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Shields and Brooks on Tara Reade allegations, Burr investigation

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s response to an allegation of sexual assault, which U.S. officials Americans trust during the pandemic, a new proposal for more coronavirus relief and an insider trading investigation of prominent senators.

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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.

    David, let's go right to what we have just been hearing from Lisa and Dan Bush and their extensive reporting, exhaustive reporting, talking to 74 former Biden staffers, and coming away with no one saying they were aware of any anything like what Tara Reade has alleged.

    What do you take away from this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, they have taken — Lisa and Dan have taken us as deeply into the Biden office at that time as I think it's possible to go.

    And I think we have a pretty good sense of it. And it reveals that Joe Biden is a very transparent person. He had — the culture they described is certainly the culture I knew when I was covering Senator Biden, and the person I know him to be. And it raises more skepticism about the claims.

    I would say this. And, in addition, there's a Politico report looking into some Tara Reade's past allegations in other cases, other parts of her life.

    And I think the bottom line is, if you were a person who was saying, should this issue be a problem for me in voting for Joe Biden, I think the arrow has moved into less of a problem. We don't know that it didn't happen. We can't know that.

    But, certainly, the degree of skepticism has to be a little higher because of this reporting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, I mean, you're somebody who's covered this city for a long time. You have walked the halls of these Senate office buildings.

    What do you come away with here?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I come away, first of all, with great admiration for both Lisa and Dan. I mean, 74 people on the record is remarkable. That had to have been a couple hundred calls they had to make to get that.

    And I think it does confirm what has been sort of the emerging consensus among political people who don't have a dog in the fight. And that is, Joe Biden was 50 years old in 1993. And he's — 27 years ago.

    And that suggesting that this was the one and only time in his entire life that he sexually assaulted a woman who has reported it just seems increasingly unlikely. That's all.

    I mean — and, yes, Tara Reade deserves a hearing. But I thought that Joe Biden's own statement, if I believed what was charged of me, I wouldn't vote for myself, and nobody should, I thought that was a reasonable conclusion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we — certainly, the case is always open. We continue to report. If new information comes in, we certainly will report that as well.

    But I want to turn you both now to what we saw this week.

    And come back to you, David. Anthony Fauci testifies on the Hill that it's a mistake to move too fast. We heard from the whistle-blower Rick Bright, the scientist who says he was pushed out because he was trying to get the administration to do more on COVID-19.

    On the other hand, you have President Trump saying, we're going to move ahead no matter what.

    I mean, who has more credibility on this pandemic at this point?

  • David Brooks:

    This is not really a close race between Fauci and Donald Trump.

    Fauci is one of the heroes of American government over the last 20 years, an extremely humble man, an extremely direct man. And so I think he's right. I think he underscores the fact that — I keep saying we're not winning this. The number of deaths just is up in the 1,700, 2,000 day after day after day. It goes down in New York, but it's rising in other places.

    But one thing that strikes me is not to politicize this too much. If you look at actual behavior, people locked themselves down before any politician took a move. And even in those states where the politicians are opening up, people are still locking down.

    And so one of the things that's been interesting to me is, you look at the movement based on cell phone tracking, red and blue states have the same amount of movement. The same number of people basically in state after state are staying home. And red and blue states, there's no correlation between whether it's a red and blue state and whether people are doing better or worse.

    And so I think the key decisions right now are not being made in statehouses and certainly not the White House. They're being made in living rooms, as people decide, is it safe? Can I go out?

    And most people are trying to find a balance. But I'm sort of impressed that most people are being reasonably cautious right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, Mark, again, the president — and he said it again today — we need to move ahead, whether we're ready or not, on the — in the direction of opening up.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, he did, Judy.

    And the president proves once again he's not actually strategic or tactical in his political fights that he engages in. He's visceral. He's instinctive. He went — you should always, if you're going after somebody politically, go after somebody who's a lot weaker than you are politically or less popular.

    I mean, Democrats won five consecutive presidential elections running against Herbert Hoover, because he was there in the Depression and unpopular as a Republican president.

    But he picked Anthony Fauci, Dr. Fauci. David mentioned, he has been there since the Reagan years, but not only that. When — in a presidential debate, when George H.W. Bush was asked to cite a contemporary American hero, he cited Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    And when his son had a chance to give the Medal of Freedom in 2008, he gave it to Dr. Anthony Fauci. So it's no surprises that in the poll CBS News did yesterday, whom do you trust more on coronavirus information, Anthony Fauci stood at 62 percent, with a majority of Republicans saying they trusted him.

    Donald Trump, at the same time, had a resounding 38 percent trust, 62 percent distrust.

    So, I think this is a decision that has been made by voters already who do want solid, knowledgeable information from somebody without any agenda, politically or personal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, meanwhile, as the three of us are talking right now, David, the House of Representatives getting ready to vote on a measure being pushed by the Democrats, $3 trillion in additional aid to people suffering as a result of COVID-19.

    The Republicans are pretty much uniformly against it. Even some Democrats say they think it's too much. The chairman of the Federal Reserve said this week, we need to do more for those — for people who may end up with businesses that are gone or people who are — have lost their jobs.

    What are we to make at this point of moving ahead with a $3 trillion proposal?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think that it is a mistake. It's a political ploy. I think it's a mistake to put — come together a proposal where you have had no negotiations with the other side, where it's clearly going to go nowhere in the Senate.

    It's just sort of a political poster that you're putting up on the wall. I just think that's a mistake.

    At the same time, I think we're going to have to spend a lot more money. And the heart of this bill is correct, which is aid to states. State revenues have collapsed. State fiscal situations are disastrous right now, unlike any we have seen in this country's history.

    And if you care about the things states do, like schools or state universities or anything else states do, they need money. And they — when this country started, Alexander Hamilton took on the state debt that they had built up in the Revolutionary War, and he nationalized it. He gave them a bailout, essentially.

    And that's how this country started. That's the role of the federal government. And so shoveling money out to states is an absolutely necessary thing to do. Shoveling more money out to individuals who are wondering where they're going to get their new grocery bill is the right thing to do.

    I don't think it's useful to do it in a way that's just a sort of a political gesture.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, what's the right approach?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the right approach, Judy, is not that recommended by the Senate majority leader, who says we have not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately.

    This is, in the view of, as you mentioned, Chairman Powell, no radical leftist, who pointed out that this is the most serious economic crisis the country has faced certainly since the Great Depression, certainly since World War II, he said.

    And he pointed out, Judy, that 40 percent of the people of the country, households that were earning $40,000 a year or less in February, 40 percent of them lost their jobs in March. And these are real people. These are waiters, waitresses, hotel people, taxi drivers, nurses aides, the people who bathe the sick of the hospitals and change their dressings.

    And they are really desperate. And they need help. And that's in this package. And David's right. I disagree with him on the total politicization of it. You have to start somewhere.

    The Republicans say they don't want to do anything. Mitch McConnell says, let the states go into bankruptcy. That is unacceptable. The states provide great services. We're talking about the people who are at the front line of providing, whether it's police or fire or first responders.

    So, yes, are there some political sweeteners in there? No question. Are there some political gotchas in there? Yes. But you have to begin somewhere, and you start the debate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, in any event, the Senate, we are told, won't be taking this up until — until June.

    But I want to conclude, in less than two minutes, just quickly right now, with what happened with Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina this week, David. The FBI came to his house unannounced and said, we're going to take your cell phone.

    He is suspected of having traded on inside on the pandemic. And, meanwhile, the Georgia — another Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, is turning over — she says she's cooperating with investigators.

    How serious is all this? We have heard a little bit about it before. But now, when the senator, Senator Burr, steps down as chair of the Intelligence Committee, it looks like something we pay attention to.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the FBI does not raid a United States senator's home and seize his cell phone without some real cause for suspicion.

    And so I take this extremely seriously, both as a legal matter and just simply as an ethical matter. If you're chairman in Senate Intelligence Committee, you don't do trading. You have your money in a blind trust. You don't take a moment of national crisis and think, oh, I can make some money off this.

    It's just not what you do as a leader. And so it reflects just — I don't know about the crime, but it reflects extremely poorly on the character of the senator.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, less than 30 seconds.

  • Mark Shields:

    Less than 30 seconds, Judy, if, in fact, anybody made a quick buck off of inside information on something that has taken 85,000, approaching 85,000 American lives, we're talking about blood money.

    But Richard Burr finds himself friendless in the White House. Why? Because, in an ocean of political polarization in the United States Senate, his committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been an island bipartisanship.

    And they have agreed and come to the conclusion that, yes, Russia did engage and interfere and subvert the election in 2016 on behalf of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton.

    So, he will — the charges will stand on their own. But he will find himself without the support of the president of the United States, who feels he's been let down by Senator Burr.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kind of a remarkable turn of events here at the end of this, another tumultuous, tumultuous week.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both. Please stay safe.

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