Monday, July 10, 2017

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 7/7/2017

"Brooks and Marcus on Trump meeting Putin, Republicans diverging on health care" PBS NewsHour 7/7/2017


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the long and private first face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin, the President's rhetoric about Western civilization under siege, and the prospects for the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, another look at the major news of this week, both foreign and domestic, from today's pivotal meeting between two presidents, to new developments with the Senate GOP's health care plan.

Here to provide analysis of all that and more is Brooks and Marcus.  That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post.  Mark Shields is away this week.

Welcome to you on both.

So, the lead story today, of course, President Trump meets President Putin.

David, all eyes on this meeting, the body language, what did they say.  And then we have these conflicting reports coming out afterwards.  What do we make of it?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  Well, it was sort of normal for a Trump administration event.  He did raise the meddling issue, which is a good thing.

And so it seemed a little like, from the talking points, they hit Syria, they hit all the prints a U.S. President would talk to with a Russian president.  It seemed a bit like a normal meeting, which is a good thing.

The abnormal part to me is how small it was, that there are only four people and then the two translators in the room, no H.R. McMaster, no national security adviser, which is an oddity.  And that gives them maximum flexibility to say whatever they want in the room and not have it reported out of the room.

And that's what makes the point about what they were saying about the meddling or anything else totally mysterious.  Apparently, there were no note-takers in the room.  And so it leaves a big void in what they actually said and whether Trump really accepted the fact that Putin claims he didn't meddle.

And so it's just a big void that wouldn't exist if you had the normal complement of people in the room and the normal note-takers in the room, and you had some actual look into what sort of what was happening in there.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  A long meeting, Ruth, but a lot of questions.

RUTH MARCUS, The Washington Post:  Long meeting, a lot of questions.

And normal is not the way I would describe it.  And I think I should start by the way President Trump started with Vladimir Putin, which is, it's an honor to be here with both of you.  That is a true honor.

I thought for President Trump to say — and I understand we have diplomatic niceties — it wasn't an honor to be with someone who has attacked and jailed dissidents and killed dissidents in his country, who has invaded other countries, and who has tried to interfere in an American election.

And I think that simply to accept that, oh, it's great, at least he raised the question of Russian interference, but we don't know — and never will probably — precisely what he said, is really defining the Presidency down.

That should have been a given that he was going to raise that.  And that it wasn't a given, they left but on tenterhooks, and that the day before, he was still saying, well, nobody really knows for sure what happened, and seemed more eager to blame President Obama for not doing enough, to question whether the intelligence community gets it right, to tweet today about John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and say, why didn't he turn over the server, just really underscores to me the abnormality of the situation.

DAVID BROOKS:  I have successfully defined deviancy so far down …



RUTH MARCUS:  Well, that's the point of normalizing, right?

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes.  Well, that's fair.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But, David, was using the term honor going too far?

DAVID BROOKS:  I think no normal person would say that.


DAVID BROOKS:  But, on the other hand, I'm willing to give diplomatic latitude to that.  There are a lot of people in a lot of diplomatic circumstances.

And I'm sure, if we went back and looked at how other Presidents speak, you're trying to establish a relationship with a bad guy.  Now, and you say things.  And so I give latitude toward that.

The question is whether Donald Trump recognizes that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy.  That's the larger question here than whether he used the word honor.  And I guess there's no indication that he regards Putin as in any way a bad guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Does it matter, Ruth, whether the President accepted Putin's denials?  Or are we just — we're going to be left wondering about this forever.

RUTH MARCUS:  Well, Secretary of State Tillerson said that they basically agreed it didn't make sense to relitigate this, actually one of my favorite words.  And maybe that's true.

The important point is that, since before the election, Donald Trump has been denying that this happened.  He has seemed entirely unconcerned with figuring out whether it happened and with expressing the outrage that any American President should be expressing that it did happen.

And now I think we're supposed to be satisfied that there is this joint working group on cyber-security.  So, I have a modest proposal.


RUTH MARCUS:  If we're going to have a joint working group on cyber-security, let's combine that with the election fraud commission, and we can really get to the bottom of everything.

DAVID BROOKS:  Say we had a normal President.  It's actually an interesting political problem.  What do you do with Russia?

Do you say, you interfered with our elections, you're interfering with all these elections across Europe, we're not dealing with you until you behave by some standards of normalcy?  And that's a morally satisfying position that, as a columnist, would be fun.

But there are actually a lot of issues you have got to deal with Russia on.  And so this is perpetually the problem with rogue regimes.  You have got to — you deal with them and then you don't deal with them.  And even if we had a normal administration, it would be tough to know how to treat Vladimir Putin.

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