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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot

March 17, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.

Paul, first on this House chaplain story, what do you make of that? What do you think is going on there?

PAUL GIGOT: I’d put in the category of no good deed goes unpunished, Jim. I mean, Denny Hastert, the speaker, could have done what all the previous speakers had done and just unilaterally made a decision and made his choice. Instead, he opened it up, bipartisan basis and then when he went against the wishes of the 14-9 vote or whatever it was, they — he found himself under criticism and sandbagged. And he’s now got a very big mess. And I think that probably, in light of Bob Jones and in light of this uproar, he probably should go ahead and name the first Catholic chaplain of the House.

JIM LEHRER: And it sounded, if you read what he said there to Kwame at the end, Mark, that that’s probably what he’s going to do and maybe not appointing a Catholic, but he isn’t going to the Presbyterian man that he had selected isn’t going to make it.

MARK SHIELDS: Reverend Wright.

JIM LEHRER: Reverend Wright.

MARK SHIELDS: No. That’s right, Jim. Jim, there’s a larger political context for this, as well. I don’t disagree with Paul’s point about Denny Hastert; I don’t think Denny Hastert is anti-Catholic. Henry Hyde, whom I interviewed in the only interview he ever gave on this subject before the one I think with Kwame tonight — I presented him with the facts last November, that the committee recommendation of Father Timothy O’Brien had been overruled by Majority Leader Hastert — and Speaker – I mean, Majority Leader Armey and Speaker Hastert — he said, “I hate to think of it as anti-Catholic bigotry, but I do not know what other conclusion to draw.”

That was Henry Hyde, who is probably – you know — the most respected Republican conservative in the House. And I think that it has taken on — Greg Ganske from Iowa in that piece, Congressman Greg Ganske, put it well. It’s taken on a larger context. For the first time in the Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll, George W. Bush has fallen behind Al Gore. He trails Gore, does Bush, by ten percentage points among Catholics. That is a drop, a dramatic precipitous drop since December. And the two intervening — the principal intervening event in the campaign was Bob Jones University. And Greg Ganske said, look, what if Catholics in the country heard about the Republican Party, Bob Jones University –

JIM LEHRER: And now this.

MARK SHIELDS: — and now this? And it’s what we don’t need. And they’re – it’s a very important swing group and I think Denny Hastert will be well-served to probably try and extricate himself from the problem he’s in.

PAUL GIGOT: It has nothing to do with the fact that Democrats are perhaps amplifying that message and trying to underscore that. I mean, Henry Hyde was walking back from that segment. He said, in fact, it had nothing to do with anti-Catholic bigotry and I don’t believe it did either.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, let’s move on, speaking of George W. Bush. Paul, what do you think of… Bush said in this interview with the New York Times this week that he really didn’t learn anything from John McCain and he wasn’t going to adopt any of his issues, any of McCain’s issues, and he got hammered for that by some. What do you think? Does he deserve to be hammered?

PAUL GIGOT: No, I don’t think so. I read that whole interview, and I don’t think that’s what he said. I mean the story, what the New York Times pulled out of that interview was, you know, George W. Bush doesn’t take our advice. You know, he wins the election; he’s not taking John McCain’s policies. Incredible. I mean, how shocking. I mean, Al Gore doesn’t take Bill Bradley’s health care plan, and that’s not a big story. If you read the whole context of the interview, I think what he said was, “I am reaching out to McCain; I’m just not going to surrender on the issues that I just won a primary over.”

JIM LEHRER: How do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: Opposite, totally opposite. Jim, there’s an old rule in politics: Humility in victory, pride in defeat. George Bush should be humble. George Bush, one of the wisest hands in Washington today said to me. I said what do you think he’s up to — and he said, it’s an entitlement mentality, that this was his nomination and John McCain, son of a gun, intervened, complicated it, was a pain in the neck — and why the hell should I be nice to him? And that comes through.

I mean, when asked about the turnout, the enormous turnout increase, well, then how come he didn’t win it? I mean the only thing the New York Times did was quote him. I don’t know anything that was in that interview that he didn’t say and was in the transcript of what he did say. He said it exactly as said. And I think that the other thing, there’s either a tone deaf politically… I mean he… John McCain and his people need time. They need time. They need a little comforting. The wounds are still open. The pain is still there. And that’s what George W. Bush has to be mindful of now.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, he does have to be mindful of it. But if you read the whole tone and texture of that interview, he was making real outreach to McCain and saying, “Look, I want to sit down with him, I want to deal with his voters.” But you know, “and I need to reach out for him. McCain isn’t around today — this week – he can’t do it – he’s on vacation. If you read another interview, the context of another interview that they with a Texas newspaper they came away saying, “Bush wants to reach out to McCain.” So I just… in reading the whole transcript, I don’t see that sense of entitlement there at all.

JIM LEHRER: Okay, another development, Al Gore has taken the initiative on campaign finance reform. How do you read that, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I don’t mean to sound skeptical or cynical, but George W. Bush and Albert Gore have all the credibility on campaign finance that Madonna has on celibacy. I mean, I’ve got to tell you, both of these guys come impaired to this issue. Now, what Gore has tried to do is to identify himself, associate himself with McCain — say that John McCain went through this catharsis after the Keating Five experience … and comparing his own fundraising at the Buddhist Temple with the Keating five and the phone calls, that somehow, you know, I’ve seen the light. This was the Paul on the road to Damascus or whatever. But I don’t think it’s an issue that either one of them brings great credibility to the American people on. If it’s an important issue, its probably going to be un-addressed by each of these candidates in voters’ eyes.

JIM LEHRER: So it just goes away, then? They just talk about it for a while and then boom?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the Bush people would love to have Al Gore talk about it. I mean he should… They’d be happy if he’d talk about campaign finance from here to November because every time he does, it gives them an opportunity to come back and say, remind people this happened, this happened. He went to the Buddhist temple, he made those phone calls, and you’re really going to believe this guy? And it makes Gore look worse for reminding people of that. If I were Gore, I’d just forget about it because… Bush does not want to make this, the campaign reform a theme. Just forget about it.

JIM LEHRER: What about the specific thing that Gore keeps saying? He said it in the interview with us earlier this week, several times, that, let’s do away unilaterally with soft money. Let’s agree to run no campaign ads on television, and we will debate all the time instead, that sort of thing. Is that not going to have any traction?

PAUL GIGOT: I don’t think so — because it’s so unrealistic. I mean it sounds gimmicky because it is gimmicky. I mean I hope they have a lot of debates, and if I were George Bush, I’d want to have a lot of debates. I wouldn’t wait for one or two in the autumn. But you know, how are you going to communicate a national campaign to people without television advertising? I mean frankly, if you had two debates a week between now and October, most of the country would not be paying attention until we got to September or October.


MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think this is going to be an awfully long campaign. I thought it was going to be a long campaign last week. Since Tuesday, I think it’s going to be an eternity.

PAUL GIGOT: It’s already been six months.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean George Bush said six times in the interview, “I don’t trust Al Gore. Al Gore’s not to be trusted. I don’t trust the man. I believe he’ll say anything to get elected.” Now, usually in a campaign you begin it — and while Al Gore always accused him of selling snake oil in his economic policy…

JIM LEHRER: Risky tax scheme.

MARK SHIELDS: Risky tax scheme. Usually you begin a campaign by saying, this is our guy, he’s pretty good, this is where he went to school, this is what he believes, this is what he’s accomplished. We’ve just skipped over the “Let us tell you the good things about our guy stage of the campaign and gone directly to “The other guy would steal a hot stove and go back for the smoke. And that’s where we are. And this is March, Jim. This is the 17th of March.

JIM LEHRER: Tell me about it.

PAUL GIGOT: This could be the first campaign where you have to have three different versions of your attack lines because they’re worn out, you know, after a month. People say the risky tax scheme isn’t going to work after a month.

MARK SHIELDS: The Buddhist Temple – the Buddhist Temple is not going to last beyond Memorial Day.

PAUL GIGOT: They’re going to have to come up with something else.

MARK SHIELDS: Come Memorial Day —

JIM LEHRER: All right. Another thing, just the other day the new independent counsel said after a four-year investigation, Hillary Clinton did not do anything wrong on the Filegate, the White House files, and neither did anybody else at the White House. What do you think of that?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it’s good news for the White House. In many respects, that was one of the worst at least fact accusations that were laid out there because it’s very serious to look into FBI files.

JIM LEHRER: There were files that they had and some of them on Republicans who had worked at the White House in prior administrations, that sort of thing.

PAUL GIGOT: That’s right. That’s right. And Chuck Olsen in the Nixon administration went for jail for misusing just a single file. So this was serious, and what the independent counsel said is, “I can’t investigate a misdemeanor, which is a violation of the Privacy Act. And there were no felonies that I found.” So this is good news for the White House.

MARK SHIELDS: Very good news, Jim. I mean I think there’s a sigh of relief, but I wouldn’t exhale because still hanging out there is the Travel Office. And the Travel Office remains very troublesome. The firing of the people in the Travel Office, and Mrs. Clinton’s own involvement in it, which of course triggered at least in part the suicide of Vince Foster, a really personally tragic and publicly unanswered chapter in the administration. But I think this has to be considered, you know, a burden lifted and a suspicion dispelled. I mean she certainly should feel good.

JIM LEHRER: You can’t help but wonder, on which side you’re on, as far as Hillary Rodham Clinton is concerned, or whatever, you wonder why it took four years to come to this conclusion?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, one reason is very clear: Janet Reno assigned it to Ken Starr. Ken Starr should never have been given this. Starr should never have taken it. He already had more than he could handle in the Whitewater business, but instead of naming a new special counsel, they decided, “Well, we’ll just throw it in the same one.” And that was a terrible decision. Had they given it to somebody — that discreet responsibility, it would have been solved with much more dispatch.

JIM LEHRER: Paul, Mark, thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Jim.