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The Week In News: Boston Captures National Attention


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.


LYDEN: An intense week that opened with deadly bombings and was capped off with a dramatic arrest.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Americans refuse to be terrorized. Ultimately, that's what we'll remember from this week.

LYDEN: That's President Obama speaking to the nation in his weekly radio address. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hello there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: It's been nearly 12 years since the last major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. I'm thinking, of course, of 9/11. There have been these smaller sporadic incidents. We've seen major changes in security policies as a result. This is the biggest next time since 9/11, and one wonders what we can expect about changing security policies.

FALLOWS: The point the president just made in his Saturday address is the important one that in the years after the initial 9/11 attacks, many terrorism experts emphasized that the real damage done by terrorism is not the actual first attack. It's what a society does to itself in response, the way it closes down its economy, the way it becomes suspicious of itself, the foreign adventurism it might be tempted into.

And for a long time, people wondered what would happen the next time there was an attack. Now, of course, we've had incidents over the years, the shootings at Fort Hood, et cetera, but this is the thing that is closest to the 9/11 attacks, of course , an entirely different scale. What struck me is in this past week, we've seen, as the president put it, a refusal to overreact, a refusal to be terrorized, a refusal to go too far.

It may have helped that this was in Boston, a famously tough city. It may have helped that there's so much more preparedness. It may have helped that so many prominent figures weighed in on days afterwards saying, let's not go crazy here. We've suffered. We need to mourn the people who have died, but let's remember what makes a free society.

LYDEN: Let's move on, Jim. The Senate unveiled its Gang of Eight immigration reform plan this week. And the full Congress still has to come to an agreement. We know that the two suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers, were ethnic Chechen immigrants. Do you think that this is going to change the tone of the debate in any way?

FALLOWS: It might, and we've already seen indications, for example, from Senator Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, look at the fact that these are foreigners who had came into our society and how are we inspecting who we allow in. I would both hope and expect that the momentum behind some change in the immigration landscape continues because both parties have an interest in it and does the nation.

The Republicans have an interest in opening themselves to a greater ethnic diversity than they seem to represent. The Democrats have an interest in regularizing a situation that's made a lot of people live in the twilights of illegal immigration. And the whole society, I think, has an interest in getting this straightened out. So I hope this will proceed.

LYDEN: Because of what happened in Boston at the marathon and the end of the week, we're almost forgetting about the gun control debate, which came midweek. And as you know, the background check amendment was squashed in the Senate. It would've been much bigger news without the rest of this. President Obama weighed in Wednesday, called it a shameful day in Washington. Where do we go from here?

FALLOWS: You'll recall that just last week, you and I, Jacki, were saying that something was likely to happen after all the momentum since the Newtown shootings. And now, it looks as if actually nothing will get through the Congress in terms of legislation. And I think the point the president made in his State of the Union speech is that people like Gabby Giffords, people like the Newtown families deserve a vote, to have an actual up-and-down vote on the merits of some gun laws.

That is what was blocked by this filibuster this past week. So I imagine the administration will keep up the pressure, both on the merits of gun laws and on the procedural dilemma of the Senate right now where a minority can persistently block almost any legislation.

LYDEN: And you wrote that also we should remember that a filibuster is the 60 votes that is not the normal vote required to pass legislation.

FALLOWS: Yes. The U.S. Constitution, as we may recall, says a majority of the Senate, which is now 51 votes or 50 plus the Vice President Joe Biden, is what it takes to pass laws. But over the last few years, it's become routine for the 60-vote filibuster threshold to be applied to everything that is not normal in American history.

LYDEN: Well, we really appreciate you coming at the end of this long week, Jim.

FALLOWS: I'm glad to see you and glad to see you in the new studio.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thank you.

FALLOWS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.