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Shields and Brooks on GOP bid for tax reform, Russia probe indictments

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the Virginia governor’s race, suggestions by Donna Brazile that the Democratic primary race was rigged for Hillary Clinton, the GOP tax overhaul plan and the Russia probe indictments.

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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, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let’s talk about Virginia, Mark. What does that race look like?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the race on both sides, people are saying it’s a three-, four-, two-point lead.

    The — one Republican said to me today they are relieved that the president was out of the country, because he was afraid that, if he got word the race was that close, he would start tweeting and insert himself back into the race.

    But, as we saw in John’s piece, the president is very much a part of the piece. Ed Gillespie, a conventional Republican, a Republican National Committee staffer, became chair, became counselor to President George W. Bush, is running, has got the lyrics of Donald Trump’s score playbook, but he doesn’t have the music.

    But the latest period after John’s wonderful piece was that they’re now running on the football players kneeling at the national anthem and saying, stand up for America or Virginia.

    I would say this, Judy. If, in fact, the Democrats lose on Tuesday in Virginia, that it will lead to — close to civil war within the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whoa.

  • Mark Shields:

    It will be — there will be reprisals between the Bernie — that Northam has run a very conventional, sort of cautious campaign, and that will be — and Bernie Sanders — Tom Perriello, the — his primary opponent on the other side, there will be questions that he had — the Democratic Party really didn’t stand — and 2016 all over again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Close race?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it’s getting close.

    This is sort of bad news for both parties.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    First, Ed Gillespie, as Mark mentioned, is like the core of the center of the Republican Party. He’s been around this town a lot. We have all known him. He’s just the conventional Republican.

    And where the center of the Republican Party is, that’s where Ed Gillespie is at that moment. And now it’s a Trump party. And he’s running on these Trump issues, MS-13, a gang in Northern Virginia that has killed some people, and so it’s violence committed by illegal immigrants, the core Trump issue.

    It’s a campaign that has some economic opportunity, but a lot of it is about fear of outsiders, so that core message. So it’s a sign the Republican Party is becoming the Trump party, and that if you want the run as a Republican, you have got to run as a Trumpian, and you can do well.

    He was pretty far back a month ago, 10, 15 points. And now he’s three to five points behind, and so it sort of works.

    For the Democrats, as Mark says, this is a state, as John reported, Clinton won by five. Trump is super unpopular. And their guy, a pretty conventional, pretty good candidate, can’t pull out a big win out of this? That would be a sign for Democrats that, even when Trump is super unpopular, they can’t get big turnout, and they can’t get big turnout among African-Americans, which is why Eric Holder and people like that are there.

    They can’t get big turnout from people who aren’t hard-core voters, and that the Democratic base is not super mobilized to vote. And that would just be a gigantic warning sign for 2018.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A warning sign for 2018.

    At the same time, Mark, in the last couple of days, we have been hearing another sign of a big fissure, divide inside the Democratic Party, this book by Donna Brazile, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, former chair of the party, wrote, in effect, that because there was this financial deal with the Clinton campaign, which was supporting the Democratic Party hurting for money, that the primary election last year was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

  • Mark Shields:

    She did. And it’s a serious charge made by a serious person, Donna Brazile.

    Could not come at a worse time for the Democrats, on the eve of the Virginia, just as David is talking about, generating interest, enthusiasm and turnout, this is anything — will do anything but.

    But I will say this, Judy. It has the ring of authenticity about it. Donna Brazile was exposed herself for having given questions before a debate when she was at CNN to Hillary Clinton. She’s a person of enormous talent.

    I think, if anything, this is sort of cri de coeur, a statement of what she believes, and to come clean.

    But I will say this, that it’s proof, more than anything else, to me of how little Barack Obama cared about the Democratic Party or about politics. He was great at getting elected. He got a national majority twice in a row. Nobody had done that since Eisenhower. He was leaving the party $24 million in debt, therefore, vulnerable to Hillary Clinton’s coterie of big givers.

    Bernie Sanders didn’t have big givers, as we know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And President Trump now, David, is saying the Democratic Party should be investigated, the Clinton campaign should be investigated by the Justice Department, the FBI.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I don’t know about that.

    But those of us who are trying to rebut populists like Trump have the disadvantage that our elites really do stink. And this is an advantage — example of that.

    It was sort of an open secret that the DNC was on Hillary Clinton’s side. We saw it from the schedule of the debates all through the year. They didn’t want to have them, because they didn’t want to give Sanders the platform.

    But this goes beyond what even I imagined was the level of collusion. It’s a pretty sleazy economic takeover of a party apparatus, against the bylaws of that apparatus.

    It’s just not something a normal campaign that respects institutions and how things should work should do. And so they colluded, apparently, according to Donna Brazile, in a pretty major way. And if you were a Sanders person, you have every right to be completely upset.

  • Mark Shields:

    Just make one quick point.

    And that is, the reason I say President Obama, any time you have a national party and the White House, the same party, the White House controls that national party. The national party was a totally — extension…

  • Judy Woodruff: 

    That’s typical.

  • Mark Shields:

    Typical.

    I mean, Donald Trump controls the Republican National Committee today. That’s always the case.

    And President Obama just didn’t like politics. He didn’t like the company of politicians. The Democrats lost 979 state legislative seats, 63 House seats, 12 Senate seats. In 19 states, they lost control of both houses of legislature and the governorship during his time.

    He didn’t go out and recruit. He was great himself, but not much for — he didn’t like the business. He didn’t like the company of politicians.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A different kind of economics, David, and that is taxes.

    The Republicans did come out this week, yesterday, with their tax reform, tax cut proposal. What does it say to you about what the Republicans in Congress and the president want right now?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, they have a vision for what business taxes should be, which is to lower the rates. And I think there’s a — our corporate rates are super high. And to attract capital to this country, it would help to lower the rates.

    They have no vision of what individual tax rates should be or how we should tax individuals. Their bill is sort of a hodgepodge of moving rates the rates around randomly. They have no vision of how to protect families. There could have been a much bigger child tax credit.

    And then, finally — and this is what everyone — the point everyone is making, but it happens to be true — they have no vision about the fiscal health of this country in the long term.

    I personally think there are some pieces of this legislation that I like, capping the mortgage interest deduction. There are some things I don’t like. I don’t think cutting the rates the way that they do is super important. But it’s all dwarfed by the $1.5 trillion hole they’re going to blow in the deficit.

    And until they can solve that problem, you’re not really dealing seriously for this country.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I agree completely about the $1.5 trillion deficit, Judy.

    And it is going to be financed, as we know, from the Republican votes in the House and the Senate, by cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, the very constituency that Donald Trump pledged to be the champion of.

    And, no, it’s — I would say it had its biggest day yesterday. I really do. I mean, I think it’s not something that stands the daylight very well or scrutiny. It starts with 25 percent approval support in the country. That’s the lowest that any presidential initiative since George W. Bush’s ill-fated attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005, which died after 10 months.

    Judy, what these people forget is the 1986 Tax Reform Act began in 1982 with Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt and Bradley-Gephardt. And it includes people of the talent of Jim Baker and Dick Darman at the White House.

    Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn are not Dick Darman and Jim Baker. And it had 430 witnesses before the House Ways and Means Committee and 26 days of markups.

    These people think they’re going to do it on the fly, on the run? They’re absolutely delusional.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, both of you are saying…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Dan Rostenkowski. There was a lot of serious talent.

  • Mark Shields:

    Dan Rostenkowski, Bob Packwood.

  • David Brooks:

     But what’s — it’s not going to pass.

    Like, they punish people in the blue states. You’re going to get rid of state and local deduction, and that that is going to create massive opposition. The realtors, philanthropies, student debt, there’s all sorts of things that are politically mine fields.

    The question to me is, does it completely die or do they fall back to some limited tax cut, just so they can say they passed something?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They passed something.

  • David Brooks:

    And I would bet — I don’t know if I would bet, but I suspect they will try to fall back to something plausible, maybe just the corporate rates. I don’t know what else. But they will try to fall back to just simple, smaller tax cut.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, I want to turn us quickly here at the end to Robert Mueller’s investigation, Russia investigation.

    They turned out some indictments this week, and not entirely surprising, Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign managers, his associate, Rick Gates, and then an interesting plea deal with a younger, almost unknown person on the Trump campaign.

    Was this a significant move coming from the special counsel, or what? How do you see this?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it’s significant, Judy.

    This was a man that was the subject of extreme vetting, Paul Manafort, that Donald Trump applies to everybody. He was only going to get the best, and he chose him to be the chairman of his presidential campaign. So, I mean, that gives you the idea of the extreme vetting that went on.

    And I think they are grave and serious charges. But the key to this whole indictment to me was the Papadopoulos indictment. Nobody in Washington, and rumored — maybe David has better rumors than I do — nobody ever had mentioned this arrest or this plea. It came as a big surprise.

    And now, you can imagine the nervousness inside. For the past two-and-a-half months, this is somebody who’s already pleaded and may very well have been in conversation. So, I think it’s a — you can see it from the president. He keeps talking about witch-hunts, they are going to get rid of Jeff Sessions.

    There is a nervousness and an anxiety that’s endemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you read it?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, everyone, when the indictments came down, went to DEFCON 9 around here. I went to DEFCON 2 or 3.

    Like, Manafort being a kind of sleazy operator, that is not exactly headline news here. The Papadopoulos thing is the open door. And what’s on the other side of that door, we don’t know. So, maybe it leads to something. Maybe it doesn’t lead to something.

    He wasn’t a major player. To me, the question I always ask, what did Donald Trump do? Is there something that this is pointing to Donald Trump did something himself? That is an administration-changing event. But we haven’t gotten anywhere near that so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We don’t know the answer to that question.

  • David Brooks:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Mark Shields.

  • Mark Shields:

    What did the president not know, and when did he not know it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When did he not know it?

    Thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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