Shields and Brooks on Harry Reid’s retirement, Yemen turmoil response

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.

So, let's talk about Harry Reid.

Mark, he announced he's retiring, not until the end of next year, but this is after being the face — the leader and the face of the Democratic Party in the Senate. What does this mean for Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first, just a quick word about Harry Reid.

I mean, Harry Reid wasn't born to privilege or advantage. There's no pedigree there. There are eight counties in Nevada where prostitution is legal, and Harry Reid lived in one of them in Searchlight, Nevada. His mother took in the laundry from the local brothel. His dad was a miner who had a problem with alcohol and committed suicide.

He went to law school nights here. He worked as a Capitol Policeman up on Capitol Hill, totally self-made man, which somebody say relieves the creator of a great responsibility.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But he was tough as nails. He was determined. His word, you could take to the bank. You could talk to any Democrat, talk to anybody on the hill. That was the thing about Harry Reid. He was incredibly determined, tough, no-holds-barred.

You didn't want — you wanted him on your side if you were in a foxhole, not smooth and not Sunday morning chat show, not a charmer, short on charisma, but I would say an effective leader. And he probably knew the time was right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And would say, he's still there for another year-and-a-half.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, fair — and, in fairness, let's say there is no Obamacare, there is no Affordable Care Act without Nancy Pelosi as speaker and Harry Reid as leader. There's no Dodd-Frank without Pelosi and Reid. There is no $800 billion stimulus to save the economy from the precipice without Reid and Pelosi.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He had his detractors as — has his detractors as well.

DAVID BROOKS: The good part was, as Mark said, he was rooted, rooted in Searchlight. And he talked about Searchlight all the time.

I once heard him say that he played on a football field in high school that was only 98 yards long. I never quite understood that. Nothing but ground out there in Searchlight, but played on a short field.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But he talked about that and remained rooted in that, so was never really of the Washington culture, I would say, even though he was obviously — or he's still here a long time.

And the good part is, the effective part, as Mark says, to keep 60 votes together among a very diverse Democratic body was — that is an accomplishment. The bad side, probably the detractors will say, is, he was sometimes extremely loose and sometimes extremely bizarre with the things he said and could be, in my view, overly tough on people, overly rash, overly cruel even.

And so sometimes the public projections weren't all that one would want in a statesman. But I have always had a soft spot for him, in part because he's a big watcher of this show, but also because he…

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're always glad to hear that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

But, listen, there's an authenticity to the guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what does it mean, Mark, for the Democrats? We would say, Reid came right out and said he wants Chuck Schumer of New York to be his successor as the leader of the party. How are things going to change after?

MARK SHIELDS: Reid and Schumer were as close as two people can be, and not to arouse the suspicions of their spouses. I mean, they talk together five or six times a day.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: So, he did. He leapfrogged Dick Durbin, the deputy, and went to Chuck Schumer, the third in line.

And it means that Reid is there for 22 months. It means Schumer is probably — undoubtedly the favorite. We would question whether the women in the Senate will mount any kind of candidacy for at least representation, whether Patty Murray perhaps the most likely.

But these votes inside a body, Judy, are next to impossible to predict. I remember when Bob Byrd upset Ted Kennedy as the Democratic whip. And Ted Kennedy said afterwards, "I want to thank the 32 senators who committed to vote for me and the 27 who did."

And so you can't tell, but I would have to say that Schumer is the favorite.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just because he named Schumer doesn't mean it's going to happen?

DAVID BROOKS: No. Everyone gets a vote.

And what is interesting about Schumer is, he seems superficially much more ideological, maybe further to the left, but I think Schumer is practical as well. And in some senses, you could even have — if there were ever a possibility for bipartisan compromise, I think Schumer, though is ideologically quite out there and his verbal style is certainly out there, I think he would be capable of quite surprising compromises on occasion.

So if that comes along, I think Schumer would be pretty good at that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk about another senator, freshman Republican, Mark, Ted Cruz of Texas, who became the first candidate to officially announce his candidacy. He didn't stop along the way and announce an exploratory committee. He said, I'm in it, I'm running for the Republican nomination.

Smart to be out there so early, ahead of everybody else? And what are the pluses and the minuses?

MARK SHIELDS: Think about how people announced in 2008, and some in 2012, e-mail, on YouTube. I mean, this was a show of shows. This was Ed Sullivan. This was Dean Martin. This was…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The speech he gave at Liberty University.

MARK SHIELDS: Liberate University, 10,000 people in the round, no notes, no teleprompter, just a speech that Ted Cruz has been rehearsing for 18 years, all replete with pauses at the moment, as he's trying to think of that next word…

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: … but, you know, I think a terrific performance. I think he will be a formidable debater.

Unlike the two previous Texas statewide Republicans, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, he won't stumble over his words, he won't fracture his syntax, and he will — he takes a no-holds-barred approach. He didn't come to compromise, he's not a coalition builder, he's going to fight for principle.

And I think he could move the debate to the right, and I think that's a real concern, on the force of his intellect and his personality and his — yes, that's it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, picking Liberty, a Christian school, was clearly a sign that he's going to run to be the inheritor of the evangelical vote. There's a shot he could be that. He's got some competition on that side, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, a lot of the others, but that's a powerful vote, especially in some of the early caucus states.

He's a new style of politician with no history of governance, really, no effectiveness as a legislature, but a good media personality and a spokesperson. And, to me, it's a bit of politics as show business. And I don't think he has much of a chance, in part because it's such a crowded field, and in many ways a more qualified field than him, in part because I just don't think he radiates sincerity.

There are a lot of people who are plenty conservative, but they just don't find him that sincere. And so he's so smart. He's thinking it all through. He's very polished, but a lot of people think it's all — it's so cleverly thought through, they're not quite comfortable. And so will he arouse people, passions the way some true — someone who seems more sincere will? I'm a little acceptable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there's the — I guess the conventional wisdom at this point is, there are two contests in the Republican Party. One is for the conservative banner carrier and the other, Mark, for the mainstream Republican banner carrier.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that just too simple a way to look at this?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is, Judy, but that's all right.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was my theory, so…

MARK SHIELDS: No, it wasn't your theory. It's one that is imposed.

There's Tea Party, which are the economic and anti-government conservatives. Then there's the cultural or moral religious conservatives. I think there's an overlap, but they're distinct. There is the governing Republicans, those who really think, gee, it's important to be able to govern. And then there are sort of the Wall Street or business Republicans.

So, I think there's almost four different groups. I will say this about Ted Cruz. He stands in total opposite to what happened this week in Congress. We have spent months, years just kicking the daylights out of Congress for doing nothing. And this week, we saw an act on grownups on the part of Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and they passed a Medicare doc fix, something 17 times in 10 years — 12 years — they have patched this, they have kicked the can down the road.

This time, they did it and led their caucuses. And, you know, we say we want this. Ted Cruz gets cheers for saying he won't compromise. And Pelosi and Boehner get very few kudos for being grownups and, I think, showing real leadership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is figuring out what doctors get from Medicare reimbursements.

DAVID BROOKS: Cruz's strategy, clearly with his debating skills, is to pick a fight, pick a fight, pick a fight. And anybody who isn't quite as pure as him will be a RINO, a Republican in name only.

And that may work for him. I actually — I have 32 categories of the candidates.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Because there are 487 of them, I think, at this count.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But, no, I actually think the categories are a little overblown when voters — they are not aware of the ideological distinctions that we make between the neocons and the proto-neocons and all that.

They're looking at personality.

MARK SHIELDS: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And I do think character and personality are just golden.

And you look at a Scott Walker, who can point to some horrible stories that happened to him while he was in the Wisconsin fight. He seems sort of attractive. Marco Rubio is a smart, attractive person. You just have got to — you have to be with the guy for four years. I'm not sure people are going to want…

MARK SHIELDS: Just one point on what David made.

And Bill Cohen, the former secretary of defense, United States senator from Maine, congressman, mayor, had a great aphorism, which is, before they vote for you, they have to like you. And I think that is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Makes sense.

MARK SHIELDS: And it really does for president. It's a very personal choice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is unfair to ask you both about this, Yemen, what's been going on. We have been covering it all week.

We now see the Saudis involved there hitting these Shia rebels, the Houthis. I guess my very quick question to both of you is, John McCain this week — yesterday accused the Obama administration of just not having its eye on the ball, not being engaged. Is this one where the U.S. should be more involved, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, this is the dilemma we face in each of them. I mean, do we stand outside and watch ISIS, or whatever its incarnation is under whatever religious banner it might be, take over and disable?

I mean, these are nonfunctioning states that we are talking about. Or do we engage and then incur the wrath and the enmity, as well as the casualties? And I think this is it. I mean, as far — is there an overarching strategy, a coherent policy? I haven't seen it, Judy, but I don't pretend to be a detective.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, we're a victim of circumstance. We're just reacting to whoever it is that's happening that — most which we do not foresee. And therefore, we're fighting with Iran here, but against Iran there. We're negotiating with Iran over there. And so we're just — it's case by case.

And to me, that's a problem of a strategy which is unreaistic. I do think the president had a strategy, which was to turn Iran into a member of the community of nations in some way and then use that as a pivot to sort of stabilize the region. I think that's an unrealistic strategy. But that's the strategy we have.

But when it's compared to the actual world, it leaves us without a strategy. And so we're reacting. I think what we need is obviously a strategy that takes acute awareness of our limits here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of which, we're looking at the deadline for these Iran nuclear talks next Tuesday.

MARK SHIELDS: We are. But we have no government in Baghdad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to have to save it for next week.

MARK SHIELDS: OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Please come back.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

 

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