What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shields and Brooks on inviting Netanyahu, GOP abortion bill revolt

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Obama’s State of the Union agenda, a controversial invitation to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress and a fight among Republicans over a new abortion bill.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Following the State of the Union, President Obama took his middle-class economics platform on the road, while, in Washington, a diplomatic brouhaha erupted after House Speaker John Boehner invited Israel’s prime minister to address Congress without consulting the White House. Plus, the House of Representatives passed one abortion bill after a more drastic version was dropped because of objections from Republican women.

    For all this and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, it’s so good to see you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Good to see you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let’s talk. You have had 72 whole hours to reflect on this, David. What does the State of the Union look like at this point? What sticks about it? Do we focus more on the middle-class economic policy or something else?

  • David Brooks:

    All my earlier views were wrong. I should reverse them all.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I guess two things, one, the decision not to emphasize things that could pass.

    And so, for the Obama presidency, eight years of it, the two years, quite productive, the last six years, zero productivity as far as legislation is concerned. And so he opted to do that. I think they could have gotten some things passed, if he had just picked the five or six things that were semi-plausible to get passed, but instead he picked other things.

    And so the second element when I look back on it is, he set up a debate. And he won’t be a debate he will lead, really. It will be a debate the next president will lead and it will be the next campaign. So he really set up the next campaign. What he did was, he put an issue in the center which will be the central issue in the next campaign, which is middle-class wage growth and inequality.

    And he presented a Democratic platform. And they really have — the party has really cohered around a platform. I think there is almost a consensus. There used to be splits between Larry Summers and the moderate side of the party and people more on the right — or on the left, the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank.

    Now they’re pretty much all in the same spot. I would say the Larry Summers group has moved because of the size of the problem. And whether they call it inclusive economics, which is a phrase you hear in Democratic circles, which my colleague Tom Edsall wrote about, or middle-class economics, that’s where the party is.

    And so he really represented where the party is on this major issue, but it will be really taken up by his successor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, is that what endures from all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    I’m not sure what endures.

    What I took away from the president and the speech in the two days, couple of days since, is that this was a changed Barack Obama. He had been a glum, almost resigned figure during 2014. He didn’t seem enthusiastic or engaged. He was both. There was a feistiness, sort of — almost a skittishness or kiddishness about him, that he was not…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you say kiddishness?

  • Mark Shields:

    There was sort of a — yes, kidding, in the sense of youthful and energetic and willing to spar, which had not been — which had not been present earlier.

    And I thought that he took the reality of the improving economy and didn’t say it’s morning in America, but said, I have heard the rooster crow and I have seen the sunrise, and so will you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    But I think what he’s addressing, Judy, is something that’s so fundamental. And I think the fact that Mitt Romney is talking about poverty in America, talking about income inequality, talk about the rich getting richer, is an indication that Barack Obama is setting the terms of the debate and the dialogue for 2016.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But not for now.

  • Mark Shields:

    Not for now, but for 2016.

    And I would just point this out quickly. Between 1948 and 1973, the productivity per hour, that is for goods and services produced by the average American worker, went up 96 percent. And their wages went up 91 percent. It was a golden era

    In the 40 years after 1973, productivity again of the workers went up some 76 percent, and at the same time, their income went up, wages only went up 9 percent. We have a maldistribution of wealth in this country. And I think we’re approaching a debate on that subject.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    The only thing I would say is, why is he campaigning, opening a campaign that he’s not actually going to be a part of? He’s not running for president in 2016. He is president right now and he could be getting some — a few things done over the next two years, some tax reform, some other things.

    And yet he’s focusing on the campaign. The critical argument would be, he’s good at campaigning, he’s not that interested in governing. That’s probably a little overstated, given the situation he faces. But it is weird that a president is really setting up a debate that he’s really not going to be part of, except for running a foundation or something like that.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I think he will be part of it, and I think…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He will be part of it?

  • Mark Shields:

    His numbers — as his numbers rise — and we had him at 50 percent approval in The Washington Post, which is really rather resurgent — he then becomes a more dominant and influential political player.

    And it unites his own party and it also makes the opposition somewhat leery of taking him on. If, in fact, the economic news continues to be good and the president has this rebound, he will be able to engage the Congress on issues that David mentioned. He’s going to try on trade, whether in fact they do it on taxes as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you’re saying he’s not just throwing it out there and it’s just going to sit there for two years…

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … for another president to pick up.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, but I think we talk about legacy, which is kind of a highfalutin word, but this is — is legacy, whether — the fact that we’re confronting this, seeming to confront it, is enormously important and a profound change for this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is also a partisanship discussion coming out of the State of the Union, David, where, at the beginning of the speech, the president mentioned a couple times, I’m not going to vote — I will veto this or I will veto that.

    At the end, he made an appeal for bipartisanship. Is that something that you think the Republicans are ready to pick up?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think they — it think when they got the majority in both houses, they feel like, we have got to pass stuff, or else we look like we’re failures because we are sort of put in charge here. We have got to pass something.

    And I think there was room there in taxes and patent reform and other things, which are maybe not — or cyber-security, infrastructure, a series of measures that they could have passed. They wouldn’t have been big, but they would have passed something.

    And I think the president clearly didn’t picked off that list of possibles. He picked off the list where his party has an 80/20 majority and it was good populist economics. It was not going to be passed.

    And so I think there was a possibility of getting something passed. And it seems to me, if you’re a lawmaker, the idea is to make laws. And he’s chosen not to do that. And the argument — I totally agree about the centrality of the argument that Mark described. I just think, for Barack Obama, he’s got a job to do.

  • Mark Shields:

    I don’t think it’s either/or. And I don’t think the State of the Union speech ended these two years. I mean, there will be legislative action. There will be…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To come.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    We have been four years without a major law being passed.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I understand that, but let’s be blunt about it, not to be partisan, but we have an opposition party.

    It’s not a minority party in Congress. It’s an opposition party. It’s become parliamentary in that system, and that that’s their approach. I mean, you have five congressional districts represented by Democrats in the Congress in congressional districts Barack Obama didn’t carry. That’s how the country’s been sorted out now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of an opposition party or an opposition move, Speaker John Boehner did something kind of unusual this week, David. He invited the prime minister of Israel to come and address the Congress on Iran without first talking to the White House.

    What are we to make of that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there’s the Republican partisan attack. So, we — they’re both playing this game.

    It’s not as if Congress has been out of the foreign policy business. Nancy Pelosi went to Syria and some say gave some credence to the Assad regime when President Bush opposed it. Just last week, David Cameron, a foreign leader, was calling around members of Congress to lobby.

    So people do get involved. Foreign leaders get involved. Nonetheless, inviting somebody from overseas to give a speech against the president from the well of the Congress is confrontational and I think unwise, I just think unwise, on two grounds.

    First, the president — the country has to speak with a single voice. The gestures of that voice are — really reside in the White House. And there should be some deference to the executive branch on foreign policy.

    Second, I just think it’s bad for Bibi Netanyahu to do this. It’s just not a good idea to pick a fight with the president of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That he shouldn’t have accepted?

  • David Brooks:

    I don’t think he should have accepted.

    I don’t know what his domestic political considerations are. Obviously, it’s just two weeks before their election. But it just — it’s not good to go to war between two allies in this confrontational way.

    You are going to fight. Fine. But don’t make it so above board, so in your face. It just strikes me as bad for Israel.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does it do damage, Mark, do you think?

  • Mark Shields:

    Irresponsible and sordid.

    The last time that the Congress has not acted, bipartisan way, an invitation to a speaker, was Douglas MacArthur, the attorney general who was invited by a Republican Congress to speak against President Truman, to give his farewell address, but it was critical of President Truman’s Korean policies.

    This is — this is not done. What John Boehner did is a cheap political trick. And it was not a surprise to Benjamin Netanyahu. I mean, Ron Dermer, the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ambassador.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    … ambassador to the United States from Israel, who had been a Republican political consultant in this country working with Frank Luntz, orchestrated this invitation.

    And it’s a major plus for Mr. Netanyahu on — two weeks before his election…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean back home.

  • Mark Shields:

    … to come home, to be enhanced stature, on a global stage.

    And he’s invited for one purpose. And that is — which Speaker Boehner admitted in the caucus of Republicans and was leaked then by his supporters to the press, that he was there to make the serious indictment of the president’s policy, to criticize the president.

    So he’s bringing this foreign leader, meddling in an Israeli election two weeks before. It’s a total irresponsibility. I don’t think — respect I have to for David, I don’t think it compares with Nancy Pelosi or any member of Congress at any time visiting another country.

    I mean, bipartisan support for Israel since 1948, when Harry Truman recognized that foundling nation, has been a hallmark of United States policy. This is partisanizing it. This is making a Republican Likud case.

    And I just — I just think it is — it’s beyond irresponsible. It’s beyond a cheap political trick. It’s just tawdry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there’s another issue that came up for House Republicans, for John Boehner, another headache.

    And that is, he and the Republican leadership in the House was trying to pass an abortion bill on the day of the March for Life, the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade here in Washington. But the moderate Republican women in the House of Representatives rose up and said, we’re not going to support this.

    It had some tough language in there about a woman had to report to police if she had been raped before she could have an abortion.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, there are two issues here. The first is, why are they talking about this? The short answer is that it was the abortion rights — the abortion opponents were marching in Washington this week. And so they were playing to that constituency. And that’s fine.

    But they enter a new Congress, the economy and the middle class is the core issue, and so far, they have had a — two stupid fights, this one, which is really — to have this fight about rape and abortion two weeks into your Congress, that’s just not what you want to be headlining. You want to be talking about the economy.

    The good news is that the Republican Party has two wings again and that the left, or the moderates, or whatever you want to call it, the less conservative, have been — they have been like Sleeping Beauty for four years.

    And so, suddenly, they have woken up and they raised their voices and they had an effect. And so I think it’s great that the party has two wings that can balance each other. And a party needs two wings. And the right is diminished. The center or whatever you want to call it is a little stronger. To me, that’s healthy for the party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Twenty seconds.

  • Mark Shields:

    Twenty seconds.

    Well, we will find out if the two wings worked and they do fly. This is — the same legislation passed the Republican Congress two years ago. And now with more Republicans in the Congress, they can’t pass it. They can’t even bring it up.

    I mean, to me, you only get one chance to make a first impression. You don’t get a second chance. And I would say that the speaker’s leadership and the new Republican Congress has shown itself to be politically incompetent. And, really, I think it’s foundering at this point. And this is an example of it.

    I mean, this is an issue that has 60 percent support in the country, and that they could not even get it to a vote. And I think that the moderates are doing exactly what they have seen Tea Party people do, and that is to hold the leadership hostage. And they caved.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News