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Shields and Brooks on the Senate health care bill unveiled, Trump’s tape clarification

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the debut of the controversial Senate Republican health care bill, the high-profile Georgia special election and why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was invoked by Republicans during the race, plus President Trump’s clarification that he had not taped former FBI Director James Comey.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    David, let me start with you.

    Let’s start talking about the health care plan that the Senate rolled out this week. You surprised at what is different, what’s the same between the House bill?

  • David Brooks, The New York Times:

    I’m a little surprised.

    First, it’s sort of Obamacare-lite. It’s not going to work. It’s functionally nonoperational, because it will encourage, when they’re healthy, to exit the system and then go back into the system when they’re sick. And that’s a recipe for a death spiral in a lot of places.

    So I think, functionally, it’s not going to work. Politically, I have to say, it’s kind of canny. Mitch McConnell had these two wings of his party. And I think he steered as well as is possible to steer down the middle to give the right, the Ted Cruz folks the cuts in Medicaid and Medicare and stuff like that.

    He gave the center basically the structure of Obamacare with some of the rules about preexisting conditions. So, I think, politically, it’s an act of skill. And as I look forward, is this thing going to pass, I still think probably not because I don’t think you can get the whole Republican Party behind this thing, but I’m reminded not to underestimate Mitch McConnell.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Have the Republicans made the case that this is something better or just that this is not Obamacare?

  • David Brooks:

    It’s not Obamacare.

    What it does — you ought to start with, what kind of country are we in? We’re in a country where — widening inequality. And so I think it’s possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering.

    This bill doesn’t do that. It goes the other way. So, I think, fundamentally, it doesn’t solve the basic problem our country has, which is a lot of people are extremely vulnerable. And so I do think, as a solution any the range of health care problems, I don’t think it’s it. I don’t even think repealing Obamacare. It’s a cheaper version of Obamacare.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields, Syndicated Columnist:

    Two things hit me, first of all.

    We know there’s been no debate, no hearings, so that’s been a cry. But it’s interesting, because there is no public case to be made for the Republican plan, none. I mean, at least with the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, you could say, no lifetime limit, a children — children could stay on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, no preexisting condition will deny you coverage, no lifetime illness will knock you off.

    There was a case. You could argue against the case.

    There is no public case that has been made in either the House or the Senate. So, they hold no hearings, and there is no public debate, because they don’t want to take the time to make the case for it because they don’t have a case. And they don’t want to give the other — opposition a case to make — the time to make the case against it.

    And what it is, the only thing that the House and the Senate are consistently faithful on is that it’s a major tax cut. It is a redistribution.

    Obama, who was, you know, if anything, overly moderate for many tastes, did, in fact, lay it on the most advantaged among us to pay, to cover people who couldn’t afford it in his plan. And a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income for those earning over a quarter of a million dollars became the rallying cry, the organizing principle for the opposition.

    And that’s the one constant that has been through it all. Warren Buffett, to his everlasting credit, pointed out that he will get a tax cut under the Republican plan this year of $630,000. That’s the redistribution.

    And, you know, in the richest nation in the history of the world, it is a terrible indictment, a sad commentary that the most vulnerable among us, the least — the least among us are really tossed off as a political statement.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Well, what’s the Democratic counter to this? I realize that they support Obamacare at is core, but what about the things that they can agree on that need improvements? Why not come up with some sort of a counter and a fix and propose that?

  • Mark Shields:

    Good question.

    That’s one of the reasons there has been no debate is threat at there hasn’t been the opportunity for debate. They have foreclosed it. But, no, the Democrats have chosen to focus all attention on the other.

    I think it’s one of the problems the Democrats have. I think they learned this week in the Georgia 6 that there are limits to being against Donald Trump, although Donald Trump expands the limits on a regular basis. There are limits to being against him as a political strategy and to have political relevance to voters. You have to be for.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What do you think about the likelihood of passage?

  • Mark Shields:

    You know, I am not sure.

    Mitch McConnell is a master inside player. He’s a terrible outside player. He doesn’t make a public case for it. But, inside, he knows the Senate well. And, what, we have had now five Senate say that they would have problems with it, which is sort of the opening negotiation.

    And Dean Heller, who we saw earlier in Nevada, is in real trouble. He’s up for reelection in a tough state, in a state that has expanded Medicaid.

    I mean, Medicaid, Hari, I think, is health care for poorer Americans. And what this plan does is essentially starve Medicaid. The Senate does it slower. The House does it faster.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    He brought up the special elections. We have had five now. The Republicans seem to be holding, if not winning.

    Is this trouble for the Democrats?

  • David Brooks:

    I think so.

    I think the Georgia loss is a big loss. I don’t think it’s, oh, this is always a Republican district, it’s not such a big deal. If the Democrats are going to pick up seats, it is going to be in upscale, highly educated suburban seats.

    And this was tailor-made for that, a seat that Trump barely won. And so if after all that’s happened in the last four or five months, they can’t pick up the seat, that to me is an indictment.

    It’s first a sign that there are limits to being anti-Trump, second, that the Trump phenomenon was not just a fluke, that it’s based on some deep structural things in the economy that are driving people to support the Republicans, some deep structural things in the country, that people are extremely distrustful of government and extremely distrustful of Washington.

    There’s also a sign that the Republicans, despite all that’s happened, are still considered the party of change. And if they want change, they’re still likely to go to the Republicans. And, finally, it’s a sign the Democratic Party is too coherent.

    They have got a Bernie Sanders, which is strong and coherent, but that’s not the kind of wing that’s going to work in this district. And the Democratic center, aside from the one candidate they had down there, is meager. And without that, there are going to be just a lot of districts you’re not going to do so great in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mark, he had a four-point answer.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    He did. But I will cut it down to two. OK?

    No, politics isn’t like the Olympics. In the Olympics, you get a silver medal, you get a bronze medal. There’s only one winner. And David’s right. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and slow-dancing.

    Coming in second, and even a good second and a close second, doesn’t do it. Winning is coming in first. And the Republicans did win. And, yes, it’s a district that Mitt Romney carried by 24 points and John McCain carried by 19 points.

    But one of the things that turned out was, when you spend that much money — and give the Republicans credit. They turned out the Republican vote. When you spend that much money, then the intensity and the passion of the opposition, who were the Democrats in this case, is kind of neutralized by the turnout.

    There were 260,000 people who voted Tuesday in a special election, which is 50,000 more than voted in the 2014 general election. So, I mean, it was a remarkable turnout. And you can’t argue that, gee, if we just had two more days, it would have been a — I think the Democrats have to come up with what they are for, what is it, rather than simply being against Donald Trump, which is…

  • David Brooks:

    I do think — I would be curious to hear Mark’s view on this — I do think, on net, Nancy Pelosi can be a very masterful leader again inside, but I do think she’s become a central liability for people around the country.

    Now, the question will be, OK, if they got rid of Nancy Pelosi as party leader, would the next person be just as unpopular? And, potentially, but I think potentially not. And I do think, if you’re a Democrat, you do have to think about, who is currently the face of our party?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Pelosi says she’s worth the cost.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Nancy Pelosi, I have said before, was the most effective House speaker in my time in Washington.

    What she did — we talk about the Affordable Care Act. Barack Obama didn’t pass the Affordable Care Act. Nancy Pelosi passed the Affordable Care Act. She passed it three times through the House of Representatives. She has raised $141 million last cycle for Democrats.

    Sadly, tragically, money does matter. Paul Ryan’s political action committee, with unnamed donors, spent $7 million in this special election. So, I think, you know, Republicans have been running since 1984, when Jeane Kirkpatrick gave the keynote address at the convention, against San Francisco Democrats.

    And, you know, maybe Nancy Pelosi, not a dress designer, and buy off the rack or whatever else, but I don’t think it’s going to change. And I don’t think she will be the determining factor on the ballot in voters’ minds in 2018.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally, some of the statements that have been coming out of the White House, more specifically from Donald Trump, yesterday saying he didn’t know that there were any tapes or any recordings, that he didn’t make any, this follows a dozen false statements at the rally that he had in Iowa this week.

    And then you kind of just go right back to how President Obama bugged Trump Tower or the millions of illegal votes for Hillary or the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

    Any structural consequence to the office of this? Because it doesn’t seem to be having an impact on him.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And I wonder, what’s going to happen to our debate? After Trump leaves, whenever that is, do we snap back to what we consider the normal standards of honesty, or is this the new norm?

    And that’s why, even though it doesn’t seem like Trump to point out, as my paper did, in a long list today, the definitive guide to the lies of Donald Trump, I think it’s still worth making that case, because a lot — the thing we have to fear most is essentially a plague of intellectual laziness, a plague of incuriosity, a plague of apathy about honesty.

    And once the whole political system gets affected by that, then we’re really sunk. And so I do think keeping his feet on the fire, no matter how little he pays a price for it, is still worth doing.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I would say this. He’s paying a price, in the sense The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll asked voters, whom do you believe, James Comey or Donald Trump? And by a 2-1 margin, voters believe James Comey, who, until a month ago, was a villain to so many Democrats because of the Hillary Clinton race.

    Overwhelmingly, Americans do not believe that he’s honest, or he’s trustworthy, he’s knowledgeable, he’s experienced or he has the right temperament. By a 48-16 margin, they believe the opposite. And that is a real liability for anybody who wants to lead a country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But in that same poll, you see that it’s 78 percent of Dems, 26 percent of Republicans who have that trust in that case.

    So, Mark Shields, David Brooks, we will leave it there. Thank you.

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