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Shields and Brooks on GOP’s health care uncertainty, Trump’s UN nationalism

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the fate of the latest Senate Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Trump’s role in the special Senate election in Alabama and what that runoff says about the state of the GOP, plus the president’s debut address at the United Nations.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But let's go right now to Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, as you just saw, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    The only thing better than seeing you guys once is seeing you guys twice, three times.

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Just a great…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, the health care story.

    David, the Senate Republicans have been trying to so hard to once again resurrect an effort to repeal Obamacare. They thought they were getting — or at least they sounded like they were getting somewhere.

    But, today, John McCain throws down the red flag, says he's not voting for it. Where does this leave all this?

  • DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:

    It's pretty grim. Francisco Franco is still dead, to quote that old "Saturday Night Live" joke.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    It's — I should say, first of all, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having state flexibility and sending the health care thing back to the states. We're a diverse country. We might profit from different systems.

    And there is nothing wrong with reducing the rate of increase in the cost, the amount we spend on health care. We would spend a lot more than other countries. Personally, I would be happy if we spend a little less on health care and a little more on education.

    But the way the Republicans have done this yet again is without a deliberate process in a way that seems to have magically offended every single person outside the U.S. Capitol Building, no matter what party, and in a way that raises anxiety on every single level.

    And so, it's very easy for John McCain to say, you haven't followed regular order, you haven't worked with Democrats, you haven't held hearings, and so I'm going to be against this thing.

    And that's him being very consistent with the way he's been over the past several months. And one would have to suspect that Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski will follow suit. And, therefore, it's down the tubes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What does it look like to you?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I hate to say that I agree with David, but I agree with David.

    And I would just add this. It's no accident, Judy, that the Republicans find themselves in this position. It's really since the retirement of John Chafee of Rhode Island in 1999 or David Durenberger from Minnesota in 1995 that there's been any Republican senator who has any earned credentials or any deserved reputation for working on health care.

    They have just been an against party. That's all. So, who's the sponsor of this? Lindsey Graham. I happen to like Lindsey Graham. Lindsey Graham's credentials, military, national defense. He's worked bipartisan on global warming, campaign finance.

    Is there a — Lindsey Graham on health care? And Bill Cassidy, who got to the Senate a year ago, not exactly a long-toothed, long-term legislator.

    I mean, all they have succeeded in doing this year is taking the Affordable, which had always been controversial and never had majority support, and now has majority support in the country. And they have convinced voters that Democrats care much more about health care than they do.

    And Democrats had an advantage. They believe in Medicare and Medicaid. They believe in federal action. There is no coherent Republican organizing principle or philosophy about health care. Everybody should have it, and it should be private.

    It's an abstraction. It doesn't work in the real world. And voters have concluded it doesn't. And Pat Roberts, to his credit, the senior senator from Kansas, said, this is not the best bill possible. It's the best possible bill. And this is the last stage out of Dodge. Because of the quirky rules of the Senate, they need 50 votes until the 30th of September, when the fiscal year ends.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    After that, it's 60. So, they're trying to pass something. And they won't.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's a tough moment for Republicans.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    They're caught with a divide.

    I do think there is a defensible case that an intelligent market-based system could reduce — cause efficiencies. There's models around the world that Republicans and conservative policy wonks can get to, to point to that.

    But if you are going to get people to entertain the idea of some sort of reform, you have to give them universal coverage. We're at the point where even a lot of conservative health care economists think, if we give them universal coverage, if your get your preexisting, you're going to have coverage, then we can work on the reforms.

    But the Republican Party and the Republican Congress — congressional party is basically out of touch with their voters. Their voters are not libertarians. Their voters are insecure economically and want some security. And Medicaid and Medicare and even now Obamacare offers some of them security. And they will not support their own Republican Party when it takes that away.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, while we're talking about Senate Republicans, President Trump, Mark, is headed to Alabama tonight to campaign for the man he endorsed in that runoff Senate election down there, Luther Strange. He's the appointed senator.

    What's made this race so interesting is, the man he's running against is Roy Moore, the state chief justice, who made a name for himself by trying to get the Ten Commandments publicly displayed in the state capitol building.

    This is a race that probably otherwise wouldn't be getting a lot of attention, but Roy Moore is now ahead in the polls. And, last night, I want to show everybody just a clip from the debate that Moore and Strange had last night, because Trump's name was front and center.

    Let's listen.

  • SEN. LUTHER STRANGE, R-Ala.:

    I know you may get tired of hearing this, and you may resent that the president is my friend and is supporting me in this race.

    But I think it's a good thing that the president of the United States has a personal relationship with the junior senator from Alabama.

  • ROY MOORE, Republican Senate Candidate:

    The problem is, President Trump's being cut off in his office. He's being redirected by people like McConnell, who do not support his agenda, who will not support his agenda in the future.

  • SEN. LUTHER STRANGE:

    And to suggest that the president of the United States, the head of the free world, a man who is changing the world, is being manipulated by Mitch McConnell is insulting to the president. That's why he's chosen me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark, what does this tell us about the Republican — the state of play among Republicans in the Senate right now?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, first of all, Judy, we must understand this.

    Alabama, Donald Trump's sixth best state in public polling. He's the most popular there. A leading Republican campaign manager who's deeply involved in this race on behalf of Strange, or at least on the side supporting Luther Strange, told me they will spend, they being Mitch McConnell's Senate leadership fund, political action committee, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and the National Rifle Association, over $12 million on behalf of Strange against Roy Moore.

    What it tells me is, Luther Strange is presenting himself as Donald Trump's new best friend, and that Roy Moore is running as: I am the real Trump candidate. I'm going to go to Washington and let Donald Trump be Donald Trump.

    He's trying to make it a referendum on Mitch McConnell, who this week in The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll was at his all-time low, 11 percent favorable. And so I think what Strange's side is counting on is Donald Trump, the president, going there to Alabama and convincing Trump voters, who are more comfortable with Roy Moore, to vote for Luther Strange.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Meanwhile, the president's poll numbers, David, have ticked up a few points in the last week or two.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, because he's done something with the Democrats, and bipartisanship is popular. So, he gets ticked up on there.

    But, in Alabama, the revolution devours its own. He ran as the anti-Washington candidate, Trump, Donald Trump did, got to Washington, and has to play a little by some Washington rules, which is supporting guys in the Senate who are supporting you. So, he's supporting Strange.

    Roy Moore is a Trumpian before — of the letter, as they say, before Trump, and a guy who made his name on the Ten Commandments, on some gay marriage issues. It's Alabama. And so he's saying: I'm actually the Trumpian.

    And so what — I think what we see for the Republican Party is that this populist tide is not ebbing. If Moore wins, then there are some signs — Alabama is unique, Moore is unique — but there are some signs the party is still getting more populist.

    And that's caused by two things. First, as Mark said, McConnell is still the enemy for a lot of Republicans. The Washington Republican establishment is still more than ever. And the things that fueled the populist rise, rise of the opioid crisis, the decimation of the economy, the white identity issues, all those things are still rising, not ebbing.

    And so the populism that Trump tapped into might be getting more extreme.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, turning quickly from populism to foreign policy, Mark, the president made his debut, first big speech before the United Nations General Assembly this week, and notable because he came out and said, basically, we will destroy North Korea if they make a wrong move.

    Does he come away looking more like a statesman? He's followed that with days of squabbling, in effect, with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. How do we — how do we now look upon President Trump as somebody who's leading foreign policy?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    An embarrassment.

    I mean, you compare the words of presidents in the past, measured, you know, John Kennedy in Berlin, wherever free men live, to come to Berlin, they are citizens of Berlin, ich bin ein Berliner.

    Or Donald — Ronald Reagan, Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate, tear down this wall.

    They were expressing principle. They were expressing coherently and lucidly and compellingly. And there was a sense of pride in the national direction.

    That was totally missing. I gave him a B for bombast and bullying and belligerence. You know, it was a — it wasn't a speech in which Americans could take pride or direction or comfort.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, I don't mind a little tough talk. When Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire, he was telling the truth, and that's fine.

    The problem with Donald Trump's — with the rhetoric there is that it's self-destructive. First of all, it may put the North Koreans in a corner, where they can't back down because of their own psychic needs. And it creates a context in which North Korea can test whatever they want to do apparently in the atmosphere, where — and then, weirdly, against North Korea, somehow, suddenly, we look like the bad guys.

    And that's the interesting thing about the speech, was so nationalistic.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    If you're the country who is the top dog in the world, which we are, you need international organizations and alliances as a way to extend your power. And if you take that away, you are diminishing your own self.

    And so his nationalistic pose makes sense if you're Vladimir Putin, if you're a second-rate power. But if you're a top-rate power, it's a self-destructive thing. And we see it here, where we actually end up having less leverage, rather than more.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Mark, what do we look for in the weeks to come, because, right now, it's just a war — it is literally a war of words.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A lot of people are out there listening to this, thinking, are we going to go to war?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I certainly pray not. I hope not.

    I take some comfort, quite frankly, as a citizen, in your interview with Tim Kaine, the senator from Virginia, who said that he, who had been — not hesitated to criticize President Trump's policies, had great confidence in the defense team of chief of staff…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Defense secretary.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    General — chief — I'm sorry — of Secretary Mattis, General Mattis, and General McMaster and General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    I mean, they are — they provide him direct — confidence and direction and maturity. And that's our best hope.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, he's surrounded by people who are getting some high marks, some of them, David.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, he's got very good people.

    But I have been watching the Vietnam series on PBS. And countries can do really stupid things. And the veneer of civilization sometimes gets slender.

    World War I, there were a lot of very talented diplomats and world leaders at that time, but events just spun out of control. So I don't think we're going to go to war. I still think there's some reason on both sides.

    But you look at the realm of history and you have a little cause for concern.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes, and watching the Vietnam series, which is a superb series — for any of us who haven't started watching, you can do that.

    All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Thank you, Judy.

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