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MARGARET WARNER: Moments after President Bush’s inauguration Saturday, the White House suspended scores of executive orders and regulations issued in the waning days of the Clinton administration, pending a full review. Today’s reversal of a 1993 executive order on abortion suggests even settled Clinton actions may be reversed. Two House leaders join us to talk about this: J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference; and Nita Lowey of New York, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Welcome to you both.
Congresswoman Lowey, your reaction first to the move late today blocking this funding for international family planning groups.
REP. NITA LOWEY: It was deeply disappointing to me that on the very first day of the Bush administration, the president made a decision to impose the global gag rule. I think it’s important for people to know that zero dollars are spent on abortion. The family planning program is about saving people’s lives. One million women die each year as a result of reproductive health care problems, and 150 women want contraceptives, so to impose this global gag rule, to impose this undemocratic gag rule doesn’t make sense and just last week a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans wrote a letter to President Bush asking him to meet with us and explaining to him that imposing on non-governmental organizations a gag rule that we wouldn’t impose on our own people is frankly undemocratic. So it’s very disappointing and it certainly is not the way to unite us and work in a bipartisan way.
MARGARET WARNER: So Congressman Watts, first of all, did the president talk about this today at your lunch with him and why do you think he went ahead and did this?
REP. J.C. WATTS: He was asked about it when he opened the luncheon up to the press today, but let me say, Margaret, going back 12 years prior to President Clinton’s administration, the policy was in place and it worked pretty well. And President Clinton, when he took over or when he became president in 1993, he did not meet with any Republicans or Democrats to talk about lifting the ban. He did it by executive order. So I applaud President Bush for implementing the ban again. The federal government should not be in the abortion business and should not be subsidizing abortions for foreign entities that encourage and participate in it.
MARGARET WARNER: So Congresswoman, what else in the abortion area do you expect or fear, perhaps, that President Bush could do, could reverse policy by executive order? This is for Congresswoman Lowey. Do you think, for instance, there is anything he could do to restrict American women’s access to abortion.
REP. NITA LOWEY: Well, first, I want to make it very clear that not a dime of our foreign aid dollars goes to subsidize abortion. This is family planning. This is contraception. I was just talking to people in Cambodia where 70 percent of the people are desperate for contraceptives, desperate for family planning and only 14 percent of the women get it. Their lives are being lost. They are sick. They are losing any kind of assistance and we need to be helpful. And with regard to your other question, what I fear is that there will be a gradual chipping away at the right to choose at Roe v. Wade, which is currently the law of the land. In fact, the appointment of Senator Ashcroft was of great concern to me for that reason, and he has supported legislation, has spent his career trying to get rid of Roe v. Wade, except in the case of rape or incest, and the majority of the American people want to see Roe v. Wade remain the law of the land.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Watts, I’m trying to focus here particularly on what this new president can do without you all in Congress. What else could he do in the abortion area without congressional authorization or approval, or vote?
REP. J.C. WATTS: Well, President Bush, what he has done today is just implement the ban that was in place for 12 years prior to the Clinton administration taking over. He has reimplemented that plan. Governor Bush, President Bush on the campaign trail, he talked about educating our kids. He talked about rebuilding national defense. He talked about giving tax relief for working families and reforming Social Security and Medicare. This is something that he’s chosen to do by executive order simply because President Clinton, by executive order, restated this policy and….
MARGARET WARNER: I guess what I’m asking you here.
REP. J.C. WATTS: … And it worked pretty well for 12 years preceding the Clinton administration.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think there are things he can do above and beyond what he did today that you think he should do that would restrict access to abortion here in this country?
REP. J.C. WATTS: Well, the president said throughout the campaign that we ought to try and figure out ways to sustain life. We ought to try to figure out ways to encourage adoptions and encourage families to help in these pregnancies that a young lady or a lady might find herself in. President Bush never campaigned on… that was not his sole issue. He campaigned on strengthening America, encouraging us to be our best, not our worst, giving our most, not our least, strengthening our economy, strengthening national defense, Social Security. There’s many things that the president campaigned on, and I think you’ll see him work to implement those things, and this is one executive order that he felt like he needed to move on and I, for one, applaud him for making that decision today.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Lowey, let me broaden this beyond abortion, if I could, to other executive orders as we just reported. The new White House chief of staff froze all the last-minute regulations the president issued and orders, including many in the environmental and health and safety area. How much of a reversal do you expect or from your perspective again, do you fear, that this new president will institute in some of these other areas, and which areas do you think are most vulnerable?
REP. NITA LOWEY: I think the area of the environment is of great concern to me and will be to the majority of the American people. For example, there are areas that are very precious. ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that has been protected from oil drilling, and certainly Secretary Norton has expressed an interest, a desire, a commitment to do exploring in that area. There are areas that have been protected from traffic, from development as a result of President Clinton’s action. I worry that there could be a reversal of that. So it is not only areas of abortion — and incidentally, I want to say that there is a bipartisan task force — and certainly J.C. Watts could work with Mike Castle and I in preventing teen-aged pregnancy. We can work on helping young men and women understand that there are alternatives and that we can promote abstinence. We can support Title 10 family planning, but to do away with Roe v. Wade is certainly not the will of the majority of the American people.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Watts, going back again to these other areas that the president could perhaps take action, do you think that would be a good idea, for instance, to reverse some of these environmental, these fairly last-minute things that former President Clinton did setting aside parts of the federal lands?
REP. J.C. WATTS: Margaret, I would encourage President Bush to take a look at all of the executive orders, as I think he will. Just one in particular — I mean there’s many — but one in particular that I think he should take a look at is this federal land grab that we saw President Clinton sign executive orders in taking land in different states, not consulting any governor, any local officials. Just, you know, pretty much going in and acting as king of the world and saying, we’re going to take these lands for the federal government. I think he needs to scrutinize those orders. I think he needs to take a look at them — all of them that’s come down the pike, some he may undo; some he may keep in place. But I do think he is proper in taking a look at these things, and that land grab is one of them that I think he should reverse.
MARGARET WARNER: So Congresswoman, if he does reverse a lot of things in a lot of areas, what is that going to do, do you think, to the prospects for bipartisan cooperation on legislative matters, the kind of thing he signaled today he’d like to do?
REP. NITA LOWEY: The president talked about working together in a bipartisan way. And, certainly, when it comes to tax relief, I think there are areas where we can work together. On education, we can work together. On health care, we can work together. If the president takes action on the very first day or the very first week to reverse laws, to reverse regulations that the majority of the people support, they want open land, our environment is very precious to us, ANWR is very precious to us. If these kinds of actions are going to take place in the first week, I’m concerned about the bipartisan cooperation which I know most of us on both sides of the aisle support.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Watts, very quickly, are you concerned that this could poison the well?
REP. J.C. WATTS: No, I don’t. I think President Bush will do these things with great caution and will do them with great scrutiny and look at the facts and the data available to him and make the right decision. I think there are many executive orders that again he needs to scrutinize, he needs to take a look at. President Clinton did not consult anyone in doing this, which he should have. And I think you’ll see Governor Bush — I mean, President Bush — take the approach of consulting state and local officials before he does this. I think it would be the right thing to do.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much for being with us.
REP. NITA LOWEY: Thank you.
REP. J.C. WATTS: Thank you.