Shields and Brooks on Trump’s understanding of presidential power

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 the Trump Cabinet.

We know that Rudy Giuliani's out, took himself, they said, out of consideration. But we have got several names, Mark, of people who are in at Labor, at the EPA, HUD, Housing and Urban Development, Small Business, and they all seem to be people who don't necessarily agree with what the mission of these agencies has been during the Obama administration.

What are we to make of them?

MARK SHIELDS: We have to make of them they're very personal choices by Donald Trump.

Ben Carson is a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, 400 surgeries a year. Surgeon General? No. Housing and Urban Development. And he's owned several houses. He's lived in a house.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I don't know what the other qualifications are.

Particularly interesting to me was, after he met — the president-elect with Al Gore, probably the most prominent environmental voice in the entire Democratic Party, he then chose the Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to be director of the Environmental Protection Agency. I think protection is a key word there.

And when you think of pristine preservation of America, you immediately think of Tulsa and Oklahoma.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Be careful, my birthplace.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I know it's your birthplace, Judy. But let's be very frank about it. It hasn't — it's not a vanguard state. It's not a forefront state in environmental protection.

It's a state that has been very big on fracking, that has had 907 earthquakes in the last year, which is more than they had in the last 35 years, under fracking, a 3.0-magnitude.

And I would say, if he's not a denier of climate change, then Attorney General Pruitt is certainly a serious skeptic.

So, I don't know if there's a pattern here. Maybe David can figure it out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pattern?

DAVID BROOKS: I rise to the defense of Oklahoma.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you. I'm glad to have one of you.

DAVID BROOKS: And it's exactly the sort of coastal condescension toward the beauties of Tulsa that has created the Trump phenomenon in the first place.

First, agencies and these issues, whether it's environmental or labor issues, they have — it's a tradeoff. And Democrats in environmental agencies tend to favor — be more sensitive to environmental harm. And Republicans tend to be more sensitive to business harm.

And so I don't know if they're going against the mission of the agencies. It's just a different set of priorities, and it's legitimate.

Trump has picked the more extreme versions of all Republicans so far, the more aggressive. And I think the thing to watch out for is, I could totally paint a scenario where Trump runs an authoritarian regime. I can totally paint a scenario where he has no control over his own government.

And that's in part because of his attention span problems, but in part because running an agency is very hard. Cabinet secretaries often have no control over their agency. And it becomes doubly hard when you're really out of opinion with the people who actually work in the agency.

And it becomes triply hard, as I think may happen, a lot of people will leave the government. There are a lot of people in a lot of these sorts of places that are weighing, do I really want to serve here?

And I have certainly heard from people who say, I really don't. Yes, I'm a career person, I respect the political process, but I just don't feel comfortable working here anymore.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a reasonable point.

I do want to say one thing about the secretary of labor. I just wish once, when they pick a secretary of labor, they would say, gee, who's the best boss in America? Who has great relations?

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: He runs two, what, food companies.

MARK SHIELDS: He runs — no, and he's been — his relations with workers are not a hallmark of his career. He's been very successful in maximizing profit. But there is no particular encomiums to him about…

JUDY WOODRUFF: We should say, his name is Andy Puzder.

MARK SHIELDS: Andy Puzder — to his relationship with his workers.

Aaron Feuerstein, who was head of Malden Mills at Lawrence, Massachusetts, when the mill burned down, the first thing he did was to keep all his employees on the payroll for 60 days while he rebuilt on the spot. He didn't take the insurance or go offshore.

Or Dan Price in Seattle at Gravity Payments, who cut his own salary by 90 percent to give everybody a 70 percent — $70,000 minimum wage. I mean, just once, I would like to have somebody who says, I really do care about workers.

And Puzder has been very successful franchising Hardee's and Carl's Jr., but there's no particular record of his consideration or concern for workers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, the other point that was made about Linda McMahon, who was chosen for the Small Business Administration, she's a billionaire with her husband. They were wrestling — professional wrestling entrepreneurs.

And then the question is, there are now four or five billionaires in the Trump Cabinet. Do we think that's just the way it's going to be?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he likes his fellow billionaires, assuming he is one.

I do think, generally, populist movements don't — are not against billionaires. They are not against self-made billionaires in particular. They're certainly not — the Trump movement is certainly not hostile to professional wrestling.

What they tend to be suspicious is professionals and what they see as the managerial class. So, if he picked a lot of people who went to Harvard Law School, worked in the academy, worked in the media, then I think his supporters would be restless.

But they're not — they're sensitive to people they think are looking down upon them, basically the professional class. And so I don't think it's entirely inconsistent that — or out of spirit of his movement to have these Linda McMahon-type people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Ike had nine millionaires and a plumber in his Cabinet, Martin Durkin, the president of a plumbers' union.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Eisenhower.

MARK SHIELDS: Eisenhower did.

It is. And the — Goldman Sachs is probably over-represented, considering it was part of the vast conspiracy with Hillary Clinton to rob the United States of its sovereignty, according to candidate Trump. And now he's finding that they're a personnel supplier for his administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other thing we saw a little bit more of this week, David, was this continuation of Donald Trump tweeting criticism of Boeing aircraft over the cost, what he says may be the cost overrun for the new Air Force One, and then getting into a spat with a local union president in Indiana who had said, you know, you're not really going to be saving as much jobs at the Carrier Corporation as you said you were.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

A friend of mine who's a political strategist in town said to me, you know, half my conversations are about the dissent of fascism in America, and maybe that is going to happen, and then half are normal policy discussions about how to reform health care.

And so the Trump administration could go off in both directions. We could be seeing something entirely new, something entirely authoritarian, something that looks more like Ukraine or Russia than anything we're used to seeing here.

And these tweets are to me one of the telltale signs of whether we're going off in that direction. If he's just tweeting about a union guy, then he's just being the bully we have seen. But if he uses the power of the presidency to back up some of those tweets and he's really, really coming down with a hammer on people he doesn't like using the power of the presidency, then we're seeing something very new and very different.

And it's too soon to tell whether he is going to start doing that, but that, to me, would be an indicator of something very troubling, if he does that as president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, cyber-bullying, the emphasis on bullying here, going after Chuck Jones, the president of Local 1999 of the Steel Workers, is punching down.

It's somebody in a powerful, omnipotent position punching somebody who's a lot less important, and putting them not only as the object of ridicule, but open threats that Chuck Jones has received as a consequence of the president doing this — president-elect doing this.

And he just doesn't seem to grasp or understand, Mr. Trump, the majesty and the power of the office.

And I think Bob Dallek, the presidential historian, very respected, said that this behavior is beneath the dignity of the office. And it really is. And I don't think he grasps it and understands it, the Boeing thing being one example, where you can move stock by just an idle comment.

But it's intimidating. It's silencing. It's a chilling effect. And it's decidedly unpresidential.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: To a lot of people, it just seems like an active presidency, like he's being active on behalf of the American people.

And I do think, oh, the Carrier thing, I hated it as a policy matter, but at least he's hammering — he's saving jobs. He's doing stuff. Obama never did any of this stuff.

People have a different conception of what the presidency should be.

MARK SHIELDS: But it isn't Carrier. I'm talking about tweeting.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I'm talking about tweeting against an individual and holding that individual — like Jeff Zeleny of CNN, terrific reporter, holding him up to ridicule for doing his job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and in connection with that, I want to ask you quickly, we did a segment, Hari did an interview about this earlier in the show, Mark, about the — we call it fake news. And we were just sitting here saying that doesn't do justice to what's been going on.

MARK SHIELDS: Lying.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's lies that are out there.

MARK SHIELDS: Right. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Flynn — General Michael Flynn, who has been chosen to be the president's national security adviser, his son was actively tweeting, repeating some of these stories that were completely false about a pizza place in Washington being a place where there was a pedophile ring going on involving Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff.

A man from North Carolina — this was all in the news last week — comes to Washington with a gun, shoots it inside. This is a family place.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a family place, where — Comet Ping Pong, where — pizza — where my 10-year-old granddaughter, Frances, I attended her 10th birthday party there recently in the back room with the ping-pong. It very much of a family — it has great pizza. It's a very popular place.

It's a total fabrication. It's worse than a fabrication. It's a slur and a libel. This — Alex Jones is involved in this, the radio personality, talks about Hillary Clinton murdering young children.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, it just has to be confronted.

And I thought Marc Fisher did a great job in The Washington Post, and he with his interview with Hari, in shooting it down. But if you have got to spend all your time shooting this stuff down, Judy…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Somebody wrote a story about me where I allegedly called for Donald Trump's assassination. And it was a long 1,500-word, very carefully written piece of reportage, where I allegedly gave an interview to a radio station that doesn't exist.

And it was like being in a different, alternative — alternative universe in a novel, like some other novel, when, suddenly, the effects come back and hit me in real life.

And what's troubling is the professionalism with which it's done and how distrust of the media then leads to this extreme naivete, where people will believe anything.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're all used to people stretching the truth in what we do in journalism, but it's just — it's beyond the pale.

Just 40 seconds left, Mark. John Glenn, we lost a great American hero yesterday. What did he represent to this country?

MARK SHIELDS: Twenty-three years as a Marine jet pilot, combat pilot, 149 missions in two wars, first American to orbit the Earth, at a time when the United States was feeling — more than that, it gave the country a lift.

And, most of all, all he was about, he was everything that he seemed to be and more. He was the genuine article.

The thing, Judy, to remember about John Glenn is that he had had the ultimate in praise and national attention. He was an icon. All he wanted to do — he didn't need validation. He didn't need an ego fix. All he wanted to do was public service. And he did it. And he was a great senator and a great American.

DAVID BROOKS: Just Midwestern decency, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

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

And we remember John Glenn.

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