JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we turn to the weekly political analysis of Shields and Brooks.
That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Hello to both of you.
So, David, let's start by looking at what hasn't happened between the White House and
Republicans and the Democrats in the Congress on what kind of, if any, relief to continue
to offer Americans in this pandemic.
I guess the evidence couldn't be any plainer. More than 30 million Americans are out of
work, but still no agreement. What do you make of it?
DAVID BROOKS: Every sort of system in this country failed during the COVID, and one thing
didn't fail, and that was Congress.
Congress actually got some money out the door. And for -- one part of our system worked,
and now it's not working.
And it's going to apparently go to the White House with executive orders, which is a disaster
on two levels. On the first level, it's a breakdown of our democracy. We have a strong
congressional system, where the Congress is supposed to spend the money. And that isn't
Second, you just can't do that much with an executive order. We have got 10 percent unemployment.
We have got whole industries shut down. There's just not a lot that Donald Trump can do without
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we're hearing, Mark, that we may be just moments away from the president
talking in a news conference at 7:00 Eastern about what he proposes to do. We're not sure
what that is.
But here we are, as David said. And they have been talking for days and days. The House
passed legislation back in May, and here we are in August, and there's nothing. Why?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, obviously, it's not going to be of any political advantage
to either party to stalemate in Washington.
But I think that the truth has to be addressed. And that is that the Democrats did pass a
plan. They do have a plan. They do have a united position. And there is no Republican
plan. I mean, it's a repeat of health care. There is no Republican plan.
The president, the author of "The Art of the Deal," has been missing. He hasn't even participated.
And Mitch McConnell, in a moment of -- a burst of candor, said that he did not have the votes.
He would have to pass anything with Democratic votes. And that's the political reality of
It is -- David is right. The legislative process is infinitely preferable to executive orders.
I mean, it just is. And this is no -- this is no answer, but, I mean, that is the political
reality of the situation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you know, we're not in the room. We don't know what exactly
is being said.
But the Democrats report they have offered to cut their $3 trillion down to 2. They're
-- cut it by a trillion and say, is there some way to find compromise? They are saying
the Republicans said no to that.
Why can't they get something done, I guess, is my question?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, the Republicans have the $1 trillion apparently on the table. And
why they just couldn't split the math is a bit of a mystery.
But I guess there are two things. A lot of Republicans are worried about deficits. A
lot of Republicans are worried that, if you give people a lot of money, they are not going
to go back to work, something economic studies have not found so far.
I guess what's missing is an underlying analysis, an economic analysis, about how much we need.
And I'm not sure we need 3.4. Some economists think we only need a trillion right now. And
so the numbers seem to be untied to the level of need.
What's serious, what is clear, though, is that we are in the midst of a -- just a tremendous
economic crisis. The idea that the crisis is over is not true, and that this is a time
to err on the side of largeness.
But why they just can't split the difference is a mystery to me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, who will pay a political price, or will anybody pay a political price
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, when people start suffering, and there's graphic evidence thereof
of people without shelter, children going hungry in this country, then it will come
back to the president and his administration, because, in the final analysis, he is the
single national leader.
So, in that sense, it will redound to the detriment or disadvantage of -- I think of
the Republicans. But, you know, it's a human tragedy we're talking about, Judy. It really
And it's one that the president is ill-fitted for. Donald Trump is talking about optimistic
projections, opening schools, returning to work, and that isn't his stock and trade.
His stock and trade is doom and gloom. He's a five-minutes-to-midnight Republican, not
a five-minutes-to-sunrise Republican, like Reagan or Jack Kemp.
And so, unlike Bill Clinton, who had a great gift for empathy, for actually feeling the
pain of citizens with problems, Donald Trump has translated into the: This is a great disadvantage
to me, and it's my pain, and I'm feeling it.
And I really think he's headed for political disaster, but, more important, a public tragedy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, as we have been reporting today, there was some -- yes, the
unemployment rate has dropped, but the number of new jobs being added is not as much as
it had been. This recovery seems to be slowing.
What do we see in terms of leadership, either from the president or anyone else, that is
going to pull the country through this? The pandemic is continuing -- continues to rage
around the country.
DAVID BROOKS: It's weirdly a failure of political opportunism.
It's clearly in Donald Trump's interest to get federal money out the door and get the
economy going in the fall, so he can claim the economy's coming back. And so he's not
doing what's in his clear political interests, probably because the party has convinced itself
right now that deficits are more important than the immediate crisis.
That goes to a larger failure of the Republicans. For decades, political psychologists have
said Republicans are different from Democrats because Republicans have a sense of menace.
They're quicker to perceive threat.
That has not happened. In this case of COVID, whether it's economic or health-wise, the
decades of political psychology have totally been turned on their head. And they have been
turned on their head for one reason, Donald Trump. He's the one who decided it wasn't
a severe threat, either economically or physically. And the Republican Party has followed him.
It's a lesson in how powerful partisanship is, that the basic psychology of a movement
can suddenly change if one leader says, change.
MARK SHIELDS: Judy, if I...
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, go -- yes, go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: I just wanted to pick up on David's point.
It's obvious to me that the Republicans think the Democrats are going to win in November.
Why do I say that? Because the only time -- history, check it out -- the only time that Republicans
talk about deficits is when there's a Democrat in the White House.
They're just coming off four years of Republican control. And what did they do? They ran up
the deficit in a time of incredible national prosperity, of low national unemployment.
They increased the national deficit, the annual deficit, and the national debt.
But now the prospect of Joe Biden and the Democrats taking over, deficits become a moral
issue to the Republicans.
A little hypocrisy here? Maybe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, speaking of Joe Biden, the Democratic National Convention,
such as it is, is going to start about 10 days from now, a week from Monday.
We have learned that not only that no major speakers, including Joe Biden himself, are
not even going to Milwaukee; it's going be a convention like nothing we have ever seen
The Republican National Convention, the president has said he may give his acceptance speech
from Washington, from the White House.
Is all of this going to have a bearing on how this election unfolds, or how do you see
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so.
First, Donald Trump should not be allowed to give it from the White House. We have a
very strict bifurcation between political office and governing bodies. And you should
not do politics from that kind of office.
Even congressmen have to go across the street to raise money, because we have that strict
bifurcation. It's an important principle to keep.
As for the conventions, people are now asking, do we even need them? And I have to confess,
I do mourn the loss. The conventions are part of the education of the electorate. And they're
an important part, even when they don't actually make any decisions.
Now they may turn into a minor TV show. And that -- I think that -- the power of them
will be diminished. And, with them, the power of the party will be diminished, because it's
an opportunity for an entire party to express itself, and not just a leader.
And so I stick with -- I want to stick with the conventions, so maybe we can have them
normally. I hope we go back to that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm actually with you on that.
And we're going to be -- you and Mark are going to be with me and our entire team for
the week of the Democratic Convention, three hours every night, or as long as it goes,
and the same thing for the Republican Convention.
But, Mark, how do you see this sort of shrinking convention in person, but more of a program
online and on television? How do you see that affecting this election?
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Judy, the whole election is affected, beginning with the conventions.
I agree totally with what David said. Politics is a contact sport. It's schmoozing. It's
arm around the shoulder. It's getting together, whispering in each other's ears. There is
none of that.
It's getting to meet people from the same party from different parts of the country,
from different points of view. It is -- it's very, very important in that sense.
The other thing that's been overlooked is, conventions are a great showcase. Two American
presidents in the past 40 years would not have been elected, in all likelihood, but
for the appearance at the convention.
In 1976, at Kansas City, after he challenged President Ford in a bitter fight all the way
to the end, in a gracious and generous off-the-cuff speech to that convention, Ronald Reagan endeared
himself and set himself up for 1980's victory.
And Barack Obama -- I remember sitting there with David in Boston at the Boston Garden,
when he, as a Senate candidate from Illinois, brought down the house and electrified the
nation with a speech, which projected him into a major candidate for 2008. We never
would have heard of Barack Obama but for that.
So, I mean, I think that the conventions and the campaigns are changing. The idea of volunteering,
for kids to go door to door and canvassing, how are they going to do it? This is going
to be a bizarre political election.
Finally, I would just say, rallies are what conventions are. And if there's anybody who
needs rallies, psychologically and politically, it's Donald Trump. And the White House is
not the best place to stage a rally.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, whatever the convention looks like, we're going to cover it from top
to bottom. And those speeches, I guess, will come from living rooms and kitchens.
But, just quickly to both of you, before we go, now that we know this pandemic isn't going
away anytime soon, I just want a few words from both of you about how you're getting
through this time.
David, what do you tell yourself every morning when you get up and when you go to sleep at
DAVID BROOKS: Well, weirdly, it's -- the hardest thing is not personal. It's a sense that our
nation has gone through crises, and has always pulled through them. And, this time, I'm not
sure we're pulling through them.
And the thing that gives me hope is that, somehow, the African American racial equity
situation has become the central moral challenge, even in the midst of everything else. And,
somehow, healing that divide is the healing of the nation.
And it's just a spiritual sense I have that, out of this moment, we can come to a much
better place, at least racially, if not in other ways.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, as a loyal son of the University of Notre Dame, I rely on the words
of a Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who said, God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to
know the difference.
I just think it's genius.
That and large samplings of Graeter's ice cream have kept me sane.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Words to live by.
Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.