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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s briefings, coronavirus aid

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s controversial medical commentary, the respective roles of federal and state governments in the crisis, American public opinion on pandemic restrictions, congressional pandemic relief and how they’re handling social distancing.

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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.

    So, all three of us are at our homes. It's great to see both you, Mark, and you, David, staying safe.

    Let's start with President Trump's decision to turn over to the governors the decision about whether and when to open up.

    Mark, we have seen the state of Georgia, other states moving quickly to reverse the stay-at-home orders. There are questions being raised about whether it's too early. The president himself at point — backing down on his support for this.

    How do you read all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    It's — you have to watch it closely, Judy.

    I mean, last — just last weekend, the president was in bold type tweeting out, liberate Minnesota, liberate Michigan, liberate Virginia, to put pressure on Democratic governors there to lift the bans and lift the quarantine.

    So Kemp, the governor of Georgia, who was the last in the country to impose stay-at-home rules, wants to be the first to lift them, and thought he had a green light from the president, I guess.

    But the president doesn't forget the fact that, while he is a loyal supporter of Mr. Kemp's, it's an off-and-on thing, because Kemp, if you will recall, just at a petty political point, instead of appointing to Johnny Isakson's vacancy in the United States Senate Doug Collins, the congressman from Georgia who had been so close to the president, he appointed Kelly Loeffler.

    And, all of a sudden, Donald Trump, the president, was told, according to reports from CNN, by — both by Anthony Fauci, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that he could not support and wouldn't defend the lifting of the quarantine in Georgia, so he backed off.

    And it appears to be a cynical political ploy, with the following formula: For anything that improves the economy, the president gets credit. For any increase in the pandemic, in incidents of disease and death, that has been the decision of the governor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, David, I mean, the president, by doing this, is passing on responsibility to the governors, for better or worse.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, and I'm happy about it. I don't want life-or-death decisions made by a guy who thinks this can be solved by drinking disinfectant. So, if you can get it out of the White House, we're getting it into safer and better hands.

    There's like division of powers here. The federal government is there to dole out money and to organize some of the testing and things like that. And so far, it's doing a reasonably good job of doling out a lot of money.

    But the states are there to make the decisions about their own states. If you had people in Wyoming deciding — thinking that Washington was going to determine their life or death, they'd rebel against Washington. If you had a lot of progressive areas thinking that Donald Trump was going to determine life-or-death decisions, they would rebel against Donald Trump.

    So, I think it's just much better to be doing this on the local level.

    The one final thing I will say, we tend to gin up conflict. But, in this, I think we're overstating how much conflict there is in America. Americans, considered how polarized, we're amazingly united right now; 98 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans support the social distancing; 90 percent of Americans, complete bipartisan consensus, believe that, if we loosened too much, there'd be a second wave; 76 percent of Americans say, even if their governor did loosen, they wouldn't go out.

    And so, to me, the big story here is that we're sort of hanging together through this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Evidently so, if you believe those polls.

    But, Mark, going back to what David mentioned a moment ago, and that is the president's statement yesterday about injecting ultraviolet light or disinfectant into ourselves, I mean, today, the White House was saying that that was just a joke, they didn't mean it.

    But there have been other statements that he's made about endorsing this anti-malaria drug that the experts are saying cannot be relied on.

    What are the American people to make of all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I think maybe the most unreported story of the week was Piers Morgan, the British television journalist, who is a friend of the president, one of the 47 people on Twitter the president has access to — he has given three interviews to British television all his presidency, all three to Piers Morgan.

    And Piers Morgan went public and said what an awful lot of Trump supporters and critics have been saying. And that is, Mr. President, you're really hurting yourself in these television talk — daily conferences, that you're coming across as self-aggrandizing, as self-interested, as really not a leader, concerned more, basically, about your own reelection than you are about the health and well-being of the people who elected you.

    And I really think that that crystallized the criticism. A number of Republicans have followed. And I think you will see the president backing off.

    Yesterday's performance was the worst. I mean, to say Lysol is a possibility for inhalation sarcastically, he's not Will Rogers. He's not Jerry Seinfeld. He's not a man known for his sense of humor.

    It wasn't sarcasm. It was just Donald Trump being absolutely reckless and irresponsible. And I think the quick — they have seen his numbers drop, and I think the daily press conference has been the principal contributing factor to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, just in the last hour, the White House has let it be known that they are now going to be cutting short these daily briefings, some of which have gone on for two hours and longer.

    So I mean, how much, in the end, does it matter what the president is saying at a time like this? Are the American people — how much do they need to hear from their political leader, and how much do they need to hear from medical experts?

  • David Brooks:

    They need medical experts.

    It's a morale destroyer. It's tough on morale. It's a drain on all of us. And even the Trump supporters feel drained by his foolery.

    But I don't think it's really damaged the way people act. A funny thing has happened, I noticed, in my local grocery store. Like a month ago, maybe 5 percent of the people were wearing masks. Then it was 30 percent. And then it suddenly flipped, and it was 70 percent.

    And starting two weeks ago, if you weren't wearing a mask, even before the law came down, people spoke to you and said, you need to get a mask.

    And so what that shows to me is a community setting new norms, setting new moral standards, having new expectations of how we should protect one another.

    And when I see a community acting as one, like in the grocery store, and we all see it, then you see a community that's basically healthy, that — where people are — understand the obligations they have to each other. And that was not automatic going into this.

    Most plagues, that's not how people behave. So, I think it hurts our morale, what Trump does. But I wouldn't say it's destroyed it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting, what you say about, you see people at the grocery store. We're seeing much this the same thing.

    David — I mean, Mark, I want to quickly come to what Congress was able to do this week. And that is in passing legislation to provide more support for small businesses, some of it for hospitals and others.

    How much difference is this aid going to make? How much more is going to be needed? We're already seeing worry about the size of the deficit, of the debt the country is going to owe when all this is over.

    Where does the argument land there?

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't know how much difference it's going to make.

    I will say this, Judy. The immortal Dante, as FDR referred to him, weighs the sins of the cold-hearted and the sins of the warm-hearted on a different scale. In other words, this is reaching out to people who had not — who had been left out of the first aid to minorities, to women, to small — really small businesses, not publicly traded companies, which hundreds of millions of dollars of small business aid went to, to hospitals, the people who are on the front line and dealing with this terrible tragedy every day.

    And, you know, to me, it showed an awareness and an understanding. I don't think anybody understands the gravity economically. It's going to be — it is enormous. It will be enormous.

    But, right now, what we have seen is sort of a bait and switch on the part of Republicans, who said, oh, you can do the aid to local cities and states in the next one, said Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    And now Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says there will be no next one.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So, David, just in a few words, how much is the worry about the debt, the deficit, going to be part of this going forward, as people are hurting?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I don't think it should be.

    In wartime, even fiscal conservatives believe in spending. They have done a good thing. This paycheck protection act for small businesses, it's impressive how much money they have gotten out the door.

    There's somebody in the Small Business Administration who is probably working 18-hour days. A lot of people are probably working days to get that much money.

    I have sort of been impressed by how much they have gotten out the door, the money for testing. They're bickering, but they did something good this week. They spent hundreds of billions of dollars. And they passed a very complicated piece of legislation on a bipartisan basis.

    It's funny to me that the members of Congress, even when they do something good, they can't take a victory lap. They're so used to just bickering and bickering and bickering.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In just about 45 seconds we have left, I want to ask each of you how you're doing, staying at home all the time, or almost all the time.

    Mark, how is it going?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I'm rereading Tolstoy for the third time.

    And — no, I'm not.


  • Mark Shields:

    I have rearranged my sock drawer.

    And I'm doing fine. I have got a wonderful roommate. And I have had the same one for half-a-century. And I'm just finding new and wonderful things about her every day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Pretty great roommate. We know Anne Shields.

    David, what about you? How are you holding up? How are you doing?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I'm blessed.

    I have got a good, fine group of people here in my little forged family. And I'm playing my son in ping-pong ferociously, and I'm hoping to develop a backhand by the end of this.

    So there are little blessings amid the great worry that we're all going through. But there are little blessings, even in these days, with family.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I feel the same way. So much more to be grateful for than the other way around.

    Well, we're grateful to the two of you.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you, and please stay safe.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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