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Shields and Brooks on North Korea summit takeaways, Trump’s family separation policy

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the conclusions of a watchdog report into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, the politics of the Trump administration separating families at the U.S. border and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Let's start with what happened this week on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

    David, the president met, historic meeting, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. The president comes away saying there's no more nuclear threat, he's got very good personal chemistry, personal relationship with Mr. Kim.

    What's your take?

  • David Brooks:

    I read a joke this week that the lion can lie down with the lamb, but you got to get a new lamb each day.

    So, I give him more credit than a lot other people that I'm reading. We were — and people who really knew the North Korean situation were terrified six, eight, 10 months ago that we were really heading in a bad direction and things — there was some danger of things spinning out of control.

    And now that doesn't seem to be the case. Now, there's — tensions have settled. There seems to be no risk of any confrontation or war. And so, to me, that's the big story, and that's the lead and that's a good thing.

    Now, once you get down to the second and third paragraph, it begins to deteriorate quickly. And the things Trump said about the regime, calling a murderous dictator a tough guy, that's horrific.

    The way human rights are treated, the way he just flippantly tossed off the practice, the war games, is horrific. But, to me, those are serious deficits. He did a good thing in the worst possible way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's your take, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, quite frankly, a few months ago, you had two major powers flexing their nuclear biceps and issuing threats, serious threats, to each other, and we thought we were on the edge of war.

    We're not today. That's good. I have no idea what's in it — I don't know anybody else who does — in the agreement. The president has assured us there's no longer…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there's not an agreement yet.

  • Mark Shields:

    There's not an agreement, but in the documents.

    But to treat North Korea as this — this is a regime that stands alone in the world, for hundreds of thousands of people being exterminated, that has consistently, as a matter of policy, used rape and forcible abortions and starvation on its own people. Hundreds of thousands of people have been exterminated.

    And for the president to blithely — I'm not, you know, insisting that human rights be the centerpiece, but it has been important in every American element of foreign policy over the last generations. I mean, from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, it's been central.

    And human rights — the United States didn't invent human rights, but, as Carter said, human rights, to a great degree, did invent America. And the president is blithely indifferent to that…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    It's also as a foil to what happened in Europe or in Quebec with the G7 the week before.

    And you see him with two different sorts of relationships. With somebody like Putin or with somebody like Kim Jong Un, it's like dictator to dictator. It's like, we understand how to deal with power relationships. He feels comfortable in that kind of thing.

    When he's dealing with Trudeau or Merkel, it should be friends, and it should be a relationship on affection and mutual trust and reciprocity. And he's a little uncomfortable in those circumstances.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you explain that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think, through his business life, he's not had a series of relationships based on friendship, trust, and reciprocity and affection.

    He's had relationships based strictly on self-interest and the urge to dominate. And he just feels comfortable in one kind of relationship. And, frankly, that's even true within his White House. He has relationships based on who's useful to who, not, we are a band of brothers in this together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, at this point, Mark, your point is that at least we're not — we don't think we're on the verge of war.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, we aren't. And I think that's good. I think that's a positive.

    Churchill said it far better and shorter, that jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war. And I think that's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's move to something that happened yesterday, David, the Justice Department report looking at how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.

    Very tough on James Comey, saying he was insubordinate, some other tough criticism of him, but, ultimately, 500 pages concluded that the way the FBI handled it didn't demonstrate bias.

    The president is saying this exonerates him, it proves that the leadership of the FBI was all — were all bad.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are we to make of it?

  • David Brooks:

    I think it exonerates all of us. It…

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    … all of our priors.

    I think the main — again, it's one of these deals where you have got a headline and then some undercutting subterfuge. And the headline to me is that the institution basically worked, that the actual investigations were basically done without any political bias.

    And that's worth reminding people, that there is such a thing as a professional civil service these days, when everyone thinks it's all political and it's al a swamp. It's not a swamp. These are hardworking people, and they seem to have been basically doing their job.

    There have been a couple of demerits on that. One, the few e-mails that were — where people within the FBI were clearly — were motivated by a Trump bias. And that will work to — we have seen Rudy Giuliani in the past couple of days ramp up his rhetoric about the investigation.

    And it seems to me it makes it, along with the Mark Sanford defeat, much more likely that, if Trump does ever take action against Mueller, that the GOP will get in line, and they will have a little more evidence to say, yes, it's a corrupt investigation.

    As for Comey, he had a tough call, to disclose something or not to disclose. And I could argue it either way. I take the I.G. verdict that he made the wrong call. And so he will get some criticism for that, and maybe justifiable.

    It is, frankly, a little interesting to me to see a lot of Democrats suddenly being in favor for secrecy in government. And they want him — oh, we got to keep these things secret before an election.

    And I, as a personal matter, think secrecy is often a good thing in government, and open government is not always a good thing. And I'm glad to see so much support from the left these days.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Take it where you can get it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, does this report clear the air, Mark? What does it…

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, there's something for everybody.

    If you're a flat Earth person or you're a round Earth person, there's something. You have got some evidence, very sparse, but nevertheless there, that there was bias on the part of FBI people against Donald Trump.

    What Rudy Giuliani and none of Donald Trump's supporters, admirers or the president himself cannot answer is, if there was this great conspiracy against him, and they had all the information about Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. and meeting with Russians and back and forth, why was it not mentioned during the campaign, and the only real actions from the part of the FBI during the campaign were, if anything, detrimental to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton?

    But the irony is that what the report — to me anyway, is that Donald Trump's original rationale for getting rid of James Comey, which was in a letter of Rod Rosenstein about his handling of the Clinton charges, you know, really got some corroboration in the report.

    But the irony, of course, is that Trump himself abandoned that as soon as he met Lester Holt's microphone and started talking to the Russian ambassador about, the reason I got rid of him was because of Russia. I was going to get rid of Comey regardless of anything, get him for double parking or tearing the tag off the mattress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David, and you mentioned Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer. He is now saying, as a result of this report, that the Mueller investigation needs to be put on hold.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, which, you know, again, it's a reminder there are professional investigations. And Mueller seems to be holding a professional investigation.

    But the e-mails were bad. And if you believe the deep state is against your guy, Donald Trump, those e-mails look like a vindication for your point of view.

    The other thing that's resurfaced again — we keep relitigating the 2016 election — is that the Comey decision to go public cost Hillary Clinton the election. And there is some evidence to that. The polling did shift with that.

    The only thing I would say is that that story had such effect because it confirmed the key vulnerability that Hillary Clinton brought into the election, that she was part of the corrupt old establishment. And it wasn't what Comey did. It's because it reminded people of what they didn't like about her in the first place.

    And so some of the error at least was in nominating a person who was exactly wrong on the core issue for a lot of the electorate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to turn to the issue that we led the show with. We have only got a few minutes left. But it's immigration.

    Mark, so much conversation right now. And Amna interviewed a reporter who had been — at the beginning of the show — had spent this day out looking at one of those detention centers where they're keeping children separate from their families.

    This has now become the symbol of the administration policy toward immigrants. Do we now — the president said today — he — at one point, he said he wasn't for whatever the Republicans are doing. And then I guess the White House issued a statement late today which left it unclear, that he could go either way.

    Are we going to see clarity on the issue of immigration any time soon from this administration?

  • Mark Shields:

    No. They can't pass — nothing can pass the Congress.

    And anything that they might get by the Senate — the House with only Republican votes — they have drawn it that way — they would get no Democratic votes as it's presently drawn — can't get — in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is not going to take it up.

    The president said that he was against the moderate plan, and then, this afternoon, came back and said, no, no, he wasn't talking about the moderate plan. He was talking about the discharge petition.

    You know, so this is the example. If anybody wants to know why Donald Trump will not testify before the Mueller investigation, this is a perfect example. He cannot sustain an answer for six hours or answer a question based on facts. It's that simple.

    As far as immigration is concerned, I think it's really turning against the administration. The — not only the Catholic bishop of Scranton, who had a scorching statement when Jeff Sessions appeared there today, not personal, but on what America stood for, what Christian values were, and welcoming the stranger.

    But, also, evangelical churches and the Southern Baptist Convention, they have spoken out against the separation of family. You don't take a child away from its mother. And I don't think there's any question that it's not only wrong and immoral. It's a loser politically at this point for the administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David.

  • David Brooks:

    I liked, in the FOX interview, when he heard the word moderate, he reacted to it like it was the word rabies.

    Like, he was just like, I got to be against that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And — but the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And then on this issue, I agree with Mark.

    And I go back to my thing of why he can't deal with friends in the G7. If you take qualities like affection, mercy, charity, compassion, empathy out of an administration, you wind up with policies like this.

    Administrations of the past could have done this. The law sort of allows it. There's flexibility.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And citing the Bible.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, and then you cite the Bible on your behalf, which is ludicrousness on stilts.

    But they — every other administration said, it's just not who we are. We don't separate families. Maybe there's a legal pretext, but we don't do that.

    And that's because there is some native compassion and empathy. And that's been drained out of this policy. And it's abhorrent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, on that note, we will leave it.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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