Senate Passes Energy Bill; Clinton Spoofs ‘Sopranos’
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.
Mark, the energy bill, has the Senate done something important?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It’s done something quite important, Jim. First of all, in Kwame’s piece tonight, he featured one of the Senate’s most loyal and committed conservatives, Larry Craig of Colorado, member of the board of the National Rifle Association, a true blue, or red, conservative.
And he said something that you haven’t heard a conservative say in a generation, several generations: We cannot produce ourselves out of this crisis. And that the growing dependence upon foreign oil and the area that that foreign oil comes from, and the growing awareness of the problem of global warming, contributed to the reality that forced the Senate finally to ignore the big three, Detroit, who are no longer as big as they were, don’t have as much clout. It was history in the making.
JIM LEHRER: History in the making, Rich?
RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Certainly, it’s a sign of a big shift on the politics of this issue. Global warming has something to do with it, high gas prices, and also the issue of energy independence have a lot to do with it.
I think these higher CAFE standards have just become a symbol of a good government measure to fight global warming. I’m not sure, if the public actually knew more about it and if they knew that the Senate just voted to make their cars lighter and smaller and/or more expensive in the future, I’m not sure it would be quite as popular as it is now.
There are also some doubts about how much it will actually do to reduce greenhouse emissions, because there are all sorts of strange incentives where you — if you make cars — if you basically make it more efficient to drive cars, people will drive more.
And the horn of dilemma of energy politics is what really drives concern about this energy in this country, at the gut level for most people, is high gas prices. And if you really want to fight global warming and try to reduce our carbon emissions, the cleanest, easiest, most rational way to do it would to make the price of gas even higher through very stiff gas prices. And, of course, that’s what no one is willing to contemplate or talk about.
JIM LEHRER: What are the politics of this now, Mark? Is it going to go to the House and pass and be signed by the president?
MARK SHIELDS: Could I just say one thing to Rich?
JIM LEHRER: You may.
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, the one time, Jim — we haven’t done anything on this, really, in 22 years. And between 1975 and 1985, we did the average mile per gallon, an American car, was from 14 miles per gallon in 1975 to 27.5 miles per gallon in 1985. That was a mandate, and that was a federal mandate. And cars did not become prohibitively expensive or anything of the sort.
And I really — I do think that that has to be borne in mind as we look at this. And we just sold our one millionth Prius, the Toyota car, which is a hybrid, that gets 50 miles to the gallon. So the market is telling us an awful lot about this.
It’s going to be a lot trickier in the House, because you saw a basically united Democratic Party in the Senate, with the exception, obviously, of the auto company states, Michigan in particular, Carl Levin and…
JIM LEHRER: But do you think it will pass or not?
MARK SHIELDS: In the House, it’s going to be more tricky, because there’s more moving parts to it. And I think it will pass. I think there’s a momentum to it, but it’s going to be tougher.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read this, from this point on, Rich? Is it going to be made law?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I think that — well, my preference would be no.
JIM LEHRER: No, OK.
RICH LOWRY: But…
JIM LEHRER: But do you think it’s going to happen?
RICH LOWRY: Yeah, I think it’s hard — it makes it harder for President Bush to veto it with the kind of Republican support you had for it in the Senate. He dislikes it. He’s said things pouring some cold water on it, but I kind of doubt he’s going to veto it.
Debate over Guantanamo
JIM LEHRER: OK, Rich, another subject. What do you make of the internal administration debate over closing Guantanamo?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I think they're moving inexorably towards wanting to close it and trying to close it. The problem, Jim, is it's really a meddlesome question about how you do that, because if you bring the detainees from Gitmo here in the United States, the status of their legal rights is very much up in the air.
And what the administration fears is that, if they get all the standard constitutional protections, and legal protections, and trial rights that American citizens get, and our civil court system, which seems quite possible, you're going to have a hard time making a case against a lot of these guys who probably are dangerous, but, you know, the information demonstrating it is either foreign intelligence you can't use or it's products of confessions you're not going to be able to use in the domestic courts.
So then you get into the problem of either having to release them or having to deport them. And deporting them might not be that easy, because a lot of the home countries don't want to take them. So the tide is moving towards wanting to close Gitmo, but they're really having a hard time figuring out how to do it.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Guantanamo, Jim, has been synonymous with the staining of American values and American legal tradition. I think the fact that you have people such as Colin Powell, Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, John McCain...
JIM LEHRER: Gates has said let's close it.
MARK SHIELDS: John McCain said it would be his first act as president of United States. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, and the president of United States want to close it.
And, I mean, the very techniques that were developed of torture -- call it what you will -- at Guantanamo were then exported to Abu Ghraib, and it's led to a loss of confidence in and belief in the United States' values of legal system. And I just think that we have to respond to this.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, we have to respond? Do you think it's a values issue now, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I think the administration realizes it's now unsustainable, given the amount of criticism that's been focused on Gitmo, and also just on the practical level. You want to have some system for dealing with these enemy combatants, these terrorists, that other countries buy into, because you want them, when they catch these suspects, to be willing to hand them over to us in a system that they have confidence in and are willing to buy into. And, at the moment, that's not the case.
Bloomberg creates media buzz
JIM LEHRER: Mark, another new subject, Mike Bloomberg, what's he up to?
MARK SHIELDS: Mike Bloomberg has figured out a way for a term-limited, lame-duck mayor of a major city to put himself right in the middle of the mix and to create media buzz like nobody imagined. I mean, he has now set the entire political world on its ear. Both parties are concerned and nervous about a potential entry.
I think one thing about -- and it came through in his interviews with Judy this week -- I think one thing about Mike Bloomberg, unlike Ross Perot, who did change the dynamic of American politics in 1992 by raising an issue neither party wanted to address, that of the burgeoning budget deficits -- forced the winning party, the Democrats in this case, in the next eight years to deal with the deficit.
He's not going to run as Don Quixote on an issue, Jim. He's not going to run to make a cause or change the debate. The only way he would run is if he sees a clear path to victory. And, right now, I think that is an unlikely scenario.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: I think that's absolutely right. Look, he dumped his Republican registration, because he wasn't really a Republican in the first place. And if you are a Republican with only a marginal commitment to the party, this is a pretty good time to be dumping your Republican registration.
Plus, as Mark points out, this is just great for him. He knows exactly what it's doing. It's fueling the speculation. It's keeping him from being truly a lame-duck mayor of New York City. And I think he'll only do it if he sees the opening.
It's possible the opening will be there, say, if you have a John Edwards versus Mitt Romney race. That's the kind of race where you can imagine a Bloomberg maybe can see a way to victory, but it seems very unlikely. So I tend to think he's not going to run at the end of the day.
Clintons imitate "The Sopranos"
JIM LEHRER: All right, speaking of presidential politics, we have a question here, gentlemen. It's about this online campaign video featuring the Clintons that spoofed the final scene of the HBO series "The Sopranos."
BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: Does anything look good?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: They have some great choices. I ordered for the table.
BILL CLINTON: No onion rings?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I'm looking out for you. Where's Chelsea?
BILL CLINTON: Parallel parking. How's the campaign going?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, like you always say, focus on the good times.
BILL CLINTON: So what's the winning song?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: You'll see.
BILL CLINTON: My money's on Smash Mouth. Everybody in America wants to know how it's going to end.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Ready?
JIM LEHRER: For the record, Senator Clinton chose for her campaign a song by French-Canadian singer Celine Dion, originally written for an Air Canada advertisement. What do you make of that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: She outsourced to Canada her campaign song. I mean, that's just bad.
Jim, George W. Bush won two elections in a row against opponents who were seen by voters in both cases as more experienced and more knowledgeable than he was, but he was seen on the strength of his personal values. He was seen as strong; he was seen as likeable.
And Hillary Clinton is seen right now as intelligent, as competent, as experienced, but her likeability quotient has been in question. I think this is directed at that, and I think it works.
JIM LEHRER: You think it works?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it makes her a more likable -- and there's a human dimension to her.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. How do you see it, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I think her acting could use a little work, but I do think it was a good thing to do. If you look at her on the debate stage with these other candidates, she is just head and shoulders above them in terms of seasoning, and seriousness, and experience. She really seems the adult on that stage.
But Mark's right: It's the likeability. That's the gap. So anything they can do to show a lighter side, to show a sense of humor benefits her.
JIM LEHRER: And you think it's working?
RICH LOWRY: I think they have a ways to go, and I don't think this video alone is going to do it. But I think it shows they know the problem, and they're working to address it.
Tony Blair as Middle East envoy
JIM LEHRER: OK, final question, the word is today, or has been the last couple of days, that President Bush wants Tony Blair to be a Middle East envoy. Does that make sense to you, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it does make sense. I think Tony Blair brings to it special gifts and special legitimacy, but I think it only works if the president himself redoubles his own personal commitment. He just can't -- this isn't something you can subcontract.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it should be done, Rich? Does it make sense to you?
RICH LOWRY: You know, he's a very talented guy. He might be good at it. I really doubt he's going to do it. It seems like a step down for the former prime minister. Also, it's just, especially in these current circumstances, it's going to be such a thankless job and so unlikely to show any dividends or success whatsoever. I really doubt he'll take it up.
JIM LEHRER: But does he have the right approach to get this done? In other words, does he have the right credentials to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis together, from your point of view?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I mean, certainly, it's always been a passion of his. It's always something he's been pushing President Bush to address more. Downsides, you know, he has a reputation for not necessarily being a details guy. And then, also, there's his support of the Iraq war, which doesn't make him a beloved figure among the Arabs.
And then, finally, just looking at his political reputation, you know, the charge against him, I think largely unfair, was that he was Bush's poodle, so I'm not sure that he wants to take on this particular job in being President Bush's, in effect, guy in the Middle East.
JIM LEHRER: In a word, do you agree with Rich that he probably won't take anyhow?
MARK SHIELDS: I honestly don't know, but, I mean, I think he brings special credibility because he has pushed George Bush since 2002 to get involved. And, secondly, he's seen as pro-Israeli, but he has been far more open to the Palestinians than has this administration.
JIM LEHRER: OK, Mark, Rich, thank you both very much.
RICH LOWRY: Thank you very much.