June 2, 1998
Congress has returned from a Memorial Day recess and are back to debating topics such as campaign finance reform and national security. What else is on the agenda? After a background report, five members of Congress discuss what lies ahead.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress are back on Capitol Hill and they face a full schedule. In the House member will pick up where they left off--debating campaign finance reform legislation.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 19, 1998:
Were foreign contributions funneled into Clinton's 1996 campaign?
May 12, 1998:
Can the House conduct a fair investigation into campaign financing abuses?
April 22, 1998:
An update on the campaign finance investigation.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Congress.
View the Library of Congress's Thomas government reference site.
View the House of Representatives' Web site.
REP. VIC SNYDER, (D-AR): The most recent records of the FEC in the last few months, a $200,000 donation from an individual impacting on the work at the capitol; a $250,000 donation from a construction company; a $100,000 donation from a union.
KWAME HOLMAN: The main reform bill is sponsored by two freshmen-Tom Allen of Maine and Republican Asa Hutchison of Arkansas. The bill would ban unlimited so-called soft money contributions to national political parties and its supporters say will survive legal challenges.
REP. ASA HUTCHINSON, (R-AR): We need a bill that can pass. Besides having a strategy that the bill would pass, we also had a Supreme Court strategy. It's not good enough to get a bill passed by this House and signed by the president. It's got to survive constitutional scrutiny.
REP. TOM ALLEN, (D-ME): We are going to hear the phrase "free speech," because when some members argue that campaign reform stifles free speech, they are really saying that it shuts down big money, and they like big money.
Will Congress agree on a campaign finance reform bill?
KWAME HOLMAN: But passing any bill may prove difficult. House Republican leaders have allowed hundreds of amendments to be offered by members. California Republican John Doolittle's amendment would do away with limits on political contributions altogether.
REP. JOHN DOOLITTLE, (R-CA): True campaign reform should honor the first amendment by expanding participation in our republic and by enhancing political discourse.
KWAME HOLMAN: Debate is expected to extend well into the summer and with wide disagreement over what, if any reform is necessary, many members doubt workable legislation will be written.
REP. RICK WHITE, (R-WA): The fact is we don't agree on the details, and what most of this campaign finance debate will turn out to be is one party trying to stick it to the other party and trying to see if they can do that in one way or another. The fact is it is very likely that we will end up at the end of the day in a situation where no bill has the votes that is necessary to pass.
Concerns over possible breeches in national security.
KWAME HOLMAN: In a matter related to ongoing campaign finance investigation, Republicans in both Houses of Congress also have begun focusing on a Clinton administration that may have allowed sensitive missile technology to reach the Chinese military. Just before the Memorial Day recess House Speaker Newt Gingrich appointed California Republican Christopher Cox to head an eight-member bipartisan committee to investigate the matter. However Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who will choose Democrats for the committee, urged members not to jump to conclusions.
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA)
REP. DICK GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: I do not believe that anything wrong happened here, and I think that soul be our assumption. This president has had a very good foreign policy. He does not, you know, give away technology that would harm our military efforts or diminish our security.
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, last month Gephardt and nearly every other House Democrat voted for a series of Republican measures that would bar future transfers of missile and satellite technology to the Chinese.
REP. RANDY CUNNINGHAM, (R-CA): They are a threat, Mr. Speaker. China is a very serious threat, and to give them the technology that could destroy this country is very, very serious.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders also await word on whether independent counsel Kenneth Starr will send Congress a report on the Monica Lewinsky matter, which could lead to congressional hearings. Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich returns to Washington after creating headlines during an official visit to Israel. Gingrich broke with U.S. policy on the political status of Jerusalem in a speech to the Israeli knesset.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: We in Congress stand with you today in recognizing Jerusalem as the united and eternal capital of Israel.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gingrich avoided further controversy by canceling plans to lay a cornerstone at the site of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. He then went on to meet with Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat.
Five members of Congress discuss upcoming House business.
JIM LEHRER: Now, three House members who've been with us from time to time since they were freshmen in '94: Republicans George Nethercutt of Washington State and Zack Wamp of Tennessee; and Democrat Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, joined tonight by Republican Kay Granger of Texas, a first-term member and the former mayor of Ft. Worth, and Democrat David Minge of Minnesota, first elected in '92 and a founding member of the Coalition of Moderate Blue Dog Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Nethercutt, first on the Starr investigation, the president and all of its many ramifications, is it affecting the way you all do your business in the House?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT, (R-WA): I think it has some impact, Jim. I think, frankly, we're trying to get our business done. I'm on the Appropriations Committee. I'm working very hard, so is Mr. Wamp, and we're working very hard to get the budget side of Congress completed. Certainly, it's a distraction, because it's in the news everywhere. And I think what most of us want-- and I think what we hope the Starr investigation and all the other investigations that are being conducted will do-- is get us to the truth. I think the country deserves the truth from this president and all the allegations should be answered. I think that's what we're trying to do, but we're still getting our work done.
JIM LEHRER: Is it making it hard to be a Democrat?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH, (D-PA): Not at all. I think that it's a distraction for Congress that is seeking distractions, that is, that we don't seem to have a very aggressive agenda in terms of addressing the nation's-I think-legitimate interest in that the Republican majority really doesn't for whatever reason that they approached the November election, which should be a referendum on what has been done, I think they would like to do as little as possible.
JIM LEHRER: And how does the president's troubles affect that, do you think? You mean, you think the Republican majority is more interested in that than they are in getting business done?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: No. I think that they want to allow this spotlight to be focused on the Clinton administration. And we've had one allegation after another for years in which nothing has come of it. And so you refer to it as the president's troubles. If Kenneth Starr doesn't come out with something for the tens of millions that he's spent, I think that what we're going to see is a Congress that next year we will do something about this independent counsel statute.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Granger, Speaker Gingrich drew some heat for criticizing the president and his troubles. In fact, former President Gerald Ford at the National Press Club today said the speaker ought to stand back, he's the speaker for all of you, all 435 members, he ought to stand back and let more partisan-other members of the House of Representatives criticize the president. How do you feel about that?
REP. KAY GRANGER, (R-TX): Well, if you're talking about the trip that he took-
JIM LEHRER: No. No. I'm talking about the president and his troubles and related to Monica Lewinsky, whatever it is.
REP. KAY GRANGER: I think what we've all done really is let the process work its way through. I think that there's actually been very little said, very little criticism. When the question is asked, I think we've all given our opinion, but in most cases we've said that the American public deserves to know the truth and there's a process and let's let that process work. I think that's part of what you're seeing with the appointment of Chris Cox and this new committee that will be formed.
JIM LEHRER: The China thing a big deal to you, Congressman Wamp?
Rep Wamp: "...the American people are willing to overlook indiscretion in the White House, but I don't think they'll overlook the possibility of selling missile technology to China..."
REP. ZACK WAMP, (R-TN): The China thing potentially is a great big deal to the whole country. It looks like the American people are willing to overlook indiscretion in the White House, but I don't think they'll overlook the possibility of selling missile technology to China. That has traction, and I think the voters are going to be paying a lot of attention. I wish that we had no investigations here. I'm sure officials don't like calling fouls on Michael Jordan, but when he fouls, you've got to call the foul. And the president's very good at communicating his side of these issues, Jim, but I think that this administration is going to be investigated the entire time that they're in office, because every time you get to the bottom of one pot there's something else that bubbles up, and so it is a constant distraction. And I think the president can't even carry out his domestic agenda. He was touted for reelection as having a great domestic agenda. I think he's having a hard time convincing anybody over on the Hill from either party that he has an agenda domestically because of all these distractions.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, constant distraction, Congressman Minge?
REP. DAVID MINGE, (D-MN): Well, I think that the news coverage certainly has been a distraction for many in the country. I'd have to say that here in Congress that well over 95 percent of us are focusing, as was said, by George on the matters at hand.
JIM LEHRER: You really are. You really are.
REP. DAVID MINGE: We are. But I do think that at the leadership level it's difficult, because they're trying to both be gatekeepers, that is, leadership members, of the legislative process and also sort of keep their finger on the pulse of what's going on with Kenneth Starr and those investigations. And there's only so much time in the day. And if they're spending time on that, it's time that they can't spend on the real business of Congress.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the Gingrich question about whether or not he should be participating in criticizing the president on these matters, not on-- get to the other matter in a moment-the Middle East.
REP. DAVID MINGE: Well, I think that's-it's unseemly for the Speaker to leap into this Starr investigation and passing judgment on the president. He, after all, is supposed to be presiding over a chamber, which would be a judicial type chamber, in the event there was a highly critical report from Mr. Starr. So I would hope that the Speaker would stand back and take the advice from the former presidents in this respect.
JIM LEHRER: He's not about to do that, though, is he, Mr. Nethercutt?
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I don't think he should. I think he certainly--as the third in succession to the presidency-has an obligation to speak for the Congress. And if there are allegations of criminal activity-this is very serious-if it's criminal in nature, I think what the speaker has basically said, let's get to the truth and why is the White House sort of obfuscating the truth in this case? Appeal after appeal-lost every single one of 'em so far-so I think there's also a greater issue of the integrity of the justice system. When the president's operatives criticize Mr. Starr and the grand jury process, I think that hurts our justice system. So I think that's what Mr. Gingrich is speaking out about, and I think he should.
JIM LEHRER: Why shouldn't he?
Should Speaker Gingrich continue to speak out on behalf of Congress?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, look, he may be speaking for himself, but the belief that he's speaking for the Congress I think is a misnomer. What we have here is Newt Gingrich as a partisan. He said when they took control of the Congress-- this is the speaker in his own words-- that they would use every committee in the Congress, they would subpoena power to investigate everything going on in this administration, and they've done that. We've had investigations of the Filegate, Travelgate, and now we have Monica Lewinsky. We've got a Chinese matter. They had digging around cemeteries wondering whether he has sold cemetery plots. What Pete Wilson said as governor of California is that the Republican Party is not going to win the White House based on scandal. We heard President Ford say it just the other day, and the Republicans are going to learn. Newt Gingrich, as with many other president's critics, have been the president's greatest beneficiaries, because they don't bring any credibility to this process.
JIM LEHRER: How about the Middle East thing, what he said in the Middle East? Before he went to the Middle East, he criticized Secretary of State Albright, called her an agent for the Palestinians, and then what we said, what Kwame had in the report, what he said about Jerusalem, is that appropriate?
REP. DAVID MINGE: Not in the least. I think he should stick to the business in Congress. It certainly is opportunistic at a minimum for the speaker to go over to a forum that he had in Jerusalem and appeal to probably the extremist views in Israel, itself, to promote what appears to be sort of a domestic political objective. And I think that that's unbecoming for the Speaker to be engaged in that type of activity.
JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Granger, you were on that trip as well. How do you feel about that?
REP. KAY GRANGER: I thought first of all it was missed-- it was a bipartisan delegation. Dick Gephardt was on that-- on that trip, as was Congressman Lantos and Waxman. It was a very positive trip. We met at length with Netanyahu, almost four hours. We met with Arafat. We were meeting with our ally, which is Israel, the democracy in the Middle East. I thought that was very positive. Unfortunately, something that was said several weeks before by the speaker-taken out of context I'll also admit-was given a lot of attention, didn't happen on that delegation, but I thought we were there to lend support and also to encourage the peace talks.
JIM LEHRER: What about the statement that he made about Secretary Albright, was that appropriate for the speaker to say?
REP. KAY GRANGER: I wasn't there, didn't hear the comment. What I understood is he said that what he was saying is as the agreement-the 13 percent-was brought-that was the 13 percent that was agreed to by the Palestinians, therefore, it was brought to the Israelis as part-that's where the agent, I understood, came from. It would not have been appropriate had it been said on that trip.
Campaign finance reform: is it going to happen?
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Wamp, you've been very interested in campaign finance reform. Is it going to happen this time in the House?
REP. ZACK WAMP: Well, I think progress has been made, because clearly we convinced-I was one of the 12 rebels that signed the discharge petition-we convinced the Republican leadership-
JIM LEHRER: Let's explain that. They first said no way-there's not going to be a vote-it's over for the year, you all put a petition together, went to your leadership and forced it to the floor.
REP. ZACK WAMP: Right.
JIM LEHRER: And you all-Democrats helped on that, did you not?
REP. DAVID MINGE: Well, our group, the Blue Dog Coalition-
JIM LEHRER: Blue Dog.
REP. DAVID MINGE: --had initiated the discharge petition, and we wanted this to be a bipartisan effort, and ultimately we did.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I think Zack should be commended, though, and those who stood up, and I know they took a lot of heat inside their caucus, and many times when we step outside of the comfort of our own caucuses, it's not always acknowledged.
JIM LEHRER: Did you really take some heat from your Republican-
REP. ZACK WAMP: Oh, big time. I've been a Gingrich critic, but I have to give him credit here. They changed strategy. The strategy was to just avoid this issue, get through the election cycle, and maybe get to it later, and they changed their strategy, and not only did they change it, but we asked for three days of debate; it looks like we're going to get three weeks of debate, and probably by the end of June the Democrats are going to be mad that we're talking about campaign finance because there are all these problems that they're going to have to deal with, but at least the strategy has changed. The strategy goes back to Watergate, when the Democrats were in charge of both bodies and Nixon was on the ropes and the Republicans were running for the woods, they took reform to the floor, so they could talk about what needed to be done. And they pushed through the reforms that we're living under today. And I said to the speaker when I went to him before I signed the discharge petition, we shouldn't be running from this issue, we should take this issue to the floor; we're now in charge of this place, and let's debate whether it was better before Watergate and these laws that we live under, or whether we can fix this current system, but please, don't get caught in defending this system. This system stinks. The people know it. It might not be fresh on their mind, but right after the '96 elections, they were fed up, and they want this system to change. There's abuse of money, unlimited, unregulated soft money, corporations, labor unions dominating campaigns. Surely, we can fix this system.
JIM LEHRER: Is it going to happen?
REP. ZACK WAMP: We're going to try, and they-the leadership honestly doesn't know what's going to happen. They don't know if a bill is going to pass or not; then they don't know if Lott will have to consider what the Senate does.
JIM LEHRER: Because the Senate pretty well put it aside.
REP. ZACK WAMP: Well, but if the right bill passed, they might be under some public pressure. We're hoping the American people will weigh in on this too this year.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about what's going to happen?
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I think it would be wonderful if we could have a legislative body, a legislative branch back in our government, rather than an investigatory branch. So I welcome the opportunity to debate campaign finance reform.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a view on that? Do you think it's going to happen, or is this-
REP. GEORGE NETHERCUTT: I don't think it will happen. I think because the big issue is-comes to definition-what is campaign finance reform-and everybody says, let's have it, but what is it? I think we have to protect the constitutional right of people to engage in campaign activity in this country. Second of all, I think the country is sick and tired of negative ads, but third of all, I think what we have to have is the truth out of campaign allegations and counter allegations, and give people, more people, the chance to engage in the process. We've had, what, 30 years with no activity on our friends, the Democrats, side in terms of campaign finance reform, at least this Congress is starting-disclosure-
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: I passed the bill and George Bush vetoed it.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
REP. DAVID MINGE: We had a veto then. We tried to get campaign finance reform in '93 and '94 when I first came. Unfortunately, it didn't happen-there was-there was enough blame to go around. I think what we're seeing now-it's not like a good drama unfolding, as politics ought to be. Instead, it's like professional wrestling, and we aren't going anywhere.
A do-nothing Congress?
JIM LEHRER: You're the newest person here. Is it a do-nothing Congress? Is it wrestling? What is it like?
REP. KAY GRANGER: No, I don't think it's a do-nothing Congress. It is my first Congress to be in, but I serve on committees that have certainly been doing something. I serve on the Budget Committee-the first balanced budget in nearly a generation-and tax cuts that were significant. I also sit on the Transportation Committee-brought us the largest transportation legislation.
JIM LEHRER: The famous ISTEA bill.
REP. KAY GRANGER: That's right. That's right. So I don't think it's a do-nothing Congress at all.
JIM LEHRER: How does it compare when you-when you all first came? I mean, you were working day and night.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Well, the pace is a lot slower, but, you know, when we-on the balanced budget agreement, which I supported, $51billion more for education-it's something now I think we all are very proud of-but the president's agenda for increasing the federal government's involvement in education is something that we hope will get an opportunity to be voted on before the year is out.
JIM LEHRER: So there will be some legislating.
REP. CHAKA FATTAH: Hopefully.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you all very much.