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Will Bernie Sanders’ gun rights record help Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton laid out a plan for greater gun control at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, days after a massacre at an Oregon community college. Gwen Ifill talks to Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report about how the politics of gun control are playing out in the race for the White House, plus Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments affect the race for Speaker of the House.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But first, Gwen gets the latest on the race for the White House. She recorded this conversation earlier today before leaving on assignment.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    From gun control, to the e-mail dispute that won't go away, to a fresh leadership fight on Capitol Hill, congressional politics and presidential politics overlap this week.

    So, we turn to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR reporting tonight from New Hampshire for our weekly Monday night look at what's happening behind the scenes.

    Hillary Clinton today got on the gun control bandwagon very forcefully with her own plan. We want to hear a little about what she had to say.

    And, Tamara, you were in the room. I want to hear how it went over.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    We need to go back and, with all of our hearts, working not just in Washington, but from the grassroots up, demand that we have universal background checks. Forty percent of guns are sold gun shows, online sales. We need to close that loophole, so that when we have a universal background check…

    (APPLAUSE)

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    … it will cover everybody. We have got to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them, domestic abusers, people with serious mental health problems.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, of course, this is a result to what happened in Oregon last week, the mass shooting at a community college, and the president's very strong words about gun control and about how we had to do more than just talk about it.

    Tamara, is that what she was doing as well?

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    Yes.

    And Hillary Clinton has actually spoken about gun control pretty forcefully in the last few months following other mass shootings, but this time she has put out a plan, she has several bullet points that she's calling for, different items that she wants.

    In the room, this was very different from many other Clinton town halls that I have been to. It was more emotional. The crowd was almost more into it, you could say, than many of her other town halls, many standing ovations, people really enthusiastic about what she's saying and what she's proposing.

    In particular, there was one moment where Hillary Clinton, as she was finishing her remarks, asked a mother to come up on stage. This is a Sandy Hook mom whose son, her 6-year-old son was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook.

    And as Hillary Clinton talked about that mom's experience, Hillary Clinton's voice choked up a little bit, and it was a very emotional moment in the room.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's interesting, because, as you know, Amy, we have had this conversation many times, and, in fact, the last time the president came out, he was accused of sounding as if he had just given up on being able to do anything. And we heard some of that from Jeb Bush as well. Is there anything different in this gun control argument this time?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    I don't think very much has changed at all.

    And, in fact, I think this has become something that we see the two parties just going back into their predictable lanes, Democrats talking about more gun control, Republicans talking about how they have to defend the rights of gun owners. And this is coming at a time, also, of a very competitive primary fight very specifically on the Republican, but on the Democratic side as well, where both sides trying to speak to their base.

    The Democratic base, this is an issue that's very important to them, the idea of gun control. On the Republican side, they are more concerned with gun rights. And so you're seeing both camps just lining up pretty predictably.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. Let's try something unusual.

    You are in New England tonight, Tamara, where Bernie Sanders had a big rally in Boston this weekend. He got 20,000 people there, yet he doesn't come down on the same side of the argument as Hillary Clinton does on guns. Does that hurt him at all with his base?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    This is a fascinating thing.

    Bernie Sanders is to the left of the Democratic field on absolutely everything, except for guns. And when it comes to guns, he's more moderate. In the '90s, he voted against the Brady Bill. In 2005, he voted for a bill that became law that shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits.

    Hillary Clinton is trying to make a big issue out of this. One of her proposals is to repeal that law that Bernie Sanders voted for and she voted against. I think that Clinton and her supporters see this as an opportunity, and also Martin O'Malley, the Maryland governor, sees it, too, to show differences and, for once, show that Bernie Sanders is not the purest candidate on the left on at least one topic.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes, and it also speaks to the demographics of the issue of guns.

    If you look — and this is Gallup who did this study. You look at the kinds of people who own guns in this country, they're overwhelmingly white, many of them are Southern, they're male. People who do not own guns or the lowest rate of gun ownership, minorities and single women.

    If you want to understand the politics of the gun debate, who speaks to overwhelmingly white Southerners? Republicans. And for Bernie Sanders, he lives in an overwhelmingly white state, older state of Vermont. This is an issue that plays very differently in Vermont than it does in Brooklyn.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Which we can expect Hillary Clinton to try to exploit.

    But let's talk about something else she has — not choosing to exploit. As we know, she's been struggling with this e-mail controversy for some time. And, somehow, Republicans are helping her.

    Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to be the speaker of the House, gave an interview on FOX in which he said this: "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she is untrustable. But no one would any of that had that happened."

    Well, today, in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton pushed back and said, ah, the horror of this, it's pure politics and it proves the point I was making.

    So, this was kind of an opportunity for her today, Tam.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Absolutely.

    And she came out pretty angrily. This was on "The Today Show." She was more angry than I think I have seen her about the Benghazi committee and about the controversy over the e-mails, really saying: Kevin McCarthy proves my point that Republicans are just trying to politicize this.

    Now, many of Hillary Clinton supporters would agree with that assessment. Others are concerned about the e-mail issue and it gets wrapped up in the idea of trust.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, the other problem, of course, is that just — this is — and Capitol Hill politics — this provided an opportunity for somewhat be to challenge Kevin McCarthy.

    Jason Chaffetz, let's listen to what he had to say today to some reporters.

    REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), Utah: I think I bring a skill set that's maybe a little bit more different, the communications side of it, making sure you have got a speaker who's out there speaking and driving home the communications side of it. Internally, I think I have earned a reputation of being a fair, honest broker that can bring both sides or all sides of the political spectrum together. There is some internal strife and divide that needs to be bridged.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, he was talking to Lisa Desjardins, our political director, in that interview. Clearly, he's saying, I can communicate better than this other guy.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

    You notice that he said the word communication there. He said the word communication in a letter he wrote to his colleagues this weekend, talking a lot about, if you put me on national television, I won't make these same kind of mistakes.

    And, look, what that Benghazi gaffe revealed for the Republicans in the House is a divide that was always there and a concern that's always been there that the new team coming in is going to have the same problems as the old team that's going out. They cannot figure out how to bring the Republicans together and they can't figure out a way for the Republicans to push a message that looks like it can bring in a broader group of voters.

    And so now we have had a real fight for the speakership. This was supposed to be Kevin McCarthy's. This was supposed to be very easy. And talking to folks on Capitol Hill today, there's a sense that you know what? I don't know if anybody can get to 218 votes right now, which is the vote to be the speaker.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And, Tamara, of course, it's really not so much about who might be speaker in the end. Even if Kevin McCarthy has more votes than Jason Chaffetz, you still have — the fight then begins for the number two jobs.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes, and that fight has actually been delayed a little bit until later in the month.

    The sort of more conservative hard-line members of the Republican Caucus are sort of balking and saying, wait, you want all of these people that are basically allied with John Boehner? The whole point of this for them was to get rid of John Boehner and to get rid of the people who sort of represent his — he would call it a more practical viewpoint about what Republicans in Congress can get done.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It all becomes parts of the same loop-de-loop.

    Amy, Tamara, thank you both very much.

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