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Week In Politics: Gun Policy, Obama's Second Inauguration

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we turn now to our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times. Gentlemen, hello.

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

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

CORNISH: So let's jump right into what David and Robert were discussing. David mentioned - described it as a political blink by the GOP. Is that an apt description?

BROOKS: I would say return to sanity, you know. And this is John Boehner's victory. There were a lot of people who thought the debt ceiling fight was the way to do it and I think Boehner's successfully persuaded them that this was the worst place to do it. They'd really be endangering the global economy and they should do it on actual budget grounds, rather than doing something that would really be ruinous.

And I do think the centerpiece for them is getting the Senate to adopt a budget. Republicans in the House are on the record, they pass budgets and they'd like the Senate to be on the record, too.

CORNISH: And, of course, they are trying to put some skin in the game with a proposal that says lawmakers won't be paid if they do not pass a budget. I wonder if that makes a difference when the median net worth of congressional lawmakers is almost a million dollars.

BROOKS: With the Obama tax increases, it's worth nothing.

CORNISH: Right, okay. But E.J.?

DIONNE: First of all, it's so astonishing to me still, let's have all these stupid artificial fights over long term deficits when millions of people still don't have jobs and that's where the focus should be. And I just wanted to start there. This is a political blink and their eyes, I think, are going to keep fluttering. They haven't - I'm sort of less optimistic than David is that this is a final victory for John Boehner.

The big showdown was put off until April 15th, tax day, but I think the Republicans are just going to have to put the debt ceiling aside all together. This time it's different because you've got Republicans finally speaking out - Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is a good example - saying this is really crazy. Why are we doing this? Why are we endangering the full faith and credit of the U.S. and maybe tanking...

CORNISH: Well, we have another date being pushed to April. We've got these dates in March. I mean, pretty soon we're going to be up to midterm elections. I think they think they're kind taking these deadlines further and further away.

DIONNE: Right. And there's a real opportunity. Obama put some proposals on the table. They could get enough deficit reduction to keep us stable for, you know, a decade and I think we've got to stop just pretending that Washington is all about one budget deal after another.

CORNISH: I want to come back to the House Republicans in a bit, but first, something that was - the news story from earlier in the week, the announcement finally of the antigun violence policies from President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. A little combination of things they hope Congress could pass and executive orders that the president could sign right then and there.

Given what finally came out of Vice President Biden, what do you think of the direction that this took? Stronger than you'd like to have seen, weaker than you'd like to have seen?

BROOKS: Well, for me, I thought they were pretty much good measures. You know, I think there's no cost to them. Let's put it that way. I think they may introduce some friction into the gun markets so it's harder to get them. I guess I don't hold that much hope they'll have a huge effect. We've had a whole series of gun control measures - '68, the Brady Act, the Weapons Assault Act, and not of them have really moved the needle on gun violence.

Nonetheless, the idea of having waiting lists, I think it does have some potential to control suicides. Most gun violence is suicide, not murder. A lot of it is impulsive and people who shoot themselves are much more likely to actually kill themselves than people who try to commit suicide another way.

So the idea of putting in a seven-day or some other waiting period seems to me has some potential to control the number of suicides. As for the evidence of the social science, there's really very little evidence to do much good. Nonetheless, these laws don't do any harm, so I think we should pass them.

CORNISH: And E.J., for you?

DIONNE: This was one of my favorite moments of the Obama presidency, I have to say. These are sensible proposals. I think there's a lot of evidence that some of them will do a lot of good, notably making sure everyone gets a background check. We got about 40 percent of gun sales that are out of the main system, out of license gun dealers and so I think these could have a real effect.

But what I particularly liked is President Obama didn't prenegotiate this and put together a package trying to guess what Congress would pass or try to look bipartisan. I mean, some of these ideas should be bipartisan, but he and Joe Biden just laid out there a lot of good ideas that they want to get through and we'll see what Congress will do.

And one other thing I liked, stop this ban on research into gun violence. I mean, why was the NRA so afraid of research by the Centers for Disease Control that they basically put a ban on research? At least let's try to learn more about what works.

CORNISH: And we'll see where this squeeze in in the next term agenda, which is what I want to spend the last just two minutes on. House Republicans and President Obama are going into the second term for Inauguration Day, coming up on Monday. Essentially, what is the one thing, the takeaway lesson it seems, that the House has learned from the last couple weeks, specifically Republicans, and that President Obama appears has learned from the last few weeks?

BROOKS: I think the Republicans have definitely learned that you can't get much done on your own if all you do is control the House. I think the White House has probably learned or in the process of learning is you can't get much done if you don't control the House. And so I think they both are acknowledging they're probably not going to get big things substantively done over the next couple of years, so they should work hard to win the next election. So, I think the next two years will mostly be about politics.

CORNISH: E.J., last minute to you.

DIONNE: You get a lot done in the House if a certain number of Republicans join the majority of Democrats to pass stuff. We could get a lot done. That's how they passed Sandy Aid. It only had, I think, 46 Republican votes, but most Democrats were for it. That's how we passed the deal on the debt ceiling. Eighty-five Republicans voted with most of the Democrats. So, you can get things done. And I think President Obama is finally getting out of the habit of - as he did on guns - of pre-negotiating. He's getting out there and saying, look, this is what I'd like to do, let's move forward. He's not trying to pretend that he can be the great creator of bipartisanship. It takes two to work, and in the meantime he might as well just say what he wants to do. And that could be his great strength in the second term.

CORNISH: Well, we're going to have many high-stakes negotiations over the next couple of weeks to see if these lessons actually play out. Thank you both for speaking with me.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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