A PARTY DIVIDED
January 15, 1998
A division is brewing in the Republican party over a controversial late-term abortion technique. A resolution would deny Republican National Committee money to politicians who refuse to ban the procedure. After a background report, two members of the RNC debate the resolution.
MARGARET WARNER: We join the debate now with two Republican National Committee members. Tim Lambert from Texas is the author of the resolution. He is also president of the Texas Home School Coalition. And Joyce Terhes is the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. They're both in Palm Springs. Mr. Lambert, why are you proposing this resolution?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
January 15, 1998
A background report on the resolution that is dividing the Republican party.
May 15, 1997
The Senate begins to vote on different proposals to ban "partial-birth" abortions.
January 22, 1997
A report on Abortion Politics Day in Washington and the 24th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The FDA tentatively approves U.S. sales of the French abortion drug, RU486.
April 11, 1996
The aftermath of Clinton's veto of the late term abortion ban.
April 10, 1996
President Clinton's comments following his veto of the partial birth abortion bill
February 21, 1996
A panel of Republicans discuss the issues that are dividing the party.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law, and Congress.
RNC the official Republican National Committee
LAMBERT: "It's about infanticide."
TIM LAMBERT, Texas Republican Party: Well, the reason I'm doing that is this is a heinous procedure. This is not really about abortion; it's about infanticide. Our platform has taken a strong position against this issue, and yet, our party gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates who hold the same position as President Clinton. I think the rank and file Republicans see that as hypocrisy.
Predicting the American public's will.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Ms. Terhes, hypocrisy? You're opposed to this resolution?
JOYCE TERHES, Maryland Republican Party: I'm opposed to this resolution. I think that--I trust the American people to vote. If you look at the case of Christie Todd Whitman, she was re-elected, and then the general assembly overrode her veto. This is democracy. This is the way it's supposed to work, but not for us to go in and decide who's going to run and who's not going to run.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Lambert, what--if this were to pass, what would you hope to actually achieve? As we just heard in Kwame's report, only four out of fifty-five Republican Senators even voted against the ban, and on the House side it was equally lopsided in your party; it was something like 217 to 8. So you already really have most of your Republicans on board.
The goal for Republicans: expansion.
TIM LAMBERT: Well, I agree. I think this is--first of all--first and foremost--a moral issue. But I think more than that, it is a political issue. I've talked with rank and file Republicans all over the country who were disgusted because our party says that they believe this is a heinous act and ought to be stopped. And yet, they give Republican donor money to candidates that will agree with President Clinton. If you're going to win elections, you have to intensify and encourage your base of support. And at this point we're not doing that.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes, what about that point, that Republicans across the country who feel strongly about this are deeply upset that the party still supports candidates who feel the other way?
JOYCE TERHES: But like any family, we have disagreements; we have different ideas; we discuss them; and the majority rules. And this is what it should be, giving the people the choice at the ballot box not for a group of a hundred and fifty-five people to dictate who can run and who cannot run.
MARGARET WARNER: And are you saying--
TIM LAMBERT: Well, that's not exactly--we're not talking about who can run or who can't run. We're talking about who the RNC gives money to, Republican donor money.
JOYCE TERHES: But if you know that you're not going to get any donor money from the Republican National Committee, I think that encourages a lot more millionaires to run who will spend their own money, rather than people who represent the entire Republican Party and the citizens of America.
TIM LAMBERT: I think the reason the Republican National Committee has $6 million in debt right now is because the small donors have stopped giving, by and large, to this party because we have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde position on this issue.
JOYCE TERHES: Well, I disagree--
Is the debate divisive or healthy?
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes, do you--it sounds, just listening to the two of you, as if this is a deeply, deeply divisive issue in the party, not just in Congress but all across the country among party activists. Is it that divisive?
JOYCE TERHES: No. Because I think we will be unified when we leave here because we want to elect more Republicans and have the Republican--more members in the Republican Congress who have done such outstanding work--a Republican President and more Republican governors, and that is what our goal is. And that will happen, regardless of what happens tomorrow.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Lambert--
TIM LAMBERT: I do agree with Joyce on the issue that this is not divisive. The polls show 75 and 80 percent of the country thinks this--even among people who are pro-choice--think this ought to be done away with. So I don't understand why it's divisive.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you about something that Jim Nicholson, your party chairman, said, and he is pro-life, but he has come out against this, as we just pointed out, because he says it will cost you votes among pro-choice voters and he thinks may even cost you money from pro-choice donors. Is there another side to that, in other words?
TIM LAMBERT: Well, yes, there is another side to that. It's costing us votes right now to take a position that 75 or 80 percent of the country is opposed to and the small donor, which has been the backbone of our party, has walked away and forced us to go to the large donor. I believe it's not only the morally right thing to do, but it's good politics. When 75 percent of the country agrees with you and the small donors will be invigorated, I think it's good politics.
How would Lincoln react?
JOYCE TERHES: You know, if this procedure had been in place, or this resolution, when Lincoln formed the Republican Party, he opened that party not only to abolitionists but anti-abolitionists, Whigs, Democrats, because he wanted to win in order to be able to make changes, and we should be able to welcome everybody into the party and let the people vote and let the people decide.
TIM LAMBERT: Nobody's trying to exclude anybody from the party.
JOYCE TERHES: But you do that--
TIM LAMBERT: And Lincoln--
JOYCE TERHES: --because you don't give ‘em money.
TIM LAMBERT: And Lincoln did not--Lincoln refused to allow slavery to expand or to soften the platform in the debate in 1860. He took a strong stand against slavery.
JOYCE TERHES: But he did not give--
TIM LAMBERT: It's time for us to take principle over politics.
JOYCE TERHES: But Lincoln did not put a litmus test on who could be a member of the Republican Party.
TIM LAMBERT: Nor have I.
JOYCE TERHES: This is what you're doing.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes.
TIM LAMBERT: What we're talking about, what we're talking about is who gets money from the RNC, not who can be a Republican.
Is a litmus test always a bad idea?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Ms. Terhes, let me ask you this. Do you think a litmus test is always a bad idea for a party to impose? I mean, are there any issues that are so important that, in fact, it's a principled thing to do?
JOYCE TERHES: I really do not believe in a litmus test of any kind where you can say you can run but we're not going to support you; we're not going to help you; we're not going to give you any money. That is not the job of a political party.
TIM LAMBERT: That's exactly what this party did. In 1991, when Republicans nominated David Duke in Louisiana as their nominee, not only did the RNC not support him financially, they denounced him, and so did President Bush. So we have had a litmus test. We're willing to do it on race, but evidently not on infanticide.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes.
JOYCE TERHES: But we didn't pass--we did not pass a resolution that applied to everybody across the board who did not support the ban. This was a one-time case that was made by the Republican National Committee, and it did not take a resolution to do that.
TIM LAMBERT: The reason it didn't is because the chairman and the President of the United States chose to do that. In this case this committee has not had the opportunity to debate this issue. The chairman and a small group of people have decided to give large amounts of money to candidates that opposed our platform on this issue. And I think the committee, the board of directors, if you will, the Republican National Party, ought to have the last say.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes, what effect do you think that this--this debate will have whether or not the resolution passes?
JOYCE TERHES: Well, I think, No. 1, it's good for the party, and it shows that the Republican Party is willing to debate this issue, as opposed to the Democrats, who would not let the governor from Pennsylvania attend the Democrat Convention in 1996. I think it shows a tremendous difference between the Republican and Democrat Party.
TIM LAMBERT: Well, with that, Joyce and I agree. I do believe that it's healthy for the party to do this. Unfortunately, the chairman has tried very hard to prevent this issue from being debated, but I do believe it's healthy for the party.
JOYCE TERHES: I don't think the chairman has tried to prevent it from being discussed. I am certain it will be discussed some more.
TIM LAMBERT: So am I.
MARGARET WARNER: But some party leaders have said that by having this internal debate so publicly, you've taken the focus away from the Democrats, who have the--many of whom, including the President, at least, have the other view on this--is that a danger, Mr. Lambert?
Will the resolution pass?
TIM LAMBERT: I don't think so. I think it's healthy for the core base of our party. Remember, that in Virginia, the folks who thought family values were the most important issues were the determining factor in that--in the victory in those Virginia races. We've got to invigorate the base of our party. And at this point it looks like we're saying one thing and doing something else.
JOYCE TERHES: But, again, in Virginia, the people made that decision. And I, again, trust the decision of the people of America who vote.
TIM LAMBERT: And, again, I'm not saying we shouldn't do that. We're talking about the allocation of resources of the Republican National Party. That's the purpose of the board of directors, is to set the direction of the party.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Lambert, do you think that Republicans who don't vote for your resolution are going to pay any kind of political price within the party?
TIM LAMBERT: I think some of them will. I think many of these people have been elected to positions they hold for many years because they say that they are pro-life, and frankly, I hear from a lot of rank and file Republicans who don't understand how you can say I'm pro-life but I'm going to vote to allow Republicans who support President Clinton on the partial-birth abortion issue to get hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor money.
MARGARET WARNER: And what is your prediction for what's going to happen tomorrow? It first goes to the resolutions committee.
TIM LAMBERT: I have no doubt that the resolutions committee will forward this issue onto the floor, and we'll have a full public debate, and a public vote.
MARGARET WARNER: And your prediction on that?
TIM LAMBERT: Well, I--if I were making odds in Las Vegas and you had the national chairman on the other side, I would say the odds have to be in his corner, but I think anything can happen.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Terhes.
JOYCE TERHES: I agree that it will be defeated tomorrow. I have been talking to many of the members since I arrived yesterday, and there's an overwhelming majority that are against this resolution.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.
JOYCE TERHES: Thank you.