David Brooks: "Deus Ex Mueller" Fantasy Didn't Pan Out, Democracy Makes It Hard To "Take A President Out"


PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the aftermath of Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony, the current legislative landscape around election security, changing dynamics within the 2020 presidential race and the fiscal significance of the bipartisan budget deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us tonight from Aspen, Colorado.

And hello to both of you.

We're going to talk about the 2020 candidates.

But, first, I want to ask about Robert Mueller.

Mark, he spent, what, almost five hours before two House committees this week. What's the main story that we should take away from what he had to say?

MARK SHIELDS: Robert Mueller was Robert Mueller.

He was — he's the rarest of public figures in Washington, D.C., a man with no detectable political agenda. He refused to be a political prop for the Democrats, who wanted him to read the report aloud. He refused to go after Donald Trump, who has salvaged him personally and accused him of being unfair and prejudiced and fake news and running a hoax and a witch-hunt.

Never responded in kind. And I thought he did the rare thing in Washington, which was to present his case. He left us — certainly, we have — on this broadcast, David and I have agreed in the past that the Russia thing seemed to be the weakest link of any of the criticisms of Trump.

And Donald — if anything, Bob Mueller made the case compellingly, and really to the point where I think he left Republicans on the defensive very much on that.

WOODRUFF: David, made the case compellingly?

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: Of Russian interference, he certainly made that case very compellingly. It was a calm performance, but he had his hair on fire about the ongoing nature of Russian interference in the American electoral system.

There was no collusion. And I think the headline on that front is that it makes it much less likely that we move forward with an impeachment process. There's still people in the House who are sort of angling in that direction.

And there's been a lot of fantasy that we'd get what they call a deus ex Mueller, a hidden hand to remove Donald Trump. But it's looking much more likely that's going to be the work of the election.

And, in retrospect, I'm out here in Colorado with people from all over from the world. And one young man from South Africa said to me, our democracy is 30 years old. Your democracy is really old. And one of the things we have learned from you and in our experience is that when people elect a leader to be president or head of a country, it should be really hard for people in that nation's capital to take him or her out.

That's just not great for democracy. And our system did make it very hard to take a president out for even the corruptions and the sins we have seen Donald Trump commit.

They want to invest power in the people. And there's some solace, I think, in that...

WOODRUFF: What about that, David, the fact that you did get a clear sense from listening to Robert Mueller, as both of you have said, that the Russians not only were very active in 2016, but they're still active, and we expect them to be going into this next election, and yet Republicans are not allowing election security legislation to move ahead?

BROOKS: Yes, I would invite Republicans to take a look at the globe and see that there's a lot of countries that could get involved in American election interference.

Right now, it's Russian. I guess the — Mitch McConnell thinks it's somehow good for the Republicans. That, to me, is probably not true. It's probably just bad for democracy.

But, you know, Donald Trump has been pretty tough on China. Suppose China decides to get involved in interfering in our elections in a way that hurts Donald Trump.

The fact is, interfering in an election is an act of war on the country. And the idea that an act of war should be greeted by state and local responses is, to me, an absurdity. And that argument that our elections are handled on a state basis is just not an argument that — I understand the historical precedent, but it's not an argument that's in any way commensurate with what's actually happening.

WOODRUFF: But just quickly, to go back to both of you on this question of impeachment.

As these members of Congress go home to their districts and their states over the August recess, is it your expectation, Mark and David, that they're going to come back and say, forget this, or that this could still be alive, will still be alive in September?

BROOKS: Yes, I — you know, if the presidential candidates who are out on the trail every day with Democratic voters were talking about the Russia thing, then I would think maybe there is a chance that that will happen.

But they are not talking about it, and they don't particularly want to talk about that. They want to talk about the issues that are on voters' minds.

Now, there are still people in some districts — there are about 100 House Democrats who do want to proceed,. But, to me, what happened today with the — continuing the investigation is very much in line with what Nancy Pelosi has said all along. She doesn't want to go to the country unless there's an ironclad case.

And if you just want to reduce it to one sentence, Watergate, everybody understood what Richard Nixon did. There was a cover-up of a break-in.

There's never been that one-sentence case. And there's been a lot of terrible things Donald Trump has done, most of them out in public, but there's never been that one-sentence case that would I think impel a lot of people to suddenly start caring about impeachment right now, rather than just go to the election.

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