Shields and Brooks on GOP’s health care bill gridlock, Trump tweet backlash

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

Welcome, gentlemen.

David is joining us from the Rocky Mountains, Aspen, Colorado.

So, let's start, both of you, by talking about health care.

Mark, we just heard a little while ago on the program Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri saying it's going to be hard, he said, to get to 50 votes. What are you hearing?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It's an understatement by Senator Blunt, a masterpiece of understatement.

Judy, never say never. I think it's about time to say never. I mean, this is not being put together. Quite frankly, the motion to proceed, not to get inside baseball, but that's when the majority leader — means bringing up a bill. And I have never seen a motion to proceed, which is just asking that the bill be brought up for debate, fail.

And Mitch McConnell's reputation as an inside player has taken a big hit. But there is not — there is not majority on what to do. And it's not there.

And I will just back to one Republican has spoken the absolute abject truth on this subject. And he said, "In the 25 years I have served in the Congress, Republicans have never, not one time ever agreed on a health care plan."

That was Speaker John Boehner this year. And I think it remains true.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what are you picking up?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times: Yes, I'm hearing negative vibes, but not quite as negative as Mark. I still think there's a chance.

What you hear is frustration over, one, it's hard to take away a benefit people have already been given by law. Two, the Republicans are more ideologically divided than they thought they were. Three, it's very hard to pass a bill without a White House.

And the president basically ineffective here, and the vice president barely more so. And so they're trying to do it without him. And I think what they're beginning to hear, as the calls come in, is that this is a proposal that hits a lot of Republicans really hard.

If you're a 60-year-old white male in Ohio, this can be devastating to you, both in the coverage loss and in the deductibles and the out-of-pocket expenses, so the calls are coming into the offices. And that's making people skittish.

I think it's an uphill fight. I don't think it's quite as impossible maybe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was struck, Mark, that Senator Blunt was saying the more the senators learn about what's in here, the harder it gets.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Yes. No, that's absolutely — and I would just add to it, Judy, there is no public argument, a case to be made for this.

Senator Blunt answered your specific questions well, but there is no — there is not a rallying cry for, whether it's preexisting condition or, you know, that everybody's child can be on until the age of 26. The Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, they could make a public case for it, that everybody is in, that rates will not be higher.

There's none here. And I think that's a real problem. David's point about there is no political air cover from the White House. Quite the opposite. I mean, the White House has been a liability. The president has been unhelpful, uninformed, and this morning tweeting, let's repeal, which, CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has a score on, would put 26 million people uninsured immediately, so, you know, off of insurance.

So, this is not a recipe for success.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, that's right. I mean, the president did tweet this morning, well, if they can't agree, they should repeal now and replace it later.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it's the definition of bad leadership.

He had a more sensible position not too long ago, which is you do both things at the same time. If you repeal in the fantasy that you're going to replace later, when you can't replace now, that's just not a realistic way to make policy.

I think Senator Blunt made a good point, that, we got a piece of legislation. If you can't agree on this, there's not some mythical future piece of legislation out there that's going to pass.

The basic problem is that this is a bill that massively redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich. And there are a lot of senators, including Bob Corker of Tennessee and Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, who are just uncomfortable with the level of upward redistribution that this bill entails.

And then there are other senators on the right, the Ted Cruzes, who just want to get rid of what they call job-killing taxes. And that's just a diverse party. And McConnell is trying super hard to find some formula that will please both sides, but it just may be an unsolvable problem.

MARK SHIELDS: I will just add one thing, Judy.

You had an interview earlier this week with Senator John Thune of South Dakota, ranking Republican. And you asked him about one little mishap, which was that Dean Heller, the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country, up in Nevada next year, in the only state where Republicans running for reelection that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, expressed his own reservations, misgivings, doubts, opposition to the bill as proposed last Friday.

And what happened? Joining the state's governor, who pointed out that the rate of uninsured children in the state had been cut by one-half under Obamacare because of the Medicaid extension. And he back — he hollered backed at the governor, at which point the president's own political action committee, staffed by the president's own political aides and apparatchiks, organized a $1 million, expressed attack ad series on him, Heller, which Senator Thune objected to, that Senator McConnell opposed.

This is the political equivalent of coming down from the hills and shooting the wounded. And so they had to back off. And so you talk about White House-congressional relations. I mean, this is just — it's more than counterproductive. It's stupid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're right. Senator Thune — David, Senator Thune's comment, that wouldn't be a good time to go after members of your own party.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Yes. No, it's — the relations are — it's interesting to watch even the reactions to the tweets and everything else. They can't get away from this guy. And what's been interesting, talking to members of Congress, is, it would be one thing if he would just sort of disappear, but they have to spend so much of their time just reacting.

And it's just very hard to make policy, aside from the problem of just making policy from Capitol Hill, which is difficult to start with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the tweets, David, we have seen some eyebrow-raisers. We have heard some gasps. But I guess the president's tweet yesterday morning about the "Morning Joe" MSNBC cable hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, where the president tweeted very personal insults, low I.Q., face-lift, and so forth, it seemed to reach a new low.

Do we learn anything new about this president at this point?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, one of the nice things, if we can find a silver lining here, is, it's possible for everybody to be freshly appalled, that we are not inured to savage, misogynistic behavior of this sort.

And I saw a lot of people around. And I certainly felt in myself a freshness, a freshness of outrage.

And I must say, when I hear Roy Blunt say it's unhelpful to himself, well, that's true, but it's more than unhelpful to Donald Trump to tweet in this way. It's morally objectionable. And I do wish more senators would say that. Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse have said it, but a lot of others, oh, it's just not helpful.

It's more than that. And the issue here is the corruption of our public sphere. And that's what Donald Trump does with these things. And it makes it harder for us, our country, to ever get back to normal, when these things are corrosive to just the way people talk to each other.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Corruption of the public sphere, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: I think David is guilty of understatement.

No, I think he put it very well. This is hateful and it's hurtful. Judy, I don't know what a parent or a grandparent is supposed to say to a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old who said anything comparable to this and was sent — banished to their room or whatever else for it, I mean, that the president of the United States can talk this way, and there are no consequences.

The irony is that he's more engaged on the back-and-forth with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on this than he has been on health care or any other issue. He obviously — this is what matters to him. And it's just that classic — not to be sectionally biased, but it's sort of a New York bully approach to life, I mean, that you say anything, you do anything, because the important thing is winning.

And I just — you know, I don't know what else there is to say, other than you want to put yourself through a car wash after you listen to the president talk this way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there consequences, David? I mean, I heard what you said about some senators are just saying, well, it's not helpful, but other senators are going further and saying, this is really wrong.

But are there ever consequences? Do we just go on like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, we will see if people eventually get disappointed and get tired.

I do think if it — one of the things that may begin to offend people is potential mafioso behavior. One of the things we heard this morning in the op-ed piece in The Washington Post by the two hosts was that the White House sort of threatened sort of extortion, that, if the show becomes more Trump-friendly, then a National Enquirer investigation into their relationship will be spiked.

And that's sort of mafioso, extortion behavior. That's beyond normal White House behavior. It's beyond political hardball. It's sort of using your media allies, The National Enquirer and the Trump administration, to take down enemies. And that's not something we have seen in America since maybe Nixon, or maybe never.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's true, Mark, we haven't seen anything like this in a while.

MARK SHIELDS: We haven't.

But I think David's point about extortion certainly strengthens the position of James Comey, that threats and extortion or a hint of extortion is part of the modus operandi.

To Republicans …

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, we should say the White House is denying it.

MARK SHIELDS: The White House is denying it. Jared Kushner, I guess, is denying it, or perhaps somebody else through him is denying it.

But the fact that there's negotiations going back and forth or communications on this subject, you do this and we won't print an injurious and harmful article in The National Enquirer, one of the great publications of our time.

But, Judy, I remember when Republicans used to get upset and angry at Bill Clinton because he didn't wear a suit and tie in the Oval Office. And Donald Trump, who is supposed to be this great deal-maker, I mean, Joe and Mika Brzezinski have a morning show which is a show that watched very much in this area, but it doesn't have a great national audience, and probably 1 percent of the people.

And he just made them a national — everybody now knows about this show. It's probably increased their ratings, juiced them up. So I don't understand where — if anything, it's but counterproductive in every sense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is true, David, that this is — it's hard to find you said there may be a silver lining in fresh outrage, but beyond that, I'm not sure where it is.

DAVID BROOKS: No.

And, you know, the big question for me is, do we snapback? Do the norms that used to govern politics reestablish themselves after the Trump administration, or are we here forever?

And I hope, from the level of outrage, that we have a snap back. But the politics is broken up and down. And Trump may emerge from a reality TV world that is much more powerful than we think. And there is the prospect that this is where we are, which is an horrific thought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Horrific thought.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

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