The Sabbath Gas-Bags, April 22

On Sundays, there's nothing we like better than waking up to professional pundits arguing about the issues of the day.

Well, there are plenty of things we like better. But you're that way too, and that's why we're bringing you this weekly afternoon round-up of the Sunday chat shows. Find a rebroadcast later in the evening if you missed something important–or just pretend you know what you're talking about tomorrow.

BOB SCHIEFFER: 'WORST WEEK SINCE SEPT. 11'

The American flags in front of the U.S. Capitol were shown at half-mast at the start of Face the Nation.

Afterwards, Host Bob Schieffer was joined by a Virginia Tech administrator, a former FBI profiler, Jim and Sarah Brady, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to address a single question: How could the killing at Virginia Tech have happened?

At several points, Mr. Schieffer asked his guests about the possibility of allowing individuals to bring concealed handguns onto university campuses—and whether that might help stop future mass killings.

Larry Hincker, the associate vice president of university relations at Virginia Tech, said faculty members should be the ones to decide about whether they would “want to be in front of a class, knowing that one or more students would be carrying a pistol.”

Later in the program, Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler, shot down the idea.

“It reminds me of a statement by H.L. Mencken who said, for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong,” said Mr. McCrary. “We have to be careful that we don’t over-simply the problem or come up with a quick fix.”

Patched in from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Sarah Brady sat alongside her husband Jim Brady, and suggested that the country still needs to do a better job of prohibiting the availability of guns to certain classes of people, including criminals and the mentally ill.

“Unfortunately, mental health records are not easily available on the national instant check system,” said Ms. Brady. “So it’s a matter of enforcing the existing law.”

Likewise, Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he was concerned about whether the laws in place are being adequately enforced.

For a single, brief moment, the show changed topics, when Mr. Schieffer asked the senator if he was ready to call for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Mr. Leahy responded that he no longer believed the attorney general could be effective, but that the problem ran deeper than Mr. Gonzales.

“Never in the history of the department of justice has there been a case where there has been so much interference from the White House in our criminal justice system,” said Mr. Leahy. “That is what’s wrong.”

In his closing thoughts, Mr. Schieffer said he that couldn’t remember a worse week for the country since Sept. 11. What he found most depressing was how public officials had reacted to the shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia with resignation and despair.

“The current safeguards are not working,” said Mr. Schieffer. “And unless something changes it is only a matter of time until what we saw or something worse happens again. The question that keeps running through my mind is: are we prepared to accept that?”

RUSSERT: LET'S GO, HOKIES!

At the start of Meet the Press, host Tim Russert interviewed Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. Mr. Steger noted that, moving forward, the university plans to examine the issue of the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of collective society.

“It is something that I think we should reflect upon very carefully and see what we can learn to ensure that this sort of tragic event doesn’t happen on another campus,” said Mr. Steger.

“I would like to say on behalf of all of us at NBC,” said Mr. Russert, raising a clenched fist, “Let’s go, Hokies!”

Afterwards, Mr. Russert discussed the shootings with Col. Gerald Massengill, retired Virginia state police superintendent, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt.

Along the way, the group chewed over such issues as the feasibility of campus warnings systems, the negative cultural impact of violent video games, and the suitability of current gun laws.

Later, Mr. Russert kicked off the weekly political round table with the results of an AP/IPSOS poll, showing that 50 percent of independents are more likely to support a presidential candidate who favors stricter gun control laws, while 34 percent of independents are less likely to support such a candidate. Mr. Russert went on to note that this week neither party seemed particularly excited about gun control.

Afterwards, Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory, and NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams weighed in on the politics of gun control, the vulnerability of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and the Supreme Court’s decision on partial birth abortions.

“People who oppose abortion think this is a great thing,” said Mr. Williams of the Supreme Court’s decision. “People who think there should be abortion rights are very alarmed.”

Is it time for Mr. Gonzales to step down?

“President Bush who loves Harry Truman and loves loyalty has to realize that sometimes loyalty to the country is more important than loyalty to your friend if it turns out it’s time for Gonzales to go,” noted Ms. Goodwin.

Finally, the guests took turns answering Mr. Russert’s questions about Iraq. But before long the discussion returned to the shootings at Virginia Tech.

“One of the things I found so striking was the diversity of the victims…the number of international students there in the middle of Virginia,” said Mr. Meacham. “It’s a snapshot of what the country is. It’s a diverse country. And it’s a good country.”

JACKIE CLEGG DODD: A WHITE HOUSE IS NOT A HOME 

This Week with George Stephanopoulos began with a conversation with Newt Gingrich about whether Alberto Gonzales should resign; the President's outflanker on the right invoked the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower: It's not about their loyalty to you–it's about their loyalty to the country. Stirring!

Then it was on to New Hampshier, to follow Chris Dodd and his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, around the state for a little "old-fashioned kitchen-table
campaigning."

We can't think of kitchen tables, except in early primary states, where conversation normally involves a policy discussion about a corporate carbon tax, but from the footage Mr. and Mrs. Dodd seemed to do pretty well on it.

Then, they take it to the studio, where George asks the two about the Virginia Tech shootings.

"We need to start the dialogue earlier and we need to solve these problems before they become so enormous," Mrs. Dodd said.

What's Mrs. Dodd's role in the campaign? To "make sure the home is a completely safe harbor for him."

And how's the campaign going? "It's early, very early."

Time for the round table!

George Will made the observation that everyone has read up on just in time to talk about Virginia Tech on a sunday: colleges have stopped acting in loco parentis.

And, says Cokie Roberts, "We are dealing horribly in this country with people who are mentally ill." (Why does it seem to fall to women in these roundtables to bring up the mental illness stuff?) 

Mr. Will noted somewhat indignantly "how muted the call has been for gun control" among Democrats in the wake of the shooting. (In New York, the silence has somehow been deafening!)

SPECTER TO GONZALES: 'LAY OUT THE FACTS'

One democrat who's not been so muted about gun control since the Virginia shootings is our own Chuck Schumer, and he took the podium opposite Sen. Arlen Spector on Fox News Sunday to offer his longstanding position on the subject.

Chris Wallace showed the two senators a montage of "do not recall" quotes from Alberto Gonzales' testimony on Thursday, and in response Mr. Spector said he'd sent a letter to the president to tell him how to handle the situation.

The testimony, he said, "was very damaging to [Gonzales'] credibility" and to the administration. And while it gave no proof that the Justice Department had become a political arm of the White House, it also offered no proof that it wasn't.

He's not calling for a dismissal in part because he appears to believe that if Mr. Gonzales explained why the attorneys were fired, he'd be able to prove tha the firings were not political.

He said he called Mr. Gonzales and said, "Look, Al, do it now. Lay out the facts."

That wouldn't seem to do much for Mr. Schumer, who wants to see bigger fish in that particular congressional fryer: Karl Rove and Harriet Miers.

"The finger seems to point to the White House," Mr. Schumer said. Also, he and many others had long believed that Mr. Gonzales "doesn't really appreciate the role of attorney general" and asserted that most of the president's advisors want him to resign "despite the fact that he's the president's friend."

But, asked Chris Wallace, isn't Mr. Schumer holding up the process of replacing Mr. Gonzales with his demand to hear from rove?

Jim Comey, Mr. Schumer offered, would get through really quickly!

Then they digressed a bit to … the war! Specifically, the Lost War quote from Senate Majority Leader Harary Reid.

Mr. Spector called it demoralizing to the troops to say the war is lost, as he believes Mr. Reid believes. 

"Let's let the process work out, and let's not make inflammatory statements that are going to be very destrcutive, especially to the morale of our armed services."

Panel time! Here we can be a bit more freewheeling about Sen. Reid. Bill Kristol called for his resignation.

"It's a disgrace," he said, that Reid can vote for a program that would keep troops in Iraq for even as much as 15 months if he really believes the war is lost.

"Democrats should ask Harry Reid to step down," he said. "He should not be senate majority leader."

So Juan Williams got up in his grille. What Mr. Reid said is just what everyone in America says themselves!

"What we have here is a civil war in which Americans are caught in the middle … what Senator Reid is talking about, what most people are talking about, is trying to contain it."

There was some digression about whether or not Iraq was a legitimate battle field in the war on terror–with even Mara Liasson seeming to agree that the troops were essentially fighting Al Qaeda insurgents there.

But it was Mr. Kristol who pounded the point into the faux-woodgrain table.

"They are fighting Al Qaeda … and who's killing them?" he said of the troops. "Mostly it's Al Qaeda."

Before things could get too testy, it was time to wrap things up for another Sunday. See you next week!

The Sabbath Gas-Bags, April 22