"David Brooks and Ruth Marcus on a ‘moderate’ new congressional class" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2018
SUMMARY: New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the President's ongoing friction with the press, a leadership battle in Congress and proposed prison reform.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): As we wait for results from a handful of still-unresolved midterm races, most of the newly elected members of Congress were getting familiar with Washington [DC] this week.
And for analysis on that and more, as we watch this new class get comfortable in Washington, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.
Mark Shields is away.
So, before we talk about this new Congress, let's talk about our lead story tonight, and that is this judge's ruling today that CNN should get — that CNN correspondent Jim Acosta should have his pass press returned by the Trump White House. They took it away last week, saying he had behaved in a way that was disrespectful.
It's a temporary win, it looks like, for CNN. But in the longer term, David, what do we see in this relationship between the White House and the press?
David Brooks, New York Times: I see it as a parable of American decline.
David Brooks: A little, actually.
When you have grownups behaving like grownups, you don't need to have these big confrontations. There are certain sets of manners. If we go to a dinner party, probably we behave in a decently, civil-mannered way. And then we have a pleasant dinner party.
You can do that with a press conference, even though that is more contentious. But then you get one person breaks all the norms — and, in this case, it's the President — and then the other people, in order to be heard, have to get a little ruder. And then it just escalates.
And because it's America, it has to go to a law court and have somebody sue each other. And so what Acosta did was marginally rude, I think only marginally, but given the atmosphere that Trump has set, well within the bounds of what is now the normal.
What — the White House overreacted. So I think this is basically a win for civility. It's just sad that we have to be in a case where people are shouting at each other in this way.
Judy Woodruff: What should we expect, Ruth, in the relationship between the White House and the press?
Ruth Marcus, Washington Post: Well, what we should expect is — which is something that we have not gotten from this President from the start of this administration, which is an understanding that, yes, the media is going to be annoying, but we are not the enemy of the people.
We are going to be contentious and sometimes maybe even a little bit obstreperous and grandstanding, but we are not scum, as he likes to call us at rallies, and that the solution to the frustration that every single President has felt is not what only this President has done, which is to yank the hard pass of a reporter and basically stop him from being able to easily do his job.
And David calls this a win for civility. And it may be, but it's very scary moment, I think, in American democracy. I'm looking at the brief that the Justice Department filed. And it says: "More broadly, there is no First Amendment right of access to the White House. Where the White House has determined it wants to scale back its interactions with a particular journalist, denying that journalist a hard pass is a permissible way to accomplish that goal."
And what I would ask is, what would conservatives be saying if the Barack Obama White House had kicked FOX News out or even an individual obnoxious FOX News reporter?
We don't — have not tolerated that previously, and we shouldn't tolerate now.
Judy Woodruff: It is a change in approach, isn't it, David?
David Brooks: Yes, well, they — basically, as Ruth read, it's just the maximal possible interpretation, that we basically have the right to control who comes here, even though it is the public house, it's not Donald Trump's house. It's the people's house.
On the other hand, there's just such a vast middle here. The White House is — their argument was clearly ridiculous, that they can control, totally control, when they're just doing a public service, they're part of a public servant.
On the other hand, if there is some complete troublemaker, then obviously that person doesn't get to monopolize — who has reported — becomes a reporter, that person doesn't get to monopolize the room.
And so there's — take away Donald Trump. President Smith or President Jones should have some discretion if somebody well outside the bounds. Nobody in that White House room is well outside the bounds right now.
I mean, we have had confrontational people before. Sam Donaldson was pretty confrontational. Helen Thomas could be confrontational. But nobody's really been outside of the grounds. These are professionals. They work for professional news organizations. They basically do their job within the realm of the human variable.
And so — the one — the one extreme, which was the White House position, is clearly wrong. The other extreme, that anybody should have complete access, that is also wrong. It's just a question of discretion.
Judy Woodruff: And, Ruth, the concern on the part of the press is that, if there is a decision made by the White House to limit who can cover, we're looking at potentially a change in the ability of the press to do its work.
Ruth Marcus: You have to be able to get in — you have to be able to be in the briefing, you have to be able to be in the press room to be able to see the President. You have to be able to go on these trips.
And the argument that what — certainly, if you stood up and you cried fire in a crowded Briefing Room, or started shouting obscenities, yes. And, in fact, the norms would be that your colleagues would come down on you. But that, as David said, is not what happened here.
And just to sort of argue one — one point on the President's behalf, I'm not arguing that he needs to grant interviews to reporters that he doesn't like or news organizations that he doesn't like, just equal access.
And, by the way, he manufactured this moment. He didn't need to call on Jim Acosta. He was looking for a fight or an issue. And he got it.
David Brooks: But it is an underlying theme of this administration that there's no such thing as institutional power in this White House. It's all personal power.
And so they're not serving the Presidency. They're serving Donald Trump. And everything Trump says goes. And it's the — it's the unwillingness to acknowledge that they are in public office, doing — serving public duties and acting in public roles that is a theme throughout the administration.