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Shields and Brooks on Trump-Pelosi feud, 2020 Democrats

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including NewsHour interviews with 2020 presidential candidates Eric Swalwell and Kirsten Gillibrand, the escalating feud between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and whether ongoing congressional investigations are leading to impeachment.

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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.

    So, we are trying to work our way through a conversation with each one of these candidates.

    Mark, there are now, as we said, 23 of them. We talked to Eric Swalwell tonight, Kirsten Gillibrand last night.

    I'm not going to say they are one-issue candidates, but they are — in his case, you heard him talk about gun control, Kirsten Gillibrand emphasizing women's issues.

    What are you hearing from them? Is it smart for them to seize on one issue or not?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, we will find out whether it is.

    It just strikes me that abortion, as an issue, has been…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What she's talking about.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's where Kirsten Gillibrand is probably most prominently identified — is an issue where those who seek serious and large change find themselves on the political defensive.

    And I think it's fair to say that it's hard to imagine anybody running a winning national campaign on enlarging and making statutory abortion legal in all circumstances or, for that matter, a Democratic Party which is essentially unwelcoming to those people who are — have reservations or are pro-life, but agree on every other issue.

    Essentially, we had Bob Casey in his fifth term from Pennsylvania, the United States senator, wouldn't be welcome and not receive party backing, basically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is coming through to you?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    When I look at these candidates, I'm first struck by how the self-esteem movement was obviously very effective.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Because, when I look at the presidency — I have interviewed a lot of presidents since Reagan, really. And the one thing I come away with after every single interview was, I could never do that job.

    Like, it's a really hard job. And Eisenhower — if I were Eisenhower, I would think, yes, I could do that. I have run a war. Franklin Roosevelt was governor of New York. Ronald Reagan was governor of California. George H.W. Bush had served in every position almost imaginable.

    But why these people think they could be president of the United States is a little mystifying to me. But maybe they're right.

    The second thing I look for is a unique selling proposition, like an actual route to the White House, why you're called to run, not — why it's not just about you getting a little more famous, but why there's been some call on you to run.

    And for Elizabeth Warren, I can see it. She's got a set of policies and plans that are sort of unique. It's a unique selling proposition. Biden's got broad experience. Bernie Sanders has an outlook.

    With a lot of the candidates, a lot of the 23, I don't quite see a unique selling proposition or politically even a route to victory.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hmm. Well…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, no, I don't argue with that.

    I mean, I just say, the uneasy consensus on abortion in this country seems to me be in favor of the status quo, which is rape, incest and the life of the mother. And that — to me, if you start to change that, which I think Republicans are finding right now, when you have got the Republican national chair disavowing it, and the Republican Senate majority leader disavowing the latest change, the most zealous changes that the Republicans are making, I think it tells you something about the politics of that issue.

  • David Brooks:

    It's weird that 50 percent of the country is sort of in the middle on abortion.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And Gillibrand says no Democratic candidate should get support if they're in the 50 percent, which is like a guarantee of permanent minority.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, well, let's talk about something that's consumed us for the last couple of days.

    And that is what was a fight, a battle between the president and Democrats in the Congress over subpoenas and documents and so forth that has turned into this very personal feud, Mark, between Speaker Pelosi and President Trump.

    And here is just a little bit of what the two of them have been saying about each other over the last two days.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    We believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.

  • Donald Trump:

    I don't do cover-ups. I'm the most transparent president probably in the history of this country. So, get these phony investigations over with.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

    The White House is just crying out for impeachment. That's why he flipped yesterday.

  • Donald Trump:

    I'm an extremely stable genius. She's a mess. Look, let's face it. Crazy Nancy, I will tell you what, I have been watching her. And I have been watching her for a long period of time. She's not the same person. She's lost it.

    I think Nancy Pelosi is not helping this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, it's gotten very personal.

  • Mark Shields:

    It has gotten very personal, particularly on the president's part.

    And it just struck me, when Nancy Pelosi used the term intervention, that's a serious — that is a — that's an attempt, a collective attempt, a cooperative attempt, a collaborative attempt on the part of family and friends to intercede and to present to a person they think is suffering from an addiction or some sort of condition that that condition is out of control, and with the idea of seeking remedy and seeking repair.

    And I don't think she used the term lightly. And I would add to that, when you get General James Mattis, who has been totally silent…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former defense secretary.

  • Mark Shields:

    Former defense secretary.

    He left, and he now is cautioning this president on Iran. He is cautioning him, the United States, on the use of military power and arguing that diplomacy is important. When you get the former secretary of defense, whom the president upbraided and insulted, Rex Tillerson, going to the Congress, and really raising serious questions about the president's…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He testified this week.

  • Mark Shields:

    Testified that the president was unprepared, ill-prepared for the summit in Hamburg with Secretary — with Mr. Putin, and left the United States at a disadvantage, I think that this a larger message here than just political back and forth.

    I think there's a serious concern about this president and this presidency. And, Judy, the first rule I learned covering American president politics is, beware of the presidential candidate who does not have friends of his or her own age who can tell him when he's wrong and to go to hell.

    And, right now, there are no grownups left in the White House. Donald Trump has Mr. Kushner and Mr. Miller as his two confidants.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How serious do you see this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I mean, it irks me that they're both questioning each other's mental competence, basically.

    You can question policies. You can question a lot of things, but to say someone is basically in mental decline, it just — it just strikes me as a little too personal.

    Donald Trump was — is in the Hall of Fame of the World Wrestling Federation. And he's taking it to the World Wrestling Federation levels of confrontation. And do I think he knows what he's doing? Well, at some level, I do think he does.

    The question is, in that stage play, when he confronted all the Democrats, was it him going crazy because he's so self-obsessed? Yes. But was — is there also some craftiness to it? Yes.

    I think it's politically the right move for him. If you look around the world, what's rising is hostility to elites? Modi gets elected. Australia, Brexit, Netanyahu, it's just all over the world.

    And you can win, you can be forgiven a lot of sins, if you oppose coastal elites in our country, urban elites. And he's riding that train. And Nancy Pelosi is a good foil for that. And, politically, I do think there's some — it's not crazy what he's doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Mark Shields:

    Can I just disagree with David, OK? And that's this?

    I don't think it is shrewd. I mean, remember what they were discussing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sorry, you don't think it's…

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't think it is shrewd. I don't think it's clever.

    What they were discussing is the infrastructure of the United States. If there's one issue on which there is agreement that the country that was number one on all infrastructure, roads, highways, airports, ports, rail just 15 years ago, and is now number nine, and we're falling apart — we have got an $836 billion back-load. We haven't raised the gasoline tax in 26 years.

    And there's something with the economy just maybe needing a goose very well next year. I mean, this begs to be done. It's something that the country desperately needs. And he walks away from it. He walks away from it and just ignores it, when, in fact, he could have a political success and a public success.

  • David Brooks:

    I would say, first of all, the fact that he walked away from it shows he cares about more himself than the country.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    That, I agree with.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • David Brooks:

    But I don't think it's wrong to think that voters are driven more by animosity than by, what have you done for me?

    If you can whip up animosities in this climate, or at least among some voters, then you have got a route to victory, rather than saying, oh, I did something really good for you, you should be grateful, you should reward me.

    Those kind of soft and uplifting emotions are a little alien right now from politics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me just say, speaking of whipping up animosities, I just want to show you just this, again, a short clip.

    This is something that the president tweeted a version of this. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had spread this on Twitter and then pulled it back.

    This is a doctored and then a real version of Nancy Pelosi speaking this week. I just want to show you a bit of it.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort of visuals that obviously were planned.

    And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort of visuals that obviously were planned.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and, I mean, we have seen this happen in social media. It's what's going on right now. But to know that the president's lawyer — the president was pushing another version of Pelosi.

    They pulled together some clips where Pelosi was speaking in a sort of halting way and had it on FOX Business Channel.

    I mean, what are we seeing here?

  • Mark Shields:

    We're seeing, Judy, the lack of any moral center or compass in a president and a presidency.

    I mean, when — they're going to ask — the grandchildren are going to ask, what did you stand for, grandpa, what did you do? I mean, when Roosevelt brought a country that was on its knees and its back, back to its feet, when Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, I mean, when Lyndon Johnson brought civil rights to the country, this is what he's going to say?

    I doctored up, I made my opponents look bad, I put out phony tapes on them?

    I mean, this is beyond — this is an indignity to the office, and it's a disgrace, really, to the country.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I agree with that, but it's sort of the times.

    We're sort of the old legacy media. The "NewsHour," The New York Times, The Washington Post, we're legacy media. But the one thing legacy media has is, we have basic standards below which it's unimaginable to sink, like making up stuff.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Absolutely.

  • David Brooks:

    And if you do make an error, you correct it.

    And so that's just the job we do. It's the normal thing, part of our world.

    The Internet comes in, and there are some things on the Internet that are great, that live up to the standards that we're used to as professionals, and some things that are not.

    And you have got to make the distinction between those above the line and those below the line. But that distinction between above the line and below the line seems to get washed away on the Internet.

    And it doesn't help that the president doesn't seem — even seem to acknowledge the idea of the line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's the Internet. It's social media. It's also some work being done on cable — on cable news.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I just want to quickly, finally, come back to what has apparently gotten under the president's skin, David.

    And that is the Congress under Pelosi — the House — she's saying, we're not going to move directly to any sort of impeachment proceeding, but we are going to continue to gather facts.

    Are we seeing that train move inevitably down the track? It's the question I was asking Congressman Swalwell.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think we are, actually.

    I think she's right to slow-walk it. But if you look at the shift at where Democratic voters are, the Democratic voters in recent polls have shifted much more to, we need to impeach. That is certainly where the basis is. The Democratic candidates, the presidentials out in the field are moving in that direction.

    So I think we're probably going to move in that direction.

    Again, I worry it gives Trump his only argument, that they're out to get me and they're wrong, and it's hyperpartisan, my tribe, then their tribe. It's the argument he likes to have. And I do think he is sort of goading them into it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think the House is — can the House stop what's going on right now? I mean, are we just inevitably moving in the direction…

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't think — I don't think inevitably.

    I mean, I think — I think those who were sure that we're inevitably moving, were sure that the Mueller report was going to do it, that Michael Avenatti, who has his own serious problems right now, was going to be the witness that brought everything down, that Michael Cohen, God bless his soul, who's now in federal detention — correction, was going to do it.

    So, I'm not sure the inevitability of the case against President Trump.

    I will say this, that Nancy has been vindicated. Nancy Pelosi has been vindicated by two court decisions this week, that required Deutsche Bank to turn over its financial records.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right.

  • Mark Shields:

    And so maybe those who say that the courts were too slow may be wrong, I mean, if the courts do act quickly.

    And you have got New York state, which is going to make available the tax returns to the U.S. House. So, there are — on a number of fronts.

    If the president in fact stonewalls these decisions and refuses to do it, then I think that he makes — starts to make the case himself for his own impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of shoes are dropping, maybe more shoes.

  • Mark Shields:

    Maybe as many as Imelda Marcos' shoes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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