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Shields and Brooks on Virginia turmoil, Supreme Court abortion ruling

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week in politics, including chaos at the highest levels of Virginia government, the effectiveness of congressional investigations, the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling and the legacy of Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Virginia and the country weigh the transgressions of the state's top leaders in a moment of reckoning. And, in Washington, Democrats flex their new power in the House, starting with investigating the president, bringing us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

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

    Welcome to you both. Happy Friday.

    So, let's start in Virginia.

    I want to bring up a couple of tweets real quick, because we have had late-breaking news on this. There has been a second allegation of assault against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, leading to former Governor Terry McAuliffe to now call for Fairfax's resignation.

    He says the allegations are serious and credible and he doesn't believe Fairfax can effectively serve the people of Virginia.

    I should note other lawmakers have now joined that call for him to resign.

    And Fairfax has also issued a statement in response, calling the allegations an obvious — sorry — "vicious and coordinated smear campaign" orchestrated against him, and he says he will not resign.

    So, Mark, start us off here. There's a lot happening in Virginia, still. It's still evolving. What do you make of how it's been handled by leader there so far?

  • Mark Shields:

    Terribly.

    The late Mo Udall wisely said that, when the Democrats organize a firing squad, they first form a circle. And I would say that's gone on.

    I think each of the cases has to be treated separately. I do think that Governor Northam — politics, to begin with, is not brain surgery. It's about addition, and not subtraction. It's about a party that welcomes people to its ranks, that warmly embraces newcomers and accepts converts happily and finds common ground.

    A losing political party is one that spends time, energy and effort hunting down heretics and banishing them to the outer darkness because they don't subscribe totally to the received wisdom.

    The Democrats in Virginia have played that second role. They had, in Ralph Northam, a popular governor who had secured passage of Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians, something long promised, who had run against the NRA, gave them an F rating, he took them on, on universal background charges, who, in the most segregated day in America, which is Sunday morning, when people go to church with people of their own race, belongs to a church with 60 percent African-Americans, with an African-American pastor.

    And all of that is forgotten, all of that is tossed aside blithely because of one yearbook page which was hateful, hurtful and absolutely indefensible.

    But I just — I thought the stampede on the part of national Democrats, and including Democrats as honorable as Tim Kaine, the former governor, and senator of Virginia, to toss him out, to demand his resignation was really unacceptable. I really did.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What did you make of this, David? Did you think it was a stampede?

  • David Brooks:

    A bit.

    Men turn out to be a problem. There's a lot of male bad behavior. Maybe we should have only women leading our states. That might solve these problems.

    I think there are two different cases here. The Fairfax case, the Justin Fairfax case, is suddenly looking to be the much more serious of the two to me, that there's multiple — two women making allegations, with some suggestion that there is contemporaneous evidence, that he assaulted them.

    And so that, to me, it turns out, is the most serious one to me. I would say he's in the post peril. He might have done an actual crime. So, there, I think — I'm always very slow to call for resignations. It makes everybody feel good. But I really believe in investigating. And so somebody should be investigating that one.

    On the Northam case, you know, what he does — we spoke about it briefly, because the news had just broken last week — that what he did was appalling and hateful.

    And yet I do think, in a lot of these cases, that there should be some path to redemption. And that path should involve an apology. It should involve a lifetime or decades or years of service in the cause.

    And Northam, frankly, his record on civil rights is quite good. And so whatever hateful thing he may or may not have done as a med student, it's not evident in his adult behavior. And I do think that that mitigates toward some sense of leniency. Then maybe he can spend the rest of his governorship continuing good work, heightened because of what he did as a young man.

    So, to me, to throw — to destroy a reasonably good career, whether you — for — over this thing is probably not — we do not have a surplus of good people in public life.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I wonder, though, Mark, because the Democrats rely on votes from minority voters, African-Americans in particular, in Virginia.

    When you have Herring and Northam both admitting to wearing blackface, and Northam not handling it particularly well, showing very awkward conversation afterwards and admitting that, doesn't that lose them some moral high ground down the line?

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, sure.

    I mean, and you're being excessively charitable by saying not handle it well. I mean, he handled it terribly.

    But, I mean, the attorney general turns out to be the real ace of the week by — he demanded that the governor resign for his yearbook picture, and then remembered photographic evidence of his doing something quite similar, if not identical, when he was at the University of Virginia.

    And he's been far more fulsome, articulate, almost eloquent in his apology. And so now it comes down to not the act itself. And I agree with David. What the lieutenant governor — the allegations against the lieutenant governor, I mean, are potentially criminal. I mean, we're not talking about bad taste or insensitivity or racial insensitivity.

    So I do think that they are very different charges.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And it should be said, when I mentioned the road to redemption…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    … frankly, to be honest, it's not white people who have the — who are in the position to offer forgiveness.

    The African-American community is the one that was wronged by this. And so it's trying to work with them and sort of humble oneself before them that I think is the ultimate court here.

    And that would be a good role for any governor in any state to do something like that.

  • Mark Shields:

    He had the endorsement, Northam had the endorsement of every African-American lawmaker in the state when he ran. So it's not like he's unfamiliar with that constituency.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes. Let's move on now to Democrats in the House.

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Speaking of investigations there, it's been a busy week for them, David, launching oversight investigations into the Trump Organization, threatening subpoenas.

    They came out at a quite a pace. Is it sustainable? Are they sending a message? What's going on here?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I wonder about the word investigation.

    Are we investigating, or are we having just television shows? And Matthew Whitaker was on — was in the hearings today. The guy is going to be out of office probably in a few days, because Bill Barr is going to be — become the actual attorney general.

    So, what exactly was the purpose of that show? And these days, when you get one of these televised hearings, they're not investigations. They are shows. And I'm struck by how Congress has shifted that way.

    I was reading Kamala Harris' memoir last week. And she describes her Senate career not as a series of legislations, but as a series of confrontational moments at a hearing that were televised.

    And I think, for a lot of members now, that is what being in Congress is. And so sometimes you get real investigations, but I'm dubious that we're going to see a lot of actual investigating.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you make of that, Mark? Are they looking for answers, or are they just putting on a show?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, both, obviously.

    I will — I will say this. I mean, I think the Democrats won last fall because of health care, because the Republicans tried to repeal health care. I think the Democrats ought to spend time, effort, energy trying to guarantee that that coverage be available, and especially preexisting condition, which Republicans were ready to repeal.

    I think they ought to be raising the minimum wage. And they — changing people's lives for the better, but guaranteeing that Robert Mueller continues unimpeded in his investigation, and is given the resources and authority necessary to do it.

    But David's right. They can't resist the camera and the lights, and just like us.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to ask you about some news yesterday.

    A couple of Supreme Court decisions came down, one in particular that caught a lot of people's attention.

    Mark, I will start with you on it. This was the Supreme Court basically blocking a Louisiana law that would have closed a lot of the abortion providers in that state.

    And I mention it in the context of Republicans having weathered that whole storm around Brett Kavanaugh, thinking that he would make the difference in decisions like this. John Roberts in this case was the swing vote.

  • Mark Shields:

    John Roberts, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you make of that?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, the chief justice has been time and again sort of the ballast on the court.

    I don't think there's any question — and we saw it at the State of the Union address as well, Amna — that the president is going to make a abortion, and particularly late-term abortion, an issue in 2020. He was a convert. He was Saul on the road to Damascus in 2015 and became an ardent pro-life candidate.

    He won 80 percent of the vote of white evangelicals along the way. And, quite bluntly, late-term abortion, 1.3 percent of all abortions, is unpopular with Americans. It is not — it's not unlike immigration.

    If you think of immigration as grabbing children out of their mother's arms, then everybody in the world is on the side of the immigrant. But if you see it as a caravan marauding toward the border, then, all of a sudden, there's a skepticism about immigration.

    I think the same thing is true, quite frankly, on abortion. And the idea of a child full-term being plucked from the womb, and then not being given life, I think it's an issue that Donald Trump, quite bluntly, wants to run on in 2020.

    And he can point that he's — Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were on his side, on the side of the angels, I guess you would call them, in the decision.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, I — before we go, we don't have much time left. So, I want to give both of you an opportunity to weigh in on this.

    But we did lose John Dingell this week. And we don't, as I mentioned, have much time, but I did want to ask if there's anything that you would want to share.

  • David Brooks:

    My tribute to him is just what a great tweeter he was.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    He was very funny.

    He wrote in one tweet: When you're 90, everything's a balance beam," or a random thing. "For what it's worth, I would watch a gorilla channel," which is a very good observation."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    So I like the way an older guy could adapt to a new medium.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Was impressive, indeed.

    What about you?

  • Mark Shields:

    He was a giant. I mean, he truly was.

    They asked once what the jurisdiction of his committee was, the way he held hearings and brought to heel captains of industry and malefactors in every possible activity. And he said, "Planet Earth is my jurisdiction."

    But he said the proudest moment he had was voting for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And he was — he was just a remarkable — our air is cleaner, our lives are richer and better, our country is healthier because of John Dingell.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We are indebted, indeed.

    Mark Shields and David Brooks, thanks so much. Always good to talk to you.

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