Shields and Brooks on sexual misconduct plaguing politics, GOP tax plan pushback

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including more allegations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of politics and the media, a New York Times report suggesting Michael Flynn may be cooperating in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and some surprising opposition to the Republican tax plan.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, another week of sexual misconduct allegations plagued the political and media worlds. And with Congress returning next week, we look ahead to Republican efforts on taxes and more.

    And for all that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, let’s start, Mark, with the sexual allegations cascading across new names this week. It’s crossing party lines, Al Franken among the Democrats. Congressman Joe Barton, not sexual harassment, but a personal relationship, pictures have emerged.

    What are we — we know that politicians and people in the media aren’t perfect, never have been, but what are we learning now from all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think we’re learning, Judy, the dimensions of it.

    I mean, this isn’t the pass at the office Christmas party after two drinks, “Would you like a ride home, Sally?” I mean, this is abusive stuff, and it’s male-directed, it’s male-dominated, it’s male power.

    I’m embarrassed for my gender to read this stuff. I’m appalled. Quite frankly, I have not led a cloistered life, but men exposing themselves, just this is a form of human depravity and abuse that is unrecorded and unreported. And I think it’s — I think we’re seeing a sea change in attitudes in this country.

    The one encouraging aspect is, generationally, younger men find the harassment — they agree more with women about the prevalence of it and the unacceptability of it. And for that, I’m cheered and encouraged.

    But I have to say, it’s not a party thing. Obviously, it’s not an ideological thing. It’s a power thing, and it’s a male thing overwhelmingly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you think we may be seeing a turn, a change in people’s willingness to put up with this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, certainly the willingness of people to come out, the encouragement of people to come out, the instinctive siding with the people who come out, which I think is the right posture.

    I think we are seeing a change. And what interest me is, I was wondering, would we — Harvey Weinstein, that probably would have happened. But if Donald Trump were not president, would it have had these massive ripple effects, so it becomes a big national change?

    And I think the reaction to Trump is part of the deal here. And we have talked about Trump maybe polluting our national culture, but it could be the reaction to Trump is also making us hypersensitive and making us want to correct the national culture.

    And so you could be a — see a reaction to — the Trump wave, I think, has lowered norms and the standards, but a lot of people would say, no, we’re not happy with this, we’re going to raise norms and standards.

    And so I hope this is part of that larger reestablishment of what is decency.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, one point, just a minor point, but we find out this week that there have been $17 million in settlement payments to members of the staffs on Capitol Hill who have been sexually abused or harassed or mistreated.

  • Mark Shields:

    Taxpayer money, 256, I think, settlements.

    And the idea that — yes, you want to protect obviously the victim and the identity of the victim and the pain of the victim, but the idea that this is private and not public, I mean, this ought to be bipartisan.

    It ought to be Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan walking into the House Administration Committee or the House Clerk’s Office and saying, all right, these records are going public, and every member who was involved in a settlement has to be known and the amount paid and the charges.

    And, as I say, protect the innocent, but don’t protect the guilty, especially when there is taxpayer money involved.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, that part about nondisclosure is just one part of this convoluted, complicated process that people who have been victims in working in the Congress or working for a member of Congress have had to go through in order to file even a complaint.

  • David Brooks:


    No, and you think about it, so many — every summer, hundreds, thousands of college students are going into these offices as interns. And you don’t know where these kids are going. You don’t know who their boss is. And there has been, on Capitol Hill, this back-channel gossip of who is a good boss, who is a bad boss, who is abusive.

    But the idea that taxpayer money is not — is going to cover this stuff up is — just whoever set that up, it’s just mind-boggling, frankly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I have to say, when it comes to the young people, whether they’re coming out of college or wherever, Mark, the people who have been accused…

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