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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the GOP tax bill signed into law, the things lawmakers didn’t accomplish before the end of the year and what it will mean for the 2018 midterm elections, plus David and Mark share whom they would give holiday gifts to this year.
And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Three days before Christmas, Congress has just gone home. David, the president says this tax bill that they passed is a great gift for the American people. He said today corporations are going wild over this. They're showering their employees with bonuses.
But the polls show people are still skeptical. What are people to make of this?
Well, I have not been a big fan of this tax bill for a whole number of reasons, one of which I think was revealed today. When you look at all the intricacies of it, not all the big things, little changes that could have vast effects on American societies.
For example, we have got the health insurance system, the employer-based health system because of some minor change during World War II. This has all sorts of minor things. Because we had no hearings, because we had no expert review and no time to actually look at what's in the bill, it has dozens of that kind of minor changes that could have massive effects.
For example, we could all — it doesn't make sense to work for a company anymore, when you can declare yourself a corporation and pay the corporate rate. And so that could just have massive effects of the economy.
So it's actually kind of hard to know what the effects of this tax bill will be, because I think most of them are unintended.
So, are people scratching their heads, Mark, or are they worried? What do you see?
People have concluded, at least strong initial judgment, Judy, that it is a bill that favors corporations and favors the very well-off.
And that is a conclusion. As Peter Hart, the pollster says, when a negative judgment is formed, it's very difficult to overcome that. And that is the perception.
Most people don't have the option of declaring themselves corporations. That comes to a level of affluence and influence not available to most American families.
And I think what David cited is a good example.
Yes. I would say one thing. I don't think it is going to be a political loser for the Republicans.
Because 80 percent of the country does — or tax units, does get a break out of it of varying sizes.
Some people will get pretty significant breaks. If you have a kid or a couple of kids, the child deductible tax credit, it doubles and it becomes refundable, so you actually get a check in the mail. And a lot of people are going to be seeing that. And a lot of people are going to be surprised to see that.
So I don't think it will be the total loser that it looks now. I think now the polling, people don't know what's in the tax bill. They just don't like Trump. He's associated with it. They get the Republicans favor the rich.
But this bill is — you spend a trillion-and-a-half dollars, you can give a lot of money away.
So, Mark, you…
In 1986, which was an employer tax reform bill, Ronald Reagan, passed the Senate 74-23, passed the House 296-132, bipartisan, overwhelmingly, and popular.
And President Reagan refused to sign anything that wasn't deficit-neutral, and, Judy, historic. And that year, 1986, the Republicans lost control of the Senate, lost nine Senate seats. Democrats increased their majority in the House.
It is a — in 1981, after President Reagan signed his then historic first tax cut, the same thing. The Republicans suffered.
David's point is that they get a couple more bucks. I get 20 bucks more or 30 bucks more in my check. But I'm going to be regaled and inundated with stories of millionaires walking away, of special interests, of Wall Street getting it. And it becomes very relative. I'm starting to feel duped, because all of these wealthy people are getting windfalls.
I think the Republicans are going to do very bad in the midterm, but not because of the tax bill.
And there are lot — in '86, it was revenue-neutral. In '81, there was a recession. Now times are economically good.
So you can vote on a lot of things. In general, when you run up big deficits and give away — back money to people, they like it. And people like me say, hey, you should worry about the deficits or you should worry about the distribution effects.
That's just never been, I think, my experience of how people respond to it. They say, hey, I got some money back.
Well, you brought up the midterm elections. And that's what I want to ask you about.
But, David, your point is that this tax bill is not going to affect Republicans in the midterm that much, whatever…
Who knows? The midterms are still a year away.
I think the reason people don't like the Republican Party is not because of the tax cut. It's because they don't like Donald Trump, they don't think they're functional, for a zillion other reasons.
And I think it's — opinions about Donald Trump are dictating polling about everything else.
Mark, the Democrats go into this election at a disadvantage when it comes to the numbers. There are more Democrats who are up for reelection, a number of them in states that Donald Trump won.
In the Senate. That's right.
I mean in the Senate. So — and they're behind in the House. So how do you see this right now?
I think both history and the polls are very much in favor of the Democrats, and the wind is at their back.
The Republicans just passed this historic tax bill without a single hearing, without a single Democrat. It was totally on partisan — and it showed where the Republicans — what they care about.
They're leaving town, gleefully, self-congratulatory, with 8.9 million American children in a state of anxiety and suspension about whether they will have medical coverage, and the children of immigrants, DACA recipients, in this country, 900 of whom are in the United States military today, and don't know whether they will be allowed — they have had a green card fast track to citizenship from military service in the past.
They don't know, under this administration, whether they will be allowed to remain in the country, let alone serving the United States in the military.
But they show the priorities, Judy. The priorities was the tax cut. And I just think, going into the election, they're just in terrible, terrible shape.
And the Democrats should be — history should be against them in the Senate, but, right now, Republicans are apprehensive even about retaining Senate control.
Yes, there's multiple targets here. That's not what I think they're in terrible shape.
I think they're in terrible shape — you know, you look — we have talked about this before. There's the thing called the generic ballot. Which party do you want to control, which party do you think — usually, if one party is plus nine, they're like due for a tidal wave of support. And the Democrats are plus 13 or 14. That's just massive.
Now, we're a year away, and the Democrats have a problem, their voters are all clustered more than the Republican voters. But, still, it looks like a tidal wave election. If it was today, it would be a tidal wave election, and it looks the kind of elections where Democrats wouldn't only carry swing states, like maybe even Arizona, something like that, but states where you don't even imagine.
You remember like Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, in a way you don't imagine.
OK. So, weird things happen in years like that.
And if it were held today, that's what would happen.
Could I just agree with David? I agree with David.
The liability the Republicans have is that their problems are not curable or susceptible to cure with an initiative or a new policy, because the face of the Republican Party is Donald Trump.
And to quote our friend Peter Hart again, who's done focus groups for Emory University of Trump voters, the words that Trump voters use to describe Donald Trump are childlike, troubled, immature, narcissist, embarrassing.
These are people that voted for him.
These are people who voted for Donald Trump.
And the point I make, Judy, is, he's very pleased with himself. He's pleased with his temperament and his personality. I think we got that at the celebration, at the signing of the passage of the tax bill at the White House.
And I — but I think there's no way this is going to change. And if he's the face of the Republican Party, that's an enormous albatross.
Yes, people don't judge legislation the way that policy economists do. But people are really good at judging character, and maybe not last November, but in general.
And so they haven take a look — and especially suburban voters and women have taken a look at this guy for supporting Roy Moore, who, by the way, has behaved gracelessly in the last week, and they have made up their mind. And Trump has kept his core rural base, his white rural base. There are just not a lot of those people.
So, you're saying it's not fixable for Republicans?
Well, I always hesitate, because I have been surprised in the past.
But I don't see how — the people who I think are disappointed Trump voters and who are non-Trump voters seem very set in their opinions. They have made a character judgment about this guy and a character judgment about the way he's running the country.
And the intensity and the passion is on the side of the Democrats, by every measurement. They have measured in polls.
They are more interested and care more. And if — in real estate, the three elements that matter are location, location, location. In midterm elections, it's turnout, turnout, turnout. And right now, turnout will favor the Democrats.
And if you look — especially if you look at Alabama and at Virginia.
Absolutely. Yes. No, exactly.
So, we are a just couple of days from Christmas.
I have to ask both of you, want to ask both of you, in this season of giving, is there somebody you can think of out there in the political or the larger world who you would like to give a gift to? To whom and what, David?
Well, I have had a series of conversations, interviews with people who work in government, some career people and some Trump employees.
And what strikes me is, among all of them, is they're really sad. They're very sad. And they need happiness. So I was thinking, what makes everybody happy? I think it's dancing penguins and Louis Armstrong.
So, I want to have penguins dancing to Louis Armstrong songs for all those people.
But, just to be clear, you're talking about people who work for the federal government as civil servants?
And Trump employees. Everybody is very unhappy right now on both sides and unhappy with each other. There's just a wave of depression.
But there's a serious point under there, that they're having a tough time?
Well, the career people have very — find it very hard to serve in an administration they don't believe in.
The Trump people find it very hard to serve in an administration without camaraderie. And that's not the way all past administrations have been. Just it's a tough — it's tough for them.
And they came here. A lot of them are good people who wanted to serve the government. They sort of believed in the agenda. And they find that career staff is quite hostile to them. And they find the people they got — are appointed with are not always friendly, because the culture of the administration…
Mark, a gift?
Yes, I will just add to David.
That is, it's tough to work as a public employee in a government, for a government led by an administration that doesn't believe in you and what you do.
My own present or offering would be to Doug Jones, who won that Alabama Senate seat. In his victory statement, Judy, he showed us — he thanked people, thanked people individually. And he was so gracious and so generous. He never demonized anybody. He never skewered his opponent.
And he said, this is about bringing people together. And I think it was a wonderful example.
And I just want to say, thank you, Doug, and bring that same spirit to Washington, because lord knows we need it.
Uplifting note on which to end this conversation, as I wish both of you a wonderful holiday and merry Christmas.
Thank you so much.
Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.
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