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Shields and Brooks on virus aid impasse, Woodward’s Trump revelations

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the congressional stalemate over pandemic relief legislation, revelations from Bob Woodward’s interviews with President Trump and the political impact they may have and whether Joe Biden’s campaign message is resonating with voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now it's time for the political analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night.

    And so good to have just heard the conversation Amna had with Garrett Graff, telling us this younger generation turning 19 today have an optimistic view of the future. Isn't that something uplifting for all of us to hear?

    But, Mark, back to reality right now. And that is, even though this pandemic marches on, and even though we have got millions of Americans unemployed, Congress again this week did not come to an agreement on relief, economic relief, to those affected by the pandemic.

    How much does this matter? Who is responsible?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it obviously does matter a lot to the people, Judy.

    You know, it's a very unnerving and embarrassing national statistic. The United States alone of the Western democracies has the highest percentage of children living in poverty. That has been the case.

    Children, you may have noticed, don't buy tickets to fund-raising dinners. They don't have soft money. And they don't have much clout politically. And that's — they are the victims. And they're anything but silent victims. But they're powerless victims.

    And they count upon Washington and those in the state capitols and city halls to represent their needs and to tend to their problems. And I, quite honestly, think it's a reflection badly on both — on the Congress itself. Politically, I think the ultimate responsibility, as it invariably always does, will be with the White House.

    And that's the president and that's the Republicans. But I think, quite frankly, that there's enough restiveness and restlessness in the ranks of both parties of not doing anything that there's still an outside chance that something could be done before the 30th of September.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    By the Congress, you're saying.

    David, what about the — but what about this question of…

  • Mark Shields:

    By the Congress, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt. You said by the Congress.

    But, David, what about this question of, who is more responsible? The Democrats acted months ago. The Republicans waited. They're now pointing fingers at each other.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I thought they took turns.

    I think, on the larger issue, the Republicans probably have this wrong. They're treating this as a normal fiscal circumstance, where it's important to save money and be fiscally responsible. And they point out that hundreds of billions of dollars of the last CARES package have not been spent yet.

    But the fact is, this is not normal circumstances. Most economists, even Republican economists, say, this is an extraordinary circumstances. At least 63 million Americans are in serious trouble. There's hunger in this country.

    This is a time to be spending money out the door just to provide a cushion under people in places — in circumstances they can't control. So, I give the intellectual fault to the Republicans.

    I give the political fault to the Democrats. From the beginning, they have played this more politically, compromised less, tried to get the issue more than solve the problem.

    And even in the final days, the Republicans proposed something like $500 billion in the Senate. The Democrats passed something for about $3 trillion in the House. If I were a Democrat, I would say, hey, people are starving out there. They're only going to give us $500 billion, we will pass that. We will take it to conference. We will try to get it up.

    But $500 billion is not what we want, but it's a lot of money, and it could help some people, and then we will have an election. We will try to do more later.

    So I think, even at the end of the day, they should have taken the money, because Americans are suffering. And so they took the issue, instead of at least a piece of the solution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, Mark, I mean, for the ordinary person, it's just hard to understand why, when the need is so great, there's no action.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I agree.

    But I just want to correct the record. All the respect and affection I have for David, he's absolutely wrong on this.

    The Republicans — the Democrats' initial legislation, which they did pass — Republicans have passed nothing — was for $3 trillion. Then, when the stalemate hit, the Democrats said, OK, we will drop it down from three to two.

    And what did the Republicans do? Their initial offer had been $1 trillion. So, what did they do? Did they try and meet them halfway? No, they cut it in half down to $630 billion. I mean, so it was just — it was strictly pro forma and quite counterfeit.

    And the reality is, they cannot talk about the national debt. The national debt has increased 40 percent since Donald Trump took the oath of office, under the best economy in the history of the country, according to Donald Trump.

    The national debt — the national deficit has been met only three times in the past 51 years, all three times with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

    So, I mean, let's not let the Republicans talk about deficits and debts. When it comes to tax cuts, they're off the boards, and they're off the books.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David?

  • David Brooks:

    Threw me a lot there.

    So, a lot of the Republicans didn't want to do anything. They thought they'd spent $3 trillion, and that was enough. And so, when they came up, they were at that point where they were at $1 trillion of additional spending. I thought Democrats should have seized on that moment.

    And I think they — in the — in the first round, when they — this was months ago — they — the Democrats could have come down and really worked out — maybe worked out something.

    But, in the second round, then, after that round fell apart, then the Republicans were like, OK, we're done here. And what they proposed was pro forma.

    On the deficits, in this moment, I completely agree with Mark. This is not a moment to be thinking about deficits. And, long term, I still think they're important. When you pass 100 percent of GDP — of debt to GDP, you're dancing with historically dangerous territory. That's a problem for another day.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    This is not — it's not the problem for today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a tough issue.

    And I do want to turn, Mark, to the story that we have been discussing for the last few days. And that is the blockbuster book, another book by Bob Woodward, the journalist. "Rage" is the title, new revelations about President Trump about what he knew about the pandemic, about COVID-19, and what he said publicly.

    What's your main takeaway from this?

  • Mark Shields:

    My main takeaway, Judy, is that this is not a movie we have seen before.

    Whenever an unflattering or really attack book comes out about a president or a White House, they're immediately — sources are dismissed as fired staffers, as people who weren't that close and never saw the president, who had a grudge of some sort.

    The source on this is the president himself, on tape, on the record.

    And all I could think of was that night in August when we all sat together and listened to Kristin Azika, the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    Urquiza — excuse me — the young woman from Arizona whose father Mark, at the age of 65, had died from COVID-19 because…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    … as she put it, he believed the president. He returned to his normal activity. He was a very social animal. He loved people.

    He went out, took the chances, contracted COVID-19, and died alone five days on a ventilator all by himself. And, as she pointed out, his only preexisting condition was believing Donald Trump. That was his only preexisting condition.

    And we live in two Americas, the one her father died in and the one Donald Trump lives in.

    And that — this, to me, is just — it is beyond shocking. This is new territory for any president.

    And yet I will predict that, in the next poll next week, he will still have the solid support of 41, 42, 43 percent of the people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, your main take, and how much do you think it will affect the public's view of the president?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, ascending levels of disgust.

    First, the hubris to think, you could be the president and talk to Bob Woodward and not get hurt by it. Donald Trump walked right into this.

    Two, the extreme cynicism of not only bumbling around in February and March, because you didn't know how serious the pandemic was, but the confirmation that you did know, and you still thought you could talk it down, as if you can talk down a force of nature, and that this — you wouldn't end up getting caught.

    So, there's just a level of cynicism that's been revealed, more than just incompetence.

    And then, finally — and, to me, this is most revealing, I guess — is the idea that, if you had told the American people the truth, they would have panicked.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    It betrays a disregard and a condescension toward the American people which is totally ridiculous.

    And so I do think there's new stuff here, as there was last week in the Jeffrey Goldberg piece about what he said about the war dead. There's just a continued display of mischaracter, of poor character, immoral character.

    We have seen it before, but it seems to escalate from time to time.

    As for whether it will hurt, I guess I'm with Mark. Three months ago, Joe Biden had a 7.5 percent lead in the poll, in the average of polls. A lot has happened in the last three months. Joe Biden has a 7.5 percent lead.

    And the thing I would like to emphasize is that a lot of voters have given up on politics. They're what we call low-information voters. And the emphasis there is on low. They have written off politics. They're not paying attention to any of this. They will probably never hear of the Bob Woodward revelations. And so we have a race that is locked in stasis.

    But the bad thing for Donald Trump is, he's only got a few weeks left, and this was yet another week of crisis and scandal that he was not catching up.

    So, you don't have too many weeks left. And this was a week that was — as far as his campaign is concerned, is wasted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, finally, to each of you, Joe Biden's message, is it coming through?

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, Joe Biden, I think, is coming through as a decent person.

    I — there's an old saw in politics, and that is, for any candidate, tell us why you want to be governor or senator or president without mentioning your opponent once. I think that'd be a very good discipline for the Biden campaign to go through.

    Joe Biden — America, understand this, is always on the market for one of two types, either a compassionate conservative, some — a conservative with a heart, or a liberal with a backbone, a tough liberal.

    And I think Joe Biden can show more toughness. There are no riots, there are no burnings or buildings that are acceptable. And Joe Biden's got to make that clear, while he stands, as he has for his entire career, for justice, racially and economically, in the country.

    I mean, that's got to come across.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, just in a few seconds, the Biden message.

  • David Brooks:

    This is our week to disagree for Mark and I.

    And I think he's been pretty tough. This week, he called Trump despicable. I think he hops on the weaknesses of the week, and he hammers them. And senior citizens are backing Biden, and not Trump, in reversal of four years ago, in part because of COVID, and because — and Biden spent the week more or less hitting him on that issue.

    I think it's a pretty solid issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to leave it there.

    We thank you both. David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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