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Brooks and Marcus on executive action precedent, prospective presidential candidates

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    From a failed vote in the Senate to green-light the Keystone pipeline, to the president’s call to arms on immigration, it was another week of conflict among the politically powerful.

    To analyze it all, Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

    And we welcome you both.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, now that you have had a whole day to think about it, David, how is the president’s announcement on immigration sitting?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I have utterly changed my mind. It’s a great thing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, I still think it’s terrible.

    First, constitutionally, my paper did a good story on whether this was constitutional. And the White House did get 10 pretty serious legal scholars to say it was. There’s a vast number who think it wasn’t. And so I guess the legal scholars are divided.

    I think the ones who think it was an unprecedented grab of executive power are probably on the right side, but that’s me. Politically, we have had four years without a single law being passed in this country, a major piece of legislation. We’re now going to have two more.

    This is going to end. This is going to — this period of gridlock is going to end some day, and people will actually cooperate, they will do things, they will build coalitions, they will pass things by a majority vote by the way the Constitution designed.

    But what happened last night will make that harder and push that date further on. The sort of unilateral action the president took will make passing immigration reform harder and it will make other reform harder.

    The number one issue in this country is restoring the legitimacy of government. And I don’t care whether he thinks he was — whether the president thinks he was justified or not. By the way, the Republicans did — and the somebody have certainly behaved as obstructionists at times. Somebody’s going to step out of this cycle, and he just embedded the cycle another few feet deeper.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I want to get to the bigger picture in a minute.

    But for immigration — from the standpoint of just immigration, Ruth, what do you see?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Well, it’s hard these days to vote against gridlock in Washington. Nobody ever went broke voting on the theory that we’re going to have more gridlock.

    And so I think David is right on that. On the immigration front, I think I see it slightly differently than David, which is I thought the president made two very powerful points last night. The first is the humanitarian point on the implications of just allowing this situation to fester, which both of us obviously feel is a problem.

    The second is to put what he did in context of what presidents, Republican and Democrat, have done before on immigration. And so there I think you’re a little bit overstating the case of the president overstepping his executive authority.

    And the final important thing that happened yesterday wasn’t what the president said, but what he did, because they didn’t just have the 10 legal scholars. And we can argue about how many legal scholars each side has. They put out a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel explaining and supporting the legality of what the president did.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I have some concerns along the lines of what David has about what I call the constitutional prudence of what he did. I have fewer doubts about the legality. My concern is what future presidents are going to — how future presidents are going to use this precedent to do other things, to ignore other laws.

    But, on immigration, maybe the time just had to come to act.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, David, should more to have the focus be on the constitutional question and legality, or should more of the focus be, OK, it’s happened, let’s deal with it politically?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    Well, first, I think it should be on the Constitution. As I say, the number one issue — there are two issues. One is the substance of the status of the five million people who are affected. And on the substance, I’m totally with the president on that.

    But the larger issue is, do people have faith in the government, does our government function, does our legislative process function? And the Constitution is not just a legal argument. It is a set of norms and practices. And it’s also — it’s a political document. And it seems to me that what the president did violated the spirit of the politics of that document, which is that we go through the legislative process.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    But in terms of faith in government, David, I guess I just have to argue with you a little bit, though I share your concerns.

    When people see government not functioning, their concern is not what the checks and balances are between the branches. Maybe it should be. Their concern is, there is a problem, there is an injustice, there is a health care portal that doesn’t work. We want to see that work. There are people flowing through the border.

    It’s not — they want government to act and act effectively. Here, I think, you could make an argument that the president was acting in a way to restore some faith in the ability of government to rectify injustices.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, I disagree with that.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    All right. Well…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    So, we don’t have a government of a dictatorship. We don’t even have a parliamentary system. So you don’t get one person saying it’s my way or the highway. Pass the bill.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Of course you don’t. Of course you don’t.

    The question, though, is he does have this document from the Office of Legal Counsel. They serve — their job is to sort of serve presidents of both parties. They tell him, you can do this and this, you can’t go this far, you can’t help the families of the dreamers.

    He stuck by that. So I kind of have a hard time completely dinging him, the way you do.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    OK.

    Well, but…

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    We’re just going to hijack this whole thing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we want to hear you two argue this out.

    Finish your point.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    His first three years basically were the opposite position of what he has now, semi, at least semi.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Semi.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    At least semi.

    And we will have one day. OK. We have one day where maybe five million people get helped, but we’re now going to live with another two years where on a zillion other issues nothing is going to happen.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Was anything going to happen on those zillion issues absent this?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Potentially. Potentially.

    A couple things on trade policy could have happened, a couple things on patent reform, which is boring, but important, maybe tax reform. And there was a sincere attempt I think by the Republicans, not only out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of their own self-interests, to have normal budget rules, to have a budget process that worked, and a congressional process that looked normal where bills went into committee, they came out of the committee, they were voted on by the floor.

    They really wanted to do that. That is probably not going to happen now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You’re saying — but you’re blaming — and you’re blaming it on the president’s decision?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Not only on the president.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    And I’m going to be uncharacteristically optimistic here in this sense.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    I’m going to be pessimistic in the sense that Washington is and was and will remain for the most part gridlocked, whether or not the president did this.

    But I would also argue that all of the things that — all of the forces that gave the Republicans an interest in showing that they could govern, showing that they could pass laws, showing that they could be effective prevail even in the face of this action.

    It certainly doesn’t make it easier. It certainly makes it harder. But I would point there on — to things like getting trade agreements passed. There, the president disagrees with the base of his party. He can make a coalition with the Republicans. There are still reasons on that and on getting the normal budget process done to actually at least hope for some progress.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And isn’t there disagreement, seriously, among Republicans over how to deal with this?

    Some are them are ready to just slam the door and say, we’re not doing anything, we’re going to sue the president, we’re going to impeach the president. And others are saying, no, we recognize this has happened, and we have got — there are some things that we want to do business with…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right.

    And I think there’s the Michele Bachmanns of the world. I don’t know what they want to do, chop off New York and Illinois and send it off to another country or something.

    But the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells are not going to let that happen. There is not going to be a government shutdown. They’re probably not even — going to fund the immigration agencies that are involved in this. So, the extreme will not happen. The Republican Party has changed a lot in the last year. It’s a much more establishment party.

    The leadership is back in control. But they will have to do something. And they will have to change their posture. And their confrontation with the president over the budget issues to come will just be more hostile, because the tit for tat of hostility has increased.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, meanwhile, they’re suing the president over health care. This was this lawsuit that was threatened some months ago. And now that is finally under way.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Right.

    And my attitude towards that is, fine, go ahead and sue. It’s actually — it’s not going anywhere, I’m sorry to say. There’s a lot of rules that courts have that say basically, we don’t want to get involved in refereeing your disputes between these two branches, so leave us alone.

    But if that drains off some of the energy, I say, go ahead. Don’t only sue him over health care. Sue him over this, too.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let’s — OK, let’s…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Lawyers are always for suits.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, 2016, I just…

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    I have a good law firm to suggest also.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Can’t do it on this show.

  • All right, we want to show everybody. There was at least one person who came out in support of the president. And that was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tweeted just an hour or two before the president’s remarks, she said:

    “Thanks to POTUS for taking action on immigration, in the face of inaction. Now let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform.”

    All right, 2016, David, everybody expects that she’s going to run. But my question is about the Republicans. How much are they hurt, or are they, by taking this — this very anti-position on immigration right now?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    In 2016, they are not hurt. They might be hurt in 2024 or 2030, but I don’t think they will be hurt particularly. The electorate this past election was 75 percent white. And the American whites are overwhelmingly Republican.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    That was a midterm, you think?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    That was a midterm, yes.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, that’s true. But — so they will be hurt, but I don’t think that will be a — the ruinous thing that it will be in the years to come. They still have the long-range problem, but I don’t think it will be crucial thing in the next — even in this presidential.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Boy, it can’t make it easier.

    And it seems to me that the question that’s going to be asked during Republican primaries in every single debate is, will you rescind what the president did to help five million people, some of whom, children and spouses and everything will be able to vote?

    And they’re all going to have to say, yes, I will rescind it. And they will compete to explain how quickly they are going to rescind it. And that is not going to be good for the Republican Party.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. We will see.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Meanwhile, I think there is going to be pressure on the Democratic candidates.

    It’s interesting. Hillary Clinton had been under pressure from some Hispanic groups to press the president to act before the election. I think she is going to be asked, will you go further, will you go further, what more will you do?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it — let’s look at those.

    You have already got some Republicans. It’s only two weeks almost since the midterms. You have already got Republicans out there talking about whether they’re going to — or people talking about whether they’re going to run, whether it’s Jeb Bush. John Kasich won by 30 points in the state of Ohio, won reelection.

    Are we beginning, David, to see the shape of who may run on the Republican side? We know, on the Democratic side, Jim Webb, the former United States senator from Virginia, formed an exploratory committee.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I don’t know how much a threat you think he is to Hillary Clinton.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right.

    Well, on the Republican side, the great and the good are hoping for Jeb Bush, very pro-immigration, by the way. And I think he would…

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    … Jeb Bush.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    If he runs, he would be strong.

    John Kasich has been undertalked about. He is — knows Washington very well, was a senior budget official, a congressman. He has been a very successful governor, very popular, won by huge margins in the swingiest of the swing states, has strong connections in among religious conservatives, is just quirky enough for a country that’s kind of angry, but just establishment enough for a country that doesn’t want a crazy person.

    I think he’s actually — the more you think about John Kasich, the — the well-positioned I think he is. Webb is fascinating. He’s a Jacksonian. He’s a Scots-Irish Jacksonian. I’m not sure those people exist anymore in the Democratic Party.

    But it would be fascinating for him to run. He would run from the left. And the big room for Hillary is on — he would run from the right of Hillary.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    The big room is on the left. And we will see if anybody leaps into that, aside from Bernie Sanders.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you see any outlines out there?

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    So, I think Kasich is really interesting, I think especially if Jeb Bush decides not the run. There was — the Republican Party would do well to think really seriously about John Kasich, said pro things about immigration, even this week at the Republican Governors Association, supports Common Core, expanded Medicaid in his state.

    Those are some pretty interesting positions for a Republican. Jim Webb, if I were Hillary Clinton, I would lose not a nanosecond of sleep about Jim Webb.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    I think a man who wrote an article called “Women Can’t Fight,” albeit in 1979, who supported don’t ask, don’t tell in 2006 is not going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And somebody remembers all this.

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    Somebody remembers.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Her name is Ruth Marcus.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ruth Marcus, David Brooks…

  • RUTH MARCUS:

    That’s because I can fight.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You certainly can.

    And David Brooks, we thank you both.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I’m a lover, not a fighter.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thanks.

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