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Week In Politics: GOP Debate, Obama's Legacy


Well, the president may be off to Hawaii, but our political analysts are still here in Washington. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times, welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

E. J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's start with the budget package that Scott mentioned. It's over a trillion dollars in spending next year, $680 billion in tax cuts over the next decade. And this came about without a government shutdown. David, do we have Speaker Paul Ryan to thank for this?

BROOKS: Yes, and money is a great unifier. There was a lot of pent-up demand for a lot of pet projects and - because of the fiscal austerity we've had over the last few years. And suddenly, the Christmas tree was floating through town, and so everybody got to put their little tinsel on it. And so we spent a lot of money. We had a lot of tax breaks, and it passed. So it wasn't great for the deficit, but at least something got done.

SHAPIRO: Well, E.J., it included a lot of things that Democrats don't like and yet the vast majority of Democrats voted for it. Do you see this budget deal as a good expression of Democratic priorities?

DIONNE: Well, in fact, it included a lot - the budget included a lot of things that Democrats liked in terms of spending. And the biggest victory for the president and the Democrats is a whole series of Republican riders, as they're called - provisions designed to use the budget to reverse administration policies on refugee policy and the environment and regulations on those who give investment advice. All those got knocked out of the bill. So that - in terms - you know, there's the tax bill and the spending bill. The spending bill was pretty much to liking of Democrats, which is why a lot of the votes for it came from Democrats. What's interesting is that the conservatives who might've revolted against John Boehner and caused a lot of trouble seem to be willing, at least for now, to give Paul Ryan a bye, so he was key. This tax bill created some sort of unease among Democrats because of a lot of business tax breaks, but in the end, I think it was a pretty good deal because most of those tax breaks usually get renewed every year. This just said, let's end the fiction and make them permanent. In exchange, there were a lot of tax credits, tax breaks for lower-income families. And that's why the Senate and the president went along - the Senate Democrats and the president went along.

SHAPIRO: Let's shift to the Republican presidential race, where, this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin called Donald Trump bright and talented. Trump replied, it is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. David, a budding bromance here?

BROOKS: (Laughter). Yeah, I see a buddy movie. I see them on the road. Birds of a feather flock together. And what's interesting is the whole Republican field. Every - we're all prisoners of our prose styles. And the prose style of the Republican Party now is to show maximum Putinism, which is to say manliness, toughness, anger, indignation, indigestion. And so, in the debate, I think what we saw was people wanting to show how angry they were, how tough they were. And so the whole party is moving in that direction, both in foreign policy, domestic policy and in tone.

DIONNE: As long as they don't take off their shirts in the next debate. God help us.


BROOKS: Chris Christie especially.


SHAPIRO: Yeah, David, you called the debate - you said it was billed as a foreign-policy discussion, but was actually, in large part, an acting competition over who could be the baddest, meanest foe of the terrorists.

DIONNE: That's right - and of President Obama and Hillary Clinton. It was really remarkable. I mean, beneath all the bravado, there was actually a very substantive debate between, on the one side, particularly Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham in the earlier debate - the undercard, as it's called - who really want to re-create president Bush's foreign-policy. You had Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and basically Donald Trump saying, we don't want to get so engaged in civil wars in the Middle East. So that was substantive, but to sort of compete over who could be toughest on potential immigrants and refugees did not seem very much in keeping with the Christmas season, I've got to tell you.

BROOKS: The foreign-policy debate actually was interesting, mostly because it had such echoes of the past. Whereas Rubio seems more like Reagan, Bush, Cruz is looking more like the old right, the pre-Reagan right, the pre-Goldwater right, even, the Taft right, which is much less interventionist foreign affairs, much more nationalistic in a closed sense, whereas Reagan and Bush were nationalistic in a very open sense - being active in the world and open to immigration.

DIONNE: Yeah, Cruz was the old right plus carpet bombing. I mean, there were certain tensions there, but I agree with David on that.

SHAPIRO: Well, there was so much going on this week that it is easy to forget that the week began with a global agreement that some people have said could be a legacy-builder for President Obama. This is, of course, the climate agreement that came out of Paris - nearly 200 countries. I mean, it barely got a mention in the Republican debate. It was not a top headline out of the news conference that President Obama gave. E.J., do you see this as a legacy-maker for President Obama?

DIONNE: I think it's a really big deal. Now, a lot will depend on what all the countries who signed it actually do, including our country. It was striking in the debate no question was asked about it. The only two mentions were kind of sarcastic asides. But I think it's very important. And one thing I think that really needs to underscored - be underscored that I think the administration did a good job at, which was to bring in the less-wealthy countries and particularly to bring in China, which, as The New York Times pointed out in an editorial, really takes away a strong arguments that the Republicans have been using that American action was - is pointless if China doesn't go along. That matters.

SHAPIRO: David, what do you think? Do you buy the Republican argument that the U.S. commitments under this agreement won't last past a change of administration?

BROOKS: Well, I don't - I'm not sure anybody's will. You know, if this was sort of like a Weight Watchers meeting where everybody promises to do better in the future - and to be fair, they did set up a series of peer pressure procedures so people have some reason - if you mess up, if you don't hold your obligations, at least you've got to do so in public. But it's very costly to do what people are saying they're about to promise to do. And I continue to believe - while this was a good thing and a good deal to addressing a real problem, I continue to believe the way out of climate change is through innovation. We're going to innovate our way out with better renewable energy and some sort of innovation. We're probably not going to do it by imposing economic costs because not many countries, when they get back home, really want to do that.

DIONNE: Although, I think two things. One is that new technology needs support, as well as just support from the private sector. And I think, eventually, we're going to get to a carbon tax, which many Republicans used to support, but not anytime soon.

SHAPIRO: And it was not part of this deal that came out of Paris, to the disappointment of some activists. That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to have you both back here in the studio with us and...

BROOKS: Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: ...Happy holidays.

DIONNE: Happy holidays.

BROOKS: You too. Merry Christmas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.