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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s national emergency, Democratic platform shift

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week in politics, including the president’s national emergency declaration, how congressional Republicans are reacting to it, the 2020 presidential field and whether Democrats are pushing their platform too far to the left.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From that growing 2020 presidential field, to the fight over President Trump's national emergency declaration, it's time for Shields and Brooks.

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    We are going to talk about the mayor in just a moment, but I do want to start, David, with the president's announcement today that he didn't get enough money to beef up the border as he wanted, and, therefore, he's declaring a national emergency, so that he can spend up to $8 billion on it.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, this is awful.

    You know, I don't think it has anything to do with any invasion, as he claimed. I think he lost the government shutdown, so he's giving himself a performance trophy, so he can say, I'm a winner.

    I think this is more about his psyche than anything actually in the country. And it is a complete violation of any constitutional position that any liberal or any conservative should believe in.

    The Constitution clearly states that allocations and appropriations are the job of Congress. And Congress has been ceding power time and time again. Presidents have been grabbing it. And this is by far the most egregious grab.

    And once you walk down this line, then the constitutional order begins to fray. And we have seen the fraying of social norms. Now we're seeing the fraying of constitutional norms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, the president says it's entirely within his right to do this. And he points out other presidents have done similar things.

  • Mark Shields:

    Not really similar things, in a sense after they have been rejected by the legislative process, immediately upon following that rejection.

    I think, Judy, that you have to say a national emergency is the Great Depression, the polio epidemic, the firing on Fort Sumter, you know, or something that we can agree is an emergency.

    This is a political emergency. It's a political emergency, just as David described, not simply the stinging rebuke of Congress, but, by actual count, 200 times Donald Trump, candidate and then president, has promised that this wall, this tall, unscalable wall, will be built and paid for completely by the Mexican government.

    And he obviously has not delivered on that. I would just point out that, in 2000, Bill Clinton's last year in the White House, there were 1.6 million illegal entries stopped by the authorities at the border. In 2017, Donald Trump's first year, there were fewer than 400,000.

    I mean, this is not — it's not an invasion, as David said. I mean, it's not an emergency, other than a political emergency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's going to be challenged in the courts. We were hearing some of that earlier in the program.

    David, what about the fact that Republicans in Congress didn't go along, there weren't enough of them to go along with what the president wanted in terms of money, and now some of them are saying what you two are saying, that they don't like the fact that he's declaring an emergency?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, this was an interesting thing that, within the negotiations over the last week, the Republicans, and specifically Mitch McConnell, decided basically they were writing the White House out of the negotiations, and they sidelined them.

    And so they basically — the deal McConnell said was, we're going to cut them out of the negotiations, we will give them nothing, but we give them this, that I will support this chance to have an emergency.

    And that is a bad deal. Mitch McConnell made a bad deal for the American people. This — violating the Constitution is worse. And so I think they should have a vote . The Congress should assert itself, for once in a lifetime, for the sake of our country.

    A few Republicans have come out and criticized the president, Ben Sasse and Marco Rubio. But a lot have not. Some who warned him not to do that are suddenly on board.

    And so you're seeing rank open opportunism. It was not long ago, a few years ago, we were sitting at this table, and Barack Obama did something — I thought something egregious. And every Republican, including me, was — had their hair on fire.

    And now suddenly they're fine with an even more egregious grab of White House power.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see this political — or is it a significant division in the Republican Party?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it isn't, Judy.

    I mean, the Republican Party needs a vertebrae transplant. It is essentially a political invertebrate. It has no backbone.

    Mitch McConnell is terrified of a primary challenge in 2020. And that's the power that Donald Trump wields. Donald Trump has always, in his arsenal, the Mark Sanford experience, the former governor and congressman in South Carolina.

    Donald Trump said good words about his opponent and bad words about Mark Sanford, and Mark Sanford's career came to a crashing end in the Republican primary.

    And every — virtually every Republican who's up in 2020 is afraid that Donald Trump — to get on the wrong side of Donald Trump. I don't think there's any question about it.

    I think Susan Collins has said some questionable things about questioning the president. So has Mike Lee from Utah. It's a small group. Lamar Alexander has. He's retiring in 2020. So, I don't expect any great resistance on the GOP side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's broaden the talk to 2020. You both just heard a conversation with the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

    I still struggle with his last name, but I think it's — Pete Buttigieg is close.

    David, what did you make of what he says? And you had met him before.

  • David Brooks:

    I had — at a dinner with him a couple of months ago.

    And I found him very impressive. I also think the presidency is a really hard job, and we shouldn't define it to Trump-level competence. I'm not saying that about Mayor Buttigieg. He's mayor of South Bend. A lot of people have gone through South Bend, and their lives have been transformed by it.

    And when I met him, I thought, this is really reforming mayor. But it's not preparation for the presidency. And so we should really realize how difficult this job is. And you have got to — you can't just walk out of nowhere and do it in.

    In my belief, I like governors. They have actually run big things and they have done things. They haven't just sat in committee hearings. And we should — as voters, I just think we should establish — reestablish a high standard for what it takes to be thought of a serious presidential candidate.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    I disagree with David on this ground.

    I think a mayor, a governor is a far better testing ground for somebody to be president of the United States.

    I don't think it's any accident that both Roosevelts were governors, and some of our great presidents. The only two presidents to leave with 65 percent approval, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, were both governors.

    And I would point that out because what a senator does is make tough speeches, issue scalding press releases, ask penetrating questions at hearings, and has totally shared responsibility, one of 100. I'm not responsible for anything the Senate does. I voted — or actually voted to recommit, and thank you very much, Senator.

    Mayors, governors have to deal with real life. I mean, they have to deal with teacher strikes. They have to deal with tax hikes. They have to deal with traffic. They have to deal with trash collection, and they have to deal with…


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Snow removal.


  • Mark Shields:

    Snow removal, all kinds of problems that people have in their daily lives.

    And the mayor — Mayor Pete has been a very good mayor of South Bend, and I can say that. South Bend wasn't an easy place to hold together, put together. And so I have a bias in favor of mayors and governors.

    I, too, am a fan of his. I think he's smart. I think he's bright. And I think he's not afraid to say something different, which, in itself, is just encouraging and refreshing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's coming down on the progressive end of the spectrum, I think it's — I think that's fair to say, David.

    He talked about the Green New Deal. He talked a little bit about taxing the rich, which has obviously come up among the Democrats, Medicare for all, how to deal with health care.

    Where do you see the Democratic field sort of shaking out in that way? And does it — I mean, is it shaking in a direction that helps the party, or not?

  • David Brooks:

    It's somewhere to the left of Che Guevara, I guess.


  • David Brooks:

    As Donald Trump makes it extremely hard to think about supporting somebody like that, I find the Democrats have done an outstanding job of making it hard for a lot of moderates to support anything.

    Personally, the idea that I could ever support a candidate who was in support of the Green New Deal, that will never happen. That could never happen.

    The Green New Deal concentrates power in the hands of the Washington elite in a way nothing has done since World War II. It would literally have Washington planners taking over the energy business, taking over the transportation business, so no planes are possible or necessary, taking over health care.

    It really is a centralization of power in a way we haven't seen and doesn't exist in Scandinavia. It used to be Democrats wanted to shift the tax code, shift the regulations in order to steer the market in a more humane direction, and I get that.

    And that — being that kind of Democrat, you would be for a carbon tax in order to address global warming. This is not that. This is simply the government taking control of large swathes of the American economy, something I don't think the government is capable of doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see it?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think David has set up a straw man as far the New Green Deal is concerned.

    It is not something that has been endorsed by the Democratic Party or anything of the sort. It's gotten a lot of attention, and a lot of publicity and a lot of buzz, but it is not the Democratic platform by any means.

    I do think the Democrats, quite bluntly, have made the characteristic and traditional mistake of a party that wins a midterm. It wins a midterm election because voters thought that the party in power and the president was overreaching, overreacting.

    And then that party reads it as somehow an affirmative mandate to them and for their fondest illusionary dreams.

    And I think that's, quite frankly, what happened in 1970, in Richard Nixon's first midterm. He went on to win 49 states two years later. It happened with the Democrats in 1982 in Ronald Reagan's first midterm, 26 seats they pick up on the House, and Reagan wins 49 seats the next time. It happened with Barack Obama in 2010 and the Republicans.

    And so what the Democrats have to understand is, they won on health care, because Donald Trump and the Republicans were going to abolish preexisting condition coverage for people, and the Democrats were going to protect it, not because Americans wanted a mandated Medicare for all and the abolition of all private insurance coverage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does it feel like to you, though, that anything is going to be pulling that back, that the horses — are the horses out of the barn?

  • Mark Shields:

    The Democrats want to win.

    I mean, when asked a question I mean, that is what they're interested in, winning. Whether the candidates will offer that to them, but the Democratic rank and file, by actual measurement in polling, that's their priority, is to win.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it should be.

    And Nancy Pelosi has been caustic about it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Nancy Pelosi…


  • David Brooks:

    But five of the presidential candidates and people like Cory Booker have embraced it.

    And if you come in and say government is going to give everybody a job, what Democrat is going to go against it? Somebody has to stand and say, no, we believe in helping people. We do not believe in government takeover of this and that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will leave it there. See you next Friday.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields. To be continued.

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