"Shields and Ponnuru on Brett Kavanaugh allegations, Russia probe declassification delay" PBS NewsHour 9/21/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week’s news, including the controversy surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the decision by President Trump to push back his order to declassify Russia probe documents, and how the President could influence the midterm elections.
Amna Nawaz (NewsHour): Now we turn back to the controversy surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
And to the analysis of Shields and Ponnuru. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review. David Brooks is away.
Let's jump right in.
The biggest story of the week, obviously, here in Washington, Judge Kavanaugh, right? We're having this conversation at the unfortunate intersection of high-stakes politics and how we handle sexual violence in America.
Ramesh, the Republicans are in charge here, though, kind of running the show. How are they handling it?
Ramesh Ponnuru, The National Review: Well, I would say that things took a marked turn for the worse when President Trump decided that he was tired of being responsible and sober-minded, which must have chafed, and instead decided to attack Dr. or Professor Blasey Ford, saying that, if this was a real thing, she should have come forward decades ago, which anybody who's familiar with these cases understands is not the way these things work.
So I think that's a real black mark on the Republicans. And I know a lot of Republicans, including Senator Collins, were really smarting over that remark and wanting to distance themselves from it.
On the other hand, you look at the Democrats, and they haven't been covering themselves in glory either. Senator Feinstein's handling of the allegation, sitting on it for two months, essentially, was almost inexplicable. And you have got various Senate Democrats who are pre-judging the case, saying that they — as Senate Republicans, some are, too — saying that they already believe the allegations without having heard anything.
Amna Nawaz: Mark, what do you make of all this?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Well, let me agree with Ramesh, especially on President Trump.
If you're a Republican in 2018, and on the eve of an election that is increasingly looking pessimistic, by numbers and outlook, for the Republicans, the last thing you want to be talking about is women and sexual abuse and recalling of the Anita Hill hearings, and having as your spokesman a man who has been 19 times accused of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
It's not a message you want, and it's not a messenger. This is more than about Brett Kavanaugh. This hearing that's coming up is essentially about David against Goliath, against — we're going to hear from Professor Ford for the first time. And that will determine how the country responds.
But between — before then, I think the one indicator that has hit me is polls that suggests that women are more upset about the charges and the response of the Republicans than any other group.
And you will recall, in the 2016 election, Donald Trump carried women who had not been to college by a 61 to 34 margin, decisively. Hillary Clinton carried a majority of women who had gone to college. If women in — the non-college-educated women are responding to this charge and the sense that something is wrong and that — that this is a society that is indifferent and intolerant of women and the abuse they have suffered, this is nothing but bad news for the Republicans.
It's not where they want to be.
Amna Nawaz: So, how do they handle this? Part of this is about optics, right? I mean, and we're talking there could be a hearing next week. We don't know where this stands.
You have got three men who could be questioning Dr. Ford who were there back in 1991, right, questioning Anita Hill, and didn't handle it well back then. How do they move forward? How did they have the hearing that everyone says they're going to be moving towards to some degree and not alienate this group that Mark was just talking about?
Ramesh Ponnuru: Well, I think one thing we all have to remember is, the optics actually have to take a backseat to the facts.
And it's going to be very hard to determine the facts. But the senators need to go in and be seen to be going in, yes, but mostly to actually go in, trying to determine the facts.
We have got sworn statements now from Judge Kavanaugh, from Mark Judge, from an unnamed third party. We will presumably get a third — get a sworn statement from the accuser as well, Professor Blasey Ford. And then we're going to have to actually try to do what we can to figure out who's telling the truth.
Amna Nawaz: Do you think that the way they have presented it so far enforces that message that we take this seriously, we have an intention to get to the bottom of this?
You're hearing some folks, like Mitch McConnell earlier today, we heard him in the show saying, Judge Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed.
Ramesh Ponnuru: Right.
So I think it's one thing to say that, based on the evidence that you have heard so far, you are inclined to go with one or the other. But I think it's a real mistake to close your mind to the possibility that you're going to get new information. If that's the case, then you do have to ask, why are we having any hearings at all?
Amna Nawaz: I want to bring up a poll too. We have got some numbers to look at, Mark, and get your take on these.
Mark Shields: Yes. Sure.
Amna Nawaz: This shows publicly, look, there has been an actual increase in opposition to Judge Kavanaugh over the last month, up nine points.
At some point, does he become a political liability?
Mark Shields: I'm not sure he's a political liability.
I think that the subject is a political liability for Republicans. And, obviously, if he's stayed with and sullied with it, yes, he becomes a political liability.
I think the hearing is — Ramesh is right. The Republicans and the Democrats have basically taken their position, put on their uniforms, or at least the partisans have. The group that has yet to make a decision on this will look at the hearings. And the hearings will be determinate.
And it really isn't about Judge Kavanaugh as much as it's about Professor Ford. I mean, is she believable? Is she sympathetic? Is she convincing?
And the President saying, why didn't she come forward, why didn't she go the FBI when she was 15 years old, first of all, it's not a — it's not a — I'm not sure that we're talking about a federal offense. But, secondly, I mean, if anything we have learned, through the pain and torment of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse, is that people, out of pain, embarrassment, humiliation, a sense of fear, don't come forward.
I mean, the Department of Justice own numbers say that 22 percent of rape victims ever come forward. And so that — but, really, it is David against Goliath. And the focus is on her. The question, is she believable? Is she convincing?
I wasn't sure that Mark Judge had signed a sworn statement.
Ramesh Ponnuru: He made a statement to the Judiciary Committee. So, that is a potentially legally actionable document that is…
Mark Shields: OK, because he showed no willingness to…
Ramesh Ponnuru: He doesn't — but he doesn't want — yes, right.
Mark Shields: He wrote a book on the subject, but he didn't want to — he doesn't want to talk about it.
Ramesh Ponnuru: He doesn't want to talk about it anymore.
Amna Nawaz: This is the other individual that Dr. Ford says was there in the room that day.
Mark Shields: And his not testifying, seems to me, absolutely irrational.
Amna Nawaz: Go ahead, Ramesh, yes.
Mark Shields: Sure.
Ramesh Ponnuru: One of the things that's most dismaying about this entire debate is that almost everybody's views about what did or didn't happen 36 years ago lines up perfectly with what they think ought to happen to Roe v. Wade now.
And that's not the way it ought to be.