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Shields and Brooks on Kamala Harris as VP pick, mail-in voting worries

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, the legislative stalemate over federal coronavirus relief and President Trump’s ongoing campaign against mail-in voting and the U.S. Postal Service.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    And I want to ask both of you about what we are hearing from folks like the ones we just heard from, Mark.

    But I do want to ask you first about Joe Biden picking Kamala Harris as his running mate.

    Mark, what is your take?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, you know, the successful model in American politics historically, whether it is Ronald Reagan, two terms, Bill Clinton, two terms, both leaving 60 percent approval, or, obviously, Franklin Roosevelt, has been sort of an irrepressible, contagious optimism.

    And Donald Trump has been the exception to that. Donald Trump has portrayed a world in which we are surrounded by those who are not in our interests, our allies that we can't trust, refugees who want to subvert our nation, or even enemies within.

    And I just thought what came through in Kamala Harris and her appearance with Joe Biden was sort of a return to optimism. I know it is inappropriate to say it, but she has an absolutely million-dollar smile. And smiles have been missing from American politics. And I really think it was welcome to an awful lot of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will let you say that, Mark.

    David, what do you take away?

  • David Brooks:

    I am showing my 5-cent smile right here.


    I thought it was a triumph.

    The first 48 hours of any vice presidential pick are really important. Are people — are the — is the party fired up? Or is there some sort of scandal? Is the press going into some sort of frenzy?

    And you would have to say, Democrats are very fired up. They have already raised 50 extra million dollars in this window. And Republicans are really finding nothing to really attack at. And so they are struggling to find a way to criticize Kamala Harris.

    I also thought, you know, a bit of a return to professionalism. The way they handled the search left all of the people who did not get picked enhanced. And so they leaked nice things about Tammy Duckworth. Susan Rice feels more enhanced by this. And so that is a — that is just a professional and generous way to do this.

    And then they have controlled, which was — for many, including me, was the concern of Kamala Harris, which was her own campaign for president was very poorly managed and run. And so what does that say about her management skills? And that would be a legitimate concern.

    And so the Biden team, according to my newspaper's reporting, has said, you know, we are going to have one team. There is not going to be a Harris and a Biden team. We're going to have one team. And the Biden team is going to control the team. And so she just can't take the whole California crew and implant them, some of them, yes, not all of them.

    And so, all the way along, from how they managed the campaign, to how they rolled it out, I thought quite an impressive display.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we always like to ask early on, Mark, about pitfalls.

    What — I mean, what are the pitfalls ahead? And what do you make of the Republican response so far, which, as David said, is kind of all over the map?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, that's right.

    One prominent Republican, national Republican, said to me today, you can't have it both ways. She's either the most liberal senator in all of Christendom, or she is a terrible opponent of Democratic liberals.

    I mean, they have not settled on a line. And, in fact, it is contradictory.

    But I would say this, Judy. The very liabilities that Kamala Harris had in the primary, that — among liberal Democratic voters, that — was a tough-on-crime district attorney and attorney general, if anything, become a plus in a general election, in making her, if not bulletproof, then at least a lot tougher to attack on soft on crime, for example, than the typical Republican approach to Democrats.

    And, as far as the attacks on her, you know, Dame Margot Asquith of David Lloyd George, he could never see a belt without hitting below it. And that really is President Trump. I mean, he had every opportunity, appeals not to that which is highest or most noble or most elevated in any of us, but almost to that which is most base.

    And he did it again questioning her — raising questions about her citizenship and eligibility, horrible person, worst person in the Senate. You know, I don't know. I just think it — I think it is a song that has been sung and maybe people are tired of hearing it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, just quickly on that.

    I mean, they — the president himself called her right off — right as soon as they heard who it was, he called her nasty and horrible. Is that — is that a line of attack that is likely to stick?

  • David Brooks:


    She is tough. And that is something that is to her benefit. Most politicians I have interviewed are afraid of personal conflict. They will attack somebody from across the room, but — or across from on TV. But room to room, face to face, right in person, they are loath to be critical, they are loath to have a conflict, because they want everybody to like them.

    Kamala Harris is not like that. Whether as prosecutor, as attorney general or a senator, she is very quick to call somebody out. And that could be an advantage in a Biden administration, because one of the (AUDIO GAP) administration is, the president makes a decision, and then nobody — everybody just ignores it. There is nobody to enforce the decision the president made.

    And if she can be a person who, like, keeps people in line, that would be a gift to the administration. So, the flip side of Trump calling her nasty is that (AUDIO GAP) actually a true feature of her career, which is marked, which is that she has a certain toughness that is really rare in politics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maybe she will be the enforcer.

    So, Mark, I want to go back to what we heard just before I introduced you and David. And that is the ordinary Americans who are out there waiting for help.

    Congress has gone home. They haven't come to an agreement. The Democrats say they have dropped their bid from three $3 trillion to $2 trillion, and the administration is saying, we are at $1 trillion.

    Who should the American people hold responsible for this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think they hold responsible the government.

    David said last week, 60-40 Republican responsibility. I won't argue with that.

    I would say, the administration has not covered itself with glory. But I think the Democrats, I would be holding hearings at this moment on just exactly what is happening. The voices we heard, I mean, statistics don't bleed. Statistics don't cry tears, but human beings do.

    And anybody who could listen to those poignant portraits and self-statements just made on our show and not respond and say, oh, we can wait until September, or I have to get to the county fair, and campaign at the 4-H show or wherever else, or go to Nantucket, I think has to — an awful lot to answer for.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    Yes, this is yet another down side of COVID, actually.

    When you are only in Washington, or you are only in the media world, or in the political world, I should say, you — life is abstract. It is scoring political points. It's how to win this game.

    The advantage of campaigning at any level is that you are right face-to-face with human beings and it's not an abstraction anymore. It is their lives and your lives together.

    And so you see the vast gulf between Washington and the real lives of Americans. And Washington isn't able to say, OK, we have these fights, but these people are really suffering, let's figure this out. And they are lost in the political point-scoring. And this is why people have such intense contempt for Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, going back to politics, Mark, the story that we heard from William Brangham a few minutes about what is going on with the Postal Service, they are letting states know, most of the states know they are not going to — they may not have ballots returned in time for them to be counted.

    The president is continually, almost daily now denigrating mail-in voting, is opposed to funding so much of what the Postal Service says it needs. What are we headed for this November?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I am not one to often question former President Barack Obama's selection of words or his eloquence, which is demonstrated, but I think he was absolutely wrong when he said that they are trying to kneecap, Republicans are trying to kneecap. I mean, it is a mafia term. And it is very harsh.

    I think what we are talking about here is nothing less than Bull Connor in the streets of Birmingham with dogs and fire hoses. I mean, this is repression and suppression of Americans who want to vote. It is nothing less. That is what it is. And let's call it for exactly what it is.

    Donald Trump is afraid of losing. So, most candidates, the voters pick the candidate. Donald Trump, in this case, wants to pick the voters. He wants to limit who can vote.

    And I just think that they are making an incredible mistake. There are 22 million Americans every month who are kept out of poverty, kept out of poverty by a Social Security check. There are 67 million Americans who live on them; 1,278,000 in Florida get a Social Security check.

    You go into the United States mail, you start playing games there, then you are really — talk about misery, and you want to talk outrage, and you want to talk about political unrest, I think it's — I think he's — the whirlwind is about to be set.

    And — but it is indefensible. And I have had five Republicans, I think, up to now, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Tom Cole, Kevin McCarthy, and Roy Blunt, who have even said — dissented publicly that this dismantlement of the post office is not — unacceptable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just quickly, David, we have seen the president's attempts to talk down mail-in voting have worked.

    We have a quick poll result to share. In May, I think it was 50 percent of the American people said they believed that they would be comfortable mailing in their ballot. That percentage is down to 43 percent, a big drop, especially among Republicans.

    So, the president continues to talk it down and to say he doesn't want to fund the Postal Service because it would — could mean universal voting.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, with the Trump administration, you never know if it is incompetence or malevolence.

    In this case, the Postal Service is hemorrhaging money. And it is doing so because the number of pieces of mail has gone down 33 percent in the last several years. And so they — it makes sense to sort of try to make the thing a viable operation.

    Whether you want to cut some of these services right before a heavy election, where people are going to be mailing in ballots, strikes me as extremely foolish, but not necessarily malevolence.

    I do think we are going to end up funding this thing. Kevin McCarthy has said it is going to be funded.

    I would say to people, send in your ballots early or deliver it straight to the authorities. The problem is not going to get ballots to people. It is going to be the crush of millions of ballots in the final days in November.

    And so that's — that could be a crisis, even without Donald Trump, just because of the unusual nature. His tendency to talk down the voting and to delegitimize the system is its own shade of horror.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Shade of horror.

    Well, we — it is good advice to tell people to remember to vote under any circumstances, but especially this year. And if you can vote early, you should vote early.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

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