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A Look At The Fallout From Last Week's Deadly School Shooting In South Florida

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, let's turn now to the story that has dominated the week - the aftermath of the shooting in Florida.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS #1: (Chanting) Never again. Never again. Never again.

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CAMERON KASKY: Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?

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MARCO RUBIO: The answer is - to that question is that people buy into my agenda. And I do support the Second Amendment. And I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe.

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DANA LOESCH: Crying white mothers are ratings gold.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS #2: (Chanting) Vote them out. Vote them out. Vote them out.

KELLY: Those are the chants of student protesters outside the Florida State Capitol. We also heard from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior Cameron Kasky questioning Republican Senator Marco Rubio and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. All the gun debate this week has divided the nation, and it has divided our two week in politics regulars - E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back, you two.

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

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

KELLY: Now, you came at this from really different directions in your respective columns this week. David, I'm going to start with you. The thrust of your column, if I may summarize, is that if we want to stop school shootings, it's necessary to let red America lead the way and to show respect to gun owners at all points. Elaborate on that.

BROOKS: Well, no, that really wasn't my - the argument was that if we want to - have more gun control laws, we have to do that. Since Sandy Hook, more than two dozen states have passed gun control legislation. In almost every single one of those cases, they've made it easier to get guns, not harder. So those of us who support gun control regulation have been losing and losing big time. And so why is that even though our position has, like, 60 or 70 percent support? And it's become first, most of the legislatures are controlled by Republicans. So you've got to talk to Republicans if you want to get something done. And second, it's become a culture war issue.

We don't talk about guns as guns. It's become, do you like my kind of people versus your kind of people? So my response to this horrific shooting and the need to get some sort of legislation on the books is let's get it out of the culture war business so we can talk about guns as guns where we have a clear 60, 70 percent majority. And let's take it away - where Republicans can come out and say, yes, let's do something practical. That's the exact opposite of what happened this week.

KELLY: E.J., you came at this from a really different angle.

DIONNE: Right. Well, what bothers me about this argument that it's all about culture is that that's almost entirely an invention of the NRA precisely because they don't want to talk about assault weapons bans because they are popular. They don't want to talk about strengthening background checks because doing that is popular. A Marist Poll today - 71 percent of Americans agree that we need stricter gun laws, including 58 percent of gun owners. So rather than talk about the actual issues, they just want to demonize their opponents and say those of us who are for gun control hate the culture of rural states, hate the culture of rural people, which is nonsense.

None of us do - none of these measures do that. I always like to point out I had a godfather who was a gun owner, and my dear brother-in-law is a gun owner. I don't have anything against these folks as people. I want these measures. And the problem is the NRA's power in the Republican Party. And you saw that in that very milquetoast-at-best response from Marco Rubio. Until the power of the NRA can be broken, we're going to face this problem. It's not about culture.

KELLY: Do you see any sign this week, E.J., that the power of the NRA is being broken? They came out swinging at the big CPAC conference, the big conservative gathering just outside Washington here.

DIONNE: It's pretty appalling. Dana Loesch, what she said about why networks are covering the killings of children - because they're looking for white crying mothers - what a horrible thing to say. You know, after Sandy Hook, I thought something would happen. And I was wrong. There are two things that are different here that give us a little bit more hope.

One is that these kids, these high school students, have been their own best advocates. And it's very hard to say no to them, as that answer from Marco Rubio suggested. So I think they're pushing the debate. And the latest polling this week by Marist and by Quinnipiac shows actual movement on this issue in favor of gun control. So progress is being made. I don't know if we're going to get all the way there as long as the Republicans control Congress.

KELLY: David, do you see signs that give you hope that the stage is set differently this time than we have seen in the aftermath of past shootings where there's been a huge debate and then very little action?

BROOKS: Right. No, I think we're in worse shape. You know, it should be said, first of all, E.J. and I are completely talking past each other. I think we're both in support of this gun control legislation. It's about tactics. What tactic do you use to swing the Republicans who you want - you need to win over in order to get this thing done? And the NRA is powerful, no doubt, because there are a lot of gun owners in this country. There are more gun clubs in this country than there are CVS and Walgreens combined. There are just a lot of people who own guns. And it matters to them.

But a lot of them - despite what the NRA's official position is, a lot of them support sensible gun control rules - putting age limits on them, putting restrictions on bump stocks, some of the actual controlling certain sorts of firearms. You get huge majorities even among conservative Republicans. So winning over conservative Republicans who already believe in this stuff shouldn't be that hard.

But if you turn it into this - really, what seemed - I looked at my Twitter feed after the CNN town hall and it erupted in rage on both sides. It was just an eruption of rage. And the gun owners were enraged at CNN and the rest of the people were enraged at Marco Rubio and the NRA. But that's the last thing we need to actually get at a vast majority position which already exists on this issue.

KELLY: Let me ask...

DIONNE: The money the NRA spends on behalf of Republicans is a very big deal - $30 million against Hillary Clinton in the last election. I think that Republicans have to show us that they're willing to break with them.

KELLY: Let me ask you both about somebody who will be central in whether there is change or not. And that is, of course, the president. We heard from two really different-sounding President Trumps this week. Here he is sounding measured at a listening session with students and parents.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a long-term situation that we have to solve. We'll solve it together. And you've gone through extraordinary pain. And we don't want others to go through the kind of pain that you've gone through.

KELLY: And here is Trump today.

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TRUMP: By the way, if you only had a choice of one, what would you rather have - the Second Amendment or the tax cuts? Go ahead. Second Amendment.

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TRUMP: Tax cuts.

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TRUMP: Second Amendment.

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TRUMP: I'm going to leave it at the Second Amendment. I don't want to get into that battle.

KELLY: To both of you - E.J., you first, briefly. Have you figured out where the president is in the gun debate?

DIONNE: The president doesn't really have values or positions. He has interests. And especially going to the earlier piece, the threat he's under in the investigation, he's going to go with the people who are going to go down the line for him on the Russia mess. And so he's going to go with the NRA.

KELLY: David, last word.

BROOKS: Yeah, he is. He - the offer on the guns was like the offer on the DREAMers. It was just a mirage. He loves these culture war fights. That's what he needs to keep him up at 40 percent. And the more culture war fights he has, the better off he is. And if you want to help Trump, start another culture war fight.

KELLY: (Laughter) Which circles us back to where we began. Gentlemen, thanks to you both.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

BROOKS: Good to be with you.

KELLY: That is David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution wrapping up this week's week in politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIDENCE'S "HUSTLE ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.