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Shields and Brooks on Mueller report, Trump’s health care move

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week's news, including Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the Mueller report, President Trump’s “bewildering” announcement on the Affordable Care Act and how Democrats should approach health care policy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From the attorney general's handling of the Mueller report to the renewed battle on health care, it's been a busy week in Washington.

    Here to help us understand it all, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, we now just in the last few hours have heard from the attorney general that we are going to see this almost 400-page report, but with — David, with redactions, that all he's saying he's sent so — he's said so far is, he shared some principal conclusions.

    But, based on that, what do we make of it?

  • David Brooks:

    I think Barr's doing a good job. He got the — basically, the headlines out of the way right away, which is all he could do.

    And now he's gone through a nearly 400-page report. He can't release everything because there are still ongoing investigations that he doesn't want to compromise. And there are sources and methods. So, he had to comb through it and had to take some time. But he's made it very clear that it's going to be released. He's made it very clear he is not going to give the White House an early shot that will allow them to claim executive privilege.

    And he's made it clear it's going to be out within a couple weeks. So, overall, I think he's acting like a professional.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Like a professional, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Very much.

    I mean, Bill Barr had a reputation, earned reputation, in Washington of being a square shooter, a fair guy. And he's living up to that. I mean, there were questions about surrounding his taking of the job, because it looked like he had a job application when he sent this extended memo to the White House on doubting the authority and purview of the special counsel and the particular investigation.

    But I just think it's what the Democrats have been asking for. It's what the public's been asking for and it's what the press has been asking for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you said, David, you're confident he's going to release most of it. But he did say redactions for security reasons, for legal reasons and also personal reputation.

    We are — there was a poll that was done in the last few days that we did in conjunction with NPR and Marist. People were asked, should the whole, should the full report be seen? Seventy-five percent said yes. And more than half of Republicans said, we should see the full report.

  • David Brooks:

    That's sort of the good news.

    I was more struck by 40 percent of Republicans don't want to see the report. Like, who are the "we don't want any information" party?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    That seemed kind of surprising to me.

    But I do think it was inevitable — I think we talked about this a couple weeks ago — that it was going to come out. When a prosecutor indicts are not indicts a normal human being, they should not release their information if there's no indictment.

    But this is not strictly a criminal case. This is a case about the behavior of the administration, the behavior of the nation's highest elected officials. And voters certainly have a right to know, beyond legal or illegal, the nature of the administration.

    Let's face it. Mueller has had an eye into this administration that no other — no reporter has had, nobody has had. And so he will have — he will tell us interesting things, which voters can make their mind up about in a couple years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, it seems to me the attorney general is signaling today with this letter to Congress that he is going to leave some things out that are part of grand jury business.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, grand jury, Judy, of course, that's the rule that's been cited, 6(e), the rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, that you have to — you have to keep that secret, testimony before a grand jury.

    And let's be very blunt. I mean, this is going to get out. The whole thing is going to get out. And so if he holds back substantial, significant, relevant information, then he's putting his own reputation on the line.

    I question whether he's going to do it. The fact that was mentioned at the outset that he's got a question of whether in fact executive privilege, the White House doesn't, I mean, that's a pretty big weapon he has.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I noticed that he said, although the president would have the right to assert privilege, he has stated publicly he intends to defer to me.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, accordingly, he says there are no plans to submit the report to the White House.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    And it should be said over all this that, just as a country, whatever you think of Donald Trump or not Donald Trump, we have averted a lot of disasters.

    I mean, it would be, frankly, a disaster to learn the president of the United States was colluding with a foreign enemy. It would also be a disaster to get involved in a presidential claim of executive privilege, as happened in Watergate, and we get mired in to months or years-long legal fights.

    And so, so far, we're avoiding what could be the worst of all this situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you already have the president saying, I have been exonerated, I'm cleared by this, and the people who criticize me are all wrong.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. That surprised the dickens out of me, that, Judy.

    (LAUGHTER)

    To be very blunt about it, what Donald Trump has done is, in the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is, he has defined deviancy down.

    I mean, this is a man who exalted, who took a victory lap, who did chest-pounding, spiked the football on the news that his campaign chairman is a convicted felon, his principal adviser on national security is a convicted felon, his deputy campaign chairman, his personal lawyers are all convicted felons.

    I mean, this hasn't happened in any administration in the history of the country, including Richard Nixon's. And he goes before the Republican Senate luncheon last Tuesday, and they give him a standing ovation, a standing ovation.

    I mean, that is defining deviancy down. But, I mean, the fact is, Bob Mueller, a week ago or 10 days ago on this broadcast, David, I think, were in total agreement, is a patriotic, able, committed, honest, and exceptionally professional prosecutor and lawyer.

    And he is today, even after the decision. I mean, and I think we have to acknowledge that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he did clear — and he did clear the president, at least according to these conclusions by the attorney general, of any — of conspiracy. He said there was no conspiracy, no evidence of that, or he didn't use the word collusion, but coordination with the Russians.

    And then he went on to say, no evidence of any obstruction of justice. So the president can say…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    He can say that.

    And a lot of people got out ahead of the evidence and claimed there was collusion and claimed there was — he was an agent, that he had betrayed the country. And they did their cause great harm, because they allowed Donald Trump to say, see, they're wrong. And they were wrong.

    For Donald Trump to claim that he's therefore exonerated is the exact opposite of the truth, for reasons Mark enumerated.

    I was struck by the reaction of two different Democratic presidential candidates. Saturday after the — we learned there was going to be a report of no collusion, Beto O'Rourke still went out and said he had colluded and still went out and inaccurately described what Donald Trump had done with the Russians.

    Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, who is also running, said, why don't we talk about the issues that voters care about? Why don't we talk about why people felt they had to vote for Donald Trump?

    And so one candidate was really focusing on the scandal. And one candidate was focusing on, what are the issues that people are going to decide? And that is sort of a decision the Democrats and, frankly, we in the media have to make. What issues do we pay attention to or what do we give what weight to?

    And I would say the latter are more valuable in informing.

  • Mark Shields:

    I agree with David. I would just say this. There isn't evidence of collusion. That's what they came to — or the conclusive evidence of collusion.

    But, I mean, let's be very blunt about…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I should say, the president also didn't submit to an interview with…

  • Mark Shields:

    He did not submit on that.

    But this is also a president and his campaign that actively sought the interference of a foreign government and welcomed it and saw nothing wrong with it, in corroding and eroding America's trust in our system and attacking a Democrat — a Democratic presidential nominee.

    I mean, the fact that he saw nothing wrong with it, it's not — I'm not talking about criminal, but it is of interest and of importance. And it does signify something about the character of the individuals.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, Mike Gerson, who sometimes sits in this chair, said the report seems to show that Trump is a stooge of a foreign power, but not an agent of a foreign power.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    So, if that's your victory, that's your victory.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you mentioned, David, the Democrats, some of the Democrats anyway, talking about issues, and some of them saying voters are not bringing up to me the Mueller report when I'm out on the trail.

    The president turned to health care after this in an interesting way, said — his administration is trying to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. But he also said the Republicans are going to be the party of health care.

  • David Brooks:

    After he's the president of humility and modesty.

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

    Yes, I thought it was bewildering. And a lot of other Republicans felt it was bewildering too. McCarthy in the House advised the president not to do this. It's not an issue on which he has any credibility.

    It's not an issue, frankly, the party has led in any glorious way. It's not anything he has run on before. It seems, to me, wandering into a mine field. Mitch McConnell's already made it quite clear that he's not going to help write a Republican piece of legislation.

    And so they could come up with a plan, which would be a good thing to do. But why Donald Trump thinks this is the right move for him or for his party is something of a mystery. And it's always an error, I think, with the president to try to divine his motives and his strategy, because there's usually no — nothing back there. It's just things coming out.

    And so, — it's a weird chapter in his presidency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, the Democrats — we're looking closely at what the Democrats are saying about health care, from Medicare for all to various other iterations of that.

    Are we seeing something emerge from the Democrats that's going to — that's going to help them, help one of them on the campaign trail?

  • Mark Shields:

    Help one of them.

    I think it's going to — we learned last November, Judy, that it helped Democrats when the debate is about health care. And it was the most important issue in the campaign of 2018. The Democrats won their largest popular majority in a congressional election in the history of the country.

    There is no plan that Donald Trump can come up with or anybody else can come up with that is to the right of the Affordable Care Act. It was drawn from — as Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado points out, it was drawing from Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts. So, I mean, there isn't a lot of wiggle room out there to the right of some master plan for conservatives.

    And the fact is, Donald Trump and the Republicans have achieved the almost impossible. They have made the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which I know drives Donald Trump around the bend, whenever he hears Obamacare used, but they have made it favorable, popular for the first time.

    A majority of Americans have a favorable attitude now toward the Affordable Care Act who never had it once it was passed during the Obama years.

    So, I mean, to me, this is beyond folly. This is — politically — ethically, it's not worse than attacking John McCain, seven months dead, but, politically, it's worse. And these are two major missteps by Donald Trump, the informed political genius.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you do have some Republicans, David, pointing to Democrats talking about Medicare for all, and they're saying, ah, that's socialism. Aha. They're talking socialism. We want to let you keep your doctor.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    No, I think the Democrats will be making a terrible mistake if they go for Medicare for all. The sticker price of that, the increased tax bill, is massive. There are lots of people in this country, 70 percent, who are happy with their private health insurance. To take that away from them is politically perilous in the extreme. It would just be a massive disruption.

    There are lots of things before you get to Medicare for all you can do to expand coverage.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    There's catastrophic coverage you can do. There are lots of incremental things.

    And it's been interesting to watch the presidential candidates go for the maximal Medicare for all. Nancy Pelosi has not.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • David Brooks:

    They're talking about much more incremental things, to me, much more politically realistic and probably, policy, more intelligent.

    But Mark is right. After Obamacare, the movement was like, OK, we did this. There's clearly more impulse in the body politic to do more on health care. It's still a big issue. There are still tens of millions who are uncovered.

    And so there's going to be some movement around there. But taking it all the way to Medicare for all would be political suicide.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ten seconds to button it up.

  • Mark Shields:

    Nancy Pelosi is a grownup, and she's the grownup in the room. And she's right. She's right politically. She's right substantively.

    The Democrats are the party that believes in health care, that believes in extending it. And the idea, in my judgment, of going Medicare for all now, it might be a nice talking point to a liberal group. It's not a realistic political proposal.

    And I think that you're going to find yourself on the defensive, just as Donald Trump did on this issue. The Democrats are going to take an issue that is to their advantage and put themselves on the defensive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On that note, Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

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