Episode: Shields and Brooks on the GOP speaker struggle, Clinton’s trade deal dismissal

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Shields and Brooks on the GOP speaker struggle, Clinton’s trade deal dismissal

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

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, please explain what is going on.




MARK SHIELDS: Turmoil, chaos, toxic upheaval. And those are the friendly sources that are describing what’s going on in the House Republican Caucus.

What you basically have is a group of Republicans, one-sixth of the House Republicans, who view their election as a mandate to stand up and oppose the Democratic president and his overreach, by their judgment, in power, to frustrate him, to oppose him, and to repeal what — the Obama thing, and do not accept the concomitant responsibility of the governing party, of which they’re a member, to govern.

They’re the majority party, and so they’re essentially holding the entire caucus hostage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they’re holding the Congress, I mean, the House of Representatives…

MARK SHIELDS: They’re holding the House. But it means that the majority cannot operate the House.

Speaker Boehner after four years, said, I have had enough, leaving. Kevin McCarthy, his heir apparent, could not get to the 218. You have to get a majority of your own caucus. There’s 247 House Republicans. You have to get 218 of them in order to get elected speaker.


MARK SHIELDS: So, I guess that’s it, pretty simply. And so there is paralysis, quite honestly. And the party is in turmoil. And it has an implication nationally in the presidential election, because this is supposed to be the governing example of the Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, why has it gotten to this point?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, as usual, Mark is not critical enough of the Republicans.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s not that they don’t believe in the Democratic president. They don’t believe in the democratic process.

There is a way you do elections. You have an argument. You have candidates. You evaluate the candidates. You have a vote, and the majority wins and the minority says, well, we didn’t get the majority, but, OK, we will go along because we believe in the greater good.

Well, there are 40 people who don’t believe in that. McCarthy would have had the majority. And they said, no, we don’t care. We’re still going to — we’re not giving up. We’re just going to roadblock.

And there has been a set of institutional practices that have been built up within that institution, and they’re just not playing by those rules. And so, as has been true of the Tea Party for a long time, they’re really good at destruction, they’re not so good at construction.

And this is — to me, it’s deep. This has been a party, and particularly our entire political system, that’s lost the art of deliberative argument and then coming to conclusions. And to get elected, especially as a Republican, you have got to be anti-conservative, you have got to be radical, you have got to be revolutionary, you have got to be an outsider, your language has to be totally radical.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re seeing that in the presidential race.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And so if you adopt a radical rhetoric, then the normal practice of politics, which is compromise, which is accepting defeat for the greater good, all that stuff gets washed away.

And so, to me, it’s just a mental problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it going to get solved, Mark? At some point, they will have to choose a speaker of the House of Representatives.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, at some point, after public ballots. I don’t know, Judy.

But when you have got a group in your party who believe that compromise is collaboration and that cooperation is surrender, abandonment of principle, that makes it very, very difficult. I think David’s point is very well taken.

I mean, the Republican Party in the Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll was at 25 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable. So, if you’re a Republican candidate for president, that’s a big weight to carry, an albatross. And if you have got this kind of antics going on, this “Animal House” behavior on television, you say, what’s the point of electing a Republican?

It’s just a gift to the Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, but you also have the view, when Donald Trump announced this, I saw yesterday at an event where he was, I believe it was in Nevada, David, the crowd cheered that Kevin McCarthy had pulled out, meaning there was nobody.

Chris Christie said yesterday the country doesn’t really care who is speaker of the House of Representatives.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think, for him, that was a dodge, though even Christie, who is pretty establishmentarian, if you have been watching his campaigning, he’s been attacking the Republican establishment as much as Barack Obama, it seems, sometimes.

And so that’s become a cheap applause line. But I have a sort of counterintuitive view. If you look at the polls and you ask do you want there to be a government shutdown, vast majorities of Republicans do not want a government shutdown. They do not want chaos on Capitol Hill.

And so they’re sitting out there, a silent majority, sitting out there, taking a look at this, and think, this is my party? Oh, my goodness. And I happen to feel that come winter, there is going to be a little reaction against all this, as there was against Ted Cruz the last time he and his ilk did the government shutdown, and there will be a swing toward the more normal candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean when we get to the primaries, the presidential primaries?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think that people are going to — you remember what happened with Ted Cruz. When he did a government shutdown last time, the party, the establishment wing of the party was strengthened. And I think this mayhem, with Ted Cruz involved, by the way, is going to, in the end of the day, strengthen the Rubios, the Bushes, the Kasichs, that kind of person.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, this is not one individual. This is 30, 40, 50 members of the House of Representatives, each of whom represents, what, 600,000, 700,000 people.


Judy, there’s historical precedent here and a parallel. In 1996, Bob Dole was leading for the Republican presidential nomination, had a long and distinguished career as Republican Senate majority leader. And because of the behavior and the chaos at the time caused by the House Republicans led by Newt Gingrich, and closing down the federal government, Bob Dole had to distance himself.

He resigned from the Senate and as Senate majority leader to say, look, I don’t belong with these guys. I’m surgically separated from them.

And if you’re a presidential candidate and they say, OK, you are going to get elected president now, and these are the people you’re going to deal with, these are the people you’re going to govern with, so it is — the Prince Charming, the rescuer is Paul Ryan, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. That’s who…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he says he’s not interested.

MARK SHIELDS: He says he’s not interested.

The one advantage Paul Ryan brings to it, in my judgment, he is — his true-blue credentials as a conservative are unimpeachable. And the great strength of Nancy Pelosi as speaker, when she was speaker — and she was a consequential speaker — was that she could go to liberals in her own caucus, especially women, for example, on the health care, and say, you’re going to come and compromise on this, and say to Latino members, you’re going to compromise on this, because her credentials were solid.

He could do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You believe that he could persuade the conservative members of the House that they should not — that they should go along with funding Planned Parenthood and they should go along with raising the debt ceiling?

MARK SHIELDS: I think his credentials on it are strong and believable, that he could move them to the point where we have to advance our cause and advance it.

I just — I think that’s the one thing that he brings that Boehner and McCarthy had — there were doubts about them, because as conservative as they might be to you and me, they were not conservative enough for the true believers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, Boehner’s not exactly Bernie Sanders.

DAVID BROOKS: He’s a pretty conservative guy himself.


DAVID BROOKS: But, first of all, I hope Paul Ryan doesn’t do it. I believe people should get — once they get their dream job, they should be able to have their dream job.

And, second, I’m dubious that it will be long-term. I am even looking on my e-mail traffic from the Tea Party people who I’m on their lists, and, oh, he was for immigration reform, he was against the government shutdown, he was for this, he was for that. You are beginning to see the chipping away.

And so I think, at the end of the day, as I said earlier, I think the problems are pretty deep, and so I hope he doesn’t do it for his own sake and I don’t think he would be that effective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about the other party for a few minutes.

The Democrats have their first debate coming up next week. It’s going to be Hillary Clinton and four others, Bernie Sanders and three others. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Secretary Clinton this week.

And she made news, David, by splitting with the president on the new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and on top of other moves she seems to be making to the left. Is this a smart move for her politically or not-so-smart move?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, she was under fierce questioning, so, you know, so she had to choose, just her heels.


DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s crazy, personally.

She has talked in favor of the TPP 45 times in public. She calls it the gold standard of trade agreements. I think she knows what she actually believes about it and she is flipping for political expediency. And maybe it buys you something on policy grounds, because you don’t have an argument with Bernie Sanders in your first debate on trade, a subject extremely difficult for Democrats.

But her main problem and the way people vote, in my view, is not how you stand on this or that agreement. It’s on character. And if her main doubts, the doubts about her are about authenticity and trustworthiness, well, flip-flopping this nakedly doesn’t exactly help.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, she says she’s not changing her mind, that she didn’t really — she never really committed one way or another, and now that she’s looked at it, she doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do.

MARK SHIELDS: When somebody appears to change their public position, if they come our way, they’re growing, if they go the other way, they’re caving.

And this is — Hillary Clinton had never taken position on this; 82 percent of congressional Democrats had been against giving fast-track authority for this trade agreement. This is an agreement forged between a Democratic president and a Republican Congress and the business community.

That’s what it is. So, it’s in the greater interests. The establishment is for it. What’s the knock on Hillary Clinton? She’s too close to the establishment. And now she’s taken on the establishment. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post editorial pages, they are all for it.

The last thing they were for was the invasion of Iraq. So, quite honestly, I mean, I don’t think that she can be accused of flip-flopping on this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But was it smart for her to do?

MARK SHIELDS: Was it smart for her to do? I don’t know.

I mean, I think it probably — you know, David’s right. It cuts down an opportunity of criticism for her in the first debate. But I don’t think she would do it just for that. I mean, she’s trying to solidify the Democratic nomination.

DAVID BROOKS: These are logical leaps. I mean, Iraq — you should go to the Olympics for long jump.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but the establishment, the establishment — no.

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, she was on the record. CNN had a list, and I read them all, 45 different statements about this specific treaty, the gold standard for it, because it protects the — it sets an environment for open and fair and free trade.

And, I mean, she’s on the record with lots. And it was her State Department that was part of the deal. And so everyone else regards it as a flip-flop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the record, she says that was early on, and it was before…

DAVID BROOKS: And the two things she mentioned to you as complaining against went in her direction in the course of the negotiations. They didn’t go away from her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Currency manipulation.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and the pharmaceutical stuff.

And so it just — it’s so politically expedient. I understand why she did it for political expedience, but…

MARK SHIELDS: She — to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t said anything on it for two years. She was a good team member, backing what she was pushing for at the time, and trying to convince Democrats, I assume, at the time.

But now she’s a free agent. This is her own record.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Mark, what do you look for in this debate? Is this the showdown at the OK Corral, or is it…

MARK SHIELDS: To borrow one of David’s phrases, look for a signature moment for the candidates who are being introduced, the Jim Webb and the Martin O’Malley, that there’s — this is their chance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lincoln Chafee.

MARK SHIELDS: And Lincoln Chafee.

And also to get a sense of the dynamic. Bernie Sanders has a great advantage. Bernie Sanders hasn’t changed a position in 35 years, so he doesn’t have to agonize over, am I changing or qualifying in any way? Anyway, he should be anxiety-free.

DAVID BROOKS: I wonder how strongly they are going to go after her on character and personal matters.

MARK SHIELDS: They won’t.

DAVID BROOKS: Mark says they won’t.

So, that’s my instinct, too. But that’s her vulnerability. And maybe future down the line, they have to. It’s kind of sort of normal to go after each other. But they may play gentle. If I’m one of the minor characters, I might look for that signature moment by going right at her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think we’re all going to be watching.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you both.

The post Shields and Brooks on the GOP speaker struggle, Clinton’s trade deal dismissal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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