Analysts Discuss Blair Visit, Dean Comments
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: The analysis of Shields and Lowry: syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.
Rich, the Tony Blair visit with President Bush, was that a successful event for both men in your opinion?
RICH LOWRY: I don’t think it has much political effect for Bush one way or another. I think Blair probably had more at stake and for him probably a moderate success. He came here highlighting two issues that weren’t Iraq, very notably, and that had appeal to his base at home where he has some trouble: Africa and global warming; got basically nothing on global warming but got for than half a loaf on Africa, where he and Bush see someone somewhat eye-to-eye. For a conservative Republican, Bush has made Africa a big priority. So Blair got –
JIM LEHRER: The issue was to forgive debt to most of the African nations?
RICH LOWRY: Debt forgiveness. And there was dispute about how to go about that. They came up with agreement that leaned towards Bush’s policy reference in that way, but still a debt relief package and something that Blair can tout.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, also the Downing Street memo came up.
MARK SHIELDS: Can I, I disagree –
JIM LEHRER: You can disagree with Rich, go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: — with all affection and respect. I think it was a disastrous meeting for Tony Blair and not a good month for the president. I say that, Jim, because recall Iraq, the one indispensable ally George W. Bush had was Tony Blair. I mean, there is no coalition without Tony Blair. And Tony Blair comes here asking for two things. He’s the new head of G-8. He wants to rehabilitate his own image and the image of Great Britain after the debacle of Iraq. And so he wants to double the aid to Africa, strikes out on that. The president … great litmus test for the conservative conscience –
JIM LEHRER: Rich says he didn’t strike out.
MARK SHIELDS: He struck out. The debt forgiveness is not new money. There’s no new money involved here; $674 million in food aid had already been appropriated by the Congress. Food aid is a great domestic thing to do politically. I mean, it rewards farm states.
JIM LEHRER: I want to get to the memo, so make your–
MARK SHIELDS: My point, Jim, is that for Tony Blair, and George Bush trying to enlist the larger coalition, there isn’t a sense here that Tony Blair got anything out of the meeting. And the president did, Rich is absolutely right, gave him absolutely the cold shoulder on the global warming question.
JIM LEHRER: So how do you explain that?
RICH LOWRY: The global warming?
JIM LEHRER: Well, the whole thing. I mean, how do you respond to Mark’s disagreement with you?
RICH LOWRY: I think he gave on the debt forgiveness. And that’s not nothing. And if it was meaningless, why was it such a big item for Blair? So I think he got something. On the global warming, they just have a big policy disagreement and Bush wasn’t going to give on that. The one really odd thing for me about this meeting was the dog that didn’t bark, which is the nature of the EU. Almost not a peep about that when you have a huge political earthquake going on in Europe over the nature of the EU and what will be the shape of Europe going forward and neither Blair nor Bush apparently has very good or creative ideas about what should be next in lieu of the constitution’s recent defeats.
JIM LEHRER: And the expectation was that this would be a big item for discussion between two and it didn’t — as you say, it didn’t leak out, at least in public. Now this-to-this Downing Street memo, Mark; just for those who haven’t followed it, it’s a memo that came out during the election campaign in Britain that an intelligence official in the British government said that intelligence had been fixed 18 months ahead of time, I got this right, 18 months ahead of time before the Iraq invasion to make it — to justify going into Iraq. This came up only during the press conference, it was asked by a British reporter. It also didn’t cause many ripples, did it, here, I mean?
MARK SHIELDS: It kind of made its first — its debut here. It hadn’t been covered in this country, Jim. The person who raised it was Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence. The memo he wrote contemporaneously, in the summer of 2002 about his meeting here in which he came back and he said the president is determined to go to war, remove Saddam Hussein and committed to military action. And this is in the summer of 2002, four months –
JIM LEHRER: After 9/11 –
MARK SHIELDS: Four months before the president goes to Congress and nine months before the war itself. And it was a major stir in the British election and it’s reached a point now where some 89 members of Congress have asked the president for action. But it hasn’t gotten the traction here that certainly it got in Great Britain and before Tony Blair’s re-election.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it should be a big deal, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: I don’t think so. The major phrase in there that is causing a big stir is the intelligence was fixed around the policy. And I think people are interpreting the word “fixed” the way you would say fixed the Belmont Stakes this weekend, which is not the way it was meant. I think it was meant in the sense that the intelligence is supporting the policy asking questions like what will a post-invasion Iraq look like and questions of that nature. Unfortunately, the intelligence was disastrously inadequate on those sort of questions so in that sense it wasn’t fixed enough.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Howard Dean. Big storm he has blown up by what he’s being saying lately. What’s this all about in your opinion?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, when Howard Dean was the long shot underdog candidate, the only Democrat who was opposed to the war in Iraq, you know, he had to get attention. He got attention by saying things, I mean, for one thing the positions he took. The only time you’re a party chairman, Jim, is when your party is out of power. When your party holds the White House –
JIM LEHRER: — you can’t say anything.
MARK SHIELDS: Right. The problem is when your party is out of power, you are the voice and the face of the party. And Howard Dean, quite frankly, I think ought to expunge two words from his vocabulary. He should not use the word Republicans and he should not use the word Republican Party. He can talk about Republican policies being disastrous, being unfair, being unjust, or whatever. But that doesn’t work. I mean, you don’t — in a country that is majority white and majority Christian, you shouldn’t condemn the other party for being white and Christian.
JIM LEHRER: That’s what I just — I’ve got a list here of all the things he said. “The Republicans are a pretty monolithic party, they all behave the same, they all look the same; it’s pretty much a white Christian party.”
RICH LOWRY: You have to admire his stick-to-itiveness in a way because after the last couple of months if anyone else had had similar coverage, they either would have toned it down and probably issued of a couple of “I regret this” statements. None of that from Dean, and I really think he represents a failure of the party establishment because now you have this week all these elected Democrats, powerful Democrats on the Hill saying he’s not the spokesman of the party, he doesn’t speak for us.
The time to have decided that was during the DNC race when they did not take control of it, Pelosi and Reid came up with a candidate, Tim Roemer, very good guy but pro-life so a non-starter for the DNC delegates who are deciding this election. He was booed at regional meetings around the country and Dean went around giving his typical very rousing speeches.
Someone made, I thought, an excellent point this week which is that with Dean you see the difference between having a politician and having an operative or strategist as head of your party. A politician goes into a crowd, he wants to please them, he wants to hear the applause. And I think that’s what’s kind of driving Dean into making these constantly kind of tin-eared statements.
JIM LEHRER: Is it doing any harm to the Democratic Party, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, the Democratic Party is not in very good shape. It doesn’t have a particularly committed, passionate platform at this point. The only thing it’s really got going for it, Jim, is that the Republican Party and the president are falling through the floor in public opinion polls.
I mean George Bush’s personal unfavorability — this is a man who’s always been enormously popular, like him even though you disagree with him, is at 51 percent. A majority of the people think unfavorably of him as a person. I mean, this must — Republicans must be truly upset tonight to find out he has a 5 percent higher unfavorable rating personally than does Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. I mean, this is the kind of thing that, my gosh almighty, could drive people to the croquet match.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody might suggest — oh. Yeah, thank you, Howard Dean. Somebody might suggest in that climate that maybe — to Howard Dean maybe you don’t need to talk as much, just kind of watch the polls.
RICH LOWRY: Exactly. Mark’s right. The White House and Bush, they’re in a trough at the moment. The only bright side them for, at least if you look at Washington Post poll this week, is that Democrats aren’t picking up. I think the Democrats have to worry about — and Democrats I talked to this week said they’re a little worried that Dean is sort of helping suppress that number.
So it’s not just enough that Bush falls, you want to pick up yourself. So far that’s not happening.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, Mark. The big judges filibuster compromise. Three more judges were confirmed et cetera, this week. Is it holding? Do you think it’s going to hold? What’s it look like?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, it’s been so long since we’ve had a compromise in Washington people forget what it is. Compromise is I give up something; you give up something. You get something; I get something. The Democrats — the liberals got theirs early when they said we’re still going to require 67 votes to change the Senate rules instead of 51 as the nuclear option was.
The conservatives, the Republicans got theirs, three of their judges, the most controversial among them, Mrs. Owen and Janice Rogers Brown of California and Bill Pryor, the attorney general of Alabama were confirmed.
And so now the liberals — I mean, before it was conservatives saying, “My God, this is a betrayal of everything we believe in.” Now it’s the liberals saying, “How could this possibly happen?” This was the deal that was made. JIM LEHRER: They didn’t read — not the small print, they didn’t read the big print.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: I don’t know whether it’s going to hold. It’s certainly going to come under heavy stress when you have a Supreme Court nominee as you likely will have. And the big undefined part of the deal is what are extraordinary circumstances? The deal says in extraordinary circumstances Democrats can filibuster. And I just doubt you’re going to see the parties — I doubt the parties are going to see eye to eye on what constitutes such circumstances.
What Republicans are hoping is that these nominees that went through this week have been called so many names and been called radical extremists that they’ve now set a standard that even radical extremists deserve an up-or-down vote. So they’re going to try to argue subsequently that it has to be an ethical problem or something of that nature to constitute.
JIM LEHRER: Rather than a position or –
RICH LOWRY: Rather than ideology.
JIM LEHRER: — ideology. Do you think the Democrats are — have gone too far in the compromise? I mean, do you think that the stage has been set for them to do what they want to do if they get a Supreme Court Justice they don’t want?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I think that this was about these judges, the nominees the president had submitted. I think the Supreme Court justice is sui generis. I think it’s the last court; it’s the highest court in the country, from which there is no appeal. I think that nominee has to stand on his or her own. I don’t think Janice Rogers Brown could be confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly, before we, go Guantanamo, Secretary Rumsfeld said, no, no, no, we’re not thinking about closing Guantanamo, and then President Bush seemed to indicate that all alternatives are being considered. What’s your reading on this? Has Guantanamo become a problem for the administration?
RICH LOWRY: Well, first of all, my understanding is that Bush did not mean to signal they were considering closing it down. And Scott McClellan then kind of mirrored Bush’s language rather than nuancing it as he probably should have, leading further to the belief that Bush deliberately signaled something. My understanding is that he didn’t.
Guantanamo obviously — there are image problem there. I think in hindsight, the administration should have done two things differently. One, you know, I accept the premise that, you know, these aren’t criminal defendants, there aren’t traditional POWs, so you need something like Gitmo. One, they should have had a congressional authorization right at the beginning to get Congress on board and two, they should have made clear the administrative procedures they’ve had to try to weed out innocent people and just have bad guys there.
JIM LEHRER: Few seconds. Does the administration have a Guantanamo problem?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, serious one, Jim, the United States does. It’s an organizing principal for terrorists around the world. It is beyond the reach of international law; it’s beyond United States law. We’re holding people for years. I mean, it just ought to be closed down.
JIM LEHRER: That’s what we have to do. Thank you both very much. Good to see you.
RICH LOWRY: Thank you.