story.

Every time Kellyanne Conway goes on TV, there’s another fight with whoever’s interviewing her that particular day. And so what you have is this just succession and a rising tide of conflict and incivility and the breakdown in the moral norms that usually govern how we talk to each other.

Marco Rubio gave a pretty good speech on the floor of the Senate this week sort of acknowledging this fact. And so it’s not one thing. It’s every day. It’s the barrage of hostility that seems to mark our politics emanating from the White House, but not only in the White House, from his opponents as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which raises a question, Mark, in my mind. Is there any historical precedent for something like this? And what do the Democrats do? Because they are getting — a lot of Republicans are saying the Democrats are holding up President Trump’s nominees for the Cabinet.

A number of them have been confirmed, but a number are still waiting to be confirmed, that they are accusing the Democrats of creating a logjam. I mean, conflict at the White House, conflict on the Hill, who comes out on top of all this?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I mean, it’s a Cabinet that wasn’t vetted, that wasn’t prepared, that the papers weren’t prepared for.

Democrats have to make the fight. If you only make fights that you’re going to win, there would be no women’s vote in the country, there would be no civil rights laws in the country. So, they came within one vote of denying the confirmation to Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

She was unprepared. And so unprepared was she that Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the committee, the former president of the University of Tennessee, the former secretary of education, limited questioning of her to five minutes, so to deny exposure to what she didn’t know.

So, you vote — are you going to vote for her, you’re going to vote against her? Two Republicans crossed ranks, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, to join the Democrat.

Andrew Puzder, the secretary of labor, a multimillionaire, who eight weeks after he was nominated discovers that we, my wife and I, had for years somebody working on — undocumented in our home who we didn’t pay taxes for.

Zoe Baird, the nominee for attorney general, her career foundered on this. Kimba Wood withdrew nomination on a far less serious charge. And so did Linda Chavez.

Is there one standard for women and another for men? Men aren’t responsible, multiple millionaire men who deal in minimum wage jobs, who deal in undocumented immigrants working for them at reduced wages?

So, I think these are fights worth making.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what about that, David? Because some people are looking at Washington and saying, oh, it’s just more of the same, the wheels are not turning in the nation’s capital.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s patently true.

On the various nominees, I generally think the president should get his Cabinet picks, unless they’re egregiously out of the range, either ethically or intellectually out of the range of what’s acceptable.

And I have to say a lot of these nominees are not necessarily my cup of tea, but I think they’re clearly within the range. Jeff Sessions has some problematic spots on his history, but he has been a pretty normal, respectable senator, more conservative than a lot of us, but a respectable senator for a long period of time.

So, one could — I think the Democrats are right to protest, but I don’t think he’s so far out of the range of normalcy that he shouldn’t be confirmed.

Betsy DeVos is not the most informed person on education policy, but I have seen her present a few times, and she presents as a pretty respectable, intelligent person who has cared passionately about education and cares about charter schools. The teachers union may not like her, but she’s clearly within the range of Republican policy-makers.

As for multimillionaires, a lot of us hope to be a multimillionaire some day. Again, spotty records, but it seems to be not without the range. I don’t blame the Democrats for fighting. They have got a very energized base. And there is a lot to complain about a lot of these nominees. But I think, if you are actually going to turn someone down from a president’s own Cabinet, it better be a lot more egregious than the cases we have seen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s my question, Mark. Where draw the line? Where should Democrats say no?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, they have drawn the line, Judy. They have confirmed — Tillerson is confirmed. They backed Mattis. They’re not going to fight Ben Carson.

I think these — I disagree with David. I agree with his assumption and his premise that a president is entitled to a Cabinet, obviously, but it’s not a rubber stamp. And I don’t think anybody could watch the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and say that this is somebody qualified to be secretary of education.

Ninety percent of children in America go to public schools. She knows nothing about public schools and apparently cares less. And her position on guns in schools, got to — for potential grizzlies, we should have guns available in schools?

And Andrew Puzder, this is somebody who basically has just broken the law, and he’s going to be held to no standard at all, whereas women nominees have been rejected in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think even Republicans are saying Puzder may have a problem.

David, what about the point that Mark is making?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, in some cases, I agree. On the Puzder point, I do agree there has been a double standard.

On the DeVos case, I agree that the gun — her gun position is kind of weird, kind of crazy, but I do think she does know about public schools. The reason the Betsy DeVos case was the centerpiece case for the Democrats wasn’t about her weakness as a knowledgeable person on education policy.

She does care about charter schools, which are public schools. She does care about choice, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to care about. It’s because it’s the one issue where the Democratic donor base was really energized, which was the teacher unions.

People ask, quite legitimately, why DeVos and why not a lot of the others? But it’s because it has to do with the special interest groups that run a lot of Washington.

Would she be my first pick? No. Is she someone who has dedicated her life to education policy? Yes, actually, she has. I have seen her present a few times. I don’t really know her. But I have seen her present on education policy, and she’s not a stupid person.

She’s quite a smart person, capable, pretty sophisticated in subtle thought. And so to me, that puts her in the realm of policy. But we’re in a climate where, as today, she tries to visit a school, and she can’t even do that because protesters are blocking that.

And that’s what I mean about the rising tide of incivility that’s sweeping over politics.

MARK SHIELDS: That was wrong. She should have been allowed to go in a public school. It would have been a novel experience for her.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And this is not about the teachers unions alone. That’s a very convenient punching bag, to say that Democrats are just jumping at strings.

Yes, the teachers unions opposed her, and for good reason. They don’t think that her commitment to public education exists. So — you know, but they’re not simply responding. They have confirmed all sorts of Republican secretaries of education in the past who favored choice, including Lamar Alexander.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you want a final 20 seconds here?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, I’m willing to respect Mark’s disagreement. We’re not going to be like the rest of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we have a little bit of comity in the United States tonight right here, right here on the NewsHour.

MARK SHIELDS: What is Donald Trump going to give President Putin for Valentine’s Day? I’m interested.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Maybe David’s got an idea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will know by next Friday, because Valentine’s Day is Tuesday, in case the two of you have forgotten.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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