Shields and Brooks on Trump’s judicial picks, Bill Taylor’s testimony

Shields and Brooks on Trump’s judicial picks, Bill Taylor’s testimony

JUDY WOODRUFF: In this week alone, the top
U.S. diplomat for Ukraine told Congress that
the president withheld military aid for personal
political gain; Republican Congress members
stormed a secure room at the Capitol, where
many already had access, to dispute the impeachment
process, but not the substance; and we have
learned that the Department of Justice is
investigating its own FBI for looking into
Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Amidst all this, the White House announced
that the president has ordered the cancellation
of all federal government subscriptions to
The New York Times and The Washington Post.
That makes it a perfect moment to hear the
analysis of Shields and Brooks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That is syndicated columnist was
Mark Shields and New York Times columnist
David Brooks.
So, David, no subscriptions to the White House
from your newspaper.
DAVID BROOKS: This explains why I have been
getting no invites…
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you will soldier on.
But let’s pick up first with Lisa’s reporting
on these federal judges that Trump has been
able to nominate and get successfully confirmed,
more judges than any of his predecessors.
What’s the real significance of this?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, when you talk to conservative
voters why they support Trump, that’s the
number one answer, the courts.
And so he’s having an effect.
He’s nominating conventional Republican Federalist
Society judges.
They’re not populists.
I’m not sure I see the — quite the same transformation
on the circuit court level, the level just
under the Supreme Court.
Of the 13 appellate courts, only one may flip.
So you have got Democratic seats staying — Democratic
districts staying Democratic, Republicans
getting a little redder.
But you haven’t seen a transformation from
a more liberal court to a more conservative
And his impact on future on nominations may
go down because Democratic judges are not
They’re waiting and hoping there’s a Democrat.
So they’re — it’s expected there will be
relatively fewer openings over the next couple
years than there were the previous.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, maybe not transformational?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it approaches transformational,
I would just point out, in Lisa’s piece, she
made the point that these were fired up — this
issue fired up Republican voters.
Make no mistake about it, she’s absolutely
In the exit polls in 2016, when 23,000 actual
voters were polled, and they asked, what’s
the most important issue that you are deciding
on, a full one out of five voters answered
that the Supreme Court nominations and judicial
And they broke for Donald Trump overwhelmingly,
I mean, almost by 3-2.
And those who just considered it an important
issue or not as important issue, judicial,
all vote for Hillary Clinton.
This was a turning and key vote.
Promise made, promise delivered.
He has totally — as David pointed out, his
appointments have come from the Federalist
And the other factor is, they’re playing the
actuarial charts.
I mean, they’re younger.
Neil Gorsuch.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some in their 30s.
MARK SHIELDS: Neil Gorsuch, for example, was
49 when he was nominated.
Brett Kavanaugh is 53, right — most recently,
So it’s a real change.
And it’s a promise made, promise delivered,
much to the consternation of a lot of Democrats.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know it flies under
the radar, and that’s why we thought it was
so important to take a look at it.
We are grateful for Lisa’s reporting.
David, there was virtually a development every
day about that.
We just learned today that a federal judge
has said that the impeachment inquiry in the
House, in his view, is legal.
And that means that the Department of Justice
is going to have to turn over grand jury material
from the Mueller investigation.
But this follows a week of testimony behind
closed doors, some of it, though, made public,
by one public servant or diplomatic figure
after another, including especially William
Taylor, who served as the ambassador to Ukraine.
What is it adding up to at this point?
When we first learned about the phone call,
you could say, well, it was just Trump being
Trump, a reckless phone call, and he was sort
of elbowing the guy.
Now that’s not the case.
I think we have learned this was a three-month
coordinated campaign, with a whole series
of meetings, a lot of people involved, to
try to get Ukraine to help Trump’s reelection
And so the Taylor testimony in particular
was detailed, methodical.
It was the smoking gun.
It was clear quid pro quo, an order coming
from the president hold up aid, unless Ukraine
did this.
And so that seals the deal, I think.
And I think Republicans — at least the Republican
establishment — has to feel just beaten.
And the question is, how do they find a way
to stick with him?
But I think the Republican mood was, wow,
this is bad.
Wow, this is bad.
And so I think the key thing is to look for
sort of an emotional crumbling, where they
just say, we have to — we have — we can’t
sit by along this.
I don’t think we’re at that place, but it
was certainly a week that affected how Republican
senators see this guy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because, I mean — David’s
right, Mark.
At this point, Republicans are — most of
them, the vast majority of them, are saying
they still don’t see the solid evidence.
MARK SHIELDS: No, they — that’s those who
make public statements.
Those who don’t, don’t say that.
I mean, and I think the silence does speak,
if not volumes, at least chapters.
Ambassador Taylor’s testimony wasn’t a smoking
It was a smoking armory.
I mean, it really did.
David’s right.
It was specific.
It was factual.
It was compelling.
And what I found most revealing about this
is, I went through Michael Atkinson, who was
the inspector general, Michael McKinley, 37
years of service at the State Department,
Ambassador Taylor, Marie Yovanovitch, Laura
Cooper, Fiona Hill, 163 years of public service,
no hedge funds, no high-tech buyouts or whatever
I mean, these are people who have devoted
And I think Ambassador Taylor was the witness
from hell for the White House.
He really was, I mean, 49 years of public
service, brought back in after retirement,
at the insistence of the secretary of state.
And he cannot go unmentioned, that Mike Pompeo
is violating every rule of the United States
military on the responsibility of an officer
to his men and to those under him.
He has totally abandoned and not stood up
for any of the people he’s appointed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of state.
MARK SHIELDS: The secretary of state.
And these professionals who have come forward,
at considerable cost and risk to their own
careers in many instances, or certainly threat
peace of mind.
And I think his silence is a telling indictment
of him and his lack of character.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as we see, David, the
White House continues to say — and the president
is raging about this.
We heard it again today.
He’s saying, these people have no credibility.
And he was saying yesterday they’re part of
the so-called deep state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And using a lot worse language
than that.
And, so far, that’s holding.
Impeachment is popular in the country, but
it’s very popular on the coastal parts of
the country.
Amy Walter pointed out this week that, in
the swing states, its favorability rating
is 10 points lower than unfavorable.
People are against impeachment.
In Wisconsin, it’s minus seven.
And so for Democrats to think that they can
swing Republican senators, they have to get
those swing states, and they have to sell
the message.
And, so far, they have secret hearings, which
I understand you don’t learn anything in a
public hearing.
They have to learn what happened.
And so you have to get away from TV cameras
for that.
But, eventually, they’re going to have to
turn to public hearings in order to try to
persuade the country.
And whether they can do that in a month or
two, whenever that happens, that, we will
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some reporting that it may
happen in just a couple of weeks.
Separate from this, Mark, but some people
think related, you had this revelation, reporting
yesterday that the Department of Justice,
which had been overseeing a probe into the
origins of the Russia investigation, what
the Russians did to affect the 2016 election,
that was an inquiry.
It’s now a criminal investigation, a criminal
And the question — which raises all kinds
of questions.
I mean, how did it become that?
We don’t know.
But I just want to show for, for all of us
— this is a comment from Senator Mark Warner,
who’s the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence
He said: “Senate Intel, wrapping up a three-year
bipartisan investigation, we have found nothing
remotely justifying this.”
He said: “Mr. Barr,” referring to the attorney
general’s, “investigation has already jeopardize
key international intelligence partnerships.
He needs to come before Congress and explain
What’s this — how much does this matter that
this has become a criminal probe?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it does matter,
starting with the Mark Warner point.
I mean, in an ocean of roiling, rancid partisanship,
the Senate Intelligence Committee has been
an island of collegiality and cooperation.
So I don’t know if he is speaking just for
himself, as the ranking Democrat and co-chair
of that committee, or with the acquiescence
of Senator Burr, the chairman.
I don’t know.
But it certainly is a serious thing.
I mean, you have to come to the conclusion,
Judy, that, in Bill Barr, Donald Trump finally
got the attorney general he wanted, that Jeff
Sessions didn’t deliver for him.
Jeff Sessions recused himself.
I mean, his — Bill Barr is, at taxpayer expense,
hurling around the globe, from Australia,
to Italy, in pursuit of information to somehow
rationalize, justify that Donald Trump didn’t
lose in 2016, and that the Obama campaign,
Obama administration was somehow behind some
spying on him.
And Mark Warner’s point is, I mean, after
a three-year investigation by that committee,
there is absolutely nothing that has come
to support that.
And I don’t know what the answer is.
David perhaps does.
DAVID BROOKS: I, of course, know the answer.
MARK SHIELDS: I know you do.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s — you have to — having
thoroughly politicized the State Department,
you have to go on the presumption Trump is
trying to politicize the Department of Justice,
and you have to go in prejudging against that.
The one mitigating factor is the guy they
selected to do the investigation, this guy
John Durham, who has been appointed by both
parties, who has done — who has a sterling
So at least we can rest, I think, in trust
with him.
And that’s — that’s really — this goes to
what Mark was saying.
The whole question for the last two years,
would our institutions hold?
And I would say, given the testimonies of
the last week and whatever Durham does, I
think the institutions are sort of holding.
And the result is this impeachment, a guy
who — president who doesn’t go by any institutional
logic, doesn’t obey institutional rules, and
yet the institutions are sort of standing
up for those rules.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A couple of minutes on the
— to look at the 2020 field.
Mark, there are 18 still in the race.
We had Tim Ryan, the congressman from Ohio,
drop out just yesterday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But 18 still running, and there
is reporting out there — you have seen it
— that some Democrats are getting anxious
because they’re worried they still don’t have
a horse that can beat Donald Trump.
How widespread do you think that worry is
among the Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: I’d say it’s a lively anxiety.
I mean, the flaws or the defects of the top
four candidates, I mean, on ideological grounds,
fear the Democrats, with Senator Warren and
Senator Sanders, that they are far too left,
that they’re vying for sort of a liberal sliver
of the electorate right now.
That Vice President Biden may not be the Joe
Biden that we have come to know and love in
previous years.
That Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of a very
small city, with a male partner, married to,
is maybe, at 37, just a little bit more than
the country’s ready for, and especially in
an election where they want the referendum
to be on a flawed, damaged, manifestly imperfect
So I think that, whether it’s Michelle Obama
or whatever else, I mean, Democrats are kind
of casting around looking.
But I think the key question Democrats have
to face is this, Judy.
There are 206 counties that Barack Obama carried
twice that Donald Trump carried in 2016.
And if the Democrats can go back and carry
those counties again, these are people, you
can’t call — these wouldn’t be racists.
And I think that’s the question.
Can Democrats do that?
And is that the kind of candidate and campaign
they want to run?
DAVID BROOKS: Two years ago, I thought the
two strongest Democratic candidates were Mitch
Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans,
and Deval Patrick, the former governor of
And they’re not in the race.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Neither one.
DAVID BROOKS: Neither one in the race.
And so I do see the sense of the anxiety.
But I would say to Democrats, if you’re unhappy
with the top four, look at the bottom 14.
DAVID BROOKS: Because there are perfectly
serviceable, good candidates there, in my
opinion, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Cory
Booker, Kamala Harris.
And so…
MARK SHIELDS: Steve Bullock.
DAVID BROOKS: Steve Bullock.
So, I think, look around.
Like, try out some others, if you’re unhappy
with the top four.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the challenges
they have is just getting attention, with
all the focus in Washington on impeachment
and everything else.
It’s hard for them to get airtime, shall we
One thing we want to note at the beginning
— at the end of the program is that — as
we near the end of the program, is that the
“NewsHour” announced today that we are — we
will be hosting, moderating a Democratic presidential
debate toward the end of December, December
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, terrific.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we are looking forward
to that opportunity.
MARK SHIELDS: Wonderful.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, with that, Mark Shields,
David Brooks, have a great weekend.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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