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Shields and Parker on Trump’s possible North Korea meeting, Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the abrupt announcement that President Trump intends to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the tariffs imposed on imported steel and aluminum and a lawsuit against the president by actress Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Parker. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker. David Brooks is away this week.

    And welcome to both of you. Happy Friday.

    Mark, two bold strokes by the president this week.

    Let's start with the one that we led the program with tonight, North Korea. Surprised, I think, a lot of people by saying he will meet, as long as North Korea meets certain conditions. Was this the right move?

  • Mark Shields:

    We will find out if it was the right move, Judy. It was a bold move. Make no mistake about it. And it disarmed his critics who had accused him of being — bellicose language, which was provable, and that he was risking the brink of war almost, and especially gratuitously belittling the North Korean leadership.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Little rocket man.

  • Mark Shields:

    Little rocket man.

    And then, miraculously, the North Korean — seemingly miraculously — said, I'm willing to negotiate and consider the possibility of removing my nuclear capability, which I think nobody above the I.Q. of room temperature believes.

    But, at the same time, the problem with North Korea in the past has not been their willingness to meet or to negotiate or to agree. It's just that North Korea has never kept its word. But the president certainly has taken a bold act. And it's brought us back from the brink of war. And I think there's an audible sigh of relief.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Smart move, Kathleen?

  • Kathleen Parker:

    I just see it as very, very risky.

    And it's risky because, on the one hand, he's giving Kim Jong-un this legitimacy that he has for so long wanted. You know, when the president of the United States says something, it's always important, everybody listens, and when he does something, it's always important. The markets go up and down when he opens his mouth.

    When he — he can cause wars with his words. And when he now says he's going to meet with North Korea, he is setting himself up for all sorts of problems, potential problems. But he's also, because he's Donald Trump, has lots of wiggle room to pull out of it at the last minute if he decides the circumstances aren't right.

    We don't know exactly what those are. And it's all been just odd, I think, to have had these — his messaging about what North Korea's willing to do came from the South Koreans, who then also were the ones to present…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're the ones who announced it.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    Who announced it in front of the White House.

    And I was taken aback by that. I thought, well, is he out? Did he have a dinner date, so that somebody else had to talk about it? And at what point is Trump going to talk to the country about this very, very important and significant move?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, Mark, it was announced abruptly. The South Korean official who was at the White House was there.

    He was going to meet with President Trump today. Yesterday, the president, we are told, it's been reported that he heard he was in the White House, went to see him. The president stuck his head into the press room and said, we're going to have an announcement about — that you will want to pay attention to.

    So the way it was announced, the way it was handled raises some questions.

  • Mark Shields:

    It does raise questions, Judy. But the questions have been raised and continue to be raised.

    As one Republican explained to me, you have to understand that every day is a new reality show. And there's no continuity to this presidency. And it's winning the day. It's changing the conversation. He's changed the conversation.

    What was the conversation? Gary Cohn, his economic adviser, was quitting because of his trade policy. What was the conversation? Stormy Daniels, the porn actress with whom the president allegedly had — or at least president's people paid $130,000 to just before the election, was going to go public.

    The disarray in the White House, that — you name it, Republican civil war, if not — civil war is strong, but at least Republican strife over his trade policy. This knocked it all off the front pages.

    I did notice the South Korean national security adviser had mastered one of the great secrets of dealing with Donald Trump was, he began, continued and ended the entire conversation by praising President Trump for the meeting, that it was all due to his leadership, his strong, principled positions.

    And so, you know, this worked for Donald Trump. It got the other bad stories away for at least 24 hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kathleen, how much attention should we be paying to the theatrics of this, the orchestration of it? How much do we learn by looking at that?

  • Kathleen Parker:

    Well, I don't know that we learn anything from the theatrics, because it's become sort of a template of his.

    And you do realize you're watching a reality show. But there are other troubling aspects of this. And that includes the fact that we really have no representation in that part of the world. We have no ambassador to South Korea.

    And our special representative to North Korea has just left the building with mostly, probably, I'm not sure, but I think because of a disagreement with Trump about how he was — about his bellicosity.

    But this fellow, Joseph Yun, was tending toward having these talks. And then to add to that we don't have any real diplomatic involvement. Rex — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is speaking publicly about how we're nowhere close to talking to North Korea, and within the same news cycle, the president is making this announcement or accepting this invitation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, while we're trying to fire that out, Mark, the other surprise the president threw out there this week was his announcement on tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

    The president — essentially, we in the press were told there was going to be no announcement, and the president made the announcement in a meeting, surprised even, we're told, members of the White House staff.

    And, as you mentioned, his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has stepped down, apparently mainly because of this, because he didn't agree with the move.

    How do we read that? And I should say the president said, we're going to have sweeping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, but now we're learning there are a number of exceptions.

  • Mark Shields:

    A number of exceptions.

    Donald Trump has been consistent in his inconsistency throughout his political career, except for his criticism of free trade. I mean, that has been continuous and relentless. He really views trade as a zero sum, not that it's a rising tide lifting all boats or anything of that sort, and that the United States, under the presence of both administrations, have been rolled.

    So, I mean, in that sense, there's no surprises. Obviously, there were great surprises in how he did it, and he surprised politically. There was no preparation for Republicans. There was no preparation for the press. There was no preparation in the sense of the substance of what the policy was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it goes against Republican orthodoxy.

  • Mark Shields:

    It does go.

    But he has been consistent on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He has.

  • Mark Shields:

    And I will say, for Republicans, that cuts of $1.5 trillion in Medicare didn't bother them. Cuts in Medicaid didn't bother them. Cuts in social services didn't bother them. Change of immigration policy has not bothered them. Repeal of — any sense of balanced fiscal policy, balancing a budget didn't bother them.

    They are bothered on trade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It bothers them.

  • Mark Shields:

    This is it.

    I mean, this is where, you know, quite frankly, Judy, the corporate CEOs are heard, and they are of one mind, and Trump is of the other mind. And that's quite frankly where it stands.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    What about that?

  • Kathleen Parker:

    Well, no, I agree with everything Mark just said.

    And it's just humorous, really, that this is the one time the Republicans are going to dig in their heels and say this is not a good idea. They're finally going to say, Trump, you're wrong on something.

    And, by the way, what has happened in the White House with the various departures, and most recently Cohn, is that Donald Trump is keeping no one around who doesn't align themselves with his ideas, with his rhetoric.

    And that was the problem. Cohn has disagreed with the tariffs. And he is sort of the last moderate voice that was in the White House. And now that he's gone, you can expect everyone else to stay in line. And when they stop, they will also disappear.

    So, you know, as part of this chaotic White House, they have had an awfully difficult time attracting experienced, good people, and keeping them. And this is the reason you see all these relatively young and inexperienced people in these key positions, 31-year-olds and 25-year-olds, you know, running the show, because they say, yes, sir, yes, sir, yes, sir, whatever you say is right.

    And I don't know that Trump can do anything to alienate his base.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    But I think we ignore them as long as — as well as the theater, because it's what happens in the Rust — among the Rust that matters.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have only got a little…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, I'm sorry.

    Just one follow-up. I agree with the point Kathleen made.

    Two people who were not involved in the Korean decision, Jim Mattis, secretary of defense, and Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Now, if you can think about making policy involving North Korea, but by excluding or not including and relying upon the judgment of these two rather outstanding, remarkable leaders, I just can't believe it. But Donald Trump has done that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, only about a minute left, Kathleen, but I want to bring it back to something Mark brought up earlier.

    And that is this very awkward situation now involving this woman, Stephanie Clifford. She goes by the name Stormy Daniels, pornographic film star…

  • Kathleen Parker:

    So I hear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … who is now involved in a lawsuit against the president because of an agreement to keep quiet about what she says was an intimate relationship with the president. And, as Mark said, his lawyer paid her $130,000.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    And $130,000, and made the arrangement using the campaign e-mail, the organizational…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump campaign.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    Yes.

    Now, this is a very, very interesting — it's more interesting than it appears, because I think this is tracking a little bit along the lines of what happened with Bill Clinton.

    Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, is mentioned in the Steele dossier, which has been the basis of much of this investigation on both the House side and the Mueller side…

  • Mark Shields:

    Russia.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    … and the Russia possible collusion.

    So, it's very possible that Mueller could call Cohen. And at some point, as all good prosecutors do, Mueller tries to get everybody on record lying about something.

    And we could see this leading to President Trump being put in a position that, as Bill Clinton was. And wouldn't it be the irony of all things that, despite everything else that's happened, this would be — this could be something that really does bring him down?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we don't know what is going to happen, but we certainly have no end of questions and threads to follow at the end of this week.

  • Kathleen Parker:

    Yes. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kathleen Parker, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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