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Political Analysts Discuss President Bush on North Korea, Connecticut Primaries

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss President Bush's tough stance on North Korea at a news conference in Chicago Friday and Joe Lieberman's chances at winning the Democratic bid in the Connecticut primaries.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    David, President Bush, he celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday in Chicago, added to it today by having a nationally televised news conference. Is this a new way to get the message out?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I guess so.

    I guess, first, I'm proud or — you know, I'm proud that he, at an advanced stage of 60, can still function. I'm sort of impressed by that. That's really old.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And, in Chicago, your…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    In Chicago.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Where you used to live and work.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And I spent this week there in Chicago.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it is.

    I mean, the White House said, first of all, it was an attempt to get out of the nothing Washington press corps. I'm not sure he avoided the Washington press corps. But it was an attempt, A, get to a city that's actually doing very well, creating a lot of jobs. And Chicago does look fabulous, compared to when I lived there.

    It was also an attempt just to, you know, get outside. And the message I took away from the press conference was, first, I was struck by the number of the times the president said, you got to have patience. This was mostly on foreign policy matters, on North Korea, on Iraq, on Iran. It was about all diplomacy and patience. And that was a theme that would have been unusual four years ago for President Bush.

    The other thing was immigration. And he was very strong on immigration. And this is — I have been hearing around town that — I had thought a week ago that immigration was dead, that the chance of some sort of comprehensive reform was dead. But the White House…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Because — because the House version and the Senate version couldn't be reconciled.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    … irreconcilable.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And I still wouldn't bet on it.

    But the White House has really redoubled their efforts. There have been signs of movement in the Senate from Arlen Specter, and even in the House. So, I think there is a chance that they are going to make a serious push in September to get something.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How do you read what the president is doing now?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think there's always a certain appeal to try something different when things aren't going well.

    And the idea of getting out of Washington, get away from the beltway…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But he was asked some really tough questions today.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He was asked some very tough questions.

    And I was just — I was surprised. I mean, the Associated Press called the president's performance rambling. And I thought the opening 15-minute statement was, quite frankly, rambling. It didn't seem to be — have a — bring a laser-like focus to it.

    And the president, at one point, said that's the fourth time this week I have been asked about — fourth day in a row I have been asked about North Korea.

    Well, you know, it's kind of not a big surprise that you would be asked about North Korea four days in a row.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And I — like David, I was struck by his counseling patience and diplomacy. I mean, you would have thought you were listening to, you know, Adlai Stevenson or something…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … that we can — can't we all work this out?

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How did you think he handled that? Because he was asked very directly — I'm paraphrasing, but the direct question was: Hey, wait a minute. You're saying patience with North Korea and Iran. You didn't do that with Iraq.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And he had an answer.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, he did have an answer. He and — it's a very good question, because if you had an absolute certainty about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, or making, and we went.

    Now, I mean, if anything, that axis of evil the president described, Iraq didn't have weapons. We went after them. North Korea has, at least by all assessment, has that capacity, the capability. We have stayed away from them.

    And Iran, following the lead of North Korea, is saying: They didn't lay a glove on them, so, we're trying to get them.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I thought the president, particularly his exchange with Suzanne Malveaux of CNN, who asked that question about, gee, six years later, Mr. President, it doesn't seem to be working, your policy, because they have strengthened their nuclear — well, where did you get that information? I mean, he really — it got pretty, I thought, tense there.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    He was talking about North Korea's — policy toward it.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    North Korea, that's right. Exactly.

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