Monday, November 25, 2019

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/22/2019

"Shields and Brooks on impeachment hearing revelations, Democratic debate takeaways" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2019


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the biggest revelations and most compelling characters from impeachment hearings, whether they will change voters' minds about impeachment, how 2020 Democrats performed in their fifth debate and President Trump’s moves on military justice.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  Historic impeachment hearings and another debate for the Democrats running for President.  It was a very full week.  It has been, is a very full week for American politics.

And here to help us make sense of it all, as always, Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

Let's go straight to impeachment, Mark.

Five days of hearings now, three more this week, a lot of drama, a lot of attention on television.  What did you take away from it?

Mark Shields.  syndicated columnist:  I took away from it, Judy, a quote from Oscar Handlin, who was the great American historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning for his book "The Uprooted."

He said, I sought to write a book on American immigrants, the history of American immigrants, and I realized that immigrants are American history.

And that point was driven home so forcefully.  It was Ambassador Yovanovitch.  It was Colonel Vindman.  It was Fiona Hill.

And these are people who are Americans by choice, not by accident, like you and I.  And he and she, every one of them was reassuring.  And I have to say, for every cheap political ad that is run against nameless, faceless bureaucrats, these were people with names and with faces and who put their careers, their comfort, their peace of mind, their futures, in many cases, on the line to speak truth to power.

And I was humbled to watch them and to listen to them.

Judy Woodruff:  David?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes, I agree with that.  It was a good couple of weeks for Washington [DC] insiders, people who have been trained by the government to do things a certain way.

And that way — there's a right way and there's a wrong way.  And most of the people who have been trained by the Foreign Service understood quickly that this was the wrong way to go about things.  This was unethical.

I think Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, I don't think it ever occurred to them that this was unethical.  What strikes me — and this came out in Sondland's testimony — that everyone was in the loop, that this was not something they tried to hide.

This was just something they thought was the way politics gets done or foreign policy gets done, that there's no division between personal gain and public service.

And so I think that's the big takeaway for me out of these weeks, is that, when this started, you could have thought, oh, it was Trump just rambling on a phone call, because we had that transcript, if you remember.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

David Brooks:  But now it's clear that everybody knew.  And some people reacted with shock and horror.  And some people said, well, this is just the crazy stuff we got to tolerate working for Donald Trump.

Judy Woodruff:  Is the case, Mark, now made stronger that the Democrats have been trying to make that they say is a slam dunk, that the President tried to get the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, in other words, to do the President a favor politically?

Mark Shields:  Yes, I think it is.

Yes, I think Ambassador Sondland was probably the least impressive, but the most damaging, of all the witnesses.  He was going to go down.  He was going to say, as David put it, in the loop were Secretary Pompeo, in the loop was Chief of Staff Mulvaney, in the loop was Ambassador Bolton, who, interestingly enough, we're going to find out if he has the same courage of his convictions, the same backbone as Fiona Hill, who worked for him did, or has a $2 million book sale advance bought his silence.

I would be interested to see if he's going to come forward and speak truth to power.

Judy Woodruff:  He tweeted today that he's going to speak.


But we don't know.

Mark Shields:  He got his Twitter back, is what I read in his tweets today.  And I'm just really reassured by that.


So, I just — I really think that the case is strong.

What I have underestimated — and I think David was right — is the fear that David — that Donald Trump exercises over Republicans.

I mean, people talked about Lyndon Johnson being a fearsome political leader.  They don't even approach.  I mean, he [Trump] strikes fear into the hearts of Republicans up and down the line.  And I think that is — that, to me, has been eye-opening in its dimensions.

Judy Woodruff:  So, the case — is the case stronger, David, or does it even matter?

David Brooks:  Well, the case is legally stronger, but it's not politically stronger.

We have had now a bunch of polls.  Nate Silver's Web site, FiveThirtyEight, has an agglomeration of them.  And it shows that the public support for impeachment has gone down very slightly over the last couple of weeks.  It's now about 45-45.  The nation is evenly divided.

In swing states, it's gone — impeachment has become less popular.  We don't have a lot of data.  But, in Wisconsin, only 40 percent of voters support impeachment.  Roughly 53 oppose it.

And I think we have seen there's a Politico poll where they asked independent voters, what do you think?  And independent voters don't like it at all, and by 61-23, they think that's the sort of thing that's more of interest to media people than it is to me.

And so I don't think — I don't think — I think everybody knows he's guilty.  They just don't think this is the issue that affects my life.  And why are they talking about all this stuff?

Judy Woodruff:  How do you — I mean, Mark, the Republicans keep saying, as we heard yesterday, it's a show trial, the Democrats have been out to get President Trump from day one.

Is that the argument that is winning people over?

Mark Shields:  It's an argument, Judy, but it's not a persuasive argument.  I mean, just as a political calculus, it was not — it didn't make sense.

I mean, there was no question, after the Mueller Report was botched, or however you want to put it, or the — Attorney General Barr stepped on it, Donald Trump felt liberated, and liberated enough to make that phone call.

And the reality is that there wasn't a Democrat who was not under indictment or detox who was thinking in terms of impeachment at that point.  It wasn't until the news of this came out, and it became so obvious.

I mean, not to act was an action itself that Democrats or anybody else in Congress or America would have to answer for.  I mean, if this is modus operandi, acceptable for an American President to do this, to extort basically another country that is dependent upon us, to get information, unflattering, unhelpful, damaging information the President's political opponent, and that is — that's, what, OK, acceptable, look the other way?

I mean, you have got a lot to answer for if you don't address it.

David Brooks:  Yes, I think that's a strong argument.  They had to do this just to uphold the standards of our country, and that I can't think of any President who has done anything as bad as this and didn't get impeached.

And so, I mean, that's basically true.  I think Democrats do have to acknowledge that it's not a political winner.  And some of them walked into this sort of knowing that.

Judy Woodruff:  Why not?  What do you mean, not a political winner?

David Brooks:  Well, I think if you're losing independents and you're losing swing states, and you're — it's very likely now that six of your Senate candidates will be sitting in Washington, D.C., through January during the Senate trial, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the rest, then this is a kind of a disadvantage.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

David Brooks:  And I think it is just — I think — my conversations with Trump supporters in red states, first of all, when I go out there, nobody talks about.  It's just not on the subject.  Then, if you ask, everyone I have spoken to says, yes, he did it, and he shouldn't have done, it was a stupid thing to do.

But this is — we're in the context of a long political and cultural war in this country.  And, finally, I have got a guy who hits back at the people who hate me.  And so I'm not going to abandon him.

And so they don't see it as a unique trial about one incident.  They see it as part of the longer political battle we have in this country, and they're not going to abandon him.  That's been my experience with people I have spoken with.

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