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Shields and Brooks on ‘reality show’ rules and midterm prospects

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including how President Trump has "politicized" security clearances, the rules of a reality TV White House and why diversity and loyalty to the administration will be two top issues in November’s elections.

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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.

    Hello, gentlemen.

  • Mark Shields:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's good to see you both.

    So, let's start with the president and security clearances.

    He is moving, David, this week to take away the security clearance — he did — of former CIA Director John Brennan, says he doesn't like what he's been saying and doing. He's threatening to take away another one from a sitting, a current Justice Department official.

    And he says this has been well-received, but what we're seeing is, frankly, a flood of criticism, disagreement from the intelligence community, and including a letter from 15 top-ranking officials yesterday, 60 more tonight.

    The Navy admiral, retired, who ran the Osama bin Laden raid, put out his own statement, call — defending John Brennan, whose clearance was taken away, and offering to have his own security clearance, give that up for the president.

    What has Donald Trump accomplished by doing this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I mean, he's politicized something that probably shouldn't be politicized.

    But I confess I have trouble getting my knickers in a twist about this one. A lot of us don't have security clearances. It doesn't seem to be a problem in life. The reason they keep people on security clearance after their time in office is so they can offer advice.

    And I think, frankly, it's a little of a vanity thing, that people get to say, I still have my security clearance. And so, when it's taken away — but John Brennan wasn't giving the Trump administration advice anyway.

    And so the idea they have to live without security clearance after they have been out of office doesn't strike me as one of Donald Trump's most massive transgressions in office. It doesn't strike me particularly as a free speech issue.

    John Brennan, the rest of us without security clearance are perfectly free to have our speech. And I guess there is some disadvantage, career disadvantage, to people who may be younger, but of the top 5,000 Trump transgressions, I wouldn't put this high on the charts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not a massive transgression, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I disagree with David.

    I begin with William McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Command, who did lead the raid that took out Osama bin Laden in 2011, who is a retired admiral, who is not, let it be noted, talking head on television, never has been. He's not somebody who comments.

    He has been the chancellor of the University of Texas. He was known as Bull Frog, because that's the senior member of the Navy SEALs, and he was the senior member of the Navy SEALs. He was a thoroughgoing professional.

    And he emerged. And HE not only defended John Brennan, whom Donald Trump made it quite clear he's attacking, he's attacking because of the Russian investigation. He blames him, just as he got rid of James Comey, which he admitted, simply because he wanted to get rid of him and because he feared him, not because of the Rod Rosenstein memo on Comey's dispassionate — less-than-dispassionate activity in the Hillary Clinton matter.

    So what you have is somebody, McRaven, saying the following, "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children. You have humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, you have divided us as a country."

    Nobody has a right to a security clearance, but what Donald Trump has done is, he's politicized it. And he has — this has never been done before. Security clearances are lost because of alcoholism, because of drug use, because of behavior that compromises your position with that kind of information.

    There was no leaking of confidential information. If there had been, Donald Trump, who's not very careful about his charges — remember the birther dispute — certainly would have raised that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, what about Mark's point, politicization, a chilling effect, which is a point that others have made?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. No, I agree. I said it right at the beginning, that I think he's politicizing something.

    And the whole ethos of the whole Trump administration has been, it's like a family business, and the norms and standards of our government are things they walk all over in pursuit of their own, Donald Trump's own perpetual feuding, whoever he happens to be feuding with.

    So I don't want to emerge as the great defender of Donald Trump on this. I agree with the statements that have been made against him, but it just strikes me as — you know, it's — will it have a chilling effect? I can't imagine anybody of conscience, which I take Brennan to be, would inhibit his own statement of the truth because he's going to — as a retiree, he's getting his security clearance taken away.

    And so I just — again, I don't want to seem like I'm defending Trump. I just don't think — it doesn't rise to me to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, the other person the president is attacking this week, on a different — from a different direction, is a woman who was very close to him, worked for him as an associate going back to the days of "The Apprentice," the reality TV show he did for many years, goes back, I guess, 15 years, Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

    She's written a book. It's very — it's harshly critical of the president. A lot of people have questioned her credibility, but now she's produced audio recordings to back up what is in the book. And we have learned now that there are video recordings as well.

    She — when I interviewed her this week, she talked about it being a multimedia show.

    Does either side of this story come out? Do we learn something, I guess, is the question, from this new exchange between the president and somebody who until just, what, earlier this year was a good friend of his?

  • Mark Shields:


    I mean, in a White House where most of the people are recent acquaintances of the president, she goes back longer than anybody, except the president's daughter. She goes back 15 years. She is a Donald Trump protege and product.

    Her record for integrity is spotty at best. When Donald Trump made his famous announcement, the race-baiting announcement for president, she said, this will go down in history as the greatest announcement for president in the history of American politics.

    And when asked about Donald Trump's baiting of Mexican Americans, she said, that's just Donald being Donald.

    But what she does, obviously, like Elizabeth Warren, she gets under Donald Trump's skin. And she has said things that, you know, may be subject to fact-check, but the reality is, she has tape. She has tape of Donald Trump groveling before her, pretending that he didn't know that John Kelly had the day before brought her to the Situation Room, and say, this isn't — I can't — I'm just surprised, which therefore confirms the suspicion widely held that Donald Trump doesn't have the stomach for confronting people who work for him, that he lies.

    And you can see that he obviously is absolutely upset by her, and she's got everybody in the White House, every male, quaking in his Guccis about those tapes. I can tell you that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So she's gotten under his skin, David. And where do we go from here with this? We're waiting to see what else she has.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, what's interesting about her is, she plays by reality show rules. She plays by Trump rules.

    And most people who go against Trump don't quite play by his rules. And she plays by his rules, which is no rules, that do whatever you can, it doesn't matter what the norms and standards are.

    And taping somebody in the Situation Room is a rather serious offense and, to me, a pretty great betrayal of any — how any White House should work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The room where she was fired.

  • David Brooks:


    I mean, if we're walking around each other in the hallway taping each other, just think about doing that. That's just a betrayal of how normal life should happen.

  • Mark Shields:

    Is this being taped?

  • David Brooks:



  • David Brooks:

    This actually is being taped.


    And so she said, they're going to lie about me, they're going to screw me, so I'm ready.

  • Mark Shields:

    She did.

  • David Brooks:

    And she played by their rules.

    And so we're getting a lesson in what reality TV morality looks like. And it is turning into just a reality TV show. The serious part — so I think they all look bad, frankly.

    The serious part is that it's — and especially the allegation, which she says with great conviction, that he used the N-word on a videotape back in "Apprentice" days — and if, as she says, is going to be used as an October surprise, then that puts race at the center of our electoral politics.

    And all sorts of signs are pointing in this direction, that we're going to wind up with an election where our political divides completely overlap — well, not completely, but largely overlap about racial divides.

    And that's just a ruinous prospect, that people are basically going to be voting, when race is a hot button issue, with a man who has a history of bigoted comments, and then voting along those lines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of midterm elections, Mark, this week, we had several more primaries, voting.

    And I guess the — one of the pictures that is merging from this on the Republican side are the candidates who lash themselves closer to Donald Trump in the Republican primary seem to be doing better. And on the Democratic side, you're seeing more diversity.

    What are we headed for here? I mean, are these models of candidates who are going to do well in November in the general election?

  • Mark Shields:

    I would say right now that we're heading toward a traditional midterm election, even more so, and that is a referendum on the sitting president.

    Republicans are terrified in the House. Terrified, why? Judy, of the 236 Republicans in the House of Representatives, 176 of those seats, more than 70 percent, are held by people who have never run for election with a Republican in the White House. They have been elected since 2009. They have only one with Barack Obama, where they have been on the offensive and the Democrats have been on the defensive.

    For the first time, they're going to be in an election where Donald Trump is the issue. And they're going to have to defend him.

    And the reality is that the Democrats are energized. We saw it in the turnout. We saw it in Minnesota. We saw it in Wisconsin, where Democrats in both races — both parties had controversial, hot races with great attention, yet the Democratic turnout was greater. The Democratic enthusiasm is higher.

    And in the eight special elections, the Democrats, every one of them has run ahead of Hillary Clinton from her numbers in 2016. And seven of the eight Republicans have run behind Donald Trump.

    I say that because Donald Trump got 46 percent of the vote. And that isn't enough. That's fine for Electoral College victory. But it is not enough if you're fighting a two-way race for elections to the House of Representatives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what about on the Republican side with these candidates who are closer to Donald Trump doing better?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, it's not only that Republican voters like Donald Trump, but — or tolerate Donald Trump, but they enthusiastically demand loyalty to Donald Trump.

    And so, in Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor, had made some comments, some critical comments about Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape, and has since gone back and voted for Trump, and — but he was punished and he lost.

    And so that's — we saw that with Mark Sanford in South Carolina. And the message has been sent by the voters, that it's not only if you're a Republican primary voter — candidate, you not only are — got to be sort of on board. You have got to be firmly on board.

    And in Kansas, in case after case, the more firmly on board has won. And so we're going to get candidates of that flavor running against a much more diverse Democratic field, which looks more like the country. And that's why I think we're going to — the issue will be diversity and demography. And that'll be an issue with Donald Trump at the top.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have got a couple of months to figure it out.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thanks, Judy. Thank you.

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