"Shields and Brooks on Abortion law battles, 2020 generational divide" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2019
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the role of foreign policy in the upcoming Presidential election, restrictive new abortion laws, polling for Presidential candidates and a generational divide in the Democratic Party.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): And with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Judy.
Judy Woodruff: So, you have listened to the conversation with Congresswoman Gabbard.
David, to you first.
How much of a role is Foreign Policy going the play in this election?
David Brooks, New York Times: Well, at the moment, I don't think a primary role.
I was a foreign correspondent in the early '90s covering sort of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. And I remember, when the Clinton campaign started, suddenly, all my stories about these foreign policy issues disappeared off the American consciousness, because, when Clinton came in people said, something is happening right here.
And, right now, the focus of voters' attention is the crisis right here. And so I think that's the way it is. It could change with one foreign policy crisis. It could all change. But, right now, this is a pretty domestically focused nation.
Judy Woodruff: So, for Congresswoman Gabbard, I mean, Mark, as you heard her say, she's very focused on, what does the U.S. do, what's its role in the world, mistakes have been made.
Is that a way to capture voters' imagination, I guess is what I'm asking.
Mark Shields: Well, it is if, in fact, David is right and an issue or crisis does develop.
And I think we can see crises brewing at this point. George H.W. Bush, I think it's fair to say, in 1988, his foreign policy credentials, his own military experience, were strong credentials in his election, John Kerry's nomination in 2004.
And Barack Obama, being the only Democratic candidate who had opposed the United States' war in Iraq was — that was his calling card. That was his credential. So, I mean, if in fact it's there, it becomes central, if it isn't. It wasn't in 1992.
So, a lot of — just quickly, David, a lot of comment right now about how the President has handled North Korea, Venezuela, Iran. So, do we see that being a plus or a minus for the President?
David Brooks: Well, I would say the big minus is the way he's frayed all our alliances, which makes all those issues harder.
But his general posture is one of sometimes extreme bellicosity, with no convincing idea that he's actually going to do anything about these things. And so I think we're not very far — we're not very close to a war in Iran.
I think he's loathe to do that. He'd be crazy to do that. But he is responding to a situation, which is a tough situation. If the intelligence reports are true that the Iranians told their militant armies that they sort of control in the region to target Americans, then that's something any American President is going to respond to.
I'm not sure you can respond as well when you have no allies, or you can respond as well as when you have already walked out of the Iran deal. You have sort of left yourself in a hard place.
And the thing that worries me is, the administration seems to think Iran is on the verge of folding, and that if they just up the pressure, get a little more erratic, then Iran will fold. Most experts I know do not think they're that close to folding, and we could be in a situation where things spiral.
Judy Woodruff: Mark, let's turn to a domestic issue that a lot of people are talking about right now.
And that is the anti-abortion movement moving essentially state after state in the last few weeks and months to impose even stricter limits on abortion, in the case of Alabama, the strictest limits in the country, basically saying all abortions are illegal. Doctors could go to prison.
What do you see is going on here? I mean, what does this movement say to you? And do you think one political party or another — I mean, setting — obviously, it's a serious issue. But setting the issue itself aside, does one political party or another stand to lose from this?
Mark Shields: Yes. Yes.
I would say that, first of all, the issue itself is thorny and unresolved in the country, and remains so, after some 45 years, unlike the country's moved considerably to the left or liberal position on gay rights, on same-sex marriage.
Abortion has been stuck in — the Gallup poll has asked the same question annually. Do you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life? The most recent, 48 percent of Americans considered pro-life, 48 percent pro-choice.
But Lydia Saad of Gallup writes — and I think she's right — there is a consensus on this thorny, difficult issue on three aspects, on the life of the mother, should abortion be available and optional in the case of the life of the mother.
Judy Woodruff: Right.
Mark Shields: And 71 percent of those who identify as pro-life say it should be, so seven out of 10. And the same thing by a simple majority — it's not quite that high — on the question of a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.
So I would say, in answer to your question, Judy, that, politically, this is a — it's — I don't want to say a suicide pact for Republicans. Republicans are very much on the defensive. And it will put them in a position where all those Democratic House seats that were won in 2018 in places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey got a lot tougher for — uphill for Republicans to win back.
David Brooks: Yes, I'm not sure.
I mean, New York started this by passing a very liberal abortion law, which went all the way through the pregnancy.
Mark Shields: That's right.
Judy Woodruff: Right.
David Brooks: Virginia, there was one that was proposed that didn't end up going anywhere.
And so I — the polling data I look at has three positions. One, do you think abortion should always be legal? And you get like 27 percent.
Mark Shields: Yes.
David Brooks: Should never be legal, 18 percent. Should be legal, which the European solution, which is just legal first trimester, harder the second, 50 percent.
And that 50 or 55 percent has — as Mark says, has been very stable since Roe v. Wade. And — but the problem is, we took it out of politics, so we couldn't get to the moderate position. Now the extremists have taken over both sides.
And everybody is speaking for these extreme position.
Judy Woodruff: But I was just going to say, right now, it's the restrictive side that is having success in legislature after legislature.
David Brooks: Right. Well, in the red states, yes.
Judy Woodruff: Right.
Mark Shields: I think David — both in Virginia and New York, the Democrats were seen, unfavorably and unfortunately, and I think wrong, as a party of infanticide. I mean, they really were.
I mean, Ralph Northam, that's what got him into initial trouble.
Judy Woodruff: The proposal that was put forward and then withdrawn.
Mark Shields: That's exactly right.
But now I think there's no question that it's the Republican dominant position. That's why Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, has tried to distance himself. He realizes this — this is a killer in suburban America.
And America remains pro-choice and anti-abortion.
David Brooks: It's like what the NRA did to the gun issue, these people are doing to the abortion issue.
Mark Shields: Yes. That's right. Yes.