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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s border threats, Barr’s handling of Mueller report

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Trump’s reversal on closing the U.S.-Mexico border, Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the Mueller report and controversy over former Vice President Joe Biden’s interactions with women.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now 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.

    So, let's talk about the border, Mark.

    The president this week has been at one point saying he's going to close it. He's angry at Mexico, and has been angry at the Central American countries. Now — then he changed and said, well, you know, maybe we won't do that, but we might do it later.

    What do you make of his overall approach to what's going on at this crisis at the border?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the fact that the piece demonstrates so well is the total interdependence at, for example, the border in Mexico and Southern California.

    That is the pattern throughout. We're talking about the United States' third largest trading partner, Mexico, $1.5 billion a day in goods and services being traded back and forth from each country.

    And what the president showed more than anything else was a problem that's nagged his entire administration. He just wasn't informed on this, and his threats were not only unnerving, but they really did the almost impossible, stirred Republicans on the Hill, beginning with Majority Leader McConnell, to say it would be catastrophic to cut off trade.

    And following on the heels, Judy, of the president's making the Republicans the health care party, after an election where they suffered their biggest defeat in 100 years, midterm elections, on the health care issue. By a 3-1 margin, Americans thought Democrats were better on health care than Republicans.

    And his attacks on John McCain, it really was unsettling in any confidence in the president, particularly within his own party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size up how he's handled this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I give him a little credit.

    He has been saying there's a crisis on the border for the past six months and eight months. And he's right. And I think some of us have downplayed that. But it's clear Jeh Johnson, who was in the Obama administration, is saying there's a crisis. There's 4,000 people getting detained every day. There's a backlog of a million cases.

    All of our facilities are completely overrun. And so there is clearly a crisis at the border. The problem with Donald Trump, A, there is no policy process. When he announces a policy, there's nothing behind it. It's just words coming out of his mouth.

    But, B, the idea the wall is the appropriate answer to what is happening on the border is completely ridiculous. These are asylum seekers. A wall does nothing. It's completely irrelevant to the situation.

    And I go back to what the gentleman in the piece said. The problem is in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and those countries that have become lawless. And El Salvador's the most dangerous, peaceful — peacetime nation in the world right now; 95 percent of the crimes are not being solved, not being prosecuted, hundreds of millions of dollars in extortion.

    You have got families living in the middle of all these killings. What are they expected to do? And so as long as you have got that situation, we're going to have this crisis at the border, because we're all one continent or one people — maybe two continents — but we're all one people.

    And so the idea is that you have got to fix it at the root. And there's no easy way to do that. But there's no other answer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No easy way to do that, Mark.

    Are you all — are we all now acknowledging that the answers don't come easy, but what do we do? What's to be done?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, nobody's ever pretended.

    There have been serious efforts. And public officials in both parties deserve credit for making an effort to come up with an immigration policy in this country. There's been no leadership in this administration at all. Democrats have a responsibility as well.

    Migration throughout history has been driven by two factors, one, fear, anger, isolation in the place where you are, and a hope, the place you're going, which the United States has more often than not represented the latter.

    And David is right. But the answer to Honduras and Guatemala is not to cut off aid, as the president. It's to make an effort, to be creative in trying to bring some sense of justice, order, economic stability to those countries, and political safety. That is — that, to me, is the first step.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But…

  • Mark Shields:

    Go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was just going to say, but the president argues that hasn't worked.

    He says, we have given them — we have been giving these countries help, and it hasn't worked.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, that's not true.

    In the first place, it's important to distinguish between two kinds of people who are coming here. One are economically motivated. They want to get jobs here. And, frankly, American efforts across several administrations have done a very excellent job of reducing the number of people who economically come here. We need a certain number.

    But the flow of, say, Mexican workers who come to this country was sharply down. So, we were in a situation a few years ago where there were more Latinos leaving than coming. And that's because we helped make the — and not us alone, but we did some role in helping the Mexican economy become a healthy economy.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    What we're seeing now is not that.

    It's fear-driven. Think of it like people leaving Syria for Lebanon. It's a little more like that than like the economic immobility. These people are leaving in completely disparate straits because they have no other choice. And they're asylum seekers.

    And so these are two different things. And the idea that our aid has not done much for that, I would say we haven't even tried.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    And the backlog that David speaks of is, in fact, the people seeking asylum. I mean, they are — it's uprooting your entire family. This is not the traditional male leaving to make money to send it home, to return home with that money.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Change of subject, the Mueller report.

    David, we — I don't know if you heard, but Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was on the program a few minutes ago. He said outright he expects the attorney general should give the Congress the full Mueller report, all almost 400 pages of it.

    But he went on to say he doesn't think the attorney general has been a fair broker in all this, for a number of reasons. He expects to get less than that, so we're going to see subpoenas.

    Where do you see this process going?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think that's an error. I think that's a mistake.

    I think one of the things that's been reasonably well-established, with a few bad exceptions, is that when you release a report like this, you don't release the grand jury, some of that information, and you don't release sources and methods.

    And Barr has told us he's just cleaning that stuff out and then he will release the rest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Nadler says it's just going to the committee. It won't be released to the public.

  • David Brooks:

    Right. Well, good luck with that. If it goes to the committee, it will go to the public.

    And so, in my view, that's a much more dangerous option. So, to me, maybe he's right about Barr. Maybe Barr is not an honest broker here. We don't know. I think he's handled it reasonably well. But at least let Barr issue what — the next piece of the report that he's going to issue. Let's take a look at it and see what we think then.

    But the idea of just basically leaking out the whole report, which I think would be inevitable, seems to me a miscarriage of justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think of the Nadler approach, the Democrats' approach?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think that — I think two factors.

    First of all, I think that Attorney General Barr gave the president a green light claim exoneration. And I think that has obviously set off a sense of frustration and anger on the part of people who worked on the Mueller group, as well as Democrats in particular. I think the president may have gone too far with it.

    What I worry about with Chairman Nadler is, for anybody with a sense of history in this town, in 1998, one of the reasons that the effort against Bill Clinton failed was because of the excessive partisanship of Newt Gingrich and people like that in the Republican leadership.

    And it became seen as a partisan drive against him. Contrast that, if you would, Judy, with Howard Baker, Sam Ervin, and Peter Rodino, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the time of Watergate, when they all rose above any petty partisanship.

    And I just — I don't think it ought to be seen as a Democratic hunt on Republicans. I do think it's coming, and I think that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The full report?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the full report will eventually get out.

    But I think Bob Mueller will testify. And I think that the attorney general has said he's going to testify as well. I would like to see it play out, rather — before we go to DEFCON 1.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying it's going to take several steps?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it will. I think it will.

    But I think there's a lot — the pressure is building on Attorney General Barr, because he knows his precis or summary of the Mueller report doesn't meet with the satisfaction or professional passing on the part of the people who worked on the Mueller — I really think that's a problem.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    It's possible to believe two things at once, that this investigation conducted by honest brokers found no evidence of collusion and not sufficient evidence of obstruction, but still there's a lot more in the report that will make the Trump administration look really bad.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    Both those things are true. And I think, in the fullness of time, we will find both those things to be true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Vice President Joe Biden, Mark, has been the subject this week of a number of complaints from women who say he was in their personal space, they felt uncomfortable with the way he touched them, held their shoulders, kissed the back or the top of their heads.

    He spoke about it, he tweeted about it the other day, said, I hear you, I'm not going to be doing this anymore. Today, he had a little joke about it at a speech. Afterwards, he came out and said, I hear you, my behavior is changing.

    How is he handling this? How is it going to affect his race for president, which we assume he is making?

  • Mark Shields:

    He's not handling it well.

    I mean, 47 years in Washington, Joe Biden has been the epitome of the admirable father and husband. There's never been, to the best of my knowledge, a whisper of Joe Biden as a sexual predator, as a player, as somebody who was stepping out or chasing skirts or anything of the sort.

    Joe Biden is a politician from the era of press the flesh, of being in touch with people of both genders. And I think his opponents are using this, quite frankly — and Joe has, unfortunately, for his sake, played into their hand — as an indication or a metaphor that he's out of touch, that he belongs to a different era.

    Disraeli once said the test of any leader is that a man — he always used the male — first know and understand the times in which he lives and, second, know and understand himself.

    Joe Biden, I think, knows himself very well. Unfortunately, he thinks it's 1959.

    Donald Trump, we showed in 2016 he understood the times very well. Unfortunately, he thinks he's Brad Pitt. The idea that Donald Trump could use somehow sexual predator-ing as an issue against Joe Biden shows the lack of an embarrassment gene and just a total shamelessness on the president's part.

  • David Brooks:

    When I started covering Congress, I was always stunned by how much the members would touch me and just put their arms on my shoulders and talk to me.

    And it was uncomfortable for me, because I come from a different generation than a lot of them, not only Biden, but a lot of others. And, frankly, I come from a different social class. I don't come from Scranton.

    And so there's a lot of just more physicality in different classes. But, eventually, I came to see it as a sign of connection and respect. And I liked it when somebody would put their hands on my shoulders, because they were really trying to meet me as a person. And it wasn't a sexual thing. It was a connection thing.

    And I have been around Joe Biden a lot. I think he's a very, very admirable man. And does he conduct himself in ways where mores have changed? Maybe.

    But they're trying to impute his character on this. They're trying to insult the dignity and the intention which he goes about his life. And I think it's completely unfair.

    He may touch where people in different classes and different mores don't touch. And maybe you shouldn't and be respectful to other. But as a sign that he's a person of any less than perfect character seems to me completely wrong and completely unfair.

  • Mark Shields:

    If I could just add..

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … mores are changes.

  • Mark Shields:

    I will add one thing to David, OK?

    Democrats have to make a choice, Judy. Are they going to nominate someone, A, who can beat Donald Trump in 2020 and be an effective, honorable and able president, restore confidence? Or are they going to get into an elimination contest about who is the most politically correct, the most sensitive and the most awoke?

    That is a choice that they're going to be on the side of suicide pact.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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