Episode: Brooks and Dionne on mass shooting frustration, Kevin McCarthy’s Benghazi comments

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Brooks and Dionne on mass shooting frustration, Kevin McCarthy’s Benghazi comments

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama expresses frustration and anger in the wake of yesterday’s mass shooting in Oregon. But is there anything he or anyone can do? Will there be a battle among House Republicans to replace Speaker Boehner? And what does Russia’s involvement in Syria mean for the U.S.?

We turn to the analysis of New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

Mark Shields is away tonight.

And welcome, gentlemen.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So here we are yet again, another mass shooting. They seem to be happening every few weeks.

David, the president said yesterday at his news conference that he thinks the country’s grown numb, that these are happening so often. Is he right?

DAVID BROOKS: I actually don’t think so.

The reaction certainly among the people I have spoken to is one of impatience and growing frustration. And so I don’t think we have grown numb to them. I don’t think we have taken a practical and a pragmatic approach to trying to prevent them.

Obviously, as we heard earlier, they’re phenomenally hard to prevent. I’m for gun control laws, as I have said so many times. We have gone through a ritual on this program.


DAVID BROOKS: And I don’t think they will do much good. They might do a little good, just because there are 250 million guns in this country. I think it’s just very hard to control the ones, but they might erect a barrier.

There’s obviously problematics with getting a list of people who have had mental health issues to run against a registry. That’s obviously a problematic thing to do. I have emphasized the make-believe function, that the profile of these guys who do it is very similar, and it is in this case, alienated young guy with loneliness issues and self-worth issues.

And if we looked around for young men like that in our society, maybe we could do something there. I guess I would invite people to de-ideologize it, if that’s a word and to think pragmatically about the many steps we could do to hopefully make some dent, but it’s going to be hard to make a dent in this, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is hard, E.J., and yet, as the president said, something has to happen, something has to happen. What is the something to change?

E.J. DIONNE: I must say, I loved seeing his anger about this, because I think he reflected the anger of a lot of people.

And I actually liked it when he said this is something we should politicize, because the barriers to de-ideologizing it, as David said, are political barriers. And I was so struck by some of the responses of the Republican candidates to this. Ben Carson, you’re not going to handle it with more gun control because gun control only works for normal — the normal law-abiding citizens.

Well, all laws only work for normal law-abiding citizens. Only with guns do we hear these arguments. Same with Marco Rubio, gun crime is committed by criminals. Criminals ignore the law. Well, yes. But, again, that’s an argument against all law. We have to try some things.

There are no free and democratic and wealthy countries in the world that have our rate of gun violence. You know, David is quite right that we have to worry about loners and alienated people. We have to do better on mental health. But we’re not the only country in the world with loners and alienated people.

And I think we have to be willing to take some steps on guns. And I don’t know what’s going to shake us to get there, but I think the president is saying we can’t just sit here anymore. I think there is an anger that’s growing out there that may at some point get conservatives in particular, who ought to be in a different position than they are on this issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, as we heard from the two guests we talked to a few minutes ago, it is hard. And yet maybe there is a way to identify some of these young men — most of them are young men — who are deeply troubled and try to prevent them from getting access to them.


And I think the way — if we’re going to have any political process, it’s not to have a big fight about guns, which we have had a million times, but it’s to come up with a comprehensive package of reforms that would include some gun control things, but also some mental health things and a range of other things that creative policy-makers could come up with, and to de-ideologize it.

To have the same fight again, I don’t see the point in it. On gun control, as I say, I’m not against them. But most of the guns that these guys get, they get legally. Oregon happens to be a place…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was the case this time.

DAVID BROOKS: And Oregon happens to be a place with pretty tight gun control legislation.

The criminals — the people who are in criminal gangs do get the guns illegally, but there are so many guns in this country. We can’t — we’re not going to deport 12 million immigrants. We’re also not going to get rid of 250 million guns. There are just practical realities.

E.J. DIONNE: But there are practical approaches to that.

Australia had a massive gun buy-back program, 700,000 guns, which would translate into about 40 million here, which is a start. We are so hemmed in on the gun issue that we right now can’t do a thing. I’m all for doing more on mental health. I don’t think there is a real problem with that. The problem, the ideological part, is on guns.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. We have our history. We saw the graphic earlier in the program. One in three American households has a gun. There is a history of 300 years going back. And that’s why it touches such a nerve.

And so we just have a legacy of a lot of guns in this country and that’s been true because of the nature of the settlement of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If history repeats itself, we talk about it for a few days and then we move on to the next thing.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about something, big news that happened a week ago today, and that was Speaker John Boehner announcing he’s stepping down.

David, it’s been assumed that the majority leader, his number two, Kevin McCarthy, had a lock on this, but then he did an interview this week where he said flat out that the investigation by Republicans into Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi incident was politically motivated, that you could measure the success of it by her dropping poll numbers.

What does it say about him as a prospective speaker?


Well, there are a couple of things we know about him. First, he’s a very social guy, a very friendly guy. I still think he has a lock on it because he’s so likable. And these races tend to be very personal.

Second, he’s not anybody’s idea of a ideological firebrand. He’s not particularly philosophical. He’s social. He’s a nice guy. He’s a good political creature. And so a lot of people are wondering, will he be ideological enough? Because he’s not particularly — that’s not in his nature.

And, third, he’s not used to being near the top job. And he said something true and stupid, which was true, that the attack, the investigation into the Democratic nominee, potential nominee, is a political act and they’re trying to bring her down. Of course. But you’re not supposed to say that.

And, third, he is an embodiment of what’s wrong with Washington with that statement, which is the gap between campaigning and governing, which used to be something that was honorably upheld, has now been erased. And so governing is the same as campaigning, or, actually, more precisely, campaigning is everything.

And so congressional investigations have become political tools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So does he — is there any price for him to pay on this, E.J.? Or do we — I mean, there was a story today, Associated Press, reporting that Jason Chaffetz, another Republican congressman, is going to challenge him. But does he — do we just assume we move on and…

E.J. DIONNE: Well, we should say that champagne corks were popping this week at Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, because they have been trying to get them to say out front this is a political investigation primarily. It’s now longer than the Watergate investigation, which is really astonishing, the investigation into Benghazi.

And, yes, he did the classic gaffe, which is telling the truth about something. Chaffetz was one of the people who was most upset about it, because he knew the political cost of this. I think he is probably the strongest candidate the right end of that caucus can come up with, if he does indeed run.

You have to say that that caucus is still split in a way, but McCarthy pulls it out. But I think, over the last few days, there have been doubts among Republicans about him, not only because of the Hillary Clinton matter, but he’s not the best-spoken person.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re talking about McCarthy.

E.J. DIONNE: Right, Kevin McCarthy. He is a great social guy.

And I don’t think anyone can hold this caucus together, because, as long as Barack Obama is president, the House Republicans particularly and most conservatives really aren’t interested in governing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s my main question about him, David, is what’s going to be different with Kevin McCarthy? Is it going to be any easier for him to corral House Republicans?

By the way, he gave Speaker Boehner a B-minus for his performance as speaker.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. You have got to give your friend an A. Come on.


E.J. DIONNE: I think he called him up and apologized, said, I have got to do that to get elected. And maybe Boehner understood.


So, what’s going to happen, I think, is — what’s going to happen for the Freedom Caucus is, they’re going to try and change the rules. And they go to regular order. And basically the changing of the rules lessens the power of the speaker, lessens the power of the leadership, and that means more bills from the rank and file can get votes on.

They nominally want the committees to elect their chairmen. And so that would devolve power down where the Freedom Caucus is. And so that’s what they’re going to be lobbying for. I personally think those changes would make the House completely ungovernable, because it would become like the Senate, where everybody could stop everything. And so I hope they don’t pass, but that’s what I think they’re going to try to do.

E.J. DIONNE: See, if they really want to democratize the House, they would make it easier to have cross-party coalitions. But that, they don’t want to do, because you could actually pass a lot of bills if they were willing to govern with some Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we mentioned Hillary Clinton. I have to ask both of you.

Some new fund-raising numbers for the presidential campaign came out. We don’t have numbers for all the numbers, but we did learn that Hillary Clinton — that Bernie Sanders, E.J., raised almost as much money as Hillary Clinton did, but his money came mostly from small donors.

How much of a threat does he pose? Is this just what you would expect? What do you think?

E.J. DIONNE: I think he’s a real threat to get a lot of votes and, as we have talked about before, to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

He hasn’t yet proven he can break into key Democratic constituencies, moderate Democrats, Latinos, African-Americans, which she’s counting on. We’re all assuming here that Joe Biden doesn’t get in. And we don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. I’m not sure Joe Biden knows whether he’s getting in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there was a story today that he has picked up some of Hillary’s donors, Hillary Clinton donors, Biden has.

E.J. DIONNE: Right.

But no matter where you are on politics, I think it is wonderful to see candidates — and I think Ben Carson picked up a fair number of small donations — candidates funding campaigns not by talking to a very small number of very rich people, but by reaching out to a very large number of citizens. And I hope there is more of that in this campaign. So, three cheers for Bernie, if only on the money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why doesn’t that mean people should take him more seriously, David? Is just the way it is?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m beginning to think that it might.

The renegades on the right, like the Trumps, I don’t take that seriously. I think they are going to fade. But he’s different. His support is not because he’s a crazy man. His support is because he’s ideologically closer to the heart of the party right now.

And I think the money is a reputation of that. And I don’t know. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, doesn’t the — our psychology — our psychology — this whole psychology of the country will be very different around Hillary Clinton. And it would historically unprecedented for her to lose those two and then get the nomination. And so I think…

E.J. DIONNE: Although her husband did it.


But if he gets those two, and she’s going to seem even more vulnerable than she seems now, who knows. I’m beginning to take him a little more seriously.

E.J. DIONNE: Yes. I have always taken Bernie seriously.

And I think the other piece of it is, we see a lot of ersatz authenticity in politics. He is, if you could use the phrase, authentic authenticity. You know what he’s going to say.

If you don’t like him, you say it’s predictable. If you do like him, you say he’s consistent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and he’s still drawing big crowds.

Well, we don’t have time the talk about the other Republicans, except you brought it up, Ben Carson raising a lot of money and, again, small donors. So, we’re watching.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, thank you very much.

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

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

The post Brooks and Dionne on mass shooting frustration, Kevin McCarthy’s Benghazi comments appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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