What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shields and Brooks on sexual misconduct plaguing politics, GOP tax plan pushback

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including more allegations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of politics and the media, a New York Times report suggesting Michael Flynn may be cooperating in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and some surprising opposition to the Republican tax plan.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, another week of sexual misconduct allegations plagued the political and media worlds. And with Congress returning next week, we look ahead to Republican efforts on taxes and more.

    And for all that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, let’s start, Mark, with the sexual allegations cascading across new names this week. It’s crossing party lines, Al Franken among the Democrats. Congressman Joe Barton, not sexual harassment, but a personal relationship, pictures have emerged.

    What are we — we know that politicians and people in the media aren’t perfect, never have been, but what are we learning now from all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think we’re learning, Judy, the dimensions of it.

    I mean, this isn’t the pass at the office Christmas party after two drinks, “Would you like a ride home, Sally?” I mean, this is abusive stuff, and it’s male-directed, it’s male-dominated, it’s male power.

    I’m embarrassed for my gender to read this stuff. I’m appalled. Quite frankly, I have not led a cloistered life, but men exposing themselves, just this is a form of human depravity and abuse that is unrecorded and unreported. And I think it’s — I think we’re seeing a sea change in attitudes in this country.

    The one encouraging aspect is, generationally, younger men find the harassment — they agree more with women about the prevalence of it and the unacceptability of it. And for that, I’m cheered and encouraged.

    But I have to say, it’s not a party thing. Obviously, it’s not an ideological thing. It’s a power thing, and it’s a male thing overwhelmingly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you think we may be seeing a turn, a change in people’s willingness to put up with this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, certainly the willingness of people to come out, the encouragement of people to come out, the instinctive siding with the people who come out, which I think is the right posture.

    I think we are seeing a change. And what interest me is, I was wondering, would we — Harvey Weinstein, that probably would have happened. But if Donald Trump were not president, would it have had these massive ripple effects, so it becomes a big national change?

    And I think the reaction to Trump is part of the deal here. And we have talked about Trump maybe polluting our national culture, but it could be the reaction to Trump is also making us hypersensitive and making us want to correct the national culture.

    And so you could be a — see a reaction to — the Trump wave, I think, has lowered norms and the standards, but a lot of people would say, no, we’re not happy with this, we’re going to raise norms and standards.

    And so I hope this is part of that larger reestablishment of what is decency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, one point, just a minor point, but we find out this week that there have been $17 million in settlement payments to members of the staffs on Capitol Hill who have been sexually abused or harassed or mistreated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Taxpayer money.

  • Mark Shields:

    Taxpayer money, 256, I think, settlements.

    And the idea that — yes, you want to protect obviously the victim and the identity of the victim and the pain of the victim, but the idea that this is private and not public, I mean, this ought to be bipartisan.

    It ought to be Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan walking into the House Administration Committee or the House Clerk’s Office and saying, all right, these records are going public, and every member who was involved in a settlement has to be known and the amount paid and the charges.

    And, as I say, protect the innocent, but don’t protect the guilty, especially when there is taxpayer money involved.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, that part about nondisclosure is just one part of this convoluted, complicated process that people who have been victims in working in the Congress or working for a member of Congress have had to go through in order to file even a complaint.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    No, and you think about it, so many — every summer, hundreds, thousands of college students are going into these offices as interns. And you don’t know where these kids are going. You don’t know who their boss is. And there has been, on Capitol Hill, this back-channel gossip of who is a good boss, who is a bad boss, who is abusive.

    But the idea that taxpayer money is not — is going to cover this stuff up is — just whoever set that up, it’s just mind-boggling, frankly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     And I have to say, when it comes to the young people, whether they’re coming out of college or wherever, Mark, the people who have been accused in the news media, whether it’s Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin and others, so often, these are just interns or young women who are just starting out in their careers, in their lives, and they become the main victims.

  • Mark Shields:

    They become the victims.

    And the number of stories, Judy, of young women who had gone into journalism, and that this experience, whether it was at NPR, or Charlie Rose, or Mark Halperin, and it soured them on the career, it led to a career change, that, you know, it’s a loss to the country.

    It’s a — the pain, they carry it with them every day of their life.

  • David Brooks:

    And one of the things that’s striking to me about it — and this was true of The Charlie Rose Show, which I have been on many, many times — is the narcissism of it, that the people who are perpetrating it can’t even see the human beings on the other side of what’s happening.

    There is a saying that obscenity is covering up the soul of another human being. And when — it’s — they — it’s as if the other person is not just even another human being, and they just dehumanize the person. And, of course, that’s how it feels.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it’s incredibly disturbing. And I know I’m one of many who thinks we have to continue to report on this…

  • Mark Shields:

     You’re right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to continue to talk about it as long as we know that it’s going on.

    Mark, so much else to talk about this week, but one is the Russia investigation. It was reported in The New York Times yesterday that the lawyers representing Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, are no longer communicating with the president’s legal team, which could mean some kind of negotiation, cooperation is under way with the special counsel.

    We don’t know that for sure.

  • Mark Shields:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But this could mean something is happening.

  • Mark Shields:

    It — whatever it means, Judy, in all likelihood, it means nothing good for the White House.

    It’s always been a matter of fascination and curiosity, I think, to those of us who cover politics and care about politics to watch Donald Trump, a man not known for self-sacrifice or self-absorption — self-concern with others, react to Michael Flynn.

    Michael Flynn was the one person caught up, whoever worked for him, for whom he actually went to James Comey, the FBI director, and said, can’t you make this go away for Mike Flynn?

    He asked Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, to intervene with James Comey to see if they couldn’t drop it on Michael Flynn. The idea that Michael Flynn has some information — and Michael Flynn is vulnerable, we know, for a couple of reasons.

    One, as a former Army general, he went to give that speech in Russia without the, apparently, appropriate and legal clearance he needed, and the unreported half-a-million dollars in earnings to represent interests identical to or very close to the Turkish government.

    And so I think he’s vulnerable. He has a son who is an admitted zealot who was a conspiracy buff and all the rest of it about Pizzagate, the satanic conspiracy of child molestation, totally fabricated, totally bogus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    So, I think there’s a lot of pressure points and vulnerabilities with Michael Flynn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know this is something the White House is really worried about, David.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, and we don’t know if he’s cooperating. It might be part of a negotiation to cooperate.

    But if he does, it signals two things to me. One is that they’re going after somebody higher.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    That they wouldn’t go after — they wouldn’t strike a deal with Flynn or even attempt to if they didn’t have their eyes on somebody else. Doesn’t mean it’s Trump, but it could be somebody higher.

    And the second thing is, Flynn, in the brief moments when all this was all going on during the campaign, during the transition, very early in the administration, Flynn was right in the center. He was Grand Central Station for all the Russia contracts.

    So, if they have some disparate things, Flynn would be the person who could fit it all together. And what — I have always been pooh-poohing the scandal, in part because I haven’t seen how Trump personally would be involved. And we would need that for it to be really a major, major scandal.

    It could be Flynn could be there to say Trump did offer to get rid of the sanctions if they would help with the election. And that would be the conversation that really would turn this into a major political story.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then we think of the other players in the White House. And we don’t know their role, whether it was Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, whether it was his son, Donald Trump Jr., and the efforts to reach the Russians, but clearly something we’re all keeping an eye on.

    Just finally, quickly — and, David, I’m going to start with you on this — the Republican tax plan, tax cuts, normally, this is a very popular idea. But there’s been, I think, a surprising amount of pushback from different nonpartisan think tanks saying, wait a minute, no, the middle class is not going to benefit necessarily very much, or at all, from this, and the deficit is going to balloon.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Now, to me, the big story was the University of Chicago Business School came out with a study of I think it was 48 economists. And it’s very bipartisan. And tax reform, in principle, is super popular among economists.

    But they have designed a bill so these economists do not think it would help growth, with one exception, and they think it would explode the deficit.

    So, you take a very popular concept and you write it, the bill, in such a way that it becomes extremely unpopular among people who know most about it on both parties. That’s a trick. That’s hard to do, to be that incompetent.

    And so I’m — the Republicans feel huge pressure to pass this thing. But I still have to feel there are least three, four, five, six senators who really do care about the deficits, really do not want to destroy the federal budget, and that they will somehow stand in the way.

    It would take major courage to do so, but a lot them really, really do care about debt.

  • Mark Shields:

    I want to believe what David wants to believe. I mean, I really…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I think we found out that the Republican Party doesn’t believe it about deficits.

    I can recall, seven years ago, when then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, made a very serious public statement that the national debt was the greatest threat to national security, and Barack Obama was president, and the national debt doubling, of course, in the interim.

    But Republican after Republican said, this is absolutely right. This is a matter of national security.

    And so now we’re really down to five, five Republicans, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jim Lankford, John McCain, and — who am I missing?

  • David Brooks:

    Susan Collins maybe. I don’t know.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Susan Collins — I think Susan Collins is there on other philosophical grounds, but certainly that.

    But, today, to add to the problems of the economists, the Catholic bishops came out and called it fundamentally flawed, this tax bill, and said that it will raise income taxes on the working poor to give a tax cut to millionaires and billionaires.

    Now, you know, that really has — it does something in one day to pick up the group at the University of Chicago crowd and the Catholic bishops. You have united unlikely allies here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But against that, as you said, David, there is huge pressure on the Republicans and coming from the White House to get this tax bill done.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    A lot of donors say, if you don’t pass something, just — and they — they’re not even thinking about what’s in the bill, like, just pass it, and I’m never giving you another cent.

    Republicans are hearing that a lot. So, they do feel that pressure. And so it’s another vote they are going to have to hate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A mark on the wall.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields, happy Thanksgiving weekend to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News