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Shields and Brooks on Obama’s Budget, Senate Gun Fight, Margaret Thatcher

April 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss development in the gun legislation battle and if background checks will amount to substantive gun control, plus backlash against President Barack Obama's budget, bipartisan efforts on an immigration bill and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Welcome, gentlemen.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s start with gun control.

David, the Senate is going to let there be a debate and let there be a vote, Republicans divided. It’s going to move ahead. What does that all this mean? How did this happen?

DAVID BROOKS: I would say the theme of the week is that we were given the illusion this week that we live in a functioning democracy, where things pass, where things move ahead.

And that’s been the case with guns.

Now, not everybody is happy, but there is going to be a vote. There is going to be a debate. And I think there is a reasonably good chance that something significant will get through the House — excuse me, through the Senate …


DAVID BROOKS: … and then go over to the House. And that will include some background checks, not on everything, but on some of the commercial transactions. It will include a significant mental health element, which I think has been overlooked.

It will include some of the gun trafficking laws. So it’s not what the gun control people wanted. There’s — some of the private transactions will probably be left out. But it will pass, I think, the Senate with significant Republican support, put reasonable pressure on the House, and I would say you would have to say there is a better than 50/50 chance that a law is signed, not much better than 50/50, but a little better, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how did this happen?

I mean, enough Republicans moved over and voted with the Democrats to let this move ahead, at least to debate.

MARK SHIELDS: Several things happened, Judy.

First of all was we got truly a bipartisan pair of senators, Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, increasingly red state, NRA member, and Pat Toomey, a card-carrying authentic conservative from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, who challenged Arlen Specter in 2004, to the point where Rick Santorum and George W. Bush both campaigned for Arlen Specter.

He was that much of a conservative, founder of the Club for Growth. And there is light and there’s heat involved. The light is that Republicans are going to be facing the prospect of voting against even debating a bill which involved background checks.

Now, having — is there anything that is more commonsensical than background checks? And you are going to go out to the American people, especially to women voters, suburban voters, and say we’re against background checks. We don’t care if someone has been accused and convicted of spousal abuse. We don’t care if someone is convicted of assault and battery. We’re not going to — and that’s going to intrude on their privacy, that kind of scrutiny.

That was the light. The heat is that in the collar counties of Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Montgomery …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Toomey is from Pennsylvania.

MARK SHIELDS: From Pennsylvania — the Republicans have gotten murdered. That’s where Rick Santorum lost the Senate seat to Bobby Casey. It’s where Barack Obama carried both times. And those are suburban voters. They’re women voters. They’re people who care about gun control.

And I think that he did the Republicans a great service. And the other thing, Judy, you cannot ignore is the Newtown families, the families of those people coming down. They put a face on this. This isn’t a piece of legislation. They sat there, and they talked to senators. And it just became impossible to vote against bringing it up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that why these other Republicans joined with him?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so.

I think, as Mark mentioned, the suburbanization — my favorite newspaper wrote a story about this the last couple days — the suburbanization, the effect on the families, and the fact that because it was Manchin and Toomey, it wasn’t a bunch of East Coast liberals telling the rest of the country what to do, some of the cultural elements of this, which is always …

JUDY WOODRUFF: West Virginia, Pennsylvania.

DAVID BROOKS: It was West Virginia, Central Pennsylvania, two big hunting states.

And so it felt a little more comfortable. And I have to say one little political reasons why Republicans wanted it to come up for a vote, it’s an uncomfortable vote for a lot of red state Democrats. And they didn’t want those red state Democrats to not have to vote on this. So there was a small political element, but I would just underline what Mark said about the families. That was …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shocked that there is a political element in any of this.

But, Mark, what does it mean in terms of the substance of gun control?

MARK SHIELDS: I think once the genie is out of the bottle, I think it’s on the floor, I think literally every piece of legislation has a dynamic unto itself.

I think what David said on the background checks, I am confident on that. I am confident on gun trafficking, that there will be adopted — adapted — adopted.

I’m also hopeful that, if it really starts to move and there is support, that they can — they, quite frankly, will have a real chance at some of the tougher provisions in the legislation. I think they will get a thorough background. And I think, you know, the magazine vote, I think there will be a vote on it.

I think it’s scheduled. And so I don’t know what will happen. But I feel so much better than I did a week ago at the prospects.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president rolled out his budget proposal for next year, David. It seemed like as many Democrats are upset with him as there are Republicans.

What does all — what does all this mean and what do you make of the budget?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s — I give him credit for some things.

He did have some reasonably small Social Security reform, this thing called chained CPI, which is part a benefit cut, part a big tax increase. He does do some things which are brave. He does, I think, sort of move to the center.

I think he still does some small things in the right direction. What he doesn’t do is alter the fundamental trajectory of our budget politics, which is that money for the entitlement programs going to senior citizens is going up and up and up. And domestic discretionary spending, which is the stuff on education, welfare, the stuff that helps social mobility, reduce inequality, that will be — within 10 years, it will be below wherever it was under Reagan, under the Bushes, under Nixon. It will be back to Eisenhower levels.

And so I think that the — I wish the president would alter that fundamental trajectory, so he had a little less entitlement money, a lot more discretionary money, and lower deficits, because the single biggest item in the budget will be interest payments on the debt.

So I salute him for doing the right thing in small ways. But he still hasn’t altered the disastrous trajectory our budgets are on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not altering the disastrous trajectory?

MARK SHIELDS: I can’t argue with David’s numbers. And I will point out this, Judy.

In the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans over the age of 65 living in poverty has dropped by 20 percent. The percentage of children under the age of 18 living in poverty has grown by 30 percent. And it is — it does say something about any society’s values where they do spend their money, and is there — and are they building a future?

And I don’t think there is any question that we disproportionately now, our resources go towards the elderly, rather than toward the young and children and building better lives for them.

I think what he did was gutsy; any time you make your own base that angry, as he obviously has done. Last fall, the Republican Senate leaders said about the chained CPI and the means-testing for wealthy Medicare patients — recipients, that these are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in revenues.

Well, President Obama is doing that. And there seems to be precious little interest in revenues on their part. But — so I think he — I think he gets credit and should get credit for doing something bold and difficult. And any time you make your own base angry, you’re probably doing something that is …

JUDY WOODRUFF: It sounds like are you giving him a little more credit than David is.

MARK SHIELDS: I probably am. But it’s Friday, and I’m generous.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m innately hostile.

No, I give him credit, too. And there was a move to the center. It certainly disproves the notion — Mark made this point recently — that he is some kind of Norwegian socialist. He’s not. He’s a …

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the president.

DAVID BROOKS: The president.


DAVID BROOKS: Now, the question …


DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn’t go to Finnish. They are much worse.

MARK SHIELDS: There you go.


MARK SHIELDS: … very shortly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we’re talking about — at least we were on gun control — the parties may be working together, bipartisan immigration deal, David, looks like it may be announced in the next few days.

Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, is going to be out on television over the weekend. Does this look like it may be happening?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, so this is the best news of all. I think they have made progress on guns, moderate progress on the budget. But the immigration is just a sheer — if you are for comprehensive reform, a sheer win, because these gangs — there is a gang of eight.

Usually, the gangs fall apart. They can’t reach agreement. This gang has actually produced something, in part because they have got some people who have been through it the last time, people like McCain and Lindsey Graham and others, Chuck Schumer. In part, they have got some productive newcomers. So they’re coming out with — the administration is giving them space.

And they’re coming out with a bill which I think has got border security for the people who care about that. It’s got a path to citizenship. It’s got a shift towards skills, which is what we need for the economy. It’s not just a small piece of legislation. It’s a pretty robust piece of legislation. It’s impressive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Impressive?

MARK SHIELDS: It is impressive. And I can’t argue with what David said.

I would just say there is some arithmetic here involved. I mean, it’s not simply the realization on the part of Republicans that, with the exception of those who were here when Columbus arrived and those who were brought here against their will in chains, that every American is himself or herself an immigrant or the direct lineal descendants of immigrants.

That has kind of come true to Republicans at this point. But there is a math, Judy, an inexorable math. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the Latino vote by 2-1, a little over 2-1. He carried them by almost 3-1 in 2012. More important even than that is all foreign-born Americans or those who come from first generation feel less and less warmly toward the Republican Party.

Barack Obama carried Virginia and Mitt Romney lost Virginia because of the vote of Asian Americans, upscale, higher-educated, all the rest of it, because they see a xenophobic Republican Party that says hostile things about people who aren’t 110 percent American.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying the election has concentrated the mind of …

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there’s any question.

Republicans, in order to be competitive with non-white American voters, have to become credible on immigration. I think that has contributed to it. Yes, John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others have, you know, been there and been there in the past. But I think that’s why I think this is so important for Republicans. But it’s obviously a lot more important for the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Final comment. I want to ask you both about the death of mart Margaret Thatcher this week. She obviously leaves a legacy, strong feelings on both sides of the ideological spectrum, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, before Margaret Thatcher, you could say the history seemed to be headed towards Swedish socialism. I’m back to that. After …


JUDY WOODRUFF: Or Norwegian.

MARK SHIELDS: Sweden, Finland, and Norwegian.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m very Scandinavian today.

So she shifted history, where we thought we were going. The second thing is she introduced a sort of working-class conservatism. So she was not only rebelling against the labor unions in the British left, but also against the Tories, the aristocratic side of the Tory Party on the right.

And so she stood for a sort of working-class conservatism, a sort of version of our Reagan Democrats.

And so that was part of her historical legacy.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. She was the non-fop conservative. They all seemed a little bit inbred and all the rest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fop, non-fop.

MARK SHIELDS: Fop, yes, fop.

And she really — she was crucial, as important — and Lou Cannon put it well — as important as Winston Churchill was to Franklin Roosevelt, she was even more important to Ronald Reagan. And she gave the credential on Gorbachev, on ending the Cold War, this is a man we can do business with.

At the same time, as Lou pointed out, she gave cover to Reagan among conservatives once he started to reach out. So, I think, in that sense, she was — and both of them, both Reagan and Thatcher, remember this, they were succeeded by leaders of the other — who changed their own parties to succeed them, I mean, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

So, I mean, they both left long shadows.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you leave nothing but positive vibes.

MARK SHIELDS: Except in Scandinavia.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m apologizing to the Danish socialists for not mentioning them so far.

MARK SHIELDS: He’s alienated every Scandinavian person. My wife is Norwegian. And I think …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.