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Shields and Brooks on Trump vs. states on COVID-19

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the Trump administration’s guidance to states about when to reopen amid the pandemic, the ongoing struggle to conduct more COVID-19 tests, Trump’s criticism of Democratic governors and what Sen. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement means for former Vice President Joe Biden.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    David, let's pick up with where we left off with Lisa.

    And that is off of the White House announcement, basically, that the president said, we're turning it over to the governors to decide how and when to open up their states to try to begin to get back to normal.

    But a number of these Democratic senators and many others, and medical experts, are saying, but, wait a minute, we don't have the testing capacity to make good decisions.

    What do you make of what the White House has done here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it's obviously too little, too late.

    What you want in this circumstance is a blueprint, is somebody to get up there, like a CEO, and say, here's where the tests are being made. Here's how many are going to come in next week. Here's how many are going to come in this week.

    And we need to get obviously hundreds of millions of them, if we're going to do any track and trace in the distant future. And it's just been vague promises to you and to the Democratic senators. And so it's lack the specificity that's comforting.

    As for getting it to the states, I have become a bit of a fan of federalism. In an ideal world, the virus spreads across state lines, so we would have a national response.

    But given where the White House is and the level of competence they have displayed, I'm glad a lot of power is resting with the governors.

    And as this thing begins to bite economically, I think it's good that the people who are making the crucial decisions are governors, who have way higher levels of trust and approval ratings than the president, who is so divisive.

    And so I'm beginning to appreciate the wisdom of the founders in putting so much power in the state governments.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, good idea to be giving the power mainly into the hands of governors, even without the testing that many of them say they need and don't have?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, I think David makes an interesting point, but I will just say this.

    The testing is a national responsibility. This is a national, national crisis, a national tragedy. We're at 146,000 tests a day. I'm not a mathematician, but I figured it out on the back of my hand, and that means that every American would be tested just before New Year's Day of 2027 at 146,000 a day.

    That's just unacceptable. I mean, it truly is.

    I agree with — I agree that the governors are being rewarded with confidence and approval for their leadership. But the irony is that we see Mike DeWine's job rating in Ohio go up by 31 percent, Andrew Cuomo's go up by 32 percent in New York.

    These are stratospheric numbers, while the president's are bogged down and slipping. And it's a reflection of leadership. And, right now, two out of three Americans are, frankly, concerned that we're going to lift the rules too quickly and too much — and three out of four Americans are concerned that the worst of this pandemic is ahead, rather than behind us.

    So, this is a time for national leadership. You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility. And the president has to confront that reality.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, David, at the same time, the vice president today was telling me, we're trusting the governors to make these decisions.

    Literally, at the same hour, President Trump was tweeting to the governors of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to liberate their states. And this is — it all has to do with protests, growing protests in some of these states, headed by Democratic governors, people who want the restrictions lifted — and lifted — and lifted quickly.

    What sort of signal does it send the president's doing this, he's doing it the day after he said, I trust the governors? Now he's saying to some of them, here's what you need to do.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the tweets themselves were just madness.

    Fortunately, they don't always — the — what the president tweets doesn't always have anything to do with what the president or what the — at least the administration is doing. They seem to be two separate entities.

    But the tweets were undermining trust. They were a blatant attempt to shift blame, if there is blame, in the months ahead for the economic pain onto the governor — onto the Democratic governors, and not onto himself.

    So they were acts of selfish cynicism.

    I have to say, as I watch this whole thing unfold, to me, it's a gigantic stress test of our social solidarity. Can we hang together as a people and do what we need to do for each other? And that includes the companies and the employers and also just all of us. Can we behave properly?

    And the president has been an obvious negative force in dividing us with tweets like that. But I have to say, so far, I do think we're hanging together. I do think social trust and social solidarity is reasonably high.

    Mark cited the statistics that three-quarters of Americans think we have got to fight the disease before we worry about the economy. And that's a bipartisan support, by and large. People do worry about lifting the quarantine too soon, not too late.

    And so there's been a reasonable amount of social cohesion. And there's been a rising up of drug companies. I talked to people in the health care industries. Drug companies that never cooperate are cooperating to get some sort of treatments or vaccines.

    They're getting the vaccines to the tests at remarkable speed. The number of random drug trials has been exponentially growing. So I don't know if leadership is coming from the country, but I do think leadership is coming from the various sectors of our society, which may save us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, in part, Mark, the president does seem to be responding and feeding, if you will, into these protests against the governors, who — many of whom are trying to hold the line and say, we have got to keep social distancing weeks longer.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, reckless, irresponsible.

    I mean, how this — this is a president who is not only inconsistent. He's contradictory. I mean, he told us he had total and absolute authority, and yet he has no responsibility. And you just can't have it both ways.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I want to come back to the announcement that Joe Biden got this week. We didn't know if it was going to happen or not.

    But Bernie Sanders did endorse Joe Biden this week, followed pretty quickly by former President Obama and Elizabeth Warren.

    Is the Democratic race clear to you now? Is it clear to you that Bernie Sanders' supporters are going to kind of enthusiastically back Joe Biden? What does it look like?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Bernie Sanders is enthusiastically backing, which is more than he did for Hillary Clinton at this stage four years ago.

    His followers or his supporters, some — some probably will not. There are a lot of people who voted for Biden — who voted for Sanders in the primary and then voted for Trump in the general in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And, no doubt, there are some of those.

    But the Democratic Party, when you look back on the primary, you would have to say, given how many people were in it, it was a relatively bloodless primary. The guy who's in front in the beginning ended up winning. It was over pretty quickly, even before the virus hit.

    People are always going to have animosities in this kind of race, but I wouldn't say they were super high. I would say the Democrats are going into what's the rest of the year in a pretty orderly, pretty unified state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, how does — I mean, what about these endorsements? You could argue, I guess, that they were going to come eventually.

    But Bernie Sanders has moved quickly to endorse. He's, today, I saw, raising money for the Democratic National Committee.

    Does it mean that Joe Biden's got his act together at this point, marching into the summer and the fall?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Jonathan Martin of The Times pointed out that Democratic disunity, which is a perennial story, is no longer a story.

    I mean, it's a united party, Judy. And I think credit to Joe Biden, who's a popular figure himself and has good personal relations. But give prime credit to Donald Trump. This isn't the possibility, as it was in 2016, of Donald Trump, the unlikely possibility. This is the reality of Donald Trump.

    And he is — he is a (INAUDIBLE) agent for the Democrats. He is a uniting agent for the Democrats. And, right now, I would say Joe Biden is in a golden position. It's a ref — this election, as of today, is a referendum on Donald Trump.

    It is not a binary choice, the Romney against Obama was, or Bush against Kerry was. This is a referendum. It is a referendum election. In '96, Bill Clinton was the winner. He was the winner going in with good times. In '84 with Ronald Reagan, it was a referendum on him.

    Ronald — Donald Trump cannot have a referendum election. He is an unpopular figure. And they don't — Americans, a majority do not want him for a second term. Therefore, he needs to run against Joe Biden. But he can't run against Joe Biden as long as he's on television every two hours every single night seeming petty, mean and vindictive.

    And that is not helping his candidacy, which has to be terrible news to tell somebody who's the only president in history to have a prime-time television network show of his own for 14 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, when you — when it comes to sheer airtime, David, the president's got a lock on it.

    I mean, he's on television all the time talking about this pandemic. It's a terrible, terrible thing the country is going through, but Joe Biden is not going to have as much exposure between now and November as the president.

  • David Brooks:

    That's perfectly fine.

    People would like a break from politics. And I don't think Joe Biden needs to really campaign. His campaign understood from the start that this was about Donald Trump. And unlike Sanders or Warren, who ran campaigns they could have run four years before or four years from now, he really ran a Trump-centric campaign all through the primary season.

    And he's still doing it. He had a video out today, I saw, where he just laid out how Trump was late to responding to the crisis. And that's what he should be doing, just sober, making these points. It's working.

    As Mark indicated, Trump got a little bump early on for — among support, but now that's faded. So, even his approval of handling the virus is now underwater. More people disapprove than approve.

    And so I think Biden just needs to do nothing right now. We will have plenty of time in the summer and the fall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will leave it there.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

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