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Shields and Brooks on suing the president, LeBron’s hometown bounce

July 11, 2014 at 6:33 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including legal action by the U.S. House against President Obama, dwindling funds for the federal highway system, how to cope with the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border and the announcement that LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome back, gentlemen. We missed you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the Highway Trust Fund, one of many disagreements between Republicans and Democrats right now.

And I guess the biggest one, though, David, is the speaker, John Boehner, saying he’s going to sue the president of the United States because the president’s overstepped his line as president.

Is there merit in this suit? Is it a good idea? What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: There’s some merit, but I, of course, have sympathy for both sides.

So, basically, you normally pass a big piece of legislation like the ACA, the health care bill, and then you go back and fix it and the Congress and everybody cooperates to fix it. But because we’re so dysfunctional, we can’t do that.

And so the president is left saying, well, we have got to really change the law to drop some things in the employer mandate to make it work, or at least delay it. And so he goes ahead and does that, for probably some defensible reasons, some political reasons, but it is a pretty bold step for the president to do it just off the top of his head.

It does really delay and probably wipe out a pretty significant part of the law. So when Boehner says I’m suing because the president just can’t change the law without congressional approval, technically, he’s right. The president should not be allowed to do some of that stuff.

But it does grow out of the general dysfunction, where you don’t have two parties working together to make an already passed law function.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what the president is doing? Is he changing the law?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he is, did change the Affordable Care Act.

Just one point on the highway fund that Quinn reported on. This is the perfect proof of what’s happened in Washington. This was always a consensus. The highway — highway — national highway system grew out of Dwight Eisenhower as a young Army captain in 1919 leaving the first convoy across the United States.

It took him six 62 days. And when he became president, he said, I’m going to build this system, and a marvelous system, the biggest public works project in the history of the world. And it’s always been a consensus and agreement.

And to not be able to on this one — on the — on executive power, Judy, Democrats were very sensitive to it when George Bush pushed the envelope and assumed more executive power. And then Democrats seem to be less noisy and cantankerous when their own president does it.

Republicans who were mute when George Bush was expanding the definition of executive power by power grabs now are sensitive constitutionalists. This is going nowhere. What it is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The lawsuit.

MARK SHIELDS: The lawsuit. It’s a base sweetener for the election of 2014.

It’s John Boehner being able to say — and I’m not arguing on the merits — but being able to say, look, we’re going after him. We’re bringing it to court. And, all of a sudden, John Boehner looks semi-moderate because John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, former Governor Palin, is leading an impeachment charge, supported by such esteemed groups as Sean Hannity and The Drudge Report.

So, the lawsuit, if anything, looks quite civil and grown-up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that what this is? It’s the speaker throwing a bone or a — whether it’s a bone that’s going to develop or not?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the impeachment is obviously cloud cuckoo land.

But there’s a natural tussle between the legislature and the White House, and presidents, especially when everything is dysfunctional, want to expand their power. The president has been quite unshy about that. And the legislature’s job is to push back.

And so you’re going to — it’s a gray area. The president is charged with executing the laws. Congress passed it. The president’s got it make it work, whatever party. And so how much do you allow him to change the law to make it function?

And so that’s sort of a gray area. I think the president and on some occasions has gone quite aggressively to changing laws to make them work. But how do you draw that line? We will see.

I agree with Mark, though. The lawsuit is not going anywhere. But I do think it’s a substantive matter that’s built into our Constitution.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s like the NSA, I mean.

The National Security Agency, if the Republicans were in power, Democrats would have been up in arms and leading protests against this overreaching police state. But because it’s a Democratic administration, they have been less critical.

DAVID BROOKS: The Senate filibuster rules. There’s one eternal truth in Washington. On matters of process, every single elected official is a complete hypocrite.

On matters of method and process, it depends on whether they’re majority, in the minority. They flip their position 180 degrees without blinking an eye. And it’s sort of baffling, but thank God they didn’t write the Constitution. We actually had some people who cared about process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it work though for Boehner to do this? You said it’s to appease or to stir up the base. Does it help?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it probably does help.

I have had four requests for contributions already to support the lawsuit. And I hope there will be more to come.

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t know you were on the Boehner donor list.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I have always been very active on the Boehner donor — recipient list, not necessarily — it’s a one-way correspondence, but I love to read them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Let’s talk about the story that has been I think the headline every single day this week, and that’s been the immigration story, these children coming across the border, very poignant, heart-stirring stories about kids coming from Central America, coming from poverty, coming from crime.

But, David, you have now got the president going to Texas, asking for $4.5 billion, $4.7 billion. Is — and all sides, both sides, Republicans pointing a finger at the president, the president pointing a finger. Who’s responsible? What should be done?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. The responsibility goes both ways, though the original law, which was sort of a trafficking law, a good law, was passed under President Bush.

The lack of enforcement, the lack of sending the kids back mostly happened under President Obama. You have got this explosion of the kids. This is a really tough one, I think. Whether the president goes to the border or not the border, it’s just sort of the normal circus we go through.

But, to me, it’s a tough one. You got these kids here. They’re just flooding, lots of them, lots, tens of thousands now. They’re being dragged apart by these jackals who take them across the border, kids alone on the border. It’s sort of loss of control. How do you get that to stop?

Well, it seems to me the way you get it to stop is to do something which I admit is cruel, which is to take some percentage of the kids that you can be confident that they’re going back to some decent place and deport them.

I do think, until we deport them, that this flood will just continue to magnify and magnify. Treat the kids from Central America the way that we treat the kids from Mexico and Canada. And that’s cruel to send kids back, but, to me, it’s the only way to prevent the larger cruelty of this gigantic flow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that the right solution?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure it is the right — but I will say this. David certainly is not suggesting you do that without changing the law.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. That’s what I meant. That’s what I meant.

MARK SHIELDS: Because the law — yes, the law is very, very clear on it, that each child is entitled to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is, again, the 2008 law…

MARK SHIELDS: The 2008, and passed without dissent in either the House or the Senate, and voice vote in both in President Bush — and for very good reason, to stop trafficking of young minors and sex traffic for money.

I mean, it was a very noble purpose, and it was a — there was more than a consensus. It was unanimous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was a much smaller number of kids.

MARK SHIELDS: And it was a much smaller number.

And this is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. There’s nobody that has a child, a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a brother, sister could look at these 8-, 10-year-old kids and say a 1,300-mile trip, and — we have to provide them safety. We have to provide them health. We have to provide them shelter.

And — but the reality is that, is it going to just continue? And what I would draw the historical metaphor to is — politically — and I think it’s dangerous for Democrats and for everybody really — is the Mariel boatlift in 1980, in April of 1980, when Fidel Castro said, OK, folks, you want to leave Cuba, go ahead; 125,000 did; 8,300 of them ended up in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

And there was a fellow running for reelection of governor that year in Arkansas. And his opponent put a thing on and said — commercial saying, our state is less safe because the governor has let these Cuban prisoners in. And Bill Clinton, it was the last race he lost.

There is a sense of — out of control, that we don’t control our own borders. I mean, as open and as compassionate as we must be and want to be and will be to these children, there is a sense that we sent — 370,000 people deported last year, but that there is a porousness about our border.

DAVID BROOKS: And if you want to pass immigration reform, which I do, you have got to secure the border. But you’re just not going to get the votes any other way. And this is — what’s happened has been a devastating blow, I think, to whatever chances there were for immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do? You think it hurts the…

DAVID BROOKS: Because people want to feel that somehow the authority of government is basically functioning.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And that’s really hard to see when you look at what — the images we have seen.

MARK SHIELDS: But it’s one more problem for, quite frankly — and I say this as a liberal. It’s one more problem for Democrats, I mean, because it erodes further the confidence of government to act effectively and to execute the law and to control the borders of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you say that’s a problem for Democrats? Why isn’t that a problem…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, because Democrats are the party of government.

I mean, the president can rail against Washington and all the rest of it, and I’m happy to be out of Washington. The Democrats believe that government is an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress. Republicans don’t. Republicans are the anti-government party. And for that reason, it doesn’t erode confidence in them the same way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you think there’s a way to find out — that enough of these children can be sent back and have a secure place to go?

DAVID BROOKS: That’s why governing is hard. This is why it’s boring through hard boards, because how do you investigate where these kids — they can’t tell you.

It’s just this problem from hell. How do you find out who can go back safely, who you can’t? How do you set up a process for that? And yet somehow we just can’t continue the way we’re going, because the horror that the kids are going through to try to get here is horrible enough.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so it’s typical governance. And that’s why it’s so easy to be a pundit. You’re faced with cruelty on either side of this issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, very, very different last topic I want to bring up, but it — the news broke today. The city of Cleveland the hometown boy, Mark, is going home, LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat that he joined four years ago. And he said he’s going to rejoin — or come back to Cleveland, join the Cavaliers.

Now, is this bigger news than the Republicans announcing that Cleveland is going to be the convention site in…

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a bookend. It’s a bookend. It’s bigger news.

It’s goodbye, Sun Belt, hello, Rust Belt. It’s a great lift for Cleveland. Say goodbye to — Miami is in my rearview mirror. I’m coming home to Cleveland, a city that’s had a lot of belts, a lot of bruises, a lot of setbacks.

And LeBron James, the fact that the Republicans have chosen it as their 2016 is terrific for Cleveland. It’s the home of Paul Newman, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum, Drew Carey, LeBron James. What more could any city ask for?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: A few jobs. A few jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: National, getting mentioned.

DAVID BROOKS: They have great downtown theaters there. And the Republicans will be nominating LeBron. So, it’s a twofer. He will be the — with Sarah Palin. He will pick Sarah Palin.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: It’s also — I should say it’s a good thing for the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, this guy Dan Gilbert, who has not only done good things for Cleveland, but has really been a champion in helping Detroit get back on its feet.

And so it’s a good — we’re morally obligated to root for the economically challenged cities.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And when we follow our sports teams. And so it’s good for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, from standpoint, among many others.

We’re so glad to have the two of you back. David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.