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David Brooks: Trump Healthcare Plan “Obamacare Lite,” Recipe For A “Death Spiral”


PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the debut of the controversial Senate Republican health care bill, the high-profile Georgia special election and why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was invoked by Republicans during the race, plus President Trump's clarification that he had not taped former FBI Director James Comey. Brooks called the Trump healthcare plan a "cheaper version of Obamacare," adding, "it's possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering." Commenting on the string of Republican special election wins Brooks said, "It's first a sign that there are limits to being anti-Trump, second, that the Trump phenomenon was not just a fluke, that it's based on some deep structural things in the economy that are driving people to support the Republicans, some deep structural things in the country, that people are extremely distrustful of government and extremely distrustful of Washington." DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I'm a little surprised. First, it's sort of Obamacare-lite. It's not going to work. It's functionally nonoperational, because it will encourage, when they're healthy, to exit the system and then go back into the system when they're sick. And that's a recipe for a death spiral in a lot of places. So I think, functionally, it's not going to work. Politically, I have to say, it's kind of canny. Mitch McConnell had these two wings of his party. And I think he steered as well as is possible to steer down the middle to give the right, the Ted Cruz folks the cuts in Medicaid and Medicare and stuff like that. He gave the center basically the structure of Obamacare with some of the rules about preexisting conditions. So, I think, politically, it's an act of skill. And as I look forward, is this thing going to pass, I still think probably not because I don't think you can get the whole Republican Party behind this thing, but I'm reminded not to underestimate Mitch McConnell. HARI SREENIVASAN: Have the Republicans made the case that this is something better or just that this is not Obamacare? DAVID BROOKS: It's not Obamacare. What it does — you ought to start with, what kind of country are we in? We're in a country where — widening inequality. And so I think it's possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering. This bill doesn't do that. It goes the other way. So, I think, fundamentally, it doesn't solve the basic problem our country has, which is a lot of people are extremely vulnerable. And so I do think, as a solution any the range of health care problems, I don't think it's it. I don't even think repealing Obamacare. It's a cheaper version of Obamacare. ### HARI SREENIVASAN: He brought up the special elections. We have had five now. The Republicans seem to be holding, if not winning. Is this trouble for the Democrats? DAVID BROOKS: I think so. I think the Georgia loss is a big loss. I don't think it's, oh, this is always a Republican district, it's not such a big deal. If the Democrats are going to pick up seats, it is going to be in upscale, highly educated suburban seats. And this was tailor-made for that, a seat that Trump barely won. And so if after all that's happened in the last four or five months, they can't pick up the seat, that to me is an indictment. It's first a sign that there are limits to being anti-Trump, second, that the Trump phenomenon was not just a fluke, that it's based on some deep structural things in the economy that are driving people to support the Republicans, some deep structural things in the country, that people are extremely distrustful of government and extremely distrustful of Washington. There's also a sign that the Republicans, despite all that's happened, are still considered the party of change. And if they want change, they're still likely to go to the Republicans. And, finally, it's a sign the Democratic Party is too coherent. They have got a Bernie Sanders, which is strong and coherent, but that's not the kind of wing that's going to work in this district. And the Democratic center, aside from the one candidate they had down there, is meager. And without that, there are going to be just a lot of districts you're not going to do so great in. ### DAVID BROOKS: I do think — I would be curious to hear Mark's view on this — I do think, on net, Nancy Pelosi can be a very masterful leader again inside, but I do think she's become a central liability for people around the country. Now, the question will be, OK, if they got rid of Nancy Pelosi as party leader, would the next person be just as unpopular? And, potentially, but I think potentially not. And I do think, if you're a Democrat, you do have to think about, who is currently the face of our party? ### HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, some of the statements that have been coming out of the White House, more specifically from Donald Trump, yesterday saying he didn't know that there were any tapes or any recordings, that he didn't make any, this follows a dozen false statements at the rally that he had in Iowa this week. And then you kind of just go right back to how President Obama bugged Trump Tower or the millions of illegal votes for Hillary or the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Any structural consequence to the office of this? Because it doesn't seem to be having an impact on him. DAVID BROOKS: Right. And I wonder, what's going to happen to our debate? After Trump leaves, whenever that is, do we snap back to what we consider the normal standards of honesty, or is this the new norm? And that's why, even though it doesn't seem like Trump to point out, as my paper did, in a long list today, the definitive guide to the lies of Donald Trump, I think it's still worth making that case, because a lot — the thing we have to fear most is essentially a plague of intellectual laziness, a plague of incuriosity, a plague of apathy about honesty. And once the whole political system gets affected by that, then we're really sunk. And so I do think keeping his feet on the fire, no matter how little he pays a price for it, is still worth doing.

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Sen. Lankford: Flynn Accusations “More Open To Interpretation” Than What We’re Being Led To Believe


PBS NEWSHOUR: Current and past U.S. government officials including former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified Wednesday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in order to offer more accurate picture of how Russia meddled in the 2016 elections. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) about his key takeaways from another round of hearings. Lankford said people need to take a deep breath and not try to "revise history of what was actually going on." LANKFORD: HARI SREENIVASAN: This also seems to — from an outsider's perspective, even when it comes to intelligence-gathering, there's a layer of politics on it and a layer of distrust, because you would think that by the time the information filters up to the head of the CIA, that whoever is coming up with that information is putting country first and not party. SEN. JAMES LANKFORD: Correct. And you would also assume that there is a way to be able to interpret that information. And at times, you see an accusation that may be released out, for instance, with Michael Flynn, to say he might have been compromised, he might have been vulnerable to blackmail. When you actually see that information, I think a lot of Americans will look at it and go, what in the world are they talking about? One analyst will look at one thing and see it one way. Another analyst will look at it and see it an entirely different way. There's more open to interpretation here than what the Americans are being led to believe in this by that story. I would just tell people to take a deep breath. Let's not try to revise history of what was actually going on in literally the very first week of a new administration as they were getting organized.

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David Brooks: When Trump “Lashes Out” Self-Destructively, He Is Not “Projecting Mental Stability”


Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the latest developments in the Russia probe and how President Trump has been reacting to reports that he is being investigated for possible obstruction of justice, plus the state of political polarization in light of a shooting targeting GOP lawmakers. DAVID BROOKS: To me, we have had this — the idea that there has been collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign has been investigated for a long time. And so far, we have had no really serious evidence that they did collude, and everything else seems to be leaking out. So, I begin to be a little suspicious — and maybe I'm wrong — we will see over the long term — whether there was any actual act of collusion. There were certainly conversations maybe about some building and some investment, but so far, no evidence of an underlying crime. But this, to me, is not a criminal story. It is a psychological story. And it's a story about a president who seems to be under more pressure, under more threat, lashing out in ways that are painfully self-destructive, but also extremely disturbing to anybody around him. And so whether it's the North Korean Cabinet hearing that he held recently, where they all had to praise him, or the tweets as late as this morning, this is not a president who is projecting mental stability. And the idea that he will fire somebody, whether it's Mueller or anybody else, seems very plausible. And so, to me, if there is something really damaging here, it's something that has not yet happened caused by the psychological pressure that he apparently feels.

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Mark Warner: Russians Aren’t Republicans Or Democrats; “The Russians Are For Their Own Interests”


The Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors this week with three key figures in their expanding Russia investigation, including special counsel Robert Mueller. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice-chair of the committee, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the distinctions between the Senate's investigation and the probe led by Mueller, as well as his wish for more help from the White House. JUDY WOODRUFF: Just one final quick question. Vice President Mike Pence, it was announced today, has hired his own private counsel to address any issues arising out of the Russia investigation. Do you have a comment on that? SEN. MARK WARNER: No, I don't have a comment, but I just — other than the fact that it would be helpful if the administration actually collaborated and cooperated with all of us. What the Russians did in 2016 in the United States, the Russians have also done in the French elections, they will do in the German elections. And, as a state that has statewide elections this year, I'm concerned about their ongoing efforts to try to, frankly, sow chaos in our democratic process. And let me be clear. This is not about relitigating 2016. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. SEN. MARK WARNER: It's not about the Russians being for Republicans or Democrats. The Russians are for their own interests. And we have to be careful about this new form of conflict. JUDY WOODRUFF: But just very quickly, Senator, so I understand, you're saying the administration is not collaborating right now with you? SEN. MARK WARNER: I wish there was closer cooperation. There are a number of members of the administration who volunteered to come forward. There are a number of individuals that work on the Trump campaign. But I don't see what value is added by the president's constant dismissal of the seriousness of this threat. JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, we thank you.

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Schiff: Sessions Cannot Use Privilege To Hide Potential Illegality, “We May Have To Go To Court”


PBS News: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) joins Judy Woodruff to react to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' first public testimony on the Russia investigation. Schiff says what was most notable to him was what he saw as Sessions corroborating former FBI Director James Comey on details of meetings with President Trump, as well as Sessions' refusal to answer many of the senators' questions. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how do you get beyond his refusal to answer, though? If he's saying these were privileged communications that I had that stand on precedent at the Department of Justice, whether they're written down or not, how do you get through that? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I think the process, if we're going to live up with our institutional responsibility in Congress, is to go back to the White House and say, we want answers to these questions. Are you invoking the privilege? And, if they're not, we need to bring the attorney general back before either our committee in the House or before the Senate committee and demand answers to those questions. If they do invoke privilege, then we may need to litigate the contours of that privilege. The privilege cannot be used as a shield to protect or hide potential impropriety or illegality. So, we may have to go to court to pierce that privilege, but we do need to get to the bottom of this. We have the powers and institution to do it, and I think we have an ethical obligation and a responsibility to the country to do it.

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Trump Confidant Chris Ruddy: President Considering Firing Special Investigator Mueller; I Advise Not To


Close friend of President Trump and NewsMax founder Chris Ruddy told PBS's Judy Woodruff Monday that Trump is weighing whether to fire special investigator Mueller. "I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option,†Ruddy said when asked by Woodruff whether the president was prepared to let the special counsel pursue the Russia investigation. "I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently." "I personally think it would be a very significant mistake," he also said. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you mentioned the special counsel, Robert Mueller. And you suggested — I think I heard you suggesting that there is a question about the purpose of his investigation. I want to ask you about that, because there are some Republicans out there saying that Robert Mueller shouldn't be doing this job. Is President Trump prepared to let the special counsel pursue his investigation? CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Well, I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option, I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a significant mistake, even though I don't think there is a justification, and even though — I mean, here you have a situation… (CROSSTALK) JUDY WOODRUFF: You don't think there is a justification for? CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: For a special counsel in this case. But also — I mean, Robert Mueller, there are some real conflicts. He comes from a law firm that represent members of the Trump family. He interviewed the day before, a few days before he was appointed special counsel with the president, who was looking at him potentially to become the next FBI director. That hasn't been published, but it's true. And I think it would be strange that he would have a confidential conversation, and then, a few days later, become the prosecutor of the person he may be investigating. I think that Mueller shouldn't have taken the position if he was under consideration and had a private meeting with the president and was privy maybe to some of his thoughts about that investigation or other matters before the bureau. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you know for a fact that Robert Mueller was offered another position before he became special counsel? CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: I know for a fact that he was under consideration and that the president did talk with him in the days before he was named special counsel. I think there's a conflict there. Look, my position is that Mueller is a man of integrity, but we all know in the history of these special investigations, they go far and wide, and they go well beyond what the original jurisdiction was. He's bringing in some of the top prosecutors that have worked in the Justice Department. This is not going to be rosy for the White House. And I have to look at — when you say there's no — Judy, I think we both have to agree, so far, there's been no evidence of wrongdoing. There's been no allegation that the president engaged in wrongdoing or any member of his staff did. Full interview:

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David Brooks On Trump’s First Foreign Trip: “The Trip Was, By Competence Standards, A Success”


PBS: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join PBS NewsHour to discuss President Trump's first trip abroad and views on NATO, plus dramatic domestic cuts in the White House's budget proposal, a new CBO assessment of the Republican health care bill and whether an alleged assault by a political candidate suggests growing hostility toward the press. DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I thought Melania had a very good week. I thought a lot of good moments for her. There was a lot of good judgments, actually. He, by the standards of some of the competence of the previous week, I would say you would have to say the trip was, by competence standards, a success. He did what he wanted to do in Saudi Arabia, at NATO, at various other places. I do think, as Mark suggested, the chief oddity of the entire trip is that we seem to be mean to our friends and kind to our foes. And so, Saudi Arabia — Fareed Zakaria had a very good column on this — we're supposed to be against terrorism, and Trump loves to talk about Iranians — Iran's influence on terrorism, but the main source of terror funding for both the ideas and sometimes the organizations is Saudi Arabia. It's not Iran. And so — but, somehow, we're super nice to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, we're super mean to Germany and France and some of our NATO allies. And so there's just been a perversion of American foreign policy, which is sort of based on the idea that character doesn't matter, and you can — whether the leaders from Russia or the Philippines or Saudi Arabia, that people of bad character are people we can ally with. And, somehow, I think there is a consistency between the government here and some of the governments the Trump administration likes around the world.

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Sen. Burr Responds To NYT Story: Need To “Do More Than Just Have Anonymous Sources,” Comey Would Have Told Me


Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr pushed back against anonymous allegations in a New York Times report alleging President Donald Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to shut down an investigation into embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn Burr said: "Somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there's something there." Sen. Burr (R-N.C.) told PBS NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins Tuesday night that "the director of the FBI shared more information with Mr. Warner and myself than any director has ever shared" but he never shared anything about the allegations in the Times article. "I think something as material as that, probably would have been something he would have shared, had it happened," Burr said. "But, given that we were the last to meet with him before his departure, the last thing I think Director Comey was thinking about Monday afternoon at 4 o'clock when we met with him was that the next day he was going to get fired."

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Former Deputy AG George Terwilliger: Nothing About Removing Comey Will Affect Any Active Investigations


In an interview with Brookings Institution's Benjamin Wittes and PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush George Terwilliger says there is nothing unusual about the rationale behind President Trump's decision to fire James Comey. "What we can say with complete confidence is that there's nothing about removing Mr. Comey from this job that's going to affect that investigation," Terwilliger said. "In fact, with all due respect to Ben, I think it's an insult to the career men and women in the FBI and the Justice Department who are conducting that investigation to suggest that it would be so." "That investigation's going to proceed. It will proceed in a — in a appropriate and deliberate fashion. It will be led by those career folks. And, at the end of the day, it will go wherever it goes." BENJAMIN WITTES, Brookings Institution: Well, the sudden White House concern for Hillary Clinton's — fairness to Hillary Clinton is a remarkable turn of events. I mean, in the time in which Jim Comey did the things for which he has now been removed, the only complaint on the part of Donald Trump was that he had not indicted or called — or recommended that Hillary Clinton be indicted. The White House actually — Trump actually praised some of the very decisions that now form the basis for Comey's removal. So, it's actually a completely implausible set of rationales. Even if some people in the Justice Department may believe it sincerely, it's very hard to believe that that's what's actually motivating Donald Trump. JUDY WOODRUFF: George Terwilliger, an implausible set of rationales? GEORGE TERWILLIGER, Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General: No, not at all, Judy. I think, clearly, what's happened here, if we take Mr. Rosenstein at his word… JUDY WOODRUFF: Deputy attorney general. GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — is that the Justice Department leadership, he and the attorney general, lost confidence in Jim Comey's ability to lead the bureau in a manner that would suit that important role and was needed in order to be an integral part of the Justice leadership team. The reference back to what happened last July and progressed from there to the surprise in October about the new e-mails, I think, is just the history that inevitably led to where this ended up. And, in essence, I mean, Jim's a fine man and a dedicated public servant and a very patriotic American. But I think the judgment was made at the end of the day that he used some extremely poor judgment beginning in that July instance and continuing through the rest of this saga. And that did cause a loss of confidence. JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you respond to that, Benjamin Wittes? BENJAMIN WITTES: So, I think, you know, if all of that were the basis for his removal, it would have happened weeks or months ago. Every single thing that forms the basis for the removal was as true three months ago as it is today. What's different is, as The New York Times and Politico have reported over the last 24 hours, that the president is very upset about the Russia investigation. And, you know, there is — I mean, it's worth backing up and saying that there is nothing normal about removing the FBI director, as a general matter. It's an extraordinary measure. This is an office that is typically served for a term of years, 10 years, to be precise. There's nothing normal about doing that while the president is and his campaign are the subject of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation about their relationship with an adversary foreign power. And there's really nothing normal about doing it in a fashion in which the director himself finds out that he's been removed while addressing FBI agents in — you know, because it shows up on television. JUDY WOODRUFF: He was out of town. He was in Los Angeles and learned about it from news accounts. It is the case, George Terwilliger, that the accounts — reporters who have been working this story for the last 24 hours are coming back with all sorts of White House officials telling them, sources telling them that the president was angry over the Russia investigation, that that's what led to this. GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Yes. I can't — I don't have any insight to that, Judy. And I can't really say anything about it. But I think what we can say with complete confidence is that there's nothing about removing Mr. Comey from this job that's going to affect that investigation. In fact, with all due respect to Ben, I think it's an insult to the career men and women in the FBI and the Justice Department who are conducting that investigation to suggest that it would be so. That investigation's going to proceed. It will proceed in a — in a appropriate and deliberate fashion. It will be led by those career folks. And, at the end of the day, it will go wherever it goes.

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Bernie Sanders: Democrats Need To Become A 50-State Grassroots Party If They Want To Win Elections


Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the chances of avoiding a government shutdown, rethinking American trade policy and the introduction of legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15, what Democrats need to do to build a grassroots movement and 50-state party. JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, and I think this is in connection with that, you said in an interview two days ago, the Democratic Party — you said this as an independent, that the Democratic Party is failing, that it needs the change. Are you saying there should be a litmus test to be a Democrat? What does one have to believe to be a Democrat? SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Judy, here is the reality. And I don't think it's just me saying it. Right now, you have the Republicans controlling the White House, right-wing extremist Republicans controlling the White House, the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, two-thirds of the governors chairs, and in the last eight years, Democrats have lost 900 legislative seats all over this country. That is a failed approach toward politics. So, in my view, the Democrats need to do several things. Number one, Democrats need to become a 50-state party. You can't have a great party on the West Coast and the East Coast. You need to have a party in all 50 states. That's not the case right now. And that's why I have been running around the country to Republican states to galvanize people to get involved in the political process. Second of all, you need a Democratic Party which is a grassroots party, which makes decisions from the bottom on up, not just from the top on down. In my view, it is not a question of Trump having won the election, it's a question of Democrats having lost the election. Democrats need a strong progressive agenda which says to the working class of this country, we are going the stand and fight for you, we're going to raise the minimum wage, pay equity for women, we're going to rebuild the infrastructure, and we're going to guarantee health care to all people as a right. We're going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We understand that there is enormous pain in this country. We're going to stand with working people. We're going to take on the billionaire class. We're going the take on the drug companies and the insurance companies. We're going the take on Wall Street. That's where I think the future of the Democratic Party lies. JUDY WOODRUFF: And my question is, does that mean that some Democrats are not acceptable? For example, the special congressional election in Georgia last week, you initially didn't endorse the Democrat, Jon Ossoff. And you said he wasn't a progressive. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Judy, don't believe everything you read in the corporate media. Jon Ossoff never asked me for an endorsement, never asked me. Of course I want him to win the election, and of course I want the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. House. Just so happened he never asked me for an endorsement. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I guess the broader question is, does a Democrat have to toe a certain line? You have said Democrats have to do well in red states. So, for example, a Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, are these Democrats, you consider under the tent that you would like to see, under the umbrella of the Democratic … (CROSSTALK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think those decisions are going to be made by the people in North Dakota, where I think Heidi is quite popular. They will be made by the people in West Virginia. It is not my job to tell the people in 435 congressional districts or in 50 states who they should be supporting. What a grassroots party is about is people getting excited, getting involved in the local political process, saying, we want her to run for office, we want him to run for office, and we're going to get involved and make sure that he or she wins. That's what I think the future of the Democratic Party is, not a few people in Washington saying, sorry, no good, or that's OK. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's all right with you that the Democratic Party has elected members who, for example, disagree with you on trade, who may disagree with you on the corporate tax rate, on issues like abortion? SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Right. Look, this is America. Between you and me, Judy, I would wish — I would love it if everybody in America agreed with me on every issue. I can't get my wife to agree with me on every issue, let alone the American people. It's called democracy. That's what it's about. So, I think — you know, I have supported candidates whose views are very different than mine on the need the break up Wall Street banks, on the war in Iraq, on trade issues. Of course I have supported those people. My hope is that we're going to see — and I believe it is the case — we're going to see more and more strong progressives running for office. That's my hope. That's my desire. But that is up to — that decision is going to be made by people in 50 states and 435 congressional districts.

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