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5 Ways the Boston Bombings Altered the Political Debate 5 Ways the Boston Bombings Altered the Political Debate

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5 Ways the Boston Bombings Altered the Political Debate

From immigration to drones, the attacks had an impact on the presidential agenda.


People chant during a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in Watertown, Mass.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

For most of President Obama's tenure, national security has taken a back seat to other pressing issues -- be it the economy, health care, spending, or immigration reform. But now evidence is piling up that, at least in the wake of the Boston attacks, national security is back on the public's radar in a big way.

A recent Pew Research Center poll showed a spike in Americans’ expectations about the likelihood of terror attacks; lawmakers and public figures scrambled over how to respond to the attacks; former president George W. Bush, whose newly-dedicated museum focuses on his national security record, saw his popularity hit an all-time, post-presidential high; and lawmakers injected the attacks into the debate on immigration.


Here’s a look at five most significant ways the bombings affected politics.

1. Polls show newfound concern, but increased resignation about terrorism. The Boston attacks put the threat of terrorism front and center in the public’s mind. The Pew poll, conducted between April 18-21, showed the expectation of another terror attack is something a majority of Americans have come to expect. Three out of four Americans think acts of terrorism will be a part of life in the future, according to the survey, up 11 points from just over a year ago.  


But many of the other findings in the survey suggest Americans are unwilling to change their habits in response to the attacks -- a marked difference from post-9/11 sentiment. Only a 49 percent plurality said there was "more the government could do" to stop attacks like the one in Boston, with 45 percent saying there were only limited options. The number of voters "worried about another attack on the U.S." -- 58 percent in the Pew survey -- was virtually unchanged from the results in the firm's November 2010 poll (59 percent).

2. Rand Paul, not quite as doctrinaire on drones.  Paul, whose 13-hour-long floor filibuster delaying John Brennan's appointment as CIA director over drone attacks on American citizens, suggested a caveat in his otherwise consistent opposition to domestic drone strikes. Hailed as a hero among libertarians and some liberals for his anti-drone filibuster, Paul said on Fox that drones could be OK if there were an imminent threat Monday. On Wednesday, Paul issued a statement saying he stood by the ideals he espoused in his filibuster.  “My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed. Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations,” Paul said in a statement.


3. Rudy Giuliani, immigration hawk? Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a long-time supporter of immigration reform, wavered in his backing for the legislation in light of the attacks. Speaking to conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham this week, Giuliani said the border security measures in the bill would not be effective. “The only thing that works is putting the right number of resources on the border and being able to stop people physically from coming in for a period of two or three years to change behavior,” Giuliani said.

4. National security bounce for Bush. The Boston bombings occurred just before the dedication of George W. Bush’s library, and coincided with a bump in the former president's approval rating.  In a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted the week of the bombings, Bush hit his post-presidential high in job approval. The survey showed that 47 percent of Americans approve of how Bush handled his presidency, his highest rating since December 2005.

5. Grassley, Paul invoked bombings to delay immigration reform. As the Senate weighed the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa inserted the bombings into the debate, touching off a sparring match between him and Sen. Chuck Schumer. Grassley said on Friday the events in Boston made it important to look at the immigration system’s loopholes. Schumer later criticized lawmakers for making the connection, saying “To those who point to the terrible tragedy in Boston as, I would say, an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying in many months and years.” Grassley recoiled. “I never said that,” he hollered at Schumer. The scene is a sign of just how much the bombings have frayed the already-tense debate over immigration.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul, a newfound supporter of immigration reform, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the legislation should be slowed down in the wake of the bombings. “We should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system,” Paul wrote.

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