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November 15, 2019

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Shields and Wehner on Trump’s tariff threat, Biden’s abortion rule reversal

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Peter Wehner of The New York Times join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Donald Trump's threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods, former Vice President Joe Biden's policy reversal on an abortion rule, plus remembering D-Day 75 years later.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's ongoing threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods, Joe Biden's policy reversal, and remembering D-Day 75 years later.

    It's been a busy week in politics,. and we have Shields and Wehner here to analyze it all. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and contributing opinion writer for The New York Times Peter Wehner.

    And hello to both of you…

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Peter Wehner:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … on this Friday.

    Let's start by talking about, Mark, what we led with tonight, which is — we started talking about the jobs report today, but connecting it to this threat of tariffs on Mexico that the president has been talking about foe days.

    Now, the latest word we're hearing is maybe it won't happen, but it's thrown a lot of people off-balance, Congress, Mexico, a lot of companies. How do you assess the president's handling of this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, it's the president. It's the way the president does it. It's very personal. It's high-risk.

    It's not traditional. We're talking our two biggest trading partners, Mexico and China. And, right now, I think what we're facing is probably best put by Angus King, the senator from Maine, who pointed out that 84 percent of the lobster business in Maine has already been lost because of the policy to Canada, and the unlikelihood of that getting back.

    And for the first time, I have seen a little bit of resistance, a little bit of vertebrae on the part of farm state Republicans. I think that — but I predict right now, with absolutely no knowledge, that the president will declare victory, and there will be something.

    But I can't believe it's going to do anything but leave relations with Mexico, which had been improving over the past 30 years, in just terrible and worse shape.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size up with the president's been saying and how he's handled this?

  • Peter Wehner:

    I think Mark is right. There's a lot of volatility in this.

    Trump has a tropism for tariffs, if I can use that alliteration. It's one of the few issues that he's had deep convictions for his entire life. It's hard to tell if he thinks it's a means or an end.

    If it's an end, we're in real trouble, because tariffs are taxes. It would hurt the economy. And it would create a lot of uncertainty in the market.

    And the other thing — last thing that Mark said, which I think is extremely important, in some ways the most important part of this story, which is the damage that it's doing to the relations with Mexico. That has been a tremendous achievement, bipartisan achievement, over the last several decades.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mexico is an ally.

  • Peter Wehner:

    It is an ally.

    But the relations are getting distant and icy. And, in fact, if you study what's going on in Mexico, you see this stoking, that Trump is stoking anti-American resentment.

    And if that relationship goes south, so to speak, that is going to have a lot of ramifications that are harmful, economic, security and otherwise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, you're saying — when you say you think the president may back off and accept whatever Mexico offers, is it — how much of that has to do with the politics of this, that he is running into headwinds from members of his own arty?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I think there are, and I think in the farm state — and they are states that he has to carry, quite frankly, in November 2020.

    But I think he has shown that ability or the agility, I should say, to declare victory.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, I mean, do you agree with Mark, that what we may see is the president's had everybody on the edge of their seats, but now we will see?

  • Peter Wehner:

    I suspect that is — I suspect that's right, that it's such a question mark.

    I mean, one of the, I guess, motifs of the Trump presidency is, he will be reckless, or wants to be reckless, and his aides try and stop him. And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

    But I do agree with Mark that, whatever happens, Trump will declare victory. It doesn't have to be rooted in reality. It's just rooted somewhere in his own — in his own weird mind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to move from the Republicans on this over to the Democrats, Mark.

    And Joe Biden made some news this week, in fact, last night, by reversing his position on an important, I guess, tenet of abortion law. It's the Hyde Amendment. It's the law that says federal funds cannot be spent on anything related to abortion.

    Here is what former Vice President Biden had to say last night.

  • Joe Biden:

    For many years, as U.S. senator, I have — I have supported the Hyde Amendment, like many, many others have, because there was sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right, women of color, poor women, women who are not able to have access.

    And it was — it wasn't under attack as it was now — as it is now. But circumstances have changed. If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, issues don't get any more sensitive than this one. Was this a wise move on Joe Biden's part?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I don't think it was, I mean, the way it was handled, Judy.

    He had been asked about it earlier, and said he was for the repeal of it, the Hyde Amendment. And then his campaign corrected it, his position said, no, no, he stood by the Hyde Amendment. And then last night, under — after pressure and considerable pressure from the pro-abortion rights groups, he changed.

    Is it politically — this is — this goes right to the argument for Joe Biden. Joe Biden is sure-footed. He's experienced. He's not going to make mistakes. He can deal one-on-one with Donald Trump on the international stage.

    And he had an earlier event this week where his campaign rolled out its green plan. And it wasn't footnoted. It wasn't attributed. And this brought up unpleasant memories of 1987 and Neil Kinnock's paraphrase of…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some passages in there that…

  • Mark Shields:

    … of plagiarism, that's right, in the plan.

    I mean, so…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, there were passages in there that were identical sentences.

  • Mark Shields:

    Identical, which didn't — were not footnoted as such or anything of the sort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That came from other places, right.

  • Mark Shields:

    So, it's not been a good week for Joe Biden, I can honestly say.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Peter Wehner, how much — well, size up, I mean, was it smart of Joe Biden to do politically?

    I mean, but let's talk about the substance of it, too.

  • Peter Wehner:

    Yes.

    In terms of politically, I mean, he had to get off this position. But what's so hard to understand is why he didn't see this. The circumstances hadn't changed from the beginning to the end of the week. This is a central dogma of abortion rights for the Democratic Party. I know that, and I'm not a Democrat. He obviously should have known that.

    So I don't know what was going through his mind or his campaign's mind where they would state a position that they had to have known they would jettison soon. If you're going to jettison a position, it's better to do it sooner, rather than later.

    So it didn't look good. And it was a self-inflicted wound. And you don't — and you don't want that, especially, as Mark was saying, because one of the sales pitches for the Biden people is that this is a guy who's a pro, he's a consummate pro.

    I would say one other thing, which is, it also underscores the problem of having a 40-year record, because he had been supporting the Hyde Amendment for so long. And that's what I think probably explains it. He had this instinct to defend what he had for all these decades. And now he has to change.

    In terms of the substance of it, I mean, I'm troubled, because I'm a person of pro-life convictions. In a very contentious issue, this is one of the rare areas where there was actually a compromise, which is to say, we're not going to have federal funding for abortion. We're not going to end abortion, but let's not have federal funding for it.

    And now that's that's gone in the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We haven't — I was going to say, Mark…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Just in defense of Joe Biden, he's not alone.

    I mean, every Democrat, other than Bernie Sanders, in this race has voted for the Hyde Amendment, because it has been the key on every appropriations — major appropriations bill. That has been the rider in order to get bipartisan, namely, Republican, votes for it.

    So — and Barack Obama, in an executive order, in order to pass the Affordable Care Act, reaffirmed the Hyde Amendment. But, more than anything else, Judy, I think it showed, politically, that with the changing landscape, given the Republican state efforts and successes in repealing abortion options in states, it has changed the dynamic of this issue.

    And I think this is where Biden didn't show sure-footedness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's made it even more sensitive, sensitive than it was.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, I want to ask you both about — this is clearly a week we have spent in somber reflection on D-Day. It was 75 years ago.

    There were the very moving ceremonies, Mark and Pete, on the coast of Normandy, with President Trump, the president of France. Reflect on it for us for a moment what you saw, what we saw and heard, and also what its relevance is for today.

  • Peter Wehner:

    Yes, I must say, in terms of watching it, it reminded me of why it was the Greatest Generation. It's been called the Greatest Generation.

    The more you find out about what happened 75 years ago on Normandy Beach, the more extraordinary is, the courage and the valor and selflessness. It is something that is awe-inspiring. So that was a kind of high note in a nation that needs that.

    In terms of what we have learned from it, the Atlantic alliance isn't now what it was then. It's splitting apart. And it looks like the president, at least every other day, was happy with that. So things have changed.

    But, for me, what was, well, frankly, sickening was this interview that Donald Trump did with Laura Ingraham on FOX News, not just what he said, but where he said it. He had thousands and thousands of gravestones behind him, these people who had been cut down in the prime of their life.

    And he was attacking Nancy Pelosi and Robert Mueller, who himself was a — was a war hero, in petty terms. And to have done it then was, in my mind, a desecration at a sacred place. And it was another window into the bonfire of anger and resentments and grievances that is Donald Trump.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    I think Pete said it well.

    I would just add this, Judy, that the 9,388 Americans, husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, sweethearts are buried there who either died at Normandy or in the liberation of France. And it was a time in this country, it was a we generation, not a me generation.

  • Peter Wehner:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, we had 20 million victory gardens that civilians built that provided 40 percent of the vegetables for the whole country.

    We rationed everything from gasoline, to liquor, to cigarettes, to butter, to meat. And we did it. And all Americans were part of the collective effort, the collective sacrifice, and it was led by those at the top, those of the greatest influence.

    The president of the United States had four sons. Every one of them served in combat. Every one of them was awarded in combat. You take the millionaire, multimillionaire son, sickly son of a multimillionaire, who asked his father to use his contacts to get him into combat, John Kennedy, rather than stay out.

    And you go forward to where we are now, where those — one out of four American males served in World War II. And now we have one-third — 1 percent of Americans serving. And they are serving over and over and over again…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's right.

  • Mark Shields:

    … 18 years in Afghanistan.

    And if we had a draft, that wouldn't be the case, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we have had several presidents who avoided — who have avoided service.

  • Mark Shields:

    And we have had several presidents, and 18 years, longer than World War I, World War II, Korea and the Civil War combined. And we're still there.

    And what are we doing to pay for it in sacrifice? We have had three tax cuts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been 75 years, Peter Wehner.

    What remains in the American psyche from that?

  • Peter Wehner:

    Well, we're an angry country, a more divided country, and a more tribalistic country than we were then.

    It's important to say that, in many ways, we're a better country too, if you're a minority or a woman, all sorts of things where we have made progress. But there was a kind of honor at that — at that time.

    The thing is that the American capacity for self-renewal can be great. And sometimes, when virtues are taken from the life of the nation and an individual, you remember why they matter to begin with. And, hopefully, commemorations like this can — can remind us that there are things that are worth fighting for and worth living for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's certainly worth going back and looking again at the ceremonies and reflecting on what it represented and the sacrifice.

    Peter Wehner, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Peter Wehner:

    Thanks a lot.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you. Thank you, Judy.

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