PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and his refusal to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, the federal response to the disaster in Puerto Rico and the tension within the Republican Party between establishment and populist forces.
Brooks said after a period of disruption by Trump's alterations of Obamacare, there will be more people insured, not less.
"It’s not just some nihilistic policy here," he said. "There is some sort of vision here, more than one would expect."
On the crisis in Puerto Rico, Brooks said it is "a fair judgment" to say the president is showing less compassion because they don't "look like" people in Texas.
"There was total graciousness toward Texas and graciousness toward Florida, but he’s incapable of showing any compassion and graciousness toward people who are just trying to find drinking water in Puerto Rico," The New York Times columnist said. "And so the lesson is the lesson that we’re all going to draw from that, that the people in Puerto Rico don’t look like a lot of people in Texas. And I think that’s probably a pretty fair judgment."
Transcript, via PBS:
JUDY WOODRUFF: But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Welcome to both of you.
Where to begin? I guess we start with, David, how much the president, over the last few days, seems to be trying to roll back the legacy of his predecessor, President Obama.
Today and yesterday, the moves of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal. We have just been listening to that. The Power Plan, which he has said he’s not going to support those regulations. He’s going to completely undo them.
Can he undo the Obama legacy?
DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, a lot of it — these are all campaign promises. This is what he was elected on.
I’m struck by a couple of things. First, he’s more aggressive than just about anybody else in the administration. Whenever you hear about what’s happening in the administration, it’s always other people trying to restrain him. The Republican Party has no great clamoring to reverse the Iran deal.
A lot of them opposed them at the time, but most of them, even very hawkish people, have said there is no use in going backwards, let’s go forwards. And so on that, he’s pushing harder. On North Korea, he’s more aggressive than just about anybody else in the administration.
So if you’re looking to see a chastened Donald Trump, you’re seeing quite the reverse in the last couple of weeks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: What do I think, Judy?
I think that the results of the Alabama primary, where Donald Trump was on the losing side with Luther Strange, and Steve Bannon was on the winning side with Roy Moore, are still coming in.
Donald Trump since then has returned to the promises he made, to the applause lines he got, and the health care being a perfect example of it. You know, there is no replace. I mean, so, the fantasy that there was a Republican health plan has been totally exposed and exploded, and Donald Trump gave the final lie to that.
All he wants to do now is to destroy and dismantle that which was what he can’t — Sam Rayburn once said, any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a good carpenter to build one.
And so they’re just about — that’s what they’re about, is dismantling.
When Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a decorated Marine combat veteran, said that the Iranian deal, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, is in the national security interests of the United States of America, and Donald Trump, you know, gives some cockamamie explanation, is going to change it to — you know, he’s going to be playing right into the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I would just say, it’s not like — we hear dismantle, dismantle, dismantle, and you think it’s just an act of destruction.
That was my first impulse, but then, when you actually begin to look more into actually what they’re doing, it’s a little more complicated than that. So, the Iranian deal, there are two pieces of it. And the last discussion just reflected it very well, that the Iranians are keeping the nuclear piece, but there was a hope which President Obama expressed often that it would welcome Iran into the community of nations.
On the contrary, they are behaving worse and using the money we gave them to arm terrorists around the world. So Donald Trump and his policy are completely right to recognize that second piece takes a looking at.
On health care, they are dismantling it. There will be a period of disruption. But what was interesting to me about the CBO analysis of what they’re doing, after this period of disruption, there will be more people insured, not less. So it won’t look like Obamacare, but as the markets respond, there is a possibility that more people will be insured.
And so it’s not a simple, oh, we’re just tearing everything apart.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At a higher cost.
DAVID BROOKS: At a higher cost.
MARK SHIELDS: I could not disagree more.
More people will be insured on a cheaper plan. It’s a great plan if you’re healthy and young. Just don’t get sick and need medical treatment.
Donald Trump promised repeatedly during the campaign, including on “60 Minutes,” it would be better, cheaper, wider for everybody. You could keep your doctor. It was going to be better. It was going to happen immediately.
That is untrue. You know, we have been in open collaboration with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria, against ISIS. And, you know, when we talk about their money, giving us their — it’s their money that we unfroze.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Iran’s money.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
It wasn’t — we don’t — because I just think you left the impression that we’re somehow writing a check to Iran. Those were the frozen assets of Iran that belong to them.
I’m not defending Iranian policy, but this agreement on nuclear was in the interest of the United States that Iran…
DAVID BROOKS: Only on PBS do you get ISIS and health care exchanges in the same paragraphs as we talk to each other.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: But, again, I agree — a lot of Donald Trump — let’s start with the health care thing.
Donald Trump oversold what he’s doing. And I don’t agree with that. I think the exchanges were basically a moderate way to expand insurance coverage.
But he does have — I’m just saying he has a philosophical position here. The philosophical position is that a lot of the cross-subsidization involved in these big insurance pools is unfair to a certain set of people who are subsidizing the sicker and the poorer.
And maybe, as a society, we should be doing that as matter of social solidarity. Donald Trump doesn’t think so. And so he’s giving more people, especially small employers, a chance to pool their resources, and create associations, and give people insurance that way.
So it is a vision. It’s not just some nihilistic policy here. There is some sort of vision here, more than one would expect.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s a philosophy? You’re saying there’s a governing philosophy behind…
DAVID BROOKS: There’s a governing philosophy.
MARK SHIELDS: David has just done the impossible. He has detected a coherent philosophy in Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has never explained that. Donald Trump has never been able to go before the American people, before the Congress of the United States and say, this is why I’m doing it.
And, David, I give him great credit, the power of perception.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re giving David the credit over President Trump.
MARK SHIELDS: David has found in Donald Trump what Donald Trump hadn’t even…
DAVID BROOKS: I am the Trump whisperer.
MARK SHIELDS: You are. You are it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk for a moment about Puerto Rico.
Still a lot of conversation, David, over the last few days about whether the president is singling out Puerto Rico. There were some polls done asking people whether they think the administration, the government has done enough for Puerto Rico, compared to what the government’s done for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, for Florida after Hurricane Irma.
And then we’re showing the numbers, done enough, 36, not done enough, 55 percent.
The message coming through, based on several tweets and comments by the president, is, basically, you know, you, Puerto Rico, you have made this mess. We will do a bit for you, but we’re not going to be around forever.
DAVID BROOKS: Be around forever.
No, there has been a lack of — there was total graciousness toward Texas and graciousness toward Florida, but he’s incapable of showing any compassion and graciousness toward people who are just trying to find drinking water in Puerto Rico.
And so the lesson is the lesson that we’re all going to draw from that, that the people in Puerto Rico don’t look like a lot of people in Texas. And I think that’s probably a pretty fair judgment.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a harsh judgment, but an accurate judgment.
The difference is 67 electoral votes, 38 electoral votes in Texas, 29 in Florida, none in Puerto Rico.
When Donald Trump went down to Puerto Rico, what was he looking for? To understand what the people are going through, the health and public safety hazard? No. He was fishing for compliments. Did they say we did a good job? Do they say we’re doing a good job?
Thank goodness we have a three-star general now there who is saying, we are here. We are here to help. And we are here for the duration, basically saying that we do have a responsibility to each other, as Americans, as fellow human beings, and the United States government recognizes it.
DAVID BROOKS: A bit a sign that his default position is never compassion and friendship. His default position is attack if you attack me.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: And that’s just characterological. And he brings it into the situations where compassion would be 99.9 percent of humanity’s normal response.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of attacks, we haven’t heard as much in the last few days about his back and forth with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
They were going at hammer and tong there for a few days, Mark. But what we are hearing, though — and we don’t know where that is going to end up. But what we are hearing is that Steve Bannon, who was the president’s chief strategist, has now said that it’s his mission to go after virtually every Republican in the Senate to make sure they don’t get reelected.
MARK SHIELDS: Except Ted Cruz.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, except for Ted Cruz, sorry, of Texas.
MARK SHIELDS: Who is…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that smart for the president to have his good friend Steve Bannon trying to do this? Is it realistic?
MARK SHIELDS: It may very well be realistic, based upon the Alabama returns.
But it’s certainly not helpful if you’re trying to retain a majority to have a divisive and bitter primary for your party’s candidate. But I don’t think it’s any question — and I mentioned Ted Cruz, because the Mercer family, who are funding Steve Bannon, their original presidential candidate was Ted Cruz. So Ted Cruz is exempt from this purge.
But, Judy, Steve Bannon doesn’t have a party. He’s not a Republican. Donald Trump is increasingly a man without a party. So, he has no loyalty to the Republicans. And he’s depending upon them.
As of last night, the Republicans didn’t have the 51 votes needed to adopt a budget next week. If they don’t have the votes for that budget, you can say goodbye to any tax plan, you can say goodbye to any legislative program. The Republicans are going into 2018 without — because they need to pass a budget to meet the Senate rules to pass the Senate tax bill with 51 votes.
And so they are in terrible, terrible shape.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is the answer, David, to elect more populist Republicans on the Republican line to get the Senate in shape?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, I had a chance to talk to Bannon last week.
And he’s thinking on a different time frame than Donald Trump is. He’s thinking in terms of centuries. It’s like talking to Lenin in 1905 or something like that. He is thinking, well, we had the Buchanan moment, the Palin moment. Trump, that’s a moment, but we’re going to have a lot more moments.
And he is thinking 50 years ahead. And it is to take over the Republican Party with populists, and to scare John Barrasso in Wyoming, because he’s like the most normal, safest conservative Republican. And if you can scare even a Barrasso, then you can scare them all.
And so he has got this world historical view stretching out 50 years. I hope he’s wrong, but he might be — he might be right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But what does that mean for right now? Is that a good move for the Republican Party to have this kind of turmoil?
DAVID BROOKS: No, not for Donald Trump in the short term. Bannon is playing a long game, where he thinks, if I can just — he already picked off one. If he can pick of one or two more Republicans that are sitting Republicans, then he will effectively control them all.
MARK SHIELDS: They’re terrified, Judy.
If you’re sitting in a district where the Republican primary voters are 45, 50, 60 percent Trump partisans and zealots, you are scared stiff of alienating in any way Steve Bannon or Donald Trump.
So there’s a paralysis of fear that grips Republicans, especially in the House. You have got a safe Republican district, that means that the majority of voters in your district in the primary are overwhelmingly supporters of President Trump.
DAVID BROOKS: In that way, it sort of is effective for him, because nobody likes — nobody in Congress likes Trump. There is no relationship there.
MARK SHIELDS: None.
DAVID BROOKS: So he governs by fear, and it’s not necessarily fear of Trump, but it’s fear of his base. And that’s how he’s governing.
And maybe the more Roy Moores there are, the more fear that will be, and he will have some party discipline that way.