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Political Wrap

February 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some political analysis from Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot. Let’s just pick up on what we just heard. Is what he is saying, the new view that the United States should take towards Mexico? Do you see it coming?

PAUL GIGOT: I do. I think this is a shift. As the previous segment showed, the other two Presidents, Bill Clinton and George Bush, I think went to Canada on their first trips. Mexico is a country that George W. Bush knows, as a neighbor from the North, Texas. He knows Vincente Fox. I think he thinks that there are some real opportunities here to change policies in a lot of areas, to get immigration policy on a more rational footing perhaps with perhaps a change in policy, to get rid of the nettling issue of drug certification, which doesn’t do either country very good and an opportunity for politicians in both countries to grandstand to no good effect. I think we are on a new path.

JIM LEHRER: But is he going to have a problem, Mark, in saying to people who don’t live in Texas and people who are not aware of Mexico, hey, pay attention to what I’m doing here. I didn’t go to Canada. I didn’t go to Europe. I went to Mexico and this is the reason why it’s important?

MARK SHIELDS: I think because it was the first place he went to, it does get people’s attention, Jim. Historically we have always been on the side of the underdogs and the revolutionaries everywhere. And what everyone says, the underdogs are now in charge in Mexico, and it’s exciting. I mean, Mexico truly was — has been an oligarchy, a political oligarchy for a long time. And what everyone thinks about Mr. Fox, I mean these are exciting times and times of great possibility. And I think in that sense alone Mexico assumes an importance that it hasn’t had in the past.

JIM LEHRER: It’s also a great story.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a terrific story.

JIM LEHRER: But of course, Paul, the President in a way walked on his own Mexico story today because he also ordered air strikes in Iraq. And it was said earlier in Margaret’s segment that this could be read or might be read as a signal as a new administration to Saddam Hussein. Do you see that?

PAUL GIGOT: That is how I would read it. Not to say that it was done solely for symbolic reasons. There are obviously good military reasons for it but with Colin Powell’s trip next week to the Gulf, you wouldn’t want to do it when he is over there. So you probably would have to do it before if you saw the military need for it. And I think there is no question this administration has felt that there is a deterioration in the global quarantine of Iraq in the last eight years. And they want to send a message that they want to shore that up. And I think this action is part of that.


MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think there has been a building move not only internationally, but even in this country, to lift sanctions, especially for the suffering of children in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Somehow put the suffering more on the elite –


JIM LEHRER: — on Saddam Hussein and his folks rather than the ordinary folks.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. This invites inevitable comparisons to the President’s own father and ten years ago. I mean, half the discussions I heard today were about should he have gone in. Should he have gone in all the way. Wasn’t Colin Powell responsible for it and so forth — I don’t know what this signals in the way of policy. The previous administration did it from time to time. If it signals a real change in policy, then, you know, then that may be a major difference. But as of now, it was sort of, I’m here, aarf.

JIM LEHRER: I’m here, aarf. Okay. This was a week with a lot of defense things, another down story of course was the submarine collision off the coast…off of Hawaii and the storm has been building all week about the fact that there were 16 American civilians on that submarine and two of them were at the controls. Now the question is whether or not the Navy and the Pentagon have handled this very well after the fact. How do you read it?

PAUL GIGOT: I don’t know that I agree with a lot of the criticism, Jim. Clearly the policy of the civilians has to be looked at, and if that had anything to do with it, that really is a problem, but I’m talking about the supply of information which they’ve been criticized for, the lack of information, the slowness with which some of these facts have come out. Certainly the Navy wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been, but, you know, this is a shakedown period for any new administration. A lot of Secretary Rumsfeld’s people are not in yet. We don’t know what relationship the services have to the new civilian Pentagon. So I don’t know that you can say that this is somehow– it doesn’t look to me like they were trying to keep secrets.


PAUL GIGOT: It’s only been a few days.


MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. The Americans of a certain age we call loose lips sink ships. The watch word during World War II not to discuss troop movements. The Navy is the most secretive of all U.S. services. The submariners are the most secretive of anybody in the Navy. When the first statement came up, the Navy spokesman said will you never find the names of the 16 people who were on board. It was foolish. It was dumb, unresponsive.

JIM LEHRER: We were all running pictures of them — as they were getting off the submarine.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. I think the policy is a direct consequence of the fact that most Americans don’t have any contact with the defense– I mean the end of the draft 30 years ago and now Americans don’t have any contact. So this has been an attempt on the part of the service to reach out, to recruit civilian support –civilian opinion leaders and the rest of it. I think there are serious questions about why with sonar, radar and periscope we didn’t see a 190-foot trawler. I mean, that’s a very legitimate question.


MARK SHIELDS: And I think the presence of 16 civilians in cramped quarters explains that in any way, I don’t know. I think this is going to continue. It is not going to go away and those 16 civilians will probably all turn up on our broadcast or someplace else.

PAUL GIGOT: The next “Survivor” episode.

JIM LEHRER: Of course all of this we have been talking about this and it happened in a week that had been designated by the Bush administration as kind of national security and defense week. And in the course of the week, Paul, there were — questions were raised about whether or not President Bush– what his attitude is about raising the defense budget –


JIM LEHRER: — and that somehow he said one thing in the campaign and now he is doing another and a lot of conservatives are upset. Should they be?

PAUL GIGOT: I don’t agree with some of the conservative critics. I’ve hard-line them. Bill Kristol, Bob Cagan, a very smart fellow who —

JIM LEHRER: Writes for the “Washington Post”.

PAUL GIGOT: Writes for the “Washington Post.” I think it makes sense to wait for a review of the– what you’re spending the money on. It makes sense to me that you wouldn’t rush out and say it is a free spending occasion — particularly because what I think they were sending is not just a policy but a message of control to the joint chiefs of the services that you are not going to get a bundle of new cash. You have to do some rethinking.

JIM LEHRER: In other words, we’ll give you some money and you go figure out how to spend it.

PAUL GIGOT: It’s not going to be the same old stuff. You might have to kill some systems; you might have to rethink the mission, and there was also a message to Capitol Hill. A lot of the defensive appropriators — they just want to write a big check because that’s what they get credit for that with their constituencies. I think Bush and Rumsfeld are signaling you’re going to have to do some rethinking too and take some tougher votes than just passing out money.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree.

JIM LEHRER: That’s two in a row now.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s two in a row. Let me just say, during the campaign, Jim, it was not only help is on the way, Dick Cheney’s watchword. But it was they’re out of ammunition. They’re out of training. They’re out of equipment. They’re out of bullets. They don’t have housing. They’re living on food stamps. I mean, John McCain picked that up. George Bush borrowed it from him. You would have thought to listen to the campaign of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush that the United States military was starving, were living in huts somewhere and were using wooden rifles. And so it was absolutely unexpected that they were going to come in and say son of a gun, you guys need equipment. I mean, this is just the appropriators on Capitol Hill. I think that was sort of an emerging consensus certainly in the opinion-maker community. And to me I think it came as a shock — not only to Capitol Hill but to folks in the military that the President did this week make a pledge on pay and very small down payment on housing. But I don’t think it was– I think you can understand some disappointment.

PAUL GIGOT: He is giving them the pay increase. He is following through on that. The food stamp issue which John McCain first raised, and he is also agreeing to a $14 billion increase that former Secretary Cohen agreed was going to be the increase in the Clinton budget. So it’s not as if he is not increasing it at all. He is just saying let’s not write the big check for the $20 billion or $30 billion before we know what we want to spend it on.

MARK SHIELDS: But I thought during the campaign, to listen to him, I was convinced he knew where we were going to spend it and we better spend it in a hurry or we would be overrun by the Canadians.

PAUL GIGOT: He said they were going to do a review.

JIM LEHRER: One other quick subject. What is your count on tax cuts. Is the President going to get it or not?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think what was inevitable momentum last week hit a couple of snags this week. There are several factors, not the least of which Jim is something that has been basically overlooked in debate and that is if we do go to retro activity; that is putting the tax cut back effectively to January 1, you’re talking about another $381 billion in costs of interest over the next ten years. That’s going to raise the price up to $2 trillion. And at that point you can forget about privatizing Social Security because the money is not going to be there for the transition costs. And I think that there’s– while the Democratic opposition and resistance has not been organized and has not been articulate in large part because all the oxygen has been taken out of the Democratic side by the former President and his– excuse me, I beg your pardon. I think that for that reason, there’s a certain– you saw the President this week feel the necessity of grabbing the middle ground and saying only $1.6 trillion.

JIM LEHRER: What is happening?

PAUL GIGOT: There is going to be a tax cut, a big tax cut. The proof of that is that Richard Gephardt and Tom Daschle said even we agree to a tax cut of at least $900 billion. Now a year ago — two months ago if you would have told me that, if you had asked them, they would have said are you crazy? The climate has changed. There is going to be a substantial tax cut pretty close to the numbers that President Bush proposed.

JIM LEHRER: $1.6 trillion.

PAUL GIGOT: The fight is going to be what’s in it and the make up of the tax cut – rates and others —

JIM LEHRER: We will be here to discuss it each step of the way. Thank you both very much.