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Shields and Brooks on political lessons from COVID-19

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest news, including how the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold in the U.S., American leadership amid the crisis, whether the $2.2 trillion stimulus package will help those besieged by the pandemic and whether there is a chance for bipartisan political action.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    Hello to both of you.

    We are keeping our distance from one another, as we know we absolutely have to do.

    When we were together the last time, the three of us, it was two weeks ago, and, at that point, there were 15,000 coronavirus cases in this country, 200 deaths had been reported. Two weeks later, it's 270,000 deaths and 7,000 — or 270,000 cases, 7,000 deaths.

    How are we doing as a country, David, in getting our arms around this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, and in two weeks, we could be seeing another higher shoot-up in that — in those lines.

    You know, I don't think we can say things are competently being handled. The — what's happening to the Comfort, the Naval medical ship in New York state, is something of a regulatory travesty.

    The fact that tests are a third — some of them are failing by a third positives, negatives — positive — or false positives, false negatives, some of the uniforms and supplies are still not getting to New York state.

    So, it doesn't look like we have mobilized the way you would think a country with a first-class Defense Department or a first-class set of bureaucracies would mobilize.

    And so it's worrisome. Take it aside from all the politics. It just doesn't seem like competence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what does it look like to you?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I don't disagree, but I would add that at least there's a consensus now, if not unanimity, that this is a serious, grave national calamity.

    The president is moving on it, I think, made a difference. And he's brought with him the folks at FOX News, who bring with them a very large chunk of — there's no longer any body in the country that argues that this is some sort of a Democratic hoax to jeopardize the president's reelection.

    But there has not been that assumption of national leadership, at least of a constant and consistent manner. The — and that, I think, remains a problem.

    And just last night, Judy, Ms. Blackthorn, I think her name was, Blackstrom, who — in New York, who had been laid off, and had 300 calls to the Labor Department, unemployment, to qualify for unemployment insurance.

    And that's just unforgivable. And this is a time when all hands have to be on deck, that everybody — this is not a question of bailing out industries. It's a question of saving families and individuals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, and the approach from the White House has been, this is something that, state by state — we need the states to make decisions, for example, about whether people should be asked or urged to stay at home.

    Today, the announcement about wearing masks, the president said, that's up to individuals, I don't plan to do it.

    Is this — is the president right to be leaving these decisions up to individuals and up to states?

  • David Brooks:

    I do agree with what Tony Fauci said about that.

    I do think the idea of ordering people to do things in sort of some dictatorial fashion will set off a reaction that will be a counter-reaction. I think the right thing for the president to do is to say, here's what's right, project a tone of, here's what we're going to do, wise governors follow along.

    And that is slowly happening, with 80 percent of the country under social distancing. And so I'm a little hesitant to think that you can just order by diktat all sorts of personal things.

    I think telling people what's smart — and, so far, the American people, I have to say, are taking this seriously. Most are social distancing. Most are rallying around each other to an astonishing degree. I think morale is astonishingly high, given what's happening.

    So, I think just ordering people — ordering Americans around is not always the right strategy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what about the — that approach of saying, this is something that individuals and, frankly, state and local leaders need to make for themselves?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, this is the perfect example of a president, national leader leading by example. And the president is leading by his example, which is not to subscribe to the edict or the suggestion or the recommendation.

    And I just think, having watched Tony Fauci, I will say this, that he is a remarkable public servant. He speaks truth to power. He did the same thing with President Ronald Reagan some 35 years ago at the HIV threat, and said that this is a serious threat to the nation and to its national health, is consistently — presidents do not like to be corrected or contradicted, this president less than any.

    And he has done so in an effective way, whether it's putting the correction on that there is no vaccine right around the corner, that we're going to be back to normal.

    And I just think he deserves enormous credit. And Donald Trump surprises me, because he doesn't tolerate correction or contradiction. And the fact that Tony Fauci is still there is an indication, I think, to his indispensability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, when it comes to the economy, when it comes to people's livelihoods, I mean, you have — we now have, what, 10 million Americans and rising who are seeking unemployment benefits.

    Businesses are going out of business by the hundreds and by the thousands. What about the administration's approach to keeping the economy afloat?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, here, there's a lot of blame to go along.

    I would say that, when we look at the bill that was passed by Congress a couple weeks ago, this stimulus bill, we will regard it as one of the worst economic packages maybe in American history, certainly in a time of crisis.

    What they're doing in Europe is, they're preserving the businesses. They're keeping people employed. They're just paying businesses to say, we're going to give you some money, and — but you're going to keep your payroll. So people don't have the threat of unemployment, they don't have the insecurity of unemployment, they don't have the possibility that they will never get a job again or they won't get a job for a long time.

    They just sort of freeze the economy. And we didn't do that. We took a more individualistic approach, we will just give you $1,200. We had a backstop measure, which is $350 billion for businesses. We should increase that to $600 billion, $700 billion, so businesses can keep their payroll.

    And there's a lot of blame to go around. The Democrats took this option because they didn't want to be seen to be bailing out business. The Republicans, I'm not sure they had a coherent thought in their heads.

    And so this is, I think, a catastrophic error, which we should just be fixing very quickly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, how do you size up the economic — the approach to the economy, the approach to saving Americans who are seeing in some cases everything they have disappearing?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I think, Judy — and I disagree here.

    I think the immediate object of help and assistance has to be people, individuals, and that they are the ones, the families to be fed, just to be held together. And putting money into their pockets, through unemployment insurance, through the federal grant, I think, is urgent and compelling.

    But, as I come back to, this is a time when government has to respond and provide particularly unemployment insurance. People, probably three or four days to even get registered, it's just unacceptable and unforgivable.

  • Judy Woodruff:



  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead, David.

  • David Brooks:

    No, I was just going to say, it's better to have the not unemployed.

    I mean, there are going to be some people who are unemployed. And for them, certainly, the unemployment insurance is there. But if you could sit at home knowing that you had a job, and knowing that you were getting paid for that job, even though you were sitting at home, and that you were probably going to go back to that job, that seems to me the right way to do this.

    And I — I understand, culturally, why we didn't do it. I understand, politically, why bailing out business seem to be a bad thing. But it's fixable. And when Chuck Schumer said earlier in the program that he wants something else, I would hope this would be the something else we would do before the end of April.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, we're told they're going to come back at some point in the coming weeks with a bigger aid package.

  • Mark Shields:

    No question. I think that is coming.

    And I have to say that the president showed an absence of leadership at the signing of that rescue bill, the aid bill to save the American families who are besieged by this terrible calamity. Not to invite a single Democrat to the signing, at a time when he's saying this is not a time for politics, wasn't the kind of example that we need.

    We are going to have — we're going to have another bill, a major bill. And this is a — it's a time of the greatest urgency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just in 20 seconds or so, David, partisanship — bipartisanship, do you see a hope for it in coming weeks and months?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I see a hope that we're going to learn the lessons here, that we're going to learn that being competent matters, that we're going to learn that politics is not a reality game show.

    We're going to learn that, sometimes, insiders like Anthony Fauci are the ones we trust the most.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we thank the both of you, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

    And please stay safe. Thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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