Monday, July 09, 2018

OPINION - Brooks and Klein 7/6/2018

"Brooks and Klein on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist, Scott Pruitt’s scandals" PBS NewsHour 7/6/2018


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ezra Klein of Vox join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s likely finalists for the Supreme Court, Scott Pruitt’s exit from the EPA, the President’s insults at campaign rallies, and the horrific stories of family separation at the border revealed in a lawsuit.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And that brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Klein.  That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ezra Klein of  Mark Shields is off this week.

Welcome to both of you.

So much to talk about, but we’re going to start, David, with where we just left off, the Supreme Court vacancy.

What if — of course, we don’t know what the President is going to do, but if it’s down to these three, what does that tell us about what he wants the Supreme Court to be, about his thinking about replacing Justice Kennedy?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Well, it’s like we got our old Republican Party back, because these three are not Trumpy people.  They are pretty elite, pretty established

And it’s a testament to the Federalist Society, which is a conservative legal society that started in the 1980s, designed to create — to turn talent into judgeships.  And they have done a fantastic job over the last several decades of producing just this funnel of talent that goes up to all the courts, but especially the Supreme Court.

And so, whoever the Republican President is, there is just this whole series of people who are well-qualified, pretty temperate, well-connected with each other.  And they’re just ready-made.  So, it’s made to order.

It’s not a Trumpy set of people.  It’s a very establishment set of conservative jurists.

Judy Woodruff:  Establishment set, Ezra?

Ezra Klein, Vox:  I think that’s right.

So, Donald Trump made this deal with the Republican establishment.  And it went something like this.  You don’t like me.  And I definitely do not like you.  But if you unite behind me, you will get your Supreme Court picks.

And, unusually, he brought out this document and he said, these are the people I will look at.  And he’s made good on that.

There are a lot of places where he’s been a very, very unusual President, but these are not very different picks than we would have expected from a president Ted Cruz.

The one thing where I do think it’s worth noting that there is a bit of betrayal here is that, at the same moment, Donald Trump is also making a deal with voters.  And he was saying, unlike the traditional Republican Party, I care about Medicare, and I care about Social Security, and I care about Medicaid, I won’t let anybody hurt these programs.

And at least some of the picks, particularly Kavanaugh in there, they’re very, very pro-business, very anti-safety net, anti-government action picks.

So, by the same token by which Ted Cruz could be making these picks, there are a lot of Republicans who liked Donald Trump because he wasn’t like Ted Cruz, because he was supposed to be more of a populist.  And that is also absent from this process.

Judy Woodruff:  What about that, David, and this — what appears to be open squabbling, disagreement, maybe more than that, between social conservatives, who would prefer Amy Coney Barrett to Kavanaugh or Kethledge?

David Brooks:  By the standards of the Republican feuds of the last 20 years, this would definitely be in the bottom 5 percent.


David Brooks:  Most social conservatives are a little more for Barrett, some just for optical reasons.  If Roe v. Wade is going to be a big issue, it would help to have a woman on the court.  They would like to get out of the Harvard-Yale group.  And she’s slightly outside that group, I guess.

Kavanaugh is more well-plugged-in to the conservative establishment here.  As Ezra said, he has got a much bigger record on economic issues and regulatory issues than she does.  She’s more socially conservative.

And she became a lightning rod about a year-and-a-half, I guess, when Dianne Feinstein, the senator of California, seemed to question her Catholic dogma.  And that became a rallying cry for social conservatives.

So, she’s sort of the darling.  But that doesn’t mean they’re against Kavanaugh.  And the Kavanaugh people, they are not against Barrett.  There are slight preferences, some of it just political judgment.  It’s not anything doctrinal or ideological.

Judy Woodruff:  We’re maybe making too much of this?

Ezra Klein:  We will see, right?  It depends on who he picks.  But I agree that it’s not a huge feud inside the Republican Party right now.

Judy Woodruff:  Yes.  And we don’t know.  We have to keep stressing we don’t know what he’s going to do until he makes the announcement on Monday.

Ezra Klein:  That’s going to be the name of my memoir for the Trump administration.  Of course, we don’t know what the President will do.


Judy Woodruff:  We will remember that.

All right, another personnel move this week, and this one is on the way out, Ezra.  Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a lot of news stories about him over the last year or so about alleged ethical lapses.  Some of them have been borne out.  Others are still being investigated.

Does this tell us something about the President hanging on to him so far, or is it he’s gone, and we move on to the next chapter?

Ezra Klein:  I think, if we just let this be a move on, we will have made a big mistake.

Yes, this tells us a lot about President Trump, about their management style.  Scott Pruitt’s level of corruption was a magnificent thing.  It was something I have almost never seen in politics.  It was like he was trolling, like he was daring people to see what was too far.

And the thing that I think it showed about the Trump administration — and I think we have seen this in other places, too — is they have become so used to outrage, they have become — they have this whole idea about triggering the libs, triggering the liberals, doing things that their opponents don’t like.

And there is such deep tribalism, that it begins to destroy their own immune system for seeing when somebody is actually a detriment to them, to their administration.

It was powerful in 2016 for Donald Trump to run as a guy who was going to drain the swamp, powerful for him to run against the perks that people like Hillary Clinton took after they left office.

And now he’s allowed a lot of people like Pruitt to be around him.  And he is going to get tagged with all this, these people who are using the public dime to take private flights and first-class flights and build themselves fancy telephone booths.

And the fact that they were not better able to see earlier that this guy was, not just potentially incompetent, but deeply, deeply corrupt, it says a lot about their management style and about what their blind spots really are.

Judy Woodruff:  What about that?

David Brooks:  Yes.  I would say it says two things about the blind spots.

One, the ability to distinguish public service from private enrichment.  Just like a normal person, do I get a sweetheart real estate deal with the wife of a lobbyist — connected to a lobbyist in my industry?  Like, normal person, oh, red flags, I better not do that, I could get in trouble.  He did this over and over again, where normal red flags would go off, and somehow they were not going off.

To me, the bigger problem is that, within the EPA, it became just this — vipers attacking each other.  There was no camaraderie.  There was no sense of, we’re going to — we’re all part of this together.

And people have been fleeing that agency, Trump appointees, not just the career people.  Trump appointees have been fleeing it for months now because the atmosphere was so poisonous.

And so the core issue here is character.  And he [Pruitt] seems to lack character, have a vicious or violent character.  At the same time, he’s trying to maneuver to get jobs like Secretary of State and [U.S.] Attorney General.

So, you know, character is destiny, I guess except if you’re the Oval Office.  Then it doesn’t matter.

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