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Shields and Brooks on Biden’s VP decision, pandemic economy

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the question of whom Joe Biden will choose as his running mate, congressional failure to deliver another pandemic aid package and President Trump’s rhetoric about mail-in voting.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    So, hello to both of you.

    The word had been that Vice President Biden would make this announcement next week, but just this afternoon, the word has come out that it's going to be the week after, the week of August the 10th.

    But we're still going to talk about it, Mark.

    What do you think should be taken into consideration by Joe Biden as he makes this decision?

  • Mark Shields:

    I can't think of anybody more qualified to make a decision on the vice president than Joe Biden, who knows what the job is intimately and what helps a president.

    I'd say, very simply, Judy, given the nature of this campaign, Donald Trump cannot run on, are you better off, are we better off than we were four years ago? It's going to be down-and-dirty, demonizing, low road campaign.

    So, the first thing I would consider is someone who can throw a punch and who can take a punch, someone who has been there and understands what it means to stand up for your side and to respond.

    And I just — I think that's the first qualifications, beyond, obviously, the comfort level that the presidential candidate has for her.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, somebody who can take a punch, throw a punch.

    Anything else?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, that sounds like Kamala Harris to me.

    But I guess I see it a little differently. I think the vice presidential selection makes almost no difference in the election. Historically, there's been no upside. It hasn't really affected people's vote. Sometimes, you get a downside if there's a scandal.

    But I would think about governing. If Joe Biden is elected, he will be trying to administer the New Deal and the progressive era all at once. So, I think you need somebody who has administrative experiences, somebody like maybe Keisha Bottoms from — mayor of Atlanta, though the ticket Biden-Bottoms doesn't sound so great. But she seems to be an impressive person who certainly has a strong presence, as she demonstrated during those first days.

    The governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, is another person who has administrative experience. It's a plus to me to have administrative experience outside of Washington, in a less ideological climate, where you're actually administering things.

    And so, to me, that would be how I would look at it. Who's going to take on responsibilities at administration that's going to be just chockful of legislative craftsmanship and then administrative — a need for administrative competence?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark…

  • Mark Shields:



  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

    David is saying it doesn't make a difference. I want to hear what you have to — what you think about that.

  • Mark Shields:

    I think, historically, you could make the case that it hasn't made a difference.

    Lyndon Johnson did make a difference in 1960 in the election of John Kennedy and in being sort of the character witness for the innocence by association for a Northern Catholic in the white Protestant South at the time.

    But I agree with David on that. But I would say this, that winning is not the most important thing in a campaign. It's the only thing. And I'm not in any way precluding or excluding the consideration of the talents David is looking for.

    But I want someone who's going to help him win first, if I'm Joe Biden, because it's going to be — it's going to be a lousy, mean-spirited campaign. And you have got to have someone who's got your side there, I don't think any question about it.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, just — go ahead.

  • Mark Shields:

    I would just say that Congressman Clyburn, who is — if America wants to see a kingmaker, we saw one being him.

    He is the man, when he said, Joe Biden doesn't simply know us — we don't know Joe Biden. He knows us. And that endorsement made the difference and made the nomination for him. When he said, a woman, an African American woman on the Supreme Court, takes precedence, he was actually getting, I thought, Joe Biden permission to pick a running mate or choose a running mate who was not African American, whether it's Governor Grisham, or whether it's Senator Duckworth, Senator Warren, whoever — Governor Whitmer.

    But I thought — I thought that was a shrewd statement by Jim Clyburn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, that's actually what I wanted to ask you both about.

    And that is what we heard from Jim Clyburn, that, for him, it's much more important that an African American woman goes to the court, the high court, than the vice presidency — the job of the vice president.

  • David Brooks:

    I hadn't thought of the interpretation Mark put on that, though I find it very persuasive, that he was giving Biden permission to go outside, if he felt like it.

    And that's — he's certainly a smart political signal sender and operator, and that seems persuasive to me.

    I think, in normal times, you take a Supreme Court justice over a vice president, for sure, because you get it for a lifetime, and you have actual power.

    I think it's a lot closer right now. As I said, this — really think about FDR's first 100 days. Think of the amount of legislation that was crafted. Think of what's going to need to be done.

    And so, to me, the vice president's going to be tremendously important, in part because, when Biden was vice president, he actually did a lot. He oversaw the stimulus package. He did a lot of foreign policy stuff. He was not just sitting there as window dressing. And I'm sure he's going to want a vice president to be that.

    The interesting case to me is Elizabeth Warren. If you want somebody who's really good at coming up with plans, she's really good at coming up the plans. The question would be, are there moderate voters who would take a look at her and have a bit of fright?

    But if I'm sticking to my governance matters more than politics, Elizabeth Warren would also be a good choice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of important agendas, right now, before the Congress, Mark, is the pandemic relief legislation. And it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

    The House passed a $3 trillion plan at the end of May. Senate Republicans haven't been able to agree among themselves. You have heard the reporting on all this.

    Is — who's to blame? The Republicans are saying, the Democrats' fault. The Democrats are saying it's Republicans. Who bears responsibility?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think it's fair to say, responsibility in Washington is shared at this point.

    But primary responsibility, that — the House, as you pointed out, did pass its plan. It's all on board. Senator McConnell introduced a plan this week that died on arrival. The White House has absolutely — the president is not a player in this.

    So, I would have to say that there's been a certain Republican abdication. But the reality is, Judy, we're talking about, according to the Census Bureau, we have 14 million American households, in this richest nation in the history of the world, where children are food-deprived as of last week. They're going hungry.

    And that is unacceptable. And leaving town, at a time when you haven't resolved it, is just unacceptable.

    I mean, I think every member of Congress really has to face that. I mean, they should be there, they should be working, and they should come to a resolution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, does one side or another bear more of the responsibility here?

  • David Brooks:

    I gave it 60/40 to the Republicans, to — the blame.

    Both sides sort of returned to their corners. So, the Democrats, in their plan, did not have enough for small business. And we have just got to protect small businesses from going bankrupt. When a company goes bankrupt, you only lose — you don't only lose the jobs. You lose all the human capital and all the connections that were put in to build that business. And that's a tragedy.

    The Republicans certainly err in trying to cut the weekly pay from $600 to $200. Their worry — and I spoke to a few of them this week — is that people are making more unemployed than they would employed, so they're not going to go back to jobs.

    And that is certainly a problem. People — some are doing OK with this. But the research suggests that people who are getting the employment insurance benefit or going back to work just as much as the people who are not getting it. So there does not seem to be a disincentive effect.

    And when you have got people really struggling, to cut them back to $200 a week or whatever it would be seems unconscionable to me. I do not think the Republicans understand that we are on a lifeline because of the earlier aid packages. The economy is — would be doing way worse without that.

    And if you were — you take away that supply of money, we will see a catastrophe that I think is greater than they anticipate and would be just a human tragedy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this week, as you both know, we got terrible news about the resurgence of this — of this virus. And we got very bad news about the economy connected to it.

    So — but we watch these unemployment benefits lapse this weekend.

    Mark, very quickly, voting, there's a big — a lot of back and forth this week about absentee voting, voting by mail, the president weighing in, saying that there's fraud in mail-in voting, and then raising the question of whether the election should be delayed.

    How much — of course, there was — everybody knocked it down at the Capitol. But what do you think? Is that something that people should be concerned about?

  • Mark Shields:

    We should be concerned about a president who wants to open up football stadiums, send 7-year-olds back to school to sit on school buses and be in rooms of 30 other kids, but, at the same time, doesn't want — the virus is so serious that we can't vote in November.

    I mean, figure that one out Judy.

    I mean, being very blunt about it, we do vote by mail in this country. I mean, five states vote only by mail. But 35 states, they have no-excuse absentee voting. I mean, that is it. And among them are the most important politically, in terms of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, states that — where you have to — have to have your ballot postmarked by Election Day.

    And so we starve the post office. The president says he will refuse to sign any legislation that gives more money to state and local people trying to deal with the increased, expected absentee vote-by-mail.

    And I just — I have to say, I mean, there's nothing more sacrosanct. We have done it World War II. We did it in the Civil War. And we got pretty good choices out of it, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. And we have to vote and will vote on November 3. Donald Trump has to be absolutely rebutted and routed on this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I'm worried about it.

    We have had a bad year in elections. We had long lines in Georgia. If you remember, we three sat together the night of the Iowa caucuses. We have just had a bad year, and the epidemic makes it all worse.

    Who's going to man the polls? A lot of people are not going to be comfortable manning polls. A lot of people are not in the place where they normally live. We could see — I worry about a close election and having the results drag out for days, weeks, while everybody in the conspiracy world undermines it.

    So, this is something that is uppermost and should be uppermost on our minds. And, of course, what Donald Trump said is abhorrent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, David, I didn't give you a chance last week to say something about John Lewis. The nation said goodbye to him all this week, and then, yesterday, that very moving funeral service in Atlanta.

    Thoughts about how that unfolded and what his life meant.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, just on the Obama eulogy, I thought it was an excellent eulogy.

    I did not mind if it was political. If Barack Obama wants to deliver a funeral at my — a eulogy at my funeral, and wants to dedicate it to the causes I dedicate my life to, that's fine by me.

    And what he emphasized about Lewis was what was so impressive about him and the whole movement, which was its aggressiveness. It was constant offense. It was always marching. Whenever there was a debate internally, should we march, or is it prudent not to march, Lewis was always, no, we're marching.

    And it was that sense of constant push and constant pressure that I think made it so successful as a movement and made him so heroic as a person.

    I didn't know him well. I knew him in a reportorial context. And what always struck me is, he could have carried himself as a saint, and he had something saintly about him, but he carried himself just as a normal human being, and was — was extremely approachable.

    And so there's a reason we're all paying attention, because moral exemplars don't come along every day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They certainly don't. They certainly don't.

    We're all touched by his life and by his legacy.

    Thank you both, David Brooks, Mark Shields. Thank you.

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