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Brooks and Tumulty on Senate impeachment trial and Jim Lehrer

New York Times columnist David Brooks and The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including how effective House impeachment managers are at making the case for President Trump’s removal, the latest 2020 campaign dynamics in Iowa and the loss and legacy of NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been a historic week.

    Here to weigh what we heard as Democrats make their case to remove President Trump from office, the analysis of Brooks and Tumulty. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty. Mark Shields is away.

    Hello to both of you.

    It has been a historic week, and it's still going on. The Senate is in session tonight. It will be tomorrow.

    David, look back at the week. What do you make of what the Democrats have presented, how they framed the case against the president?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, they were certainly exhaustive. There's been a lot of talk and a lot of…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You say exhaustive?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, both, and ing, exhausting.

    But I think, overall, they have to feel satisfied. I think Adam Schiff proved to be the highlight, just a very good prosecutor, speaker, very clear, knows when to hammer a point home.

    I have to say, if I graded them, I would give them an A on proving that Trump did it. I think the evidence was overwhelming before walking in, but they presented it clearly.

    I would give them a lower grade on, should he be removed from office?

    And to me, for doubting Republicans, if there are any, that's the more important argument to make. I thought they hit that less hard, and, frankly, less well. All my friends loved Adam Schiff's closing comments last night.

    I was a little less impressed. I mean, the two main arguments were — that's when he directly addressed why this is worth removing. And it was, well, Trump believed Giuliani, and not his own intelligence agencies, and he did it out of self-interest.

    That strikes me as true, not a big crime. And then he said, you can't trust Trump in the 2020 election, when China may interfere.

    But you can't impeach for something that hasn't already happened. And so I think the removal part is still a slightly weak case. All Republicans secretly know he did it, some, if there any honest brokers out there, little doubtful about removal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Karen, what do you make of this week?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, I think, though, the longer-term effect of this is, I think, just by the accumulation of material that they have put out there, I do think that Democrats have done a good job in proving that this wasn't a frivolous exercise, that this wasn't some sort of impulsive thing that they were doing and, as the Republicans keep saying, to overturn the results of the last election.

    And the other thing is, the line out of Schiff's closing argument that really struck me, as people keep talking about the institutional imperatives here, where he said, the frameworks couldn't protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don't matter.

    Well, I think that that does sort of speak to where we find ourselves, where the thing the framers worried about the most, factionalism, seems to trump everything else, to use a verb.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And that's a — it's an interesting case, because I agree with Karen. It's sort of a moral critique. And it's a big — like, if honesty doesn't matter, does our Constitution work? And if loyalty to the country doesn't outweigh loyalty to party, does our Constitution work?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And they kept coming back to that.

  • David Brooks:

    And so that's a moral case.

    The question to me, do we then think — how much do we think of this as a legal thing, and how much do we think as a moral thing?

    I'd be a little wary of removing a president because we find him morally objectionable. I mean, I think these are all great arguments for not to vote for the guy, but to do a Washington legal process of a removal.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Except the outcome of this has been preordained.

    And so it isn't like the House managers really have any…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean because they have the majority.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Right.

    And they're probably not even going to get any Republican votes, enough of them, to bring witnesses in.

    So I think that the House managers are not making this argument because they think that they are somehow going to change what everybody knows the outcome of this is going to be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you still have — I mean, back to your point earlier, David, you still have Republican senators — I interviewed Deb Fischer of Nebraska this afternoon — who say they're not even ready to accept the premise that the president tried to persuade the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, that she said that hasn't been proven yet.

    If that's the case, they — it seems to me they still have a way to go.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I mean, this is the interesting counterfactual. Suppose they had a president who was a reasonable human being who could say, I messed up, I apologize, I'm — make it up to Ukraine, but don't — it's not worth removing.

    And this was sort of the Clinton approach during that impeachment process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    But Trump has laid down the law that it's going to be all or nothing.

    And that recall — that requires a massive denial of reality on behalf of all Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it enough, Karen, for the Republicans to simply come back and say, this is — to basically repeat what the president's been saying, this is a hoax, there's nothing here, let's move on?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I wonder, too, though.

    They're also likely to say that there has to be, as we keep hearing the phrase, underlying crime beneath these impeachment articles. I'm not sure that constitutional scholars would necessarily agree with this.

    But, essentially, I think that that is the argument that we are going to hear a lot of from the president's team.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Over the next few days.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And there was a Wall Street Journal editorial today which said, this is — it's setting the wrong standard for removing a president, that he did something in his own political interests. All presidents do that. That might — that seemed to foreshadow the argument that we will hear from their lawyers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying they're going to have to mount some kind of a defense here, that they can't just dismiss it all as a waste of our time?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    But it's going to be — the hardest thing for them to do is to be — is to deny the facts of what the president actually said in this phone call.

    You know, what Deb Fischer told you aside, it's very clear what the president's intent was in that phone call.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, while all this is going on, there are four senators, David, who are running for president who, if it weren't for this impeachment trial, would be campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    And, by the way we are today, I think, 10 days away from the Iowa caucuses. What do we know about the race right now, to the extent we can — we know anything? There's clearly some polls, but how does that race look?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think both Sanders and Biden are looking stronger and stronger by the day. Somehow, there seems to be coalition around those two senators.

    I think the senators that are now forced to be in Washington are going to suffer because of this. I think it's a small electorate in Iowa. The last minute really changes things. And actual rallies and encounters actually do change things in Iowa.

    And so I think it's a serious disadvantage for Klobuchar, Warren and Sanders in particular, and that they will just have to struggle with it.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    And this year potentially more so in these final days than normal.

    If you look at the polling, you have a really large number of Iowans who have not really nailed down their candidate choice. They — up to 60 percent are saying that they either haven't made up their minds at all, or they sort of have in mind who they might want to vote for, but they could always be talked out of it.

    That is what these last days are for. So, I agree with you.

    And I think the person who may be most hurt by this is Amy Klobuchar, because hers has been a — such an Iowa-centric strategy. I mean, she is really looking for a breakthrough there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I think the last time you and I e-mailed, it was about maybe a week-and-a-half ago. You were in Iowa.

    Do you pick up on the ground, talking to people, why it is that Biden and Sanders are the most appealing? Is there a — I mean, these are two men with very different approaches to government.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think it's the hearts vs. the heads.

    It's that people who are in this for Bernie Sanders are extremely — they are passionate about their decision. And the people who are coming around to the vice president are pragmatic in their decisions. They just think that he's the guy who can go the distance with Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And defeat him. And defeat him.

    But, David, it's — we're watching. I don't know. We are all hoping to get to Iowa at some point before — before the caucuses, but we will see what happens with the impeachment trial.

    The last thing I want to bring up is somebody David knows very, very well.

    And, Karen, you knew Jim Lehrer as well.

    But, David, you came to this program when Jim was the anchor. And we lost him yesterday. He died in his sleep.

    It's a huge loss for all of us at the "NewsHour."

    Tell us a little bit about the Jim Lehrer you knew.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, I did 10 years in this building with him face to face and with Mark.

    And the story I always tell is, I was a budding young version of this. And when I would say something that he thought he liked, that met the standards of the "NewsHour," his eyes would crinkle in pleasure. I'd see this little twinkle.

    And then when I said something that was a little crass and not worthy of the "NewsHour," I would see his mouth turn down in displeasure.

    So, for 10 years, I just chased the crinkle, and I tried to avoid the mouth downturn.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And — but, in that subtle way, without ever saying a word, he taught me how to do this.

    And he set a standard of excellence. And, of course, it wasn't just me. It was all of us who work in this building. And so he created this moral ecology where we understood what was the right way to do this. And that lives on today.

    And what could be greater than passing down a moral ecology that defines what excellence is?

    And the final thing I would just like to say is, off the air, he was way wilder than he was on the air.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Than anybody ever knew by watching him on TV.

  • David Brooks:

    Much funnier, and so — very big person.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's interesting you use the term moral ecology, because, last night, I interviewed Robert MacNeil, who, of course, is his longtime co-founder, co-anchor, who used the term, I think, moral intelligence.

    He said, he was very smart, but he had a moral intelligence. He applied what was right to everything he did.

    Karen, you followed his career as another journalist in this city.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I did, and admired him as…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Texas.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    … as a fellow San Antonian, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right. That's right.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think it was — it was sort of a wonderful, almost historical coincidence that he and the "NewsHour" came along when they did, right before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and then that we have seen accelerate even so much more with social media.

    I mean, what he really understood is that you need to take time. You need to sometimes pause. You need to go deeper into a subject. You need to ask why and how.

    And that is what really would be lost these days, if it weren't for people like Jim Lehrer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's something that — there's a lot of discussion right now, David, about what's happened to the news media. We're being challenged by the president and others, who say we are — we are biased, we're not doing the job we should be doing, and that — and that the news is flying by too fast.

    So, it seems to me the principles that Jim laid down are really important ones for us to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    One of the great dinner parties I ever went to in my life was with Jim, his wife, Kate, and Robin, and Bob Schieffer. And they talked about Dallas November 22, 1963, where they were all there. Dan Rather was there, not at the dinner, but — and they just — you realized, they covered all those events from Dallas to Obama.

    And it was a generation of journalism at its finest. And some people have said it's the passing of an era. And, in some ways, it is, but we're still here. And we try to carry on in that tradition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. It's — they had quite a remarkable — quite a remarkable history.

    Well, we will carry on at the "NewsHour," but it's — it's clearly a loss that — a loss that we mark.

    Karen Tumulty, thank you very much. David Brooks, thank you.

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