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Shields and Gerson on Democrats’ bigotry resolution, Trump investigations

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week in politics, including the House Democrats' resolution condemning hate and bigotry, congressional investigations of President Trump and the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A vote in the House of Representatives to condemn bigotry, and the 2020 Democratic presidential field comes into a little better focus, just two of the stories shaping our week, and topics for analysis by Shields and Gerson.

    That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Mark, let's talk about this anti-bigotry resolution the House passed yesterday. It was originally they were looking at talking just about anti-Semitism, but they decided to do something bigger than that, passed overwhelmingly.

    What do you make of this approach by Democrats? What were they dealing with here?

  • Mark Shields:

    They're dealing with a problem within their own caucus, which is the diversity. It's the strength of the Democratic Party, and it's also a problem.

    It was a challenge for Nancy Pelosi to deal with it. And this is a — it was a major controversy that had to be confronted. And confront it, they did, albeit in public, in sort of difficult and painful fashion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Controversy, Michael, of course, was a series of statements by the Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The Democrats were feeling pressure that they had to say something.

    And, as we said, initially, it was going to be accusing — or not naming her, but it was going to say anti-Semitism is something to be condemned, words to that effect. Was it equally effective for them to do what they finally did, or not?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, there is an insurgent wing of the Democratic Party, progressive insurgent wing, very savvy with social media, very energetic highly active. Those are all good things.

    They picked exactly the wrong issue in this matter. What we're talking about is an anti-Semitic trope that was familiar from the middle of the 20th century. And because the Holocaust is a special category of wrong, anti-Semitism is a special category of hate.

    And I think the Democrats lost some ground by not being able to say something obvious because of these divisions within their own party. It was a defeat for Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lost some ground how? You mean the leadership of the party?

  • Michael Gerson:

    They were pushed back on an issue where they — I think Nancy Pelosi was clearly right in the way that she wanted to approach this.

  • Mark Shields:

    I guess I disagree with Michael in this sense.

    I think there's no question that — on what he says on the Holocaust and the truth of anti-Semitism. I don't think criticism of Israeli policy, under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has just collaborated with a racist, a racist coalition in order to hold on to power, while he's indicted, on the witch-hunt, as he calls it, by a weak attorney general, as he calls it, because he's facing political defeat, I don't think criticism on that should be confused with anti-Semitism.

    And there's been a divergence. Jewish American voters have been the most loyal of Democratic voters. They voted 4-1 for the Democrats in 2018. And there's been a divergence with Israeli — for Jewish Israelis.

    Right now, Donald Trump is the most popular of any country in the world in Israel, only second to the Philippines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Most popular leader.

  • Mark Shields:

    Most popular leader.

    And there's a divergence. American Jewish voters do not feel that way about him. And the fact is, if we're going to talk about anti-Semitism, I think you have got to say, this administration has been guilty, not simply as charged.

    I mean, the closing argument they made in this campaign, Judy, was a charge of international money. And they put up the images of Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros, did Donald Trump.

    This isn't — I'm not in any way defending or rationalizing what I think the congresswoman from Minnesota has said rashly, but I do think that this — there has to be clearly the difference between anti-Semitism and critical — criticism of the Netanyahu regime.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I just say that, when you talk of dual loyalty of Jewish citizens of the United States, that's not criticism of Netanyahu.

    And that's what we're talking about here. That's why this could have been a very clear voice and act of the new Democratic House. And, instead, I think that message got blunted in a process that the speaker lost.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I guess I think the speaker had a — didn't seek this fight, didn't want it.

    And, certainly, it's not something the Democrats — the Democrats had to confront it. There's no question about it. But, I mean, we're talking about a president, Judy — let's be very blunt about it — who, when the white supremacists marched through the streets of Charlotte with torches, saying, "Jews will not replace us," said there's good people on both sides.

    I mean, so this is — if you want to see anti-Semitism…

  • Michael Gerson:

    And we should condemn him too. I'm for that.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Michael, your point is that the Democrats needed to say something strong.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, in reaction to a specific charge that was made and with a specific history.

    But I think they did what they could.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's talk about another move on the part of the Democrats this past week. Now they have got the majority in the House. They are reaching out, asking for documents from scores of Trump administration officials.

    They're asking for documents from officials in the White House, the president's daughter Ivanka. They're trying to find out about security clearances, Michael, granted to the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his daughter. They're now — they're talking — another committee is looking at the president's tax returns.

    The criticism out there is that this could be overreach. Is it overreach? Is it appropriate?

  • Michael Gerson:

    I think the breadth of these demands is equal to the breadth of the slime that we're seeing.

    I mean, we have seen it at every stage with — from campaign, to transition, to inaugural committee, to early White House. There are plenty of ethical problems to examine in this case.

    And this is a case where the Republican Congress didn't do its duties when it came to oversight. It left a bunch of things completely unanswered, which it should have, just as a matter of integrity, itself have examined, and was used in a political way.

    And so I think that Republicans very much brought this on themselves.

  • Mark Shields:

    I think Michael is absolutely right.

    I think 71 — or 81 was just a daunting number to come up. But we have had two years of no oversight. And this is — oversight, we're not talking about just searching out a crime, Judy. We're talking about oversight, which is a congressional responsibility, of the laws they pass and how they're executed.

    We had a secretary of the interior quit under — resign under force. We have never had a hearing on that or what caused it. We can go right through department by department. The Department of Justice was in a state of chaos. But there was no oversight hearing on it.

    And these are legitimate inquiries. But, again, when you start calling up Sean Spicer, I don't know. You going to get Sean Spicer to comment on the crowd size? That may be overreach.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, the White House is calling it a fishing expedition. They're saying, you're just reaching for — you're asking for information when you don't know there's anything there.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, yes, you don't want to do that.

    But I would spare a little sympathy for the people involved here.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, I do too. That's what I mean.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I was once in government.

    You come in to do things idealistically, and you end up with a criminal defense lawyer.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Michael Gerson:

    That is a sobering experience. You lose a lot of sleep under those circumstances. That, I think, is true in this case.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

    I do think the inquiry into Jared Kushner's security clearance, where the president overruled the experts in intelligence, and to the point where his chief of staff, a four-star general, felt obliged to write a memo to put the record on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's the reporting. Of course, the White House is denying that that happened.

    Sticking with the Democrats, Mark, 2020. We had one more name. We had John Hickenlooper jump in, the governor of Colorado. But we had a number of people, big names, say they're not going to run for president on the Democratic side, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York.

    Hillary Clinton, a lot of people didn't expect that she was great run, but she said she's not. Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio, among others.

    Is the Democratic field now taking shape? We haven't heard from Joe Biden yet.

  • Mark Shields:

    Janet Hook of The Los Angeles Times said that, 1992, his in decisiveness led to Mario Cuomo being called a Hamlet on the Hudson.

    Joe Biden, she calls the — indecisive on the Delaware. I mean, he's been agonizing about this for a long time. The most important, to me, decision this week was Sherrod Brown's.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I agree.

  • Mark Shields:

    And Sherrod — Sherrod Brown — the Democrats have conveniently fallen into, I think, the lazy way of thinking, that Donald Trump one with racist votes. It's a very convenient and kind of smug and wrong interpretation.

    There are 206 companies in the United States Judy that voted twice for Barack Obama and then voted for Donald Trump. They're disproportionately in the Midwest. And that those are white counties. Those are white voters who proved they weren't racist by twice voting for an African-American president.

    And so why did they leave them? Sherrod Brown was the answer to the Democrats on reaching them. There were nine of those counties in Ohio. He won seven of them back for the Democrats in 2018. I mean, Sherrod Brown had a genuine, authentic appeal to working men and women. And he decided he wasn't going to run.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Brown, Michael, is saying that he's confident that his Democratic Party is going to — is going to reach out and speak to and listen to people who live in Middle America.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I think it would have been better to have him on the stage talking about these things.

    I think the most important figure coming out of this last election was that Donald Trump won white Catholics by — with 60 percent of the vote, while Barack Obama had won that group in America. That's a huge swing.

    Someone is going to have to address in states like Pennsylvania in Wisconsin and Michigan white Catholic voters and white working-class voters in a way that's compelling. And, right now, I'm not sure who that is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Joe Biden is not in the race.

  • Michael Gerson:

    He could.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He would argue that he is connected to the great Midwest. He's from Pennsylvania.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    And Sherrod Brown, in his defense, wasn't a one-dimensional candidate. I mean, he had an F rating for his entire career from the National Rifle Association. And he was the only Democrat on the stage, including Biden or any of the others, who had voted against the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq, a debacle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I think Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, Democrat, would say that she…

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, she would be in that space as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She would be in that space.

    All right, we're going to leave it there.

    Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Good to be with you.

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