Shields and Brooks on Trump’s Syria ‘blunder,’ impeachment outlook

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of
Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and
New York Times columnist David Brooks. Hello to both of you. So let’s pick up, Mark, with where — with
my conversation just then with John Kasich. He said he reluctantly has come to the place,
after hearing and following what’s gone on in the last couple of days, that President
Trump should be impeached. Now, he’s only one of a very few Republicans. But do you see, given all the events of this
week, the testimony before Congress, what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday, that this argument
for impeachment is getting stronger? MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it most certainly is, Judy. I’d say right now that there’s two dozen,
maybe headed to three dozen House Republicans will end up voting for impeachment at the
current velocity. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the House? MARK SHIELDS: In the House. And I don’t think there’s any question about
it. I mean, it’s — you can feel it. Just put yourself in the shoes of trying to
be a defender of the president, a supporter of the president. You wake up on an hourly basis — or certainly
a daily basis, and almost hourly now, you’re hit with another thunderbolt. What is it? It’s foreign policy. It’s Mick Mulvaney in a condescending, antagonistic,
stupid — you understood why he’s never been the spokesman, why he’s never had a press
conference before — harmful. You can’t defend the president. So what Republicans are doing, if you will
notice — and led by FOX News — is, they’re attacking Democrats, is what they’re doing. There’s no defense. And so I just think you can feel support shrinking. JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you — how do you assess
this? DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I mean, if your defense was, there was no
quid pro quo, it’s pretty hard to stand on that ground by now. What we have learned over the last two weeks
or three weeks is that the transcript we heard several weeks ago now, it was true. We learned on the transcript — for me, if
you read the transcript, there was a quid pro quo. MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. DAVID BROOKS: And now we have testimony from
Fiona Hill, who was the deputy secretary of state for Ukraine, that there was quid pro
quo, basically, that it Trump was doing this, there was a separate foreign policy run by
Trump and Giuliani, bypassing the normal foreign policy apparatus. And there have been a whole series of witnesses
that have basically attested to that. Mulvaney puts the exclamation point. So, if that was your defense, then it’s hard
not to vote for impeachment. If your defense is, this doesn’t rise to the
level of impeachment, then you can still wriggle out of it. And I suspect that’s where the Senate Republicans
will go. I do not see — I see John Kasich, who has
been, like, the number one Trump critic in the Republican Party, is here. Congressman Rooney is here. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. DAVID BROOKS: But, so far, there aren’t many
others. And I’m skeptical that you will see too many
Republican senators. JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is the argument that
Republicans are hanging on — hanging there belief to, that — you’re just alluding to
this — that this is not an impeachable offense? Is it what the president is saying, that I’m
unconventional? Is it, we’re always asking foreign countries
to do something for us? DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I think, right now, it’s a position
in search of an argument. So they know where they are, because they
know where their voters are, and they’re terrified of their voters. And they have got to find some rationalization
to explain why they are. And this seems to be the most rational rationalization. This is what countries do all the time, and
the president was defending American interests, and the media is out to get him. And that’s an argument that sort of makes
itself. Whether it’s compelling to anybody else doesn’t
really matter, because it has to — the Republicans are the ones that have to move. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, if David’s right
— even if it passes in the House, if there’s an impeachment vote in the House, but go to
the Senate, that there’s not the votes in the Senate? What’s… (CROSSTALK) MARK SHIELDS: There are not the votes today,
Judy. But think where we were two weeks ago. I mean, this thing is moving at a pace and
a velocity that I don’t think any of us could have predicted. And after this week, I mean, we haven’t even
talked about the cave, the capitulation, the total — David mentioned he’s doing this in
the national interest. I mean, we saw a demonstration of the national
interest this week. I mean, there’s no way anybody could look
at that and have confidence in this man, let alone this administration. JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re talking about Syria
and Turkey. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Talking about Syria. Talking about the abandonment, because just
think, think if you were South Korea today, all right? You’re surrounded. On one side, you got China, a menacing force,
not that far off your shore. You have got North Korea and a certified madman
on your border. And what have you relied on? The good word, the trust, the honor of the
United States of America. And we saw that just absolutely trashed and
abandoned this week in the Middle East by the president. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, let’s talk about
that. I mean, this decision, it came sort of out
of the blue. People didn’t know about it. And then we learned the president had given
— the administration said it wasn’t a green light. But the Turks have gone in, and they are — they
have now been given permission basically by the U.S. to control that so-called safe zone. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Fareed Zakaria mentioned there’s never been
a moment that he could think of where a bad decision was made, and the blunder came immediately,
the results and the catastrophe came right away. And it was a total win for Erdogan and the
Turks, a total win for Syria, and a total win for Russia, because the Turks get to do
their ethnic cleansing. The Syrians get to go into the region. The Russians have been trying to get into
the region. Now they get to walk into the region. The Russians have — or the Iranians have
a proxy. So it was a — the score was 56 Erdogan, zero
for Trump, and zero for the United States. And I think this is — what’s shocking is
just the moral — not only the incompetence. I mean, the letter Trump wrote to Erdogan
could have been written by a kindergartner. It was — it didn’t look like an official
government letter. And then the — just the moral callousness
of having no remorse about the deaths and the cleansing. I think it’s — I think this, combined with
impeachment, is what shakes people. This is a more shocking event. And it goes against a generation of Republican
and American foreign policy to be a stabilizing force in that region. And it was also a sign — and I think this
is where — the way — the only way I can see that you really get to some erasure — some
erosion from the Republican side — is a lot of Republicans think, well, we had Kelly there
for a little. Mattis was there for a little while. We had some sane people controlling him. The controls are gone. And this guy’s spinning wildly out of control. And I think that could be a conclusion that
people would reach. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, Mark, just — we
just reported tonight that we learned that Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader,
has written a piece — opinion piece for The Washington Post, saying it was a grave mistake,
what the president did. It’s not every day that Mitch McConnell separates
himself from the president like this. MARK SHIELDS: No, it certainly isn’t. And I just think — I think it’s quite serious. I think Republicans I talk to are, frankly,
nervous. They’re nervous about the governorship in
Mitch McConnell’s home state, losing that, about losing both houses of the Virginia legislature. These elections, Judy, are just basically
10 days away. And it’s a — it’s really — and they’re concerned
that they lose again in Louisiana, the Democrats elected there. Those are red states, purple states that they’re
losing. And if Donald Trump is there, they’re going
to go into 2020 just blissfully, having sustained enormous losses in red states in November
of 2019, and watching this happen. I mean, this is — this is truly — when — the
Turks said, we got everything we wanted, the easiest negotiation we have ever had. Erdogan took the president’s letter, put it
in the trash can, but he’s not forgetting what was in it, was, don’t be a fool. I mean, I don’t know how, at any point, you
could defend, explain, apologize or say, let’s go forward. Let’s get four more years of this. JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned 2020. And once again, David, it looks as if the
Democrats are being overshadowed, but they did have a debate this week, all 12 of them
on the stage. What’s the shape of that race after this? DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, this is why Republicans
hang with Trump, because they look at the Democratic debates and say, anything but that. And so I think we’re writing off Biden too
fast. If you still look at the polls — the media
is sort of saying, Elizabeth Warren is the front-runner. I think there are at least two front-runners. Biden is still doing very well in the polls. He still has a solid base of support. Warren has got to have an answer for how she’s
going to pay for her health care plan. There was an Urban Institute report that came
out this week suggesting it will cost $32 trillion. That would mean the federal government would
grow by 60 percent with this one program alone. That was a bigger growth than all of World
War II. Taxes would go up by 50 percent. You have got find a way to pay for that. And if you don’t do that, you don’t look serious. And people like Pete Buttigieg and all the
rest have a very easy lane to go after you for having plans that don’t make any sense. JUDY WOODRUFF: Is she vulnerable, Mark? How vulnerable is she on this health care,
Medicare for all? MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think she is. I think, when you run as the, I’m tell it
like it is, keep the big boys honest, theme, and then you dudge and dock — dodge and duck,
rather, as she did, adroitly or adroitly, to what’s the cost going to be, and she stands
in contrast, in a strange way — Bernie Sanders indicts her, because Bernie Sanders says,
yes, it’s going to cost more, and I will tell you that. So — and I think it was an acknowledgement
that she is a front-runner, if not the co-front-runner, a front-runner, the front-runner, by the fact
that everybody went after her. There was a fear that she was going to run
away with the race. And I think, whether it was Buttigieg, or
Klobuchar, or Beto O’Rourke, or Tulsi Gabbard, they all — Joe Biden himself — they all
tried to bring her back to earth. But, no, I think it is quite serious. And I think it’s central to — she thinks
that she’s going to get away with that in the fall — or any Democrat does in 2020,
that’s not going to be the case. As far as Joe Biden is concerned, I don’t
think he’s had a really good debate. And he almost had an advantage that she became
the lightning rod, she, Elizabeth Warren. And I think other Democrats went a little
bit easy on him because of Hunter Biden, which is this allegation about his son. It was absolutely inappropriate and wrong
for the vice president’s son to be involved in a company he had no knowledge of in a country
he knew no knowledge of, simply because his father was vice president. JUDY WOODRUFF: What about Bernie Sanders,
David? I mean, he’s still on the stage. He did have a health issue, the heart attack,
a few weeks ago. He came back. He looked pretty vigorous standing there. He’s still in this contest. DAVID BROOKS: He’s still in this race. He has a core of support. Whether it can grow beyond what he had last
time, it doesn’t seem clear. It seems more of the energy and more of the
growth and more of the interest is on the Warren side. One of the things I’m interested in is how
volatile this race could be. Usually, in the last few months, the last
month, you see a lot of ups and downs, a lot of people rising out of nowhere. I wonder if the people are paying such close
attention, unprecedented levels of attention this year, that things are much more baked
in. So far, we have only seen gradual rises and
falls. The final thing I have observed this week
is, in the Iowa polls, if not the national polls, Pete Buttigieg is doing pretty well. He’s — the two leaders are around 22, and
he’s around 17. So he’s right in there. And if he comes on strong in Iowa, that could
set him up for some sort of momentum ride for the ensuing weeks. MARK SHIELDS: He’s definitely a threat. I mean, he’s going after the Biden vote. I thought he had a good debate. I thought there were two missed moments. Elizabeth Warren, when Joe Biden raised the
point about, I sponsored and fought to get your financial advisory board committee passed
by the Senate, she just says, thank you, Joe — said, thank you, President Obama. And I thought Pete Buttigieg looked like he
was spoiling for a fight in going after Beto O’Rourke, I mean, sort of a, don’t go after
my honor, my integrity. JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in addition to Warren,
yes. MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, it was like he
had a line he was going to deliver. Amy Klobuchar, again, was the most organically
humorous, naturally humorous person in the debate, which means something to me. JUDY WOODRUFF: Before we go, I do want to
raise the passing of Elijah Cummings, Mark, David, somebody who served a long time in
the Congress, part of the House leadership, had been in the civil rights movement before
then. I — we just learned tonight that Speaker
Pelosi will have his remains lying in state at the Capitol next week. MARK SHIELDS: A remarkable man, a truly remarkable
man, I’d say a giant, some would say a gentle giant, eloquent. But just a quick little anecdote about Elijah
Cummings. Trey Gowdy is a white Republican from South
Carolina, a fierce conservative, on the same committee. They crossed swords. They spent time together. And Trey Gowdy said — found out that he’d
grown up in the same area of South Carolina as Cummings’ family. And he said, why did they leave? And he said, so our children, myself could
get an education. And the conversation ended up with them both
in tears. Now, that doesn’t happen in Washington. That doesn’t happen, where you have caricature
and have cartoon cutouts of your adversaries and just sneer at them. I mean, he was that strong a man, that he
could show the weakness and the gentleness of him. And he will be missed. He was truly the North Star. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And then, when Freddie Gray died in Baltimore
a few years ago… MARK SHIELDS: Yes. DAVID BROOKS: … he was at — spoke at the
funeral, very impassioned, very righteous about the wrongs that have been done. But then, when the riots started in the area
near where he was living, he went out there with a bullhorn and tried to calm things down,
so both strong, but also respecting order and law. MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. JUDY WOODRUFF: Remembering Elijah Cummings. David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you. MARK SHIELDS: Thank you. Thank you, Judy.

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