PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week’s political news, including the battle between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over rules for a Senate impeachment trial, how the presidential primary race is shaping up among 2020 Democrats and the year’s most surprising political developments.
AMNA NAWAZ, PBS NEWSHOUR: The two biggest stories of 2010, I think it's fair to say, will also carry over into 2020, the impeachment and the 2020 race.
David, let's start with impeachment.
It was a quiet week in Washington, by and large, but we were still talking about impeachment because of some comments by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. She said she was disturbed by hearing Mitch McConnell say he's in total coordination with the White House.
Did her remarks surprise you?
DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, no, because I agreed with them.
But I couldn't tell how disturbed she was. It was an Alaska broadcast interview. And it wasn't like, oh, I have got a flea under my ankle disturbed, or was it, this is terrible, I'm going to do something about it?
So that part wasn't clear. But it's certainly true that — when I started covering the Senate, you had senators like Robert Byrd and Arlen Specter, some of whom loved the Senate more than they loved their party.
And the institutions and procedures of the Senate were very valuable to them, and they knew a lot. And they were always quoting the obscure rules.
And Mitch McConnell is not of that school. And so the Senate's job here is to be the judge, to be the arbiter, the objective arbiter. And he's just saying, no, forget all that. We're siding with the White House.
And I can understand why it disturbs Lisa Murkowski. I don't — it should be disturbing a lot of other people.
NAWAZ: You know, Mark, the New York Times Editorial Board published this editorial late today. They called it "A Stirring of Conscience in the Senate." They also wrote: "At least one Republican, Lisa Murkowski, wants the Trump impeachment trial to be more than a test of party loyalty. Others should follow."
Do you think others will follow?
MARK SHIELDS: I think others are tempted to follow.
I think Lisa Murkowski, let's first acknowledge, she is unique. In the past 65 years, exactly one United States senator has won as a write-in candidate. She did that in 2010, after she lost the Republican primary to the Tea Party candidate backed by Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and all sorts of other distinguished Americans.
And she came back and won as a write-in. So she stared into her political grave already. I mean, she knows. I mean, she's not a bed-wetter or a nervous Nellie, or whatever you want to call it, when it comes to anxiety.
So, I think that that gives her a certain independence that many of her colleagues in both parties don't have.
And I think — I think it's significant. I think David's point about Mitch McConnell is an important one, that Mitch McConnell is strictly an inside player. He can't take it outside.
In other words, if it's a debate about outside, Mitch McConnell loses. He's a very formidable operator inside the Senate, sort of when nobody's looking in procedures and this and that.
But, I mean, this is a question. Are they going to just rush to judgment, ignore any witnesses, ignore testimony, and live by the lie which the president is telling, that is, I want these people to testify, I have forbidden them to testify, but I want them to testify, because I want it out in the open?
Well, you can't have it both ways.
BROOKS: I do think he's helping the Democrats.
I think it's — I personally it's in the Democrats' best interests that they get rid of this and they move onto the campaign.
So, in a perverse way, he's helping them. And he could be holding a long trial and keeping all the Democratic Senate candidates in Washington through January and February. And he seems to be not inclined to do that.
NAWAZ: You think this gridlock that we have right now over the procedure of how the Senate trial, the rules for which it will move forward — you have got Senator Schumer saying that they want to call witnesses, they want to have additional testimony, Mitch McConnell saying, absolutely not.
And now Nancy Pelosi has not yet transmitted those articles of impeachment. They cannot begin their work in the Senate until that happens. Does that benefit Democrats too?
BROOKS: No, I don't think it does.
I think the rules favor the Republicans in the circumstance. The majority sort of rules this thing. And they have very little leverage. And as we discussed last week, it's not leverage to tell somebody who doesn't want to do something they can't do something. And that's what basically what Nancy Pelosi is doing right now.
NAWAZ: Can you make a prediction for what's going to happen next in 2020 in the impeachment trial?
BROOKS: I thought it was clear all along he would get impeached and then he would get acquitted by the Senate. Nothing has changed...
NAWAZ: Yes, David, [Bernie Sander's] consistently stayed towards the top of the pack in all of the polls, right?
And when you're looking at this last debate, it was the smallest debate field in terms of who made it to the stage, but still a very crowded total candidate field.
And he's got 18 to 20 percent of Democrats. And his supporters are more likely to say, I'm decided. I'm going with Bernie.
And a lot of them decided four years ago. And they have stayed decided. So he's got a very solid base of support, more than any of the other candidates, at least more solidly loyal.
The question is, does he have any of the other supporters from the other current candidates? Are people out there thinking Buttigieg or Sanders, Biden or Sanders? And the evidence so far is that he's got fewer of those people. There are a lot of people that are not thinking about him at all.
Like, they have three people who they may support, but Bernie is not one of them. So he's got a very solid core. The question is, can he get anybody else to join that core? And I think that's why it still remains unlikely he will get the nomination.
But you have seen a ripple of panic go through the Democratic establishment this last couple weeks, as they think, well, it could be him. What do we do then?...
I have been struck by the real animosity to Buttigieg, especially among a lot of younger voters.
Yes. I mean, they're really ferociously hostile toward him.
And I think that's three things. One, for a certain class of people who went to a certain sort of school, they all knew the kid who got the Rhodes Scholarship, and they didn't like that kid. And he's like that kid. Oh, he's the guy who went to Oxford...
Second, he is — somebody wrote this, and I have forgotten who — that he provides the illusion of generational change without the substance of generational change.
So he is an old person's idea of a young person. And so he doesn't really represent a radical break. And, third, he has tacked to the center, and now is a moderate. And the left is out to get him for that reason.
And the debate between the moderate wing, what we call moderate — they are all liberals. They're all pretty progressive. Like, as somebody pointed out, the most moderate person in this race is way to the left of Barack Obama.
And — but them vs. the Bernie, Warren, that is the crucial debate of the next year, because the debates on the left are more important than the debates on the right, right now.
NAWAZ: I know.
So I'm going to ask a dangerous question, which is, sometimes, when you look back over the last 12 months, it can feel like we fit three years into one.
Is there anything that stands out to you as a greater consequence, something you never thought that you would see that happened this past year?
I mean, my standout is that everything happened, but nothing changed, that Donald Trump's numbers are just where they were. The political landscape is basically where it was. He has not really suffered a loss in his base particularly large.
And so my view is that events are not really changing politics and partisan affiliation, the way they used to, that sociology is driving events, and that, if you're an urban person, you're probably a Democrat. If you're a rural person, you're probably a Republican.
And we vote according to our sociological categories these days, and events don't knock us off those categories.