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Analysts Debate Goss Departure, Federal Spending

May 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

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

The going of Porter Goss this afternoon; any thoughts on why he left?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, I don’t have any inside story. I mean, the scoop around town has been, first of all, he’s been unpopular for a while, unpopular in the building, even unpopular among his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

And then there’s a sense that the job is shrinking. The CIA, as some of the analysts mentioned earlier on the program, is a less important agency than it was.

JIM LEHRER: Very different job than it used to be.

DAVID BROOKS: You used to be the guy sitting there in the White House every morning briefing the president. Now John Negroponte is on top of him.

And not only that, some of the best analysts, apparently, have been going to the director of national intelligence, migrating to that agency, as people do; people migrate to power in this town. And as the power has gone to Negroponte, some of the analysts overseeing terror groups and other things have migrated and Goss’ job has been downgraded.

JIM LEHRER: But, still, he was only there for 18 months.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Only there for 18 months. David gives the high road; I’ll give the less-than-high road. No explanation for his leaving, abruptly, hastily arranged ceremony in the Oval Office, and…

JIM LEHRER: And there still — there may be — somebody may be talking as we’re talking, but as of now, there has been no explanation.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s been no explanation for it, I mean, not the usual “I want to spend more time with the little Gosses,” or, you know, whatever else.

And, in addition to that, Jim, you know, the Republicans have not had a good news day in a month, and they had one today. I mean, Patrick Kennedy, the Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, police preference in treatment at 3:00 in the morning in a car accident.

So, you know, they got Bill Jefferson, the congressman from Louisiana, facing charges.

JIM LEHRER: He hasn’t been charged yet.

MARK SHIELDS: Hasn’t been charged yet, but, I mean…

JIM LEHRER: The guy who says he bribed him has been charged, right, right.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: … and his chief of staff has gone state’s witness. So, I mean, those were good stories. And, all of a sudden, this comes up.

Now, the place was in turmoil. David is right. The other element in this is that the No. 3 man at the agency, a man named Dusty Foggo, who does contracts, among other things, his closest lifelong…

JIM LEHRER: Does contracts with the CIA?

MARK SHIELDS: … closest lifelong friend of Mr. Wilkes. Mr. Wilkes is the defense contractor who was involved in the bribing of Duke Cunningham, the Republican congressman from California, who just admitted to taking $2 million and has been sentenced to nine years in jail.

One of the things that Mr. Wilkes did, according to newspaper reports, according to the investigators, is he sponsored parties, rather lavish parties in hotel suites.

JIM LEHRER: Here in Washington, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Here in Washington, with limos and with ladies of the night. Mr. Foggo said he did go to some of these hotels, apparently, but just to play cards. And there’s a question of whether this is a problem.

He was appointed under Goss’ direction to No. 3 job there, so there’s a lot of stuff buzzing around right now, but nothing has landed, but still no explanation as to why he’s leaving.

JIM LEHRER: Have you heard anything about that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I mean, I’m shocked that somebody was playing cards.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: The only thing — you know, it’s all speculation at this point. And some of the speculation has been, if there was a brewing scandal, and if they knew about it, would the president really have personally appeared at the farewell event?

But that’s all rumor this point. To me, it’s not terribly hard to understand a guy who said a year ago that he found the job overwhelming, you know, get…

(CROSSTALK)

JIM LEHRER: Yes, he got criticism. We ought to explain. He made a speech, and he said, “My goodness, this is five jobs I’m trying to do with one person,” yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And I can’t do it, and some of the analysts mentioned people don’t last long at this job. It’s been miserable at all corners. So it doesn’t require a scandal to explain.

MARK SHIELDS: He did say at that time — it was at the Reagan library — when he said it was too much of a job, it’s overwhelming. I spend five hours a day preparing for the presidential briefing, but he doesn’t do the presidential briefing any more.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right. Negroponte now does it.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. So I don’t know if he was upset at losing it or losing the job that was impossible.

Spending is reemerging as a big deal

JIM LEHRER: All right.

The vote in the Senate to defy the president’s threat of a veto on this emergency spending thing, what’s going on there?

MARK SHIELDS: A little kabuki dance. The Senate leadership had gotten the promise out of the president to veto, pledge to veto, so the senators knew it wasn’t going to be in. So it’s a good chance to stick a lot of stuff in, show the folks back home that we’re really fighting for you and for all the good things.

JIM LEHRER: And it will come out in conference?

MARK SHIELDS: And it’ll come out. I mean, the House is pretty adamant. I mean, Jim, in today’s poll, Associated Press poll, the president has a 45 percent disapproval rating among conservatives. Congress has…

JIM LEHRER: Thirty-three percent overall among conservatives, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Listen, conservatives are the cornerstone of the Republican movement. Sixty-five percent for the Republican Congress, in part, because of spending. And they’ll knock this out.

JIM LEHRER: Spending is re-emerging as a big deal, is it not?

DAVID BROOKS: You know, it is. I travel around the country, and the thing I hear most is Republicans upset about immigration, but also about the spending.

And then from moderates and independents, I always hear this: Whatever happened to the party, the Republicans being the party of fiscal responsibility? Whatever happened to those days?

I probably hear that a couple times a day, and so this is just a huge issue.

MARK SHIELDS: What’s your issue?

JIM LEHRER: Yes, what do you tell them?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: My issue? That’s a good question.

MARK SHIELDS: You’ve got me curious, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t know. David stopped and left town, and that was it.

So I think there are two things, though. The other thing is that, as the party panics, they still want to spend to buy votes. That’s what majority parties do. I don’t care what your ideology is.

And as is often said, there are three parties in this town: there’s Democrats; there’s Republicans; and there’s appropriators. And some of these committee chairmen who are appropriators in the Senate want to spend money. That’s what they do.

And they believe in it. They’re not particularly ideological, so they want to pass these bills with some spending.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark that this is all a game?

DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: They know they’re not going to get their $109 billion? At $95 billion, that’s what the president said, and that’s what’s in the House thing, that’s what’s going to happen?

DAVID BROOKS: They may hope their particular provision gets through, but I’m sure they expect it to be whittled down.

MARK SHIELDS: The House even than the president. They came in at $91.9 billion.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, OK.

MARK SHIELDS: But there were 21 votes against it. Now, remember, this was emergency spending for our troops. And there were conservative…

JIM LEHRER: In Afghanistan, and Iraq, and also hurricane relief.

MARK SHIELDS: But there were conservatives…

JIM LEHRER: Plus all of this other stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: … that there were conservative Republicans who voted against it, of the 21 in the Senate, so they knew that they were insulated from not supporting the troops. Remember, that became such an issue in the 2004 campaign when John Kerry opposed the appropriation.

The thing about the spending, Jim, is we have just gone to — are you ready for this? — $439 billion, according to the Congressional Reference Service, the Library of Congress, on the cost of the war. The cost of the war, as of this moment, is $439 billion with this appropriation.

I mean, we’re looking at a trillion-dollar cost, whatever happens in Iraq from this point forward.

JIM LEHRER: No matter how long we take?

DAVID BROOKS: The larger issue — and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out in ’06 and ’08 — is deficits have always been an elite concern, but they’ve never actually driven an election…

JIM LEHRER: Think-tank…

DAVID BROOKS: Think-tank, you know, furrowed brows, deficits.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, right, right.

DAVID BROOKS: Red ink. But they’ve never actually driven elections. Are we at a point where they actually do begin to drive elections? I’m a little skeptical at the end of the day.

MARK SHIELDS: I would point out that Ross Perot in 1992…

DAVID BROOKS: That’s true. That’s true.

MARK SHIELDS: … drove the election with that issue. He put it squarely on the…

JIM LEHRER: He was the first one who was ever to popularized it as a political issue.

MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Every penny of income tax paid by every American living west of the Mississippi wasn’t enough to cover the interest on the national debt in one year, and people’s eyes went, “Wow!”

DAVID BROOKS: Hey, and, by the way, the thing that actually cured the deficit in the Clinton years was establishing rules that mandated that you reduce the deficit.

(CROSSTALK)

JIM LEHRER: You didn’t have to have a vote on it, and you couldn’t play these games that these guys are playing now?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it was those rules that did it, which we should have back.

MARK SHIELDS: I will say I was on the Hill today and I had a meeting with the Democratic house leader, Nancy Pelosi. That is going to be the cornerstone: pay as you go.

It was the PAYGO part of 1982, originally pushed by George Miller, which Bill Clinton finally accepted, that lead to the balanced budget, that you cannot — whether it’s a tax cut, whether it’s an expenditure — you’ve got to say where the money is coming from. And that has to come at the same time. Not simply voting for, you know, riding circuses, but where is the money coming from?

DAVID BROOKS: Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Chicago. That was the center of it.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right? So you think that could come back here?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s coming.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes, as an issue.

David, the vote in the Senate to — or what do you make of the fact of how quickly the $100 — there’s been no vote yet — the $100 rebate oil plan on the Republicans offered? It was…

DAVID BROOKS: If you’re going to do crass, stupid bribery, make it a thousand bucks. Don’t over a little $100-buck bribery, because people are going to laugh at you.

No, it was stupid among — I said last week it was a parody…

JIM LEHRER: But it went away so fast. You said that last week.

DAVID BROOKS: And Boehner in the House, the House Republican, agreed with me on instinct. It started as, actually, a Democratic idea, “Give them $500.” Then Bill Frist picked it up.

And this is really goes to the heart of what’s been a lot of the problem with Bill Frist and why he’s not going to be a serious presidential candidate: If you’re raised in a Republican, conservative movement, with certain ideas of what government should do and not do, handing out $100 checks is just something you throw off the table in a back room.

But Frist, without really telling many other Republicans, said, “Oh, this is a good idea,” with some of his staffers. And it was announced without telling other Republicans, and a lot of the other Republicans thought it was incredibly stupid, along with most of the country.

JIM LEHRER: I was stunned, Margaret — Margaret? Mark, excuse me, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it’s OK, Ray.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: All right, OK. That Boehner, John Boehner, the House majority leader, immediately called this rebate idea stupid and insulting. Now, he’s talking about a plan from the Senate majority leader of his own party. Now, that kind of thing doesn’t normally happen.

MARK SHIELDS: John Boehner is a guy who is given to candor, and I think he’s still feeling his way in the job. He wasn’t speaking as majority leader. He was just giving you his reaction, which was David’s reaction.

I mean, he wasn’t thinking about, “Gee, I’m the House majority leader. How is this going to play out?” He was not aware of the fact — at least as he later explained — that it came from Bill Frist. He was presented with the idea…

JIM LEHRER: Oh, I see. OK.

MARK SHIELDS: … and he said, “That is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” “It’s Bill Frist’s idea.” “Oh, well, in that case…”

JIM LEHRER: Oh, I see. So…

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: “It’s a brilliant idea.”

MARK SHIELDS: No, he didn’t say that. He did not back down, to his credit.

JIM LEHRER: The other thing this week, of course, was the big immigration boycott protest effort on Monday. How do you think it went down politically?

DAVID BROOKS: Badly for the immigrant groups. My lesson from the ’60s is: Never look at the rallies. Look at the people who are quietly reacting to the rallies.

In the 1960s, we had Woodstock, peace marches. If you looked at the rallies, you would have thought, “Oh, big liberal era coming.” Well, it was a big conservative era, because there were people, like George Bush and Dick Cheney, looking at that and saying, “I don’t like those people.”

And so I think there is going to be a counter-reaction to the immigrants, in part not so much because of the immigrants, but because, I thought, in some of the rallies, in some of the speakers, a, a sense of entitlement. No sense that this is a complex matter, that we’re searching for a center ground.

And, second — and I certainly felt this — you know, a lot of the people who have been taking the risks on this issue have been moderate Republicans, like John McCain and Chuck Hagel. These rallies were very Ted Kennedy, very union-oriented. It was almost a slap in the face that some of the moderate Republicans who have been really out front on this.

And it gave it a partisan edge that it didn’t have before, so I think there will be a counter-reaction.

MARK SHIELDS: I think the central question is what George W. Bush does, because, when you look at the numbers they’re facing right now, Jim, the — turned off of the conservative, white, Republican voters.

And whites in this country, 30 percent of whites, want to build a wall tomorrow and they want to deport the 12 million. And if you’re going to energize them in the campaign of 2006, that’s the issue: Immigration is the gay marriage issue of 2006, to get those folks out.

George W. Bush’s entire career has been against that point of view. He has stood against it.

JIM LEHRER: As governor of Texas, he was just the opposite, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly, and as president he’s as well. He’s going to get into this with McCain, and Kennedy, and everybody else. He’s going to get legislation passed. He’s got to get a law written so it’s not an issue in the campaign in 2006.

Otherwise, I mean, it’s going to be so ugly, and he’s — the Republican Party, you won’t recognize it from what George Bush’s compassionate conservatism allegedly was in 2000.

DAVID BROOKS: And I think he’ll try, and Democrats know it’s in their interest to block anything, which is why I think they will block it.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure they will.

JIM LEHRER: Well, David, Margaret, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Gwen.

(LAUGHTER)