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Week In Politics: Aftermath Of Mass Shooting In Orlando

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Of course, the biggest story this week has been the shooting in Orlando that took the lives of 49 people plus the killer. Our Friday political regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times, are here to talk about the massacre and also its political implications. Welcome back to both of you.

E J DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: President Obama, sadly, has a lot of experience now responding to this kind of event. There have been more than a dozen major mass shootings during his presidency. Yesterday, he went to Orlando, met with survivors, family members, first responders. And here's part of what he said afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Unfortunately, our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist or just a disturbed individual, like those in Aurora and Newtown, to buy extraordinarily powerful weapons, and they can do so legally.

SHAPIRO: And, at the same time, of course, Democrats staged an all-night talkathon to try to force action in Congress. E.J., do you think this will all amount to anything?

DIONNE: I think it is actually a turning point, whether we see action next week or we see action down the road because I think this has exposed a contradiction in the conservative argument. They say that we have to do everything - whatever it takes to fight terrorism - but we don't want to do anything substantial to keep guns out of the hands of potential terrorists. Thus, their proposal on keeping guns away from people on the terrorist watch lists from Senator Cornyn is basically ineffectual.

And I think the fact that Senator Chris Murphy led that filibuster shows that supporters of gun control are not on the defensive anymore. They realize that there's been a slow change in opinion because of Sandy Hook and so many other killings and that the killings in Orlando, I think, adds this element of, we really are supposed to be fighting terrorism; why aren't we doing anything about guns?

SHAPIRO: David, do you think there's been a change in opinion, and will it translate to a change in policy?

BROOKS: Nope.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: No, I - there's been some change in opinion. Gun legislation's always been reasonably popular, but there's a veto block in Congress in the Republican Party. And they believe gun rights are rights and they can't be taken away without some due process and there are some real restrictions. And that's their argument.

My own personal view is I would support all the gun rules. I would certainly support withholding guns from people on terrorism watch lists and such, but I don't think they do much good. I don't think there's much evidence they do much good.

And in this particular case, this guy got his guns legally. This guy was actually investigated by the FBI twice. He went through some screening, which is more than any gun legislation would do. It's just really hard to predict black swans - a guy who's on a pathway to this kind of mass murder.

DIONNE: Let me just defend my, from my point of view, optimist - relatively optimistic view. Again, I don't think we're going to overturn the power of the NRA tomorrow morning, but you're seeing among Senate Republicans a realization that they can't just do the same old thing. They are allowing a couple of votes in the wake of the Murphy-led filibuster. Whether they would've done that or not, it shows that they are sensitive. They have at least engaged in some negotiations on the issue of people on the terrorist watch list getting guns. So I think you're seeing the ice break. And Donald Trump sending out that tweet saying...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, saying he'll meet with the NRA to talk about how to keep guns out of terrorist hands.

DIONNE: Right, and there's much reason to be skeptical about whether he will go beyond what the NRA already supports, which, as I say, would be ineffectual. But I think the fact that Trump felt a need or a desire to put that out suggests that he's well aware of this contradiction that his side is dealing with.

SHAPIRO: We've seen a lot of prominent Republicans say this is not an issue about guns; it's an issue about terrorism. We don't have any evidence that the shooter in Orlando coordinated with any organized terrorist group, although he apparently did call 911 and pledge allegiance to ISIS. David, do you think there is a gap in America's terrorism policy here that needs to be filled?

BROOKS: Well, I don't really fault the FBI and the people who screened him and didn't catch this. As I say, these are - these are extremely unusual cases, and it's very hard to predict human behavior. I think this is primarily a social and psychological problem. Whether it's the shootings of this sort or the shootings we've seen in Sandy Hook and elsewhere, it's always a lone male.

It's always a guy who suffered some sort of injury, who's socially isolated, who's fallen through the cracks, who's decided to blame others rather than himself for the injury he's felt, who wants to feel some heroic sense of grandeur and grandiosity, grasps onto an ideology that justifies an act of violence and revenge on society. The pathways are pretty similar. And I think it's up to us as citizens to look around for, basically, young men in our midst and say, is this person potentially on that pathway?

SHAPIRO: So is the counterterrorism step that needs to be taken just - if you see something, say something?

DIONNE: Well, see, I - we could go on on this argument forever. There are - every country in the world has troubled, socially isolated people in it. We are the country that produces more events like this than any other. And the only obvious difference between us and other democracies is the fact that our gun laws are so weak.

Of course better gun laws are not going to stop all of this. Of course we should pay attention to the problems that people face, worry about mental health. I still come back to the fact that you can't kill all these people if you don't have an semi-automatic weapon.

SHAPIRO: We've got just a couple of minutes to talk about the response from the presidential candidates, so let's listen, first, to part of the response from Hillary Clinton.

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HILLARY CLINTON: The Orlando terrorist may be dead, but the virus that poisoned his mind remains very much alive. And we must attack it with clear eyes, steady hands, unwavering determination and pride in our country and our values.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: And a very different tone from Donald Trump.

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DONALD TRUMP: The Muslims have to work with us. They have to work with us. They know what's going on. They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what? They didn't turn them in.

SHAPIRO: David, this sounds like a tone from Trump that Republican leaders had hoped was in the past.

BROOKS: Yeah, it's a bigotry. Its group - they - who's the they? It's as if all Muslims are one thing and - who know. And, you know, Trump was himself. He congratulated himself on his own genius, and then he displayed bigotry.

What I thought was important just in the Trump campaign is that he's really taking a hit in the polls. There's mild panic now in the Republican Party. And I was looking to see whether his ratings would rise after Orlando, and they have not. So I think that's a sign that people are not rallying to him out of a sense - any sense of xenophobia.

SHAPIRO: And on the flipside, E.J., what do you think this said about Hillary Clinton - her response - as a presidential candidate?

DIONNE: Well, her response was the normal response you would get from a presidential candidate. It was tough, as a presidential candidate would be, and it was addressed to the problem. I think, to go back to Trump, David's right. And the problem Republicans have is they'd like to dump him - many of them would. But the party itself is for him and his ideas.

Sixty-two percent of Americans reject a ban on Muslim immigration. Fifty-six percent of Republicans are for it. Seventy percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump. Sixty-five percent of Republicans view him favorably. This makes it very hard on leaders of the Republican Party, who know everything David just said.

SHAPIRO: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to have you here, as always.

BROOKS: Good to be here.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.