What Middle America is saying about climate change and gun violence

What Middle America is saying about climate change and gun violence


JUDY WOODRUFF: The worst fears are coming
true about the devastating nature of Hurricane Dorian. There is a new report this hour is that the
death toll in the Bahamas is now up to 20 people. The hurricane and what it says about climate
change, along with guns in the aftermath of repeated mass shootings in this country, and
yet more retirements by Republican members of Congress, are just a few of the issues
we want to raise now with two people who watch public opinion closely from the middle of
America. They are Chris Buskirk, editor of the conservative
journal and Web site American Greatness. He’s in Phoenix. And Colleen Nelson, she is the editorial page
editor for the Kansas City Star newspaper. And she joins us from Kansas City, Missouri. Hello to both of you. We thank you for being here on this Wednesday. I want to start by talking about Hurricane
Dorian. I know that so much of the attention has been
on the Southeastern U.S. coast. But with the severity of one hurricane after
another — they’re getting bigger. They’re dropping more rain. They’re creating more devastation. I want to — Chris Buskirk, there is more
conversation now about climate change, the connection between climate change and what’s
happening to humans on the planet. Is it your sense that this is more of a voting
issue for Americans than it was? CHRIS BUSKIRK, AmericanGreatness.org: I think
that divides a little bit along sort of party and ideological affiliation. So it certainly is, I think, for Democrats. I think there is maybe a bit more for Republicans. What I can say, though, with regard to Republicans
is that there is — how do I want to say this? There’s sort of a frustration about the discussion
of climate change, not do we believe it or do we not, but in the sense that it sometimes
gets in the way of doing — of enacting legislation that is positive environmentalism. In other words, you don’t have to believe
or not believe in climate change to think, for instance, that it’s a good idea to get
the plastic out of the ocean. And, sometimes, these things become an impediment
to what could actually be really positive environmental legislation that everybody could
support. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying some Republicans
are reluctant to support measures, even though they may not have any connection to the term
or the idea of climate change? CHRIS BUSKIRK: Yes, I’m saying — I guess
what — and this — I hear this a lot. Five years ago, I probably never would have
heard it. In the past year or so, I hear it more and
more, is, like, why — why is the debate always stalled over who believes in manmade climate
change and who doesn’t, as opposed to, hey, this would be good policy? You don’t have to believe or disbelieve in
climate change to think that some of these policy ideas are good policy ideas, and actually
would promote a healthier environment for everybody. JUDY WOODRUFF: Colleen Nelson, is there really
a difference there? How do you see this? COLLEEN NELSON, The Kansas City Star: Well,
I think you’re hearing more and more discussion about this issue. And there are deepening concerns about climate
change. And at least at the local level, this is becoming
less of a partisan concern and just more of a pragmatic issue. And in the absence of action in Washington,
D.C., you’re seeing more and more local leaders saying, OK, we need to — we’re the folks
governing on the ground. We need to develop policies that create a
sustainable environment and address the effects of climate change. And so, at the local level, a lot of people
are just kind of setting Democratic, Republican party lines aside and saying, OK, as mayor
of Kansas City, at Kansas City City Hall, what should we be doing to address climate
change? And so there’s not the same tenor of debate
and partisan divide that you see in Washington, D.C. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Chris, when you said a
moment ago it’s more of an issue for Democrats, are you saying that’s changing, truly? CHRIS BUSKIRK: I think it’s — yes, I think
it’s changing a bit, because what I have — what I have heard more about and something I have
thought a lot about myself over the past couple years is, what does a — what does an environmentalism
or a conservation movement look like that could be supported by people who identify
as conservatives? And I start — when I start to think about
the policy initiatives and things that could actually be done in real life, you talk about
reforestation initiatives or ocean cleanup when it comes with regards to plastic, these
sorts of things, there’s a lot of conservatives who would get behind those discrete policy
proposals in a heartbeat. And yet the conversation seems to always get
stymied on, do you believe in climate change or do you not? Well, in a certain sense — and I know this
is very important to people on the left — but we should all — we should take the wins where
we can get them, where people can agree, regardless of why people think they’re good policy. JUDY WOODRUFF: Colleen, I want to turn now
to another subject that has — as I mentioned, has come up, and that is guns, in the wake
of these almost weekly now mass shootings, yet another one in the last few days in Texas,
the third mass shooting in that state — or in — or second in that state in the matter
of 30 days. Is the conversation changing around that? Are you hearing more of a willingness by people
who’ve been opposed to gun control to consider it now? COLLEEN NELSON: The conversation is changing,
in that we’re having serious conversations both in Kansas and Missouri about, is there
something that we can agree on, whether it’s red flag laws or background checks? And — but there’s still a really tough road
to hoe there. And while folks here are very concerned about
the mass shootings, we’re also — this also falls against the backdrop of really huge
problems with gun violence in Kansas City and Saint Louis. And, in Missouri, you see a real rural-urban
divide on gun violence, with a lot of rural lawmakers basically saying, we’re not willing
to do anything, we’re going to stick with very loose gun laws that we have in place
in Missouri, while you have Kansas City and Saint Louis as two of the most dangerous cities
in terms of homicide rates in the country. And so there’s a really strong divide there. And the conversation is shifting a little
bit, but not to the point where you’re actually seeing action. Much like in D.C., in Missouri, a group of
lawmakers has asked the governor to call a special session on gun violence. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. COLLEEN NELSON: And so far, he’s declined. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Chris, what about that? I mean, at the national level, a lot of conversation,
members of Congress urging the president to do something. Mitch McConnell, the leading Republican, the
majority leader in the Senate, saying, I’m not going to do something unless I know for
a fact the president’s going to sign it. CHRIS BUSKIRK: Yes, what I hear a lot is,
obviously, these mass shootings are horrific, and people are really struggling with a couple
things. One is, how do you just sort of psychologically
deal with the fear that comes out of something that’s so random? That’s what people, I think, can’t — have
a hard time, myself included, is, how do you get your mind around something that you can’t
predict at all? And then trying to balance that against sensible
policy. You have — for instance, in 2018, you had
about 110 people killed from these sort of random mass shootings in the United States,
110. And then, on the other hand, you want to balance
that against people’s legitimate right to protect themselves. There were something like 1.3 million defensive
uses of firearms in the United States last year. And you say, on the one hand, we want to figure
out what to do about mass shootings, but is it the guns? Is it the people? Is it a mental health issue? And I think we need to understand those issues
better. And that’s something that everybody wants
to do. And focusing on the guns, I think, is not
— is — maybe is one part of it, but there are other variables that need to be focused
on as well. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Colleen, where are we on
this? It sounds like you’re both saying you don’t
necessarily see movement to do anything about guns. COLLEEN NELSON: There’s not immediate movement
in Missouri or Kansas. And, obviously, the entire country is watching
and waiting on Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Clearly, state lawmakers could act. But Kansas and Missouri remain very red states. Trump won in Missouri and Kansas by 19 and
20 points, respectively. And so the folks who are leading Kansas and
Missouri aren’t inclined to enact a lot of gun control measures at this point. So, even though this has elevated the conversation
and created a sense of urgency, that hasn’t — that isn’t likely to be followed with action
immediately. JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I quickly want to
raise with both of you is the increasing number of retirements we’re seeing from Republican
members of Congress. Chris Buskirk, just a few moments ago, we
learned Jim Sensenbrenner, veteran lawmaker from the state of Wisconsin — he served 40
years — he’s announced he’s not returning. I think the number is up to 14 or 15 at this
point. What does it say about your party — not your
party, the Republican Party? And what does it say about the president? CHRIS BUSKIRK: I think — I’m not sure what
it says about the party. I mean, Sensenbrenner, he’s — 40 years. He did his time. Some of these — some of these other retirements,
I think, are a little bit maybe on point for what you’re asking about. Look, it’s just — it’s tough to be in Congress
right now. It’s tough to be in D.C. in general, especially
for the House members. If you’re in the minority, you really don’t
have anything to do. And so if you don’t see a prospect of getting
back into the majority, you think, well, what am I going to do with my life? And some of these guys are looking for a way
to go out back into the private sector. And I can hardly blame them. I think what the challenge is for Republicans
now is, how do you get good candidates to replace them? That is — that’s really going to be tough. And I think it makes — I think it makes 2020
an uphill battle for Republicans to retake the House, which I know is what people wanted
to do. But it’s not getting any easier. JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 15 seconds, Colleen. What does it look like from your perspective
for Republicans in these races? COLLEEN NELSON: Well, particularly — Republicans,
particularly in suburban areas, are looking at the reality of how Trump is playing in
the suburbs, particularly with women, and their prospects don’t look good. They see what happened in November 2018, and
they fear the worst. And looking ahead another year-and-a-half
of potentially Congress doing nothing, that doesn’t set them up well heading into the
2020 election. And so it certainly makes sense that some
of these Republicans would be making a calculation that it’s simply not worth running and losing. JUDY WOODRUFF: Seems like we’re seeing almost
an announcement a day at this rate. We will see where it goes. Colleen Nelson, thank you very much from Kansas
City, Missouri, Chris Buskirk, joining us from Phoenix. Thank you both. CHRIS BUSKIRK: Thank you. COLLEEN NELSON: Thank you.

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