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Shields and Brooks on guns, Iran, and whether Clinton’s emails will turn into scandal

July 24, 2015 at 7:30 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the recent wave of mass shootings, selling the Iran nuclear deal to Congress, and whether Hillary Clinton needs to worry about the latest round of email allegations.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So let’s go back to the lead story, David, a string of shootings just in the last few weeks, including this one last night in Lafayette, Louisiana. We talked to Mark Kelly at the top of the program, Gabrielle Giffords’ husband.

What — is there anything to be done?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m for doing all the gun control you can think of, the gun show loophole, the background checks, assault weapons ban. And so I’m for it. I think, if you increase the number of filters between the buyer or shooter and the weapon, you might do some good.

I would be a little modest about how much good you would do. This has been studied quite lot by the CDC, by the AMA, a series of studies of all the gun control legislation that’s happened in the past. And it’s very hard to find strong effects.

There are 250 million guns in this country. And as we heard earlier in the program, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And most of the killings are done with handguns. People find a way to have guns. I’m for it. But we have seen a 50 percent reduction in homicide in this country over a generation. And a lot of other things are more effective in reducing gun violence.

Let’s do it. Let’s just not expect it will have a big effect.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you say 50 percent reduction in…

DAVID BROOKS: Over the last generation. We have seen this massive drop in violent crimes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And that has a lot to do with treatment programs, with the police programs. There are a lot of ways I think to reduce violence that are — produce bigger outcomes than the gun control stuff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I listened to Mark Kelly and the point he made about the public support of background checks. He’s absolutely right.

I mean, 81 percent actually, by the Pew poll, favor background checks, by a 7-1 margin. And, yet, it couldn’t pass the Senate. And, you know, there’s a sense of frustration after Newtown, and Charleston, and now Lafayette. What it’s ever going to take?

And the only idea that even strikes a spark with me — and I agree with David on the measures and I wish — we have too many guns. We have too much access to them, too many people who are unstable who shouldn’t have that access — was a suggestion made by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, introduced. He said we have enough guns in this country for 200 years, but we only have enough ammunition for two years — or for four months. I’m sorry.

And he said that, you know, why not tax ammunition? I mean, not .22s for target practice, but when you’re talking about ammunition for weapons of personal and mass personal destruction, you know, we have to think in those terms. There’s no question that the debate has been won right now, not permanently, but has been won by the Rifle Association people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: By the gun rights…

MARK SHIELDS: The change in attitude of, do you believe the emphasis should be, the choice should be on control of guns, gun ownership or control of guns, 20 — 15 years ago, by a 2-1 margin, people wanted to control gun ownership.

And now it’s a question, I think, that control people’s right to bear a gun is — a majority believes that’s the priority.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s just such a gap, though, David. There’s all this outrage after these shootings, and yet we seem to keep having the same conversation. There’s nothing to be done.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, as I say, public policy is hard and getting change is hard.

And, you know, I think getting the background checks in any of these cases recently, would it have helped? I’m not sure. A lot of these guns were acquired legally, sometimes flaws in the system. I tell you the thing that I think needs to be done. And this is not a government thing. This is a community thing.

The one thing that so many of these cases have in common, whether it’s the household killings or the mass killings or the racist killings, it’s a disgruntled, sick, isolated, perverse young man. And so it’s a social — we all know people in our communities. And if you see a kid who’s grown increasingly isolated, whose views are growing increasingly extreme, then act.

And that is one way. And, you know, we all have these webs of social networks. Just be alert to that and try to prevent something terrible from happening. That’s one thing that I think could have some positive impact.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s something we heard from the USA Today reporter, that there is a pattern, and it’s typically a man, and a young man.

Let’s talk about Iran, Mark, the administration facing a real uphill battle selling — selling this Iran nuclear deal. What kind of a job are they doing defending it, and could they — could Congress end up killing this thing?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Congress is a good bet, as we mentioned last week, that Congress will vote to reject it.

But I think the administration is, rightly and logically, concentrating its efforts not on winning Republicans. There are some, obviously, people like Jeff Flake, who said — senator from Arizona — says he has an open mind, and has demonstrated it in the past.

But the emphasis and the focus has to be upon Democrats, to persuade Democrats why they should support the president and support the agreement. And I think the strongest argument is that there is no alternative, and to bring in the fact that people of great substance, from Brent Scowcroft, who was a national security adviser to Republican presidents, to diplomatic giants like Thomas Pickering and Lee Hamilton and Ryan Crocker…

JUDY WOODRUFF: They signed a letter.

MARK SHIELDS: … are supporting it.

So, I really think that is — it’s not, this is the almighty, but what is the alternative? And I think that’s the case that they’re making. They’re trying to persuade probably 145 Democrats in the House to stick with the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in the meantime, it’s a real buzz saw they’re facing, isn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, it’s not exactly leading from a position of strength. The purpose of leadership in government is to provide the country with good options.

And they have gotten in a situation in which we have bad options. To me, the worst part about the treaty is that it will give Iran maybe $150 billion, maybe as high as $700 billion in revenue, to which they can spread their terror through the terror armies they’re already using.

And so in the short-term, whatever it does in the long-term with nuclear weapons, it will destabilize the Middle East. On the other hand, they are not stupid to say the alternative is worse, and that if we do this, the sanctions will fall apart. China is eager to go. France wants to sell nuclear stuff. Russia is certainly eager to sell nuclear stuff to the Iranians.

And so if the U.S. does reject it, it will get worse. And so their option is — their argument is not that the treaty is so great, but the alternative is worse. And so they have put up in a choice architecture where we have got two really bad options. And my guess at the end of the day is the Democrats who are in play here will not opt for that worse alternative. I could argue they maybe they should, but it’s hard for me to see it absolutely losing in the long-term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think Democrats will come around?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the Democrats right now are being smart politically by saying that they’re open, they’re listening. There’s no point in taking a position until they have to.

But I don’t think there’s many open minds on the other side. The $150 billion that David spoke of, of course, is Iran’s money. It isn’t like we’re writing a check to them. It has just — it’s been frozen. And I think that — you know, that has to be understood.

So I — you know, I don’t think there is an alternative. I think, quite frankly, that Prime Minister Netanyahu hurt himself and his cause by pushing so hard for military action against Iran, and by intruding in the United States election on Mitt Romney’s side, and then by using the House of Representatives as a campaign stop to run against Iran.

And I just think he really put himself and Israel, quite honestly, in an untenable position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton.

David, e-mails, Congress has — this special committee in the House is coming after her. Now they’re saying the Department of Justice, they have asked the department to look into whether classified information was shared that shouldn’t have been. Is she in real jeopardy over this, either politically or legally?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it’s about her character. I assume she shared classified information. She — it was all on this private server. There is so much classified information in government that, if she is sending out all these e-mails, I assume something got into them.

She swore it didn’t happen. That’s hard for me to believe. And, frankly, that is not a career-killer. That’s not a president candidacy killer. But it is about her character. And it is about why there was the privacy of the server, her unwillingness to release the server now, which people want to get ahold of, deleting all the e-mails.

So, it’s not — I don’t think, however this shakes out, it’s going to be something that will end her candidacy. But it’s no question it’s a stain and the continued investigations are stains. I frankly don’t have clarity on what kind of investigations is about to happen. In all the reporting, there is a lot of passive voice, so you don’t quite know how much she’s actually being investigated.

So that’s unclear. It will shake out in the next few days maybe. But it’s still a long-running stain that goes to a core concern people have about her, which is openness, transparency and trustworthiness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think she is at risk?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David put his finger on it, that the problem it brings back, there’s two Clintons.

There’s the Clinton of great boom, the lowest unemployment, the balanced budget, happy and prosperous and optimistic and confident America. And there’s the Clinton memories of the Whitewater and those law firm billing rights that were miraculously discovered in the family quarters of the White House.

And all this lack of candor of what the meaning of is, all of this comes back, and I just — I think it hurt her in 2007, when she was running against Barack Obama. It hurt both Al Gore and John Kerry. George Bush was seen as more honest and more likable personally than either of them.

And that’s the last time the Democrats lost the White House two times in a row. I think it’s a problem. She was trying to avoid intense scrutiny by having the private server, and she ends up inviting and really getting greater intense scrutiny.

I think the one salvation she has is that the Republicans will overplay, House Republicans in particular, will overplay their hand, with the hearings and sort of an inquisitional attitude and air. So, but it’s not a help. It certainly brings back unpleasant memories.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Forty seconds left.

Donald Trump, he’s — got into a big fuss with John McCain, insulted John McCain last weekend, Lindsey Graham this week. But Donald Trump is still alive and well, still out on the campaign trail.

David, what has happened to the race and is he going to stay?

DAVID BROOKS: Eventually, he will run out of Republican candidates to attack.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So, he’s gone after a bunch of them.

I have to think the show will close. He is like Jerry Springer. He makes Jerry Springer look like “Masterpiece Theater.” You would think, eventually, people just get exhausted by this.

MARK SHIELDS: Jerry is still on.

DAVID BROOKS: Jerry is still on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he seems to get stronger by these…

DAVID BROOKS: This is a party that nominated Mitt Romney. It’s like a straitlaced party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ten seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Ten seconds.

Donald Trump, shame on us. He’s the catnip. We can’t stay away from him. He is an unlikable man. He will never be president of the United States. He made a terrible mistake by going after John McCain. John McCain is not a hero because he was captured. John McCain was a hero because, for five-and-a-half years, he accepted torture, instead of early release, and remained and endured that ordeal with his fellow prisoners.

Donald Trump avoided capture by staying at Studio 54 and investing in real estate in Manhattan.

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

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