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Shields and Brooks on Biden’s 2020 launch, Trump stonewalling Congress

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week’s news, including Joe Biden’s entrance into the 2020 presidential campaign, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s policy proposal on student loans and the adversarial dynamic between the White House and Congress over investigations into the Trump administration.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The 2020 Democratic presidential primary field continued to fill up this week. Former Vice President Joe Biden's entrance into the race was just one of several political stories this week, bringing us, as always, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you. It's Friday.

    So let's talk about Joe Biden. He finally is in the race, David. And it was interesting, his message, the launch video message yesterday contrasting himself with President Trump and Charlottesville and a president who would condone the kind of violence in Charlottesville.

    What did you make of that?

  • David Brooks:

    I thought it was a smart strategy.

    First, if you're a Democrat and you think all we have to do is nominate someone normal, and not screw this up, we can beat Trump, and Joe Biden is normal, and the country knows him. He's been through it all before. So him vs. Trump, if you just want to beat Trump, he's probably your safest bet. That's a pretty good argument.

    Second, I actually like the way he made this all about values. I mean, there are a lot of other things that are going to go on this campaign, but what America stands for and what our values are is a central one. And he really made it about that.

    And then he really wrapped himself around the Constitution, the American founding, and said, this is not who we are.

    And so if you're worried the Democrats sort of don't like the founding documents or something like that, then he said, no, we're American, we like the documents, we just want to live up to them.

    The one risky thing in the announcement was the emphasis on restoration, that we're going to restore what we had. And there's a very forward focus in the electorate right now. So that one, I think, might have been a little off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Mark, and the stark choice that he seemed to put forward?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it's the best way for Joe Biden to run.

    I think that he made it a Biden not against the rest of the field, but a Biden against Trump. There was almost implicit in it a campaign I didn't cover, but should have, and that was the 1920 campaign of Warren Harding, return to normalcy.

    There was almost a sense that we have been in the abnormal. Let's become normal. And I think Joe Biden, sort of the organizing premise of the campaign is a line that Joe Biden himself used in defense of Barack Obama, when Obama was being criticized by Democrats for not having lived up to his mission and his mandate in the first term.

    And he said, compare him not to the almighty, compare him to the alternative. And that's what he's asking, compare me to the alternative, Donald Trump.

    And I think that makes sense for Joe Biden's candidacy, and there's a logic to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So he got some good news to start out with. First 24 hours, I think we reported, he raised $6.3 million. It's a little bit more than Beto O'Rourke and Bernie Sanders raised.

    But he has also ran into some headwinds. He went on this television show on ABC this morning, very popular show called "The View." And they asked him about the issues you would expect, the Anita Hill hearings, where she still holds him accountable for what happened, and, most recently, the women who accused Joe Biden of being too familiar, touching them when they didn't ask to be touched.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I wanted to just quickly show an excerpt of what he had to say when he talked — when they talked about it.

  • Joseph Biden:

    I'm really sorry if they — what I did in talking to them and trying to counsel, that, in fact, they took it a different way.

    And it's my responsibility to make sure that I bend over backwards to try to understand how not to do that.

  • Question:

    Nancy Pelosi wants you to say, I'm sorry that I invaded your space.

  • Joseph Biden:

    Sorry I invaded your space. I am. I'm sorry this happened.

    But I'm not sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, that wasn't good enough for some of the women this morning. And then the reaction on social media, women were saying, wait a minute, he should have just directly apologized.

  • David Brooks:

    He could have, yes, but I think he wanted to say this was not a sexual thing.

    And I totally agree that. Joe Biden's invaded my space plenty of time. That's just the way Joe Biden is. And when it's across genders, then it becomes a different — a more sensitive subject, obviously.

    And so his answer, I think, was the right one. He's just an ebullient kind of guy who is — you know, who grabs you. But he's — I think he's aware that this is not the way things are done now, in an era where we're much more sensitive about sexual harassment. You just can't behave that way.

    And so the not-good intent, but combined with, I have learned the new situation, I think that's a reasonably fair option.

    There's one thing I have been thinking about with Biden over the last 24 hours, is that, if you looked at twitter, you would think nobody supports Joe Biden. And yet he's number one in the fund-raising.

    And you have got this weird phenomenon where the Republican elites are kind of moderate. They'd be happy with Mitt Romney. But the grassroots are radicalized. On the Democratic side, the elites are kind of radicalized, but the grassroots are a little more moderate.

    And so you have got these two different situations in the two parties.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So how is he navigating this, Mark? And could it be a problem with women voters?

  • Mark Shields:

    I guess it could be, Judy.

    I'd say this, that 46 years in Washington, a city that lives by innuendo and thrives on rumors, none about Joe Biden. I mean, Joe Biden lived an exemplary life in terms of straying from marital values or anything of the sort. And I think it's important to emphasize that.

    I think what he fails to do in his answer is to come up, quite frankly, with a disciplined answer, which ought to be three sentences, and it ought to be one paragraph, and he shouldn't deviate from it.

    Just as an example, not bookend, George W. Bush, when he was about to run for president in 2000, faced charges about his own misspent youth all the way up to the age of 40. And he had a simple answer every time someone came up, what about the drunk driving? What about this fight you got into?

    He had a simple answer. When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish. After a while, reporters got tired of asking. Joe Biden has to — not something quite that glib, but something that — times have changed, I have changed.

    I think there's a big difference between invading someone's space and a hand on the shoulder and Anita Hill. The Anita Hill — the Anita Hill has not been handled well by Biden so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying all he needs is a disciplined response?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think — and the same one, so that he doesn't deviate from it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask about one of the other Democrats this week.

    Elizabeth Warren got a little bit out front. Bernie Sanders talked a lot about free college in 2016. But Elizabeth Warren this week came up with a plan, David, which, in so many words, makes college almost free, public college almost free for students who need help.

    Does that set her apart in a significant way, or what?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I respect her, because she's had a whole series of serious policy proposals which have been thin on the ground for some of the candidates.

    But this particular one is a very terrible idea. College graduates are among the wealthiest people and the well-off people in our society. We should not be subsidizing college graduates. The top quarter earners hold 50 percent of the student debt.

    So if we start forgiving student debt, we're really helping people who are going to be doctors and lawyers. She could have had a plan where you only forgive $10,000 worth of debt, which, A, would have been much cheaper, and, B, would have helped the people who really need it, those who have racked up debt, but never got a degree, who are still struggling.

    And she didn't do that. And maybe she had ideological reasons, but there's an obvious political reason, is that Democratic primary voters are pretty well-educated. And this goes right at the core of the Democratic primary electorate, but it seems to me a very foolish plan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about it, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think there's a couple.

    I think, first of all, Elizabeth Warren does deserve credit. She's won the ideas primary. I mean, she's been specific. She's been bold. She's laid them out.

    This is a problem, Judy, make no mistake about it. College debt today is a bigger debt than is the mortgage debt carried by Americans. It's bigger than auto loans. It is a public policy dilemma, and just a time bomb that is really affecting decisions, professional life decisions that people make.

    In the first 100 years of the California system, the best public educational higher education system in the world, not a penny was charged for tuition.

    Now, what happened? In the last — in the last three decades in this country, the cost of public college education has increased 300 percent. The cost of private education has increased twice, 200 percent. And this is — this is an attempt to confront that problem and the consequences of that problem.

    I don't think it's the total answer, but at least it's dealing with, I think, a very serious public policy question that both parties have essentially avoided.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She's putting — she's putting a proposal out there, whether it's too much, not enough, but we're talking about it.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly to the reaction to the Mueller report, David.

    Still a lot of conversation around it. Democrats aren't moving full-blown ahead with impeachment, but they are picking up — they're asking people to testify, they're calling for documents.

    The White House reaction, the president's reaction is, no way, we're not giving you anything.

    Who comes out ahead in this?

  • David Brooks:

    I think the Democrats do in this case.

    We have a long historical precedent that Congress has oversight responsibility for the executive branch. I mean, that's as old as the hills. And if that comes under question, if they can't call an executive branch official to hearing and ask, how did you do your job, well, then that really does undermine our system.

    And so I'm not wild about impeachment. But I am earnest about forcing the executive branch to submit to the way we do things in this country, which is to have oversight hearings and to answer calls when members of Congress asked you to come up to the Hill and explain your — explain yourself.

    And so I think the Democrats should be pretty forceful on this one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, the president, the White House — the president himself is saying, we're not giving you anything. We're not giving you tax returns. I don't — I'm not going to let you talk to my former White House counsel Don McGahn, the man who was in charge of personnel.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm not going to tell you my favorite color, my favorite movie, nothing, no.

    Stonewalling, Judy. And I think what we have in that — in that stonewalling is Donald trump really, I think, publicly wrestling with his reaction to the Mueller report.

    He's gone from alternating being the chest-thumping, triumphant victor, I'm exonerated, no obstruction, no collusion, to, I'm the poor beleaguered victim that these 18 lawyers came after, spending money and time to get me. I'm the victim.

    And I just — I don't think he's quite got his own footing on this. And, obviously, his administration doesn't. But I think what he wants to do is play out the clock, it looks like, heading into 2020, that that's what he's going to play.

    Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were both elected with minority of the vote, and both of them did in two terms what a wise president does. They enlarged the point where 65 percent of the country approved of their performance after two terms . They enlarged.

    Donald Trump each day narrows his base, and maybe he solidifies it, but it gets narrower and smaller, instead of trying to reach out to get a majority. And I think this is an example of it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we keep saying this every week, David. I mean, his base loves what he's doing. They love the fact that he's basically saying no way to the…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. No, it does work for his base.

    And impeachment would work to the Democratic base. The Democratic partisans are pretty pro-impeachment. A recent Washington Post poll shows that independents are not.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • David Brooks:

    And the majority of Americans do not want to vote on the impeachment.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • David Brooks:

    They think, generally, it's a waste of time, let's focus on the actual issues that we care about.

    And I'm sure that's where the core of the electorate is. But the Democrats also have a bit of a base problem there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so how do — so, Mark, do the Democrats just keep asking and asking until they're blue in the face?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think they ought to be disciplined in their asking.

    I think Nancy — Nancy Pelosi has a problem with that caucus. I mean, the caucus is the loudest and many — the most glamorous voices in it come from single-party districts, where they don't have to worry about primaries.

    And the voters that David mentions are worried about the cost of prescription drugs. They're worried about medical care. And the Democratic Party better be seen as responding to that and addressing it, and not simply pursuing Donald Trump with five different committees.

    But I think it has to be far more disciplined and far more focused than it has been so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to — a few seconds — we're going to watch this play out.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, but I hope at least they take it to court.

    I think the courts, the legal experts say, the Trump administration is in a losing position.

  • Mark Shields:

    I agree.

  • David Brooks:

    This is just firm established — it has to be established, because the — we have three branches of government. The Congress and the executive sort of work together. But Congress has that oversight power that has to be protected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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