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Shields and Brooks on family separation at the border, remembering Charles Krauthammer

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join John Yang to discuss the week’s news, including the national uproar over the separation and detention of migrant children and parents at the border and the prospects for immigration reform, plus tributes to conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer.

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  • John Yang:

    It has been quite a week in Washington

    And here to analyze it all are Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    It has been quite a week. We saw this unusual coalition of opposition to the president's policy on the border, the president digging in, defending it, and then changing course.

    David, what have we learned this week?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Chaos.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Chaos reigns. If you have an administration — usually, when you go into a White House, you say, well, why didn't you guys do this? And they say, well, how exactly would that work? And they try to walk you through the details.

    It seems nobody is asking that question. And so how we do take kids away from parents? How do we reunify? No one is asking the practical questions. It's just — this is what you have when you have government by tweet.

    What is infuriating about it is, the Republican Party exists for a few reasons. One of them is to understand that government is at its most abhorrent when it can't see human beings as human beings, and when it treats them as mere data points or as something in a bureaucratic game.

    And that's what we have seen this whole policy. It's not treating the people as the human beings. It's treating them as just sort of pawns in some sort of larger protest movement. And that's what happens. When government does that, you get horrific pain and suffering. And that's what we're seeing.

  • John Yang:

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Every administration is inevitably a mirror reflection of the man at the top.

    Sadly, in this case, the Republican Party has become a reflection of the man at the top. It is a combination of malice and incompetence.

    It is shameful beyond description. The idea of separating children, anybody who's been a parent or a child or a sibling and knows the pain, the inconsolable pain of homesickness when a child is separated from the mother, even sometimes for a brief period, to do this as a matter of policy is unthinkable.

    The one bright light to me, quite honestly, in a dark, dark picture has been organized religion speaking up and speaking out, with the exception of some of the president's most ardent followers in the evangelical community. Give credit to the Southern Baptists, the Protestant denominations, to Catholic Bishops, across the board.

    Cardinal Cupich of Chicago put it so well. He said, this is not moral, this is not American, this is cruel, and it is a shame on all of us that it is done in our name.

    And I just think that's where it is. Beyond the political, which I think is a disaster for the Republicans, for the reasons, many of which David has spoken of, is just immeasurable.

  • John Yang:

    But, David, the president seems to want the make this the center point of the midterm election campaign.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, the Republicans are having a debate. Normally, you go with your strength.

    And the Republicans have a clear advantage. The country trusts the Republicans on the economy. And so, on the normal thing, you would play up the economy.

    Trump says, no, immigration is going to be our issue. And the data point that backs him up — I doubt he's seen this data point — is that if you ask voters what issue is top most on your mind, right now, it's immigration first and health care second.

    And so he can say, listen, the people care about immigration. I think it's what his people care about or what he thinks his people care about. But the broader trend here is worth pointing out, that over the last two years and over the past 10 years, support for immigration in principle has been rising, not falling.

    The number of people who say immigrants are good for the country, we should have more immigrants been rising. The number of people say we have fewer immigrants, that's been falling. And so this is not the rise of nativism. It's the rise of Donald Trump mobilizing a certain portion of the electorate.

  • John Yang:

    And yet you say the support for immigration is rising, but Congress can't figure out what to do. They have punted again this — a vote on a bill in the House.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it's actually — David's right. It's 17 years it's been improving.

    In fact, there's a 6 percent drop just from last year in the Americans who think that we ought to cut immigration. It's down to 29 percent, which is a low. So, Americans really are, if anything, more welcoming, more enlightened, more acknowledging of the value and importance of immigrants to our country.

    But, in Congress, it's been a political failure. There's been no public common consensus established on this issue. It's been a failure. President Bush tried. President George W. Bush tried. President Obama tried. They failed. And President Trump has been like an arsonist in a gasoline station on this issue.

    The only people who really want action right now, heading in November, are suburban Republicans, who are in districts where their constituents are more enlightened, more welcoming, more humane on immigration, and oppose the Republican Party. And they want to see some action to be able to go back.

    But there isn't. I mean, Democrats have been excluded from the process, and they're not playing. And the mainstream Republicans really don't give a damn.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. But it's interesting. It's been a failure on three ways.

    And there's been sort of the ultra-hawkish side on the Republican side who wants to cut legal and illegal immigration and build a wall and all the rest. There's another part, we will call them moderate Republicans, though that may be stretching the term, who mostly care about just enforcing the laws and want to give dreamers a path. And the realities of the people that are here, they want to give them a path to citizenship.

    And those two can't get along, so you can't get a Republican policy.

    And then there is the Democrats, who say, we aren't going to play at any of these games, because we can't be getting rid of families, we can't be building a wall.

    And so we have — we have — we're going to be — in three weeks, we're going to be exactly where we were today. And so Andrew Sullivan in "New York Magazine" wrote a piece which I have some sympathy for. It said, give the guy his wall. Pay him off. Build the damn wall. It will do nothing, but build the wall, and then get a normal policy given the wall.

    And somehow there has to be some solution, or else this problem will be exactly the same in two weeks as it was two weeks ago.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • John Yang:

    Go ahead.

  • Mark Shields:

    It will be, John.

    But I think you have to confront the reality. This man is a racialist. He really is. The language he uses, Donald Trump, three years ago this week, he announced his candidacy. And you recall what he said. Mexico doesn't send us their best. They're not our friend. They send rapists. They send drug carriers.

    I mean, it's always been. The Nigerians don't want to go back to their huts. They come from the S-hole countries. It's always had a racial component. He doesn't talk that way about Canada. He doesn't talk way about France. He talks about way about people from the Southern Hemisphere of a different pigmentation.

    And I don't think you can look at any of his statements, whether it's infecting the country, like we're talking about lice and vermin.

  • David Brooks:

    Infesting, infesting, yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, infecting the country.

    And so I just — I think — I think this is the breaking point. I think this is Katrina. I think this is a defining moment for this presidency and the American people.

    I mean, if you could continue to support Donald Trump on these terms, you're accepting the fact that he is what he is.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I don't agree.

    Just analytically, I agree with the moral objection, but I suspect there's a lot of people who are not anti-immigrant, not nativist, they do want to enforce the border. And they think too many people are coming here for asylum. And then they think they can get in if they bring kids.

    And so, analytically, frankly, I would be surprised if his approval rating went down more than 3 or 4 percentage points over this, if at all. We will see.

  • Mark Shields:

    We will see.

  • David Brooks:

    We will see in a week.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • John Yang:

    Mark mentioned Katrina.

    And I think that that — the reason why I think that was so startling for George W. Bush was because the Republicans were seen as the competence, the people of competence, the people who could run things and make things work.

    And now we have this, as Yamiche Alcindor was describing earlier, total chaos in the government, as they try to figure out how to execute the executive order and how to reunite the families.

    It seems like there wasn't any thought, from which she is reporting, when they separated the families, of how to reunite them.

    What does that say about the Republican Party and where they are now?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you get this weird phenomenon.

    Every time the government messes up in some major way, Donald Trump will say, see, I'm draining the swamp. You have got to get rid of this government thing.

    And so, the more he screws up, the more it helps him. And he has been testing that proposition quite strongly for the last year-and-a-half.

  • John Yang:

    I do want to take some time to note the passing this week of a colleague of ours. I think all of us — each of us worked with him.

    I worked with him at "TIME" magazine in the 1980s, Charles Krauthammer, a very thoughtful, thought-provoking, and I think supremely, to my view, elegant, eloquent writer.

    Mark, you worked with him on "Inside Washington."

  • Mark Shields:

    I did. I did.

    Charles and I occupied different philosophical chairs, far more polarized than David and I are.

    But Charles, as probably most viewers do and readers knew, suffered a terribly disabling injury. It left him a paraplegic as a young man. And in spite of that, a great tribute to the human spirit. Charles is all that you said he was, but he had a wicked sense of humor. He really did.

    As Gordon Peterson, the longtime Washington anchor, wrote a beautiful piece that I believe is our PBS Web site about Charles, was emcee of that show, host of that show, noted, that Charles just had a marvelously devilish sense of humor, and oftentimes at the expense of those very conservative icons that he was defending their policies, while acknowledging their infirmities of character and personality.

    But he was — he was really, I think, sui generis, it's fair the say.

  • David Brooks:

    A, super intelligent. There's a test where you have to recite — people read you off a number, a bunch of numbers, and you have to recite them backwards. The average person can do five. Charles could do 12 while driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    So, that's intelligence.

    Second, just he could be dry and acerbic, but if you went to a ball game with him, he was like a 7-year-old boy. He was joyful. And the right word for him, even despite his intimidating persona, is sweet. He was a sweet man, especially at a ballpark, around Jewish issues. He just radiated that sweetness.

    And then the final thing, just professionally, he's a man who did the reading. He read through Kant. He read through Maimonides. He read through John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin. And he knew his philosophical grounding, and everything could then grow out of that.

    And so he had an anti-romanticism. He didn't get swept up in sentimental passions, but it gave him a depth to his work that was extraordinary for a mere newspaper columnist.

  • John Yang:

    And I should note, David, he once — I saw him once, I think, on FOX. There was a reference to you as a conservative columnist. And Charles said, oh, no, no, no, I have to correct you. David is no conservative.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think he was asked, who is was your favorite liberal columnist? And he said me.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    So, that was…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    That was his sense of humor.

  • John Yang:

    That was his sense of humor.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you so much.

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