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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s impeachment reaction, Democratic debate

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including risks for red-state Democrats who voted to impeach President Trump, how Trump reacted to impeachment, the potential for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay transmitting the articles to the Senate for trial and takeaways from the sixth Democratic debate.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been a week of political news unlike any other in recent years, the impeachment of an American president one day, a debate featuring his main election rivals the next.

    That is what brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks this week. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, historic, yes.

    Mark, as we have been saying over and over, only the third American president to be impeached. What did you make of the debate in the House of Representatives and how the vote emerged?

  • Mark Shields:

    The debate itself, there weren't individual moments, I didn't think, that were spectacular.

    It was pretty obvious that the two parties had a little different approach. The Democrats were there to show sort of the extent and breadth and width of their biography and what brought them to this point.

    The Republicans seemed to have the consistent thesis of simply going after the process itself, never really defending the president, because unlike either President Clinton or President Nixon, President Trump is uncontrite. He acknowledges doing nothing wrong.

    I mean, remember Richard Nixon saying, I let my people down, and Bill Clinton being humiliated and embarrassed for what he'd done.

    So, that, to me — but, I mean, as far as eloquence was concerned, very few moments, but high drama.

    And Nancy Pelosi was very much in charge. Some Democrats, when the vote came in, started to cheer, applaud. She immediately said, no, this is serious. We're not — this isn't a football rally. I mean, this is history.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How did you hear it and see it, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I sort of wish we had had — that Republicans had put up what I think is their best case, which was that this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. They can't make the case it didn't happen. But they could make a case it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

    Or they could make the case that, if we set this standard, pretty much every president is going to come under impeachment for this. They could go back in history, Iran-Contra, and they could say, look, every president messes up in some very serious way — almost every president, many presidents. And if we set this standard, we will be just impeaching people for years and years.

    I don't think Lyndon Johnson, if it — was he held to this kind of standard? You don't — I think you could go down the list and find a lot of presidents who would be impeached. I think that's their best argument.

    And they can't really make that argument. But that would — that would have been an interesting case to make.

    As for the vote, I was a little surprised how party-line it was, just extremely few defections. And I think, for Democrats, some for whom it's a tough vote, I think, one, the conviction that he really did do it, he really does deserve to be impeached, second, that impeachment is probably not the top issue in their home districts, so they can probably get away with it.

    And, third, party loyalty and party-line spirit is now just a dominant force on Capitol Hill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Were you surprised so few Democratic defections?

  • Mark Shields:

    I was. I mean, it was a tough vote for especially a lot of those freshmen who are in districts that the president won.

    I thought the Republicans' arguments were not flawed simply. David, I think this was talking about an election. I mean, this wasn't talking about doing deals or something of the sort. This was talking about tampering with the American electoral process and what he was doing.

    And I just thought the Republicans falsely arguing that the Democrats were doing this because they couldn't beat Donald Trump in 2020, when the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll comes out this week and says 34 percent of American voters say they will vote for him regardless of who the Democrats run against him, and 48 percent said they will vote against him regardless implement of whom the Democrats run.

    I mean, so he's just in terrible shape. He's deep south. So this wasn't — Nancy Pelosi came to this quite reluctantly. She wasn't an enthusiastic supporter.

    But I just think…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Months ago, many months ago.

  • Mark Shields:

    But she just realized that not to do it, not to do it, in the face of the evidence, would have been worse than a terrible precedent.

  • David Brooks:

    Just to underline something Mark said, a lot of Democrats, I think, and I spoke to this week, think that Trump will win.

    I just don't — look at the evidence, and I do not see that. The former Republican political consultant Mike Murphy said, there have been some like 20 or 300 elections, local — state and local elections, since Trump took over, and Republicans have been slaughtered in almost all of them.

    So why do we think, when he's losing by 7, 8 percentage points to almost every potential Democratic nominee — so I don't quite understand the sense of pessimism on the Democratic Party or the strength of that argument that they're only doing it to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK, I'm marking this down, December 20, 2019, David.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, what about the president's reaction, though? He had that, I think it's fair to say, pretty angry rally on the night of the vote, and had some pretty beyond tough, ugly things to say about people, including the late John Dingell.

  • David Brooks:

    Right. Well, what he said there was just simply repulsive, talking about the late John Dingell and talking about his wife, Debbie Dingell. And that was just repulsive.

    And it never ceases to amaze me that even supporters of his don't say, hey, that's awful. And they just — they never respond.

    I think he, in a weird way, revels in anger, and revels in the confrontation, the angry confrontation. He sort of whipped up that atmosphere in the rallies when he ran the first time. And this is sort of catnip to him.

    Whether his base is big enough that — but they are certainly riled up, and this impeachment process certainly gives a — some fuel to rile each other up.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, there's there's sort of a phony, false bravado about the whole thing.

    I mean, the day that the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach, Rudy Giuliani comes to the White House with new information. I got new information. The day he got his get out of jail card from Robert Mueller's less than vehement testimony on the Mueller commission, that's the day he picks up the phone and calls President Zelensky. It's sort of, I got to show them.

    I just thought every president, every candidate who does well has something that he or she does well. Jimmy Carter did small groups better than anybody I have ever seen. Richard Nixon was very compelling in a question-and-answer situation. Ronald Reagan did the auditorium speech.

    Donald Trump has mastered the rally of raw meat to the true believers. And it was a — it didn't work. It was out of sync. He was out of sync. The crowd didn't get it, behind him.

    And to go after John Dingell, the man who had defended, was the savior of the auto industry in Michigan, and his widow, I mean, he actually did get public rebuke from other Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly to both of you, what about Speaker Pelosi's move, David, and then Mark, to hold back on sending these articles over to the Senate?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think it's very risky.

    As Mitch McConnell said, why is withholding something I don't want to do, why is that leverage? And so it was always going to be a reality that, once the House voted to impeach, they were going to lose control of the process.

    And they have essentially lost control of the process. That was just — that's just baked into the Republican Senate majority. And so they can try to use withholding to impeach — to sort of leverage over McConnell. I don't think it's very powerful leverage.

    I think it delays what eventually will be a trial, pushing it, frankly, back into primary season. And it looks — makes it look a little more political. So I get the frustration. We don't want to hand this to a process that we don't like. But I think it's very risky to withhold.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a bargaining device. There's no question about it.

    But when I see Joe Manchin, probably the most threatened Democrat in the country, in West Virginia, say that the whole process I preempted by Mitch McConnell colluding with the defendant to go public like that indicates to me that there are votes to bring witnesses.

    And I don't think it's only — if Joe Manchin is saying that, then there are a number of Republicans. So I think this is — this is political hardball, make no mistake about it, and Donald Trump is playing against a real pro.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, to the debate, to the seven people on the stage in Los Angeles last night.

    David, the "NewsHour" was honored to be hosting that, along with Politico. But you watched it. What did you think of them?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it was the best debate, in part because it was smaller, in part because of the moderators, of course.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Teacher's pet. Teacher's pet.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was waiting for you to say that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, seriously.

  • David Brooks:

    No, the cave moment was, to me, the most interesting moments.

    And that was going after the billionaires that supported Buttigieg, or at least millionaires, we presume.

    And I confess, I just think it's — I'm on Buttigieg's side on this. I think it's a purity test to think that somebody who started a company and had some success can't support a Democratic candidate, and that candidate is somehow tainted.

    You look at Buttigieg's policies, they're clearly not the policies of the corporate fat cats. they are policies that would be tough on corporations. And so if there was some evidence that money was actually buying anything for any of these people, then maybe it's a good argument.

    But it's simply an attempt to take a bad stereotype of some hated figure called the billionaire and tar a perfectly acceptable candidate.

  • Mark Shields:

    You want fireworks, you want high drama, you want real reality, you come to PBS.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, no question. It started off like a seminar. Let's be honest about it. I mean, was thoughtful, it was reflective.

    And then, boy, they really got into it. And David's right. It reminded us of the calendar, Judy. I mean, Iowa is coming up. Pete Buttigieg is leading in Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren was slipping. And she went after him.

    And I thought Pete Buttigieg showed the ability to take a punch. He doesn't have a glass jaw. And I thought his counterpunch was enormously effective.

    I mean…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you think he helped himself?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, he did. He wasn't hurt by it, in the sense — and he probably did help himself, in the sense that she did say, I take only pure money, by ignoring the fact that she had rolled over money from her Senate campaign, where she had taken money, just like Buttigieg.

    I think, the wine cave thing is bad — a bad image for Buttigieg. Then, when Amy Klobuchar jumped in and has preempted the entire Central time zone as her home, I mean, she's — I am the Midwest.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Flyover country.

  • Mark Shields:

    I am the Midwest. Nobody's going to fly over as long as Amy's there.

    And I thought, when she after Buttigieg that he's never won a statewide race, well, I would just remind people, the last 80 years, other than Barack Obama, one Democrat has carried Indiana for president, Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It's a very Republican state.

    And the Democrats have won the last 11 presidential elections in Minnesota. So, if you're going to eliminate statewide candidates, Abraham Lincoln's gone, because he lost to Douglas. I mean, he couldn't win a statewide. George H.W. Bush couldn't win a statewide. Dwight Eisenhower. George Washington never won a statewide.

    I mean, to me, that was a little bit silly. But she probably had a good night. Seven makes a lot different than 12 or 13.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Having fewer candidates. Having fewer candidates on the stage.

  • Mark Shields:

    It really does.

  • David Brooks:

    I thought Klobuchar's — I thought the experience attack was a little more forceful. And it does sort of raise the issue.

    And I thought Klobuchar was very effective and had one of her best debates, someone who has been consistent.

    I thought the big news out of the night, it sort of reminds you why Biden is still the front-runner. He was strong, stronger than he's been in any debate. He's likable. He's low drama. It's not a high-risk proposition, I don't think. And if he continues to debate that well, then I do think his just — his — the affection most people have for him will carry him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just about 20 seconds.

    Where…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Andrew Yang. You can't go without mentioning Andrew Yang. You gave him the sucker question, the tough question. You got a gift or an apology? The only two people that apologized were the women. The men all were going to give out their books.

    And I just — I just thought Andrew Yang showed a spontaneous and a naturalness. And he talks about his opponents like they're people. He's missing Cory Booker and Kamala and Beto, like they're real people, not a set of issues walking around that vote — on a voting record.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new side of him.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, a good side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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