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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s call to reopen, mail-in voting

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Trump’s call to reopen houses of worship despite the pandemic, controversial comments from Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, public opinion on reopening the country, the battle over mail-in voting and Trump’s firing of inspectors general.

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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, both joining us from their homes.

    Hello to both of you.

    I want to start with President Trump today ordering the nation's governors to open up houses of worship, saying, there's nothing they should do to prevent churches, synagogues and mosques from opening up.

    Mark, the president told the governors that, if they don't go along with this, he's going to override them, although it's not clear he has the authority to do that.

    What do you make of the president's really relentless push to get the country to open up, his leadership at this moment in this pandemic?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, the churches are an intriguing and complex problem unto themselves, that someone would order the churches to open.

    And the reality is that the biggest concern has been gatherings of 10 or more people. And churches frequently involve a lot more than 10 people in close quarters. And they also have that problem with separation.

    The president's commitment as a churchgoer brings to mind Tom Wolfe's great line about making world safe for hypocrisy. This seems to be more political than ecclesiastical or theological on his part.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, I want to ask you to weigh in too.

    And I want to bring in the fact that we are seeing, as the president pushes harder and harder for the country to open up, the support for this is breaking along partisan lines.

    We had a new poll this week, "NewsHour"/NPR/Marist, showing that more Republicans are with the president, more Democrats are more cautious.

    How do you look at all this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    First, the president is not subtle in his culture war fighting. He wanted to defend Christmas against the alleged war on Christmas. And now he is doing this.

    It's a pretty naked attempt to try to appeal to evangelical voters. Churches happen to be one of the places where we have seen a lot of super spreading. One of the Korean churches was in — early in — was one of the worst things that happened. And so that's — it's just foolish.

    The second foolishness is that a national policy here is just not a good policy. This is very context-specific. This virus is very decentralized. It hits one place, it doesn't hit another.

    So, every decision that should be made, in my view, should be at the local possibilist level. And so Trump is just — it's just politics. It's just words out of his mouth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, in terms of the president's overall determination to get the country to open up, is this something that, in the long run, he looks stronger as a leader for having done this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, I think the president, understandably, wants to switch the subject.

    It's interesting. ABC News has measured each month people's confidence in the president's leadership and their trust of him on handling the coronavirus. It was — it reached a high of 54 percent in March. Then it dropped down to 44 percent. And now in the latest, in May, it's at 39 percent.

    So, the president wants to get off the — his coronavirus shepherding and get back, he hopes, to an economy, which was his calling card for reelection, and that somehow, in the next six months, he could — well, five months, I guess now in a couple of weeks — that it could get revitalized confidence and optimism in the economy, and show some progress.

    That's it. I mean, it hasn't worked for him as surgeon general. And he's got to try and do it as the economic chief.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly on this, David, one other thing.

    A lot of people commenting when the president goes out, as he is trying to, he's not wearing a mask. Does it matter that the president doesn't?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, that's exceptionally poor leadership. You lead by example. That's elementary school leadership.

    I think the worst thing that could happen right now is that we — opening and not opening became a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats do differ, but not all that much. You still get 75, 77 percent of the country supporting social distancing.

    In our polarized age, you just don't get that much. If you look at the movement in red and blue states, there's no real difference in how people are behaving.

    There's a significant distance — difference in how people see the future. Democrats, by some gigantic percentage, 80 or 90 percent, say the worst is still ahead of us. Republicans, by some gigantic percentage, say that worst is still behind us.

    But the fact is, the opening up is happening. And it's happening in all 50 states, and it's going to happen everywhere. And it's not a political decision. It's a question of striking a balance between safety and economic opportunity.

    And so it's not an ideological issue. It's just the delicate balance that will be different in every single place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is a political year. It's a presidential election year.

    Both the president and Joe Biden in the last couple of days have gotten in hot water for some statements they have made.

    I want to first let you hear what Joe Biden said this morning. He was being interviewed by a radio host who goes by the name Charlamagne tha God.

    And here's what Joe Biden said:

  • Charlamagne Tha God:

    Listen, you got to come see us when you come to New York, V.P. Biden.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    I will.

  • Charlamagne Tha God:

    Because it's a long way until November. We got more questions.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    You got more questions.

    But I tell anyone, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black.

  • Charlamagne Tha God:

    It don't have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact I want something for my community. I would love to see you…

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    Take a look at my record, man. I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years. I have a record that is second to none.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, after Vice President Biden, Mark, said, if you're not voting for me, then you're not black, here's what he said a few hours later.

    He called into a conference of the Black U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    I have never ever, ever taken the African-American community for granted.

    And I shouldn't have been such a wise guy. I shouldn't have been so cavalier and…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does something like this, Mark, hurt him?

  • Mark Shields:

    It hurts. I think he corrected it quickly.

    But it was a serious mistake, Judy. It showed a — first of all, a sense of entitlement of black votes, African-American vote, that somehow that they have to vote for Joe Biden. And that was wrong. And it was haughty. And it had a certain arrogance about it.

    And, quite bluntly, in America, this marvelous mixing bowl of a country, whites don't get to tell blacks what being black means. And I think that was a mistake on Joe Biden's part.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    The — Tim Scott, the African-American Republican senator from South Carolina, had a good tweet. He said, 1.3 million African-Americans voted for Donald Trump, and it didn't make any of them any less black.

    It's just a bad rule in general to say someone is less black, someone's less Jew, someone's less Catholic. These are just tropes we don't need. And so he said something. He was trying to be funny on a show that's very edgy, and he apologized for it.

    So, to have a president who apologizes, that might be a relief to a lot of people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Mark, the president got in some hot water himself.

    He was in Michigan yesterday visiting a Ford assembly plant. He referred to Henry Ford, the founder, of course, of the company, spoke about what great bloodlines he had, which a lot of people picked up on. Henry Ford was known to be anti-Semitic. He praised Adolf Hitler back in the late 1930s.

    How does this add, or not, to our understanding of President Trump?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it's either — either he is stupid, unaware of Henry Ford, and is talking in code language about bloodlines, which just smack of eugenics and racial superiority doctrines, and which Henry Ford was a major pamphleteer.

    I mean, he was a — he wasn't a casual anti-Semite. He was a practicing and convinced anti-Semite, who accepted the cross of the German Eagle Award from the Nazis in 1938. I mean, so it wasn't just a casual thing.

    So it was — on Trump, it shows either the insensitivity, or it's some sort of a subtle whistle talk to white racists or white supremacists that he admires them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, does — do you think it hurts the president?

  • David Brooks:

    No, I'm going with ignorance on this one.

    First, when he does — dog-whistles, Trump is not subtle about it. So I'm not sure why he would start being subtle now. I just think the guy doesn't read books. And so to know the history of Henry Ford, to know what he did in the '20s and '30s and what sort of person he was, would require reading a history book.

    And I — it could be that he knew all this, but I don't think you see it watching cable TV 10 hours a day. So, I'm going to give him the benefit that he just didn't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, while we're talking about the election, the contest between these two men, Mark, the president has been on a campaign lately against mail-in voting.

    This is something Democrats are talking up. The president is saying it's — it leads to fraud, it's illegal.

    Is this something that could end up a serious issue in the fall in November?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it could be an issue, Judy, but this is not the opening salvo.

    Just to point out, it has been a Republican organized effort for more than the last decade to limit the number of voting precincts, to make registration more difficult, to introduce photo I.D. requirements, to — all of this totally bogus and fraudulent idea of voter imitation, and that there are people voting many times under several identities.

    The most exhaustive study on this subject was done by Loyola University Law School. And between 2004 and 2014, they got 31 documented cases of voter fraud out of a billion ballots cast in those 10 years.

    So, this is just a way of trying to discourage and make more difficult. He criticized the secretary of state of Michigan for sending out applications for absentee voting to all the voters of Michigan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    But, at the same time, Judy, he didn't mention Nebraska, Idaho, Iowa, South Dakota, where similar letters have been sent by the secretary of state, all of whom are Republican states.

    So, it's to suppress the turnout, not to encourage people to vote, to discourage people to vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, there is no real evidence, serious, substantive evidence, of voter fraud in connection with mail-in voting. So, how do you see this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    No, there isn't. Encouraging people to vote is good. Discouraging people to vote is bad. We live in a democracy. Voting is a civic act that we should be encouraged.

    I'm also struck not only by the wrongness of it, but by, in my view, the stupidity of it for Republicans. They have got it in their head they need to suppress voting. But if you look at who likes mail-in voting, as Mark said, it's a lot of Western states. They don't want to drive so far in normal times, and now they don't want to endanger themselves.

    Mitt Romney had a comment that, in Utah, he said, we overwhelmingly vote by mail-in, and it works pretty well for us. If you look at Trump voters, he's got a lot of rural voters. And he's got, frankly, a lot of disengaged voters, low-information voters who aren't too active in politics, but who showed up for Donald Trump in 2016.

    It seems to me he would want to lower the barriers to voting in order to keep those people engaged with him.

    It's all mystifying.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

    Well, I wanted to get to the inspectors general. Maybe you want to say something in 10 seconds.

    The president in six weeks, Mark, has gotten rid of four different inspectors general. It's unfair to ask you about it, but maybe three words each?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it's obvious that the president — Susan Collins, senator from Maine, was right.

    The president was quite chastened by the impeachment experience and is far less arrogant, hubristic and overreaching.

    No, this is — this is just unforgivable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And David?

  • David Brooks:

    (AUDIO GAP) bad for America. It was sort of a haiku.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will take haiku.

    Thank you both. My apology for not giving you more time on that one.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you.

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