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Shields and Brooks on the China carbon deal, Obama’s immigration action

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including the carbon deal between the United States and China, legislative action on the Keystone XL pipeline and how Republicans may respond if President Obama issues an executive action on immigration reform.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    President Obama strikes a climate change deal, with talk of executive action on immigration, as Congress returns to take on Keystone.

    To analyze it all, Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    And, Mark, since you look like you're climbing out of the banks of Charles River behind you in Boston, I will start with you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This deal the — the climate deal that was struck at the Asian summit with the president and the Chinese president, Xi, big deal?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think it's a big deal.

    Let's first understand you don't cobble together something of this significance on the spot or over the weekend. They have been working on it for months, and I think credit, or blame, I guess, in some quarters has to be to the president, John Kerry, the secretary of state, to John Podesta, for whom it's been a priority at the White House.

    But I think it's significance because one of the principal arguments against moving on carbon emissions has been that the United States, to act unilaterally, that would let China off the hook. And now with the United States and China, the two biggest polluters globally, moving together, it puts pressure. It blows the cover of those other countries. It puts pressure on India and other places.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I hope so.

    Well, first, it's a big deal just because we reached a major agreement with China. U.S.-China relations have been deteriorating, not because of anything the U.S. has done or Barack Obama has done, because of what China has done. They have gotten more aggressive on all sorts of military fronts, in the oceans.

    And there was some danger that the U.S. and China could just have a much more hostile relationship. So, it's good to see some positive agreement. It's good to see goals. And that's what sad.

    I guess my question is, what exactly — what's changing? China promised in 15 years to — or a little more than 15 years to set some targets, no interim targets, just some big target a chunk of time away from now. We have agreed to set targets, but what policies are actually going to change? Will there be a carbon tax? How aggressively will China move to get away from coal toward oil and natural gas or other cleaner forms?

    It's hard to know. But at least they got a deal and at least they set a vision. So, it's more like a precedent, but it's sort of hollow in the middle.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. So, because of those lack of targets, do you think that Congress will be easier on them?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, the targets are there. What's not there is the means to reach the targets.

    And so it depends what the means are. And so will we get a big global climate deal? Well, clearly, it makes more likely. The big global climate deal was pretty much dead. But when you got — as Mark said, when the two largest polluters are on board, that at least creates a little life. Will Congress ratify that? No way. We're not going to do that.

    And so we're not going to get a big global climate treaty. But at least, nation by nation, you can begin to see China actually moving toward cleaner forms of energy, which they have to do both for economic reasons, but also so they can breathe in their cities.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Mark, do you think he's going to get pushback in Congress for this?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think there will be pushback in Congress. There's no question, especially with Jim Inhofe, the new chairman of the Environmental Committee in the Senate, who is essentially an archfoe and a denier on climate change.

    But I think that — two things. China is under the gun. I mean, they're under the gun at home, as David put, on their own air. They had to close down the industrial plants 400 miles away to clean up the air just so they could have the economic — the Asian economic conference there in Beijing. That's how bad it is.

    And let's be very blunt about it. They're going to be competing now on alternative energy, which I think, as the president has pointed out, is good for the United States as well. If there's a competition in that area, it can only be good for humankind.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

    Shifting gears about energy, let's talk about the Keystone XL pipeline. The House voted on it today. It's likely to get to the Senate floor, at least on Tuesday. Is this purely political? I mean, it was motivated in part by the race that is happening in Louisiana with Mary Landrieu and her competitor.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. Well, it's purely political in the timing. There's nothing wrong with politics. It's interest people — interest groups trying to get their interests advanced.

    And so the timing is political. I happen to think the president's opposition is purely political. There is a big State Department series of reports, gigantic reports on the effect of the Keystone pipeline. They found, economically, it would create thousands of jobs, not huge amounts of job, but thousands of jobs. The economic damage, they found, would be none.

    The greenhouse gas emissions, that oil is going to be pumped or not pumped depending on the price of crude, not depending on whether we have a pipeline. It's either going to be pumped and sent through hundreds of thousands of train cars or be sent in a more environmentally friendly way under the ground.

    And so the environmental rationale for the pipeline seems to be strong. The economic rationale is not huge, but it's significant. And so if you follow the science, if you follow the research, the case for the pipeline is overwhelming. The president is not doing it to secure his left base, because it's a good a fund-raising tool for a lot of people. Not for very good reasons.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

    Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    This has to be the most thoroughly researched, meticulously studied idea, this pipeline, in the history of humankind.

    It's been slow-walked to the point of a standstill. And now it's going to come to a vote finally in the Senate because Mary Landrieu, who is in a runoff for her Senate seat and an underdog in Louisiana December 6, has pushed it and is going to demonstrate her own independence from the White House and her clout or leadership or however you want to put it.

    And the senators who want to vote against it will get a chance to vote against it. And people who want to vote for it will vote for it. And I think the president will veto it. And I think that will be the end of it, other than it won't be built, and it will not be a major issue in the 2016 campaign.

    But I do think that the argument basically politically is on the side of those who want to build it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

    Something that will likely show up in the 2016 campaign is immigration. The president has said he plans to use an exclusive order to deal with immigration. We don't know exactly what day that will show up. But do you think that there's a chance for comprehensive immigration reform without an executive order, or does an executive order actually decrease those chances, David?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it decreases.

    I support president's the position on the policy, on the substance of it. A lot of what it does is going to keep families together. And so, on the substance of it, I think it's fine. On the politics of it, on the effect on our country, I think it's just a terrible, terrible idea, sort of a Ted Cruz stick in the eye of any chance we would have bipartisanship.

    The Republicans were saying reasonable things after their victory: We want to start out small. Let's try to pass some legislation on things where we agree on.

    And they weren't major pieces of legislation, but they were pieces. It would be nice to pass a law. We haven't passed a significant piece of legislation in this country in like four years. It would be nice to do something just to get something done.

    I think this very aggressive way the president has led with a very difficult issue makes that much less likely. Second, I do think it takes immigration reform much less likely over the next five or 10 years. I think the Republicans were eventually going to have to get around to it. Just — they just know eventually they have to get around to passing this thing. That makes it much less likely.

    And then, finally, I just think it's constitutional overreach. Basically, five million people, maybe six million people are going to be affected by this. I think it just, constitutionally, for the sake of our system, when you have something that major, redefining the status of five million or six million people, I think it should go through the legislative process. I'm not a constitutional lawyer. I don't know the effect of that.

    But I just think it's a major change in American policy, and it would be nice to go through Congress, rather than just by the signature of a pen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think it's always nicer to go through Congress.

    I would just point out that, after the 2012 election, Republicans went through a period of deep introspection. They concluded as a party that they had to do something on this issue, that they had — were seen as anti-immigrant, not only to Latinos, but also to Asians and other minorities in this country.

    And so they didn't do anything about it. They — some Republicans joined the 68-32 majority in the Senate on June 27, 2013, to pass a really comprehensive immigration reform bill. And John Boehner, the speaker of the House, had negotiations with the president, couldn't bring it up for a vote, couldn't bring it up for a vote. It had the votes to pass in the House, but it wouldn't pass with a majority of Republicans.

    The House voted 54 times to repeal Obamacare, 54 times, but they couldn't vote once on immigration. Obamacare was never going to go anywhere in the Senate, the repeal of it, that is. And this is something that could have become law.

    And the president had told the speaker that — in private conversation, that he was going to act. He didn't act before election because of, quite frankly, Democratic senators in red states were concerned about it. But he's not the first president to do it.

    Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1987 unilaterally moved to protect 200,000 Nicaraguans from returning to the Sandinista regime. So — and so did President Kennedy and President Johnson and President Clinton and President Bush.

    So, you know, I think it wasn't going to happen anyway. I agree with David. It would be nice to have harmony, but when the principal priority of your opposition is to repeal the signature legislation of your administration, Obamacare, you know, I think the hopes for that are probably pretty unrealistic.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Mark, what about the fact that, if this comes through an executive action, that it could be rescinded by the next president?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes. And that's the key point.

    I mean, any time either side advocates executive action — Republicans did it under President Bush, and Democrats are certainly doing it under President Obama — it's with the understanding that, A, you're expanding executive power, and that — usually at the cost of the legislative power and regular order.

    But you're also risking it's just going to be repealed. But I think, quite frankly — and I think David would agree — that it's unlikely whoever is elected in 2016 would set about repealing that law — that act.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David, the topics that we're all talking about in the context of the results from the midterm elections that just happened, do you see a general pattern here? Is this part of a more concerted strategy from the White House, saying, here's the two years that we have got left, here's what Congress looks like, here's what we can do, and let's just start going out and doing it?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    Well, there are a couple ways to interpret that, and I suspect all these things are part of the thinking. One is, there's a lot of stuff we want to do. We held back just for political relationships. As you say, let's just get it done. We believe in this. Let's do it.

    The second, more cynical strategy is the idea that the Republicans have a strong incentive to get stuff done. Anybody who wins elections, they want to pass stuff. And if you can obstruct, it seems you can hurt them. The Republicans obstructed President Obama when he won. Now President Obama is going to obstruct the Republicans.

    And that's a tit for tat. And the problem is, we're stuck with that. We're stuck with World War I, essentially, with everybody obstructing the other.

    The third fact factor here is money. The — my newspaper has a story on the powerful — the $300 million the immigration groups have pumped into some of the immigration reform. The Keystone pipeline is a big fund-raiser. And so every politician is thinking about, how do we keep the donor base going? And I wouldn't say that's the major element here, but that is certainly an element here.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

    Mark, we have got about 30 seconds.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think there's no question that the tension in immigration is between the Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House.

    Mitch McConnell's on record saying, under no circumstances will we close the — shut down the federal government, will we default on the federal debt, on the national debt. The speaker, with a — as he calls them, 16 knuckleheads in his caucus, probably more after the election, is in a position where he says, we can't take anything off the table.

    And he has got members now talking about impeachment. So, that — and there's no question there's been mischief created in the Republican ranks by the White House.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "New York Times" columnist David Brooks, thank so much.

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