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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s subpoena standoff, China trade war

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including 2020 Democrats on the campaign trail in Iowa, the standoff between Congress and the White House over the Mueller report and subpoenas, President Trump’s trade war with China and escalating tensions with Iran.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, before we turn to all the whatever we want to call it that's happened in Washington this week, Mark, let's talk a minute about Iowa. We heard this voter tell Amna, this is really hard.

    I don't know why it's so hard. There are only 23 candidates.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • Mark Shields:

    But that is — Amna captured the Iowa essence. I mean, these people take their responsibility very seriously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They do.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's not casual. They are gatekeepers. Between Iowa and New Hampshire, they are 1.4 percent of the population of the country, and unless you finish in the top three in Iowa and the top two in New Hampshire, you will not be elected president of the United States, based on the historical precedent.

    And that's why it makes sense for both Mr. Castro and Mr. O'Rourke to be spending time there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They get one-on-one time.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    If you love politics, this is the time go, actually, right now, because there's like crowds of three or eight. And there are candidates everywhere. You can drive to — in beautiful weather and see beautiful candidates.

    And then it all peaks at the state fair, where they all sort of congregate. My most profound political coverage moment was covering Gary Bauer, who was running in the Republican primary, as he toured a refrigerated railway car with the Last Supper carved in butter in life size.

  • David Brooks:

    And that was politics at its best.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was the state fair.

  • David Brooks:

    That was at the state fair.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is coming up in August. We have already got it on our calendar here, here at "NewsHour."

  • Mark Shields:

    Raise the cholesterol level of the entire state and press corps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, so now tear ourselves away from Iowa, Mark, to talk about what's gone on in Washington this week, this escalating battle between the Congress and the White House.

    Just today, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House, Richard Neal, is subpoenaing the secretary of the treasury, the head of the IRS, to go after the president's tax returns, this on top of subpoenas for the president's son, subpoenas for the attorney general.

    What do we make of all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, we — I think it's approaching almost situational overload, in terms of — we're talking about subpoenas from committees, including the House Intelligence Committee, the House Banking Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the — across the board.

    And now we have the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, as you mentioned, led by Republicans, that have subpoenaed the president's son.

    I just think, Judy, that, in a strange way, this plays to Donald Trump's strength. I mean, Donald Trump lives in chaos. I think it's sort of almost an emotional and technological and intellectual overload, given the fact that we're on the cusp of war in Iran, in Venezuela, in a showdown with the Chinese.

    I mean, there's just — but this is what he thrives on. And I think there's a — almost I dare you to impeach me attitude that's prevailing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Overload, you mean for the American people?

  • Mark Shields:

    For the American people and for the — this isn't — the system wasn't intended for this.

    I mean, this isn't the way it's constructed, that we can deal with crisis upon crisis upon crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, the Democrats say they're very serious about all this. They want this information. They want this testimony.

    I mean, are they pursuing the right strategy for them?

  • David Brooks:

    No.

    Well, neither side is. It's the complete breakdown of the checks and balances system. The president has to say, Congress, I need you. I need you to oversee what I'm doing. I need you to correct for my imbalances. And so I'm going to cooperate with you.

    And that's just the normal way we do business. And the Trump administration is not doing that. So that's the first crisis.

    The second is, if you're going to do oversight, you got to oversee. You got to try to say, I'm at least going to try to be a productive force here. But what we're seeing on the side of the Democrats is an escalation of the passion. And it's just become an attack machine.

    And so there's just a lot of — there's a lot of talk now about jailing people. There's a lot of talk about just holding multiple people in contempt. This fight over the redaction is the wrong fight to have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of the Mueller report.

  • David Brooks:

    Of the Mueller report.

    The administration has offered to show of the volume two, which is about obstruction, the vast majority, 99.5 percent, to least the elite Democrats. And that wasn't good enough. And so there was a little negotiation, which broke down.

    But, to me, that — just issuing orders of contempt, which may go forward, just freezes everything. It just pushes everything into the courts, and we sit there and do nothing for a couple of years. And so there's a way to do this, and there's a way not to do this.

    So there's a lot of error on the Trump administration. But, nonetheless, I think the Democrats across the board and across many committees are sort of walking slowly up toward impeachment. And we could end up in impeachment. And I do think that's what Donald Trump…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, we had on the program last night Jerry Nadler, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … who essentially said, if we don't carry out our responsibility, we're not fulfilling what the Constitution, what the founders wanted and expected Congress to do, which is have oversight over the executive.

  • Mark Shields:

    That is a — it's a legitimate argument, make no mistake about it, I mean, that if you lay down a precedent that, literally, that this precedent can — this president gets away with what he's getting away with, and the Congress does nothing, then that certainly lays the precedent for the next president.

    I think, just to add to what David — the point David made, Donald Trump, according to USA Today, which has established a database, has been a plaintiff or a defendant in 4,095 lawsuits. Now, think about that.

    I mean, that's an awful lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Over his career.

  • Mark Shields:

    Over his career.

    I mean, about employment, about contracts, about subcontractors, you name it. He'd been — and you talk about litigious. He enjoys this. I mean, he thrives on this. This is modus operandi.

    And I really think they're playing to his strength, quite honestly. And he's — and he's sitting there, quite honestly, Judy, with 91 percent approval among Republicans. And just, I think, intimidates his own party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, are the two of us saying Democrats just drop this?

  • David Brooks:

    No. No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What should the approach be?

  • David Brooks:

    No, they should be in the business of trying to inform the American voters.

    And so getting Mueller to testify…

  • Mark Shields:

    Absolutely.

  • David Brooks:

    The fact that Mueller may not testify is outrageous, and Mueller should testify.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so they should be in that business.

    But, basically, what they're doing is walking up toward the line of impeachment. And you can see the passions rising, as they get further and further down that line. And there's a difference between going toward the prosecutorial impeachment, and having hearings to educate the American voter.

    And when you get down one path, you're really trying to appease the part of the party that wants — that wants impeachment. And the problem, when you try to appease that part, you end up emboldening, and you just turn it into an attack game.

    And what Donald Trump wants — who would — who does Donald Trump want to be his foil, his opposite member? Does he want it to be the presidential candidates, most of whom are kind of attractive, who he is actively running against, or would he rather run against Congress? Of course he would rather run against Congress.

    Any president would.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, I mean, I just — I come back to what the Democrats are saying is, we want this information. The administration is saying, we're not going to give it to you.

    So how does it ever get resolved?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, there's no question that they're playing — they're playing absolutely hardball, is the administration. And they're being — they're not being respectful of the law in the least.

    I think, Judy, you have to make — the difference is, the Russians were involved in this election in 2016, make no mistake about it. Our intelligence agencies have all concluded that unanimously. They were around in 2018. They all got all the way into a county in Florida, into its official site.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    So that is a legitimate area.

    What, are we going to have American elections for Americans and not interference? That — and nobody could argue with that, save Donald Trump. I mean, his own administration is mindful of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying that's what they should be talking about, rather than…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. I think that's where they ought to be going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn…

  • David Brooks:

    There is even a weird moment where a senator started acting like a senator, Richard Burr, the Republican from North Carolina…

  • Mark Shields:

    Richard Burr.

  • David Brooks:

    … who wants to bring Don Jr. in to investigate that exact question. The rest of the Republican Party went crazy because he was acting like an actual senator who wants to get to the bottom of a very serious issue.

  • Mark Shields:

    And, Judy, I would point out that his own colleague in — Thom Tillis in North Carolina, who had written a very straightforward op-ed page piece in The Washington Post opposing Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency on building the wall, and then caved like a $4 suitcase when Donald Trump objected, went after — went after his own colleague, Richard Burr, and criticized him for leading a bipartisan investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm thinking of a $4 suitcase.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I want to turn, though, to the — all the news today about China.

    The president basically saying, we're throwing these tariffs down and this is the way it's going to be. The president has thrown the gauntlet down, knowing that the U.S. economic interest, farmers, the auto manufacturers, are going to suffer.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And I think, normally, the default for a lot of people certainly in the center-right would be, this is ridiculous. Trade wars are always unwinnable.

    But I'm struck by the broad consensus among many people who normally are very pro-free traders that something has to be done about China right now, that they are moving up the supply chain and up to our industries, A.I. and the high-tech industries. And they're not doing it fairly. They're doing it by stealing.

    And so the systemic threat that China presents now makes some hard negotiation and even some tariffs acceptable. And so China has brought this on themselves, and has converted a lot of people who are radically for pro-free trade into thinking, we have got to do something about China.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it something, though, Mark, that the president should be thinking about vote — there are voters out there who are concerned with farmers' interests and other economic — U.S. economic interests that are going to be hurt by this.

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. No, sure, there are, Judy.

    But, I mean — and this is a time, if ever there was one, when you want a coalition of nations. You want — and we find ourselves isolated, increasingly, under this administration and this president's approach.

    I mean, this is a time for coordinated, collective, strong approach to and enforcement with China. And I agree with David that China has to be confronted.

    I mean, whether this is the — Donald Trump has one great asset going into 2020, and that is a booming American economy. I mean, it is unparalleled, 50 years the lowest unemployment, rising wages.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are you saying this risks — puts that at risk?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, I think it puts it — I think it definitely puts it at risk. I really do.

  • David Brooks:

    You could have a very bad outcome, which we will actually have an actual trade war.

    You could, it seems unlikely to me, have a good outcome where China actually does move. China seems under no pressure to actually do that. And then there's a lot of different scenarios in between.

    But the possibility of a real trade war is certainly a live possibility. I just wish we could have more confidence in our side of the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Only 40 seconds left. To Iran, to both of you very quickly.

    Is the president wise at this point to be pushing Iran? We have got now a carrier moving into the region. We have got B-52s. What are we looking at here?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    To me, these are — this is a Potemkin foreign policy. It has a facade of toughness, but there's no actual negotiate — interagency process behind it. There's no actual delivery mechanism. So, to me, it looks a little more like bluster.

  • Mark Shields:

    Two battle carrier groups, Judy, one in the Med and one in the Gulf, I mean, this is — this is serious stuff. We're talking about a president who got elected by withdrawing from American entanglements. And this is — this is serious stuff.

    And I just commend both Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrat from Virginia, and Todd Young, the Republican from Indiana, who are trying to get the Congress to confront the fact that they have never repealed the authorization of military force, which is — since World War II, 153,000 Americans have died in uniform without any declaration of war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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