Shields and Gerson on Clinton’s email problem, Senate sabotage of Iran negotiations

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

So, let's talk about those e-mails. I want to read all of your e-mail. No.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about Hillary Clinton's…Let's talk about Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

Mark, did she answer all the questions out there with her news conference this week?

MARK SHIELDS: No, of course not, Judy.

The questions will keep coming and keep coming. But there was one result of it that just hit me so hard. And that is the great advice, beware of any national leader — and I don't limit this to Secretary Clinton, by any means — but who doesn't have close to him or her contemporary friends and confidants who can tell them when necessary they're absolutely wrong and go to hell.

And very few presidents — Jerry Ford did, to his everlasting credit. He was an enormously emotionally secure man. Ronald Reagan chose Jim Baker to be his chief of staff, who had run two campaigns against him, as examples of that sort of emotional security and stability.

I just ask Mrs. Clinton, who in your retinue, among your group of advisers, when you had the idea of having a personal computer e-mail service of your own, an individual one, who didn't say, are you out of your "expletive deleted" mind?  This is politically indefensible and probably morally indefensible and may be legally problematic.

And I guess that is what really bothers me. And I think that's a question that persists even after all the details, whether the relevance or irrelevance of the e-mails turns out to be anything at all legally or substantively. That is a real problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the questions?  Did she answer any of the questions?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the proper word for the press conference, it was really brazen. It was bold. She went out there. She had total control over her e-mails in a private server while she was serving in government.

She decided — she and her people decided what should be revealed and what should be eliminated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which, by the way, that's what government employees..

MICHAEL GERSON: But it ended up eliminating 30,000 e-mails, OK?

And real questions about how this took place. It was just done through keyword searches. That's the way they decided what to eliminate and what not to. I think it raised a lot of questions there.

So she had people advising her, Democrats, who thought that she should be transparent, she should turn over her server, she should have an independent authority review this. And she completely rejected that advice. This was the equivalent — I mean, some people advised Richard Nixon he should have burned the tapes on the front lawn of the White House. This was the digital equivalent. She burned the tapes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I mean, so what are we left with?  Mark, you said she made a huge mistake in the first place. Where does she go from here?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think this is a question that is going to nag at Democrats. Is this going to be — we're seeing it right at the outset, that relations with the press are frosty, to the point of arctic, and that there is a sense, not simply from this, but that we're going back into let's go to the barricades. It's let's circle the wagons.

There's a certain mentality that way. We're not going to take anything. And I think in a nation that is as polarized politically as we are, as acrimonious as it has become, I think this is really not the atmosphere that you want to create. She is not the only person who has an e-mail problem, by any means. Every candidate on the Republican side has an e-mail.

And they have made unilateral — Governor Bush made unilateral decisions on what was personal. Governor Walker has persistent problems. But I'm just talking about the approach.

And Michael's seat 22 years ago sat David Gergen, who went over to the White House having worked for President Reagan, Bush and Ford to work for President Clinton. Whitewater was then the big thing.


MARK SHIELDS: David said, put out all the information, put it out, just let out that information. And they basically ignored him and didn't take his advice. And that's sort of a measure of loyalty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how does she get beyond this, or does she?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I don't think this is fatal, by any stretch of the imagination.


MICHAEL GERSON: In fact, it may have worked. The strategy may well have worked. If the e-mails are destroyed, you know, members of Congress may demand the server, you know, to seize the server. We will see how that happens.

But it may well have worked. But I do think Hillary Clinton has no rivals in the party, no serious rivals, no second-tier rivals. And, you know, this is a case where an overwhelming favorite is now causing serious concerns among Democrats about the quality of their candidate.

There are some Democrats even talking and writing now, saying she might benefit from a challenge. It might sharpen her skills. It might reintroduce her to elements of a party that she hasn't been close to in a long time. So, I think that she is the overwhelming favorite and she is raising concerns in her own party.

MARK SHIELDS: She's over 80 percent favorable among Democrats.


MARK SHIELDS: Even — yes, there's nothing…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about another — another story that was very much out there this week, the letter, Mark, 47 Republican senators sending a letter to the leadership in Iran saying, be careful, don't sign a nuclear deal with the United States.

Was this — were they well-advised to sign this, to do this?

MARK SHIELDS: A respected national columnist with impeccable conservative credentials wrote of this letter, "In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about Republicans' capacity to govern."

And just by accident, Michael happens to be here, the author of those words.


MARK SHIELDS: I think he said it very well.

This, Judy, was more than a faux pas or a slip-up. I think it is a reflection of Mitch McConnell in a really negative way, that his leadership is defective. The fact that he didn't even consult with the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of his own party, who opposed this and was trying to put together a bipartisan coalition of Democrats who had doubts and skepticism about the Iranian deal, that he just steamrolled it ahead and made it a matter of party loyalty and party unity, and essentially put us in a position where we're at odds with our European allies, who are now doubting the United States and whether, in fact, we're substantive, I mean, it just — whether we're — we can be relied upon in this.

And to sabotage bipartisanship, it was done, effectively, in the Senate, and to sabotage the hopes of any kind of a deal to limit the nuclear building of the Iranians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, you have just been quoted. What more…

MICHAEL GERSON: I know. I can't put it any better than that quote.


MICHAEL GERSON: No, I think that — I talked with some Republican senators today. There's a significant amount of buyer's remorse…


MICHAEL GERSON: … about this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senators who signed it?

MICHAEL GERSON: Exactly, concerns about the process, because some actually signed it on their way out the door to go to airplanes when the snow was coming, that — that that's not the way you do strategy.

That's not the way that you consult within a caucus. I think a lot of Republicans realize that. And you're absolutely right. This has thrown a wrench in a process where Senator Corker was doing outreach to Democrats in order to propose legislation to have the Congress involved in the process of approving a deal.

He was two votes away from a veto-proof majority in the Senate. Now they are going to have to assess this coming week whether that's been undermined by throwing this partisan issue in the middle of this debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are they — just quickly, the bearing on reaching a nuclear deal?  Do you think this is going to affect that?

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I think it's hurtful. It certainly isn't helpful.

I think the president did have a formulation that they have — by this action, they have strengthened the hand of the hard-liners in Tehran. And contrary to Senator Cotton's proclamation, not everybody in Iran is a hard-liner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who was the main author of this, right.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. He said, there's no — everybody is a hard-liner in Iran.

Not everybody is a hard-liner.

MICHAEL GERSON: I'm not sure it's changed the basic dynamics of this negotiation, which is an internal dynamic.

The problem is, the administration really wants a deal, and the other side knows they want a deal. That's the basic problem here. I'm not sure that this changes that dynamic.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, just one point. There are seven nations involved here. I mean, this isn't just the — Barack Obama and the Republican Senate Caucus. This is France and Great Britain and Germany and China and Russia and the United States and Iran trying to come to a deal.

That is a remarkable achievement, if you can pull it off, with those seven countries all agreeing on inspections and a timetable. That's important.

MICHAEL GERSON: And if they don't reach that deal, it's actually important for America to look like it tried hard, that it was reasonable in this process, if it's going to maintain sanctions in the aftermath of a failure.

That's one other reason that I think that the letter was problematic. It looked like Republicans were trying to undermine the deal.

MARK SHIELDS: It was, no question.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Final thing I want to ask you both about, University of Oklahoma fraternity, Mark, racist chant by a group of fraternity members. A couple of them have now been expelled.

But I guess my question is, what does this — and it's a question I put to David Boren, the president of the university, a former governor, this week.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, senator.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does this say about whether we can ever get rid of racism in this country?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, last weekend, we did observe Selma. President Obama was there. President Bush was there and 100 members of Congress.

I was wrong when I said no member of the Republican leadership was there. Kevin McCarthy did go. But — and that was a measure of our progress and that we have come a long way.

But racism knows no zip code. It's not a matter of a time zone or a particular region of the country. And the most disheartening about this, beyond the hate expressed, is that these are young, educated people. We have thought that the next generation — and it has been historically, by every measurement, more enlightened, more tolerant, more…


MARK SHIELDS: … open, less sensitive to race.

MICHAEL GERSON: I would hope that Americans would President Obama's speech at Selma.


MICHAEL GERSON: He really presented well this dynamic of a country that has made huge progress, but is not perfect, that has a national ideal that stands in perpetual judgment of our practice, that, like, leads us forward, and that that ideal has to be passed to the next generation.

That's part of the goal of education.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

MICHAEL GERSON: And it's one reason I think Senator Boren, now president of that university, has done a great job.

He came down like a ton of bricks on this matter.


MICHAEL GERSON: He set the proper moral messages to the students in his care at that university. And, so, I think that he has done a lot to pass this along.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we certainly paid attention to it. And, as he said at the end of that conversation, maybe something good will come out of it, because he said there are now conversations on the campus that weren't happening before.

Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, we thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.