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Shields and Brooks on impeachment evidence, Pelosi’s powerful moment

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including how the first House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment affected the case against President Trump, what Trump’s contentious visit to a NATO summit means for U.S. foreign policy and the fallout from Sen. Kamala Harris’ withdrawal from the 2020 race.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A milestone week in Washington.

    The impeachment proceedings against President Trump advanced to the House Judiciary Committee, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed House chairmen to begin drafting articles of impeachment. And while facing impeachment back home, President Trump faced NATO allies in London, as the Democratic primary field shrunk — shrank again.

    Here to help us make sense of it all are Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    OK, shrink, shrank, shrunk.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Shrunking right in front of you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're moving ahead. Let's — let's start with impeachment, Mark.

    Quite a week. The speaker did say, I want you to begin, to the chairmen, I want you to begin drafting articles. Judiciary Committee held a hearing with constitutional scholars, experts on Wednesday.

    Where does this argument stand right now that the president should be impeached?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the argument is quite straightforward, that the president illicitly used his power, in violation of his oath of office, to enlist, maybe subvert another country to participate in and sabotage an American election, upcoming, not 2016, as — revisiting that. He's talking about the election of 2020.

    And I think that's it. It's clear, straightforward, in violation of not only his oath, but of the express position, will and law of the United States Congress.

    And so, you know, I think it's pretty clear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does it — clear to you?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    It takes two to have an argument. And we don't seem to have an argument, because we have one side, the Democrats, who are happy to talk about it, and the White House doesn't seem very interested in confronting the argument with another side.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's true.

  • David Brooks:

    And so that's their decision in the House.

    I wonder what they're going to do in the Senate. Are they going to — is the White House going to mount a defense? Are they going to leave it to Republican senators?

    But I think — I agree with Mark. The evidence is just pretty overwhelming.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you have the — mentioned the Judiciary Committee happened its hearings this week. They heard from scholars, Mark. Monday, they're going to have what they call an evidence hearing.

    Is either side — both of you are saying the White House isn't presenting a defense. But the — some of the Republicans on the committee are saying, this whole thing is a sham.

    I mean, how much headway are the Republicans making with that argument that they keep hammering at?

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, the Republicans have been united, I mean, so, I don't know if there's headway to make in the nation.

    Their position is pretty clear. They're going to stick with the president regardless. It's kind of fascinating to me. There's a little vignette, I think, that sort of encompasses and explains this whole thing.

    In the 2018 election, in the 11th District of New Jersey, it was a Republican seat been held for 25 years. The Democrats nominated a rather remarkable candidate, a Navel Academy graduate, a mother of four, who had been a helicopter pilot and a federal prosecutor.

    And Nancy Pelosi supported her. But before the election, Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat, called Nancy Pelosi and said, I'm getting an awful lot of criticism. I'm going to have to announce I will not support you for speaker if I do win.

    Nancy Pelosi said, oh, Mikie, forget about it, go win, that's what matters. All right?

    That same election, in Utah, Mia Love, the only black Republican woman in the Congress, in a district that was incredibly fought, 290,000 votes cast, she lost by one-third of 1 percent.

    And Donald Trump, in his first press conference after the election, said, Mia Love didn't show me any love, and she lost.

    I mean, that just sort of encapsulates where we are, I think, on the two combatants. And it is. It's Pelosi against Trump. Let's be very blunt about it. They talk about the chairman and all the rest of it, but it is Pelosi against Trump.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And Trump had an argument of a sort today, which was 256,000 new jobs.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right. That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    And so the economy is a big factor here. And so, as long as he has that economy, the Republicans will be sticking with him, the whole atmosphere around him will be good from the Republican point of view.

    I should say, I thought Nancy Pelosi had one of the best political moments of the year this week in saying that she doesn't hate Donald Trump. She's going to pray for Donald Trump.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    That was a — I just thought a beautiful moment of, well, she said it's her Catholic faith of Christian witness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So I hear…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    David…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

  • Mark Shields:

    David is a devotee of Saint Augustine. And she was quoting, of course, Saint Augustine, hate the sin, but don't hate the sinner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But not the sinner.

    So, do I hear both of you saying you think the Democrats are correct to be moving forward with this impeachment, that this is a wise move on their part?

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't know if it's wise. I think they feel it's an imperative move, I mean, that if they don't do it, they will never again be able to face themselves in the mirror or look at history's judgment, that they watched a president do this, they saw a president do this openly and clearly, and did not act.

    I mean, that is just simply saying — it's abdicating all power. It's changing our system.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. And I think Pelosi understands two contradictory facts. One, they have to do this for constitutional reasons.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And, two, it could hurt some swing voters, but it's not the conversation she wants to have, which is about health care and other things.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    So, they're doing the right thing, which is to do it and do it as fast as they possibly can.

    I'm sort of struck by what Mitch McConnell — how he will react in the Senate. Does he want to drag this out as a way to keep Democrats, Senate candidates in there? Or does he want to short — also get it out of the way?

    Maybe he — if I were him, I'd probably want to get out of the way too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of questions. A lot of questions.

    So, meantime, this week, while all this is going on in Washington, the president is in London meeting with NATO leaders.

    And, Mark, once again, the president manages to get into a squabble with his counterparts. Is this — is this something that you think is having a bigger effect on the United States? Or is this something that is limited?

    There was a video of the other leaders apparently mocking President Trump. Is this something that's just about him? Or is this affecting the United States?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I went back. I checked the record. It was first time that Donald Trump, at least publicly I could find — 1987, took a full page ad in The New York Times, saying, Japan was having its freighters sail through the Persian Gulf protected by the Americans, and they ought to pay for it. Otherwise, the world would be laughing at us, and OPEC would be laughing at us.

    And he said China would be laughing at us, Russia would be laughing at us, Iran was laughing at us. And this was a constant theme throughout his campaign, that the world's laughing at us.

    And I was unaware of the world laughing at us. I will be very honest with you.

    But I saw evidence of the world laughing at the president of the United States, I mean, the leaders of the free world laughing at him and what had been his — his egotism and egocentricity just run rampant, at the indifference of anybody else.

    So that's what struck me about that vignette you described.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that about him, or is it about the country?

  • David Brooks:

    It's about him.

    My Twitter feed was interesting that day when the video came out, because the left side of my Twitter feed was saying, this is terrible that everyone's laughing at — and Donald Trump can't get along with foreign leaders. And the right side of my Twitter feed was saying, this is awesome. Donald Trump can't get along with foreign leaders.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    So, they like the idea that he was having a fight.

    And I will say, from the right side of the — or of the universe, mockery is a sign of higher status to people they think are less intelligent or less good.

    And so a lot of people who feel that everyone's looking down on them see mockery as sort of an elite phenomenon toward them. And it's read very differently, in my experience, in different parts of the country.

    And so I do think this is — this was an example of how we see the world differently.

    I do think it's indisputable that Donald Trump is hurting our relationships with our allies. I mean, that's indisputable. I once had a friend who was in the State Department say, most of what we do here is not foreign policy. It's foreign relations. We do relationships.

    And as Mark can tell you, in politics, and as in life, relationship is 98 percent of the game. And if you're torching your relationships with your allies, then they're not going to be there when you need them.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's a good point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, meantime, there still are a dozen-and-a-half Democrats running for president.

    And this week — actually, there's one fewer this week. Kamala Harris, senator from California, dropped out.

    Mark, we saw an exchange, an interesting exchange, between Joe Biden and a voter yesterday, where Joe Biden looked like he got pretty angry.

    How has the race shaped up at this point, given some of the — a number of candidates have now dropped down?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, the Kamala Harris thing, patterned, why not, a first-term African-American senator running for the presidency? Barack Obama did it.

    Two major differences. Barack Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime political talent. And, secondly, he was the only anti-war candidate in an anti-war party. Everybody else had supported the Iraq War.

    A lack of core convictions. She was for single-payer health insurance, until she was against it. And she got caught in the changing mores. I mean, a woman who had been a district attorney and an A.G. was a real plus, kind of proving her toughness.

    But, all of a sudden, in this Democratic Party and changing values, the question became, what about prisoners' rights and so forth?

    And so I think the premortems on her campaign, in both Politico and The New York Times and The Washington Post, on the internal strife almost…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we talked about that last week.

    The Democrats are left with a less, shall we say, colorful — fewer people of color in the race.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And I think, as a number of people have said, identity politics plays well on Twitter, not in campaigns. And Beto O'Rourke and Kamala Harris were the two most identity politics candidates.

    I also think it's just indisputably true this year that being an African-American is a disadvantage, not because Democrats voted — Democrats think other people are racist, and that they won't vote, I think, for an African-American.

    I think that's — I think that's not the whole explanation, a piece the explanation, for why Cory Booker, who I think has run a very good campaign, has not done better and why she has not done better.

    And they're left with this white — an all-white debate state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And among those left in the race, we mentioned Joe Biden getting into the squabble with a voter this week.

    But Joe Biden was endorsed by John Kerry, former secretary of state, this week, who was, of course, the nominee one — not so long ago himself.

    And then you had three Obama administration officials endorsing Pete Buttigieg. What about these endorsements?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, the John Kerry is not unimportant.

    I don't think endorsements mean — they mean a lot more on the back of the check than they do in a political campaign, unless it's the spouse of one candidate endorsing that candidate's opponent, generally speaking.

    But John Kerry did win Iowa. He was the nominee. He was the secretary of state. Certainly, one of the central themes of Joe Biden's campaign is that the world is in disarray, as we have just been talking about, and it's going to take an awful lot of effort and expertise from day one to reassemble it.

    And I think the New Hampshire — and it's a little bit of a slap at Elizabeth Warren at the same time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kerry endorsing…

  • Mark Shields:

    Or Deval Patrick, even, yes.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I think the Obama officials endorsing Buttigieg is a bigger deal, just because he needs the credibility of, can a 37-year-old do this? And that sort of lends some credibility to him.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • David Brooks:

    But I do think Biden had a — one of the best weeks of the campaign.

    He had an ad mocking President Bush — President Trump — wishful thinking. And then he went after that voter, which I think showed vigor, showed toughness, showed he's doing well, and I think also allowed him to control the news cycle, which he hasn't done for a long time.

  • Mark Shields:

    Disagree. I disagree with David.

    I think that Joe Biden can take on a voter, but he looked — you want to do pushups? You want to run? You want to take an I.Q. test?

    It looked a little bit like mini-Trump. And that isn't where Joe Biden is going to win this campaign, if he's going to win it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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