Week In Politics: Iran Nuclear Deal Announcement, 'Religious Freedom' Laws NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with political commentators Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times about the Iran nuclear deal announcement, the latest around the religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas, and N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez's corruption charges.

Week In Politics: Iran Nuclear Deal Announcement, 'Religious Freedom' Laws

Week In Politics: Iran Nuclear Deal Announcement, 'Religious Freedom' Laws

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NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with political commentators Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times about the Iran nuclear deal announcement, the latest around the religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas, and N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez's corruption charges.


As we just heard, Energy Secretary Moniz sounding optimistic about the prospect of reaching a final deal with Iran. But what about Congress? That's the starting point for our Friday commentators, David Brooks of The New York Times. Hey there, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hello, how are you?

CORNISH: Sitting in for E J Dionne this week, Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post. Welcome, Jonathan.


CORNISH: So I want to actually play a part of President Obama's speech announcing the framework for the Iran nuclear deal. The president says he welcomes robust debate. Here's how he laid the groundwork for that conversation.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question - do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

CORNISH: David, is that a good starting point to come back with?

BROOKS: Well, it's bogus (laughter). You know, those are not the options. I don't think anybody wants a war. The real issue is do we further isolate and weaken the Iranian regime or do we sign this deal, which will have some inspections but allow them to have a lot more money, and in 10 or 15 years allow some sort of breakout? And to me, this is a poor regime that spends its money funding terrorist organizations around the world, funding IEDs that kill Americans, that believes in a very apocalyptic, extreme religious ideology and that we are essentially going to be allowing them to make a lot more money to do the things that is in their core mission to do. David Petraeus said Iran is not the solution in the Middle East, it's the problem. And so it's going to face a lot of problems, I think - this deal. And the president, you know, he's going to try to make his case in Congress. I think he's going to find a fair bit of skepticism.

CORNISH: Jonathan, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was on our show yesterday, and he said, if President Obama thinks this is such a good deal, to come before the American people, come before Congress.

CAPEHART: That's a good point. But the thing that I think members of Congress aren't fully appreciating, and that the American people need to fully appreciate, is that this wasn't a one-on-one negotiation. This was not a negotiation between the United States and Iran. It was the United States plus six other countries sitting around a table, hammering out. Each country having its own interests and its own desires in this deal. And while it is not as stringent as the president first set out, it is - well, we should talk about it's not a deal, it's a framework of a deal that is actually a lot stronger than people thought it would be when things were being leaked out over the last few weeks.

BROOKS: And I have to just pick up on what Jonathan was just saying. I'm skeptical, with a lot of - especially Republicans in Congress are really skeptical of the deal. As a member of the United States Congress, do you really want to blow up an international agreement? I do sort of think they're in a bit of a box. And it would take a lot of guts or something or disruption to really blow up this deal. So I've - at the end of the day, I happen to think that Congress, as much as they hate this deal, Republicans especially, they may actually accede to it.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, our political writer online says - noted a Pew Research poll that found 73 percent of Americans knew little or nothing at all about negotiations with Iran, so public opinion not quite yet baked in. I want to turn to some domestic news and this quote...


MIKE PENCE: Was I expecting this kind of backlash? Heavens no.

CORNISH: That's Indiana Governor Mike Pence in the aftermath of the backlash to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law was passed in his state and then amended after many days of outcry, of people saying the bill, perceived as having - perceived as being discriminatory against gays and lesbians.

David, this opposition was bolstered by business interests. The NCAA, Apple spoke out against Indiana's law - Walmart in Arkansas with their version of the law. What are we looking at in terms of the balance between social conservatives and the business part of the party?

BROOKS: Well, the business part of the party is part of the country where gay marriage and gay rights have won a great victory. And that's mostly the urban and suburban part of the country, and among the young. And so the question now, it seems to be, in promoting gay rights, gay marriage and full dignity for everybody is, how are you going to win people over who live in the rural and conservative parts of the country? And my question would be, do you want to start a culture war? Do you want to have a situation where a lot of religious people think that the gay rights movement is against religion or is hostile to religion? Or are people being coerced into taking pictures of - working gay weddings as photographers or as bakers or whatever the issue is? And to me that's counterproductive. The gay rights movement has tremendous momentum. Turning it into a culture war, a much more confrontational war, seems to me makes it a lot harder to make progress in places like rural Indiana, rural Iowa, rural Mississippi.

CAPEHART: But it was a - culture war, maybe, but it's an issue of fairness. One of the reasons why - and probably the reason why - the Indiana Religious Freedom Law blew up in Governor Pence's face is because it did not mirror the federal law, which was much more narrowly tailored. The Indiana law did two things. It applied to private business. They would be able to assert a right to the exercise of freedom of religion. And it shielded private businesses from civil rights litigation that was usually only able to be brought by government, then would be applied to private business. So while it did not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, if a gay and lesbian couple were to take a private business to court, they wouldn't have any standing.

CORNISH: But, Jonathan, very quickly, are all claims of religious liberty covers for anti-gay bigotry? That's the argument David has made in a column this week.

CAPEHART: Yes, and I read that. And I don't - it could be. The Indiana law - the Indiana law certainly. But let's keep in mind there are about 19, 20 other states that have religious freedom laws, and there hasn't been an outcry because those laws have protections in place that would make it possible for same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people to have legal recourse.


BROOKS: Well, the Indiana law, Jonathan's right, it goes further than the others. And if that was the argument that was being made, that it goes too far; we should scale it back, I'd be fine with that. To me, the issue is progress. It's like Abraham Lincoln. I'm not drawing the parallel. But Abraham Lincoln knew when to push abolitionism. It was clearly a moral right. But sometimes you got to push it gently. Sometimes you put your foot on the brakes, sometimes on the gas. It's a matter of, pragmatically, how do you move forward and make life easier for gays and lesbians who happen to grow up in rural conservative areas?

CAPEHART: And in this case, in Indiana, it wasn't government that was pushing. It was private business that was pushing - Apple, Marriott, Walmart.

CORNISH: Well, as you guys say, this is just one conversation in a long one. David Brooks of The New York Times and Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post. Thank you both.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Thank you.

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