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Shields and Brooks on Democrats’ climate plans, Trump’s Dorian claim

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including whether Democrats are taking a “politically risky” approach to climate change policy, President Trump’s fixation with Alabama being hit by Hurricane Dorian, Trump’s diversion of Defense Department funds for border security and "Trump fatigue" in the GOP.

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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.

    Hello to both of you. It's good to see you on this Friday. There's so much to talk about.

    Mark, I want to start with you about this Hurricane Dorian. We have been watching it now for well over a week, I guess almost two weeks.

    And you have got scientists talking more openly now about whether these hurricanes are connected to climate change, to global warming. And you have got Democratic candidates for president, more of them, coming out with pretty aggressive positions on climate.

    Is this something that's realistic for Democrats? Does that mean they think they're more likely to win over voters if they talk about climate?

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm not sure that they see it as a great winning issue. I think they see it as an important issue.

    I would say, among Democratic candidates, first of all, they all agree that there is climate change. All the deniers are on the other side. They're not in the Democratic field or in the Democratic Party right now.

    And, two, that it's manmade, man contributes to it. I think those are two important differences that go undebated among Democrats. Democrats assume that.

    And you're right. They got into a competition. And the gravity of the problem is real. I mean, you have got — now you have got 72 percent of people saying storms are stronger. And half of them believe that climate change is contributing to that.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

  • Mark Shields:

    So you have got, I think, a growing public awareness.

    The fear for the Democrats on a very practical level is that they get into a bidding war. I mean, Bernie Sanders now has a $16 billion tag.

  • David Brooks:

    Trillion-dollar.

  • Mark Shields:

    Trillion — excuse me — trillion-dollar tag on it.

    And you fear, from a political perspective, practical political perspective, Judy, that you get into unrealistic promises, like the Republicans on their pledge every four years to repeal prohibition — a prohibition against abortion, to balance the budget.

    And I think that's — I think that's one of the apprehensions that Democrats have at a voting level.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than half of them talking about putting a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

  • David Brooks:

    That was, to me, the big breakthrough.

    I think most economists of right and left think a carbon tax or some carbon mechanism is the right way to go, because you let the markets sort of sort it out. No politician ever says that, because taxing this stuff is very politically unpopular, or at least moderately politically unpopular.

    But you had five Democrats, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, said, yes, I'm for that. They didn't elaborate. But, to me, that's an important breakthrough. And is, I think, a political courage. I think it's also extremely politically risky.

    And then Bernie Sanders is not so much for carbon pricing, but he's for semi-nationalizing the utilities. And that's a pretty radical break. And so the — I give them a lot of credit. The debate was very substantive this week. And their solutions are at least equal to the size of the problem.

    But whether it can fly in the fall when Donald Trump gets to run against a carbon tax or a tax on you driving your car, that could be politically risky.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of President Trump — and I wasn't actually going to ask about this.

    But, tonight, the White House, the president is tweeting out a video, a video tweet, where he's doubling down, David, on his defense of his forecasting some date — last weekend — that Alabama was in the eye of Hurricane Dorian.

    This has been a big subject for the press this week. But is this something you think we have made — that too much has been made of? We haven't reported on it on the "NewsHour," but we have certainly watched it.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's a remarkable scene.

  • David Brooks:

    I know, because the storm is right over Arizona now.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Look out, Phoenix.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, right.

    No, on the one hand, we have made too much, because it's a line on a map. And it's sort of an Onion article. On the other hand, it is Donald Trump being Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    A, refusing to admit error, when he made an error, B, counting his staff to pretend that no error had — made, and, C, spreading false information, which he picked up on TV.

    And the president gets the right to be briefed. And when — there was one weatherman — apparently, he saw him on CNN — who said this. But it was clear that that wasn't the true story.

    And the primary responsibility of the president is not to make himself look good by sticking to this. It's to protect the country by saying, oh, I saw one weather report, but it turns out that's not right. It's going up the — it's going up the coast.

    So Donald Trump is being Donald Trump. And the question is, do we always react to his exaggerations and lies again and again and again? Maybe that's the right thing to do just to preserve norms. It gets a little old, though.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, somebody in the White House drew that line that we just — we just showed, that black…

  • Mark Shields:

    Somebody did, and somebody with a sharpie.

    And I don't know who in the White House uses a sharpie.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    I'll say this, Judy.

    It's bizarre in this sense. Alabama, for some reason, occupies an enormously important emotional and political, almost sentimental spot in the president's galaxy of affections. It was there he had his first rally in Mobile, where Jeff Sessions endorsed him in the summer of 2015.

    He returned after the election to thank him. He got a bigger percentage of the vote in Alabama than anybody since Richard Nixon against George McGovern in 1972.

    But in the process, what he did was, he kind of gave short shrift and ignored the plight and the suffering, not simply the human tragedy in the Bahamas, but constituents in the important states of Florida and North Carolina.

    And he just seems — he just seems absolutely absorbed with it, and when he could just say, gee, thank goodness, I'm happy to report, I'm relieved to report I was wrong, and that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That Alabama was spared.

  • Mark Shields:

    Alabama was spared. And thank you, God, and go — roll, Tide.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, "I was wrong" has never passed those lips.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. OK. I'm sorry. Yes, OK.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one other thing that the president did this week that has gotten a lot of attention, has made certainly a lot of Democrats unhappy, David, but even some Republicans, the president announced he is diverting money from more than 125 military projects to build a portion of the border wall, something he's promised to do.

    He's talked about it now for two-and-a-half years. Is this — again, is this something the president can help himself with politically by doing this, or has he stirred up a hornet's nest by taking it into his own hands where money is spent?

  • David Brooks:

    He stirred up a nest of extremely weak butterflies, because I don't think Republicans are really going to do much. They're not going to sting.

    But I think, on balance, it's probably politically beneficial to him. He said: I'm going to build a wall.

    To me, it's a crackpot idea, but he's going to least be able to go back to the vote and say: Yes, we have got this amount of money, we're building a wall.

    Republicans will be upset. Some of the bases in their districts will be suffering. And it wouldn't surprise me if they went back and reapportioned more money, and just piled a few more billion onto the national debt.

    And so they may get their money, and Trump will get his wall and we will just pass a little more money down to the next generation.

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm tired of all public figures, including politicians, pay empty words about thank you for your service, how much we admire and respect.

    I mean, it isn't simply the military who serve. Their families serve. OK? And 1.1 million American children have a parent who are schoolchildren in the military service. So they move an average of six to nine times in their life.

    I mean, it's new schools, it's a new adjustment. The whole family is serving. And all this business about, oh, how grateful we are, and it isn't short shrift. It's just a total indifference. It's a callousness just to honor an empty promise that he said he's going to build 500 miles.

    And, at the most, there will be 165 miles of fence, at the most optimum conditions of his pledge. I mean, it just — it is outrageous, and I think indefensible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because we're talking about schools. We're talking about day care centers. There are many, many different kinds of projects for military families.

  • Mark Shields:

    Day care centers, and repairing facilities that are in serious disrepair, and kids going to — having lunch in buildings that weren't intended as lunchrooms, and just the whole thing.

    So let's let's not pretend that we honor those who serve.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meanwhile, David, we're also hearing just today in a report by Politico that the Republican National Committee, which, of course, is very closely tied to the White House, is seriously looking at having at least 40 states cancel their primary — presidential primaries or caucuses in 2020.

    We're talking about South Carolina, Kansas, a couple of other states. We don't know how many more states.

  • David Brooks:

    More could do it. Another sign of democracy thriving in America.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    This is not a sign of political self-confidence, that Donald Trump is unwilling to have any competition.

    It's a sign of fear of some sort of weakness. And shutting down the democratic process so you can get 100 percent is something we associate with North Korea. And so it's just — it's just a shocking disruption in this — in this particular circumstance.

  • Mark Shields:

    I didn't know until today how much he really does admire Kim Jong-un.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And who has never had a primary.

    And, Judy, what it comes down to, under the party rules, 15 percent of the vote, if you get 15 percent of the vote in the primary, you get delegates.

    So, whether it's Bill Weld or Joe Walsh or anybody else who ends up running against — Mark Sanford, anybody else who runs up, and gets 20 percent, the idea of Donald Trump having a non-Donald Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention in 2020 is unthinkable, is inconceivable, is unacceptable to him.

    So, Generalissimo says, no primary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the White House is saying — or the RNC, Republican National Committee, is saying, well, this is something that Republican — that both parties have done in the past. They have canceled primary voting.

  • Mark Shields:

    And it's a disadvantage.

    For example, in Virginia, if you do it, I mean, this is the one chance you have to update your list, is a primary, because there's no party registration. So you find out who your party members are, who's going to vote in the primary and so forth.

    I mean, it's just — it's a terrible disservice to your primary, just in the surface of the vanity of one man.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just when Washington is looking really, really attractive to all of us.

    We now have just a minute left in the program.

    But, David, we have got now 13 Republican House members, including five from the state of Texas, who are saying they don't want to be in Congress, they don't want to run again and serve.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Yes.

    And I don't think this is because they fear losing. Only one of them is — would have any trouble winning. It's no fun. It's not fun to be here. It's no fun to be in the majority — I mean, in the minority.

  • Mark Shields:

    The minority, yes.

  • David Brooks:

    It's no fun to fly home. It's no fun to do all the donor calls. And it's no fun because they're not actually passing anything.

    The people who run for office actually do want to make change.

  • Mark Shields:

    And let's be honest about it. Donald Trump plays a part.

    I mean, there is a Trump fatigue on the part of Republicans. And if they do criticize, they know what awaits them. And that is very well Mark Sanford's fate, where the White House and Donald Trump backs a challenger in the primary. So you're walking that tightrope.

    There hasn't been a raise in 11 years. People aren't happy about — the citizens aren't, but, to some point, when you can make a lot more money outside than you can inside — and David's right about being in the minority.

    Once you have been a committee chair in the House of Representatives, to be a backbench minority member, you're powerless. You're really a eunuch at a — you know, at a social occasion.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in fairness…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

    In fairness, we should say a few Democrats have said they're not running either. But there are many more Democrats than there are Republicans in the House.

  • Mark Shields:

    A little piece of trivia. There are more Democrats still left from '94, when the Republicans swept the House, in the House than there are Republicans.

    Democrats like being in the House more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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