What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shields and Brooks on Trump tell-all fallout, Kavanaugh confirmation hearing

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including tough questioning for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, plus two damning portraits of President Trump, including a new book by famed journalist Bob Woodward and an unsigned op-ed in The New York Times.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that was just the latest of political news this week.

    There was also a bombshell opinion article, an eye-opening Bob Woodward book, a high-stakes confirmation hearing, and even a primary election upset.

    It's plenty this Friday for Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you. Happy Friday. Where do we begin?

    I actually want to postpone former President Obama's comments, David, for just a moment, and start with Brett Kavanaugh, because here is someone who could tilt the balance of the Supreme Court. He spent three days before the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. How did he do?

  • David Brooks:

    He did what he was supposed to do, which is say nothing.

    And that's what all previous nominees in the last few years have done. And so I think he's very much likely to get confirmed. And, frankly, I think he should be. Whether I agree or not, elections have consequences.

    If a Democrat wins or a Republican wins, they get to pick the sort of Supreme Court justice who is in line with their party. And as long as the person is well-qualified, which, according to the American Bar Association, Brett Kavanaugh is, then I think the Senate should confirm that person.

    And I guess what strikes me most of all is, it's Senate Democrats have had months and months to find something to make him look bad, going over the whole course of his life, and they have come up nearly dry. There are a few episodes — there are a few questionable things having to do with some stolen documents in the early 2000s that he may have lied about. We will see.

    But, other than that, he seems to have led a remarkably upright life. There seems to be no scandal, no embarrassment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They didn't lay a glove on him, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I thought, Judy, that he showed himself to be more than qualified by experience, temperament and brainpower.

    And, at the same time — and I am one that — salute his political experience. I think it's important. We have had enough judges who lived this monastic separation.

    But the stunning hypocrisy of the Republicans in not being forthcoming about the papers of his — the work within the administration that he did, honorably, for President Bush. And I think, if I'm not mistaken, these are the same folks who were quite upset about Secretary Clinton and her own e-mails, and yet at the same time they're being monitored and vetted by a Republican lawyer, not the archives, not the archives of the United States, in this rush to confirmation, but instead by a Republican lawyer who's a personal friend of Judge Kavanaugh's.

    So I do think that he was less forthcoming, quite frankly, than even Neil Gorsuch was on the question of the president's intemperate outbursts and criticism and condemnation of judges. Gorsuch had called it demoralizing and disheartening. And he didn't — so, I think he's — I think David's right.

    I think he's absolutely confirmable. I didn't think that there was a glove laid on him. And I think, at the same time, he could be the Democrats' worst nightmare when it comes to voting rights, when it comes to affirmative action, when it comes to access to abortion, when it comes to the agenda that Democrats look to the court for support.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You think he could be that?

    I mean, that — he was trying very hard for that not to come across, if that's the case.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I just don't know.

    I think there is a great respect for precedent. I don't know whether it will be him. I think John Roberts certainly has great respect for precedent. And if something like Roe v. Wade was likely to be overturned, then maybe he would flip, just out of respect for that precedent.

    So I just don't know how that's going to be. I will say I join Mark in thinking the political process around each of these nominations gets sillier and worse every single time just about.

    The Republicans, as Mark said, have — why not just release the documents? I thought the Democrats were overwrought throughout, and really turned the hearings into a silly arguing about the paper release. And I get the outrage about that, but it's supposed to be about the Supreme Court nominee.

    And so I thought we had a pretty bad process. And that's why nobody — none of the nominees speak. It's not really a conversation. It's just a series of people whose minds are made up screaming at each other. And so the nominee just plays possum to get through it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, I — the pyrotechnics were, if anything, unconvincing.

    You had Senator Booker offering to make himself into a political martyr, give up the — risk the wrath of all the institution. And then Senator Cornyn responding by comparing him to Benedict Arnold, when, in fact, it turns out the papers had been made available just hours before this whole soap opera went on.

    So it wasn't — that wasn't confidence-building.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And saying he could be removed from the Senate, although…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … they don't seem to be going anywhere on that.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, while all that was happening, a one-two punch this week directed right at President Trump, David, in the book by Bob Woodward, painting a picture of a president unfit for office, surrounded by people who are trying to keep him from his worst instincts, followed by the anonymous op-ed in your newspaper, I should say, opinion piece in The New York Times, painting an equally damning portrait of the picture — of the president.

    What do we take away from all this?

  • David Brooks:

    That we're in a state of permanent crisis, that we have got an agent of incompetence and instability in the Oval Office, and the people around him are trying to do what they can.

    I wish they wouldn't write about it. And the question to me is, A, will this spin out of control into something truly horrific? Will Trump take some action in a way that really does endanger the nation? Or is he in a state where he can corrode the norms, he can corrode the Republican Party, he can corrode the government, but we're just going to be for the next two years or so in a state of just this instability and crisis?

    And the argument is, he's too ignorant and incompetent to do much damage. And I really don't know which track we're on, whether it is a trajectory towards disaster or just this continued depressing erosion of standards.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How seriously do we take all this, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think — I think this is taken quite seriously, Judy, because this wasn't a partisan attack. This wasn't from Democrats.

    First of all, Bob Woodward, I thought the most telling response to Bob Woodward was made by Ari Fleischer. Ari Fleischer was George Bush's — President George Bush's first White House press secretary, a fierce Republican partisan and a frequent apologist and defender of Donald Trump.

    He said, "I have been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward piece, and there were quotes I didn't like, but never once, never did I think Bob Woodward made it up. Woodward always plays it straight."

    And I would — I would suggest and argue that nobody who has ever done business with, known, consorted with Donald Trump could make a similar statement about his honesty and integrity.

    So, I think that comes with it. The sources are all people that were elevated to positions of high importance and significance in the United States of America by one person, Donald Trump. And they are the ones.

    It's not easy to take on a president. It's not easy to criticize a…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it was anonymous.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

    I mean, Rob Porter, I mean, went on. Gary Cohn. I mean, there are people in the — in the Woodward book, I mean, that are pretty damn clear where they stand, in spite of disclaimers and so forth.

    I mean, his reputation, I think, stands unassailed. So I think that's important.

    The anonymous thing — I disagree with many of my colleagues, I think maybe even David, in the sense that it — when I first ran political campaigns, an old manager said to me, never have anybody sign a memo. Just give the memo and let read — and I said, why?

    He said, because you want to look at the substance, not the source. You don't want to be deferential because it's somebody important writing it or dismissive because it's somebody young and inexperienced.

    And if the person's name had been on this piece, the anonymous piece in The New York Times, then the response would have been the typical Washington attack machine. They would have gone after the writer, attacked, and say, here — got a DWI charge in 1983 or something of the sort, and just try and savage that.

    As a consequence, we're forced to look at the substance of what was written. And I think these together, they come from Republicans, they come from people who work in the Trump administration. And, I mean, the significance of it demands our attention.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what do we about it, David?

    We have had this gripping week of criticism of the president. A lot of people say, well, we have heard this before. But it's — it's sitting there. What happens now?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Well, that's — it's up partially to Republicans to do — if he does something that's truly dangerous — I mean, it should be said we probably have the best economy of our lifetimes maybe right now. So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    New numbers out today.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, that are fantastic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so — but it — there comes a moment where something scary could happen. And I don't expect Republicans to take some action.

    But the invocation of the 25th — I'm now forgetting the name.

  • Mark Shields:

    Amendment.

  • David Brooks:

    The other — 25th Amendment.

    But I just think we watch with — as we have been for two and three years, with sort of shocked horror. And then I think we build for — rebuild for the long term, which is, how do we rebuild norms of morality? How do we build norms of behavior, so that we can have a functioning civil government in the future?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what — in part, Mark, what former President Obama was saying today.

  • Mark Shields:

    He was. And…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was calling on Democrats to get in the arena.

  • Mark Shields:

    Absolutely, and Republicans as well.

    And just quickly on David, I mean, the Republicans have been neutered. They stand mute. I mean, the only people who have had the courage to speak are people who are leaving, with the exception perhaps Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

    But Lamar Alexander, a great public servant, mute. Rob Portman, acclaimed, respected, mute on the subject of Donald Trump.

    And I think there was a challenge from President Obama today to them, but, primarily, it was directed, Judy, at millennials. It was directed at those who are — go to Coachella, the music festival in Indio, California.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's where you hang out.

  • Mark Shields:

    Or go to a rock concert.

    I have been there a couple of times, but I will be frank. I didn't lead the program the last time.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    But, no.

    I mean, and it was always Obama reminding us that former presidents are regarded quite positively by Americans. I mean, 63 percent favorable at this point. He's just behind Reagan and Jack Kennedy in that pantheon.

    And I think — I think it was a — he's been mute himself for the past 20 months. And I think it was a call to arms. And we do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we're told he's going to be out on the campaign trail. Will it make a difference, David? Is this a message that sticks?

  • David Brooks:

    I'm still thinking of Mark and Tupac Shakur as holograms at Coachella together.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I — the evidence — we have to go back to history — Barack Obama's presided over the Democratic Party at midterms before, and he lost.

    And so I'm not sure this will be — this is something that's going to change the midterms. This is obviously a very different circumstance.

    But, to me, one of the interesting things — I agree, mobilizing millennials is a big thing. The second thing is, how are Democrats actually going to frame the argument against Trump? Because they have — there are a lot of arguments to make against Donald Trump. And they made a lot of them in 2016.

    And Barack Obama sort of spread the field with a lot of different arguments. And so — but which is the one that actually turns voters' minds?

    I personally think it's the corruption one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the clock is ticking. They better make up their minds.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's almost November.

  • Mark Shields:

    Trump is the issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest