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Shields and Brooks on Trump declaration, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 bid

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week in politics, including how Congress is reacting to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over immigration, the 2020 candidacy of Bernie Sanders and whether democratic socialism is becoming mainstream.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From that to what we reported earlier in the show, House Democrats gearing up to fight President Trump on his emergency declaration.

    It's time now for analysis on this and more from Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's talk about — Mark, what the Democrats announced today.

    They said that they were going to do this, but they officially put word out today that they are going to vote on Tuesday basically to just negate, cancel what the president is trying to do, declare a national emergency to find money to pay for a wall on the southern border.

    Is this a smart move?

  • Mark Shields:

    Is it the smart move? Well, it will pass the House. There are 226 co-sponsors right now.

    And if Nancy Pelosi does something well — she does lot of things well, but she knows how to count. And the question is how many Republicans. There's one at this point, Justin Amash of Michigan, but others who will come over.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Only one at this point?

  • Mark Shields:

    At this point, that's right.

    So, then it moves to the Senate. I mean, it's a — I think it's a moment of some truth, reality for Republicans. I think Susan Collins of Maine has already indicated her own opposition to the president's position. I think Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is up in a tough race next year, may be another. There may be others as well.

    So, I think our system works best when there's a vitality and an energy in all branches. And I don't think there is any question that this is protecting the institution. I mean, when the president goes ahead and appropriates money that was denied by both the Democrats and the Republicans in the conference most recently, you know, I think it's a question of prerogative and responsibility and authority.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, do the Democrats have a real shot at blocking what the president wants to do?

  • David Brooks:

    No, no, because they would have to get a veto-proof majority. Even if they get it out of the Congress, Donald Trump will veto it.

    I think it may also pass the Senate. I forget. There were six or seven who — at least when he declared the emergency, six or seven Republicans said, I don't really think it's a good idea. And I think they may wind up voting against it.

    If you're going to vote against Donald Trump about anything, this is the easiest, because you can say, well, it's not really about ideology. It's not about the wall. It's just about Congress. And it's about the way we — it's about the Constitution.

    They all took an oath to swear allegiance to the Constitution. And the Constitution says that Congress originates, has the power of the purse. And if the president can just spend money on what he wants, that's really not our constitutional system.

    Why don't more do it? If it was an anonymous vote, it would get 90 votes. They all think that. But there's a weird — you know, you bug them about this, there's a level of supine passivity, like a learned helplessness, where they don't even — it doesn't even cross the mental barrier that, well, maybe I should buck the president on this one.

    I don't know.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're talking about the Republicans.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. You would have to do studies on maltreated pets or something, like, why don't they get up and do something?

    But it's not even in their brain register. It's just, I'm used to — I go along right now. I just go along. And it's not even a conscious choice anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Doesn't have anything to do with reelection or anything like that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, of course it does. But that's the animal instinct at play.

    But I think the voters of Ohio or wherever else would understand an occasional vote against the president. It doesn't doom your career. There is not, frankly, an issue on which a lot of people are going to be voting on. It's a procedural issue. But it's a defense of the Constitution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, no chance if the president were — he says he's going to veto. No chance that they could override the veto?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it would be the first veto of the president's administration.

    But I don't see the two-thirds being there. There may be a reach in the — possibility in the House, if enough Republicans do screw up the courage to do so.

    But I just think the Mark Sanford experience, Judy, just haunts Republicans, it terrifies them. They look over their shoulder, they see shadows on the wall in the sunshine. Mark Sanford, the former Republican governor and congressman from South Carolina, whom the president just absolutely kind of trashed and endorsed his then — up to then previously unknown opponent in the Republican primary, and Mark Sanford went down to defeat.

  • David Brooks:

    I there's one other little element, the reason they don't leap, is that they have no power now.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • David Brooks:

    They have already given away their power. They gave away their power to their leadership, to Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell.

    And so that they gave that away long ago, so the idea they could seize power is a big mental leap for them. And so they're doubly bound into this learned helplessness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we mentioned reelection.

    On the presidential election front, Mark, we have a new entrant. Bernie Sanders announced officially this week he's going to run again for president, but this time it's a little different, isn't it?

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a lot different, Judy.

    But the very same people who wrote Bernie Sanders off in 2015 in our profession are writing him off again in 2019.

    Bernie Sanders is cranky. Bernie Sanders is not well-groomed. Bernie Sanders just connects with voters. I mean, in 2015, the summer of 2015, he on successive nights in Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles — this is August of 2015 — drew crowds of 27,500, 15,000, and 28,000 into arenas.

    The idea of a Democratic event in Los Angeles is basically dinner at George Clooney's house with Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand singing.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, for some.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. No, but Democrats don't do big events. And Bernie connected.

    And I just point out that he raised $135 million in small contributions. He really changed it. He raised $50 million more than Donald Trump did in contributions under $200. It was just — it was a remarkable performance.

    So, he did connect. But it is different. You're right. He doesn't have a single identifiable flawed opponent this time. He's competing with — I mean, because Donald Trump is seen as so vulnerable, every Democrat who isn't under indictment or detox is basically running for president.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    It seems that way, doesn't it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, I mean, how different is this field, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Compared to Hillary Clinton, now compared to a cast of thousands?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    From Hillary.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it's pretty different.

    I think a couple things. One, it's hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice. You get that moment of excitement, and it rarely — it goes away. And I saw this with John McCain.

    Now, John McCain caught lightning in a bottle in 2000, and then did win the nomination later. So it doesn't mean political death, but it's not quite the same magic.

    And he was the shiny new penny last time, and he was running against Hillary Clinton. Now there are a lot of people with very similar policy positions as Bernie Sanders. And they're younger, they're more diverse. In the case of Elizabeth Warren, they're probably a little more substantive even.

    And so it's harder to see the avenue that he had before. You would think — but Mark may be right, but you would think a younger, more diverse version of Bernie Sanders would be the ticket.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Republicans, Mark, jumping all over the fact that Bernie Sanders is a Democratic socialist. And they say they are happy to point out that there are several of these Democrats who — you mentioned who are veering in some of the positions they are taking in the direction, Republicans say, of socialism.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it's a good point.

    I would just point out to David that catching lightning in a bottle, I don't know if you covered the Reagan '76 and then Reagan '80 campaigns

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David is too young.

  • Mark Shields:

    David is too young.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was still in grammar school.

  • Mark Shields:

    But it does — getting the souffle to rise twice can be a problem.

    Judy, creeping socialism, I first heard it when I was 9 years old. That was the charge of conservatives, Republicans, against terrible ideas like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and national parks, and you name it. It's all creeping socialism.

    It's socialistic, until it's accepted and passes, and people actually like it, and enjoy it, and it becomes part of their life. And Donald Trump, in 2016, you will recall, promised not to touch a single gray hair on the beautiful head of Social Security or Medicare.

    So, every time they interfere with the capitalistic system with things like the eight-hour workday and the five-day workweek, the true believers of capitalism object and yell in pain.

    But I just think Americans are very pragmatic, that the ideologue believes what is right works. Americans who are pragmatic believe what works is right. And I think most of the creeping socialism, from Social Security, to Medicare, to fluoridation of the water, to public schools and public universities, has worked for Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David, you're a longtime defender of socialism.

  • David Brooks:

    I am, going all the way back to 1848, with the Communist Manifesto, a very fine document, by the way.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I think it's craziness, what they're doing.

    I would make a distinction between government that provides a safety net for people who — when bad things happen to them that they can't do anything about, who are born in less fortunate circumstances.

    So, if you want government to hand checks to seniors through Social Security, sign me up. If you want earned income tax credits to raise the wages of lower earning workers, sign me up. If you want wage subsidies, I'm for all that stuff.

    But I think you will find a lot of Americans don't like the idea of government taking over large sectors of American industry and very complicated sectors of our society.

    I think when Bernie Sanders says Medicare for all, we're going to take away your private health insurance, I think you're going to find a lot of people like their private health insurance.

    When the Green New Deal, which five of these people, these candidates have signed up for, says, we're going to take over the energy sector, and we're going to make sure you — we won't even need planes anymore, because we will all be traveling by rail, there are a lot of people who are going to be suspicious that government is competent to do that.

    So there are two ways that government can be active. It needs to be a lot more active in supporting, in mending inequality and redistributing money for the middle-class and working poor.

    In my view, and I think in a lot of Americans' view, it doesn't need to be active in taking over a lot of private sector activity and thinking it can be run out of Washington.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I want to reassure David's concerns. I mean, that is not the majority position of the Democratic Party.

    The Green New Deal, it's aspirational. I don't think it's programmatic, by any means. And I think when you talk about socialism in the abstract, people — people do get upset, and understandably so.

    But I think, if you're talking about health care, as the Democrats did in 2018, and the Republicans said — taking it away under Donald Trump, and millions of Americans were without health care who had it under Barack Obama, you know, there becomes — that becomes a different debate than talking about Medicare for all.

  • David Brooks:

    What sentence did Barack Obama say more than any other? If you got your health care, you can keep your health care. We're not going to change your health care.

    And that's all gone. And Medicare for all is now becoming the standard Democratic position.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I really question whether it is, and whether it will be.

    But, I mean, I don't think — I think it really is a straw man to do the socialist thing, and that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is excitement, though, among some of the Democrats, the younger Democrats.

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. No question.

    I mean, I agree on that. But I don't think you can look at the New Green Deal, Green New Deal, and say, I'm going to run on that in Iowa in 2020 and be the nominee or be the winner. I just don't think you can. I mean, that's a very pragmatic and practical decision.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, Kamala Harris seems to be. Cory Booker has made some gestures, Elizabeth Warren.

  • Mark Shields:

    I would also point out that, as Peter Hart, the great pollster, said, numbers at this point in any presidential race are written — the equivalent of being written in wet sand at the ocean's edge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Numbers? You mean poll numbers?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Poll numbers. It's like talking about who's ahead and who isn't.

    At this point the last time there was a Republican president seeking reelection, who was George W. Bush, the leading Democrat was Joe Lieberman, senator from Connecticut, who eight contests later had not won a single delegate.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If we haven't learned to be humble about polls by now, we need to.

  • Mark Shields:

    Humility is what is recommended.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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