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Shields and Brooks on Iran conflict, impeachment trial standoff

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including how the Trump administration and Congress have handled conflict with Iran, indications House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial of the president and what all the tumult means for 2020 Democrats.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Back on Capitol Hill this week, the House of Representatives voted to check the president's war powers against Iran, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her Democratic Caucus to prepare for the next chapter on impeachment in the days ahead.

    Here to help make sense of it all, as well as some eye-popping polling numbers from the Democratic primary field, are Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Happy Friday. Welcome to you both.

    Let's start overseas, shall we?

    David, it was a week ago that the U.S. assassinated the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, three days since Iran retaliated.

    President Trump says he wants peace. They just rolled out new sanctions against Iran today. Is this de-escalation?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    A week ago, we didn't know where we were going. And it certainly looks a lot calmer than it did a week ago. And it looks more like a normal Middle East terror episode, in which case you have a terror army, whether it's Hezbollah or Iranian-state sponsored terrorism. They're ramping up ramping up activities.

    And then the U.S. says, stop. You — let's — we're going to be in conflict, but let's not get carried away here. You're pushing the boundaries here.

    And so we do an action, and when you do this kind of action, like killing Soleimani, it's using violence as a form of communication, saying you have pushed the boundaries, time to stop.

    And then the other side, the terrorist side, has a chance to say, no, we're going to keep going, or they have a chance to say, message received, we won't push the boundaries, it's not in our interests either.

    And that seems to have been what has happened. We have seen that through the Israeli-Hamas or fights. We have seen it through other terror fights. And it looks like a much more conventional sort of communication between a nation and a terror organization.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the same time, Mark, we have had 176 civilians killed as a result of those escalated tensions, right? That didn't happen in a vacuum, necessarily.

    And now Iraq and Iran are kind of on the same page, wanting U.S. troops out, out of Iraq from the Iraqi Parliament, and out of the region from Iran, which has always been a stated goal.

    I guess the question is — and we may not know this yet — but are we safer? That's what the administration is arguing.

  • Mark Shields:

    My argument, I guess, would be that we're not.

    But I go to the words of one exceptionally well-read Marine general, who later became secretary of defense, who said, history teaches — history teaches us that nations with allies thrive, nations without allies wither.

    Every year, Pew Research, a very respected polling operation, polls in the world, 32 different countries, on trust and confidence. And the fact is, the United States under Donald Trump has plummeted in the world.

    Among five world leaders, including Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Macron, the fact is that Donald is at the bottom. He has 29 percent of the world has confidence in him; 64 percent don't.

    This is a total reverse, total reverse from Barack Obama, when 64 percent of the world had confidence in his judgment.

    We are isolated as a people. I mean, Secretary Pompeo complained that the Brits and the Germans didn't go along. A, there is no support in their country for it. B, they were never consulted.

    So, no, I think — I don't argue with David's assessment of the individual discrete events. But I think the overall pattern is that we're paying a terrible price for isolation.

    And alliances have been the saving strength of the United States and the Western world since World War II, and they are in total disrepair at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot of the questions revolve around what will happen next, for sure, right? There's concern there could be an increase in some of those proxy militias you had mentioned, David.

    I want to play a sound bite for you, though, from President Trump at a rally in Ohio last night. He was responding to the House's move to try to restrict some of those presidential war powers that presidents have had for several years now post-9/11.

    Take a listen to what President Trump had to say last night.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They're all trying to say, how dare you take him out that way? You should get permission from Congress. You should come in and tell us what you want to do.

    (BOOING)

  • President Donald Trump:

    You should come and tell us, so that we can call up the fake news that's back there, and we can leak it.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, to some degree, no surprise the House said, we want you to come to us before you take more action against Iran.

    But then we also saw a Republican senator, right, Mike Lee from Utah, outraged after a briefing from military intelligence leaders that he felt was completely insufficient.

    Is this the time you think Congress starts to claw back some of that power?

  • David Brooks:

    No, I don't think so.

    I mean, they have had the chance in bin Laden. They have had a lot of chances, and the executive has taken this power.

    I do think the laws we have are obsolete. They're — for a time when not a terror war, whether it was like World War II or Vietnam, when there was a moment of peace and then a moment of war, and there was a transitionary moment where Congress would act between those two states.

    But in an ongoing terror war, there's no moment of peace and there's no moment of war. It's constant engagement. And so for the president, in a position of constant conflict with Iran, where they're ramping up pressure, we're trying to fight them, a discrete episode seems to me outside the bounds of Congress.

    Having said that, the president, executive branch shouldn't be running a long-running terror war without the constant communication with Congress and with the intelligence communities and the Intelligence Committees.

    And so while I don't think Congress should be approving every little individual operation, it's certainly up to the executive branch to be in constant communication, so there are no surprises. And that doesn't seem to have happened.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark, what do you make of the way the administration has been responding to those calls for greater oversight, maybe explaining and providing justification for this strike on Soleimani in the first place?

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, I don't think there's any question the president has asserted the total autonomy of his office.

    I mean, he sees no need to consult. He sees no congressional restraints. And I think, in spite of the fact that the House did act on the war policy, it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate.

    But there are there are pockets of resistance. I mean, it was — whether it was Senator Lee or Congressman Gaetz in the House. I mean, whether in fact it takes on a larger dimension remains to be seen.

    But make no mistake about it. Donald Trump and his administration make a serious mistake by not consulting. If they're not with you on the takeoff, they're not going to be with you on the crash landing.

    And there's no — they have no stake in what happens as far as his policy is concerned. Obviously, they do care about the nation. But as far as his policy and whatever political damage there is done to him, if they in no way are consulted or asked their opinion or their judgment or just told to shut up and join…

  • David Brooks:

    And despite this episode with Soleimani, I do think there's a bipartisan move, almost a consensus, a populist consensus.

    Trump has used military force less than any president since Jimmy Carter.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    He's not normally a military guy.

    From the populists on the left and populists on the right in different versions, it's like the Middle East is a mess. We are not good at dealing with that region. Let's stay away.

    And I do think, whether it's Mike Lee or people further on the left — Mike Lee's a Republican — there's a consensus, we shouldn't be involved in that region, or as little as possible.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I do want to get both of your takes on impeachment because there was a little bit of news today.

    Mark, let's start with you.

    Nancy Pelosi now saying we can expect those articles of impeachment to be transferred to the Senate sometime next week. We don't have an exact day.

    What now? What do we expect?

  • Mark Shields:

    We can expect them to be transferred to the Senate sometime next week.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    They have to go through the routine. They have to swear in the chief justice.

    Each of the senators, interestingly enough, and little piece of nickel knowledge, must take a separate oath. And it's a swear to be — not to be a legislator, to be an impartial juror be before God and man.

    And that — it would be an interesting note for the members of the Senate to take at this point, administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Why do you think it's interesting?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think it's interesting because it's hard to say that — you swear to be impartial, and I don't know how many of them could pass that lie detector test at this point.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. They will not be taking truth serum before they take that oath.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    They're not going to be impartial.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you expect from the Senate trial?

  • David Brooks:

    I expect it to be quick.

    Mitch McConnell seems to be wanting to be quick. I suspect a lot of Democrats secretly would like to get this over with. And so I suspect pretty clean and pretty quick.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Witnesses or no?

  • David Brooks:

    I suspect not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Probably…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I do think that pressure for witnesses has built.

    And Geoff Garin the pollster, makes the point, in polls in six different states, 70 percent of people want witnesses called. And I don't think it's a popular position to be opposed to bringing in witnesses with firsthand experience and exposure who can testify to what went on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk a little bit about the 2020 Democratic field now.

    We have some new numbers out to take a look at as well. The field has narrowed slightly, with Marianne Williamson suspending her campaign. The next debate stage has also narrowed, just six candidates going to be on that.

    But take a look at two early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, those numbers from Iowa out just this evening. It's a lot to take in. We're going to leave it up for a little moments, so folks at home can try to catch up and see what's going on here.

    But, basically, you have Senator Sanders in Iowa leading in the state for the very first time, just three weeks to go before those caucuses. And, otherwise, you have got a little bit of movement up and down when it comes to those four candidates, Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders and Warren.

    David, when you look at these numbers just for these two states, what are you seeing happening in the field?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you are seeing Bernie's strength.

    He's had this strength for four years now. It's very solid, and it seems to be a little bigger this time than four years ago. The question is whether — he's really good at getting 20 percent. The question is whether he can get up to 30 percent or 40 percent.

    And that's where he's — he's had a ceiling. And so — but still we have not talked about him enough. He's run a very strong, consistent campaign. He's just always showing up. And he has strong supporters.

    If I were Pete Buttigieg's supporters, I'd be worried. The decline there is very striking to me. And so we have these momentum shifts in the last four weeks of this thing. I think we're 24 days away. It looks like he's on the downslope of that shift.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark, very quickly I want to throw up these other numbers that we have from Nevada and South Carolina.

    There's another thing worth pulling out here. And that is that Tom Steyer, who has qualified for the next debate stage, is pulling in the double digits in both of those states.

    What's your take on the state of the field right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    He's the Liberty Mutual candidate. In other words, he's advertising. Nobody else is. He's in a nonadversarial situation. There's no campaigns going on in South Carolina and Nevada.

    The campaigns are going on in Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, he, I think, is at 2 percent. And that's where you have to show up, where voters kick the tires, look at you and so forth.

    Bernie Sanders' numbers in Iowa are impressive. Most of all 59 percent, three out of five of his voters have their minds made up, which tells you something. And he's getting — 49 percent of them are very enthusiastic about Bernie. He's at 66-29 favorable. Those are good numbers. Those are very good numbers.

    And somebody's got to catch him at this point, because it doesn't look like he's going to slip below that number. And the question is, is any of them poised to make a surge? And, right now, it looks like Warren, Biden and Buttigieg are stuck where they are.

    So if one of them — if one of them is going to catch Bernie, they better start moving in the next three weeks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You don't see a lot of movement otherwise right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I just — I think Bernie — if I were Bernie, I'd feel good.

    Among younger voters — I mean, here he is, the oldest — I guess now the second oldest candidate the race. But I mean, he's got better than a third of voters under the age of 35.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark Shields and David Brooks, thank you very much for being here. Good to talk to you, as always.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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