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Week In Politics: New Presidential Candidates, U.K. Elections

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And this week, three more Republican candidates officially joined the presidential race.

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MIKE HUCKABEE: I grew up blue-collar, not blueblood.

CARLY FIORINA: I understand how the economy actually works.

BEN CARSON: I do have a lot of experience in solving problems - complex surgical problems - that have never been done by anybody before.

BLOCK: We heard Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. They all launched their campaigns this week. Here to talk about politics - domestic and international - are columnists E J Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

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

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

BLOCK: Does either of you expect to see Republicans adopt that reasoned approach to immigration that we heard pollster Whit Ayres talking about there, David?

BROOKS: Yes, Republicans are always reasoned on all parts of the party. You know, I think they're going to say, you know, secure the border first and then they're going to have some sort of path. They're not going to go where Clinton has gone, clearly, so there will be a distinction. And so I still think it remains fundamentally a long-term political issue for the party. I'm not sure it's a short-term political issue. Republicans are doing very poorly among minorities and eventually that will kill them as the electorate evolves. But right now they're doing so well among white working-class voters, college educated voters, older voters, I think the playing field is - they can afford to lose a large share of the minority vote and still do OK this year. Four years from now, that will no longer be true.

BLOCK: E J, your thoughts on how immigration will play in this campaign.

DIONNE: Well, I think OK may not be good enough to get 51 percent of the vote. I mean, I think Whit Ayres is right, but I'm not sure the party or candidates this year can afford to do it. And Hillary Clinton - this was a very clever move on her part, I think, because she's really trying to box Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. But you've heard the other Republicans saying they don't want to go this far. Rubio and Bush want to be the candidates who seem more pro-immigration and pro-Latino. But there's a problem - 57 percent of Americans in the latest New York Times-CBS News poll favor a path to citizenship. But only 38 percent of Republicans did. So they want to present themselves as the Whit Ayres kind of candidate. Rubio is Whit Ayres's candidates. And Clinton's going to make it very hard for them to do that and so are their opponents.

BLOCK: I want to cast our attention overseas and talk a bit about the British elections. Forget those polls that forecasted a race that was too close to call. The Conservative Party won handily. David Cameron lives on as prime minister, and this is raising real questions about the future of the U.K. in Europe. It's known as the brexit. Will British - will Britain stay in the European Union? David Cameron's going to allow a referendum on that. David Brooks, do you think that's a realistic fear, though, that Britain would leave the European Union?

BROOKS: Yeah, first I have to say this election has huge implications for our politics. We have had a big debate about fiscal policy in this country, how to respond economic crises, and two countries in Europe responded with more austerity without the big stimulus package - Germany and the U.K. Those two countries have the strongest economies in Europe. They also have the strongest political leaders in Europe.

So Cameron's victory politically is a vindication for that austerity policy, which has been criticized and has been a matter of our debate on the left. As for exiting Europe, the referendum is a risk. I would be shocked if they exited, but Europe is no longer Europe. It's not the centralizing force we thought it was 10-15 years ago. All sorts of bad things have happened to crush that dream. And so we're going to see a lot more federal Europe in the European - in the British sense.

BLOCK: E J, do you see the vindication for austerity that David sees in this result?

DIONNE: Surprisingly, I don't. I mean...

BLOCK: (Laughter) We're shocked.

DIONNE: ...First of all, Cameron got just under 37 percent of the vote nationwide. Secondly, I think he won primarily because of what happened in Scotland. The most remarkable thing here is not just whether Britain will exit from Europe, but whether Britain is going to hold together in Scotland. The Scottish National Party took all but three of the 59 seats in Scotland.

BLOCK: Yeah, they go from six to 56 seats, I think.

DIONNE: Exactly, and Labour - was a Labour stronghold and Labour got wiped out. They got one seat. Cameron tried to use this against Ed Miliband by saying the only way he'd ever form a government is if he had support from the Scottish National Party, which, on the math, was probably right. I think his saying that helped him with English voters. Now, the Conservatives are clearly, simply an English party. And I think those aspects of it had much more to do with it than a confirmation of austerity policies. Although, the fact is it is true the British economy is now moving better than it was before, and so voters voted on that because he tried to soften the austerity in the campaign. He was trying to run as a kinder, gentler austerity, calling for all kinds of programs now.

BLOCK: Identity crisis for Britain do you think, David?

BROOKS: I - well, for sure. The Scottish piece was clearly a big piece. Nonetheless, the number of Conservative Party seats went up. They got an absolute majority. Something they did not have the last election. And so the English people even within England could have turned against if they didn't like the policies. The policies have proved to be popular, but E J's right. The British Conservative Party is not the American Republican Party. It's a much more pro-government party, but about reforming institutions. I think Cameron has a lot of lessons to teach Republicans if they ever hope to win on American coastlines.

DIONNE: I just want to say, the other lesson is if you're a center-left party, don't support a center-right government. The Lib Dems got wiped out - 57 seats...

BLOCK: Crushed.

DIONNE: ...In the last election, eight seats this time. And a lot of those seats went to the Tories, creating the majority for Cameron.

BLOCK: I want to end by talking about an important court ruling that came down yesterday on the National Security Agency's program that sweeps up data on phone records of nearly every American. A federal appeals court said that surveillance practice is illegal; that it oversteps the laws used to justify it, in particular, the Patriot Act. And provisions of that law are due to expire on June 1. So, E J, what do you think Congress should do or will do? Will they extend the Patriot Act, dump it, amend it - what do you think?

DIONNE: I think they have to amend it and rewrite it. I thought Judge Gerard Lynch in his opinion said something very important. He was basically saying the administration is hanging its position - and by the way, there's two Obama judges, one Clinton judge on this panel. They were hanging their position on very vague law and they challenged Congress. Judge Lynch wrote we would expect such momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate and expressed in unmistakable language.

And I think we will see a real debate that will scramble party lines a bit as Senator Pat Leahy, a liberal, and Mike Lee, a Republican and a libertarian, are proposing that we rewrite the law. There's going to be a big debate inside the Republican Party, I think, between the libertarian wing and the hard-line wing.

BLOCK: And where do you think this ends up, David?

BROOKS: Well, I think somehow they'll reauthorize, but I don't know. I mean, I've - I'd love the debate because I really don't know what to think about this. Mitch McConnell claimed that the bulk surveillance, the metadata, the phone records, could've prevented 9/11. The administration report said it's important, but not dispositive. I'd like to know how important - how productive the policy is.

BLOCK: You want some data.

DIONNE: Data.

BROOKS: Some data - I want some mega-data.

BLOCK: We're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: You too.

BLOCK: David Brooks of The New York Times - he's author of the new book "The Road To Character" - and E J Dionne of The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.