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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Boston Marathon Bombing Verdict, Obama On Poverty

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Right now we're following the news out of Boston. A jury has sentenced 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in bombing the Boston Marathon two years ago. We'll have more details on the decision elsewhere in the program. But as we begin our week in politics with our Friday regulars, I want to get some reaction to this. E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, welcome back to the show.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to see you.

CORNISH: So the jury had to be unanimous for Tsarnaev to get the death penalty, and this comes in a state that's - obviously, it doesn't have the death penalty. This was a federal prosecution. But, David, I want to start with you. Are you surprised by this decision at all?

BROOKS: Not really. I think it's fitting. There was a nice statement by Loretta Lynch, the new attorney general, where she said, you know, Tsarnaev coldly and calculated - perpetrated a terrorist attack. And then she continues, the ultimate penalty is the fitting punishment for this horrific crime. And so I think that if this is not worthy of the death penalty, then nothing is.

DIONNE: I guess. I'm opposed to the death penalty, even in horrific cases like this, so I'm disappointed. And I was moved by those families of victims who had said, you know, that they were against the death penalty because they didn't want the case to drag on. But I'm not shocked by the decision because this is a horrific case. I just wish they had gone the other way.

CORNISH: And this - as you mention, it does mean there will be several appeals most likely, so...

DIONNE: Correct.

CORNISH: ...This process will continue. I want to shift to some issues that are already looking like they'll play a role in the coming months for 2016 presidential hopefuls. For instance, poverty and the legacy of the Iraq war. The latter came in a question this week that caused some trouble for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. It came Monday, courtesy of Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGYN KELLY: On the subject of Iraq...

JEB BUSH: Yep.

KELLY: Obviously very controversial - knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?

BUSH: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton - just to remind everybody - and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.

CORNISH: This raised a lot of eyebrows. So Tuesday Bush tried again, this time with Sean Hannity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN HANNITY: In 20-20 hindsight, you would make a different decision.

BUSH: Yeah, I don't know what that decision would've been. That's a hypothetical, but the simple fact is mistakes were made.

CORNISH: And by yesterday he was, as some say, walking it back. Here he is at a town hall in Arizona.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: If we're all supposed to answer hypothetical questions - knowing what we know now, what would you have done? I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.

CORNISH: All right, David, first of all, Jeb Bush hasn't fully announced, right? But even so, was this really an unexpected question for a man with the last name Bush planning a presidential run?

BROOKS: Well, it shouldn't be an unexpected question for anybody. Anybody who was vocal on the war should think about that. And I give him a bit of a slack - cut him a bit of slack because he was - he did have an instinct for fraternal loyalty to his brother, and I sort of respect that.

I, frankly, was mostly struck by how all the other Republican candidates - or pretty much all - said it was obviously a mistake. We shouldn't have gone in. And, you know, this is a party with a lot of military voters. A lot of people who've served overseas are - there are candidates telling them that they were fought in a misbegotten war. That's an interesting development in the Republican Party. I think it's probably the right answer, but I'm struck by how the party has shifted so far on, really, that fundamental decision.

CORNISH: E J, we heard in the first answer from Jeb Bush him kind of mentioning Hillary Clinton. How likely is this to haunt candidates on both sides, both parties all these years later, given, say, the rise of ISIS, for example, during the Obama administration?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I thought I was the only person who admired loyalty to your brother. That's one piece of me that had some real sympathy for Bush that he didn't want to throw his brother under the bus. But I think this haunts the whole Republican Party. In particular, Hillary, of course, voted for the war, but she's made very clear for a long time she thought it was a mistake. I found it really somewhat shocking that Republicans who supported the war were suddenly attacking Bush for being uncertain and then, you know, having to do these flip-flops because this question really is important.

Many of the war's staunchest supporters don't want to concede that Obama and other opponents of the war were right because many of them now favor a hyper-interventionist foreign policy. So we're not done with this question yet. I think Bush's critics in the Republican Party are going to have to answer some for why, in some cases, they defended the war a few months ago and then jumped on Bush now. So I think it's a problem for the lot of them.

CORNISH: You know, an issue that's going to haunt Democrats - this issue of economic equality - and this week, President Obama spoke on a panel at the poverty summit held at Georgetown University. E J, you actually moderated this panel. And do you see this conversation on poverty actually changing in American politics? I mean, what did you hear from the president here?

DIONNE: Well, the president was very powerful. I got to say, by the way, I owe my friend David Brooks. The greatest insult he ever hurled at me was that I was the only person he knew whose eyes lit up at the words panel discussion.

CORNISH: I believe that on both counts.

DIONNE: And they did in this case. And the president was really walking an interesting line. On the one hand, he was very insistent that family matters. And I asked him a very pointed question about criticism he's come under from Ta-Nehisi Coates and other African-Americans for seeming to criticize the African-American community. He came on really strong, saying, when I speak to African-American young men, I want to be - use my position to say, I was also fatherless, and you can turn your life around. But he was also very, very insistent on funding programs that are necessary - criticized conservatives for their unwillingness to do so. There was a very interesting exchange between - a set of exchanges between him and Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, who was trying to get conservatives to stop demonizing the poor. He is defending the safety net, but I don't think there was accord on the level of funding needed for programs.

CORNISH: Yeah, David, last minute to you on that. Is that a question for conservatives going forward - having this conversation without moralizing and demoralizing the communities that are affected by it?

BROOKS: Yeah, well, I'm against demoralizing. But I thought that President Obama struck a good chord. We've had it, including E J and I have had this discussion on how much does economics that causes poverty - how much does various cultural factors, such as family and other things, social segregation? And I think the president embraced them both and wound them both together. I wish his policy was a little stronger in following through on the insights he's had, but out of personal experiences and of sociological observation - in part by Robert Putnam, who was also on that panel from Harvard - he's really mastered the subject. And so I thought his discussion was almost a model of how you talk about the interplay of economic and social factors which lead to poverty.

CORNISH: And as...

DIONNE: I think it was really powerful. This was a religious group largely organized by Catholics and evangelicals. And I think that signals a new engagement of the religious community in social justice questions and that could prove very important in the long run.

CORNISH: And I'm sure, for many people, they're hoping this issue does not fall off the radar as election season moves forward.

DIONNE: Amen.

CORNISH: E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.