Shields and Brooks on Netanyahu’s election provocation, human trafficking holdup

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 Israel, its newly reelected prime minister, Benjamin — or we think so — it looks that way, Benjamin Netanyahu.

He turned heads, David, just before the election when he said that he didn't believe, after all, that the Palestinians should have their own state and also when he talked about Arabs going to the polls in droves. He's just given — that was a few days ago. Then just today and yesterday, he is telling American reporters, no, he does think there should be, could be a Palestinian state.

Which is it?

DAVID BROOKS: He's a fascinating figure.

He's — we say Nixonian about a lot of people. He really is Nixonian. He's brilliant. He's very isolated and insular. It's very hard to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don't mean that as a compliment, or do you, the Nixonian…

DAVID BROOKS: No. Well, mixed, I guess, but mostly negative.

Insular. Very hard to keep staff because he — very small circle, and yet survived now. And so I would differentiate the two statements. The statement about the Israeli Arabs was race-baiting. It was voter suppression, and simply was pandering. It was his attempt to win over the right.

Remember, in his electoral system, he's not trying to win over left votes. He's trying to get the more right parties into his camp, which he succeeded in doing. The stuff on the Palestinian state, I think, is a much more complicated. It's been reported that he's saying never going to have a Palestinian state. That's not how I read it then, and it's certainly not what he said then.

I think what he said, if you read the exact quote, is that today, with Islamic radicalism on the rise, more or less, he meant it would be reckless to allow there to be a Palestinian state in the West Bank or in Gaza for today. I don't think he said forevermore. I think it's a little more complicated.

I think that it's an arguable position, whether with Hamas and ISIS around, whether there should be a Palestinian state, but it's a defensible position, given the current circumstances.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should say, full disclosure, you have a son who is serving in the Israeli military. But you're saying it's consistent, these two…

DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was clearly a pander to the right, obviously. But was it outrageous?  Did he say there should never be a Palestinian state?  I don't think he said that, even at the worst statement at the height of the campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: The uncritically admiring supporters and friends of the prime minister, in whose ranks I certainly don't include David, but include Charles Krauthammer, the columnist, and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, insist on comparing him to the incomparable leader of the British forces in country in part of — during World War II.

I think we have established this past week for sure that Benjamin Netanyahu is no Winston Churchill. Whatever else he, is he's not a Winston Churchill. He basically violated the great rule, which is it's better to mislead the people and to lose an election than to mislead the people and win an election.

And he — David's case is a legitimate one, but there was no doubt his intention was to turn out the vote. His intention was to walk back from the 2009 position that he had taken when he then came out in favor of the two-state solution. And he did it solely for electoral purposes, solely to win an election.

And I think that "Arabs coming out in droves" is so violative Jewish values that non-Jews admire so much about Jewish people throughout history, of welcoming the stranger, of standing up for the outsider, of defending the marginalized. This was classic us against them. This was the narrowest and meanest of politics, to which Jews, sadly and tragically, around the world have been subjected to, including in this country.

And just to win a lousy election?  I mean, to win an election?  Really, I mean, he's a diminished, diminished man, I believe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, whatever you think about what he did, we now hear the Obama administration saying they're thinking about going to U.N. to support the Palestinians.

Is this an overreaction?  Does it make sense under the circumstances?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it's peaked. I think it's an overreaction.

I agree with what Mark said at the suppression of the vote and the treatment of the Israeli Arabs, but we have — the United States has said all along that a unilateral solution is not a solution. There has to be a peace process. It has to be mutually agreed.

And if it's an Israeli-imposed unilateral solution, or a Palestinian via the U.N. self-declared statehood, I just don't think that's a stable peace. And I don't think the Palestinians are in this position they're in, divided with Hamas and the P.A., unwilling to allow — or recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

I think they're a long way. Fundamentalism is still on the march. They're a long way from getting to the spot where both the Israelis and the Palestinians can reach a mutual solution. I think we're sort of stuck here for a little while. It's been a long time. We're stuck here, given current conditions on both sides.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama administration overreacted?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the Obama administration — I understand the president is upset.

I mean, this has been a bipartisan issue for more than 50 years, supported, both Democrats and Republicans. Netanyahu and his supporters in this country have made it a partisan issue. He injected himself in the Romney-Obama race. By his acceptance to make a campaign rally before Republican House of Representatives two weeks before the election, he injected to use it as a forum to attack the policies of the president. He did.

Now, I don't think he should make foreign policy on the basis of peak, but, Judy, I don't think it can be overstated that Israel has been an embattled democracy that has enjoyed the bipartisan and overwhelming support of Americans. It has been a moral force.

And I think that's compromised. It's compromised as long as Israel is an occupying power, occupying the West Bank, where Palestinian rights are abridged, their political and civil and legal rights are abridged. And that is not — that hurts Israel.

Israel lost support. A majority of Americans under the age of 30 opposed Israel last summer and Hamas — in the battle in Gaza. And they are losing support in this country, and they will be further isolated in the world.

DAVID BROOKS: One quick more point about the politics of resentment.

Israel is a country of six million people. They need the U.S. It used to be bipartisan on Israeli politics. You never messed with that relationship. The fact that Netanyahu is willing to do that, I thought would horrify voters more than it turned out it did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to this country, to Congress.

Right now, the budget, Republicans — we now see, David, what the Republicans want to do with the budget. Many of them are arguing we need to cut $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years, cutting Medicaid, cutting food stamps. Democrats are screaming, this is way too much. Do you see balance here?  What do you see?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, this is sort of happening on two levels.

One is the grand vision level, what do you want, and the budget — the Republican budget in the House does have a grand vision. They're right to say we need massive changes to get the balance in budget. Over the next 10 years, the national debt is rising significantly up to about 78 percent of GDP. It's very high, getting way higher the 10 out years.

So they do need to do things. I think the Republican budget priorities are messed up. I salute for the way they're attacking some of the entitlement programs, but they are taking huge cuts, by pretending they're just block-granting it to the states, out of Medicaid, from the least fortunate.

Then they're taking huge cuts out of domestic discretionary spending, which is already at his historic lows. And so I agree with the idea of cutting, but it should all be coming out of entitlements for the affluent and not out of domestic discretionary, which is welfare, education, all the stuff the government does, parks, FBI, and it shouldn't be coming out of Medicaid.

So, I like their approach. I just don't like the priorities they demonstrate in the broad brush. Let me just quickly on — the narrow thing is over where to cut defense. And the Republicans are just hugely divided.

MARK SHIELDS: I think they want to increase defense, Judy. It's part of the Republican creed.

And they — for the first time, understandably, they have a real advantage on national security. And it's measured in the polls. We're going into what they hope would be a national security election. But it's also part of what has been the consistent Republican position.

And they now are a more interventionist party than they have been at any time since George W. Bush left office. But I — at the same time, you have got the deficit hawks who really are — it's beyond — they have given a bad name to smoke and mirrors. I mean, they are saying, we're going to report — repeal the Affordable Care Act and we're going to cut — we're going to cut Medicare and Medicaid.

The Senate doesn't do that, the Senate Republicans. They voted for it when they were not in power, but they don't include it as part of their agenda when they are in power. So I think what we're seeing is a lot of back and forth. As long as Republicans won't — won't raise taxes and as long as Democrats won't in any way make entitlements based on need, rather than just across the board, I really think that we're doomed to this deadlock.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. This is like the Middle East. Both parties have to do it together, because it's just too painful to do it alone. So you have just got to get there, and we're not going to get there any time soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the other story out of the Senate this week has to do with holding up the nomination, the confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch, the president's choice to be attorney general.

In fact, the president, in an interview today with Huffington Post, said, don't hold the attorney general nominee hostage for other reasons. It's the top law enforcement job. He's been arguing that they need to break the logjam.

But, Mark, the argument that Democrats are making is — or that Republicans are making is that we're going to hold this up until you pass this human trafficking bill. That's now being held up by language over abortion.

Is there a real difference here, or is it just — is it pure politics?

MARK SHIELDS: It's the Senate at its worst.

The human trafficking bill was reported out unanimously. The Hyde amendment, which has been in power — been in office for 40 years, Judy, prevents the use of public funds for abortion, except in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

And it was on page four, page five of the bill. It's there. And, finally, somebody at one of the pro-choice groups, ever vigilant, gets this language. And it becomes a matter of faith for the Democrats. You have to understand that Republicans are on lockstep on one issue. They will not raise taxes. Democrats are in lockstep on another issue, pro-choice in all cases on abortion.

So they have turned this in — human trafficking is lost. Human trafficking is a human tragedy. It's an outrage against any decent people. It's — the victims are terribly, terribly treated, whether in sex trade or whatever. This is a chance to get them back, to help them, to help local law enforcement do it.

And the Democrats are standing on one side, and the Republicans are playing games on the other. Both sides are playing games. They ought to pass the human trafficking immediately and they ought to confirm Loretta Lynch.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If we had a government that worked, the Republicans would say, OK, the attorney general has nothing to do with human trafficking. We will let her go through. And the Democrats would say, the Hyde amendment, it's always been in these sorts of laws. It has loopholes wide enough to drive a truck through. It doesn't have that much practical effect. We will let that go through.

And both good things would get through. But we don't live in that country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

On a completely different note, I want to say at the end this is basketball — college basketball March Madness. I want to hear from the two of you in less than 30 seconds.

Who are you picking, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: You're obviously talk about men's and women's.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I am, absolutely, always.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, because that's the University of Notre Dame in both. Women are a number one seed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

MARK SHIELDS: Men are a number three seed.

And the key, Judy, is 100 percent graduation rate in both teams, which I think is perhaps standing alone among its competitors in Division I.

DAVID BROOKS: Mark bravely picking his own school.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: It just happens.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just coincidentally.

DAVID BROOKS: It just happens to be a wonderful place.

I'm sticking with Catholics. It's a very good year for Catholics.

MARK SHIELDS: Good Catholics. Pope Francis.

DAVID BROOKS: Villanova. Villanova.

It's very evil to support Kentucky. They're an evil force in the country.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bet you may get some mail over that.

DAVID BROOKS: Villanova.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Villanova is going to win men's.

I — I don't know if I'm sexist, though I have not paid much attention to the women's bracket. I'm pretty sure University of Connecticut is in there, so I'm going to be for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They are very much in there, all right, along with other great schools.

We will continue this conversation next Friday. David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.