Shields and Brooks on Mattis, the Carrier deal and Pelosi’s re-election

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now back to politics and a whole week full of Cabinet picks.

Time to turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

And I know you have been paying very close attention to every one of these nominations, Mark.

And, David, so it's James Mattis to Defense this week, Tom Price, the congressman, to Health and Human Services, Steve Mnuchin to Treasury.

David, what stands out here? What do you think of what Mr. Trump is doing?

DAVID BROOKS: I have to say, he's exceeding expectations.

Sometimes, during the campaign, he seemed to be actively trying to misgovern. And here he seems to be to have an effective administration. They're not all the people I would pick. But he won the election. Some of them are not only good for Trump, but genuinely good picks.

General Mattis, I think, is in that. He's a scholarly man, a good leader, a man with subtle foreign policy views. Others are experienced, Elaine Chao, who has already been. Other people, Tom Price, are experienced legislators. And so they're people who know their way around Washington, while I think representing the Trump world view.

And so I think, in general, for those of us who were a little skeptical of Trump, it's, I would say, exceeding expectations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Exceeding expectations, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: A little skeptical?

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Wow. That's dialing it back.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I am pleased, relieved, and almost thrilled with the appointment of General James Mattis as secretary of defense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa.

MARK SHIELDS: General Joe Dunford is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine, former commandant. And now General Mattis, former Marine, so you can be sure that there will be a lot of sniping from the Army, the Navy, because the Marines are the smallest force.

But why am I pleased? Everything that David said about General Mattis is true. He is a scholar. He's independent. He's thoughtful. He's smart. He's a great leader.

The Marines have a rule, unlike any other military branch I know: Officers eat last, OK? That is, no officer eats until the sergeants, the corporals, the privates under his command have first been fed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you speak from personal experience.

MARK SHIELDS: And nobody embodied that more than Jim Mattis. He was very much an enlisted man's general.

And the one quick anecdote, and that is, when General Charles Krulak was commandant of the Marine Corps, every Christmas — this was in the late '90s — he and his wife would bake cookies for the last couple weeks before Christmas. And he would get up at 4:00 in the morning with General Krulak and deliver them in little packages to the Marines who were standing duty that day, because every Marine base, every Marine post has be somebody standing duty.

And he showed up at Quantico and he asked the Marine lance corporal who was on duty, where is the officer of the day and who it is? He said, it's General Mattis, sir. He said, no, no, it's not General Mattis. I mean, who is the officer of the day? And he said, it's General Mattis, sir.

And up comes Jim Mattis and a general, brigadier general, and he is on duty and he has got his sword. And the commandant says, what are you doing here? He said, well, there was a young lieutenant who was on duty today, and he has a wife and two children. And I thought it was better that he have Christmas with his family.

That's the kind of man he is. It's the kind of values he's embodied. He's independent. He's strong. And he will be good for the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wow. Well, we're off to some high praise here.

Let's talk about something else that Donald Trump did this week. And that is, the first public speech he made since the election, he went to Indianapolis, and announced a deal that he's cut with the Carrier Corporation, air conditioners, furnaces, to save 1,000 jobs, not all the jobs that were going to Mexico, but a lot of them.

What kind of precedent does this set? What are we to make of it?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with Sarah Palin on this one.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: She wrote an op-ed today where she called it crony capitalism and a source of corruption.

And I think that's true. The job of government is to be a level playing field where companies compete and make money honestly. And by rewarding one company over another, by getting involved in these sort of petty deals, the first thing you're doing is encouraging rent-seeking, for companies to make money off government, rather than the honest way.

And the second thing, it's — and especially in this administration, it's an invitation to corruption. If you're cutting deals with company after company, doing this kind of deal, that kind of deal, inevitably, there is going to be a quid pro quo. There is going to be under-the-table lobbying.

And it's just a terrible precedent for our economy and for the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with the 1,000 jobs?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first of all, it's a very expensive way to save 1,000 jobs.

Second of all, Carrier is owned — the parent company is United Technologies, a defense contractor, totally dependent on U.S. government interests for their well-being.

If we can't lean on these people and negotiate a good deal with them, and where we have to pay $700,000 in tax credits to save 1,000 jobs, it's a bad deal, even from that perspective. It's very expensive.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me.

Are you as worried about it?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I'm not as worried about it.

I think it is bad public policy. I think it's a political masterstroke. I think Donald Trump raised this issue during the campaign. When it first appeared, when Carrier showed the gross insensitivity, where it was on YouTube, where they went in and told the 1,000 workers that their jobs were leaving, that the company was leaving, and it was just — it was abjectly insensitive to the workers. And Donald Trump picked that up. It was part of his prairie populism of the time, unlike his Cabinet appointments to Treasury and Commerce.

But I think, Judy, there is 1,000 people who are going to have Christmas who weren't going to have Christmas. And were there deals cut? Sure. And have there been deals cut on crony capitalism in the past? Yes. It's always gone to the company. And it's been a long time.

I give Barack Obama great credit for the rescue of the United States automobile industry. It saved hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the fact is, we have had deals cut, and the jobs have ended up going elsewhere.

And I think Donald Trump, this is a masterstroke that he said he would do something, he did it, and it's been a long time since the president of the United States has made that kind of an announcement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you say back?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first of all, there will be 1,000 people who will have Christmas. That's true. But there will be a lot of people who will be paying for that.

Second of all, you will have a less efficient economy, so there will be less job creation. Third, when companies ship jobs overseas, they don't like just take the factory and then move it abroad. They gradually do what is in their economic best interests, which is to scale back production here or flatline it and scale it up there.

If the economics is still favoring a job in Mexico over a job in Indiana, Carrier will still be doing it, but they will be getting a lot of taxpayer money, and we will have a sludgier economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, this isn't just a drop in the bucket, in the face of an enormous — enormous economic changes?

MARK SHIELDS: No, of course it is. But did he do something that positively affected people's lives? Yes.

Is it a coherent national macro-policy? No. But as a micro-act, it's a very positive act politically. And I think it reflects better upon him and his commitment to these people and their well-being and their survival than an awful lot that's happened in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have been talking a lot about Donald Trump.

I do want to bring up the Democrats today, because this week in the House, David, they voted again on their leadership, Nancy Pelosi reelected to be the minority leader, but with not as large a vote as the last time. She won two-thirds against a challenge from an Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan.

What's going on with the Democrats? You're hearing more of them speak out and say, we don't like the kind of campaign that Hillary Clinton ran, we have got to be worried about things that we weren't worried about in this election.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't think they're that far along.

Republicans were preparing for a big defeat and then reorganization. Democrats were preparing for victory. So I don't think the Democrats are that far along on where the party should go.

But you can see the objection to Pelosi. She's — the top three leaders in the House on the Democratic side are all in their mid-70s. She's some San Francisco, not exactly — if you're trying to reach Ohio.

And is she a fresh face for the party in an era of change? Well, no. On the other hand, she's a really good tactician and a good legislative leader. And I can see why she ended up winning, because it's a local race. And they probably wanted somebody who could master the craft of legislation. And, plus, they all owe her to a great degree.

So, it's a testimony to her that, even in an extremely adverse climate, it's a testament to what people think of her skills, I would say, that she ended up winning, you know, still by a reasonably comfortable margin.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you make of this?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David is right in his assessment of Leader Pelosi.

The fact that she's from San Francisco, if anything, is a help, in the sense that you want a leader who can take tough positions and not jeopardize their own survival. That's one of the things you want in a leader.

She has been a very formidable leader. She was a great speaker. But I think for the people — and it was a considerable vote. A third of her caucus voted against her. Only 12 people came out publicly and were willing to stand up with Tim Ryan, but, in private, 64 or 63 came out and voted in the secret ballot for him.

If there had been 35 that had come out, then maybe there might have been 75 or 80 who had been so emboldened to vote outside. But she did prevail, for the reason that David cited.

In addition to that, to put the folks on Nancy Pelosi is absolutely ludicrous. The Democrats have an enormous problem. Today, as we sit here, there are five states in the United States that have a Democratic governor and two houses of the legislature controlled by Democrats. That's the lowest in the history.

There are 12 fewer Democratic senators than there were the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. There are 16 fewer Democratic governors than there were the day. Nobody redistricts state lines than there were the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. There are 63 fewer House members. There are fewer Democratic state legislators today in the 50 states than there have been at any time in history, at any time in history.

So, Judy — ever since 1900, I should say. But I look at this and say, the Democratic Party is noncompetitive west of New Jersey, all the way to Carson City, Nevada, with the exception of the blue island of Illinois and Latino-strengthened states of New Mexico and Colorado.

Other than that, it's red. And they're not competitive. And to just say it's Nancy Pelosi's fault and that her replacement would somehow solve their problems is self-deception writ large.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, are there solutions out there, David?

DAVID BROOKS: It's not her fault. I wouldn't say she's the solution, though.

And so which way does the Democratic Party go? I think it's likely that they will go in the Elizabeth Warren direction. And that may not be stupid. There may be a populist way to tap into what Trump popped into.

But so far that has never happened. So far, when they have gone left, whether it's Howard Dean or Jesse Jackson, they have lost the heartland. And they have lost people who are angry at government, but don't seem to be angry at business.

And so going to the center would violate all the momentum you feel on the left, but I do think there is some case to be made for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you saying that's what happened in this election, I mean, in the 2016…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they culturally lost.

Part of the problem is simply Democrats as individuals, not as a political party, are moving to very few places. And so they're clustering. And that's just a demographic problem for the party.

MARK SHIELDS: When Barack Obama was reelected in 2012 with the majority of the vote in the country, first president since Eisenhower to win a popular majority in consecutive elections, he failed to carry a majority of congressional districts.

That hasn't happened since 1960. I mean, so the Democrats are not competitive in large swathes of the country. They're a coastal party. I think they have become — and I think Nancy Pelosi bears some of the burden on this — I think they have become too culturally liberal a party.

I think that there's been a willingness to emphasize LGBTQ issues, rather than working-class issues of people in declining incomes and families falling behind and Carrier jobs leaving.

I think that's been — that the Democrats have become a party that, quite honestly, is more emphasizing the cultural issues. And I think that's been to their disadvantage in their national appeal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on that note, maybe the Democrats will have an autopsy like the Republicans had.

MARK SHIELDS: It certainly helped them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It certainly did. It did.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: It was a good autopsy.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

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

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