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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s ‘s***hole’ comments, ‘Fire and Fury’ fallout

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including racially charged remarks reportedly made by President Trump about immigrants, the continuing fallout from a tell-all White House book, whether the president deserves credit for new economic numbers and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The first year of the Trump presidency has been marked by moments of controversy and remarks that regularly drew some sharp criticism.

    This week brings perhaps one of the most striking examples yet, and again spotlights Mr. Trump’s views on race.

    That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it’s a tough subject, Mark. We have been talking about it for much of this program, interviewed the ambassador from Haiti earlier.

    What’s your takeaway from what happened in that meeting yesterday with the president and the members of the Senate?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, first of all, revealing, and revealing at several levels.

    I have no doubt the president said it. There were six Republicans in the room. Lindsey Graham has confirmed it basically to two other Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tim Scott, his colleague from South Carolina.

    Everybody else has gone mute on the subject, showing moral cowardice, when addressing this. Even Mitch McConnell, the voluble Senate majority leader, is mute. And so it’s really sort of tragic.

    It’s one thing, Judy, when Donald Trump uses Pocahontas to attack or taunt one senator, Elizabeth Warren. This, quite frankly, is beyond that. I mean, this is racial. It’s racist. It is.

    And for Paul Ryan to call it unhelpful or unfortunate, this shows the moral cowardice of the Republicans in response to it. I mean, this is a man who thrives on being divisive, insists on being divisive.

    We now have the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, good economic news, as you reported earlier in the show, and yet he remains mired in the mid-30s, where a great majority of people do not think he’s honest, do not think he’s level-headed. And it’s a tragedy for country, for the relations, and most of all an indictment, a serious indictment, of this presidency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How are you reading, David, what happened, what he said?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I think it’s pretty clearly racist.

    It fits into a pattern that we have seen since the beginning of his career, maybe through his father’s career, frankly. There’s been a consistency, pattern of harsh judgment against black and brown people. And so he’s at it again.

    And I guess I’m reminded first just the way it’s rotting the Republican Party. This is the one thing Republicans — they can tolerate a lot of things in Donald Trump, but the white identity politics, the racial politics, that’s just a cancer. And that’s the one thing they can’t tolerate, but they are — seem to be tolerating.

    My other thought is, we have been with this guy so long, we forget what, like, a normal, admirable political leader or human being looks like. And so a normal, admirable human being is curious about the world, and is sort of interested in different cultures. El Salvador, Haiti, Nigeria, they’re interesting. Has compassion for people from around the world.

    It’s hard to live in this country and not have admiration and compassion for the immigrants who come here from Africa, from El Salvador, from Haiti, and like the ambassador we just saw. That story — you meet that story every week.

    And so to not have any of that normal human compassion or curiosity go through the guy’s head is part of the deeper character flaw here that we have apparently learned to tolerate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David says it’s rotting the Republican Party, Mark. What — is it doing damage to the country?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, it is, Judy.

    Whoever the next president is — I assume that that president will be elected in 2020 — faces a formidable task of repairing relations, of repairing the United States’ reputation, of just healing wounds both at home and abroad.

    Just to add one point to what David made — and I agree with it — before I became a leading pundit and David’s colleague here…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    … I used to do political campaigns.

    I worked for Senator J. William Fulbright, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in his last campaign in 1974 in Arkansas. He was a man who was not falsely modest. He’d been president of the University of Arkansas at the age of 34, a Rhodes Scholar, and the Fulbright scholarship program was his creation.

    And in talking one night about presidents with whom he had served, not under, whom he had served — with whom he had served, six, and he said, of John Kennedy, he said, “Whenever I went to the White House when John Kennedy was president, I was proud as an American that he was my president.”

    I cannot believe that anybody, irrespective of how partisan they are, how devoted they are to the Republican side, could say that they feel proud that Donald Trump is the president or their president or our president.

    I think it does damage to the country, does damage to the office, and it does damage to the national spirit.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And for the Republicans, A, for all the evangelical leaders, the treatment of the refugee, and the poor, the outsider, that’s not — the Bible is not ambiguous about that. And Donald Trump is certainly against that spirit.

    For the party, there’s a more specific problem, which is they have become a pretty anti-immigrant party. And there are decent, normal human beings and admirable people like Senator Tom Cotton who wants to sharply cut immigration. And they think they can divide their views on immigration, which are purely policy views, from the white identity, racial undertones that Donald Trump has now permanently — or not permanently — but has taken into this party.

    And that is not possible. If you want to restrict immigration, which is a legitimate point of view — I disagree with it, but it is a legitimate point of view — somebody like Tom Cotton has an extra burden to rise up against what Donald Trump said, to show, hey, restricting immigration is not synonymous with bigotry.

    And if he doesn’t do that, then whatever his policy views will always be tainted by the sense that there’s an aroma of bigotry around it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, as far as — but, as far as we know, he hasn’t said anything to dispute — or to confirm or dispute.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, he made a statement today, he and David Perdue of Georgia, who were two of the six Republicans at the meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Saying they couldn’t remember.

  • Mark Shields:

    Specifically couldn’t remember.

    So, I would say these are two people who probably need medical attention, if they were in a meeting less than 24 hours ago.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And Lindsey Graham and everybody else there seems to remember it, but they don’t remember it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But this comes at a time we have got these contrasting, some would say contrasting, views of the president this week.

    Mark, you had the Michael Wolff book. We have talked about that. We talked about it with last week, which portrays a president with just about the most negative adjectives, descriptions you can possibly imagine, the most charitable one being that he’s just bouncing around the White House, doesn’t know what he’s doing.

    But then the next day, the president shows up at this meeting with members of Congress on immigration, and he looks like he’s in charge, he’s carrying on a conversation.

    Do we just set that aside? And, I mean, how do we interpret this president?

  • Mark Shields:

    I rarely take issue with a question you pose.

    I didn’t think he seemed to be conversant. I mean, he was there. He wasn’t unpleasant. And he certainly spoke in terms of love, as far as the immigration law is concerned.

    But, Judy, he didn’t know what was going on. He was ready — and it’s a little bit like the pillow, the last person whose head was on it leaves the impression.

    I mean, he was ready to endorse Dianne Feinstein on a clean DACA bill, until Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, said, we can’t do it.

    And then, of course, he joined that. And it wasn’t an impressive performance. It was a performance that didn’t show a meanness and was obviously intended to rebut the charges in the Wolff book that he was totally out of touch.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, I think it’s possible to fervently oppose Donald Trump and still not believe in fairy tales. Like, the fairy tale is, it’s like the madness of King George in there, that he’s just — he’s like a child, he can’t do anything, he can’t remember anything, he’s bouncing off the walls, he’s watching TV, screaming at Twitter.

    And, frankly, if you watched his Twitter feed, you would have that impression.

    But when you talk to people who have gone and had meetings with him, a lot of them say, he’s surprisingly affable. He’s sort of normal, runs the meeting OK.

    And so it’s possible to believe that, that, yes, he’s not a total basket case, he is running a White House that is churning out policies, and still believe that he is guilty of bigotry, of being ignorant.

    And so it’s possible to believe both things. And I think we saw both things this week in Donald Trump. But he’s not a total monster. He’s not a blithering child. But neither is he up to the standards that we would expect in a president.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, he’s inflicting great damage upon this country, and he will leave in his wake great disenchantment, disillusionment.

    There’s nobody who’s encouraged to get involved in government, in public service. He calls nobody to a higher commitment, to the public good.

    And he knows nothing. I mean, at that meeting, he’s terminally incurious. I mean, this is a man who ran on immigration as his issue in 2016, ran successfully on it, and is totally unconversant with the elements of the issue.

  • David Brooks:

    I don’t deny any of that.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, well, one thing the White House is saying this week — and the president brings it up every chance he gets, David — is the economy.

    And you did have some companies this week saying, well, we’re doing more hiring. Wal-Mart raised their minimum wage. They have given people bonuses. A number of other countries are doing that.

    They’re — some are interpreting this as, this is about the tax cut.

    Does the president deserve any credit when the economy — I mean, the Dow Jones industrial average keeps shooting up.

    Where does credit go?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I rarely link a president to credit in the economy while they’re in office. You can have effects as president that will have downstream effects years later, but there’s no short one-to-one.

    With this tax plan, if you give companies a big windfall, which is what they got, they are going to have internal decisions. Well, what do we do to help our company with this money?

    And some will say, well, let’s give it to the shareholders. Some will say, let’s invest it in R&D. Some will say, you know, we have got a turnover rate among our employees. Let’s raise their salaries, increase their benefits. And so Wal-Mart tended to do that.

    And so I think we will see — and there will be positive effects. You give people money, they are going to spend it in some way. And so we could see an increase in R&D, I hope. And I hope we will see an increase in wages.

    Does that mean the tax bill dramatically increased growth overall? Well, the consensus among economists, that it did, but pretty little.

    And so I think you give credit where credit is due. It’s not surprising to me that some companies would react in this way. But I wouldn’t expect to see a total jump in growth overall.

  • Mark Shields:

    Wal-Mart raised its minimum start at $11, which is good. I mean, it’s better than it was. I mean, it’s not — no one’s living in clover on $11 an hour, but that’s a positive.

    Any time any company raises benefits and salary, with the income and economic disparity we have in this country, is good. The same day, they announced a closing of 63 Sam’s Warehouse.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    And some on the very day that they announced them.

    And it’s a — so you take the plus. And Republicans, beginning with Speaker Ryan, say, oh, it’s all the tax bill that’s responsible for this.

    And I think that’s a question that goes both ways. I mean, this is good. Bonuses are the cheap way out. Bonuses is a way of doing it one…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because it’s one shot, yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    One shot. It’s not an increase. It’s not — it doesn’t — I mean, it’s better to get a bonus than not get a bonus, but it’s not going to be there six months from now.

    So, I think the jury is not even in, let alone out, on the tax bill.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we have some time to watch what happens.

  • Mark Shields:

    We do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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