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Shields and Brooks on government shutdown, new Congress

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week in politics, including the continued government shutdown, why the new Congress is more “representative” of the American people and how the parties might evolve.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the partial government shutdown is now two weeks old, and its impact is growing.

    Each night it lasts, we're going to share with you some of the many ways it is directly affecting people.

    American farmers are starting to feel the hit at a crucial time of the year. That's because many of the offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture around the country are closed, at the very time farmers ordinarily show up to apply for loans to pay some of last year's bills or to plan on loans for this year's plantings.

    If the shutdown drags on, that's not the only big hit. The Trump administration pledged $12 billion in direct aid to soy, pork and dairy farmers to help deal with some of the losses they are suffering as a result of the trade war with China. But farmers must apply at USDA offices by mid-January.

    And, again, those offices are closed. The USDA says that it will decide later whether to extend the deadline.

    The partial shutdown is also temporarily stopping private companies from moving forward with an initial public offering, or IPO, this month. That's when a company starts selling its stock to other investors. However, companies must get guidance and advice from the federal Securities and Exchange Commission before going public.

    With the SEC at minimal staff, those deals will have to wait, and companies may miss filing deadlines.

    And that brings us 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.

    So, topic A, David, is what we were just talking about, the shutdown. The two — government remains — a big chunk of the government remains closed. The Democrats and the White House don't seem to agree. What are we — I mean, here we are. What are we now, two weeks into this. What are we learning about these — our leaders?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I have talked myself into deranged, but minimal optimism.

    (LAUGHTER)

    I think there's — substantively, I think there's a solution here, and people in the Senate are talking about it, which is that they exchange some money for a wall of some sort in exchange for a path to citizenship for the dreamers, for the DACA kids.

    And that's something that was talked about last year at much higher rates than — $25 billion for the wall, not $5 billion. And there was a lot of momentum for it then. And so I think, substantively, that would be a good deal.

    Donald Trump won election on a wall. He can get some money for a wall. Democrats feel strongly about the dreamers . They can make progress on the dreamers. Seems like that's a deal by including a lot more immigration package as part of it.

    The problem is the theater of it, and that nobody wants to be seen to be giving in. Both sides kind of enjoy standing up to the others. So getting past the optics and getting to the substance turns out to be a major challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, are we closer to a solution than it looks like we are?

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm not sure, Judy.

    But I will say that the closing of the sizable faction of the United States government is being felt by real people. I mean, there are no clinical trials at National Institute of Health, where sick children are being admitted.

    The FBI, which is involved in the safety of the country, the TSA, the air traffic control, I mean, are all depleted. And we're seeing people being forced to go into jobs in the private sector or to leave their posts, I mean, their public services. The country's less safe, whether it's in checking food safety, whatever.

    And government does matter. It touches people's lives. And there will be a human tragedy. There will be a — there will be a human tragedy and it'll be directly traceable to this slowdown, shutdown of the federal government.

    Just on a political note, it's paralyzed the immigration courts. So you have undocumented immigrants who were scheduled to be deported, now that's no longer the case.

    So, what will happen? I think David has proposed what is a sensible, rational alternative and compromise. It's been considered, but I'll be very frank. Dealing with Donald Trump right now is not seen as a starter.

    I mean, he's a man who broke his word on the — on the closing of the government. He had agreed to deferring this issue until February 6. And just criticism from Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, and he caved like a $2 suitcase.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, if Mark is saying it's the president who is the problem, I mean, does one side or another bear most of the responsibility here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there's plenty of blame to go around.

    I don't see why Nancy Pelosi says there can't be any money for a wall. I mean, we have got 30 percent of the budget — of the border right now, our southern border, has some sort of fencing. If that goes up to 40, that doesn't seem like a moral issue to me.

    I don't think the wall is a particularly wise investment. And it's really not where legal immigration comes from. It's not where drugs come from. It comes from people overstaying their visas. But it's what Donald Trump wants. He runs on it. Giving him a little of what he wants doesn't seem to me like a moral issue and building a little more fencing on the southern border doesn't seem to be a big moral crime.

    So I don't see why the Democrats are so rigid on that. I do think they have to make a call. Can we deal with this guy about anything?

    If they decide Donald Trump is just not a functional player, then we're in for a world of hurt. They may decide that. And they may be right about that.

    But I think that Schumer, Pelosi and Trump have to feel each other out, which they're doing now, and saying, is this a man we can do business with, or is he not?

    And that's kind of just a character judgment they have to make and will have big implications for the next two years.

  • Mark Shields:

    Just one point of dissent.

    Nancy Pelosi is a grownup. I mean, Nancy Pelosi came to office as speaker of the House, and was faced with a Republican president, George W. Bush, with whom she had disagreed on the war. And she provided the votes to keep the country's economy from absolutely going off the cliff.

    I mean, she absolutely submerged. The Republicans couldn't do it. John Boehner tried mightily, and he failed. And Nancy Pelosi did it. Nancy Pelosi saved the automobile industry in this country and saved Wall Street after the crisis. I mean, she's done this.

    I mean, Donald Trump has — the toughest thing he's ever done was to ask Republicans to vote for a tax cut. The people who have given you the most money to your campaign, I want to give them a tax cut. Will you vote for it? Well, I will, you know, because that's what we stand for. We really stand for tax cuts.

    And so I just think we're talking with one person who's a professional, who stood up in the last campaign, supported members in her own party — remember this — who refused to support her for speaker, and she backed them, and enthusiastically, and wanted them to win.

    Donald Trump, the slightest criticism, and he goes after Mark Sanford and beats him, and strikes terror and tremor through the entire Republican ranks to this day, where Mitch McConnell is paralyzed to do anything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what about, just quickly, David's point that because Trump ran on this, it was a central plank of his campaign, why can't — I mean, for the sake of argument, why can't the Democrats just say, OK, we're going to give you some of what you're asking for, in order to…

  • Mark Shields:

    They did Judy, and he reneged on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, and they have gone to 2.6.

    I don't know. I mean, if you had a deal with him, would you have it in writing? Would you get it from Mitch McConnell on DACA, as David suggests? Kevin McCarthy shows no — he is an invertebrate. He's criticizing the new congresswoman from Michigan, whose profanity you alluded to earlier.

    He was mute when Donald Trump attacked the Khan family. He was mute when Donald Trump suggested Barack Obama wasn't born in the country.

  • David Brooks:

    The Democrats have to make a decision.

    Either the only — this guy — is — we can't deal with this guy, and the only route is impeachment, or maybe we can deal with this guy. And they have to make that call.

    I personally think it's worth trying to work out a deal. It's the right thing to do, given that we're in a government shutdown, and this can't last forever.

  • Mark Shields:

    I am not — I'm not for not working with him.

    You have to have it in writing. You have to have him in public, I mean, because we saw what he did, David.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because he backed down…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Backed down completely.

  • David Brooks:

    I agree with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's talk about the new Congress.

    David, Mark mentioned Nancy Pelosi. She's the leader of the Democrats there. We have got a new reality in Washington. How different is it going to be? What — is there a message you feel coming clearly from the Democrats now?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I mean, it's — whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, the Congress should look like the country. It's called the House of Representatives. It should be representative.

    And so the fact that the House looks marginally more like the country is a good thing. You got people from different perspectives, from different points of view. And people can look at the U.S. Congress and say, yes, that sort of looks a little more like me.

    And so that by itself is a good thing. I also think we're going to get to see as frankly — and this may be a gendered comment — we're going to get to see a lot more attention paid to certain issues, which I think they're the core issues of American life.

    I spent a lot of time over the course of my career trying to get senators to talk about and members of the House to talk about early childhood education, which I think is a major issue for this country. And I would always get a pat on the head by a lot of, frankly, the older males, and because the real issues are about defense and banking and taxes. Those are what real men deal with. Dealing with little things like childhood education, that's like a second-rate issue.

    And now I'm hoping, as we get a more representative Congress, there will be a little more attention paid to issues that are relational, that are about the social fabric of this country. So I'm being hopeful about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, will thanks change, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    They will.

    I think David makes a good point. I would point out, in 1989, Judy, there were 29 women in the House of Representatives, 16 Democrats, 13 Republicans who were women. Today, there are 102. There's still 13 Republican women. There's 89 Democratic women.

    I mean, the Republican Party is a hemorrhage of defecting groups. It's women. More Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on a percentage basis, than did Democrats. And yet today the Republican Party is absent any — there's one woman of color in the entire Republican Congress.

    It's a party that is all white, increasingly male. It's a party that is not welcoming to immigrants or immigrants' families. And that's a real problem for our country and for our two-party system. I mean, the Democrats are guilty of and have yielded too often to identity politics and trumping — trumpeting their differences.

    But, I mean, the point is, if you're talking about the face of America and the reality of America, one party does represent it, and the other party doesn't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nancy Pelosi, who you both have referred to here, is dealing with a Democratic Caucus, David, in the House that they supported her. She got all but, what, 15 votes — 15 — Democrats voted for her.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

    But there are some of them who are in a hurry, who want things to happen very — they want them to happen now. How is she going to do dealing with that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, as Mark said, she's — if anybody's qualified to do this, she's qualified to do this. She does bang heads together.

    But it is a party that — as Mark says, it's a more diverse party. On the other hand, it's doing an extremely good job of driving away a lot of people, which is why the Republican Party is still a viable party. And if there are a lot of Democrats who say we're going to raise tax rates to 70 percent, that's a problem for a lot of moderate voters.

    And so it'll be very interesting to see whether she can exercise any message discipline about the party. She's already facing that challenge right away about impeachment. But the more serious issues are some of the policies. And a lot of her people who call themselves socialist — and they are socialists — if they go down that road, that will have some destabilizing effect on the party, as centrists say, well, didn't like Trump, but not sure I voted — I want a 70 percent federal tax rate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, is dealing with…

  • Mark Shields:

    Hands full.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, a hand…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Hands full of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Members who want things to happen.

  • Mark Shields:

    And members who have been celebrated by the press and had access to cable television, and are now celebrities in their own right, who aren't -the usual deferential role of freshman historically, and kind of coming in, waiting months before they make a speech.

    I agree with David that Nancy is the one person who could do this.

    Jim Wright, former Democratic speaker of the House, said of the Democratic Party then, and I think it's true today, the Democratic Party's a mosaic, it's an amalgam, let's call it a fruitcake.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And the Republicans have the strength of homogeneity, and they have the weakness of homogeneity.

    But there is no question this is going to be a shakedown cruise for Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, quickly, Republicans, big change among — in that the Democrats took over the House, David, but this is a new time for Republicans as well.

    They picked up a couple of seats in the Senate. But there now some Republicans who are going to be speaking up against President Trump. We saw the commentary from Mr. Trump. There are a few — a few of them are saying they don't like what the president is doing on the shutdown.

    How much opposition may he confront from within his own party?

  • David Brooks:

    My view, it'll be strong, until it's not.

    That is to say, all leaders, most leaders have a well of admiration and affection to draw upon when times get tough. Donald Trump, even among Republicans, or at least among the elite Republicans, doesn't have that.

    And so once it goes, I think it will go all at once. So Mitt Romney does not — there are not going to be a lot of Mitt Romneys out there right now.

    But the way the RNC reacted, which was to try to tie down the primary process and make it very hard to challenge Trump in the primary, that reflected real anxiety, because if there's another conservative alternative and 2019 turns into as ugly a year as I think it's going to be, then his hold on power is a little fractious, just because he has no personal attachments to any of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Twenty seconds.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, let's apologize to Mitt Romney for everything that was said about him when he said Russia was the United States' greatest geopolitical force. He was right about it in 2012.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He did say that.

  • Mark Shields:

    And everybody snidely, including papers and press and politicians, derided him.

    I would say that Mitt Romney is not Jeff Flake. He's not Bob Corker. He's going to be here after Donald Trump has ever been on a ballot again. And what he's done this week is give a legitimacy to pollsters putting him into polls against Democratic candidates in 2020.

    And if he runs consistently better than Donald Trump does against hypothetical Democratic nominees, that is trouble for Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Watch this space.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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