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Shields and Brooks on GOP tax bill’s economic impact, Doug Jones’ Alabama win

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks joins Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s news, including the priorities Republicans are putting forward in their tax overhaul bill, Democrat Doug Jones’ Senate upset in Alabama and what it means for Republicans in elections to come.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    I guess it's now all over but the shouting, Mark. The Republicans seem to have the votes on this tax bill. What do you make of it?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, the legendary late conservative columnist Robert Novak was an old friend and a constant frequent debating said the Republican Party stated seriously and approvingly that the Republican Party is put on earth for one reason, that's to cut taxes, and I think they've lived up to the Novak mandate today. I mean, that's it. I mean, that's all it's about.

    I mean, think about this — cut the effective corporate tax rate by 46 percent, to 21 percent from 35. And at the same time, 8.9 million American children who get coverage, medical coverage under the children's health insurance plan go unfunded since September 30th because they can't somehow, in their feverish pursuit of lowering the top tax rate from 39.6 percent down to 37 percent so Steve Schwarzman can somehow have an easier Christmas, they can't find the money. These are working poor families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to buy their own health insurance.

    It is the caricature of the enforcement of the ugliest stereotype of the Republicans as an uncaring party passing a bill that was written by and for the richest and most powerful.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    I'll dial it back a few notches when you get to my position. But, you know, I'm not against corporate tax cuts. You know, Barack Obama once proposed cutting the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. So, we got 21 percent, so seven percentage points lower. That doesn't strike me as a great moral difference. I think cutting the corporate tax rate as Sweden and all these other countries have done is good for the economy and makes us competitive around the world. It follows an international trend of people doing this.

    But to me, you've got to surround it with other things to help the people that Mark is talking about. And that's what the Republicans didn't do, cutting the marginal rates, bad idea. They didnt even simplify rates.

    And so, what strikes me is how irrelevant — I went to work at the Wall Street Journal editorial page in 1986. We've been talking about — Republicans have been talking about tax reform ever since that last tax reform. And all these ideas have been floated around. Some of them are — reduce the number of rates, of brackets, make a flat tax.

    This bill has nothing to do with any of that work. This bill has nothing to do with all the intellectual work that real economists put in who are Republican, who are conservative, who have a vision of improving incentives. What's big about this is that the Republican Party has become detached from the Republican economic profession. And so, they pass a bill simply as donor maintenance and it's about hurting their people and helping our people without really an underlying economic philosophy at all.

    So, they took an opportunity to do something pretty good, and they have a few good morsels in there, and they ended up doing something pretty bad that will hurt the worst and without helping growth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Will they at least help themselves politically, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, they won't. Judy, I mean, it starts with 45 percent support in the country, and the broadly-held perception that it is written by and for the rich, that it's a payoff, and they are comforting themselves, Republicans, with somehow the secure knowledge that once it passes and people start to see the benefits of it, that they will feel better about it.

    I would remind them of 2010, the Affordable Care Act, not in social policy but political implication, once it passed, Democrats were sure that people would feel a lot better about it. And in 2010, of course, the Democrats suffered a stinging rebuke.

    The Republicans will be on the defensive about this, as well they should be. The corporations that so desperately need this, there is only $2.3 trillion in offshore money they're sitting on right now, and there is no provision at all, no requirement that they hire a single worker, retrain a single worker, expand a plant or anything of the sort, and it's going to go right back to the shareholders, the stockholders and buying back stock.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are they taking — David, are they taking — are Republicans taking a risk by what they've done?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think so. I mean, I take the biggest picture. The big issue facing American domestic politics is widening inequality and the collapse of the working class. And so, the Obama administration, given this big problem, decided to spend their entire administration talking about the health insurance markets, which is really related to but tangential. The Republicans have decided to lose their majority on the corporate tax rates which really has nothing to do with the central problem.

    So, what's mystifying to me is that the two last administration' and political establishment going on 12 years now is ignoring the big problem and tackling other problems. And so, that is going to mean that the inequality and the white working class and every working class that's collapsing, that issue which drove the Trump election is going to be worse and worse and worse, and it will have effects we can't predict right now.

  • Mark Shields:

    Not to be prickly, but I just point out that Barack Obama confronted the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. I mean, getting out of that was the prime concern. He brought us back from the precipice. I agree with you on the expanding inequality, but it was't comparable in any way of 105 sustained months of job growth and economic growth under Barack Obama that was inherited by Donald Trump and is about to be squandered in this giveaway.

  • David Brooks:

    I'll give you that, getting over the 2008, 2007 recession was big accomplishment early in the administration, but it still remains the fact that once they got over that, they could then turned to these — the Michigans, the Pennsylvanias, the Ohios, and either done infrastructure. They could have done a bunch of things, which are always on the table and everybody says they're in favor of, and nobody actually does because it doesn't go — and the Republicans, the donor base. And the Democrats, they have to have a thing about health insurance.

    And the insurance markets, they were right to do that. There was just a small thing they did to help people get a lot more people get insured, but it did not — what mystifies me is our inability to even frontally address the main problem of the day.

  • Mark Shields:

    You're right, but I just point out one thing, and that is saving the United States automobile industry, Ohio and Michigan, were not minor accomplishments and they were opposed by the Republicans and the Republican —

  • David Brooks:

    Fair point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So all this is happening for Republicans, the same week they lost, David, a big race that everybody was watching, special Senate election in Alabama. This was — by the way, credit to Mark Shields, sitting right here, you forecast that Democrat Doug Jones would win. So, congratulations.

    But, how much are — first of all, what happened? And then let's talk about what it means.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you — can a bigoted pedophile, alleged pedophile is not a great candidate, who is incompetent. So, he's going to lose the new South, he's going to lose women. He's going to lose a lot of people. He's going to lose non-evangelicals.

    And so, you combine Donald Trump and Sheriff Moore, you've got two pretty toxic characters anywhere, even in Alabama. To me, the two things that are interesting moving forward is the poll I saw in a piece by Jonah Goldberg of National Review of Fox News viewers. In June, 90 percent of Fox News viewers supported President Trump, now it's 58 percent. That's a massive collapse among Fox News viewers. So, if you're losing them, you're in trouble.

    Second, what is the knock-on effect for all the Bannon candidates running all these other races? So Steve Bannon has put up people to run against regular Republicans in Arizona, possibly in Wyoming, probably in Tennessee, a bunch of other places.

    It seems to me that was just a mortal peril for the party. It seems to me this may quash those or at least among a lot of Republicans say, hey, these Bannon candidates are bad news for us.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    It's bad for the Republicans. They're disorganized. They're fragmented. There's a bitter division.

    There's recriminations. There's no common spirit. There's the Bannon wing, there's Mitch McConnell. Donald Trump is an albatross of historic dimensions.

    I would point out the last time four times controlled Congress, switched from one party to the other, it was midterm elections. In each case, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the three most recent, the lowest job rating was that of George W. Bush was at 42 percent. The other two are 45 percent and 46 percent approval.

    Donald Trump is now 10 percent below that. So, he is going to be — a midterm election, Judy, is nothing but a referendum on the president. It's not a comparative. You can't bring up Hillary Clinton or her alleged foibles.

    It's the incumbent president. And he is in big trouble and Republicans are in enormous trouble heading into 2018 and that's Alabama.

    I would say one thing about Doug Jones, he was a good candidate. He did appeal to African-American votes. He had credentials. He had bona fides. He had been the prosecutor of two of the Ku Klux Klansmen who had blown up the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four Sunday school girls, the Sunday school.

    But beyond that, on election night, he showed us what a real normal speech is like. He thanked people by name. He was modest. He was optimistic.

    He asked for one thing, and that was funding of the Children's Health Insurance Plan. He didn't skewer or trash his opponent. He didn't demonize anybody.

    It was just a grownup, normal speech, and it was encouraging.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, so Republicans hanging their heads over that right now, but they got a lot of — going into 2018, the midterm elections next year, Republicans were seen having an advantage because they don't have as many seats to lose in this midterm. But now that Alabama has happened —

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, and what mystifies me is this should be the year they could even pick up seats because they've got the battlefield so tilted in their direction. But among Republicans, just a sense of fatalism. You don't see them reacting.

    They all know Trump is bad news. If you talk to them privately, they all wish he would go off in a puff of smoke, but they don't have any action. They don't know what to do.

    Some of them have deluded themselves into thinking that passing the tax bill is enough. You hear that a lot, that we just need to pass this. I think most of them know that's not really — that's delusion.

    But the lack of imagination, the lack of will — it's not only that Trump beats the establishment, the establishment retreats in his wake, before he even attacks, and this is what happens when a party loses its sense of self-confidence, reason to live, reason to believe.

    There's a reason the Bolsheviks were a small group the Russia beat the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks believe in their thing, and the Mensheviks, who are much bigger didn't believe in it, and passion has one side, not on the other.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In less then 30 seconds, Mark what's —

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the telling figure if you want cosmically out of Alabama was Donald Trump at 48 approval, 48 disapproval. But where the intensity was among those who disapprove of him seriously, 41 percent, all the passion, all the intensity, all the organizing, all the small contributions are on the side of those who really don't like Donald Trump, what he's doing and where the country is going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You heard it here.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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