Shields and Brooks on Trump’s ‘disdain’ for the intelligence community

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Happy new year, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Happy new year, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good seeing you in 2017.

So, let’s start by talking about this intelligence report.

Mark, the entire intelligence community is behind it. They’re saying without a shadow of a doubt, in so many words, they are confident the Russians tried to interfere in the U.S. election and they developed a clear preference for Donald Trump.

What are we to make of this? Does it change the way we look at this election?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if it changes the way we look at it, Judy. It certainly changes the way we look at the United States’ relationship with Russia, I think, and in this sense, that the intelligence community said it made these findings with high confidence.

Ever since the weapons of mass destruction era and the decision on invading Iraq, the intelligence community has been very, very careful to avoid high confidence. That’s saying, we really believe this to be true. They have been more tentative.

There was no question. They were unequivocal and emphatic. Every American ought to be angry, ought to be concerned that an unfriendly nation, a nation that has cooperated with us certain places, but doesn’t wish us well, sought to sabotage American democracy, American confidence in our own democratic institutions, and to influence the outcome of the election.

That’s a cause of concern and worry and anger. And I would hope that we would respond, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans, to make sure it never happens again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how should Americans look at this?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that, with anger, with shock.

We have sort of gotten used to the idea, because of the news leaks before this report. But the idea that Russia felt emboldened and apparently fearless to go into our election and manipulate our own election process, whether successfully or not, is a sign that they are outside the norms of normal society.

There’s always statecraft. There’s always disinformation. But this is a step up, a Russia that feels completely free to do this, a Putin who feels completely free to do this, without fear of penalty, and so far paying little penalty.

Partly, it’s motivated, I think, by animus toward Hillary Clinton, as we heard earlier in the program, things she said in 2011, 2012, partly, frankly, a desire, a belief that feeling Donald Trump will be tougher on ISIS.

But the thing that should most concern us is a shift in American foreign policy. We have had a bipartisan belief in American foreign policy based on the post-World War II institutions that believed in democratic global world, which Russia and the Soviet Union was often seen as hostile to. And most Republicans and Democrats have always basically believed in this world order.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and maybe Marine Le Pen do not agree with this basic structure of the world. They seem to have no respect for the institutions that were created after World War II, and they see a potential alliance of populists around the world who would fight Islam and restore a certain semblance of traditional values.

And so we could be seeing a pivot in American foreign policy that may be on the mind of Donald Trump, certainly seems to be on the mind of Steve Bannon, his ideologist. And this is a piece of that larger shift.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, Donald Trump, the president-elect, does have his own reaction to this report.

I mean, you know, joining in with what David’s saying, I mean, he started out by calling it a political witch-hunt. And then after he was briefed about it, he said — he made a very short comment and said, in so many words that, well, it didn’t affect the outcome of the election.

MARK SHIELDS: As usual, he takes the big picture. In other words, I won, and anything that in any way diminishes or tarnishes my personal victory, I reject.

His disparagement, make that disdain, openly, for the American intelligence community and its work is damaging to national security. I mean, the intelligence community, for the security of our nation, for the well-being of our nation, for the economic prosperity of our nation, competitiveness, depends on sources in other places.

And other nations depend upon our intelligence. And here we have the president-elect dismissing, disparaging, disdaining openly because it somehow, in his way — his perspective, diminishes his victory, is just astonishing.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s happening on three levels, like, this story.

There is the big strategic level, which I described. Then there’s the Donald Trump ego level. And his ego is like a comet the size of Jupiter just traveling through the solar system, and we all have to be affected by its gravitational pull. So all of American foreign policy has to remind us that Donald Trump really did win this election all by himself, and nobody else could have helped, and so it was all me, me, me.

And that seems to be the center of his views. And then the third is, this is a guy who’s going to be taking over a public office, presidency of the United States. He is going to have a system built around him. He will have employees.

And he, as a public servant, will work with other public servants, presumably the intelligence community. But he seems completely uninterested in being part of this system which our founders set up. And so he seems to still be a lone wolf insulting his future employees.

And, believe me, woe to you who insults the intelligence community, if you’re president. You do not want to get on their bad side, because, A, they leak a lot. B, you actually need them to learn about the world. And he seems to be on purpose alienating the resources he’s going to have to draw upon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we just heard from John Kerry, Mark, the world is a more complicated place than it’s maybe ever been.

He talked about the number of different places that the U.S. now has to worry about its relationship with. And, right now, we’re at this critical point where we’re changing from one administration to the next. It’s always, I guess, a fraught time, but it just seems especially so this time.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it does, and I think, in part, because of the reasons David announced, observed earlier, that the changing sort of organizing principle of postwar world and the United States. And we know, I think, probably more keenly and more acutely, the limits of our power.

If I could just add one thing to David’s observation earlier. And that is, Judy, I have lived through an awful lot of transitions from an election to inauguration. It is a period during which president-elects follow a pattern. They become more popular. What they do is, they submerge partisanship. They reach across the line. They do all sorts of symbolic things to unite the nation.

This president-elect has done just the opposite. He continued his rallies, apparently for self-gratification. He fired up his true believers. He continued to disparage and belittle his defeated opponent openly.

And toward what end? There’s been no symbolic reach. He’s had interviews, I guess, with Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota. But there’s been no sense of any strategic sense of where the country is going or what it’s about.

Here he is tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “The Apprentice?”

JUDY WOODRUFF: This morning.

MARK SHIELDS: He’s interfering? He’s making 12 calls into Ohio to defeat John Kasich’s Republican state chairman in the Republican state committee vote.

This is pettiness. And this is — this shows just no largeness of vision. And it’s really distressing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, yesterday, David, in conjunction with this, he tweeted another criticism, I guess, of the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. He called him the head clown in talking about the way the Democrats are handling Obama.

I did interview the vice president yesterday, who looked right into the camera and said, grow up, Donald.

You know, is that the kind of comment that’s likely to make a difference, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: The vice president?

JUDY WOODRUFF: The vice president.


DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I’m sure Donald Trump is growing and maturing as we speak.

You know, I — we have gotten used to analyzing presidential statements in a certain way. Like, what is the policy implications? And we take them all very seriously, because, when a president speaks, as Mark said a couple of weeks ago, that usually means a lot.

But I have come to think we have to treat Donald Trump’s tweets like Snapchat. It’s just something that is going to go away. And it flies out of some region of his brain and it goes out into the ether. And usually it’s on the realm of media.

Even in his tweets of Russia, he was attacking CNN and NBC for their coverage. He’s a media commentator a lot of the time, even with Schwarzenegger. And so it will exist, and it will fill conversation for a moment. And then, like Snapchat, it will just go away.

And so I think, until he can give us something real, it’s sometimes best to just let them go with the wind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when he calls Chuck Schumer the head clown, Mark, we just ignore it, or…

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, what does it help? How does it possibly help? He’s going to need Chuck Schumer.

Chuck Schumer is a proud and able and dedicated and skillful leader, and you don’t want him as an opponent. You don’t want him as a sworn adversary. And he’s a formidable figure legislatively. Why do it? It’s gratuitous.

On the Joe Biden interview, of all sad words of tongue and pen, these are the saddest that might have been. We went through an election where we had the two least-liked nominees in the modern history of American polling.

And you could not watch the interview — and I commend you for it last night — with Joe Biden without saying, I like this guy. I mean, he is a thoroughly likable man. And when he says, grow up, I mean, it wasn’t said — there was nothing mean about it. It was just — it was absolutely what a grownup would say.

This was a grownup talking. And the way I thought he talked about Democratic values was missing in the campaign of 2016, sorely to the Democrats’ disadvantage, it was just a — it was a marvelous — I commend it to anybody who missed it for any reason to watch it online.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things I talked to the vice president about, David, was Obamacare and what the Republicans are going to do about it.

The administration is saying they’re afraid that they can’t make any changes unless they make bad changes to it. What do you see going on with it?

DAVID BROOKS: First, on the interview, I was struck by the way he kept emphasizing the Democrats did not campaign on the dignity of the working class.



DAVID BROOKS: The policies of the Democratic Party have always been in cultural consonance with the culture of the working class. And, somehow, they missed that. And I thought he was very honest.

But also on the part of the interview — you saw a man who has been in governance, as he said, since he was 27. And when you’re in governance, you understand the limitations and the complexities of governance. It’s hard.

And on Obamacare, I’m not sure the Trump administration has thought in any complex way about how to repeal and replace. Repealing first and then replacing later doesn’t strike me — and a lot of the Republican health care experts I talk to — doesn’t strike them as just a workable thing to do.

You repeal some of the things, like maybe the — some of the premium supports that are in Obamacare, and then you replace it with something later, that seems likely in the short term to create exactly the sort of death spiral and destabilization that we’re all worried about.

And so it seems to me and it seems to a growing number of Republican senators, including Bob Corker and John McCain, that you have got to repeal and replace at the same time. You have to have a plan, or else you’re just creating a recipe for chaos.

And it’s not clear how much either the House leadership or the Trump administration has thought that through how exactly how it’s going to work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 10 seconds, Mark. We will be watching.

MARK SHIELDS: What’s the big rush, Judy? What’s the big rush on the health care plan?

It’s been eight years. So they have had a lot of ideas. I mean, Paul Ryan said that. They have got ideas everywhere. They have no idea what they’re going to do. Repeal is low-hanging fruit. They have done it. They have done it 60 times. They will do it 60 more. They have no plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.