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Shields and Brooks on Biden’s allegation denial, what states need to fight COVID-19

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s new public denial of a sexual assault allegation against him, congressional action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and where the country stands on lifting business restrictions and stay-at-home orders.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    David, let's start with these allegations against the former vice president and his response to them today.

    What do you make of all this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think we should keep an open mind.

    On the one hand, she made them contemporaneously. She told people at the time that this had happened, and so that has some persuasive evidence to it.

    On the other hand, she said that she told three members of the Biden staff, including Ted Kaufman, his chief of staff, and they do not remember any such conversation, and they are convinced that, if they had such a conversation, it would be seared into their memory.

    And then I guess the second point on the Biden side is that Biden is — has many flaws. I have covered him for many years. Cruelty is not one of them. Dehumanization is not one of them.

    And so I think, for a lot of his colleagues and a lot of people who've just known him, it seems uncharacteristic.

    But that's not to say we should close the book on it. We should see if there is this complaint. We should see if there are other victims. I guess Ms. Reade is going to speak over the weekend. And so I think it's important to hear out these allegations, but not take them as prima facie truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what do you make of this? I mean, Biden acknowledges that he has said in the past that women are to be believed.

  • Mark Shields:

    He has, Judy. And that is very much the position of the Democratic Party, and certainly was in the Kavanaugh hearings of the Supreme Court last fall.

    I would say this. First of all, it was categorical. It wasn't to the best of my recollection kind of answer by Joe Biden. It was a categorical, unequivocal denial that this ever happened.

    And there was no attempt to trash the accuser or anything of the sort. He — I thought he confronted it well. He had to. He didn't have any option in it.

    I would add this, Judy. Washington is a pretty small town. And on Capitol Hill, where we have spent a lot of time over the past 45 years, you get — the word circulates pretty quickly about who is Senator Grabby and who's Congressman Leering or Lustful, that women reporters or women staff members ought not to be in the same elevator with or stay away from.

    I have never and I don't know anyone else who's heard about Joe Biden in those terms. That is not — that is characteristically not Joe Biden. And he was somebody who went home every night on the train to Wilmington. I mean, he wasn't a nightlife guy. He wasn't an on-the-town fellow.

    I mean, so it does sound — on its face, it's a hard sell.

    But I agree with David that we listen to the — Ms. Reade and what she has to say in her interviews.

    And I really think, at some point, Joe Biden will have to deputize some group to look at the pages in the Delaware — University of Delaware zone, to see if there's references to it.

    I just think that's — whether it's historic — Karen Tumulty suggested it today in her Washington Post column. And I think it made a lot of sense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do think that those records will have to be opened up.

    David, and in terms of what voters weigh, do they — I mean, given the multiple allegations against President Trump, how are voters to make sense of this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the fact that Trump made a statement about this at all and attacked Joe Biden is like the — wins the hutzpah of the year award.

    But I don't think it's going to be up to voters. I think this is up to Democrats and Democratic delegates. They're going to have to decide if this is true and if they can nominate this person.

    And so far, as Nancy Pelosi says, they're feeling very comfortable with it. And all the — Stacey Abrams and Kirsten Gillibrand, and all the — a lot of — Kamala Harris, they're sticking by Joe so far.

    And so I think it's really up to the delegates more than it'll be up to the voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, you agree?

  • Mark Shields:

    I do, Judy.

    I think it will be — if there's a confrontation, it will be in the Democratic Party. I mean, that will be it. But I think that Joe Biden comes into it with considerable credibility. And that's it.

    But I do think he has to be totally forthcoming on this. I really do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn to the pandemic.

    The "NewsHour" spent a lot of time tonight and last night and before that looking, David, at the effect this has had on people's livelihoods. We know some states are opening up, but, in other states, it's not fast enough for people. We're seeing these protests in California, in Michigan yesterday, where people carried guns actually into the state Senate chamber.

    The president has somehow encouraged some of them. He's called today — in a tweet, he called some of them good people.

    How are governors to handle this under the circumstances?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, this is — from what I can tell, radical fringe elements. They completely do not represent the country.

    The country is relatively united. We're used to a divided country. And America is still divided about Donald Trump. America is not divided about much else; 89 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats like the federal aid packages; 70 percent think that we're going to need another — aid packages.

    Something like 85 percent of Americans think — are supporting the social distancing. So, America is united here. And the governors just need to do what they need to do for the economy, but listening to fringe elements who storm them with guns and Confederate Flags doesn't strike me as a very sensible thing to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, how are governors to walk this line at this time, when people really are hurting, and many of them sincerely think their states are wrong to extend these — these shutdown orders?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, you're right, Judy.

    But just point to a recent national survey of 22,000 people in all 50 states, and by — overwhelmingly, Americans support and back the handling of the coronavirus by their governor; 66 percent of Americans say that their governor is doing a — they approve of the work their governor is doing.

    Only 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the president is doing in handling the coronavirus. So, I think that the governors have enormous credibility.

    In the state of Michigan, I think that Governor Whitmer was at 63 percent approval, and Donald Trump was at 36 percent approval. So, I think the president makes a serious mistake, and he should have learned from Charlottesville, when he starts endorsing as good people folks who are carrying "Heil Whitmer" signs and swastikas and brandishing assault weapons in the state capitol, with kerchiefs over their face.

    I mean, to me, that is — that is a fringe group. And I think you're risking, if you're Donald Trump, not only some personal or public hurt and pain, but also responsibility for same.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    David, as we think about helping the folks who are on the front lines, who are — who are putting their — frankly, their lives, their health at risk, it's coming — it's becoming the next big debate in the Congress.

    And that's over help for state and local governments. That includes first responders. It includes some EMS workers and others. Democrats are saying, this is crucial. Republicans, like Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, are saying, look, some of these states have not spent their money wisely. Why should we bail them out?

    Where — where are you on this debate at this stage?

  • David Brooks:

    We're going to need to do more. I think 70 percent of Americans think so. I certainly think so, something on the order of $400 million even just in the small business loans.

    And so I think it's not stupid to take a pause for a week or two. I don't think we know — I want to make sure we spend it well. We have gotten a lot of money out the door, and maybe some in wasteful ways, but I think we have gotten it out the door, which is the important thing.

    But pausing to see what's working and what's not working seems to be the better part of wisdom here. I'm focusing especially on young people. A lot of people next fall, a lot of young adults will be without school and without jobs.

    And this strikes me as the perfect moment to do an emergency national service program to employ a lot of young people, maybe to help with the effects of the pandemics, the track and trace. But these are the kind of screaming needs that are out there in the country right now.

    And I think it's time right now to do something. But figuring out exactly what can wait a week or two, but I do think definitely more will be needed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And more federal money, Mark, whether it's for national service, as David is describing, or more aid for these — for these state governments, local governments that are really pinched right now.

  • Mark Shields:

    They're very pinched, Judy.

    Mitch McConnell talks about the blue state bailout. If we want to be blunt about it, the giver and the getter states, the states that get money from Washington, Mitch McConnell's Kentucky is right at the top, $146 billion over the past four years, by the Rockefeller Institute.

    At the same time, those blue states, those terrible blue states, like New York, sent $116 billion more to Washington than they have ever gotten back. Massachusetts has sent $47 billion more. So has Connecticut, 71 — I'm sorry — New Jersey, $71 billion, Connecticut.

    All the blue states spend more money. If Mitch McConnell wants us to be every man and person for himself, then let's let those states keep their money. They'd be in perfect shape if New York had an extra $116 billion.

    When we have an earthquake in this country, when we have a tidal wave or a hurricane, we aid the states. We come together. And that's what's happened.

    I mean, the states bear an enormous burden in our public services in this state — in our country, in our system. And they have got to — the Congress has to step up and provide the money for them.

    This is a Republican Senate, let it be noted, that put a $135 billion tax cut in, in the bailout bill to help small businesses and families for the top 1 percent. In order to qualify for it, you had to at least make $10,000 a week.

    Now, if that's somehow OK, but not helping schools and health systems and first responders, I don't see the value.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will find out more next week.

    The Senate is coming back into session. The House is not, on the advice of, I guess, the House — the congressional physician. But the Senate is coming back, and maybe we will learn a little more.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both. Please stay safe.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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