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Mark Shields and David Brooks Discuss the Week’s Political News

April 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

First, the nuclear option; in the Senate Mark, Vice President Cheney got involved today saying he would gladly cast the 51st vote to break the tie and order to stop the filibuster. Unusual, proper, going to help the cause of the Republicans or hurt him?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, we don’t know, Jim, quite frankly what is going to happen. There could be a deal still to confirm some and not to confirm others. That seems less and less likely every day, given the way the position have been drawn; they may not have the votes. There are a number of Republicans who understand the great truth of Bryce Harlow. Bryce Harlow, for listeners, was one of the really wise men of Washington. He was assistant to Eisenhower; assistant to five presidents, worked for Franklin Roosevelt just a marvelous man. I remember when Ronald Reagan was riding at 80 percent approval after recovering from the assassination — and they were ready to put his portrait on the $10 bill. Is this really the trend in America — he says, you have to understand one thing; this is 1981 he said, between now and the end of the century both parties will win the White House again in spite of themselves. The chance — the Republicans understand there is going to be a Democratic majority some day. Do they want this to be — part of – there are other Republicans who don’t think that a filibuster is constitutional. There are – I think the outcome is very much in doubt.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, David, the out come is in doubt?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, or whether we’re going to have a filibuster. I had a conversation with a Republican senator this afternoon which made me actually a little more hopeful that we may avoid this thing. He said the sense of the Republicans there was that they really think these judges do deserve a vote; they’re very firm on that. But what he told me was that there was a lot more conversation across the aisle on how to solve this problem; how to work out a deal either accepting some judges and not others, or there could be a deal on just a procedure to go ahead which would essentially have the Republicans admitting they were wrong and bottling up some of the Clinton nominations, the Democrats admitting they were wrong not to allow Republicans a vote, and then sort of wiping the slate clean. I think is motivated, as Mark and I were saying last week, by the desire to avoid this nuclear exchange, which would I think most people recognize hurt both parties.

JIM LEHRER: But, David, who is pushing this accommodation? Is it coming from both sides or is it coming from the Republican side because they don’t think they have the votes or is it coming from the Democrat side because they don’t want to put in their corner to stop Senate if they, in fact, do have filibuster?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s coming from the leadership. There’s a bunch of Republican senators who support as matter of principle, there are a lot of moderate senators, and especially senators who have been around a long time who are much more hesitant about doing this who basically trust Bill Frist, they trust the leader. But nonetheless port parties they’re in charge of the Senate. If you don’t get anything done, the people are going to take it out on you. On the Democratic side if you don’t allow judges to vote, the people are going to take it out on you. If you try to shut down the Senate and the Republicans bring up a highway bill or all these other mom and apple pie bills and you’re the one shutting that down, that’s not good for you. It’s bad for both parties to be messing around with this stuff while gas prices are so high. I think they both are sort of divided.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what about Bill Frist, many people are saying he’s past the starting gun already. He has to go whether or not anybody wants to or not.

MARK SHIELDS: I think he’s approached and maybe past the point of no return on, this Jim. This week in human events, sort of a, you know, ardently conservative publication, the executive director of the American Conservative Union did a very tough piece in which he said, Bill Frist, this isn’t the matter of bringing up the nuclear option; you better win. And if you don’t win, you can forget knocking on conservative doors in 2008. This is – for Bill Frist has become in many respects the first Republican primary for 2008 and nomination. But the second thing that –

JIM LEHRER: So you mean — you’re saying he cannot go along with this accommodation that David is speaking of?

MARK SHIELDS: Unless he has some conservatives with him who are willing to sell it to the hard right, so he isn’t attacked for caving in. I mean, that’s the last thing in the world he needs. And probably needs White House cover on it as well. But, Jim, what we saw in addition to this how complicated this becomes; David is right. Business interests don’t want to see it close down as well. I mean that means no tax reform. It means no Social Security. It means no asbestos reform. It means all of these legislation doesn’t pass and finally I just point out Tom DeLay has complicated things by his attack on the courts. Today we saw Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, distance himself from DeLay attacking the court where he basically said, we set them up, we can unset them. We have the power of the purse. We can de-fund the courts. I mean, that really is reaching a level I don’t think most Republicans and any Democrats want to follow.

JIM LEHRER: David, what do you think about the Frist situation? Do you agree with Mark that – or the conventional wisdom that you say there’s an attempt being made to accommodate this, and Bill Frist is going to have a problem if the accommodation is seen as caving in?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s for sure. I mean human events, you know, they’re pretty far right. They treated Ronald Reagan as if they were Mark Shields.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my, goodness.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s pretty extreme. But it looks to me all about the Supreme Court pick that is yet to happen. If conservative come away from this, from whatever deal is struck, if a deal is struck with the respect that George Bush’s Supreme Court nominee will get a vote, then they will be happy because that’s what this is all about. This is all for laying the groundwork for that fight. So we don’t have a precedent where Democrats can block nominees without allowing a vote. And so if the deal is struck that will make them happy, believe me they will be happy.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. David, the John Bolton nomination, the big stories today were all about the fact that Colin Powell, the immediate past secretary of state had apparently spoken to some Republican senators and raised some questions or at least was not very enthusiastic about the Bolton nomination, how important is that?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s moderately important because Colin Powell is close friends with Chuck Hagel, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, carries a lot of weight with Lincoln Chafee and some of the others. I happen to think that right now I suspect Bolton will go through. If it’s about his anger, that’s not going to end this nomination. If angry people, short-tempered people weren’t allowed in public life, the Senate would be three quarters empty. If there is evidence that he tampered with intelligence, that is a bigger problem. Colin Powell carries some weight but he’s been ambivalent and slightly positive. So it’s kind of amazing to see how it’s all played out this week. But right now the odds still favor Bolton I’d say.

JIM LEHRER: First Powell then the odds, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that the Powell thing is interesting and important if Powell does go public. I mean, what we saw this week was -

JIM LEHRER: Fewer leaks.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: He has not made a public statement.

MARK SHIELDS: He has not made a public statement. Colin Powell is conspicuous by his absence in that secretary of state’s letter, George Shultz and Jim Baker and Henry Kissinger saying what a wonderful guy John Bolton was. Colin Powell, for whom he’d worked directly, did not sign that letter endorsing him. So there was sort the –

JIM LEHRER: so the word was already out.

MARK SHIELDS: The word was out. And his chief of staff this week, Jim, said that publicly that John Bolton “is incapable of listening” – this Colin Powell’s – listening –

JIM LEHRER: Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Lawrence Warrenson — and is taking into account their views would be an abysmal ambassador. And I think that’s the -

JIM LEHRER: The second point you, do you agree with David that he is still going to get it?

MARK SHIELDS: No I don’t. I think that the Achilles’ Heel of him is – yes, it is the temper and testimony that he’s world class as far as abuse of people, three and four levels down. But I think the thing that is the point that really could catch him was the one that Lincoln Chafee made and then hung his own argument on, and that was that John Bolton testified that the United States ambassador to Korea plotted and endorsed his speech, which was so controversial and in which he was so denunciatory of the North Korean regime. The ambassador, Hovery, this week went public said, he did not endorse or appreciate that speech.

JIM LEHRER: Is that important, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s important. I think people are just right now worried. This hearing at the Foreign Affairs Committee this week was one of the most remarkable hearings I’ve ever heard. There was real debate, Chris Dodd, the senator from Connecticut, gave a forceful, really tremendously forceful, presentation against Bolton. I think for one of the rare times in recent Senate history you actually had senators whose minds were changed right there in a committee hearing. Usually these things are so staged everybody comes in knowing how they’re going to vote. I think George Voinovich from Ohio was changed; I think some of the others were shaken because the Democrats to their credit, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, put on a very strong show. That doesn’t mean it’s conviction. But they definitely raised some doubts.

JIM LEHRER: What about — meanwhile there’s Social Security. David, what do you think the problems of the stock market have done to personal accounts? The conventional wisdom as you know is nobody’s talking about it anymore, including the president barely talking about it. Is that gone?

DAVID BROOKS: I do think it’s gone. Sen. Grassley who is really the key player in the Senate here, conceded this week there will be no bipartisan arrangement. A lot of Republican time was spent trying to think of ways to win over a couple of Democrats to their side. It’s all come to naught. So I don’t know how many nails we need to put in personal accounts but there are at least umpteen.

JIM LEHRER: It’s over.

DAVID BROOKS: People know there’s a problem. But there’s no solution on the horizon.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark, that personal accounts is pretty well dead for now?

MARK SHIELDS: There’s a reporter named Weeber from the Chattanooga Times Express who deserves credit if the personal accounts go down; he pointed out that Bill Frist’s campaign account which has been in a Charles Schwab Mutual Fund Index Fund since 2000 has lost half a million dollars just while it’s sitting there. This is not a strong argument for it, Jim. I would make one predictive thing on the Bolton thing. George Voinovich of Ohio, if he is generally regarded as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” an act of consciousness, Thomas Moore, which I think he has been essentially portrayed or if he’s then now attacked as Benedict Arnold or Judas Iscariot, which I heard some conservative commentators do, whichever — if he’s seen in the former, then Bolton is going down.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t read it that way, David? Voinovich is the hero here — or the villain depending on your point of view.

DAVID BROOKS: Well my personal view it won’t be him alone if there’s compelling arguments made; I think there are couple others who are sort of leaners — at least three or four others who are leaners. And so there will be a chunk. And if you get three or four senators against him, then I think you’ll have a – then there will be a landslide almost. But I really don’t think that. The doubts have been raised but really nothing that strikes me as debilitating.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. David, Mark, thank you both very much.