ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Obama's trip and issues of immigration reform and gun control provide us and our Friday political commentators with a break from the usual fiscal follies. David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, it's good to see both of you.
E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.
DAVID BROOKS: We are mourning that break.
DIONNE: Not me.
SIEGEL: First, the Middle East. David Brooks, we've heard about the Israeli-Turkish breakthrough. We've also heard about President Obama having a new friendship with Bibi Netanyahu and he's newly popular among the Israelis. Was this a very successful presidential trip?
BROOKS: (Unintelligible) buddy movie together. You know, I thought it was very successful. I think he showed the Israelis he cared and they weren't sure of that. He showed the Palestinians he could see the world through their eyes, which is important. He backed off some of the earlier errors. I think asking for a settlement freeze before talks was an error.
And he got the U.S. in a good place, which is that given the arc of the Muslim Brotherhood through the Middle East, it's probably rash to give away any territory on the West Bank, but it's important to be trying to help whatever moderates are left, to be engaged in talks, producing some tangible results. So he put us, more or less, where we should be.
SIEGEL: E.J., you want to disagree vehemently?
DIONNE: No, I'm afraid the president may not yet have brokered peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but he brokered agreement between David and me. I think the administration played down expectations for this trip as if it were no more than another visit to Ohio, and yet it was a very consequential trip. I think that his speech was very important for reviving hope for a two-state solution.
Time is running out on the two-state solution. A lot of people are giving up on the possibility of negotiations, getting to two states, and I think he really pushed it forward. A lot will depend on what he does next. I also think, as David suggested, that he had not visited Israel to this point and Bibi Netanyahu had used President Obama as a kind of foil.
His popularity was very low in Israel, and so I think this combination of a strong outreach to Palestinians saying Israelis in their heart of hearts know that peace is a good thing, and his outreach to the Israelis actually bodes well.
SIEGEL: Let's move on to the next issue, immigration. David first. Are Republicans and Democrats anywhere close to an agreement on some system that would legalize the presence of today's undocumented immigrants?
BROOKS: Yes. You know, I've spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill this week and it's amazing how much the mood continues to improve. It's really - it's not, you know, peace and, you know, a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie, but it's real normalcy. And on immigration in particular there are eight senators working on a bill, and as I understand it, the idea of getting a path to citizenship, that is not the big problem.
That has been surmounted. The big problem forthcoming now is getting a - regularizing the flow of future immigrants so they don't lower wages, so Americans can be the first ones to have jobs. But they're making tremendous progress and I think in probably two or three weeks...
SIEGEL: You think even the House...
BROOKS: Well, there's some action also in the House, secret talks under the aegis of the leadership on both parties, so I think this has been a tremendously good news story.
DIONNE: I was talking to a member of Congress today, a House member who's in that House group. And I think the most astonishing thing is not that the Senate group is reaching agreement but they're having a lot of - they're moving very fast in the House. There was really only one issue left for them that has to do, again, with the flow of immigrants. But if you're close to agreement in the House, which is the hardest place to get anything through right now, I think we're really looking at something happening.
And I think Republicans really have made a decision on the right end of the party no less than the left end, that opposing immigration reform with a path to citizenship is, if not political suicide, a very bad idea given what happened in the 2012 election.
SIEGEL: Given, though, that according to the election polls Latinos were the most pro-Obamacare group in the electorate, I gather. Does this just mean Republicans want to lose 60-40 next time rather than 70-30?
DIONNE: They could win elections if they only lost 60-40.
BROOKS: Right, I mean, they're not going to abandon all their positions. You know, I think they've actually - I think the Republican Party, there's also this Reince Priebus announcement or postmortem, which I thought was as bold a postmortem as there has been after an election by a party. I'm not sure it will forestall the need for another one in 2017, but it was still important, and the immigration shift is part of that.
SIEGEL: Let's move on to guns. All week long, we've been reporting on guns in America, Melissa's excellent series of stories. Have we gone from national shock and horror over Newtown to a point where we're now going to get a legislative response that's so cautious that it's well less than what American public opinion would support, E.J.?
DIONNE: I'm much more optimistic than that. There was a kind of setback this week when Harry Reid said that the underlying Senate bill that he'd bring to the floor next month would not include an assault weapons ban. I mourn that. I don't know why we can't pass one.
On the other hand, a lot of senators have been saying the assault weapons ban couldn't pass. I had one moderately pro-gun senator said, look, the assault weapons ban will be the loss leader. That will go down. But we will be able to get universal background checks, which are the most important thing; a ban on the big magazines perhaps; and tougher laws on gun trafficking.
I think it's actually looking reasonably good, despite a little bit of gloom that was in the air this week.
SIEGEL: David, your assessment?
BROOKS: Yeah, my analytic assessment is the same, and I think we're likely to get the background checks. So that's a little bumpy, the large magazine clips. And losing the assault weapons ban, frankly, is not a great loss. Very few gun crimes are committed with rifles, let alone assault rifles. There's not a great difference between assault weapon bans and legal semiautomatics.
If you can limit the size of the magazines, you can control some of the things you were trying to do with the assault weapons ban. So it's - this was the least important of all the things.
SIEGEL: I guess we'll have to get back to taxes and entitlements, so that we get you to disagree a little bit more violently the next time you're here.
DIONNE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, thanks so much.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.