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Week In Politics: How The Trump Administration Responds To Gun Violence

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, let's bring in our Week in Politics regulars E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to you both.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

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

KELLY: I think the last time the three of us talked about guns and school safety for our weekly political discussion was in February, and it was the week after the shooting at Parkland. And I can't tell you how much I hate that here we sit again, talking about another deadly shooting at another American school. We're going to get to the politics. I want to start with the message coming from President Trump on this. Let's listen to what he had to say this morning. This was him responding to the shooting in Santa Fe.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat.

KELLY: That was today. Now here is what the president had to say two weeks ago at the NRA's annual convention.

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TRUMP: Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never ever be under siege as long as I'm your president.

KELLY: So E.J., I'm going to start with you. How should we go about reconciling these two statements?

DIONNE: Well, he's an inconsistent hypocrite is the answer to the question. The president of the United States is. He tries as - whenever an event like this happens to show he cares because that's what presidents are supposed to do. Once upon a time in his life, he favored gun control from what - everything we know. Now the NRA is central to his support base. And in the end, he will not take action against them. And I think we should believe the first statement and ignore the second statement.

KELLY: David, what do you think?

BROOKS: Yeah, I mean, I guess I kind of agree with E.J. on the hypocrite matter and the dancing. You know, we sadly have a lot of data about what happens after these kinds of shootings. And historically, after a shooting, the chance there will be legislation loosening gun restrictions goes up in Republican states - loosening restrictions.

KELLY: This is because of fear of a crackdown...

BROOKS: Exactly.

KELLY: ...On gun rights.

BROOKS: And then among democratic states, there's no difference. Nothing happens. And so the evidence is that we do not see much change, much control. And I think that's because the gun issue is a culture war issue. It's become, according to the gun supporters, a bunch of know-it-all urbanites from the coast telling rural people how to live.

And so to me, the two things that need to be done - first, try to find people who have credibility with the gun rights people to say, let's have some restrictions; let's do pass some common-sense rules. But it's got to be led, frankly, by red state people. And secondly, you know, I personally think we should stop reporting the names. We're in the middle of a social contagion here, and I - we were sitting in the studio. I just saw this kid's face on CNN. I think we should stop doing that.

KELLY: You're in the camp that it glorifies the shooter and brings attention to them.

BROOKS: In the eyes of future shooters, yes.

KELLY: You know, I remember, David, when we spoke, again, in this conversation right after Parkland. And you were very skeptical that that shooting would move the needle on gun control legislation. E.J., where do you stand?

DIONNE: I think the conversation has moved. And I disagree with David that this will come out of the red states because so many particularly very rural red state politicians just aren't going to move on this for political reasons. On the other hand, I do think it's important that people in those states begin speaking out who are in favor of sensible gun laws, and I think they are.

There's a lot of reason to be skeptical. David Hogg, a particularly outspoken student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a very skeptical tweet today. I am cleaning it up a little for the air. But he said, get ready for two weeks of media coverage of politicians acting like they care when in reality they just want to boost their approval ratings before the midterms.

But there are two things. One, Senator Chris Murphy said at a Center for American Progress event this week that he had expected it to take a decade to make real progress on guns. And now from what he sees and what he's hearing from other politicians, including Republicans, make him think that timeline is a lot shorter. And there was a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll this week that show gun policy as the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters in battleground districts and states at 23 percent. We have never seen anything like that. And so I think things are moving on this issue. I have no idea when we will actually get there, but I think we will get there.

KELLY: Let me turn you both to what was the big political story of the day before this shooting in Texas, and that was a new Trump administration proposal that would block family planning funds from groups that also provide abortions. This would seem to take direct aim at Planned Parenthood. It would also seem aimed at making the president's base happy. David, where do you land on this?

BROOKS: It will make the base happy.

KELLY: Yeah.

BROOKS: You know, this was a rule that was instituted by Ronald Reagan. It was repealed by Bill Clinton in the George W. Bush administration. They had bitter internal debates about whether they should bring it back. And I think what - Donald Trump has been very consistent to - especially to his social conservative base. If you'll accept a few porn stars and stuff like that, I'll give you a lot of policy. And he has been - this has been a long-standing thing that social conservatives have wanted. And it will be severely uncomfortable for Planned Parenthood because they both provide a lot of women's health coverage, and they provide a lot of abortion services. And so he's delivering to the people who elected him.

KELLY: E.J., game out the politics from where you see this.

DIONNE: Well, actually it will motivate both bases that the - and I think what's particularly difficult for Republicans on this is that so many of the swing seats this year are in suburban districts, tend to be more pro-choice than they are pro-life.

I think what the Republicans are doing is calculating that they're going to lose a lot of seats in the House. But they're trying to build a firewall where they can just hang on to a narrow majority. And they think the way to build that firewall is to get more of their base out than currently look like they're going to vote because there is a big enthusiasm gap right now. It's in favor of the Democrats. And so you're going to see a lot of base-oriented politics from Trump and the Republicans, which will maybe motivate their base in some places but still is high risk in a lot of the swing districts.

KELLY: David...

BROOKS: I could argue it both ways. You know, the Democratic advantage - what they call the generic advantage in the midterms - is dropping, dropping to about five or six. Trump is getting more popular. People like him a little more. And so the idea of a blue wave looks a little less likely.

On the other hand, as E.J. said, the two issues that are rising to the fore are the abortion issue and the guns issue. Those are super important to suburban voters and the Pennsylvania suburbs, all those sorts of places that do swing House districts. So even if the generic trend could be in the Republican direction, for the Democrats, the key trends could be in those suburban places where they could pick up a lot of votes.

KELLY: That is David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Thanks to you both for joining us this Friday.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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