Week In Politics: Brexit And The Democratic Climate Town Hall

Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 5:35 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we're going to stay with politics and bring in our regular Week in Politics duo - David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School.

Welcome, you two.

E J DIONNE: Lovely to be here.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

KELLY: So I'm going to call this our Fall is Upon Us - Back to School Edition of the weekly politics chat, which means I'm thinking back to school, which means I'm thinking school supplies, which - I'm thinking markers.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: You see where I'm going; I'm going to Sharpiegate. I refer...

DIONNE: And maps, too.

KELLY: And maps, indeed. I refer to the president's doubling down on his claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed to Alabama; this even after the National Weather Service corrected him. He went so far as to hold up, yes, a map that had been modified with a marker to show the storm headed to Alabama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you see it was going to hit not only Florida, but Georgia. It could have - it was going toward the Gulf. That was what we - what was originally projected.

KELLY: So among the many questions that seem to be raised by this, does it matter? The president established long ago he is willing to depart from the facts when it doesn't suit his purposes. David?

BROOKS: It's massively important. We need Bob Mueller to investigate.

KELLY: (Laughter).

BROOKS: No, it just shows us that Donald Trump is Donald Trump. And every few days, there's another thing where he shows that he's Donald Trump, and he's still Donald Trump. To the extent it shows us something, it's something we've learned a long ago, which is, A, he doesn't have an ounce of humility. Humility is the willingness to say, I made a mistake. I can't remember a time he said that. And second, his whole staff is jumpy around him. They don't have a normal relationship where they can counsel him; they just react to him. And so when this happens, they have to all get in line and pretend that a mistake wasn't a mistake.

KELLY: I mean, in this case, it was potentially the residents of an entire state unnecessarily alarmed and trying to figure out what to do. That's one point. The other that I'd love for you to speak to, E.J., is - this is a sideshow. It's - we're talking about it, and that means we're not talking about a ton of the other important things that happened this week. Is that the president's intention all along?

DIONNE: Well, I think we're talking about it, A, for the first reason you mentioned, which is we count on presidents in crises to pass along actual, real, truthful information to people. And so to get all the people in Alabama riled up when they don't have to be and to underplay, perhaps, in the minds of others where this storm is going, that really matters. I think, secondly, we keep wondering how far is he going to push this habit of his, of both lying or playing with facts or ignoring science? And as David suggested, never, ever being able to win a mistake - admit a mistake.

He could easily have said, look - there was one point when it looked like the trajectory might go there. Obviously, it's not going there now. That's why I said it. It would have been so simple. And the fact that he can't do that speaks to such deep flaws there that I don't think it's at all surprising, besides the fact that it's kind of funny to look at that weird marking on the map. I think it is - it does speak to a very deep weakness.

KELLY: Sticking with hurricanes, I want to turn you to the climate town hall, which was on CNN this week. This was...

DIONNE: Nice transition.

KELLY: Yes, there we go. The hurricane-themed week in politics - back to school and hurricanes. So this climate town hall, we had 10 of the leading Democratic candidates participating, seven full hours talking about climate change. Quick take from each of you - what did you hear, and can the party keep this on the front burner, as it were, as this general election plays out?

DIONNE: I think the voters in the primaries and caucuses in the Democratic Party want it on the front burner, which means candidates will keep it on the front burner. I think you saw two things here. On the one hand, a broad consensus in the party that this is - that first of all, climate change is caused by human beings, that it's a crisis, that we have to do something about it. And there were a whole series of things on which they agreed. There were some fissures over nuclear power - whether that should be brought in, the role of natural gas and fracking.

I think it'll be interesting to see if the party can - chooses - if the candidates choose to say, look - we want to stand as a party to say, climate change is really serious - let's do something about it - or if they focus on these areas of difference. And that's going to - we're going to see a bit of that in the debate this Thursday to see to what extent are the candidates really going to go at each other, as they did particularly in the second July debate, which I think was kind of damaging on the whole to the party.

KELLY: Yeah. David, speaking of pivots, E.J. has just pivoted us, deftly, to talking about next week and the Democratic debate. Is the key question for voters watching still going to be, who can beat Donald Trump?

BROOKS: For sure. I don't think that's going to change until November 2020. And I would have to say, going into that debate, Biden is still the focus. It has the feel that his lead is slipping and that his position is more marginal, especially as Elizabeth Warren rises up. And I'll be curious to see if they go after each other on this climate stuff.

To me, the big fissure that arose last week was over the carbon tax; that it used to be you never heard a politician talk about a carbon tax, but in this case, half the Democrats did, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders is against it. Some of the others are against it. And a carbon tax is considered political suicide. And maybe it's no longer, but the Democrats should test that on each other.

KELLY: One more quick topic to get to before we run out of time, which is Brexit, which we don't often get to talk to. But, David, it occurred to me how often do we in politics - or how often do we here in Washington have the chance to talk about the politics in a foreign capital and they are more chaotic than what we're experiencing here in Washington?

BROOKS: Yes, we're a model of democracy.

KELLY: What did you make of the week in London?

BROOKS: You know, first of all, I think I was - what disturbed me was Boris Johnson running roughshod over tradition. If the British Tory Party runs roughshod over tradition, who's left? And so we have a disruptive group of conservatives, both here and in Britain and around the world, who don't obey the way the rules are. And that's just tremendously destabilizing. The other thing I think we learned is that plebiscites that direct referendum can sometimes be very destructive; that people voted once on a subject they had no business really understanding, super technical subject in Brexit. And...

KELLY: And they got false information, informing...

BROOKS: And they got false information. And sometimes, on those sorts of issues, it actually is better to have experts and elected representatives be the proxy for the people.

KELLY: E.J.?

DIONNE: I - just to build on that, I think what was fascinating about this week - beyond the fact that Boris Johnson, in the Brexit referendum, said we are defending parliamentary sovereignty, and then all of a sudden, he was pushing Parliament aside to try to get what he wanted - you saw, really, two majorities being invoked here. There was a 52% majority in favor of Brexit, but you have a majority of the Parliament that is very reluctant, especially if you have a - crashing out of the European Union without a deal.

And so it showed the contradictions you can have within the democratic theory when you have a referendum versus (ph) - of the people's representatives. I loved a young woman who was quoted in The New York Times saying, if you can't change your mind, you're not a democracy. And that, in a way, is the underlying fight here.

KELLY: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Thanks, you two.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.