Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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JIM LEHRER: And that brings us, finally tonight, to Shields and Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, what do you think of the Marc Rich pardon?
MARK SHIELDS: Indefensible. That’s the only word that comes to mind, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: So why did he do it? Why did President Clinton do it?
MARK SHIELDS: I have no idea why he did it.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you think he did it?
MARK SHIELDS: Here is a man who has been consumed for the past three months with his legacy, with his presidential legacy. I mean, he has gone to extraordinary efforts in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, you know, to achieve a legacy, and then to turn it into trash in the last day. I thought Morris Weinberg’s indictment was compelling. I really did. I mean, why didn’t Marc Rich make his case – or his attorneys — to the U.S. court? This is a man who never, never, Jim, paid a dime, never spent a day in jail. And you pardon this guy who has renounced his United States citizenship? I’m sorry.
JIM LEHRER: Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Bill Clinton always said he was against tax cuts for the rich, Jim; he never said he was against pardons for the rich. I don’t know. I can’t explain it either. I’m a little more sympathetic on the substance of the indictment, actually, the original indictment because the RICO statutes used in tax cases are very tough and the Justice Department no longer does that in fact. But the process is what makes you wonder. It wasn’t cleared by the Justice Department. Last-minute, and you know, no explanation. Really Jack Quinn has talked about some of the arguments we heard tonight….
JIM LEHRER: But he’s only done it in two op-ed pieces. He won’t come on this program — other people’s television programs.
PAUL GIGOT: And the president says, well, you know, I don’t have to answer that, I’m out.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, that’s interesting. In the past when any president, particularly Bill Clinton, was under any siege or criticism such as this, he could always change the subject. He could always come up with an initiative or leak the State of the Union address. When you’re out of power and without the support system of a president — you can’t change the subject. You’re really left there without a defense — I mean, not that I think that a defense could be made but he is finding out what it is like to be an ex-president when you are being criticized.
JIM LEHRER: Also speaking of his departure, there has also been some criticism talking about pranks at the White House from the outgoing staff, taking things off computers and leaving trash around and taking all of the various pieces of china and all of that off Air Force One. What do you make of that?
PAUL GIGOT: I tend to think a little too much is being made of it actually. It sounds to me like it’s the fraternity vandalism — probably. I don’t think that John Podesta, the former chief of staff and the senior of staff the White House would sanction this. They’re probably as appalled by it as anyone. I think the real – the bigger problem — is the pardons. Not just the Rich pardon but the 176 pardons done at the last minute. And, you know, with some of the people who supported Hillary Clinton in New York, they’re just the kind of — and taking the gifts which The Washington Post criticized.
JIM LEHRER: A couple hundred thousand dollars worth of gifts.
PAUL GIGOT: There’s a kind of a tawdry quality to it at that presidential level, which I think is much more serious and tarnishes the legacy of the administration on its departure much more than some of this petty stuff.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think, generally speaking about the departure?
MARK SHIELDS: The departure was not a positive, Jim; it was not an upper. But I do think the Bush folks have been very clever on the part of the pranks and everything. They’ve made the effort to leak every possible prank or anything done, something missing, a champagne flute or whatever, two towels, a bar of soap, and they leaked this in great detail and then say, no, no, the president doesn’t want to comment, President Bush, because he wants to change the tone in Washington after they’ve just heaped all this upon. I think the W off the word processor was kind of funny. I mean I really did. I don’t think it is a major — it is a funny little tweak.
JIM LEHRER: What about the gifts?
MARK SHIELDS: The gifts, I think, Jim….
JIM LEHRER: Explain what that is about.
MARK SHIELDS: All right… Hillary Rodham Clinton is now a United States senator from New York. In the United States Senate, there is a gift ban. A senator cannot accept more than $50 in gifts. All right. So what she did, I mean, Mrs. Clinton registered like a middle-aged bride at a bridal registry and told all the things she wanted to have.
JIM LEHRER: For her house.
MARK SHIELDS: In Chapaqua …that’s right. Now, they’ve lived 18 years in public housing. They’ve just bought two houses, one for just under two million – the other for just over two million. She got a $8 million book advance. He is looking at probably a five- or six-million-dollar book advance. And so what they do… it looks like they’re shaking down the people who contributed to their campaigns, to their legal defense fund and saying we need those bookends; we need the lamps. You can circumvent the gift ban by sending them to the White House.
JIM LEHRER: Instead of -
MARK SHIELDS: So she’s getting them as a first lady and not as a senator. Tawdry.
PAUL GIGOT: It diminishes the office. And I am surprised that some of the people now criticizing them here on their exit, where were they when they were doing this sort of thing the other eight years.
JIM LEHRER: Well, George W. Bush was asked today about all of this and he said no, no, no, I’m not going to talk about that. Let’s move on. So let’s move on as well. George W. Bush has been president of the United States for almost a week. How would you assess his first week, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: It’s been fascinating, Jim. I think this is the week you heard the sound of gridlock breaking on some of his signature agenda items — education and tax cuts in particular — big movement politically. Democrats, Joe Lieberman and 13 Democrats, moderate Democrats in the Senate trying to get out in front of President Bush when he proposed his education plan. Their proposal, the Lieberman proposal agrees — is closer to Bush’s plan than it is to a traditional Democratic plan, dealing heavily on accountability. So there is some real movement there. On taxes, Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia — new senator — co-sponsoring with Phil Gramm of Texas, the Bush tax plan. And then on Friday — I mean, Thursday — the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, changing his mind on tax cuts and saying I now think it’s important, necessary that we have one, rather than let the money be spent – the surpluses build up and be spent on purposes that could be damaging. Big movement for Bush.
JIM LEHRER: Big movement for Bush this week, Mark, you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I’m continually fascinated. I remember poor old John McCain was consistently taken over the coals for being called liberals’ favorite Republican. Now Zell Miller this week became the conservative… Democrat. I’ve heard Paul and Robert Novak nominate him for Mount Rushmore, which is fine. Jim, in the midst of the Ashcroft hearings and the charges that George Bush, his words and deeds were at odds with each other and his nomination, I would say this: he returned to the theme of a uniter, not a divider. I think the education proposals were centrist and certainly reasonable.
JIM LEHRER: What about the voucher thing? I mean, the president and his folks seem to, well, it’s there but it isn’t that big a deal. They don’t want to have a fight over that, right?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s there but it’s not that big a deal. And, I think, you know the fact that he returned to the sort of symbolism that was in what I call the pre-Bob Jones University era of his own campaign, he went to two minority schools. Next week he is going to do the faith-based charities, black churches. That is reaching out to John Glenn, to Bob Strauss, to Paul Simon, leading Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: He had them in for a session.
MARK SHIELDS: Talked to Ted Kennedy a couple of times this week. The only real criticism of the education plan — interestingly enough — came from the right of his own party, from Tom DeLay, the House Republican whip who is critical of an enlarged federal role because this is a violation or certainly a turn away from what had been Ronald Reagan’s pledge to abolish the Department of Education and the Republican platform pledge to abolish the Department of Education. This is a bigger federal role in education.
JIM LEHRER: Is the right keeping a close watch on George W. Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he has got a lot of latitude.
JIM LEHRER: Does he?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure he does. He’s the new president. The Republicans — the conservatives want him to succeed. There is a little grumbling I’ve heard that Bush didn’t lead with tax cuts, for example, because some of the conservatives are going to take a little heat at home on the education point that Mark made. So they’d like to be out in front on the tax cut, which is something that unites Republicans and something they can all support. There’s no question about it. But Bush is not making a mistake that Bill Clinton made in 1993. Bill Clinton used the welfare reform issue very effectively to appeal to swing voters and say I’m a different kind of Democrat. Then he put the welfare reform issue off for the second year, really. He didn’t even get to it the first two years — instead went with health care and the tax increase and so on. President Bush used education to show voters that he was a different kind of Republican; that he was going to try to change the image of the Republican Party. And now he is leading with education, he’s putting that first. And I think that that is consistent with his campaign and it is going to pay off politically if he keeps pushing.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, you mentioned McCain. McCain had a highly publicized meeting with President Bush this week. The word is that they had a very interesting exchange of disagreements about campaign finance reform. Is that what you heard?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, although, again, President Bush called him his ally and friend and all the rest of it. John McCain understands that delay is death in campaign finance. The critics and opponents have done it the same way now. The game plan is obvious. We wait until the end of the session and we run out of time and say bring it up next year and John McCain is pretty adamant. If you want a two-word argument, maybe a three-word argument.
JIM LEHRER: You say them and I’ll count them.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Pardon Marc Rich -
JIM LEHRER: That’s three.
MARK SHIELDS: — one million dollars soft money – one million dollars soft money.
JIM LEHRER: His ex-wife gave to the Democratic Party over the years. The Senate Majority Leader Lott said this afternoon they’re going to have a debate. It is going to go to the floor and there is not going to be any filibuster as there has been in the past, in March. So apparently McCain is going to get his vote.
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, sure, he is going to get his vote and he’s going to get a debate; he may get more of a debate than he wants actually, because I think the strategy on the Republican side now is that they’re going to use all the debate that John McCain can handle. They’re going to have amendments; they’re going to have opportunities to change the bill. And if McCain is smart and his people are smart, they’re going to listen to some of those amendments because as currently planned, McCain-Feingold isn’t going to get George Bush’s signature. I don’t know if it is even going to pass… well, it’s not going to get – and it’s not going to get the 35 votes or – excuse me — the 66 votes -
JIM LEHRER: Sixty-six votes.
PAUL GIGOT: — it would need to overcome a presidential veto. So there is going to have to be some compromise on McCain’s part to get this done.
MARK SHIELDS: George Bush will not veto a campaign finance bill that passes the United States Senate by more than 60 votes, that passes the House of Representatives by more than 100 votes. He is not going to do that, and he is not going to stand up there and defend a status quo of a discredited system.
JIM LEHRER: Well, one good thing about the kind of thing we do, the kind of work we do is all we have to do is wait and see which one of you has got it right. Thank you both very much tonight.