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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including whether reparations can be a viable campaign issue, social media in politics, the president’s rhetoric on moving immigrants to sanctuary cities, a shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security and the congressional testimony of Attorney General William Barr.
And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Happy Friday. Good to see you guys.
And to you.
I want to pick up where Yamiche's report left off and get your take on it, because, David, you have written about this. You have had your own evolution when it comes to your views on reparations.
How should people today look at some of comments made by people like Mr. Biden all those years ago?
Well, first, on the Biden thing, I think it's ridiculous to judge somebody by a statement made in 1975. I was in junior high school then. People evolve and people change their minds. And we should allow people to change their minds.
On reparations, I support them, but not for the reasons Joe Biden says. It's not an act of guilt. It's not an act of, we did something wrong. It's a show of respect. It's a show of respect for the injustices that minorities, members of the African-American community have suffered in our society for hundreds of years, not just slavery, but red-lining and all the way up to the president.
So we show respect, and we do it as an act of regard and as an act of resetting. And I have just come to the conclusion. I changed my mind about it, because the practicalities of doing it are really hard. But I changed my mind about it because it just feels like we're in a make-or-break moment on race.
The election of Trump, the atmosphere this has created has created a movement where aggressive gestures have to be taken to show that we're all part of the same country.
Mark, what about you? Do you think the candidates should have a stance on this, a ready answer if they're asked?
They can have a stance if they want it. I think it's a nonstarter as an issue in 2020, Amna.
I think David makes a legitimate point, a moral point and an ethical point. I think, politically, you have a choice, especially beginning with Joe Biden. You either have converts or you have heretics in politics. You either say, that person was wrong, and therefore they're doomed to perdition and keep them away from me, or converts, those who come and join our side and are welcome and sit in the front row.
And Joe Biden's record on civil rights, I think, speaks a lot louder than the one quote from 43 years ago.
And you have a choice in politics. You can look forward or you can look backward. And I think, in 2020, this is not an issue that comes up voluntarily on the part of voters. I think David raises the question. It is next to impossible to do it.
I mean, the African-American girl who graduated from Sidwell whose father is a dentist and whose mother's a lawyer is not in the same position as somebody who is a direct lineal descendant at discrimination and servitude.
It is — what works in this country is when we include everybody in a program. And there's no question that African-Americans have suffered economically, socially and politically. But it ought to be a policy that's directed to lifting up all those who lag behind, who have been, through no fault of their own, left behind and hurt.
And I think that, in spending more money, it means an investment in city schools. There's no reason, as John McCain said, that a bad congressman should earn more than a good schoolteacher. And I think that's a good place to start.
Well, we have seen it coming up now on the campaign trail.
I want to ask you about some of the people who are going to be making the decision about who makes their way further down that campaign trail. Those are the Democratic voters.
There is a fascinating analysis I think you both have seen as well in The New York Times by Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy looking at who those Democratic voters really are. And I think some people might be surprised about what was in there.
It said some of the loudest voices on social media, the very progressive voices, are not necessarily representative of the whole.
One number that stood out to me, among Democrats who self-identify as moderate or conservative, 29 percent of those Democrats are on social media; 53 percent of other Democrats identify that way.
Did that surprise you?
No, it really doesn't.
I thought it was a great piece. And good for The Times for putting that on the front page, forcing people who read The Times, including myself, to address this, this reality, I mean, that the loudest voices are not necessarily representative, and, in many cases, as we — those who read Twitter know there's no satisfying them.
You give them nine, and, well, wait a minute, what about nine more? And so, no, I think it's — the problem for the Democrats is — Charlie Cook put it very well, the analyst. He said 45 percent of the people are against Donald Trump, 35 percent are for him. There's 20 percent who are out there.
If you win 10 percent of them, you have won an enormous landslide. You get 55 percent of the vote. But those people are not on Twitter, that 20 percent. And they're not into the exotic, erotic issues that sort of excite so many of these activist Democrats.
David, you looked at the numbers. What did you — what did you make of them? What is your take?
Well, it's, of course, true. Like, Twitter is not reality.
We pray that to be the case.
But I guess I would say two things.
The people who are on Twitter and those hard-core people, they want a culture war. A lot of Democrats want a lot of economic changes, a lot of policy changes. But a lot of Twitterites, they want a culture war.
So, for example, a story that was big in the conservative world, but didn't really make it out this week was Chick-fil-A getting disinvited from some airports because the owner of Chick-fil-A gave money to the Salvation Army, which is deemed conservative — or progressively incorrect, because it's a religious organization.
And so that that's what drives conservatives up a wall, the idea that they can't practice their faith. And most Democrats don't really care about that kind of issue.
The one thing, final thing I would say is that just because the social media people are a minority doesn't mean they can't drive the train. A passionate minority often drives the train. And if the candidates are afraid of angering the passionate minority, and they feel they have to toe certain lines, or else they just get a hailstorm of abuse, then the passionate minority drives the train.
Speaking of social media, the president was back on Twitter talking about an issue that's key to his heart, key to his campaign moving forward for 2020 as well. Of course, that's immigration.
I want to show you the tweet from this morning. He was talking about a proposal to bus detained migrants into sanctuary cities. He said: "We are, indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities. Only" — he said that would be as political retribution for people who have opposed his policies.
But this was — David, this was a proposal that the White House had said they'd floated, they considered, and then they rejected it. The president is still talking about it. What do you make of that?
Well, he's confused with the reality that you can do a Twitter prank and own libs and forget the fact there are real human beings at stake here.
And so, like, he's just insulting and further insulting a group he's insulted pretty much consecutively for three or four years.
We have got chaos on the border, and we could in — place a system in place so we actually have the border under control. We could expand the detention centers. We could send more judges down to take care of the backlog. We could give counselors to the people, so they know how to manipulate the system — or they don't have to just work the system.
We could do a lot of things to make the situation on the border functioning. And that's what a normal president would be focused on. That's what a governor would be doing. That's what a mayor is doing.
Instead of doing actual policy, he's just doing — he's treating it all as a Twitter game to make his base feel good about themselves.
Well,we know one of the reasons it was pushed back upon was because it is illegal. And when the president was down on the border with his new DHS acting head, Kevin McAleenan, last week, there's now new reporting out today that he was pushing him to perhaps act illegally.
Allegedly, he asked Kevin McAleenan to close the border earlier than expected and also said that he would pardon him if he were to act illegally and prevent migrants from entering. Those are all reports that came out late this afternoon.
Just weigh in on this, Mark, for me. What do you make of all these reports and the allegations being made here?
Well, from all we know about Kevin McAleenan, he's talking to the wrong guy, is Donald Trump, when he makes that sort of a proposition or sort of an offer. He's a law-abiding law person.
As far as President Trump is concerned, I mean, David's right, in the sense that the presidency and the White House is, above all else, a place of preeminently moral leadership. And there has been none. David has pointed out that the Democrats have an obligation, which they do, to help formulate new policy on immigration.
But I would just point out that twice in the last 10 years, we passed in the Senate overwhelmingly comprehensive immigration reform. We passed it with 80 percent of the votes being for Democrats. And of the 14 Republicans who dared to vote for it in the Senate, John McCain's gone, Jeff Flake is gone, Dean Heller's gone, Lee Ayotte is gone.
You go right through the list. Bob Corker is gone. They haven't been replaced by pro-consensus, pro-compromise immigration supporters. So I raise that, that the Democrats do have a responsibility. But, I mean, when you don't even get a vote in the Republican House under George W. Bush, who pushed for it, to his credit, and for Barack Obama, who pushed for it — and it got through the Senate in both cases — we have got a problem in this country.
And it's a moral problem. It's a political problem as well. And I don't think we should hide from that.
When you look at what's happened at DHS — and, of course, immigration is not the only thing they do. It is a big part of what they do, though.
You take a look at the shakeup that happened just this week, I think it's easy to forget. These things happen so quickly. This was just this week. On Sunday, the homeland security secretary was out, on Monday, the U.S. Secret Service director, Tuesday, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, on Wednesday, the ICE acting director.
What is — what does this shakeup mean?
Well, it means that the president adopted a policy on immigrants, and especially from Central America, that was based on cruelty and based on the idea of deterrence. If we're cruel enough, it will deter them from coming.
And that has turned out not to be the case. Now we have got 700,000 or 800,000 people coming, seeking asylum. And so they were trying to solve for the wrong problem. And so the idea of deterrents failed, and so the situation turns out to be worse.
And so the president first blames the people in the agency for not carrying out his cruelty, and then he blames them for the situation being worse. And so it's a situation where you had a lot of people who just, like, some of them cooperated with a cruel policy. Some of them didn't want to.
But, at the end of the day, they couldn't take it. And, at the end of the day, he was sick of them. And so you have a failed policy, which is being blamed on the enactors, basically.
It's not the only place there's been shakeups too. There's another list I want to show you now. This goes beyond DHS.
There are currently six agencies with acting leaders. We talk a lot about the stability and the chaos within this administration. Mark, what does this mean for an administration? Does it matter?
It means two things. First of all, it means this administration is Donald Trump. That's what it is.
I mean, it's his will, his whim, his predilections, and the attention span that he has. That's what it is. And as far as acting secretaries, they don't have the full legal authority of a confirmed secretary. There is a logic to our system, when somebody is confirmed by the United States Senate after hearings and a vote in the Senate.
And, as a consequence, they are limited. So you say power is with the president. It's always with the president. But, at the same time, Amna, what it means is that, ironically, that the power really devolves to senior professional public servants, civil servants, which is the last thing in the world that Donald Trump or most elected officials, the conservatives want.
And that's — they are making the decisions. They are the decision-makers. But it's a terrible way to run a company, a baseball team, or the country — or the United States of America.
We don't have much time left.
I want to get your take on one last thing, though. Looking ahead to next week, the Department of Justice said, we should probably expect some version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. That's, of course, in the hands of Attorney General William Barr right now.
He had this to say on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated. And I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated. But I need to explore that. I'm not talking about the FBI, necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
Mark, he was talking there about spying on the Trump campaign.
What did you make of that statement by A.G. Barr?
Based upon his record in the George H.W. Bush administration, and conversations with all sorts of people who served with him, I had — gave him the benefit of the doubt.
He has surrendered that benefit of the doubt. I mean, when you start talk about spying, and you give a green light to Donald Trump to start into his conspiracy theories again, you have been irresponsible. I thought his answer in particular on the Affordable Care Act, and that — its suspension — or elimination, actually, by court decision, which he is now advocating as attorney general of the United States and carrying out — it would mean 19.9 million people would lose their health insurance.
And he said, oh, no, the president has a great plan that's going to include preexisting condition.
I mean, I'm sorry. It was irresponsible to use the term spying and unfair and inaccurate. And I think he really has hurt his case and made himself a spokesman for the White House.
David, just 30 seconds left. Has he lost his credibility?
But he is one for dropping tidbits and then not explaining. And so that's what — it was wrong to make that decision. We will just know a lot more in like a week. And if he releases a pretty full report, we will, say, OK, he seems sort of objective.
We just got to hope for that. I'm still — slight benefit of the doubt.
Hope. Hope. Hope.
Slight benefit of the doubt.
We're going to end this conversation on hope.
On hope. That's right.
I will take that.
There's a place called hope.
David Brooks and Mark Shields, thank you so much.
Good to see you.
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