TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks

June 7, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Shields and Brooks are in fact syndicated columnist Mark Shields and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.

First David, what do you make of this Andrew Card Esquire quotes? Margaret just read them so we don’t have to go over them again. What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: I hope they’re true. Andy Card is —

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean you hope they’re true?

DAVID BROOKS: Because they make him seem more attractive. Andy Card is a tremendously well-admired guy in the White House. He’s very self-effacing, serves the President and not himself. People in the White House really, when you say who is really impressive in the White House, they point to Andy Card.

But you get the impression from the self-effacing modest demeanor that he is kind of boring, that he’s anal, a little cold, organization man. But those quotes suggest that he is like a character in a Saul Bellow novel. He has got this neurotic interior monologue going on in his life, and to me they make him a lot more interesting, so I do hope they’re true.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, anybody who served in the Massachusetts state legislature is not boring — by definition. Andy Card did. He was a Republican in the Massachusetts state legislature.

I agree, Andy Card has always been the perfect chief of staff for George W. Bush because he is the epitome of loyalty. There is no question about it. He once told a story about working in the Reagan White House where the division and fault lines between Jim Baker and Ed Meese were open and warring. And he said that will never happen; it never has. I mean, and that’s the kind of White House he wanted.

I found it quite refreshing. Just to me, in reading it, it sounded like he let his guard down and really let the people feel about how strongly he felt about Karen Hughes. I mean, to me it is a testimony and tribute to her and to obviously the confidence the president has in her and the relationship they had, which he doesn’t pretend to emulate.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. David, on to homeland security and the President’s plan for a Cabinet office — what do you think of that idea?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I think it’s a worthwhile bureaucratic initiative with all the excitement —

JIM LEHRER: Worthwhile bureaucratic initiative.

DAVID BROOKS: With all the excitement that that generates. You know, it will rationalize things. A lot of it – like the Secret Service – the Treasury Department, that’s sort of an accident of history, it makes sense to group it together in some sort of homeland security.

And it will motivate people, the idea that a lot of these people who are cast all across the government now will have a primary focus on combating terror. That will improve things.

Though I do think there should be some caveats put in here, one being there is a presumption that Cabinet secretaries run the departments they’re in charge of. That’s not the way it works in Washington. Usually the department goes off and runs itself and the Cabinet secretary holds press conferences. That may happen here regardless of what agency all these different groups are in.

Then there is the problem of melding the different groups together. And people at Livermore, the scientists, are now in the same agency with the Coast Guard. That is going to be a challenge. And then there’s the fundamental problem that the main weapons on the war on terror, the FBI, the CIA, and the Defense Department, are untouched by this.

And it is not clear that the intelligence in the FBI is really going to go to this new agency in any effective way.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think any time the president, and he did — he reversed course–

JIM LEHRER: You really believe he reversed course. You heard what Andy Card said. You don’t agree?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Andy Card is trying to put a good shine on it.

The president has consistently said he was totally against any cabinet– they were going to veto it. Tom Ridge said as recently as 36 hours ago he would veto – he would urge the president to veto Joe Lieberman’s bill to make a single department and a Cabinet level and was headed toward passage. It was picking up support with the Republicans.

But I mean the fact that the president did see an idea that was not only popular but a good idea– Jim, any time you want to spotlight a problem and the president said this is the mission of his presidency — this is what defines his presidency. Any time you want to do that, I don’t care if it’s addressing the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, energy, you created the Energy Department. Those aren’t– well, I guess you could make the case but certainly the president would say terrorism represents an even greater threat than either of those did in long-term or short-term. So it made sense. Everything David said is also true.

JIM LEHRER: Caveats.

MARK SHIELDS: It is going to be a problem, Jim. I would add one thing to it. It’s not only bringing the different cultures of those separate agencies together under one and sort of giving them–

JIM LEHRER: 136,000 employees.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. At 22 different agencies. But some of them, Jim, already have tasks that they perform exceedingly well. I mean FEMA, for example, is a very–

JIM LEHRER: That’s the Federal Emergency Management–.

MARK SHIELDS: Led by James Lee Witt under Bill Clinton, succeeded by Joe Allbaugh under George Bush — it’s a good agency. What it takes care of is natural disasters, floods. It does a wonderful job. Now all of a sudden it is going to learn about terrorism? I mean that seems like a little different and maybe taking something that does well — the Coast Guard does a wonderful job on sea rescues, on protecting your fisheries.

JIM LEHRER: That’s coming out of the Department of Transportation.

MARK SHIELDS: Coming out of that and going into it.

JIM LEHRER: Secret Service comes out of the Department of the Treasury.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I think there are going to be adjustments — agriculture inspections and plants.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned the caveats, David. Have you picked up, either one of you, starting with you, have you picked up any real serious opposition to this in any major way in Congress?

DAVID BROOKS: Not what you would call ideological opposition.

JIM LEHRER: Conservatives are going to go for this?

DAVID BROOKS: Security conservatives are going to go for it, it’s security.

JIM LEHRER: Even though it’s big government more or less?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. But it’s big government in the name of security. So, you know, anything that sort of strengthens – let’s keep the “daddy” side of government, conservatives are okay with it.

There are the local political issues from the members of Congress who, in their committee enjoy overseeing the little fiefdom they’ve got there, and especially from the Cabinet. You know, the interesting thing to me, this is about setting up a new Cabinet department. The way they did it undermined Cabinet government. You had a little cabal in the White House with Andy Card and Mitch Daniels, the budget director –

JIM LEHRER: Four people.

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah — who sat there for the last couple weeks, and then they presented this plan and then they told the cabinet secretaries at the last minute, by the way, we’ve made this plan and Andy Card said how do you receive it. And they all said, yes, I receive it very well, you’re certainly right, Mr. President.

And so the idea that this is sort of strengthening Cabinet government — this is undermining Cabinet government and what it does, it reinforces the idea that the White House is what matters.

JIM LEHRER: What about the turf — how do you feel about the turf — what this is going to unleash in terms of turf battles in Congress?

MARK SHIELDS: Let’s get one thing straight. This was not four guys meeting in the White House; this was a stampede.

They felt the political initiative slipping right away from them. They had been able — the White House and the administration — had been able to stifle all quandaries, inquiries, questions about what happened on September 11, what happened before September 11, what happened since September 11 by saying that’s unpatriotic. You shouldn’t ask those questions. That’s wrong says Dick Cheney.

Now, okay, the questions are being asked not by Democratic partisans, not by Tom Daschle or Dick Gephardt. They’re being asked by Richard Shelby of Alabama, by Chuck Grassley, Senator from Iowa, by Jim Sensenbrenner, the conservative chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. They realize they are in a political problem and what they also see is open warfare in their own administration leaking back and forth between the FBI and the CIA and all of this, Jim, and so they’ve got to act on it. That was the initiative.

Are there going to be turf battles? Everyone is going to salute; everyone will say, gee, that’s a good idea but you’ll see it.

JIM LEHRER: They were lining up today to do that.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. But you will see – I mean the question is there are two things you do. You delay it. You say gee this has got to be good– already talk together Republicans on the Hill today, the speaker wants to have a select committee to do this so to expedite the process, just have a committee created for this process. Who is going to be on that committee? It’s going to be knock down, drag out. The committee chairmen are upset because they’re not only losing power and turf, but they’re also losing programs they care about, that they believe in, and all of a sudden they think they’re going someplace else.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the FBI and the timing of this, there was also another issue, other matter yesterday, David and that, of course, is the testimony of Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, and Agent Rowley from Minnesota. How did you read that? What did you think was the most significant thing to come out of that?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m not sure we really learned a lot from the testimony. There wasn’t a lot of new information. Ms. Rowley could not talk about the Moussaoui case because it is a case being adjudicated, and she wouldn’t talk about it. It was an active theater with Mueller in the role of the suit and Coleen Rowley in the Erin Brockovich role.

And it was interesting for a number of respects: One, the disrespect for the FBI, among Senators, some whom have even been supportive of the FBI in the past. Clearly, there’s a lot of reform still to go there. And then the worship of Coleen Rowley, which is well deserved, though as a student of senatorial vanity, it is interesting to watch Senators flatter someone when they tend to be flattering themselves for having the courage to flatter the person they’re flattering.

So I thought it was an element of theater. If I could just say one thing about the Bush u-turn, which is a U-turn but, to me, the most important thing in the Bush speech last night was learning. And they did show a willingness to learn. They made a mistake with Ridge but they’re correcting their mistakes. And I do think that really –

MARK SHIELDS: I commend them for that but I think, David, it is an overt and public acknowledgment that trying to run this out of a half office in the White House with a staff of 11 people was folly, even someone — Tom Ridge, who had been a popular and successful governor, who was close to the president, it couldn’t be done. I mean, it was an acknowledgment.

I thought the things yesterday, Jim, I thought Bob Mueller probably had as good a week as anybody. I thought this is an FBI head who stood up, as close as anybody in this whole administration, took responsibility — said, you know, missed signals and all the rest of it.

He commended a whistle blower. I don’t know the last time that’s happened in Washington where a department head who is being embarrassed by testimony of one of his agents stands up and salutes-

JIM LEHRER: But, he caught him — the segment we ran last night with Senator Biden called it malarkey when he said, he asked him were you consulted, Mr. Director, about this Homeland Security plan and Mueller wouldn’t answer him, I mean, Biden was all over him, all over his case.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he was. Biden was all over him, but I point out this: Most of the criticism from the FBI over the past few years has come from the right and it came on Ruby Ridge, it came on Waco. Remember, so what you have now, the FBI has lost what had been its traditional constituency of support politically.

JIM LEHRER: And we just lost our last few seconds. Thank you both very much.