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Shields and Brooks on budget deal economics, White House domestic abuse scandal

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the bipartisan budget deal that increases spending and add to the deficit, President Trump’s defense of a White House aide accused of domestic abuse and questions about the future of chief of staff John Kelly.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    So, I’m sorry, Mark, to go from that great music in Appalachia to talking about the budget. But that was the big thing that passed in the wee hours of this morning. The president signed it today. Both parties somehow came together.

    What does it say about their priorities?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, first of all, Judy, step back.

    And Edmund Burke, who was a friend of mine…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

     … conservative, said all government is compromise and barter. And this was.

    This was a compromise and barter. Each side got some things they wanted and other things they didn’t. So that is sort of — it evokes echoes of an earlier era in this city. At the same time, it was…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean because they agreed?

  • Mark Shields:

    Because they agreed. And the parties were split. It wasn’t unanimous on one side or anything of the sort.

    But, that said, I think it’s fair to say that the deficit itself is now dead as an issue. All of us have gone to Republican Conventions where it was solemnly sworn that they would be for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. That’s over.

    Maya MacGuineas was on the show earlier today. And she has been very conscientious, very effective. But there is no move now. The debt is out of control. We went from were borrowing $436 billion more this year than we did last year, and that’s even before this latest agreement.

    So, Republicans — Bill Clinton did balance the budget. Nothing since has been remotely approaching that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, red ink as far as the eye can see forever and ever?

  • David Brooks:

    It was a compromise, but it’s the kind of compromise we always see.

    Ever since we came, or since our segment started — maybe as Burke and Paine in the 18th century — it was…

    (LAUGHTER)

    They have been able to compromise when it comes to expanding the deficits. And that’s consistently been true over the past many years.

    If you’re just — if every side gets to spend on what they want to spend, that’s the way they can compromise. They have never been able to compromise when both parties have to take some pain. And so that’s the kind of compromise they can’t do.

    What strikes me as special about this is that everyone is a hypocrite on the deficits. They’re all for cutting red ink when they’re in the minority and they’re all against it when they’re in the majority.

    But there is a shift in tone in the Republican Party that seems interesting to me, which is, it used to be a party that talked the language of economics first. Its native language was economics, an economic language, and so the budget really did sort of matter, and the budget really mattered, and tax cuts mattered.

    Now economics is a secondary language for the Republican Party. Immigration is the first language. It’s an identity party, not an economic party, right now. And so they’re willing to compromise on a lot of spending if they can win on immigration. And that’s sort of where the party has gone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And because immigration wasn’t part of this deal, Mark, as David, that’s how the Republicans were able to sign on.

  • Mark Shields:

    It wasn’t. It wasn’t a part of this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     That’s what I said, that it wasn’t.

  • Mark Shields:

     No, no, and that — I think it’s fair to say, though, Judy, that if the Senate were determinant, I think there’s at least 60 votes in the Senate, and maybe even a solid veto-proof majority, for immigration reform that provides relief for these young people who were brought here as children and who have been contributing members of our society ever since.

    But it’s the Republican House, and it’s in particular the anti-immigration caucus that paralyzes Paul Ryan.

    But I just — I do want to point out one thing on the deficit itself. We went through two World Wars, the Civil War, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Great Depression, and ran up a total indebtedness of $1 trillion. And the Democrats were accused of being the tax-and-spend party.

    And then we got the tax cut and spend. The debt quadrupled, quadrupled, under Reagan and Bush, and that really set the pattern. It was successful politically.

    Bill Clinton, for all his failings and all his foibles, in eight years went from the biggest deficits in our country to the biggest surpluses. So, now we have had 17 years of war financed by three tax cuts, I mean, which I think does reflect what David was talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     So is one party or another more responsible for this, David, or is there blame to go around?

  • David Brooks:

    I do think there is blame to go around. Deficits tend to come down when we have divided government.

    When one party has control, deficits go up, because they can spend on their priorities. And the Democrats like spending. The Republicans love tax cuts. You get a little of both.

    I’m not a big believer in third parties, but if there is a third party movement, I suspect the debt will be a big part of that. Remember how powerful that issue was for Ross Perot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so we can say deficits are going away as an issue, but deficits aren’t going away as a reality.

    And as interest rates go up, the burden of paying just down the debt begins to swallow more and more of the budget. It cuts out of the defense spending. It cuts out of domestic discretionary spending. And you just become a government that just pays bankers. And that could be a gigantic issue, especially as interest rates rise.

  • Mark Shields:

    And I would just point out, for those who think about deficits at all, the borrowing on the interest rate, Judy, and the payment of the debt to bondholders is a transfer from people of ordinary income to the wealthiest Americans.

    It’s an absolute anti-decency transfer of wealth to people who have to pay their taxes in order to pay off bondholders.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now let’s talk about the — we could talk about the debt for our entire conversation.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     And the deficit.

    But I do want to bring up, David, the saga that unfolded in the White House this week. A very high-ranking person, in the staff secretary, Rob Porter, has been accused by two of his ex-wives, both ex-wives, of being physically and verbally and emotionally abusive.

    He stayed at the White House over a year without a permanent security clearance. The president today is still defending him, saying he did a great job, we wish him well, remember, he says he’s innocent.

    What do we make of this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I think what most people do, they see the evidence, which is pretty strong, against him, and they have a moral abhorrence, and they react with an instinctive abhorrence.

    This is a man who allegedly, and with a lot of evidence, punched his wife in the face. And, normally, you just recoil.

    And yet, either with Kelly or Trump, we don’t see a recoil. We just see, there’s an honorable man.

    And what it reeks of is sort of an archaic 1940s, 1950s idea that we have the world of men, and we play in the world of men, and whatever you do off in that other world back at home, outside the workplace, that’s sort of not our business.

    And that was, I think, an ethos that existed decades ago, but it shouldn’t exist now. And I don’t think it exists in most workplaces now, that if you behave morally abhorrent in your private life, it should reflect extremely poorly on you in your professional life.

    And Trump and Kelly don’t seem to have felt that just as an instinctual moral disgust.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does it say, Mark, about the values at the White House, the judgment of the White House? I mean, how are we to look at this White House after these…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, every White House and every presidency is eventually and inevitably a mirror reflection of the president. I don’t care who it is. And thus it has always been. And it is now.

    I mean, this is a man, Donald Trump, who defended Roger Ailes, the late president of FOX News, who was accused, believably, of having sexually harassed 24 different women, of being a very good person. He defended Bill O’Reilly of FOX News of the same charges, I mean, more serious charges, of being a very decent man, and not having any need to apologize.

    And, most recently, Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, the Republican candidate for the Senate, who was accused and it was alleged that he had, as a grown man attorney, had actually sexually — was involved and not abused, then certainly taken advantage of teenage girls.

    So I think there’s pattern here of defense, of perhaps rationalization, or whatever. And it is absolutely unacceptable, Judy. It truly is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there’s a lot of discussion right now, David, about the role of the chief of staff, and even the White House attorney, the White House counsel, Don McGahn, John Kelly.

    And there was one report John Kelly had told the president he was willing to resign.

    Should heads roll over something like this? Do we just figure this is just another week at the White House or what?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think when we learned — we have learned a couple things about Kelly.

    He had the earlier comment that some of the DACA people were lazy. And then he — but the guy who allegedly beats his wife is honorable. I mean, that’s a contrast.

    We have learned that he — a guy who signs up to work with Donald Trump that closely shares a lot of the views of Donald Trump. I guess it shouldn’t surprise us, but he also has had a bit of a stabilizing influence. And so I think both those…

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Kelly?

  • David Brooks:

    Kelly has.

    Both those facts are true about Kelly. Whether he should go or not, I mean, I would just like to see him issue a statement that he’s morally disgusted by this behavior.

    There is a continual drama, there’s a continual chaos, the chief of staff threatening to resign, Rachel Brand, today, the number three official in the Justice Department, all my Republican friends, they — their eyes went wide when she got up, because she was the lone voice of credibility around there.

    And so — but there’s just always this thing of perpetual unraveling and the cycling through of staff at this White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do we hold — do we hold the president — yes, we hold the president accountable, Mark, but should — would it make a difference, let me ask it this way, if the president were to put different people in some of these positions?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, increasingly, from my reporting and everything I learn, this White House is resembling nothing as much as East Berlin, in that there’s more people trying to get out than there are trying to get in.

    And it’s not — they have not been able to, either based on their false sense of loyalty that one had to have been a total Trumpite from the begin, whatever, they have not been able to attract and hold a talented administrative staff.

    The one saving argument for John Kelly is that Rob Porter was the exception. He was able. He was the de facto deputy chief of staff that Kelly did not have.

    I think it’s fair to say that Kelly’s judgment has been seriously called into question here.

  • David Brooks:

    It’s about just being a gentleman.

    The MeToo movement, everything we have seen over the last six months, it’s, are men — do they know what it’s like to be a gentleman and just behave decently like a gentleman?

    If you look through the history of our political leaders, Teddy Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, they were gentlemen. It’s not hard.

    And yet those once — you lose the social standards of how a man is supposed to behave, you have got a lot of bad stuff that comes out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     We have to leave on that note.

    We will let you save it for next Friday.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK. All right. I was going to come out against gentlemen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, I’m just tired of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can’t imagine.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks.

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