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Week In Politics: Clinton Benghazi Testimony, Paul Ryan's Bid For Speaker


HILLARY CLINTON: I know how to find common ground. I did it in the Senate. I did it as Secretary of State. I will certainly do it as president. I will go anywhere, any time to meet with anybody to find common ground. But I also know how to stand my ground.



That is, of course, Hillary Clinton today in Washington taking a victory lap after 11 hours of testimony yesterday before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. I'm joined now by our Friday regulars, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

Welcome back to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

E.J. DIONNE: Great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: OK. So today Hillary Clinton announced a major union endorsement. She said the hour between 9 and 10 p.m. last night was the best fundraising hour of her campaign to date. Not coincidentally, that's when she finished testifying.

E.J., how important of a moment is this for her and her campaign?

DIONNE: Well, I think she should work out an arrangement with Chairman Gowdy that she goes up there every week and spends 11 hours there 'cause it's going to help her. I was really struck by that statement of hers about common ground but standing my ground. It was almost like she was saying to Joe Biden, I heard what you said about being - or Republicans being our friends, but you didn't have to spend 11 hours sitting across from these guys. They really - the Republicans walked right into the trap. My colleague, Dana Milbank, wrote in The Washington Post that we should rename it the Select Committee on Blumenthal. They said much more about Sid Blumenthal than they did about a lot of other things, and so they made it easy for her to win this. And I think at this point only something really serious, perhaps some legal action, will really bring this issue back in a big way against her.

SHAPIRO: David, why did Republicans, as E.J. put it, walk right into this trap? I mean, they could have seen this coming.

BROOKS: I have no idea. I mean, Iraq doesn't exist, Syria doesn't exist, the Middle East is in turmoil. Maybe have a hearing on that. But they are fixated on this. And I've seen this since 1991. There's sort of a Clinton scandal psychosis that overcomes Republicans. There's something sort of sleazy or something sort of wrong going on. There's a foul odor. The Clintons have dodged up to the edge of some ethical standard and then the Republicans go after it. And then there's always - there are always these rumors of some devastating revelation that's about to happen but it never actually does. And then in the end, it helps - it ends up helping the Clintons 'cause the Republicans do overkill. We have seen this story before.

DIONNE: And I think there is a peculiar kind of Republican fixation on Benghazi. In the middle of all this, I agreed to do a talk show with a conservative host whom I happen to be friendly with, and we couldn't have been living in more different worlds. And I think the problem for the Republicans on that committee is they reflected that intense world that - where Hillary Clinton is already a villain, and weren't speaking to all the other people in the country. Forget Democrats - just people who might've been undecided.

SHAPIRO: Well, staying for a moment on presidential campaign politics, today Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the Democratic race. Tuesday Jim Webb ended his campaign. On Wednesday Vice President Joe Biden surprised a lot of people saying he would not enter the race. So you have three Democrats saying no while still there are 15 Republicans.

David, what does this tell you about the state of the two parties?

BROOKS: The Republicans are more fertile.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BROOKS: They have a lot more candidates because Hillary Clinton looked inevitable. She went through a period where she didn't look inevitable. Now the week has turned and now suddenly she's inevitable again. The Republicans don't have that inevitable figure, and they've got a lot of diversity. I mean, Ben Carson is now up in Iowa. Donald Trump is a little down in Iowa but pretty strong nationally. As somebody said, we kept awaiting the Trump collapse - he keeps collapsing upward. And so he's hanging around. And to me actually, one of - the noteworthy thing in the Iowa poll that came out from the Des Moines Register was the rise of Rubio. And if the Republicans ever do want a normal candidate, it's looking more and more like it's going to be Marco Rubio.

SHAPIRO: A normal candidate. Well, E.J., is Donald Trump the inevitable on the Republican side?

DIONNE: Oh, I don't think anybody's inevitable on the Republican side, and I think that's what explains the difference you rightly describe. Clinton is the overwhelming front runner. As David said, she went through period where there were doubts among Democrats. Those doubts have dissipated. Chafee was never a serious candidate. Jim Webb was not really out there campaigning. And so now it's Clinton against Bernie. On the Republican side, Trump is - if people don't take Trump seriously now, I don't know when they ever will. He's a serious candidate, but his slippage in Iowa shows that he's vulnerable, which is why all these Republicans are staying in. I agree Rubio has had a good run at it. Ben Carson has kind of unified or begun to unify the evangelicals in Iowa, which is very important to winning out there. What's the other striking thing about the Republicans is, their weak candidates don't drop out at the same rate weak candidates do on the Democratic side. You've got to think that Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and perhaps Lindsey Graham can't be too long for this campaign.

SHAPIRO: Well, just briefly on the theme of unification - Paul Ryan is now officially running for speaker. Elections are next week. Is this going to bring together the House Republicans, who until now have been, as some have described it, ungovernable?


BROOKS: Well, they're good at destroying, they're bad at constructing. And so after they took down Boehner, they had no positive alternative and Ryan became the only alternative. I think there's a lot of good news here. I think Ryan is the most policy-knowledgeable speaker maybe in our lifetimes.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, but tough votes to come - on the debt ceiling and many other issues.

BROOKS: But if you look at the things that they - the way he got this and when he went into the Freedom Caucus, he really conceded very little. He showed some respect for some of their issues of how to run the House, but he conceded little, got a strong speakership. I suspect the honeymoon will last at least through the debt ceiling.

SHAPIRO: What do you think, E.J., brief flash of cohesion among the House Republicans?

DIONNE: I do not envy Paul Ryan. You know, I hear the Freedom Caucus say, well, two thirds of us went with you. But there are still a bunch of holdouts. And I think this is - he is going to have a very tough time because the House Republican caucus is really not a unified party. The one thing he has going for him is that he is viewed as a figure of the right. He is has - we forget in all this talk of relative moderation that he's introduced some really tough, tough budgets with a lot of cuts in them. So he may get a little leeway from the right, but I think his initial inclination not to want to do this was a sensible inclination on his part.

SHAPIRO: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.