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Week In Politics: Immigration, Violent Extremism Summit

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we pick up there with our Friday commentators, E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Hey there, E. J.

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

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hello, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: How are you?

CORNISH: So I want to turn to one governor in particular who had a pretty good week, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas. He was a federal judge in that state who blocked President Obama's push to grant temporary legal status to millions of immigrants who are in this country illegally. Let's hear some reaction from the governor earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: In Texas, we will not sit idly by while the president ignores the law and fails to secure the border.

CORNISH: Now, today, the White House announced that that the Department of Justice will seek a stay of the judge's ruling, which the administration also says it will appeal. E. J., does this look like a temporary setback or something more?

DIONNE: It's temporary if they get the stay. I think the first thing here is how politically active so many judges are. It's really important that the people who wanted to stop the president's executive actions really forum shopped here. And this judge has spoken out against the administration's policies as if he were a congressman or a city councilmember. And they knew going in which way he would rule. That's something that I think is troublesome on its face.

But - and the circuit down there is quite conservative, so it's possible the administration will lose its appeal. And you had a lot of young, undocumented immigrants who were ready to take advantage - right on the verge of taking advantage when this judge's decision came down. So this has a huge effect on a lot of people.

CORNISH: David, people aren't really paying attention to this - right? - because we're so busy looking at Republicans in the House and DHS funding and that whole fight of fighting it, I guess, on the congressional level. What do you make of sort of where it's gone legally?

BROOKS: Well, this could be a magic bullet for the - magic rescue - deus ex machina for the Republicans in the Congress who have been waging this losing battle to defund DHS over all this. To me, it's actually a tough issue. You know, I agree with the policy of what the president did. I hate the process. I do think - I agree with early Obama. This is not something presidents should be doing unilaterally.

This decision is unsatisfying because he didn't really measure - judge on whether this was an overreach of executive action. The heart of the decision was over whether there was enough public comment, which is sort of a technical issue. And so I suspect it'll slow things down and delay it. But I suspect, in the end, the president will probably get his way, because this is basically a national issue, not a state issue.

DIONNE: And he had to hang. David's right about how narrow this decision was. He hung it on the idea that the states had standing to sue because of the cost of issuing driver's licenses. And so a judge in Texas has intervened to sort of challenge presidential authority based on the cost of driver's licenses. It's astonishing.

CORNISH: And it's not over, obviously, 'cause on Monday we'll hear more about this in the courts with the White House making that move. I want to actually move to this Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. I'm stating the formal title because the language raised some questions before the summit even really got started. The president addressed that in a speech to the Summit, saying that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and wouldn't play into the hands ISIS, which he says uses that notion to recruit and radicalize young people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We must never accept the premise that they put forward because it is a lie, nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They're terrorists.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have prevented Islam.

CORNISH: David, we've touched on this before - the White House not ever using kind of Islam and extremist in the same sentence - obviously a lot of criticism about this this week. And you say he misses the mark - the president. And what are your reasons?

BROOKS: Yeah. Well, first, I think it's dumb on two levels. First, is this true Islam? Well, all religion is interpretation. God doesn't actually speak to us directly so we're interpreting. So ISIS has one interpretation. Most Muslims have a much different interpretation, fortunately. And so to say whether it's true or not - it's all interpretation. The second and more serious problem with what the president said is that terrorism and the people who are motivated to join ISIS are motivated on three levels. First, they have probably economic and political dysfunction, which makes them unhappy with their worlds. Second, they have spiritual ardor. They want to be heroic about something. They like some totalistic conflict. And third, there is theological conviction. ISIS does have a theology, and the Atlanta cover story covered it very well. And so you've got to address it on all levels. And my problem with what the president says, like President Bush and like a lot of our presidents, is that we only want to talk about economics and politics because we live in a secular society, and that's all we're comfortable talking about. But if you have a bunch of people who are spiritually motivated to do some heroically terrible things, you have to confront the spiritual and religious level as well.

CORNISH: E. J.?

DIONNE: Well, I find this whole debate very strange. I don't feel really strongly on either side of should the president say Islamic extremism or not. But I do think the administration has an argument. And, as David pointed out, it's the same argument President Bush made, which is that it's counterproductive for the United States to suggest that Islam, in some way or other, even just a little piece of it, is the enemy because we have a lot of allies out there who are Muslim. And there's also a couple of subjects subtexts here. It was astonishing. This week, you know, connected to all this, you know, Rudy Giuliani saying, I do not believe the president loves America - he was not brought up through love of country.

So there is still this subtext against the president. I also think it's a bank shot to take - to attack his policy on ISIS. At least John McCain goes out there and says, I have a policy. I want to put boots on the ground. That's a real critique. I think this is a kind of indirect way of going at him on his ISIS policy without actually saying what you're going to do.

CORNISH: We just have a minute left, but I do want to bring up the issue of summits being useful in any way. I mean, what was really accomplished here?

BROOKS: Well, I feel they should've had this summit a long time ago - six years ago. I mean, we should have a conversation about the way Islam is being perverted, or however you want to put it - this interpretation. I do think ISIS is the main threat to global stability. And so it started a conversation. I think it was fair use.

CORNISH: E. J.?

DIONNE: Yeah. I mean, I think that we need to engage on religious issues as a country, and that religion plays a major part in foreign-policy and it plays a major part in human motivation. And whether you're a secular or religious, that's just a fact of life. And so I think a discussion like this in the White House is designed to underscore that. I don't know how much good this particular meeting did, but I think we are sort of more sophisticated on this question than we were 10 or 15 years ago.

CORNISH: Well, we'll have to leave it there. E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thanks so much, E. J.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.