Shields and Brooks on Spicer stepping down, GOP health care bill fumble

HARI SREENIVASAN: But, first, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

It’s good. It looks like you’re paying attention.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes, Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

So, let’s start with health care. This week, we started with repeal and replace. And then it went to repeal now, replace later. Neither of those seem to be going anywhere.

MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans’ health care plan had three problems. It wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t caring, and there was no plan.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: It was just that simple.

I mean, you can’t get people to vote for something when they don’t know, A, what it is, there’s no public case for it, but, beyond that, it just — the conservatives, led by Rand Paul, objected that it didn’t root out and repeal Obamacare. That was correct.

And the moderates, embodied by Susan Collins, who we just saw in the previous piece, objected that it was going to hurt, unnecessarily and gratuitously, millions of Americans who are needy and depend on Medicaid. True.

So, the two were almost irreconcilable. And I think they can’t figure out now how to leave the field without embarrassment. Ideally, if you’re a Republican, you do not want to vote on this. You do not want to vote Tuesday, because it’s going to be used against you.

It is incredibly unpopular. It’s got 16 percent support in the country. There is not one person of the 213 in Republican — in the House of Representatives voted against it who regrets having voted against it.

And there are scores of House members in the 217 who voted for it who are nervous that they voted for it. So, that’s where it is.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I don’t think it’s dead.

I think, from what I hear, they’re leaning on Mike Lee, the senator who has been a no vote who is the decisive no vote, to change his mind, to buy him out with something and offer him something. And then they figure, once they get him on board, there are probably another Republican 15 senators who would like to vote no, but they don’t want to be the one person who kills it.

And so the feeling, if you can get Mike Lee, you can get some of the others. And they might pass it. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I think — I just think it’s too early to say it’s dead now.

The second thing to say is, Mitch McConnell has two parts of his job. The one is to create a process where reasonable legislation gets promoted. And the second is to whip for that legislation.

I think he did an abysmal job on one job and a pretty good job on job two. As Mark said, you have got a plan with 16 percent approval. Nobody in the Senate likes it, including the Republicans. They all hate having to vote for it. And he still got 48 votes. That’s kind of impressive.

But the underlying problem is, you have a chance to change, to reform health care. There are a lot of conservative ideas to reform health care. And it would solve some problems. You could pick some things that a lot of people would like. You could have catastrophic coverage for the 20-odd million people that are still uninsured after Obamacare.

You could do a lot of — offer a lot of things to a lot of people and do it in a conservative way. But that’s not what this Republican Party does. They just say, we want to cut Medicaid.

And they’re unwilling to talk about anything positive, though there are some things in the bill. It’s just, what can we take away from you? And what can we take away from the poor and the needy and the children?

And it’s a publicity and a substantive disaster area that they’re just trying to live with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the president’s role in this?

MARK SHIELDS: The president’s role in it is mercurial.

He said let Obama founder and burn. Then the next day, he says no, within 24 hours to the Republican senators, you have got to come up with a plan. He knows nothing about the specifics. He knows nothing about the substance. He’s made no public case for it.

I don’t — I think David makes a very compelling point. I would just say this, that Mitch McConnell had a reputation as this master strategist. And what Mitch McConnell’s greatest accomplishment as leader has been is that he denied a hearing to one of the sixth most qualified nominees to the Supreme Court in the last century. That’s it.

There’s a big difference between obstruction and construction and putting together a coalition. And it’s a lot easier to get people to vote against something than it is to vote for something and to take a chance.

And when you’re denied the individual mandate, that is you let healthy young people not pay anything, you leave as a pool of people for insurance who are older and sicker. Therefore, it’s going to be more expensive.

I mean, you know, this isn’t rocket scientists, in spite of the president saying it’s a lot more complicated than it is.

DAVID BROOKS: I thought something important happened with the Republican views with the president.

They were having all these meetings in the White House. And, apparently, they’d have these substantive meetings with Mike Pence or with somebody else, with staff. And they would talk through things. They would try to make some progress.

And then the president would dip in and do something, say something extremely stupid, extremely ill-informed. And then they would all groan and live through it and wish he would leave. And then he would go.

And so that could be a change in psychology. Everybody in the Senate has problems with the president. But if you begin to have, oh, he’s just the crazy uncle, like an attitude of contempt, then relationships between the Republicans on the Hill and the White House really do begin to change.

It’s not some guy, oh, he has some political magic. It’s some guy who really just is annoying and gets in the way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk about the interview that he gave to, some people would call it the paper of record, and the President Trump calls it the failing New York Times.

In this conversation, which is worth reading in its entirety, it’s just fascinating, he lashes out at lots of his supporters. He undermines his own attorney general. He goes after almost a broadside to Robert Mueller. He talks about blackmail and Comey.

What did you glean out of that?

DAVID BROOKS: First, our subscription levels have been way up since the Trump era. And one of our journalists tweeted out, we even fail at failing. That’s how bad we are.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And there are a couple things to say about the interview.

One, I was shocked by the lack of just articulateness. We all hate it when we read a transcript of ourselves. It’s always embarrassing, but not that embarrassing. These really are random — they’re not even thoughts. They’re just little word patterns, one following another, about Napoleon, about this and that. It’s a disturbing level of incoherent thinking.

Second, it is — you know, people who work for the White House work for the guy 16, 20 hours a day, And Jeff Sessions in the administration among them, and to dump over everybody.

And then what is interesting to me psychologically, usually, when someone is corrupt or — they are clever. They try to dissemble. They mask their corruption with some attempt to be dishonest.

Donald Trump, give him credit, he’s completely transparent. He basically said in that interview, my corruption can be found in my tax returns. If you look into my tax returns, I will fire you.

He transmits everything that he’s thinking out in public in an incredibly transparent way. So we’re looking at a fact where Bob Mueller will probably go to the tax returns. Donald Trump will probably fire Bob Mueller. And then we will be in some sort of constitutional crisis. And it’s all telegraphed right there out in the open.

MARK SHIELDS: I was amazed by it.

I mean, first of all, I guess just on a personal level, this is a man for whom there is no loyalty, no sense of loyalty in anybody. I mean, Jeff Sessions, whatever one thinks of him, was a Republican senator from Alabama, the first senator in the country to endorse Donald Trump, and a strong supporter.

And, as attorney general, all Donald Trump cares about, is Jeff Sessions going to protect me? And it shows I think a couple things. It shows the obsession he has with the Russian investigation. There’s no two ways about it.

I mean, again, he recycles these baseless charges about Jim Comey, that he perjured himself in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he didn’t, that he leaked confidential information, which he didn’t.

And — but there’s absolutely no sense of loyalty that he has to anyone else, Donald Trump. And I just find that — you know, we talk about, is there smoke there or whatever? His obsession with the Russian investigation, now he’s back blaming Rod Rosenstein for firing Comey.

But he went on Lester Holt on NBC News and took credit for it, said, didn’t make any difference what Sessions and Rosenstein recommended. I was going to fire him anyway.

So, I’m just — there’s no coherence to the man, but there’s an obsession.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, let’s talk a little bit about somebody who has been loyal to the president, Sean Spice, who stepped down today. He resigned over the announcement that Anthony Scaramucci was going to be named communications director.

Scaramucci played it down. He and Spicer and I think Reince Priebus were all scheduled to go on FOX tonight in a sort of unified show, right?

But what do you make of it?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Sean Spicer, prior to going to work at the White House, those of us who had dealt with him over the years, he was likable, he was helpful, he was a loyal Republican, but a square shooter.

As soon as he made the bargain to go to work for Donald Trump, you know, I don’t know if he sold his soul, but he sold part certainly of his self-respect.

The very first thing Trump demanded that he do was to go out and lie about the size of the crowd on inauguration. And Sean Spicer did it. And then he lied about the orders that Barack Obama had, in fact, bugged, wiretapped, President Obama had, the headquarters of Donald Trump’s building.

And then it was that three million undocumented immigrants had voted on Election Day, and that’s why Donald Trump — I mean, so, it was tragic to watch this erosion of his own integrity.

And he’s not a bad guy or anything of sort. But everybody, I can honestly say, with rare exception, who has been associated with this administration and this president has been diminished by it.

Their reputation has been tarnished. They’re smaller people as a result of it. And that’s tragic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does it give you a glimpse into the state of Twitter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, that’s the exact point I was going to make.

Yes, I can’t think of anybody whose reputation has been enhanced by going into the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson was a serious businessman, well-respected. Jeff Sessions was a serious senator, pretty conservative, quite serious. Sean Spicer was a normal communications guy in Congress — or in Washington.

So he’s like an anti-mentor. He takes everybody around him and he makes them worse. And so that’s what Spicer had to face. And he will have to live with that and live with the reputational damage that he’s incurred.

Scaramucci is a very interesting case. He’s a guy from Long Island. Trump is from Queens. They made it big financially in the big city. They have some sort of parallel careers. Scaramucci is a very friendly guy. Everybody is sort of like a fun game to him.

And I thought his performance today was quite good, actually. And so it could be that he will flourish in this White House. He’s very smart. He’s not to be intellectually underestimated. It could be he’s chief of staff before long. And we will see.

But he’s someone who has a much more deft personal manner, as well — while being kind of a wild guy, than anybody else in there right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, John McCain, this past week, it was — the entire Senate vote was delayed because of a surgery. And it turned out what they found in that surgery was much more serious.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, I just think that John McCain stands alone. And I make no apologies for thinking that highly of him.

At a time when you look at these people on television, starting with Scaramucci, a bad guy who has a good performance, they’re flag lapel pin patriots.

John McCain never wore a flag lapel. John McCain didn’t wave the flag. He defended it. And he’s been a leader in the United States Senate on so many issues, and especially, I mean, not just simply taking on big tobacco and big money, but reaching across the aisle.

And de Gaulle said that the cemeteries of Europe are full of indispensable men. I would say John McCain is irreplaceable in our national life. And I just pray that he recovers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Very briefly to just his position in the Senate?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. We have covered him a long time. And I think we both think more highly of him.

He’s a man with intense internal honesty. He sometimes did stuff that was political, but he always seemed to — he never, never lied to himself.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

The transcript of this will be very clear.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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