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Shields and Brooks on North Korea summit canceled, Trump’s attacks on Russia probe

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump calling off his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries for Democrats and the effects of the president stirring controversy with claims of FBI spying on his campaign.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now back to the political news of this week with the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, let's talk first about this on-again/off-again summit with the North Korean leader.

    David, it came about very quickly. It seemed to spring out of the president's mind on his own. We didn't — a lot of people were skeptical it was ever going to happen. It's off again, but the president said today, maybe it's not off.

    What do you make of his diplomacy?

  • David Brooks:

    When I went to buy my first car, somebody gave me advice. You have got to walk out. Walk out.

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Walk out.

    And I never — I'm not that kind of guy, so I didn't walk out. But Donald Trump sort of walked out. And so he does everything in public. And he exerts pressure, he flatters, he threatens war. He does everything in public.

    And so I sort of sympathize with the idea to see if there can be some breakthrough with North Korea. And I don't blame him for going in and going out, trying to exert whatever pressure he can.

    The problem is, it's not real diplomacy. In real diplomacy, you have your sherpas, your lower-level people sort of build up some sense of agreements. You gather your allies. You don't burn them with trade deals, the Chinese just South Koreans. You gather — and you exert real pressure.

    But Donald Trump is a lone wolf, and so he's doing it all on his own, basically, without allies, without too much help from the U.S. government, and it's all by tweet and publicity.

    And so I'm skeptical that you can get a real breakthrough without a full, stacked diplomatic and military effort, but — or at least sort of threats and pressure. But I don't totally blame him for trying. Or, frankly, I don't blame him for going in and out.

    Anything that can dislodge something that's stuck.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size this up?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, it's been 65 years since President Eisenhower on his promise to go to Korea negotiated a truce between North Korea and South Korea.

    Since then, we have had 10 presidents of both parties, five Democrats, five Republicans. With varying degrees of commitment and intensity, they have all tried to deal with resolving Korea. They have spent time. They have used learned professionals, wise academics, businessmen who know and businesspersons who know the area.

    And even after that, there are no major breakthroughs that's happened. And Donald Trump, with no preparation, no knowledge, no background — I agree with David. I cheered the hope — and it was only a hope — that we might have a breakthrough.

    But the idea that this was going to happen, and that somehow Kim Jong-un, who has gotten now global respect because he's got nuclear arms, was just going to say, well, that's it, thank you so much, you know, I think, was unrealistic.

    Now, the fact that Secretary Mattis says that there's a possibility that the summit will occur, that gives me pause. I mean, I give a lot more credence to what Secretary Mattis says than I do to the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president clearly — or seems, David, to believe that unpredictability can pay off sometimes.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, sometimes, it can.

    If we got a crazy person who is president, you may as well take advantage. But, as I say, why should they give up nuclear weapons? They have seen the Libya example and they saw what happened to Gadhafi.

    The only — but at some point in history, and I don't know if it will be in our lifetimes, they will say, we would rather have a middle-class lifestyle. We would rather have what they have in South Korea. I think, eventually, somebody is going to make that call. I don't know if it will be this guy or his son or grandson or whatever.

    But, eventually, that's going to happen. So, as long as we can keep knocking on the door, that seems fine. And as long as we don't disrupt our allies in the area, which we seem to have terrified the South Koreans…

  • Mark Shields:

    And the Japanese.

  • David Brooks:

    And the Japanese — then the door should always be open, the pressure should always be on.

    But sometimes you don't just have any good solutions. And that's why we have had 10 presidents without much progress.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, that's it.

    This isn't the city council in Atlantic City or the zoning commission, where you're trying to get a deal for the casino and better parking or a large parking lot or to invoke eminent domain on your behalf.

    This is really — really — significance. And it's the difference between braggadocio and style and flash and substance. And if you look at everybody — I mean, John Kennedy, who was far more a student of foreign affairs than Donald Trump, at his first encounter with Khrushchev came away humbled, came away — and, in retrospect, contributed, historians and I think many in the Kennedy administration agree, to the emboldened Soviet Union in both Berlin and in Cuba.

    So these don't come without some cost and without some price and especially, as David pointed out, the rupture with our allies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's bring it back home.

    Primary elections this week, that is the season we're in right now.

    David, Democrats cheered a number of these results. Women seemed to do particularly well in a number of states, some firsts for women.

    How did you read these results? Are you seeing something here that gives you a sense of what's going to take place in November?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, the prominence of the women candidates was obviously the one thing.

    The second thing I would say, it's more likely we are going to have political campaigns that are going to be more about race. The Republicans have become a pretty white party, pretty out front on their views on immigration.

    And what we have seen among the Democrats is, they're also saying, yes, there is going to be our issue.

    If you look at — and this has been true over the last couple of years. If you poll Democrats, are racial issues, are they structural problems in American society or are they individual, tended to be mostly Democrats thought, no, it's individual — individuals can overcome racial barriers.

    Now it's much more, no, it's structural, it's a very big, systemic problem. And then it used to be a lot of Democrats didn't want to get to close to the racial issue, didn't want to get to close with immigration, but now they're embracing those issues.

    And so the party is becoming much more the party of intersectionality. And that's just where politics is breaking now. The Republicans probably started it by putting immigration so central. Now Democrats are going to put immigration central.

    And that is honest on one hand. I'm a little nervous about it, frankly. Race is the big divide in our country's history. It's been a nasty divide. And if our political divides overlap with this racial nightmare we have had for 250 years, you could get some pretty bad things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that what you see, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, when you have got the leader of one party calling people animals, it's tough to say that race is not going to be a factor in American politics. It has been. It's an enduring factor.

    I will say this about…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In reference to immigrants.

  • Mark Shields:

    To immigrants, that's right.

    I will say this, Judy, about women. The presumption, the prejudice that voters have had historically toward women candidates is, A, that they're more honest than men, and, B, that they're more compassionate. They have questions about their toughness.

    But there's no question that, in 2018, women are doing very well at the polls. And this goes back to a poll that was done at the end of last year, asked both parties, asked, would we be better off as a country with more women in office? Republicans said — 36 percent of them said, yes, we would; 83 percent of Democrats did.

    And even though these are women in many cases who don't have experience, which I thought after the amateur hour we have been through for the past 18 months in Washington at the executive level, I thought voters would prize. And I was wrong. I have been wrong up to now.

    The fact that candidates with interesting resumes, like Amy McGrath in Kentucky, former Marine jet pilot who fought combat missions, mother of three, won a race, which was a unique experience, where both candidates, she and Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, the Democrat, were both viewed positively by voters.

    You talk about a model that we would hope would catch on in the rest of the country. So I think that's an important development as we head into the fall of 2018.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Certainly changing landscape. But we have got a few months to see what happens.

    Last thing I want to ask you about is what the president's been talking about sort of relentlessly, David. And that is these attacks on the Department of Justice, criticism of the Department of Justice, the FBI.

    He's now come up with the term spy gate, in his words, to describe what went on when the FBI was investigating as part of the Russia investigation his campaign.

    This week, he pulled Congress into it. Where do you see this going? How do you size up what the president is doing?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he has realized that the Mueller investigation is not a bad thing for him, but a good thing for him, that if he can create a narrative that it's him vs. the swamp, and that all the arms of the U.S. government are really politicized, things controlled by the Democrats or the elites, by whoever, then he can use the soap opera, give it a new plot twist every single day, which is really what he's been doing all week, a new set of tweets just to get us talking about it.

    And that it reinforces his — the idea that he's the brave outsider fighting the swamp, and that they're all a bunch of political animals, and he's the brave one. And it's working for him.

    And so he's willing to do it. Personally, I'm sick of all the daily stories about it. I think we overplay it, frankly.

    When the Mueller report comes out, that will be a big deal. But just the who goes to what meeting, frankly, I find less important than the way he's been able to manipulate it into a soap opera benefiting himself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Didn't bother you that the president wanted Republican members of Congress briefed by the DOJ, Department of Justice, and the FBI?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, there's violations of etiquette. The chief of staff went to the briefing. That didn't strike me as a big deal.

    Every day, we get new little driblets. We got the driblet that Cohen, the president's lawyer, got paid by somebody connected to a Russian oligarch just around the time of the inauguration. There was sort of he was harvesting contacts to make money, which is sort of the city industry here.

    And so there's always driblets, but what strikes me is the way the president has controlled the narrative. And, frankly, a lot of — even those of us who are criticizing him fall into the narrative. And he's perfectly happy to do it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, if, in fact, the president's premise were valid, that the FBI and the government were conspiring against him, that they had planted people in the campaign, and they were doing all they could to prevent — a sinister effort to prevent Donald Trump's being elected, then why did they sit on the information that his people, those closest to him, were meeting with Russians, were meeting with foreign interests, were seeking information wherever they could, in violation of American law?

    Why didn't they reveal that his campaign chairman and his deputy were deep into business with Vladimir Putin's closest associates and allies?

    I mean, because — why? Because it's a total fabrication. And the only person I have heard use the term spy gate — maybe Devin Nunes does when he's showering — but is Donald Trump.

    And — so it really isn't — he has moved Republicans on the FBI, Republican voters were far more favorable toward the FBI before he started his harangue and his canard, and — but…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you're saying he's been successful?

  • Mark Shields:

    By moving them.

    But I don't think he's moved public opinion. I really don't. I mean, the idea that Rudy Giuliani was boasting about FBI agents talking and revealing things about the Clintons to them and how close they were, now they have turned into storm troopers, in Rudy — who's kind of the mini-Donald of this whole drama.

    It is — it is a two-man effort. And so I just think that, if he had been one-tenth as critical of Vladimir Putin and the Russians and what they tried to do to our election as he has been of dedicated career public employees who work hard, who protect us, you know — and it does denigrate public service as a calling.

  • David Brooks:

    I agree with that.

    The problem is, Daniel Boorstin wrote a book in 1962 saying you can't beat a pseudo-story with a fact. We have facts. No, this didn't happen.

    He has got a story. And somehow we're stuck in this, where his story trumps our facts.

  • Mark Shields:

    I disagree. I'm not arguing with his argument, but I argue with its effectiveness.

    And we will wait to see what Bob Mueller does produce.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To be continued.

  • Mark Shields:

    To be continued.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, have a great weekend.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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